Chapter One Hundred Twenty: *Vigilance
It was five, miserable days of walking through the early fall rain to reach Amaranthine, and by the time we did, every single thing I owned was soaked. The Vigil was as ugly as I remembered from Awakenings, and worse than I’d imagined it. The walls around it sort of…sagged, obviously in major need of maintenance, and the gate couldn’t even be closed, never mind barred, the wood warped and cracking. I didn’t care at that moment, however; the main building was more-or-less waterproof, I assumed somewhere inside there would be a bathtub I could use and a bed to collapse into.
I’d never been so happy to see a dilapidated stone monstrosity in my entire life.
I was thrilled to learn that Nathaniel had warned the staff we were coming; there were torches lit, and a massive brazier in the entry hall took the chill and dampness out of the air as we all shrugged off wet cloaks and dropped our sodden backpacks. We’d rated a couple of pack animals for the trip, given to us by Cailan; most of our gear was with them, and we carried only personal items. Most of us weren’t skilled enough horsemen to justify giving us horses. As we filtered into the main hall of the keep from the foyer, a bevy of servants swarmed the entry way, taking our things and disappearing down a side hallway.
An older, distinguished-looking man I recognised easily from Awakenings awaited us by the roaring hearth at one end of the room, and I had to stop myself from rushing forward to greet him. Nathaniel shook his hand, and then turned to us.
“Seneschal Varel,” I breathed, interrupting Nathaniel and earning myself a grin from the normally taciturn nobleman, and a confused frown from poor Varel.
“As ever, the lady is correct. Varel, these are the Wardens and their companions I mentioned.”
He introduced each of us in turn, and we all exchanged brief Warden greetings or handshakes – except for Alistair and me. Varel dropped to one knee in front of us, calling both of us ‘your Highness’ despite Nate’s introduction of us as Warden-Commander and Lady Theirin. Alistair stiffened, his expression dismayed; I just sighed. I’ve been getting this so much I’m almost used to it. How sick is that?
I stepped forward, taking Varel’s hand and pulling him to his feet. “Please, don’t. We don’t stand much on ceremony. I’m just Sierra, he’s Alistair. Definitely not ‘your Highness’, and preferably not ‘my Lady’. If you need a title for him,” I gesture over my shoulder at Alistair, “go for Commander, but I’m still just Sierra. Please?”
I was babbling, and the Seneschal blinked at me in bemusement. “So, if I have this straight, you’re trying to have me arrested?”
I stared at him for a moment with my mouth open, until finally Nathaniel laughed. “Varel, don’t give the Lady a hard time.” He turned to me and stage-whispered, “Some people say I’m the one with the dry sense of humour, but I learned it from him.”
I glanced back at Varel, and saw a hint of a smirk playing around his lips. Oh, he’s kidding. I’m an idiot. Aedan chuckled, and then I was giggling as I shook Varel’s hand.
“Sorry, your Highness.”
“Sierra,” I said firmly, insistently making eye contact.
“My Lady,” he tried, but I shook my head. He sighed. “Lady Sierra?”
I guessed that this was the most I could reasonably expect. I rolled my eyes, and finally nodded.
“I have quarters prepared for you all. I imagine you’d all like to get dry. Please follow me.”
Nathaniel followed behind as we all trooped after Varel, soggy and cold, up a couple flights of stairs and down a long hallway. There was a large sitting area at one end, holding a handful of servants and most of the group’s gear. Varel gestured to either side as he walked.
“These are your rooms. Wardens Conrad, Rolan, Bel, and Oghren,” he grimaced at the last entry in his list, and I giggled, “have already chosen rooms. The open doors are available, please choose whichever room you’d like.”
I glanced through one open door to see a small, plain room, with an armour stand, a large chest, a small wardrobe, and an oversized single bed. Nice, but plain. Perfect, actually – though I hope there’s a room with a bigger bed. I flushed, and Alistair looked at me with a smirk, apparently having the same thought. I slapped his shoulder, and he chuckled.
