My reunion with Alistair was hampered by a massive bandage across his left shoulder. I found him sitting in a crowd of injured soldiers, patiently waiting his turn for Anders to take a look at him. His armour had been cut off, part of it dented; he’d need a new set eventually. Someone had wrapped a length of linen bandage around his upper arm and shoulder, and blood was slowly seeping through despite that.
I launched myself at him, slowing only slightly when I landed on my knees beside him so I didn’t jar his bad shoulder. I dropped my helmet beside him and wrapped my arms around his torso, pressing my nose into the crease in his neck opposite the bandages. I felt his fingers weave into my hair, holding me close, as he pressed kisses to the side of my head. Finally, cradled up to my husband’s chest, I let go and felt the tears rolling down my cheeks, soaking into his sweat-stained under-armour.
We held each other for a few moments, just revelling in the fact that we were both alive; finally I pushed away, cupping his face in my hands and kissing him softly.
“I love you, husband.”
“And I you, wife.” He untangled his hand from my hair and tried to settle me into his lap; he groaned softly as his injured shoulder protested.
“What happened here?” I pulled away from him and reached for the bandages; he slapped my hands away and tried to pull me closer again, ignoring the pain. “Maker, where’s Anders?” I turned to locate the healer, but Alistair clamped his hand over my mouth before I could call out.
“It’s fine. I lost my shield, and a hurlock got a lucky strike in. It will be fine. Anders has much worse to deal with first, love.”
I scowled at him; it wasn’t that I wanted Anders to stop dealing with life-threatening injuries, but Alistair couldn’t hide the pain in his eyes from me, and I hated seeing him like that. I wracked my brain for some reasonable excuse to have the healer see to him first, but was saved by Trevian.
“Commander? We need you over here.”
Anders nodded at the dwarf and immediately came over, tutting in frustration at the gash across his shoulder as he peeled back the bandages. I could barely look; instead I pressed my face up against his other arm and slipped my hand into his tightly.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Anders scolded Alistair. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, you great stubborn ox.”
Alistair snorted in amusement and I actually let out a half-hearted giggle as I felt the healing magic wash over him. When it was done, we both stood and Alistair wrapped both arms around me, kissing my forehead softly. “Talk later?” I nodded, somehow ashamed that he’d been able to sense my distress when he had other things he should be thinking about. He lifted my chin and rubbed my nose with his. I grinned reluctantly, and with one last squeeze, he went to talk to Trevian, Nathaniel, and Varel.
“Anders, need any help?”
I spent the next few hours scurrying around delivering healing potions, bandaging minor wounds that didn’t need magic to heal, and helping wounded soldiers back to the barracks. Solona was recruited to magically incinerate the darkspawn corpses; her skill with fire was only mediocre, so she was completely depleted by the time that was finished despite a couple of Lyrium potions. Exhausted, she finally went to bed.
Trevian, and a few other Legionnaires including Sigrun, used picks they produced from their belongings somewhere to dig trenches in the stone of the Deep Roads near the barrier door and then carefully buried the dwarves who’d died, also making a stone marker to honour Fargrim and the others who’d been lost beyond the door. They didn’t hold a funeral and declined Varel’s offer to include them in the ceremony that would eventually be held for the soldiers who had given their lives.
When Alistair was finished giving orders and talking to Nate, the last job that needed to be done was to carry the soldier’s bodies to the courtyard for funerals in the morning. Instead of helping, Alistair came over and scooped me into his arms, pulling me away from all of the death and horror of the battle. Initially I protested, between the embarrassment of being carried around, worry about his shoulder, and the desire to help, but Alistair ignored me and made his way carefully to our room. We had a long, hot bath together; I cried in his arms while he shuddered in mine. We made love slowly, and then collapsed together in bed to sleep.
The next day was difficult. Alistair made a speech about the sacrifices made by good men; I cried some more. And then pyres for the soldiers were lit; the dwarves excused themselves to their own drunken mourning, but the rest of us respectfully watched the pyres burn down.
Aedan returned halfway through the afternoon, horrified to learn what he had left for us when he went to Amaranthine, but relieved that we were alive. Leliana, who must have been even more worried than I had thought, went straight into Nathaniel’s arms for a very public kiss.
“What now?” Aedan finally asked, once the initial pleasantries had been finished and we’d been served dinner in the dining room. “Can they get through that door?”
I shook my head, just as Trevian entered, replying, “Not likely, Warden.” The Legion commander, smelling of ale but looking remarkably sober, exchanged respectful nods with Alistair and then turned his attention to my brother. “Orzammar’s been protected by one just like that for generations. They’d have to dig tons of rock to get around the mechanism – it’s sunk deep into the walls all the way around. They’ve never gotten through one before.”
