Dragon Age Fan Fiction – Chapter III

This work has become a refuge; a place I retreat to during those long hours at a dead-end job.  I’ve written some 15,000 words just standing around.  I think it’s how I’ve been able to remain sane…who knew fan fiction could be so cathartic?!

*There will be mature content again in the later chapters, so keep an eye out for the links to those morsels. 😉

Denerim

Chapter III – Denerim and Orzammar

I

The Arl’s condition remained unchanged despite the defeat of the demon Connor had made the pact with.  Alistair’s regard for the Arl and his family had remained strong after all his years away, and it was important to him, and, in turn, to me that we do what was necessary to ensure the Arl’s recovery; not only to assuage Alistair’s fears, but also because how strong an ally the Arl would be to our cause. As if our journey was not difficult enough, we were now going to search for a mythical cure that dozens of knights had failed to procure.

We were to set off for Denerim to speak with a scholar of history and a specialist in Andraste legend in particular, Brother Genitivi, who might be able to lead us in the right direction.  As the local expert, it was certain a number of people, including the Arl’s knights, would have sought him out prior to just roaming the countryside.  Faith and luck alone would not be enough to discover something so deeply safeguarded throughout history.  I had to wonder how much more the Brother could share with us; could he give us any more insight than those who had come before?

I was looking forward to visiting the capital, although I was slightly disappointed that it was too soon to hope for a letter from Cullen.  I had reconciled the idea that Cullen and I would be friends, in part because I did not know what else we might be. I did not know enough about relationships to be able to determine a better way to describe the nature of ours. He was important to me, and I cared deeply about his welfare and well being, as he did mine.

I suppose our relationship would always be complicated.

My heart had already turned its attention to Alistair when Cullen and I were reunited, which is why I was surprised to have found myself so willingly ready to engage in such a tryst. I still blush at the thought, and my body remembers well what his hands and mouth were so aptly able to illicit from me.

He would be a friend, like no other, and I liked to think that there was someone else in the world that maybe thought of me, with fondness, from time to time. Morrigan’s wise insight continued to offer me solace – I would never regret my time with Cullen.

After a good night’s rest, we said farewell to the mages who had come to Connor’s aid, and made our journey east to Denerim.  The road was littered with refugees fleeing the Blight and those who would prey on their weakness.  We dealt out our own justice when those foolish enough to consider attacking us tried.  I would almost laugh afterward, well, not quite, for on appearance alone, how did a common thief expect to overwhelm three mages, two warriors, one of whom is a Qunari, a deadly bow-wielding rogue, and a mabari war hound?  Desperate times, I suppose.  We must have appeared like a formidable force, one that would reap great reward if they were lucky enough.  They never were.

It took us nearly a week on foot to reach the capital.  We traveled only during the daylight hours, and set up camp well off the main road.  We tried to make camp in locations that offered us some defense or kept our campfire obscured so as to not draw attention, from anything.

There was a great deal of history to be found in the city and I was looking forward to exploring the shops and sleeping in a normal bed after yet another journey through the wilderness.  Our coin purse had grown heavy over the last few adventures, having taken a few odd jobs here and there, and the leathers and goods we had collected would fetch us good coin as well. We each needed a number of upgrades to both our weapons and armor and we had been reassured that the capital would have a master smith or shops that would offer us what we needed.

Our trip took a detour on the third day when an incessant downpour made it impossible to continue and forced us to seek shelter, quickly. We were derailed for a day and a half, in addition to having to back track to a cave we had passed the day before. By the time we arrived at the mouth of the cave, we were out of breath, soaked, and chilled to our bones. I could hear teeth chattering and under the breath swearing at how the rain would ruin our armor and weapons. I was thankful I had made note of the cave, or we would have had to wait out the harsh weather in our tents, and that was if we could have even put them up in such conditions.

The cave was at least large enough for us to walk about, build a fire, and sleep comfortably. The rain was torrential, the wind howled, and lightning cracked and cut the sky with blinding white streaks. It seemed nature had a vengeful side, and I could only imagine such a downpour would be considered cleansing after so much foul bloodshed.

I could feel the electricity in the air; feel the warmth of it tickling my skin. I was drawn to the outside, to feel the energy run around me, through me, and without consciously being aware of my actions, I found myself nearing the cave entrance with a hand outstretched. It was Morrigan’s voice that interrupted my daze to remind me that we were in desperate need of dry clothing.

While Alistair and Sten worked together to build any sort of fire from what was available in the cave, as everything outside was wet and unusable, I dug around in my magic-imbued sack. We worked in pairs, holding up leathers to create a makeshift divider in order to shield another while they changed.

I blush to admit that I took advantage of my position and snuck a glance, or two, at my companions, in particular Sten.

I could not help myself. The sheer size of him intrigued me. Alistair and I stood together and held the leathers for him, and together we shared a private laugh as I tilted my head around the side to sneak a glance. To see him in his smalls, I felt my eyes grow wide, to which I earned a mock disapproving look from Alistair.

Sten was at least a head taller than either of us, and his armor did nothing to hide his strength. There was no denying his power, especially when one saw the way he wielded his greatsword, but to see him laid bare, well, it was hard to look away. He was all muscle; his thighs were the width of my abdomen, his chest was at least twice the width of my own. His skin was a hue of gold I had never seen. He was quite beautiful.

Droplets fell from his braids and ran down his back in every direction. I found myself entranced in the patterns they left, following each one as they twisted and turned down the length of him. My smile grew wider as I watched a droplet take a path over his buttocks. His muscles involuntarily twitched under the chilled tentacles, and as he finishing drying himself, his head turned and we made eye contact.

At least I had the decency to blush.

“Did I miss a spot?” He asked coyly.

Alistair choked on a laugh as I tried to recover.

Sten and I had only shared a few brief conversations. He wasn’t chatty, to say the least, but in our time together, he had shared a little about the Qunari as a race and a way of life. Although the books in the Circle were many, and encompassed a wide variety of topics, few Ferelden authors were intimately familiar with Qunari custom, and so much was left to the imagination from stories heard.

Although Sten saw most situations as black and white, he was not opposed to understanding other views. His pride and his honor were intrinsically tied to who he was, and the more I understood him, the more I liked him. He had a sense of humor that rarely made appearances, but something about the diverse nature of our group seemed to help him lighten his mood more often as time passed. He would remain silent for hours and then suddenly make a comment that caught us all so off guard that we usually ended up laughing.

So, as I stared at him dumbfounded while lowering the leather, he turned fully to face me, gentleman enough to hide his most intimate parts behind the drying cloth. My mouth went dry and I coughed.

He never even broke the wisp of a smile.

“I could rebraid your hair for you, if you’d like to untie it to let it dry?” I said lamely, forcing myself to maintain eye contact while Alistair did his best to stifle his laughter. It wasn’t long before Morrigan and Leliana were standing behind me wide eyed as well. They had been intrigued by what was transpiring.

With a slight nod of his head, he responded with, “Ladies.”

Yet again we found ourselves laughing with him. I shook my head to cast away all lingering thoughts and raised the leather again in a dramatic gesture to offer him his privacy.

A short time later we were all seated around the fire, warm and dry, while Wynne plated a simple stew she had prepared. We sat in pleasant silence, each of our eyes drawn to Sten from time to time, followed by stifled giggles. He sat there stoically, as if he were unaware of what we found amusing, which only caused us to laugh more.

II

The warmth of the cave, the welcoming scent of a cooked meal, in addition to the friendly company was a heady combination. The soft patter of the lessening downpour had a calming effect, and as darkness crept over the sky, slumber soon followed. I felt a deep fatigue, but I had reached a point where I was too tired to sleep. I was restless, so I decided to take first watch.

The stones at the entrance of the cave were naturally shaped in such a way that they invited to be sat upon. I sat cross-legged with my staff across my lap to observe the surrounding area. I rested my head against the stone wall and listened to the music the incremental rain fall created. I did not remember much of my life before moving to the Circle, so I found it easy to find joy in the simple things; those things that were less likely to be experienced in such a place – a freedom to enjoy so many things – like the rain upon my skin.

Keiko’s soft whimpers echoed through the cave interrupting my silent reverie. He was clearing dreaming of chasing prey as his legs made the running motion. Alistair, barely conscious, rested a hand on Keiko and offered reassuring words of comfort, which seemed to calm him. Their bond was another of Alistair’s endearing qualities.

I could not decide if the reason Alistair and Keiko liked one another was because the mabari were so intelligent and Keiko could sense the relationship developing between Alistair and I and, therefore, found Alistair worthy of his affection as well, or that because Alistair knew of mabari intelligence that he worked hard to win Keiko over for that same reason…either way, they shared their own special bond. It was common knowledge that Fereldans liked their dogs.

Silence returned to the cave, and I returned my attention to the wilderness. It was quiet. The heavy rains had driven everything to seek shelter, and it was one of the first quiet nights since our time with the Dalish in the Brecilian Forest. Something about the cave, being enclosed maybe, allowed for a sense of security, and a good night’s rest was always welcome. As I looked at my companions, they slept soundly, and I was glad for that.

We had fought hard many times in a short period and we had not even come close to attending to the Blight, as yet. How did one mentally, or physically, prepare for such an event? How would we even know when it had truly begun? Alistair was only a year into the order, and did not know much more than I did. Losing Duncan had been a difficult time, and I was still learning that he had left a great deal unsaid.

He fell shortly after my Joining, so it was understandable I would not have been privy to any great Warden secrets, but even Alistair had been left in the dark in regards to a number of things. War was uncertain, and I was certain that Duncan never expected to leave us so soon. The hole he left was larger than I could have imagined, and had it not been for the treaties, I am not sure what we would have done in the aftermath of the battle at Ostagar.

Loghain wanted us dead. He claimed the throne for himself and proclaimed us traitors, to be hunted with no hope of finding a safe haven. We had no recourse, no alternative, but to fight. Although, one thing Loghain may not have expected was that despite the tales of treachery on that fateful day, the Wardens were still considered a noble order, and there were those that would not turn their backs on us. We were finding allies in unexpected places. Loghain had put himself into a powerful position, with powerful friends, and as we drew closer to completing our mission, we would have to be ever on our guard against those who would do their best to derail our efforts.

At some point I must have drifted off, and there was no way to tell how long I had been asleep. The heavy rains had started again, and the wind allowed it to enter the cave in a steady stream. The bottom half of my robe was soaked, but it was Alistair’s fearful voice that startled me awake.

I could feel it before I even opened my eyes – the power. I had been captivated by the lightening, had thought how intriguing the sensation of feeling it upon my skin might be…now it was splintering from my fingertips to the sky above.

Alistair had perhaps heard the storm growing strong again and awoke to find me conducting electricity. His Templar training most likely caused him to spring into action, but his affection for me caused him to approach me carefully with that worried look upon his face.

I giggled at first, so caught off guard by such an occurrence. There was no pain, just a warmth where the tentacles of light tickled my fingertips. I had never heard of something like this, channeling magical elements with the natural element itself, while asleep. I moved my fingers and played with the light, flashing Alistair a bright smile that effectively stopped his worrying. The tension left him and his shoulders sagged with relief. I could feel him watching me with wonder as I continued to make the splintering light dance.

I willed myself to stop channeling the energy and closed my hand simultaneously, leaving the cave in a strange silent darkness. Alistair’s kiss was spontaneous, I think. He took a couple of long strides to close the distance and had my face in his hands while I still recovered. His kiss was hard, maybe meant to reassure himself of my well being. Maybe it was meant to reassure me as well, and to reiterate to each of us what we meant to the other. Our lives were filled with unexpected events and danger, and this display was yet more proof of that.

Alistair took my hands in his and carefully examined each one, searching for injury. His thumbs rubbed my palms, adding a little pressure with each stroke that caused my breath to catch. His hands continued their exploration, running them down each finger then working back up. His hands were warm against mine, and those rough calloused spots on his hands sent shivers down my spine. As he pushed one sleeve back and ran his hand along the length of one arm, thoroughly inspecting it, my mind flashed to the idea of him sliding off my robe in a similar fashion and I had to stop myself before getting carried away.

He seemed surprised to find nothing wrong, and satisfied, he kissed the palm. “You’re okay.” It was more of a realization than a question.

“I’m sorry I worried you.” I ran my free hand up his cheek and into his hair. “I had no idea I could do that.”

“I heard this strange hum, and then I saw you. I felt my stomach drop, and then was overcome with this fear, almost like the days after the Tower of Ishal, but worse now.” He averted his eyes with those last words.