“There are two double-occupancy rooms around that corner, if you wish. Bathing rooms are down the hall - the first baths have been drawn, and the servants will help you settle in and draw the next baths when you’re ready. The dining room is off the main hall – a late supper will be served there in approximately one hour. The other Wardens will meet you there.” I had to admit to being surprised that Conrad and the others weren’t waiting for us when we arrived.
He turned to look at me, before letting his gaze travel to Alistair and Aedan. “Commanders, Lady Sierra, your quarters are this way.”
Oh, the double-occupancy rooms aren’t for us? Aedan put his hand on Zevran’s shoulder, pushing him to keep walking; Nathaniel tucked Leliana’s hand shyly under his arm, and I saw her beam him an ecstatic smile as he followed Varel further down the hall. I looked back, as Alistair led me forward, to see Solona and Anders disappearing around the corner, heading towards the larger rooms, and I smiled. They had begun sleeping together again sometime around the battle with the Archdemon – how Solona held out that long, I’ve no idea – but had tried to keep it a secret until we’d left Denerim, for some reason. Largely unsuccessfully; they aren’t used to rogues in the Tower, I think. I was pleased they’d finally decided to be together openly.
I was thoroughly lost by the time Varel paused in a long, dim hallway; between gawping around like a fish, and woolgathering about Solona and Anders, I hadn’t paid any attention to our route. I hoped Alistair had some idea how to get back to the main hall, or we were both going to be embarrassed – and hungry – before long.
Varel pointed at a closed door, and turned to Alistair and me. “This one is yours, Commander and Lady Sierra. The one opposite is for you.” He pointed at Aedan. He didn’t seem fazed by Zevran’s presence, and I smiled gratefully.
We opened the doors and peeked inside; I gasped when I found a beautifully furnished room larger than the one at the Palace in Denerim I’d shared with Alistair. There was an enormous bed, a four-poster with a canopy, a couch in front of the merrily burning hearth, a little nook to the side with what looked to be a makeup counter complete with a large mirror on a stand, and I assumed the curtained door off to the right led to a private bathroom. The rug and walls were deep brown, the fabric of the drapes, canopy, and couch a royal blue, and a large, beautiful painting of a beach and the ocean tied it together nicely. Aedan’s room was similar, though slightly smaller and decorated in shades of green, with no makeup nook.
I giggled. “I think you’ve got the rooms reversed, Seneschal. I have no idea what to do with that area, but I’m certain someone else could use it.” I winked at Zevran, and he growled good-naturedly at me; Varel’s ears reddened as he rubbed a hand over his face, trying to hide his smile. Aedan just laughed.
“Well, I’m certain you’ll find some use for the desk, Sierra.” Nathaniel’s tone was wry, and he smirked at me. “Anyway, my room’s there. Now, if you’ll excuse us…”
He took Leliana’s hand and led her through the doorway; three servants came bustling around the corner, each loaded down with soggy bags, and they dropped our things on the floor inside each of our rooms.
“Put all wet items, laundry, or armour to be cleaned in the hamper, and someone will see to them in the morning,” Varel instructed. “The servants should be here momentarily with hot water for the baths.”
“We won’t need any,” I volunteered, pointing at Alistair and me, flushing when Varel raised his eyebrow at me. “Queen Sereda gave me a dwarven water rune.”
“Very well. See you in the dining hall in an hour.” He nodded at us. “Commanders, Lady Sierra, Warden.” He followed the servants away, leaving us standing in the hallway.
I turned to Aedan. “We are in the family rooms, I’m assuming? I feel like that’s just…that’s not right.”
Aedan frowned at me. “Sort of, but not really. Pretty much every Keep, and every decent-sized estate for that matter, has rooms for honoured guests, near the family quarters. But I’m guessing the actual family rooms are being renovated – these aren’t where Nate lived when he was little, I’d bet. Knowing his father, the family rooms are probably in severe need of redecorating. I’d bet that’s technically a guest room too.” He pointed at Nate’s door. “The bigger issue is where any actual guests will sleep if we’re occupying the guest rooms. Guess we better hope Cailan and Fergus don’t come to visit over the next few months. You’re in their room.”