“Wouldn’t hurt to set up some arcane traps down there as a warning, just in case,” Alistair replied. “I wonder if Anders knows how.”
“How did it go in Amaranthine?” I asked, changing the subject.
Aedan filled us in; he’d made contact with the city guard, cleared the smugglers out of the various dens and secret passages throughout Amaranthine, and then, with the aid of some of Dworkin’s explosives, collapsed the tunnels leading into the city so the Mother’s forces wouldn’t have easy access to the city later on.
Nathaniel sighed. “And Esmerelle really was working with them?”
Aedan nodded; Zevran handed over several sheets of parchment – detailing payments the smugglers had made to the local Bann – pilfered from the Bann’s own estate, evidently. Nate handed them to Varel, turning his attention back to Aedan.
“Did you speak with my sister?”
Aedan chuckled. “Yes. She still hasn’t forgiven me for that dress.” I giggled, and Nate grinned. “I don’t think she’ll be keen on it, but I’m sure you can convince her.”
I frowned. “Keen on what?”
Nathaniel replied, “Well, given Esmerelle’s illegal activities, and what you told me about her and the others forming a conspiracy to take over the Arling, I’ve been assuming I’ll need to replace her as Bann sooner rather than later. I’ve spoken to Fergus, and he agrees. I’ve been searching through my father’s papers and correspondence. So with this, I’ve assembled enough evidence; she’ll be arrested, and I plan to make Delilah the Bann of Amaranthine.”
“But isn’t she…I mean, forgive me, but she married a commoner. She’s pregnant! What will happen to Albert?”
Nathaniel wrinkled his brow at me, puzzled. “What do you mean? He’ll be with her, of course. He can’t be Bann without a royal decree raising him to the nobility, but nothing can stop her from claiming her noble blood. Her children will inherit.”
“If I can be a Prince, she can be a Bann.” Alistair’s expression was sour as he spoke his title.
“I just…” I looked around at the men staring at me in varying degrees of bemusement and confusion. “Never mind.”
Nate finally took pity on me. “It’s not exactly standard, I’ll give you that. But they are legally married, and to be honest, his skills as a merchant will aid Delilah running the Arling. She’s a pushover. Couldn’t bargain for something to save her life. And she’s happy with him. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise that.
“Besides,” he glanced at Leliana and blushed, “he isn’t the only commoner married to a noble.”
The bard paled and looked away, expression tortured.
“Teagan’s proposed to Kaitlyn, then?” Alistair asked, and Leliana sent him a grateful smile as the conversation turned to the likelihood of a winter wedding, or whether the newly-raised Arl would wait for spring. I made a mental note to talk to Leliana about whatever that was, later.
The following day, the dwarves were still drunk; the soldiers began the difficult work of cleaning out the basement, including the tainted sections. Nate and Varel had gone down with them, though I warned them about the possibility of undead Avvar and demons. Nate asked Varel to write a letter to the Circle later requesting a mage knowledgeable about the undead and the Avvar to be sent to the Vigil – it would be a permanent position, if things worked out.
Conrad arrived back at the Vigil with Rolan, Bel, and Wulf; he had two elven women in tow, though he seemed to be ignoring them as he looked wildly around the courtyard at the Vigil. The horses were practically foaming, and Samuel complained bitterly under his breath as he took the reins of the exhausted beasts and led them away. We’d felt him coming after breakfast, and so Alistair, Zev, Aedan, and I were waiting for him when he arrived.
“I thought there would be darkspawn? We saw smoke!”
It took a few minutes to reassure the senior Warden and his group that we were safe, though he was saddened like the rest of us about the loss of life. He ruffled my hair with a grin when he learned about my part in the battle, and I swatted at him with an indignant squawk. Trust Conrad to lighten the mood. Convinced that everything was fine and the Vigil wasn’t under attack, Rolan, Bel, and Wulf greeted us and then excused themselves to unpack.
As we spoke, the two Dalish elves stood behind Conrad, one watching with interest, her sandy blond hair short and reminiscent of Leliana’s style, the other with impatience she didn’t even bother to conceal, reminding me strongly of Morrigan. She had her arms crossed over her chest, an enormous scowl on her otherwise pretty face marring the intricate tattoo that swirled over her chin and forehead. Both women had the same tattoos, and while I didn’t recognise the patterns, I did recognise the women.
The angry one was Velanna, and the other was her sister Seranni.
I turned away quickly before my gaping could give me away; I knew Velanna’s response to a ‘shem’ staring at her was likely to be swift and acerbic. In the game, you were never given much of a chance to talk to Seranni, though I recalled hearing she was nicer and more sociable than her sister; I still didn’t want to make a bad first impression. Alistair noted my reaction and raised an eyebrow at me; I shook my head slightly, schooled my expression, and looked back at the two as Conrad introduced them and launched into an explanation of why they were at the Vigil.