I tilted my head to catch his gaze and raised his chin with my fingers. “I know something about that fear. When I awoke alone in Flemeth’s hut, and when I saw you stumble in battle at Redcliffe…”

He was still holding my hand and his grip tightened reflexively while he said, “We’ll have to watch out for one another.”  He brought my fingertips to his lips and placed a light kiss upon them.

I gave him a crooked smile and replied, “Deal.”

A strike of lightening crashed nearby, startling us both and causing a burst of nervous laughter. An interrupting cough from one of our companions, from the sound of it, Wynne, had him stepping away as if chastised.

Nervously he offered to take the next watch, stuttering something about not being able to fall asleep again. He offered me his hand to help me off the rocks and smiling, I kissed his cheek and agreed with him.

There were too many eyes and ears feigning sleep around us, and our flirtation always felt slightly hindered. What would we do if we ever found ourselves alone? Despite our time together, Alistair still stammered and blushed, which, yes, I still found endearing, but I couldn’t help but hope that he would eventually take matters into his own hands…but how could I ask that of him, given our current circumstances?

Like our earlier lives, mine in the Circle and his in the Chantry, we were never alone, alone. Those who both wished us well and censured us for our developing feelings constantly surrounded us. Any forward progress in creating any kind of meaning in our relationship would prove difficult, in part, because of our current predicament and lack of privacy, but also, because I don’t think either of us knew what to do.

We were both young and naïve, inexperienced in a number of ways. Whatever lay ahead for us, it would take a more than a bit of navigating and probably some luck to ensure any measure of success.

I had to laugh at myself for being so consumed with thoughts not relevant to the task at hand – the deadly, imposing, world domineering threat.

And then I remembered.

“I was hoping to find a quiet moment to give this to you.” I removed the amulet I had discovered in the Arl’s study from around my neck. It had resembled the one Alistair had described, his mother’s amulet, the one he thought lost to him. With the Arl is his current condition, and my propensity for thieving, apparently, I did not think anyone would notice its disappearance. I also figured, if it was not the one, I could return it when we found ourselves in Redcliffe again.

The cave was dark with the dying fire only offering a hint of a glow, and so I created a small flame in my palm so he could examine the amulet better. His eyes went wide and his mouth fell slack in wonder. “Is this what I think it is?”

It felt good to reunite him with something he had so treasured as a child; his only reminder of his mother. When I explained where I found it, we agreed that the Arl must have cared more for him than he thought. He had restored the broken necklace and kept it all these years; probably hoping that he would, at some point, have an opportunity to return it to its rightful owner.
Alistair was overcome with emotion, but he tried to brush it off by making a joke.

Yes, I understood that tactic all too well.

III

Denerim. It was my first time in such a place, a city. Lothering, Redcliffe, they were smaller towns, and the bustling sounds of Denerim could be heard before even entering the gates. Within moments of entering the city, a group of children playing grew wide-eyed at Keiko. He was all too happy to indulge them. They wanted to play a game of hide and seek, and all these hopeful eyes turned in my direction looking for permission.

I made a show of consideration. After a long pause and an increase in the pleas of the children, I feigned a deep sigh and begrudgingly gave my approval. The children laughed and Keiko barked happily, giving my hand a lick before running after the squealing throng. The mabari were war hounds, so I could only imagine the sight Keiko would make – playing children’s games.

We planned on staying a few days in Denerim, so we reserved rooms near the center of town in order to clean up after our travels and sleep in a bed instead of on the ground, at least for a couple of days. Soon enough we would be back on the road, and none of us knew how long such a journey might take.

Wynne was looking forward to some privacy, and so reserved her own room. Morrigan, Leliana, and I decided to share, as did Alistair, Sten, and Keiko. Considering how solitary my life in the Circle had been, I was finding comfort in the bonds I was developing with my constant companions, and so after a shared meal, we all retired to our rooms.

The girls and I sat together chatting happily cross-legged on the bed. We each held a pint of ale, our first night free of the burden of responsibility. We were between jobs, so to speak, and we were in need of the mental time off. Perhaps the city lulled us into a false sense of security. Nothing seemed as desperate, I suppose. At least not at the moment.

I had learned very little about these women who had been traveling with me almost since the beginning. As the ale began to have its intended effect, we each found our tongues loosened, sharing stories both old and new. Morrigan shared a story about when she was a child and the lesson her mother taught her about material things. Leliana told us a little of how she became a bard. They, of course, wanted to know more about my time with Cullen.

By the end of the night, and after a few more pints, we were giggling heaps, which only increased with each pounding on the wall from either Sten or Alistair at our disruptive outbursts.

The next morning I experienced my first after effects of over-indulgence. My head felt as if it were encased in a vice. I padded softly to the dining area for the morning meal using the wall often for support. Each step vibrated throughout my body and made me wince. I received the all-knowing looks of understanding, along with some jabs and chuckles.

The sight and smell of food made my stomach turn, but Sten and Leliana both insisted that food would greatly benefit in the lessening of such ill effects. Alistair recommended having a small tankard of ale – something about an old tale told around Warden tables when suffering from too much of a “good thing”. I was tempted to drink a health potion, as I was suffering an injury of sorts, but considering their value, and unsure if it would actually have any effect, I decided against the possibility of wasting it.

I wondered at how Morrigan and Leliana had recovered so well. To that I witnessed a sly smile pass between them. They confessed that while I continued to enjoy ale, they did not. Theirs was more of the watered down variety. The whole table burst out in laughter, which caused me to wince, yet again. This only made their laughter increase, but they also gave me sympathetic smiles.

Most of the morning was a blur. They made some comment about helping me to shirk responsibility, and about it being my first free day. Who knows what else was said. I mostly sat in silence, drinking strong tea and picking at a crust of bread. Although miserable, I do remember the camaraderie about me. Everyone seemed at ease, relaxed. It was a well earned break.

To an outsider, or the casual observer, one might wonder at our association. We must be quite the sight. Despite the casual nature in our demeanor, I knew that they were always at the ready. Leliana and Sten in particular always had one eye about the room. They saw everything, benign or otherwise, well before it needed worrying about.

After breaking our fast, all I wanted to do was retreat to my room. Sleeping until this sickness passed seemed the most enticing prospect, but I was persuaded to take in the fresh air. As I gingerly made my way back down the hall towards my room, I heard Alistair clear his throat. I turned, slumping against the wall, and offered him a raised eyebrow.

When he proposed we walk down to the docks, I responded with, “Do you not wish to have some time alone?”

He smiled that sweet smile and said, “Can’t we spend time alone, together?”

How could I resist such an offer? Unburdened by armor and weapons, we would look like normal people, a couple, just going about our day. Maybe I was getting that alone time with him that I had complained about the lack of recently.

Gallantly he tucked my hand into the crook of his arm, and side by side we headed out to take in the city together. When the inn door opened, we were greeted by the cool, refreshing air, thanks to the recent rains, and I was grateful Alistair had encouraged me to join him – the tavern had been stuffy. With Keiko by our side, my mind wandered to what a life beyond our current mission might be like…the future.

As Wardens, we might have an opportunity to enjoy freedoms – actually, I knew nothing about what expectations might be expected of us. I’m not sure Alistair knew any more. Perhaps we should write to whoever the Warden leaders might be?

Honestly, what did the Wardens do? I suppose I should be more specific. Other than our current mission to unite the different factions of Ferelden – the elves, dwarves, and men – what were we supposed to do? I had learned that the darkspawn blood I had ingested during the Joining was what connected me, and all Wardens, to the horde living below the surface and the archdemon. That dream had been so terrifyingly vivid. The dragon’s call still echoed in my bones.

When I met Duncan, he had been recruiting, but the initial battle with the darkspawn had already begun. Duncan had been trying to build the Warden’s numbers, but for what purpose, and why were there so few? I did not know how many had been lost at Ostagar, but on the eve of battle, there had just been the three of us.

I had so many questions, but I did not wish to spoil our peaceful time together with talk of business, or thoughts of Duncan. Alistair would always miss him. I am certain there had not been a day since he fell that Alistair had not thought of him. I imagine Alistair considering each step forward in such terms as, “What would Duncan do?” I wonder if Duncan knew how much he had meant to Alistair?

We strolled through the market, admiring wares from every corner of Thedas. I learned of Alistair’s love of cheese when we stopped at a specialty vendor. He purchased a small wheel and a braided loaf, and together we ate in pleasant silence. He had a boyish look of innocence as we continued, but it quickly turned serious.

He had learned that he had a half sister, and she lived here, in Denerim. He pointed out the house across the market square, and I could here the hopeful overtone in his voice. He had built up this moment in his head, the happy reunion, but now faced with the reality, he wasn’t sure it was the best avenue to explore, especially in light of our current situation.

I was unsure of how I would feel, to see my own family again, given the opportunity, but Alistair and I had very different backgrounds. Our futures were uncertain and he had to seize the moment. I encouraged him to think of what having a family could mean for him, after all this madness. He could be an uncle, and that thought brought a twinkle to his eye.

We encountered Morrigan in the square and she delighted in the idea of tormenting Alistair with her mere presence during such a time. Despite all this, I know she secretly wished him well, and so, was rightly put off when we met the wretched woman, Goldanna.

The harpy cared nothing for meeting her brother, and seemed only interested in what he might be able to do for her.

He was crushed.

Angry and resentful, she threw insults in every direction, even landing one my way, to which he immediately rose to my defense. I swelled with emotion, that he would protect me thusly, but I was sad for him. His hopes for some sort of connection had been dashed in an instant.

Once outside again, I realized he was at a crossroads. I looked at him for a long moment – the man who could be king. He needed to harden himself to the idea that sometimes we need to look out for ourselves. I wanted to reassure him in a number of other ways: to tell him how much I cared for him, that family is not only found in blood, et cetera, but this was one of those moments, a life changing moment that would help him for the big decisions ahead.

This adorable, sweet natured, cheese-loving man could be the next ruler of Ferelden, and despite the strong desire to hug him and offer him words of comfort, I had to think of what would be best for him. Once he had come to terms with what had just happened and what most people were really like…I sort of lost my train of thought there because the things I wanted to say sound trite and almost cruel.

His naiveté was one of his traits I liked, but given our circumstances, he needed to lose just a little of that. What I had wanted to say before, before I stopped myself were things like: reminding him that there are good people, those who aren’t looking out only for themselves, and I would be there to help him get past this rough patch, but the truth was I did not wish to voice such thoughts aloud. I did not wish to think myself capable of being mean to him, even if it were in his best interest. I did not want him to think that my moves were calculated, by any means. I was only trying to see our situation from every angle and what each step meant for the future.

I suppose that is the definition of calculated. I did not care for the feeling, but somehow, despite my lack of knowledge in so many things, I had become the leader and I, too, had to harden myself to the ideas and choices that would make for the best outcome.

I really did not care to be put in such a position, and yet I had allowed it to happen. Had I only known what that would mean, for all of us.

Alistair needed some time alone, to gather his thoughts, and so excused himself. Keiko whined upon his departure, clearly understanding Alistair’s mood, while Morrigan and I gave each other a look; one filled with sympathy for Alistair.

We watched him depart and I sighed. I was thinking about following him, when Morrigan spoke. “You were correct in saying what you did. It may not seem so now, but your words will have their intended effect, and he will be the better for it.”

“I am surprised to hear you say that.”

She raised an eyebrow at me in response before continuing. “Alistair has always been a part of groups that did not require that he think for himself. Following orders was to be his life, but he has been given the opportunity to change that. All he needed was a push in the right direction and you have done that.”

We sought out the shade of a nearby building and watched the people do what city folk do without an inkling that there may be danger lurking just outside their walls. It was a strange sight for both of us.

We leaned together in silence for a little while with Keiko sitting proudly between us. “It is not that I dislike Alistair, exactly, it’s just that I did not understand your regard for him, before.”

“Before?”

“I am beginning to see his potential.” She smiled slyly.

I chuckled. “Circle life was limiting, and Alistair is different. There’s just something about him; it was there from the start.”

“And what of your Templar?”

“What is there to say? I’m not even certain we shall ever meet again.” That was a depressing thought, one I had been trying my best to never think, let alone say aloud.

IV

Wanting to give Alistair the alone time he required, until I decided to rejoin him, but not wanting to return to the inn to take a nap, Morrigan and I decided to check out the Wonders of Thedas, a store with wares for the magically inclined. After perusing their goods and finding mage robes I desired, but out of my price range, I presumed that had given Alistair enough time to gather his thoughts.