“We are? How can you tell?”
Aedan took a few steps into the room I was to share with Alistair and pointed at the curtained doorway. “That’s how.”
I shot him a confused look, and headed through the curtain, Alistair on my heels. There was a large bathroom, with two basins sunk into a large cabinet, a bathtub that could easily accommodate the four of us, and an unusual chamber pot, but what drew my attention was another doorway, also blocked by a curtain. Behind that door, there was a small corridor with three more doors. One led to a second, somewhat smaller bedroom that was still lavishly furnished and had a hearth of its own, also lit; one led back to the hallway; and the third to a tiny room holding bunkbeds. I turned back to Aedan, puzzled.
“Married quarters for a king or someone of status,” he said, as though that explained anything. I raised an eyebrow, and he chuckled. “Most married couples don’t sleep together, at least in arranged marriages. You don’t think Cailan and Anora shared a room, do you? This is the husband’s private chamber. He would…uh, ‘visit’ his wife in her room when they wanted to, uh…”
We all blushed, except Zevran, who cackled while we all avoided eye-contact awkwardly. My brother may approve of my husband, but he hasn’t gotten over his abject fear of talking about sex with me. I snorted. “Right. Got it.”
Aedan pointed at the other room and cleared his throat. “And that’s where your lady’s maid and manservant would stay.”
I sighed. “I’m not having servants. This is ridiculous. That space could be useful for something, but I guess it can just stay empty for now. We won’t be here forever, I suppose.” I looked into the bedroom again. “Maybe I can shove the bed against the wall and use this room as an office.”
“Anyhow,” Aedan muttered, and Zevran chuckled again. “We’ll just leave you…”
He and Zevran trooped out and across the hall; Zevran closed the door behind himself with a lascivious wink in my direction. I rolled my eyes. Once they were gone, I turned to find Alistair rifling through one of his bags, looking for something – my shower head, I hoped. I eyed him thoughtfully.
He glanced up at me self-consciously. “What?”
I bit my lip. “Do you…I mean, should I not turn that room into an office?”
He frowned and stood up, reaching out to cup my cheek. “I have no intention of sleeping in a bed you aren’t in, if that’s what you’re asking. Might as well save myself the walk when we want to ‘visit’,” he joked, smirking.
I laughed and slapped his chest lightly with the flat of my hand. He grabbed the hand and brought it to his lips, kissing my palm softly. Looking down at me, his grin slowly faded, and he cocked his head slightly. “Unless…do you want me to sleep in there?”
“Maker, no! If you’re sleeping in there, so am I.” I stepped closer, pressing myself up against his chest despite his clunky armour. “Married couples are mostly expected to share a bed, where I come from.” I smiled softly up at him. “I just don’t want to, you know, coerce you into something unnatural to you, or anything.”
“Unnatural?” He chuckled. “I never thought I’d be with anyone, Sierra. I never predicted I’d be married, so it’s not as though I spent hours imagining my married life. I was certainly never a noble son who expected an arranged marriage. I married you because I love you, and I want nothing more than to share a bed with you for the rest of my life. The only unnatural thing would be lying alone in a bed down the hall from you, instead of curled up with you.”
I reached up to put my hand on his shoulder, unbuckling the strap I knew rested there. “Speaking of… We have an hour. I think I’d like to show you just how much I enjoy your ‘visits’. Did you find my shower head yet?”
He held up his hand, the little shower head gripped in his palm, and I reached for the buckles of my own armour, flicking them open and dropping pieces behind me as I turned to head back into the bathroom.
“Coming?” I asked my husband, who was watching me with a rapidly darkening gaze.
He snorted and began the process of removing his armour; by the time he made it to the bathroom, I was naked and had done my business with the chamber pot. The unusual feature I hadn’t initially understood about the necessary piece of furniture was that, contrary to most of the chamber pots I’d seen since coming to Thedas, this one was actually anchored down to the floor, sort of the way toilets were on Earth. I’d inspected it briefly to discover that, surprisingly, the Vigil had been built with at least rudimentary plumbing. Instead of an actual pot, there was a tube, lined with what had to be thin sheets of metal, leading down into the floor, and underneath the sink there was a large bucket of cold, not entirely clean-looking water. I realised the water must be used to flush the makeshift toilet, and was probably used bathwater or something similar – to save a servant having to bring up buckets of extra water every day.