“We got wind of the villagers planning to try to burn out the Dalish, like you warned us, but we got there too late.” Velanna scoffed, muttering under her breath; Conrad rolled his eyes and continued, “Fortunately no one was killed, but several of the clan’s Hunters were injured and some of the aravels,” he stumbled over the unfamiliar word, and Seranni nodded encouragingly, “were damaged. Keeper Ilshae informed us that these two, and a handful of others, had left without permission to go and exact revenge.”
Velanna harrumphed loudly, turning her nose up; Seranni shot her a dirty look and then turned to Aedan with a tentative smile. “Not all of us. Some of us were just trying to stop the others.”
Aedan nodded his understanding, and the petite elf relaxed slightly.
“So we went after them – we knew there were darkspawn about – and found the camp being attacked. One of them spoke! I know you warned us about that, but I still…” he trailed off, shuddered, and then shook his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, the creature is dead, as are several of the other elves. The survivors decided to go back to their clan; Seranni asked us to find Velanna, who’d been off on her own when they were attacked, so we did.”
Aedan gave Conrad a puzzled look. “And you brought them back with you, because…?”
The Warden flushed. “Right. Well, I was trying to assure them that their clan would be safe, and I thought it might help if they were able to talk with the Arl, you know, maybe make a formal alliance or something. And then, well…” He gestured at Seranni helplessly, an expression I couldn’t interpret on his face. He ran his fingers through his copper hair restlessly as we all turned our attention to the elf.
She said nothing, just looked down, embarrassed, face flushing under the scrutiny. I had no idea what point he was trying to get across, so I stared vaguely trying to figure it out. Something was bothering me, though I couldn’t pinpoint what. She was somewhat unkempt, smudges of dirt marring her pretty face, but I was more than used to that sort of thing – a year of sleeping in tents with limited facilities while fighting darkspawn will inure you to that fairly quickly. Her hair was somewhat dull, and strangely thin in places, her complexion much paler than her sister’s healthy tan.
Just as my observations caught up with me, Velanna snorted with disgust and, in a tone dripping with acid, said, “My sister has been tainted by the darkspawn. This shem,” Seranni practically growled at her, but she continued, unfazed, “tells us that the Grey Wardens have a cure.”
I took a deep breath, reeling from the news. I finally understood what had been bothering me; the sensation of the taint, different than what a Warden felt like, was emanating from the unfortunate elf. She wasn’t far gone yet, but obviously her hair had started falling out, and her ashen skin was the first phase in the transformation to the melted-wax look all darkspawn shared.
Seranni turned on her sister, hands on her hips, scowling. “Velanna, you know full well the Warden said they ‘might’ be able to help me. He didn’t promise anything. And with the way you’re acting, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were reluctant to help even if they could!”
Somewhat chastened, Velanna turned away, shoulders slumped. Her cheeks flushed and her chin quivered just slightly; it felt like possibly the first glimpse of the real person she was underneath all that excess anger. She’s just a person scared she’s going to lose her sister. I tried to think about how I’d feel if Aedan were the one dying, and suddenly had a lot more compassion.
It didn’t change the fact that what they were hoping for, a miracle cure, wasn’t what we had to offer. And I wasn’t even sure if putting Seranni through the Joining was a good idea. If she died, Velanna would blame us, and I had no idea if the younger elf even had any skills that would be of use. I didn’t think I’d ever be as pragmatic as some of the Wardens seemed to be, from what I’d read, but surely recruiting someone who couldn’t really help at all wasn’t all that good an idea.
As all those thoughts worked their way through my mind, I suddenly realised that Aedan, Alistair, Zev, and Conrad were all staring at me. Did I just use my outside voice to think all of that? But no, Seranni isn’t staring at me…0And then it occurred to me why. They were wondering if the game covered anything like this. I shrugged slightly and tilted my head, gesturing to Aedan that I thought we should talk privately.
Aedan cleared his throat and looked back at Seranni. “We can…uh, talk about that in a little while. It looks like Conrad had you all galloping the whole way here; you must be exhausted.” He turned and motioned to a nearby soldier, who happened to be Maverlies. “Could you please take these two ladies inside, find Varel and have them assigned quarters, and have baths drawn up?” She nodded, and he turned back to Seranni. “Ask one of the servants to bring you to the dining hall when you’re done, and we can talk.”
Velanna looked about to object, loudly, but Seranni thanked Aedan, then turned, grabbed her arm, and dragged the irate elf inside, resolutely following Maverlies. We all watched them go, before Zevran surreptitiously followed them after exchanging glances with Aedan. My brother herded Conrad, Alistair, and I inside, finding a small sitting room somewhere and closing the door. I sank into a chair, still shaken. I looked up to find the other three also seated, and back to staring at me.