Morrigan and I parted ways, and I made my way in the direction Alistair had taken earlier. Accompanied by Keiko, we found ourselves at the pier and discovered Alistair in a quiet spot near the end. As we approached, he offered us a small smile.

“May we join you?” I asked.

“Of course.”

The docks were scattered with crates, barrels, and fishing equipment. Alistair was sitting amongst them, and with a little effort, I nestled in beside him. We sat in, well, not exactly comfortable silence, for some time. Keiko eventually fell asleep at our feet.

I told him all the things I had wanted to say before; all the thoughts I had wanted to share about family and friends, and how we were each other’s support, not only because we were the only two Grey Wardens, but because we cared for one another. I was also honest about why I had said what I had after leaving his sister’s house – that I was thinking of him and his future.

I could see a blush creeping up his cheeks while he tried, without much luck, to bite back the smile looking for escape. “Thank you. I’m not certain anyone has cared for me as you have.”

“That cannot be true?” We looked at one another for an awkward moment as the truth of his words struck me. “Whatever else we may become, you are my friend, Alistair, and I take care of my friends.”

His smile grew wider and he took my hand in his. “You’re a true friend and I…am a lucky man.”

There was something else there, but he stopped himself. It made me wonder. He kissed my hand and drew me closer. We sat together, our arms intertwined on his lap, while I rested my head upon his shoulder. Despite the lingering effects of the alcohol, and the external forces at work against us, I found myself content.

I thought I was content enough in the Circle, because I did not know I could have any other life beyond those walls. I had had no choice but to be put there, so I made the best of the existence I had been given. I worked with the younger mages, had a library filled with books I could escape in, and upon passing my Harrowing, had been given a bit more freedom without the oppressive, watchful glares of the Templars – but that was my life.

That was all it was ever going to be for the others. That was the way of things, so I did my best to make peace with the idea, but today, I had found true contentment.

It was an interesting feeling.

I closed my eyes and tilted my face into the crook of Alistair’s neck, breathing in his clean skin mingled with the saltiness of the sea air – it was intoxicating. “What if this was our life?” He asked, his voice sounding distant.

I pulled back to look at him. “You mean after whatever is to come?” He looked as relaxed as I felt, but there was something beginning to brew just under the surface. I continued. “I, too, have wondered what would happen if we were to just leave.”

“I suppose Wardens would eventually arrive from Orlais. The Warden stronghold in Weisshaupt is quite a distance from Ferelden. We couldn’t possibly…the devastation…”

“Well, since you brought it up.”

He turned serious eyes toward me. “You wonder about the Blight and our role in it.” His tone was matter of fact. “I’m afraid I know as much as you do.”

“Which is nothing.” I teased.

“Very funny.” He smiled. “I think Duncan had intended on telling us more at Ostagar. He made a comment while you were unconscious after your Joining about Warden secrets…things just didn’t go as planned.”

“Is there anyone we can talk to? Where, besides Weisshaupt, could we find a senior Warden?”

“They may have already sent Wardens south to assist, but it will be months before any arrive. I don’t know if we can rely upon their support in time.”

“Then how will we know what to do?”

He fell silent.

“There has to be a scholar, someone with knowledge or access to records of previous Blights…” I could hear the desperation rising in my voice, and swallowed hard to squelch it.

“But the Grey Wardens’ activities will have remained a secret. It’s what they do. Keep things within the Order. The only thing anyone knows, myself included, is that a Warden is needed to end a Blight.”

I let out a long, frustrated sigh at the thought of blindly moving forward without any idea of what truly lay before us. Alistair gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. “We’ve done all right so far. We’ll figure it out.”

I threaded my fingers with his and although the uncertainty and pressure of our circumstances had returned, we tried to recapture the peace we had found earlier. I rested my head upon his shoulder again, and he stroked my hair, tucking a stray behind my ear while kissing my forehead, but it was clear, the spell had been broken.

“Well, we ruined it.” I said lightly.

He chuckled softly. I could hear it resonate through him and I could imagine the look upon his face without looking at him. “So much for talks of the future.” Although he tried to make light of the situation, I felt his body tense ever so slightly. It was a subject we would have to avoid again, at least for a while.

Planning for a future was a new idea for me, and I was both excited and terrified by the prospects. Not having the opportunity for one before, I was surprised by my own capacity to be so imaginative. Alistair was beside me. Each time. That, in itself, was a comforting thought.

I had been diverted earlier in my thoughts of the future, right to duty and all that. But what of a life away from the Order, away from court…was any of that even possible? I had gone from a quiet life in the Circle, to battling darkspawn in less than a fortnight, and if all worked out well, I was hoping to what? Live a quiet life in the country?

I really had become a foolish girl.

V

*I like to forewarn readers of mature content, and there is just a little bit referenced in this chapter.

On our journey we had encountered a merchant with a control rod for a golem located in the town of Honnleath. I had a vague memory of hearing that Cullen was from Honnleath, but I was unsure, and I wasn’t sure why it mattered. Oh, who was I kidding? Regardless, the idea of having a golem in our arsenal was an enticing prospect. On our way back through the Hinterlands we would make a short detour south of Redcliffe.

As was becoming the norm, nothing was ever simple, and before reaching the village, we were set upon by an assassin who had set a clever trap. Loghain had hired the Crows, a company of assassins, for the sole purpose of killing Alistair and me. After defeating the hired Zevran in a fight that left the rest of his companions dead, he did the most unexpected thing — he offered his services to us.

Having Zevran join us had been a difficult decision, one that had drawn quite a bit of opposition, but he had inside knowledge of Loghain’s operations, so for the immediate future, I thought it best to obtain whatever information we could from him. I knew it was a risky choice, but each of us had been given a second chance, even Keiko, and knowing it was a contract held by his organization, and not him personally, I decided to offer Zevran that same opportunity.

What I quickly learned was that besides being an insatiable flirt, he was also useful with his dual blades.   We were on a difficult journey, and who was I to judge or refuse whatever aid we could receive? That was why when we found Shale, the golem, in the darkspawn-overrun town of Honnleath I made another difficult decision.

Shale had freely admitted to crushing its former master, a most unpleasant way to go. I am unsure as to whether I should refer to it as he or she, there is no way to discern gender, but given the opportunity to explore its newfound free will, it chose to follow us.

We each had earned trust, and so would they, given time. Until then, we would keep a close eye on each of them.

I would have to remember to write to Cullen, in a gentle manner, in regards to the destruction of his hometown. Some of the villagers had been lucky enough to survive the attack, so it was my hope that his family had been as fortunate. There had not been a proper opportunity to discover such information, and I could not let my mind linger on such thoughts.

We found a good spot to camp about a day’s journey from Haven. We still had a couple hours of daylight, but with the snow flurries and the chill in the air, we decided it was best to set up camp and eat before it became impossible. For added warmth, we decided it best to share tents, and while we were setting up, Alistair gave me a sheepish grin.

Shale required no protection from the elements, and also required no sleep, so it offered to stand guard, which gave the rest of us a break from taking shifts. The others were deliberating the sleeping arrangements, and this was why Alistair gave me that sweet, devious smile. I could feel my cheeks warm at the idea.

Alistair had given me time and space, something I think, we both needed. In the time since the Circle, he had courted me and been sweet, funny, and kind. I hadn’t thought myself a romantic, but in these uncertain times, our bond grew even deeper with the craziness of it all, and I found that my wandered with just the slightest provocation; a look, a touch, the lilt in his voice when he called me “my dear”.

We had shared just a few kisses, but each day drew us to a more intense level in our relationship, one that could not be denied much longer – one that had drawn the attention of our friends. With close calls and brushes with death on a regular basis, we were discovering how precious our time together truly was.

I heard the talk about the sleeping arrangements, and quite subtly, Leliana and Zevran had organized everyone so that it was almost without question that Alistair and I would share a tent, with Keiko as well, of course.

Alistair and I stole longing looks at one another while we set up camp, and in some maneuver of flirtation or torture, I’m not sure which, sat across from me during our meal to continue teasing me with his smiles and looks.

It was going to be a long night.

Keiko loved the snow and exploring new areas, so he had disappeared after dinner and did not return until well after dark. By that time, everyone had retired and he decided to stand watch with Shale for a while. Alistair and Sten had decided to make a final perimeter check before nightfall, and the girls gave me knowing glances as we went to our tents. I could not help but giggle, until Wynne pulled me aside.

I felt like a young mage again, being asked to meet with my superiors about some violation I had committed. Wynne was my superior, so the effect was quite right, but her words were not in regards to my actions as a mage or a Warden, but in regards to my developing relationship with Alistair.

At first I was angry, that she should even comment on something she knew nothing about, but eventually, her words rang true.

“Love is ultimately selfish.” And, “A Grey Warden cannot afford to be selfish.”

There was no defending against such words. It was true. I said what I thought was right, but in the end, her words disturbed me. When it came down to it, what weren’t Alistair and I willing to do for the other? And what would that mean in the end?

When I returned to my tent, I was rattled, confused, and slowly growing more nervous. My attraction to Alistair was not something that could be easily diminished with talk of sacrifice, even when considering that nothing had happened between us that could not be undone. Such an unknown future was well off, far enough away that such talk seemed premature, and yet, when my mind turned to us sharing this tent alone, I felt my body grow warm with want.

I wanted Alistair. Pure and simple.

And I knew I was being selfish.

I know that part of this desire was from living a life of restraint prior to our meeting. I wanted to live a full life now that I had the opportunity. Morrigan’s words in the Circle about regret rang even more true now. I desired Alistair, and I was certain I would regret not exploring our relationship fully.

Desire was a primal force, and my magic was based in such a place, so it seemed only fitting that I explore it, and yet…

I felt this was only a short-term solution. Was I only seeking gratification for gratification’s sake? In the long run, attaching myself to him on a more intimate level would most likely make any separation or change in our status that much more difficult to endure.

I really didn’t care for being left alone with my thoughts. Why had I let myself become so unnerved? And should I share all this with Alistair? He would notice the change in my demeanor immediately, so there was no sense in hiding it, but how much detail should I go into with him?

Luckily I didn’t have long to worry about that. I removed my robe and changed into soft wool breeches and a long sleeve tunic to stave off the cold. I sat cross-legged by candlelight with my journal in my lap when Alistair returned.

He shivered and commented that the snow was falling more heavily now. I turned to face him fully, setting my journal aside, and assisted him with removing his armor. We sat in silence as I maneuvered buckles and clasps, and I could feel his eyes on my face the entire time. It was a strange sort of intimacy, just he and I, alone in the tent. Undressing him, knowing that we would lie together, and then hearing Wynne’s words at the back of my mind…my thoughts were a jumble.

“All right. What is it?” He tried to catch my gaze, but I averted my eyes pretending to be working on a buckle on his shoulder.

I debated how much I wanted to say. I didn’t want to ruin what little alone time we had together. ”Wynne caught me off guard with some thoughts she wished to share with me.”

“Did she catch you admiring my…” He stalled in his thoughts, looking for the right word. “Physique?” He smiled.

I giggled, knowing what that meant. “I’m sorry, were you caught admiring some thing?” I purposefully emphasized the “thing” part.

He nervously laughed. “Maybe.” I nodded, satisfied. “But that’s not what you meant, is it?”

“She’s just concerned, about both of us. She wanted me to think about how our relationship might affect our future, and the decisions we may be forced to make.” I felt my face fall with the weight of that admission. I should be able to overcome such a base emotion, desire, but how did one just stop feeling it once it had made itself known?

We had been skirting the edges for some time, holding back, but it was growing ever more evident that more was happening between us than just some infatuation.

We looked at one another deep in thought in the wake of such a statement, weighing our options, wondering which might be the more prudent course of action, when he decided to kiss me.

I liked that idea.

I kissed him back, deeply. Removing what was left of his armor, we said not another word. His actions effectively cleared my mind of its worries. This is what we both wanted, had been wanting for weeks, and now could finally enjoy.

His arms went around me, strong, pulling me close, until I was in his lap. Our kisses were long and slow, and we clung to one another. My arms went around his neck and my legs wrapped around his waist. I wanted him closer. As our breathing became uneven, one of his arms ran up the length of my back to settle at the base of my neck and held me in place as his mouth trailed kisses from my jawline to my neck.

My back arched when he nibbled a sensitive spot on my neck, and I ran a hand into his hair giving it a little tug. I pulled back ever so slightly to look into his eyes, knowing that this was the moment – the moment that would change…us.