The tub also had a drain in the bottom, and another tube led underneath the stone floor. I grinned at Alistair as he came in. “I may not love living in Rendon Howe’s former home, but I won’t complain about the accommodations.” I showed him the plumbing, and he whistled, impressed.
“I’m so happy for you,” he murmured, wrapping his big hands around my waist and pulling me in to kiss my forehead.
“For me?” I cocked my head to the side, confused.
“I know how you feel about daily showers.” He grinned. “Not that I’m complaining – you in the shower is one of my favourite things.”
“Show me,” I whispered, reaching up to wrap my arms around his neck, raising my lips for a proper kiss.
He indulged me, deepening the kiss and invading my mouth with his tongue; I gasped as he reached down, tightened his grip, and lifted me like a child into the tub. We separated long enough to get clean, using the luxurious soaps and shampoo sitting on a little table next to the tub; Alistair finished first, his short hair taking less effort than my long curls, and he took the opportunity to run his soapy hands down my back, then over my shoulders while I lathered my hair. I hummed happily as he pressed his thumbs into a knot in my neck.
He stepped closer, his chest pressed to my back, and his hands started to wander; we made love enthusiastically in the tub as water from my little shower head sprayed everywhere when Alistair lost control.
When I came back to myself, we were kneeling in the half-full tub, water running down the walls and dripping from the ceiling; I was perched in Alistair’s lap, while he panted, his forehead pressed against my shoulder. He readjusted us so that he sat in the tub and held me sideways across his lap. His big hands stroked my arm and back soothingly.
“Blessed Andraste, that was…” He shook his head, apparently at a loss for words.
“Mmhmm,” I agreed, settling my head against his shoulder sleepily. “I love you, Alistair Theirin.”
“Oh, Sierra.” He tilted my head back and kissed me again. “I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of hearing you say that. Or of you, just in general,” he finished with an endearingly shy smile.
Suddenly he twitched, muscles jumping beneath my bottom. “Maker! We’re going to be late for dinner.”
A little bit over an hour after Varel had left us, clean and more-or-less dry, I followed Alistair back through the winding corridors of the Vigil towards the dining room. I was certain we couldn’t be going the quickest way – or else the place really was designed by a mad man – but we hadn’t had time to explore and find a shortcut. The other Wardens’ rooms were empty when we went past, and Alistair and I both blushed when we realised we were going to be probably conspicuously late.
Once we reached the main floor, we were able to follow our noses to the dining room. The noise echoing down the hallway as we approached was incredible; I could hear Oghren’s drunken laugh – heh heh heh – over the sounds of talking, laughter, and eating, and Alistair and I exchanged smiles before racing through the swinging door to see everyone.
There were multiple tables in the hall, currently set up in a large square configuration so everyone could see everyone else; food was piled atop more tables around the periphery, and servants circulated through with wine and ale. There were a lot more people present than I expected; our group had apparently been joined by a large number of dwarves, who were sitting along the far side of the square, eating and drinking while quietly watching the proceedings. I was distracted from figuring out who they were, however, when a strong pair of arms ripped me out of Alistair’s grasp and swung me in a circle.
I looked up to see Conrad grinning down at me; his green eyes sparkled, and his usually flawlessly coiffed ginger hair was a mess. He looked content, and I guessed he was happy to see me, if the smile was any indication. When he finally deposited me back on the ground, breathless and giggling, I almost fell as I was thumped enthusiastically on the back by another ginger – this one a dwarf.
“Toots!” Oghren roared, and I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out at the obviously inebriated dwarf. “Thought you’d never get here. You two spend any more time playing hide the sausage, and you’d have missed the grub altogether!”