I sighed. “I have no idea what will happen if you offer Seranni the Joining. In the game, she was kidnapped by the talking darkspawn and became a ghoul, following the Architect around. Maybe helping him, although she also aided the Wardens when we were captured. It wasn’t clear what became of her, but presumably she went down into the Deep Roads either with the Architect or on her own, depending.
“Velanna, on the other hand, would survive. In the game her sister was a ghoul, and she became a Warden. But you saw how she is to start with…she was unpleasant. She’s had bad experiences.”
Aedan turned to Conrad. “Did you happen to spend any time with Seranni? Can she even fight?”
Conrad winced. “She’s young,” he replied, which was pretty much answer enough in itself. “She might be useful though – she mentioned she’s a skilled herbalist. She might be able to help with potions and things.”
Aedan looked thoughtful. “That could be useful; Anders could use the help, and we know we will eventually lose him anyway.”
I’d forgotten that I’d told them about Anders needing to go to Kirkwall.
I hesitated, then said what I was sure was on everyone’s mind: “What if she doesn’t make it?”
No one answered, so I kept talking. “Velanna already hates humans. She got herself exiled just for the chance at revenge. If her sister dies, she’ll do something stupid.”
“Rock and a hard place,” Alistair muttered.
Aedan nodded. “If she thinks we might have a cure, and don’t give it to them, we’re in the same boat.”
“Next question,” Conrad added, “is do we offer the Joining to Velanna?”
Alistair looked startled. “Why would we do that? Why would she do that?”
“To stay with her sister. Besides, she may have nowhere else to go.” I thought about the game, remembering that Velanna disappeared into the Deep Roads one day looking for Seranni. “The bigger issue is what happens if we do and Seranni doesn’t survive. An angry Velanna who’s also a Warden doesn’t really appeal.”
“I suspect she will survive, though. If she can survive becoming a ghoul without losing her mind, the Joining seems like it would be less…harrowing,” Aedan postulated.
We all stared at each other silently for a while, thinking furiously. Finally Conrad stirred.
“What if…look, this is a weird idea for a Warden, I know, but what if we tell them the truth and let them choose? I don’t think they’d spill our secrets – Seranni is dying, and Velanna’s got bigger problems to deal with. Even if they say no, our risk is minimal. But if they make the choice, then we aren’t to blame if Seranni doesn’t make it.”
Aedan and Alistair exchanged glances, and then finally nodded.
“Can I tell them?” I requested. “Nathaniel’s been telling me I have to be prepared to give bad news, like talk to the families of soldiers who died, for example. It’ll be good practice. And maybe, girl-to-girl, it won’t be so intimidating.”
Aedan stared at me, eyebrows raised, as if doubting my sincerity. “Do you know something about them you haven’t told us?”
“What? No. I just think…maybe they’ll take it better from a woman, and someone who isn’t a Warden.”
“Take Wulf with you,” Conrad advised. “Velanna seemed to be less offended by him than the rest of us.”
Aedan nodded in agreement, and Alistair just squeezed my hand in sympathy.
“On another note…Sigrun?” Aedan turned to Alistair and me.
I shrugged. “You know how I feel.”
Alistair responded at exactly the same moment. “Take her.” He looked at me and grinned.
“So she’s good?”
“Not as good as you or Zev, but she’s talented with a blade. And keen, eager, has seemingly endless energy…takes orders well, but not blindly. She’ll speak up if she’s got a better idea or she’s ordered to do something stupid. She’d be a good counter to Velanna, from the sounds of things. The eternal optimist. And knowledgeable about poisons – she learned from that Legion nut.” He paused for a minute, grimacing. “…Maker keep him. I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead.”
I suppressed a wry chuckle; that Legionnaire had been nuts, but we’d been lucky to have him. He hadn’t been in the shield wall, but had been killed by darkspawn during the fight none-the-less. I was sure he’d be missed by the Legion.
“Alright, so if that’s it, why don’t you go settle in, Conrad? And we’ll leave Velanna and Seranni to you, Sierra.”
I nodded. Alistair gave me a sweet kiss, and then I went in search of Wulf. I found the former werewolf eating his bodyweight in food in the dining room. I asked him to come with me, and with a nod, he finished the food on his plate and followed me.
I wondered briefly where Varel had put Velanna and Seranni, but was saved having to go on an extensive search by the arrival of both women in the main hall as Wulf and I wandered through.
“Andaran atish’an, Velanna and Seranni.” I carefully pronounced the Elven greeting, giving the two elves a formal Grey Warden-type bow.
Wulf bowed as well, though stayed characteristically silent two steps behind me and to my left. Seranni returned my greeting with a smile, but Velanna just raised one irritated eyebrow.
I sighed. “If you two don’t mind, could we talk?”