I helped him to remove his tunic, ruffling his hair in the process, which only added to his innocent appearance. He looked nervous, uncertain, and as I gently ran my hands along his shoulders and arms, his muscles twitched under my touch. He was shy, and I found that utterly adorable.

His skin was warm from his exertion in the hills and a slow blush had begun to creep up his cheeks from my attention. I kissed his shoulder and moved to his neck, finding a place just below his ear that made his breath catch.

And then I felt that familiar twitch between us, and my body responded with a throb of its own.

With little effort I removed my tunic, and having dispensed with my chest binding earlier, there was nothing inhibiting the feel of his chest upon my own. The chill from the oncoming storm sent shivers through my exposed skin, causing my nipples to rise and graze his chest. This only heightened my already aroused flesh.

With eyes full of wonder, he took one hand and stroked it from my chest, between my breasts, to my stomach, and then around my waist and gave my side a little squeeze. Then his hand returned the way it came, and those calloused spots on his hands, the ones I had yearned to feel, did exactly what I expected. A soft moan escaped my lips, and my body moved of its own accord on his lap, which in turn caused him to moan.

Our lips sought out the other’s and the kiss deepened, again, but there was this growing need becoming more tangible as our bodies moved against each other. I wanted to feel his weight on top of me, so I broke the kiss and seductively leaned backwards to lie on our bedrolls. I kept my legs around his waist, and used them as a device to bring him with me.

With his hands on either side of me, he rocked forward, sliding his whole body against mine. Instinctively, my body rose to meet him. The kiss became hungry at this point; all those months of pent up emotion, restraint, and behaving ourselves. We were finally alone, and I got what I wanted – a more reassured Alistair.

He trailed more kisses down my neck, gently exploring my body with his hands and mouth. He tasted each breast, moving lower still to kiss my stomach, but stopped when he reached the invisible barricade provided by my breeches. Our eyes met as he asked for silent permission to continue.

I lifted my hip just slightly as encouragement. He pulled one side of my breeches down, and he lightly nipped my hip bone. He left kisses along that invisible line, while his hands traced back up to feel my skin under his warm touch, and again my body rose to meet him.

I wanted more.

I crooked my finger in a beckoning fashion to draw his attention back upwards and our bodies entwined in this way that seemed so natural, as if we had done it a dozen times before. He didn’t kiss me again, but instead just looked at me, using his hands to explore every peak and valley. As he reached my hip bone again, he gave it a squeeze, before continuing down my bent leg.

I ran my fingertips along the expanse of his chest, feeling each detail in the muscles of his stomach, and traced the line of his hip that dipped below his own breeches. I wanted to subtly offer him encouragement, and to tease him into understanding and want.

“Remove your breeches.” I heard myself say in a strange, distant voice, and then I heard it.

The shrieking.

Shale called out, “It may wish to rise and attend to this.”

I groaned.  Steadying my breathing, Alistair and I looked at one another and smiled sheepishly.

“To be continued.” He said as we pulled on our tunics and boots.

VI

Our travels did not lend to Alistair and I continuing where we had left off that night on the way to Haven, and it was clear we were both frustrated at that. Zevran’s flirtations didn’t help matters either. He would flirt and then tease Alistair, which Alistair found maddening. The rest of us found it surprisingly pleasant, especially in light of the fact that he flirted with everyone, Alistair included.

After that night, we found ourselves surrounded by heretics in Haven and within the Temple. We also encountered beasts of every variety, including a dragon. What an amazing, terrifying creature. I had never seen a dragon before, except for the archdemon that had haunted my dreams. Our current time period was called the Dragon Age, and I had found that a surprising moniker considering how few accounts had been given of actual dragon sightings.

The one we encountered near Haven was grand indeed. She was not only enormous, but quite beautiful as well. Her scales varied in hues of lavender that glistened in the sun, and when she spread her expansive wings, the mix of pinks seemed a more sinister shade when stretched over the swooping lines and pointed edges. We each stumbled in our awe of her. She was tall, at least eight humans high with a wingspan double that, and her voice rattled our bones.

She was magnificent.

I was loath to strike her down, but when she attacked us, breathing fire that scorched the earth and singed hair and flesh, we had but no other choice except to defend ourselves. The sound of her snapping jaws struck fear in each of us at the thought of how easily she could break us in two, so those of who could, kept their distance.

At one point, near the end of the fight, Morrigan and I both stared at the dragon in wonder and sadness that such a creature should fall. I think we empathized with her – having great power and not being able to do anything about it. When the men suggested we strip her of some of her scales for armor, I felt a pit grow in my stomach.

I did not want to pick her over like some carcass unworthy of respect. She deserved better, but I could not refute their logic either. The warriors, the ones that took the brunt of each battle, deserved the best protection and so I agreed before averting my gaze.

We had barely survived the caverns, the traps, and the constant danger around every corner, but in the end, we were successful in finding Andraste’s Ashes, and so we returned to Redcliffe in haste.

It was there we witnessed what can only be described as a miracle.

The Arl recovered, fully. And within in few hours, he was not only ready, but eager to discuss all that had happened while he had been incapacitated and the plans for the future. While we continued to use the Warden treaties to gain Orzammar’s support, he would rally the nobles and call a special meeting called a Landsmeet.

Having saved his family and the town, the Arl was especially gracious. In addition to offering us a place in the castle until we were ready to continue our journey, he offered each of us gifts befitting our talents, and supported Alistair in his claim to the throne.

And there it was. The subject we had been hoping to ignore as long as possible.

After dinner, Eamon and Alistair retired to the Arl’s study to discuss certain matters, and when Alistair returned to us, he looked uneasy, troubled. He shared with us his conversation with the Arl and his eyes fell to mine when he said the words, “He wants me to be king.”

We had known for some time that it was the most likely outcome, but to know one of the most powerful men in Ferelden wished it so…well, it now seemed an inevitability, one neither of us was ready for. The Arl was a clever man, and so it was no wonder why his word was so well regarded, and why Alistair still admired and respected him.

The rest of us had remained in the dining hall, sharing a few pints and some laughs now that the most pressing matter had been resolved. It reminded me of holidays in the Circle when tensions were low, and we were able to forget, for just a moment, our place in the hierarchy. This new revelation, although again, expected, weighed on me. How could I willingly allow Alistair to continue on this journey? We had endured a number of close calls, and as the potential future king, despite his protests and assurances that he was first and foremost a Warden, I was finding Wynne’s words ringing in my ears.

I abruptly rose from the table, excusing myself simultaneously, while refusing to make eye contact with any of the curious eyes that followed my departure.

I needed fresh air. I needed a quiet corner.

I knew I would not get one.

I walked past more questioning faces as I stalked through the main hall to the courtyard. Other than the occasional sentry walking the ramparts, the courtyard was quiet. I walked in circles around the large tree Keiko had found so intriguing, letting my hand drift over its rough skin, wondering why this news had so affected me.

Why did I continue to lie to myself?

I knew the moment he said the words what it all meant. He had royal blood. I was a mage.

I did not yet know what our relationship meant, and so why should I worry about something so far in the future? It was a very real possibility that I would not survive to see his coronation, but there was something about the finality of having one’s future decided that troubled me. As a woman in love…

I scoffed at realizing how natural writing those words seemed, and yet still rather unexpected.

I love Alistair. Present tense.

In writing such an affirmation, I took a moment to relish the feel of it, smiling and giggling to myself. Odd that it found its way out now, when I least expected to express it.

So, as a woman in love (I am giggling again), thinking about traditional things like marriage, had crossed my mind, on a few occasions, but now I knew that such a thing might never happen. Would I be all right with anything else?

My mind turned to Cullen, a Templar. Gracious. That was almost worse, and I found myself giggling once more. I shook my head at the nonsense of it all.

Honestly, I did not wish to be burdened with thoughts of a hypothetical future that may never come to pass. Alistair could refuse the throne if he so wished. We might perish in the fight against the archdemon. There were a number of possible “what ifs”, and it was those lines of thoughts that I did my best to avoid. So when I heard Alistair’s footsteps, I resolved not to let it hinder what little time we may actually have left together.

He paused a short distance away, most likely trying to judge my physical demeanor to determine my emotional state, and so I set myself right. I turned and offered him a bright smile, which clearly he hadn’t expected to find.

“So.” He started a little awkwardly.

“I apologize for my reaction. We knew it was a possibility.” I leaned against the tree and tried to appear casual and nonchalant.

“I don’t even know if being king is what I want. Until Cailan’s death, I had never given it a second thought.”

“Think of all you could do.” I paused, knowing what I was to say next would not be well received. “Which is why I think it’s best that you remain in Redcliffe with the Arl.”

I pretty much got the reaction I expected.

The look of confusion and anger that drifted across his face made me swallow hard in anticipation of his retort. “You must be joking?! After all we have been through, do you think I would let you continue without me? Do you think I would be able to sit idly by knowing that you were doing what was necessary, by risking your life, to secure the future of not just this land, but the whole of Thedas? Maker’s Breath! How could you think I would be able to watch you leave, knowing I wasn’t with you, to fight beside you, to watch over you…” He stopped mid-tirade because I had thrown my arms around him.

“I’m sorry.”

I held him tight, and it took but a moment for him to return it. He crushed me to him, and I was thankful that he had removed his heavy armor. He nuzzled my neck and I felt the first of many tears fall. I expected resistance to the idea, and Wynne’s blasted words of sacrifice were becoming ever more relevant, but had I honestly thought I would be happy myself leaving him behind?

I kissed his temple, then his forehead, and as we looked into each other’s eyes, we came to a sort of silent understanding. He nodded once, and I returned it. We would stay together until the end, and I wouldn’t bring up such a ridiculous idea again.

Hand in hand we walked back inside. He led me to my room, and kissed me with such sweet tenderness that I felt my body become light as if I were in a dream. He left me in that besotted state, and I sank into bed like a pool of warm honey.

~*~

We returned to Denerim, and when I walked into the Gnawed Noble, I was surprised to find my heart thumping in anticipation and hope of a letter from Cullen. My companions and I had separated upon arriving in the city, each tasked with a different responsibility to prepare us for the long journey to Orzammar.

Nonetheless, I approached the bartender cautiously and inquired as to any letters he may have for nameless recipients. Looking me over once, he pulled out a single letter with a one-word inscription, “Spitfire”.

I bit back my smile, tucked the letter away, and tipped him for his discretion. I found a corner away from the main entrance and quickly read the letter once so I knew at least he was well.

Spitfire –

The first time you left the Circle to join the Wardens, I had not the nerve to wish you well, something I will always regret, for how could I be certain our paths would ever cross again? In your absence, I realized how much I had come to rely on seeing you each day, and so I made a promise that should the Maker see fit to bring you back into my life, I would not repeat my previous mistakes.

I am still ashamed of the words I said to you that day you returned – the day you saved the Circle. I had broken my promise at the first test. I cannot thank you enough for your kind and forgiving nature, because it allowed me that second chance I was sure I had lost.

After your leaving the second time, and in light of our new friendship, I missed you even more so. You truly are a light that remains undiminished in these dark times. I hope that in your travels you have remained well, and that you have been able to keep the promise I asked of you in regards to not gaining any new scars. I wish there was more I could have offered you besides just a few words and well wishes, but we are currently on different paths – two that I hope will cross again in the near future.

I wonder where you are and worry for your safety. I keep you in my prayers that not only will you be successful in your mission, but that you should remain unharmed as well. I cannot begin to imagine all you will have seen and done by your journey’s end. I do hope you will share with me some of your adventures, but I do look forward to the days when you and I will be reunited and you can share your stories first hand.

The morning you left Kinloch, I spoke with the Knight Commander and asked for my transfer. He was surprisingly understanding. Within a few short weeks, which passed by quickly with the amount of restoration required in the Circle, I had my new orders.

I am now in the city of Kirkwall across the Waking Sea. The city, at first, is a little overwhelming, especially for those of us who come from small towns, or Circles. It used to be a major center in slave trade during the days of the Imperium, and there are still a number of features that are reminiscent of those old times.

To reach the city from the south, one must enter by boat and pass two imposing statues that appear to be weeping or hanging their heads in shame, I’m unsure which, probably both. They offer no warm greeting and are rather unsettling, and are really a testament to what this city once stood for.

The Circle is housed in a part of town known as the Gallows – an unfriendly, unwelcoming name, although my new brothers and sisters in arms seem pleasant enough. My new commander is a formidable woman with a tight rein on those under her command and those she has sworn to protect. She is not unkind, but there is an undercurrent of something I cannot put my finger on…maybe she has seen an event not unlike what we have seen, and so she is vigilant. I feel there is a great deal I will be able to learn from her.