Alistair smacked Oghren good-naturedly upside the head while I groaned and hid my face in my hands; finally Leliana rescued me and drew me into a conversation with Bel, whose stutter had continued to improve until it was barely noticeable now. I grasped his forearm warmly, and then tilted my head to the dozen or more unfamiliar dwarves across the room as I prepared myself a plate from the generous dishes on the sideboard.
“Who’re our guests?” I asked, as a servant delivered me a glass of wine, and I settled into a seat between Bel and Leli. Aedan and Alistair had been called to sit alongside Nathaniel and Varel, and the rest of the Wardens filled out the other two sides of the square. I noticed Rolan sitting at the end nearest the dwarves, eating quietly, alone. He hadn’t even glanced at the mages, as far as I could tell, and I wondered what Conrad had said to him over the past few months. Maybe he won’t be as big an ass as you think….yeah, right.
“Legion of the D-dead!” Bel’s enthused answer pulled me out of my daze. “Not Kardol’s, but one of the other companies. We hired local hunters to find the Deep Roads tunnel collapse you warned us about, and found an entire company of the Legion being attacked by darkspawn. Rescued them, and – with the help of Dworkin – killed a handful of broodmothers. Figured you’d want to m-meet them, so we dragged them back with us.”
I blinked as I processed that information. Kal’Hirol, already cleared? The Legion of the Dead – alive? I looked at the dwarves more closely, and there, in the middle, found a familiar face – Sigrun. She was talking to another dwarf, a broad smile on her pretty face, her hands gesturing animatedly as she spoke, while the recipient of her enthusiastic chatter grunted and avoided eye contact. I chuckled. Seems even her comrades can’t get used to her overwhelming cheerfulness. I remembered Sigrun from the game – at the end, going back into the Deep Roads to die, full of survivor’s guilt – and wondered when the unexpected consequences of my presence in Thedas would stop surprising me.
Something else struck me. “Wait – Dworkin? He’s here?”
Bel nodded. “He’s mad as a…actually, I don’t even know, but he’s here. Collapsed h-half of that Thaig on the broodmothers with some Lyrium bomb. Trevian was so angry! But we killed a lot of ‘spawn, and none of them were the talking kind.”
“Is Dworkin’s brother here too?”
“Voldrik. Yeah, somewhere. They’re n-not very sociable, those two. Dworkin’s too crazy, and Voldrik’s too gloomy.”
I smiled, relaxing. Not that I hadn’t trusted the stone masons Sereda had ‘loaned’ us, but I knew Voldrik was capable of fixing up the Vigil to withstand everything the Mother could throw at it. If they worked together, who knew what would happen! I’d just have to convince Nathaniel and Aedan to fund him – and find him some stone to work with.
“What about Wade and Herren?”
“Yes, they’re here too.”
“Some of the tunnels have been collapsed for years – Varel’s had crews d-digging them out. They may be passable, but they aren’t safe. Lost a soldier in a collapse the first time we tried to get through. Found an Avvar tomb – left it alone. Figured Arl Howe can decide what to do with that. When the digging is done, we can clear out the t-tunnels and have Voldrik fix up the Dwarven door. He confirmed he knows how.”
I smiled broadly. “I’m so happy! Maybe this won’t be the unmitigated disaster it could have been.” I thought about all the things that could change, as things stood – Sigrun’s Legion company surviving was just the beginning. I imagined thwarting the major attack on the Vigil that gave the Architect more Warden Blood, preventing the Mother’s forces from destroying the city…
Thedas without Justice. Without Vengeance.
What would that even look like? Kristoff hadn’t come to Ferelden, so there would be no body for the spirit to inhabit, and no reason for the Wardens to go poking around in…what was that place called again? I spent a few distracted moments searching my brain for the name of the zone where Justice joined the Wardens in game, and drew a complete blank. But the Wardens would never go there, so we’d never have to see Anders being possessed, Kirkwall being blown up…
What would that mean for the mage-templar war? I couldn’t even start to wonder, but just had to hope that it could only be an improvement. Surely there was some other way to handle Meredith. Maybe my warning to Greagoir would make a difference…
It certainly couldn’t get any worse.