She, of course, knew of the troubles at Kinloch Hold, and has been gracious and patient while I continue to recover. I feel I made the right decision, at least in regards to the change in landscape. Living in such an active place, there are many people seeking refuge from the Blight, allows for many diversions from my thoughts and opportunities to be of use.

On my first night here, I had a nightmare. It was the first since leaving the Circle and I wasn’t sure if I should take it as an omen, or perhaps as just regret at leaving so much behind in Ferelden. We were still in the Circle, you and I, but you had not left to join the Wardens. Instead I watched helplessly as Uldred tortured you. He turned your fellow mages into abominations, he struck Templars down, and yet you stood fast.

You did not beg for mercy, and the look you leveled upon him is one I shall not forget. I am certain it is the same look you have when you face your foes, and should that be true, they have much to fear. When he turned his attention to me, you fought back, breaking his hold on you, and attacked. I watched you fall, but you took Uldred with you.

I awoke in a panic, covered in sweat, and tried to gather my wits. It had felt so real, and it took a moment to remember that those events had not transpired. You were victorious. You were are safe. The dream left me unsettled for days because I have no way of knowing for certain of your safety. I can only pray the Maker is watching over you and that my nightmare was just that, a bad dream.

Please send me word that you are safe, as soon as you are able. I know you have many duties that require your attention, so I do not expect lengthy letters of detailed account, but just a few words would suffice. Something like, “I am well” or even “Alive and kicking” would bring me comfort. The last one I can even now hear in your playful tone.

I do not know what I ever did to earn your friendship, I was a fool for too long, but I hope that we shall always remain friends. Feel free to share with me any of your worries as well as your triumphs knowing they are safe with me, and I will do the same. I look forward to building a true friendship with you – one each of us can rely on.

I think I shall write to you often. I feel a certain comfort communicating with you as if you were sitting beside me. Perhaps you will find some of my letters dull in comparison to the exciting life you are leading, but it is sometimes the details in the mundane that show a person’s true character. I will let you be the judge, but should you be bored to the point of refusing my friendship, please tell me. I jest of course. I’m floundering, in my way, unsure of how to end a letter I’m not certain you will even read. It’s a thought I cannot bear.

I will just say, be well, my friend. Be brave and strong, and show your enemies no mercy.

– Your Lion

I hugged the letter to my chest and breathed a deep sigh of relief that he seemed to be doing well enough and had found himself safely tucked away from the troubles here. I knew nothing of the Circle there, but he was in a big city, and I was certain that being surrounded by so many new people he would heal and do some good there.

I had started a letter to him some time ago, filling it in with small details of our journey, hoping that I would eventually learn of his whereabouts and be able to send it to him. As we had set up this system to maintain our anonymity, I would need to finish the letter before leaving the city.

Becoming a Warden had a number of drawbacks. Besides being in tune with the group mind of the darkspawn and the shortened life span, there was the added benefit of an increased appetite, which sometimes was hard to satiate. As I sat near the warm fire, resting from yet another long walk, I found myself ravenous. Taking the opportunity to enjoy my brief solitude, I ordered some food and finished my letter.

I reassured him of my well being, and I shared with Cullen some of the thoughts I was afraid to voice to my companions, thanks to his encouragement. It was almost like writing in my journal. I talked about my excitement of seeing Orzammar, my fears of what lay in store for us, and my hopes for the future. We had shared two equally important and affecting moments, and I felt I could be honest with him, and be myself.

It’s not that I hid who I was from my friends, but often times, having become the leader, there was a great deal that remained unsaid, for many reasons. I didn’t have to do that with Cullen, and it was my hope that he would continue to feel the same, and share with me whatever he wanted or needed to. I closed the letter with my hopes that I would see him again as well. I told him I would continue to write to him about our travels, and when I found myself in Denerim again, I would send him word.

Writing to Cullen was comforting, and I found an odd sense of peace wash over me after giving my letter to the bartender. Perhaps it was knowing he was doing well. Perhaps it was because he had not forgotten me, nor his promise. Whatever the reason, I felt invigorated in our quest, perhaps a little bit because I wanted to make him proud.

VII

Orzammarconceptart

To describe Orzammar was almost beyond words. What a remarkable place, and underground no less. I had to wonder if the dwarves filled the spaces they found, or if they chipped away at the caves in order to create such awe inspiring and imposing structures? And this was one of the last impressive thaigs that used to run beneath the whole of Thedas. Remarkable.

I found it amusing that despite a dwarf’s stature, they lived in buildings far greater than any on the surface.

It was warm here and the whole city was engulfed in an amber glow from the lava that flowed like a river here. Randomly lyrium veins wound their way through the stone, and I found myself drawn to the hum; the song that only those familiar with it could hear. I reached out to touch the iridescent blue glow, and a passing dwarf encouraged me against such action. Raw lyrium was dangerous to those not of dwarven origin. I knew that, of course, but I had never seen it in its natural state. It was lovely.

Before even entering the main gates of Orzammar, we learned of the political strife. Our Warden status granted us the access we sought, but obtaining the dwarves assistance in the coming battle was going to be a much more difficult and lengthy endeavor. The assembly would sway to the voice of a paragon, but currently there was only one, Branka, and she was in the Deep Roads.

The Deep Roads? The place where darkspawn hailed from? The place where Wardens went to die?

Wonderful.

~*~

To be a mage is to be a bit of a show off. While we cast spells, we are alight with magic. We flash with a rainbow of colors, imbued with powers from the Fade. We twirl our staves in a great dancing display. For any mage, their staff is an extension of themselves. They help to focus our hits, they direct with greater accuracy, but they also need to bear quite a burden. I knew with each passing fight, I was not only developing new skills, but I was also capable of more than I had been before.

I was stronger and my mana drained at a lesser rate than it had even a few weeks earlier. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I outgrew my current staff, but while in the Deep Roads, nearly overwhelmed by spiders and deepstalkers, I cringed upon hearing a sound every mage dismays at hearing.

I twirled, casting spell after spell, some deadlier than others, when I felt my staff shudder, and in the strange silence that follows any flurry of spellcasting, the inevitable groan of the staff splintering under pressure. I cringed. Many of the senior mages in the Circle still had the same staff they had passed their Harrowing with.

Since leaving the Circle, with my ever-expanding cache of spells, I hadn’t been so lucky. Upon finding a moment’s reprieve from the never-ending onslaught of beasts in these dark passages, I sat despondent at the state of what I regarded as an ally, or an old friend. We had been through quite a bit together, and I would be sad to put her to rest.

I gently traced my fingertips along the fragmented edge, thinking back on the journey we had undertaken so far, and how we had arrived in such a place, where Wardens came for one last battle. That thought had lodged a permanent shiver in my spine as we continued through the dark passages. Orzammar was an amazing sight to behold, and the Deep Roads were a link to the dwarves past, but they had long turned to ruin, and were now the home to the worst beings imaginable.

The Deep Roads were once a place of bustling activity, now they were dark and dank, and sometimes the scent of death was overwhelming. I couldn’t imagine the idea of traveling here alone…to die. The thought was not only morbid, but sad. At times we walked for hours without seeing anything, darkspawn or otherwise, which was nice considering the size of some of the things living here.

The spiders were a true nightmare come to life. Sometimes they swarmed us, excited by the prospect of fresh meat, and other times they descended from above, silent and predatory; the only warning: a drop of venom before the strike.

If a Warden came here to take out darkspawn, they might never be that lucky.

We had a partial map of what was left of the known area, but after a number of dark days traveled, we found ourselves in uncharted territory – a thaig long since lost. There was an eerie silence in the once functioning thaig after our recent fight. This is where I sat in awe of the amazing feats of architecture that had remained in tact all these years that hinted at the vast greatness that was once the dwarven empire.

We had found ourselves a new party member, Oghren, a dwarf and the husband of the paragon, Branka. When he learned of our intention to find her, he insisted upon joining us. Many of his fellows thought him useless, he was usually drunk, but when he swung his axe, he did some damage. Like everyone else who had joined our cause, he had proven himself useful. And although he wasn’t as charming as Alistair, or as suave as Zevran, or even as stoic as Sten, he had a good sense of humor and didn’t take things too seriously. Something I think we needed. Also, as a dwarf, his knowledge of their history could give us some advantage in the days to come, especially when it came to talking with his wife.

I could not believe of all the places our journey would take us that we would find ourselves here in this underground world. The darkspawn had not only tainted this place, but they had brought about its downfall. As they continued to spread, the dwarves were forced to close passages off in the hopes it would stop the creatures’ advancement. Not only were the thaigs lost, but many lives as well.

I was surprised at the amount of treasure that had been left behind. I can imagine the people were forced to evacuate quickly, and only took what was necessary. We took small diversions, checking homes for useful items, and found much more than we expected.

We walked in silent reverie, but not for long.

We found ourselves ambushed by deepstalkers. The vicious little creatures streamed in from every dark corner and I found it difficult to keep track of them and pay attention to the well being of my companions. So it really should have come as no surprise when I suddenly felt a searing pain radiate through me. Yes, it took me by surprise initially; I remember looking down in disbelief, but it wasn’t long before the pain set in and I realized what had happened.

Protruding from my stomach was a foreign object, at the time I could not identify it, but I remember it was dripping in blood…my blood. I stood there, stupefied by this error in judgment, and felt my body go slack. I dropped my staff, my hands had begun to shake uncontrollably, and I reached down to touch the spiked thing in my stomach. I looked to my friends, at a loss of what to do, but they were still in the midst of fighting.

I turned my head to find the fangs of a giant spider not far from my face dripping with venom. It hissed, angry and frightened at being stuck, probably as angry and frightened as I was for having been stuck. When I turned back, a small cry escaped my lips and simultaneously, Alistair and Morrigan turned. Their eyes went wide, and in an instant, Morrigan’s magic had killed the creature, but it remained impaled.

The pain became overpowering and my legs gave way. I fell to my knees, afraid that any other movement to the spider’s leg might do my body more damage. It was in that moment that I remembered my promise to Cullen – no new scars. This would definitely leave a mark. I choked back the startled cry.

As my friends killed off the remaining enemies, they ran to my side in a panic. I saw it then, another spider descending, and I was thankful I still had enough of my wits about me to throw one last spell before succumbing to the darkness that had been hovering around the edges.

I remember drifting in and out of consciousness for some time. I remember Alistair dismembering the spider’s leg before swooping me into his arms and carrying me to safety while shouting frightened orders to the others. I remember catching glimpses of their faces, both worried and angry. The last thing I remembered was Morrigan and Wynne working together to assess and bind my wound. I think that was the last thing I remembered, because they had to remove the spider’s leg, and the scream I tried to muffle in my agony was my undoing.

VIII

Everything that happened after was recounted to me while I recovered in the remains of a dwarven home in a lost thaig in the Deep Roads.

I had lost a good deal of blood and my breathing had become shallow. I made no movement and grew pale, causing fear to spread amongst my friends. They did not wish to draw unwanted attention, so they did not build a fire, nor did anyone make unnecessary movement or speech.

Wynne used healing magicks that began the healing process, but the recovery would be slow due to the severity of the wound. When they realized my vitals were still uneven, they knew they would need to find a more secure location. It would be a little while before I would be well enough to move, and in these early moments, they were still unsure that I would even survive.

Hearing this later, I felt both guilty and grateful. I was unhappy to have caused my friends such grief, and I chastised myself repeatedly for not paying better attention to our surroundings. I don’t know what I would have done had the spider gotten the better of one of them. I was also grateful for their concern and their care of me in my unconscious state. It never crossed their minds that I should be left behind or that I was a lost cause. They remained with me, protected me, and cared for me. Knowing this, I found comfort. I felt that they were my friends, and I hadn’t used the term casually, but their efforts on my behalf proved that we were in deed my friends, some of the best friends I could have ever asked for.

I also felt guilty about Alistair. Apparently, he did not handle this event well. The uncertainty of my recovery left him frayed around the edges, according to Leliana. His temper was short, so he refrained from spending time with the others. He then took it upon himself to stand watch more often than he should have, and aggressively attacked anything that found itself in his path. He felt that my protection was among his priorities and that he had failed me. When he wasn’t on guard duty, he was by my side.

Alistair, Sten, and Oghren had surveyed the area and found a location that was suitable for an extended stay. It was a two-story building that had remained surprisingly intact. There were no breaches to its structure, so they reinforced any areas they thought might pose a problem, and for the next few days, hunkered down and waited for my recuperation.

I was lodged upstairs with a small fire, and the first day I remember coming to, I found Sten beside me with Alistair asleep sitting up against the nearest wall. Even sleeping he looked tired, haggard. Sten didn’t seem to be faring much better. The memory of the attack came rushing back to me and my first reaction after the guilt of worrying them and stranding them in such a place was to console them in some way, but Sten gently held me down, using an endearment I was unfamiliar with, Kadan.

I remembered taking note of the tenderness in his eyes.

He fed me some broth, but remained silent. He sighed heavily once, and there was a twinkle of a smile upon his lips. It was always the small things with Sten. He gently nudged Alistair and then left us alone. Alistair took one of my hands in his as the other rubbed my forehead and softly stroked my cheek. I watched as his fear subsided and relief washed over him. They all knew that when I finally regained consciousness that the worst would be behind me.

“You had us quite worried, my dear.”

Despite the broth, my throat felt dry, and I knew I had no voice, so I mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

“No. No. It is I who should apologize. I should have watched over you better. You are such a force to be reckoned with, I sometimes forget how fragile you are.” His smile was small and a little bitter.

He had taken on too much responsibility for this. So far, we had remained remarkably unscathed. Luck and the Maker’s kind gaze had been on our side for some time. We were in the Deep Roads, outnumbered. The odds were against us from the start, but still, this was a lucky escape. I tried to raise a hand to rest upon his cheek, but even such a small action caused the pain to strike and I winced.

“Rest, love. You’re safe.”

I remember nodding, but nothing more.

It was a few days more before I was able to sit up without too much discomfort. The wound was healing nicely, but it occasionally throbbed as the flesh continued to bind itself. The spider’s leg had impaled itself on my left side, so I was unable to use the left arm, and to encourage its disuse to ensure my full recovery Wynne wrapped it to my body.

Morrigan and Leliana bathed me and cleaned the wound to avert infection. Zevran and Oghren patched my armor and added pieces to strengthen it for better protection. Alistair and Shale upgraded an older staff until I could find another one that would support my power. And Sten even braided my hair. It was the most endearing gesture the big brusque man could have offered me.

The mood had lightened in our party now that I was on the mend. The diversion had cut into our rations, but as I sat quietly contented with Sten’s hands in my hair, eating a small meal with Alistair beside me, I couldn’t help but smile. If this journey had taught me nothing else, it was to enjoy the small moments, for they would probably be remembered best.

~*~

Life in the Circle was fairly uneventful. I could sit for days reading, but since becoming a Warden, our lives had become an endless series of events that offered us little in the way of relaxation. Lying still for even a day was now something I was unaccustomed to, and I was antsy. It took some coercion, but I finally wore Wynne down and got permission to let Alistair take me for a walk out of doors. Sten and Morrigan even offered to stand watch.

I had to regain my strength, so arm in arm, Alistair led me around the small square centered amongst the houses in which our current refuge was situated. We walked slowly, and I rested heavily upon Alistair’s arm. I felt weak, unbalanced, and that I had become a detriment in one of the worst environments. I could barely defend myself let alone my companions in this state, and for someone who had only grown stronger over time, this was not something I could bear.

Secretly, I think Alistair was enjoying my reliance upon him. He had made the comment about forgetting my frailty, and until he had mentioned it, I hadn’t realized how little I allowed for others to assist me, even when it was warranted. This turn of events had proven that if I needed help, my friends would give it.

In return for their kindness, I could not allow them to starve, or ask them to remain stationary any longer. We still had much to do. We had to get moving again.

Alistair and I had made one lap around the square, and although he seemed relaxed, I had begun to understand him better, so I knew there was something on his mind. I stopped walking and forced him to face me. “Must I wheedle it out of you?” I questioned with a raised eyebrow.

His lips twitched. “No.” He started.

He led me to a break in the wall surrounding the buildings so that I could sit, still in full view of our friends. He paced for just a moment, lost in thought. When he turned back to me, despite all our time together, he still looked a little shy, unsure.

“There has been something I have wished to tell you, for some time in fact, and these last few days have made it clear how important you are, to me.” He stopped abruptly.

I felt my eyebrows rise in question, encouraging him to continue.

“I love you.” He sort of blurted out. “I just wanted to tell you that.”

There was this giggle forming in my chest, in addition to another emotion, that I was surprised to find quickly overcoming me. Although I already knew how I felt about him, I hadn’t said the words aloud, nor had I ever heard them said to me. I felt my eyes swimming in unshed tears and the words spilled from my lips. “I love you.”

For the first time since our meeting, I felt shy and unsure. I didn’t know what this meant for us, and at this moment, I didn’t care. This was something I had wanted to tell him for a while too. With my reciprocation, he beamed the brightest smile, one I returned.

All I could think was, “Alistair loves me”.

I felt the first tear fall, and he wiped it away with the gentle sweep of his thumb.

I love Alistair.

Another tear fell. The words swirled in my mind, and it was all I could hear, in addition to the pounding of my heart. I was afraid my ribs would be unable to contain it.

He leaned down and kissed me sweetly. It was slow and thorough and we continued to smile amidst the kissing. He held my face still and traced feather kisses upon each eyelid, my forehead, one temple, my nose, and then my lips again.

This kiss was more intimate than any of the others that had preceded it. We were invested now. It was love, and my heart swelled. As he finally pulled away, he looked deeply into my eyes, and there was this flicker of wonder in them. “Well, now that that’s out of the way…”

We must have looked like besotted fools, but I did not care. There was that tug at my heartstrings again, and the resounding thought, “He loves me.” I found myself unable to control the wide smile.

That’s when I saw the movement in the shadows, and heard the familiar clatter – a spider.

I was immediately on my guard, but knew how ineffective I would be. Alistair noticed the change in my demeanor, and as I tossed a fireball, he unsheathed his sword. It was like a dance we had practiced a hundred times. I just missed it with my initial hit, but now Alistair and the others were on the offensive, flanking me for my protection. When I saw the flicker of movement again, I threw a streak of lightning, and winced in pain.

I had overextended my reach. Thankfully, I heard the hiss of pain.

That was it. Two spell and I was spent. Wonderful.

While Alistair left me behind to deal with the menace, Morrigan helped me to sit back down. In the lunging motion to dole out my strike, I had strained a bit and felt the wound bend unwillingly. I definitely needed more time to recover, but my decision was made. We would waste no more time remaining stationary so far from our goal. We may move slowly, which I regretted, but at least we would make some progress, and I would continue to heal and build my strength along the way.

Alistair returned to me with his weapon sheathed and a smile upon his face. He swooped me up into his arms and carried me back to camp. He kissed my forehead and whispered, “I love you” again.

I had my one good arm about his neck and I snuggled closer and kissed the spot below his ear that I had discovered previously. “I’ve been wanting to tell you that for a while now too.”

“Have you?” He smiled sheepishly.

When we were once again safe within the enclosed walls of our temporary camp, I received an admonishing glance from Wynne. While Alistair continued up the stairs with me still in his arms, I heard Leliana laugh to herself.

He rested me carefully back onto my bed roll, and then removed his weapons and armor before settling in beside me. We snuggled closely, his arms protectively around me. I rested my head upon his chest, listening to the rhythmic beat of his heart and enjoying the feel of the steady rise and fall of his chest.

“I can’t believe how close I was to losing you.”

“I wish I had an apology that would suffice.”

“What do you need to apologize for?”

“For not paying better attention to our surroundings. For not seeing a spider the size of your sister’s house.” I teased.

He laughed heartily at that, and squeezed me a little closer to his side. We lay there in contented silence for a short time before he continued.

“We have been rather lucky, don’t you think?”

“More than I think is normal all considering.”

“I don’t want to waste another minute with you.”

“Have you been wasting time?”

He scoffed. “I think so, yes. I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t intend to let you get away. King or no king, I’ll find a way to make it work.” One of his hands gently stroked my arm. The reassuring warmth, the tight embrace, it was all so inviting, so natural.

I smiled, in spite of myself. He sounded so sincere; I knew he meant it. Every word. But he was thinking with his heart at the moment, not his head. When I didn’t respond right away, he turned to look at me.

“You don’t believe me?”

I couldn’t voice my thoughts on this subject at a time like this. Not when he was being sweet and romantic. It would crush him. So I said what I truly thought, “I believe you can do whatever you set your mind to.”

“Hm.”

“What is that?” I craned my neck to look up into his face.

“You’re trying to appease me because you don’t believe me.” He sat up, carefully disentangling himself from me.

“I just think…”

“Every time I’m around you, I feel as if my head’s about to explode. I can’t think straight.”

“Um, sorry?” Yes, it was a weak apology, and one I didn’t really mean. Although it may not have been ideal to learn that his mind was preoccupied with other things rather than the mission, but to learn it was preoccupied with me…well, it pleased me more than I should admit.

“So when I say I will do whatever I can to make this work, it’s because I can’t imagine my life without you. I don’t want to.”

I slowly raised myself to a sitting position so we could see eye to eye. “Alistair.”

He turned to face me fully. “I found myself falling for you in between all the fighting and everything else. I wanted to wait for the perfect time, the perfect place…but when will it be perfect? If things were, we wouldn’t even have met.”

My brows knitted together in confusion. My mind moved about quickly trying to understand his meaning. Was he talking of marriage? And then there was a thread that tickled at the hints of a memory – a conversation, before the events of the Circle. We had made a joke about licking lampposts in winter. Was that was he was talking about now? “Are you suggesting…?”

“When you’re recovered, I don’t want to waste any more time. I want it to be with you…while we have the chance. In case…”

“In case…“ I touched my wound.

He nodded ever so slightly.

Mortality was not a subject any of us wanted to linger upon. My injury had been a vivid reminder of how easy one of us could fall. What it had done for Alistair was given him the confidence to acknowledge his feelings. Whatever the future held for us, Alistair could soon be wearing a crown, and love would not be as easy for him to obtain, depending on how things worked out. He realized he didn’t want to regret our time together and the absence of the relationship we both desired.

I reached out and took a handful of his tunic to pull him toward me. His eyes went wide, and then quickly darted to the stairs to ensure we were alone. We both smiled like fools as I drew him to hover above me.

IX

Of course I was in no shape to venture into that new layer of our relationship that night, but it was fun to play with the idea and build upon something to look forward to. Alistair, finally relieved of the burden of worrying over my recovery, slept well in my arms. We lay together, a tangle of limbs, in deep slumber. Leliana had come to check on us some point in the evening, but neither of us stirred, I learned later.

That did not comfort me.

This was hardly the place to forget duty or lose perspective. My only comfort was in the fact that we were surrounded by others who were watching over us.

So, after a long, restful evening, Alistair, Morrigan, and Leliana offered to go ahead of the rest of the party to clear a path and scope out a campsite for my rest. The Deep Roads had proven as deadly as the stories depicted, and so it was with a heavy heart I watched three of the dearest people to me walk off into the endless darkness.

Leliana squeezed my hands and assured me she would watch over the other two. Morrigan rolled her eyes in response, as if she needed anyone to protect her – she was a force to be reckoned with.

Alistair kissed my lips sweetly. “I love you.” I said quietly.

“I will never grow tired of hearing that.” He replied, holding back a smile. “And I love you.”

Oh, how I enjoyed the sound of those words upon his lips. “So you had better watch yourself.”

He gave me a knowing look. “We won’t be that far ahead of you, but you be careful as well. Let the others protect you. No heroic acts. That’s why we devised this plan.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “I’ll see you soon.” I kissed him once more and then pushed him away. “Now go. Before I change my mind.”

He winked. “As you command, my lady.”

There was a bounce in his step as he trailed after Morrigan and Leliana. I chuckled lightly under my breath, but even that small action still thudded in the sensitive area that continued to heal. I rubbed the spot lightly, and then Wynne was at my side.

“He’s different, more assured. You two are a good influence on one another.”

I felt a deep blush consume me. There was a maternal aspect to the way Wynne treated everyone that made us want to please her. I didn’t purposefully seek out her approval, but I didn’t wish to receive her ire either. Maybe the idea of having changed her mind about our relationship was cause enough to gloat, but it actually gave me some relief that she seemed to be happy for us, despite her earlier thoughts.

I didn’t have a chance to respond because she continued. “Let us be on our way. We do not wish to be too far separated from the others.” She gave me a coy look before turning to gather up our belongings.

I watched after the trio until they disappeared, shrouded in the darkness before them, and felt my heart sink at the idea of them treading ahead without me.

~*~

It only took a few more days to find Branka, slow days that somehow seemed longer as there was no sun to guide us. In the end, we were successful, but not without further bloodshed and startling revelations as to the origins of golems.

I had found it odd that the dwarves, who held fast to tradition, had allowed an outsider to assist in their political system – for what did a Circle mage know about such things? Upon leaving the Deep Roads and intervening in dwarven politics, among a few other loose ends that required our attention in the city, it was nearly a fortnight before we were on the road again.

After the admission of our feelings, and maybe, at least in part because of my injury, Alistair and I became inseparable. I was fully recovered and only a small circle of discoloration on my skin hinted at what was once a near fatal wound. As those days passed, it was almost as if some sort of count down had begun among the group. There were side comments and little remarks made that caused Alistair’s cheeks to flame with embarrassment, and for me to shrug in feigned ignorance.

Alistair had commented that he had been hoping for a perfect time and place, but he and I both knew that would be nearly impossible. When we left Orzammar, we would be on the road again for another fortnight surrounded by our friends with a thin tent acting as our makeshift room. We would have no privacy until Denerim, and at this point, I don’t think either of us wanted to wait that long.

So, we left Orzammar with our last allies via the Warden treaties at our side and headed back towards Denerim.

Our first night out of Orzammar we made camp in the cliff side of the Frostbacks overlooking the valley below.

To stand on the precipice of so great a mountain range was to feel small and insignificant in comparison. Through exploring Ferelden, I had learned how vast and different the places and people were, and this was only one country. There was so much to see and learn, people to meet, adventures to be had, and standing on that ledge that first night gave me just a glimpse as to how much more was out there. This was one of those rare moments where I was almost thankful for the gift of freedom the Order would allow me.

My Warden status may allow me an opportunity to travel abroad – to see Orlais, Tevinter, maybe even Weisshaupt. It was a thrilling idea. To roam the countryside free, as a mage, respected…only a few short months ago I could never have imagined such a life. Now, on the other hand…

Once again, my friends had strategically designed the camp setup so that Alistair and I were put together without question or comment. While we had remained in Orzammar we maintained our separate spaces so as to not draw a critical eye about Warden morality, so to speak. It also gave me the time I needed to fully recuperate without temptation. Now that we were back on the open road, without society’s watchful eye, we felt free to live our lives openly, and so we took advantage of the freedom our status allowed us.

During our meal, Alistair gave me a long, lingering look, one that I was happy to reciprocate so that, unspoken, our intentions would be known. When I saw the blush creep up his cheeks, I knew he had received the message.

While I helped Wynne with cleaning up, Keiko went exploring, and Alistair and Zevran went down the road to set traps, while Sten and Leliana returned back up the hill to secure that area. Our location was such that if trouble occurred, we wouldn’t have much in the way of options for escape. Creating a defensive perimeter would at least buy us some time.

As I looked over the edge of the cliff we had perched ourselves on, I had to wonder if putting ourselves in such a precarious position had been the best idea? It was, indeed, a far fall to the bottom. I kicked a stone and watched it plummet, gulping as I counted how long I could see it fall. It was a long drop.

Considering all the group had endured, some on my behalf, and despite what we all knew was waiting to happen when I returned to my tent, I offered to take first watch. As my friends retired, one by one, only Alistair remained. We stared at each other across the fire, my pulse quickening, as my mind wandered to all the delightful things waiting for us…but first, duty called…well, after a little diversion.

We met in the middle, the fire adding a warm glow around us. The kiss was at first intense, but then became teasing, knowing we had responsibilities. We stood together, side by side, my head resting upon his shoulder, the warmth of the fire at our backs as we observed the ever-growing darkness around us for warning signs. The elevation and the cold climate did not create a welcoming environment, thereby providing us an uneventful watch.

We alternated from standing to overlook the valley to sitting by the fire. I was enjoying the quiet time we were given as such moments were few and far between. Although our companions were just a few feet away, the solitude we found ourselves in made it feel as if we were alone. It reminded me of life in the Circle – constantly surrounded, one had to learn to tune the rest of the world out. I had wondered what Alistair and I would do had we ever found ourselves alone, and because we weren’t likely to discover such a state any time soon, we just had to ignore the fact that we were amidst a whole bunch of people, and a golem that required no rest.

We talked about a variety of subjects, from the next steps in our journey to how we thought we might end the Blight, but we were careful as ever to not bring up “our” future plans. With so much still unknown, it was the best way to spare our mutual feelings, plus too much talk might spoil the simple pleasure we found in each other’s company. Such words seem cruel and untrue. It was because of our desire to spare the other that we left so much unsaid. I think once we had a better understanding of our future, we might be able to be more honest. Less guarded.

We loved one another, there was no denying that, and we were lucky given our previous stations in life. I wanted to stop this line of thought, and so while we sat close together by the fire, I stroked my finger against the back of one of his hands. It was these intimate moments we had so rarely shared that generally made me swell with love.

He was slightly hunched over, elbows resting on his legs, his profile, as handsome as ever, showed a seriousness I did not expect to find. “What troubles you?” I traced two fingertips along one of his furrowed brows.

He continued to stare into the fire as he replied, “We have talked about everything except for the one thing you and I both wish to discuss.”

I sat quiet for a long moment, wondering the best way to respond. “We love each other. What else needs to be said? That thought alone brings me a joy I never expected to find.”

At that he smiled brightly. “Neither did I.” He took my hand in his and traced invisible patterns on my palm.

I could tell he was also trying to choose his next words carefully, so I watched him patiently. “I want us to be able to talk about anything and everything, our love aside, you are the best friend I have ever had.”

“As you are mine.” I smiled sweetly and touched his cheek fondly.

There was that spark again and I was compelled to kiss him. It was that moment, it seemed perfectly timed, that Zevran appeared to take the next watch. He threw out a few sly remarks in regards to stamina that caused us both to blush. He patted Alistair hard on the back as I walked away as quickly as I could to avoid further jests at our expense.

Alistair lingered a little longer, to which I could only assume was because he was receiving some tips from Zevran. Each step towards the tent that represented so much caused my heart to pound and my nerves to stand on end. Alistair and I were nearing the culmination of a long build up. While the idea was thrilling, and while my whole body hummed with desire, I was slightly afraid of how this would change things for us.

I had learned through conversations with my friends what a physical relationship with emotions involved could do – and as Alistair and I were already willing to go to great lengths for the other, I had to wonder what more could be involved?

I arrived in the tent first, and noticed that our bedrolls had already been put together, with additional furs to soften the hard earth.

Leliana, no doubt. I had to laugh aloud.

There were also more candles strategically placed about the tent. Understanding their purpose, I lit them first, and then removed my boots and light armor accessories, but nothing more. I thought Alistair might take some pleasure in the slow reveal.

There was a soft, warm glow within the confines of the tent, and I sat in the middle, experimenting with different positions that I was hoping would look more seductive than awkward. Finally, after a few tries I gave up. I laid back, arms out in defeat. Of course, that was when Alistair decided to enter.

Without much grace, I rose back up to a sitting position and helped him with his armor. He chuckled as I worked with quick efficiency. There was little ceremony in how I discarded each item. We had waited, a long time, and now that the moment had arrived, I was filled with a desire I had not thought myself capable of.

X

*The beginning of the naughty bits

“Where did a Chantry boy ever learn such things?”

I felt his laugh reverberate in his chest, and then the groan before he said, “Zevran.”

“And you thought we’d regret picking him up.” I laughed. “Did he give you any other tips?”

“A few.”

“I look forward to discovering if his tutelage is worthwhile.” I raised an eyebrow in challenge.

“If the results even remotely resemble this, I think we should buy him something expensive.”

“I’ve had a pair of Antivan boots in our inventory since Haven. They’ll be perfect.”

Alistair lifted himself up on his elbows and kissed me sweetly then with this twinkle in his eyes. Running his fingertips over my brow he said, “You know, according to all the sisters at the monastery, I should’ve been struck by lightning by now.”

I scoffed. “Not for that performance.”

“Meaning it was so great that the Maker himself has decided to spare me the usual punishment? Right? Ah. You do realize the rest of our little party here is going to talk, right? They do that.”

“First smart comment and I feed them to the darkspawn.” I tried to keep a straight face, but I failed.

“See? This is why I love you. So…what now? Where do we go from here?”

“We have a darkspawn horde to defeat.”

“You’re so practical. You make me proud. All right, I get the hint. We have a lot to do, right? And we should do it.” He looked at me seriously again. “Before we go, have I told you that I love you? I did? Well, it won’t kill you to hear it again, will it?”

“I love you too…but we’re not done yet.” I took hold of the enchanted necklace he was currently wearing and pulled him back toward me.

XI

After another round of sweet, intense lovemaking, I lay beside Alistair thoroughly satiated. My limbs were heavy and I could feel myself teetering between an exhaustion unlike any I had felt before, and an alertness that falsely led me to believe that I could spring into action at a moment’s notice. On our stomachs, side by side, awash in the afterglow of pleasure, we just stared into one another’s eyes with besotted grins upon each of our faces.

From the very beginning, Alistair and I had been friends. We enjoyed one another’s company and often found ways to lighten the mood despite the surrounding circumstances. We liked to laugh together, we watched over one another, and we were bound together by the Order, so it was only natural that we should fall in love, even amidst the constant threats and danger. And in the midst of our lovemaking, we still found ways to make the other laugh.

There was joy between us. Staring into his eyes, I was reminded of our time in the Brecilian Forest, when I had become aware of the “something” between us. We had been around the campfire in the Dalish camp. I was naïve then, confused by his attitude and actions, but now, with the clarity that comes with understanding, it was obvious this was where we were always heading, and I did not regret our time together, no matter what the future held for us. I would not worry about it now, when there was nothing that could be done, but I would enjoy the time we had been given, because it was indeed a most wonderful and enjoyable experience.

We had enough to worry about, let alone those things out of our control. No. If I had learned anything from this journey (well, there were so many things at this point), was that we should take one day at a time. We had learned a great deal could change in the course of a day, and there was no use in thinking too far ahead. The would-be king and the mage – if I let my mind wander, which it was good at, I was already aware of the ending long before we would ever arrive at it, and it was a destination I feared.

No. I would not think upon it now, not while basking in the warm glow of Alistair’s love. Not when I could lose myself in the depths of his gentle eyes.

There would most definitely be talk from our friends, and I have to admit, I would be slightly embarrassed by it all, because if it were one of them, and I had had to listen to those noises coming from one of their tents, I would have something snarky to say as well. It couldn’t be helped. How long were we expected to wait anyway? I suppose I should say how much longer were we expected to wait? According to the side comments from our friends, it had been long overdue.

We talked for a little while, like we had after our battle in Redcliffe against those undead. It was the kind of conversation that seemed so natural after such an intimate encounter. Most of the candles had extinguished themselves by then and we were left in a dim glow from the fire outside. Alistair’s voice was soothing, and I found myself unable to keep my eyes open. I heard him chuckle under his breath, and wrap me in his warm, comforting embrace. His chest fit perfectly against my back, and with his soft breath on my neck, I fell asleep.

I slept soundly for hours, and awoke to the snow-crunching footsteps of Sten changing shifts with Leliana. I could hear them talking quietly, and even made out the soft, singsong laugh of Leliana’s as she returned to her tent. Alistair and I were still in the same position we had fallen asleep in; I was wrapped in his arms. I heard the change in his breathing and realized he was awake as well.

*More naughty bits

We were sweaty from our exertion and I laughed as I mockingly pulled away from him, which only encouraged him to pull me harder against him. We lay in quiet, languid, euphoric bliss, tracing invisible patterns on the other for only a short time, because it was clear from the noises coming from camp that morning had arrived.

Alistair and I looked at one another, trying our best to refrain from laughing, knowing what fresh torment lay just outside our tent – the looks, the jests. I half rolled on top of him, weaving our arms and legs together while I kissed him thoroughly one last time before we had to get back to reality.

It was easy to become aroused again, and so before we started another round, I pulled away, teasing. “Good morning.”

“Ah, if only it weren’t so.” He eyes held a devious glint.

I propped my head up with my hand and just stared at his sweet face. With my free hand, I drifted my thumb across his lower lip, and was treated to a light nibble.

I remember at that moment being struck with sadness. I loved him so, and I knew simultaneously that it wouldn’t last much longer. I suppose that was the beauty of such things; love wasn’t only about the length of time it endured, but the strength of it, the all-consuming heat of it, the want of it, the longing that reminded one of its power.

And what was all that without hope?

Perhaps we would endure.

I brushed the negative thought aside, almost as quickly as it had arrived. As I had reminded myself, time and time again, a lot could happen in the course of a day, and who was to know where today or even tomorrow would lead? I kissed him quickly a final time, smiling wide, and prepared for the day.

~*~

That same small space that had allowed our movements to be sensual while removing our clothing was now awkward as we tried to redress. Strange angles, elbows, and legs now vied for space as we each tried our best to navigate the tent. We couldn’t help but laugh. I offered to assist him with his armor outside the tent at breakfast.

Everyone was already gathered around the fire to break their fast when Alistair and I appeared, and the mood was interesting, to say the least. It seemed as if most of our friends were trying to avoid eye contact, and there were stifled coughs masking their giggles.

Finally I said, “Yes, yes, I know.”

Sten looked around the party confused, and then finally settled his questioning eyes on me. “How did you sleep, kadan?”

Everyone burst out laughing, Alistair and myself included.

~*~

We left the Frostbacks behind us and traveled down the mountain to not only enjoy the warmer climate, but also to also get back to the task at hand. Before leaving the underground city, we had sent a letter to Arl Eamon to inform him that the last of the Warden treaties had been honored. We left out, for the time being, all that it took to come to that agreement.

It would take a small tome to detail all that we had encountered to ensure the dwarves assistance – palace intrigues, betrayal, the Deep Roads to find a paragon, the history of the golems, the Proving, Oghren…Orzammar had proven quite the adventure.

We knew we were expected to return to Denerim for the Landsmeet upon completing this last leg of our journey, and so we shared with him that after a small detour to the Cadash thaig, we would meet him there – we expected within the month. Our communications with the Arl had been limited, and it was our hope that he had rallied the nobles to our cause and that we would be able to forge ahead unencumbered, united against the Blight.

We left our mountainside camp feeling a certain steadfast confidence. We had achieved a great deal in the near year we had been traveling together, and the end to our mission seemed in sight. We had fought so many monsters, overcome great odds, and done much to ensure the livelihood of those who had decided to risk themselves for our cause.

Their personal missions brought a sense of closure, but the gifts gave them joy, and they were so deserving of such:

For Morrigan, not only had I found her the perfect gift based on the story she had shared that drunken night in Denerim, a beautiful ornate mirror, we had also fought her mother, in dragon form, for her grimoire in order to protect Morrigan from possession.

For Leliana, I had found a flower who’s scent reminded her of her mother, and we confronted Marjolaine, the woman responsible for Leliana’s bard training and subsequent imprisonment, for her grand betrayal.

For Sten, we had traveled far and wide to return his sword to him, lost in battle, and gifted him with a number of fine art prints we had discovered along the way, in addition to the odd sweet treat. To the outsider, Sten never seemed to appreciate anything, but I discovered a light in his eyes when he saw something of great masterwork.

For Wynne, we helped her to find closure in regards to a young apprentice she felt she had wronged, Aneirin, and any time we found an interesting tome, usually with a historical element, we handed it over to her without a second thought. It was nice to see her with her nose in the latest book around the campfire excitedly turning pages.

For Oghren, it was clear vintage bottles of any variety of liquor were appreciated, but it was helping him find his wife and get the answers he had longed for that seemed to bring him the most peace. There was a change in him, almost imperceptible, after the Deep Roads, but his odd sense of humor remained intact.

For Zevran, that morning we left our mountaintop camp, I pulled him aside and offered him the Antivan boots. Not only were they a thank you for his “expertise”, but an honest gift for his loyalty and bravery. He had mentioned once in passing how he missed the smell of Antivan leather, and I knew he would appreciate the sentiment. It wasn’t until I saw his pure delight at my thoughtfulness, that I finally believed he was a part of our group. He didn’t let people get too close, a habit from his former life that would take years to break, I’m certain, but it was in that moment, that I felt we had taken the first big step towards actual friendship. He put them on immediately and strutted about the camp, so proud. My eyes prickled with tears of joy as I watched him.

For Shale, we had learned that she loved sparkling gems, and in the Deep Roads when we had encountered Branka and Caridin, and Shale recovered some of her earliest memories, we knew a journey to the Cadash thaig would be well worth the effort. She had been a tough nut to crack, no pun intended, and since learning that we were willing to help her, she had grown more friendly, gentler (well, for her).

Despite the dark, dank remains of the thaigs of the Deep Roads, I had found myself fascinated by their innovation and beauty. It was such a shame they had found themselves in such disrepair, and overrun by evil.

And finally, for my ever faithful mabari, Keiko, in addition to all the love and affection he received from the entire group, I kept my eye out for special treats, bones most often, that I knew he would appreciate gnawing on while we sat idle in camp. He was also considerate in sharing some of his gifts. A small cake he had discovered, he shared with Sten. A ball of yarn we had been playing fetch with, he offered to Wynne when we learned that she wished to knit something for Alistair. Clever boy!

~*~

Hand in hand, Alistair and I took up the rear of our party as we made our descent. Sten had taken the lead with Keiko, and we formed an almost straight line down the narrow path that lead to the valley below. The Frostbacks were an imposing range, looming all around us. Who was to say they did not remember all that they had seen, including the sight of our small group on a mission to save the world? They were majestic in their stature and beauty, and as we continued downward, I would let my fingertips lightly dance over their craggy edges, a silent reverence for their ability to last long beyond current events.

Alistair and I were enjoying the other’s company, occasionally laughing, which drew a number of sideways glances from our companions when I first caught whiff of death.

After so much time traveling below the surface, we were once again confronted with the reality of our cause when we happened upon the first village near the base of the Frostbacks. I could smell the ash long before we found the charred remains of the village and some of its inhabitants. The remnants still smoldered, so the attack had happened not too long before we arrived, which made me regret our stopping in that cliff’s side. Had we traveled even just a short distance further down the mountain, perhaps we would have been here to…to do something.

It was eerily quiet.

As we walked through the center of the village, a light rain sprinkled down, extinguishing the glowing embers and cleaning the air of the fowl smell of death. After surviving the Deep Roads, confronting darkspawn and every other hideous creature to be found there, our group had become more adept at fighting the fiends. The people of Ferelden were not so experienced, and because the darkspawn often attacked in hordes, and without much notice, the people were generally caught off guard – despite their knowledge that a Blight was threatening.

Seeing just how vulnerable these people had been, how heinous the violence against them – I fell to my knees, heartbroken. I had been enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, conflicted over affairs of the heart, while people were being slaughtered.

I felt sick.

I knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t solely our responsibility to save every village and its inhabitants, but realizing how close we had been…our purpose…

There was at least some mild comfort in the knowledge that they had fought back, despite their lack of defense and weaponry. There were a number of human remains, but from the look of them, none of them were women or children, so there was hope that at least some of them had survived.

And then something caught my eye, and I felt a swell of pride. They had been lucky enough to kill a number of darkspawn themselves. Their twisted remains were scattered about as well.

Sten helped me to my feet and wrapped an arm about me in comforting strength. This was only a hint of what could be expected should we fail. We all looked at one another with this look of sadness and wonder. What should we do? Bury them? Burn the corpses of the darkspawn to save the land from taint? Ransack the homes for food and goods? That was a morbid thought, but a necessary one.

First, we decided to search the village for survivors. We walked from house to house, searching cupboards and looking in cellars or hideaway spaces. It wasn’t until we reached the outskirts, where a more modest size home was situated, that I felt the change in the atmosphere. There was magic here.

We were cautious upon entering; there was no way to anticipate what may be laying in wait. In the kitchen there was a trap door with a warding spell, one of confusion that was meant to disorient anything that drew near. Alistair, with his Templar training, was versed in a dispelling magic, and with a wave of his hand, removed the warding.

After an introduction, the door opened ever so slightly to reveal scared, yet hopeful eyes and the resounding sounds of relief from those hidden in the darkness.

We helped the villagers bury their loved ones and burn the remains of the darkspawn, and set up perimeter defenses, just in case. Even as they mourned, they invited us to stay and dine with them, offering us a place for the night and any provisions we might need for our journey. I was humbled by their generosity in the face of such tragedy. And it spoke to the resilience of the Ferelden people.

We returned to the dining hall of the larger home and were delighted, and overwhelmed, by the feast they had prepared. There were smells of baked goods – one scent in particular I could not name, and yet it stirred a long forgotten memory.

I was a child; I don’t remember how old, but I was helping my mother in the kitchen. My brothers, whose faces are now just blurry, were seated at the table with us. I think we were making pies? I faintly recall us concentrating hard on the task before us, as if we were rolling dough, or strategically placing items in circular patterns.

The memory was covered in dusty webs, so old and forgotten it was. The harder I tried to focus on a detail, the less my mind actually saw. It suddenly struck me that I did not know if the owners of this house had survived the attack, which then lead my mind to wander to my own family. Would I ever learn of their whereabouts, their livelihood, their survival?

Did they ever think on me? Had they learned about the Circle and presumed I had fallen? Did they mourn?

I looked around the table, saw the contented faces of my friends, and was reassured in their presence.

They are my family.

They are my family.

Writing that a second time drew a particular fierceness into my breast.

I did not know where our journey would lead us, but no matter where in the world we ended up, we would be bound, always. Unshed tears stung my eyes. I was never close to anyone in the tower, not like this, with them. For the better part of a year we had become a unit, a clan of sorts, one that protected each other, fought beside each other, and had seen the best and worst sides of each other and the world around us, and seemed the better for it.

My eyes finally rested on Alistair, who’s concern for me was as plain as day in his eyes. He took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Are you all right?”

It took me a moment to answer, but my head was already nodding when I said, “I am.”

He brought my hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it, causing me to blush with such an open display of affection.

The remainder of the evening passed by in a surprisingly jovial state. Leliana told stories and sang a couple of songs; one in particular for the passing of loved ones. We retired to one of the nearby homes that had taken some damage, against the insistence of the people. We assured them that should there be a need, we would be better able to defend them if we were properly situated.

I did not believe the darkspawn would return this way, although there could be a straggler or two roaming the countryside, but neither Alistair nor I felt their presence. The truth was, the villagers had already been so gracious I did not want to impose on them further. We were accustomed to making camp in even the most unlikely of places. We would be warm and dry, and just fine, I reassured them.

~*~

Alistair and I snuggled up together, my head resting in the crook of his shoulder. Looking up, I could see between the wood slats of the roof to the night sky above. It was dark, and the stars seemed so small, so far away. And then I saw a shooting star. It was said that upon seeing one, you should make a wish. I knew exactly what to wish for, it was the same words I said in my prayers, but this time, I selfishly altered them.

I mouthed the words, “It is my wish that we survive this evil.”

Alistair’s steady breathing let me know that he had drifted off – it had been a long day. I burrowed in closer, and his arm instinctively drew me nearer. Oh, I loved that! Despite the short time we had been sharing a tent that small gesture made me feel safe, loved. I kissed him where I could reach, without disturbing him, and gave myself leave to let go of the day.

There, in the distance, was that bone-rattling roar. My breaths were coming in shallow pants as I ran. The sky was a smudge of black and yellow – it was all wrong, but I didn’t know why. Pillars of smoke continued to darken the sky from a number of openings in the ground, like tendrils reaching upward.

And then I heard it – the shrieks, the grunts, the garbled war cries.

I turned to find a steady stream of darkspawn of all shapes and sizes pouring from a crevice in the side of the mountain I was running away from. Sweat stung my eyes, my mouth tasted metallic, my muscles ached and begged me to stop running, but I couldn’t.

I could see it all, just ahead.

Thud. Thud, thud.

Jaws snapped. There was a whoosh of air that blew me backward, followed by the tip of a long tail passing just over my head. And then I saw them.

Broken bodies scattered about. Twisted remains of those I once loved. Everyone was dead. How was it that I was so far behind?

There was a familiar war cry. The sound of steel hitting flesh. And finally the sickening sound of a life being extinguished under a great weight.

Alistair’s mangled body lay under the archdemon’s foot. Bile rose in my throat, and I leveled my eyes upon my enemy. It looked like it might smile, if it could. Instead it took two steps forward, tossed Alistair aside, and roared in my face.

It was a high-pitched wail. A taunt.

I was startled awake by my own crying, and wrapped in the warm embrace of my sweet Alistair who looked just as shaken. We clung to one another, offering whatever comfort could be given in such a time.

My muscles ached. I could still taste the blood on my lips, and feel the lump in my throat. Was it just a nightmare? Perhaps it was a vision?

Andraste, please let it just be a bad, bad dream.

So much for wishing for good things.

~*~

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