Qui Vivra Verra
“She who lives, shall see.”
There is so much hustle and bustle at Skyhold, so much going on at once: Troops departing, scouts reporting back, runners darting across the battlements, the constant din from forges and craftsmen repairing the massive keep. And always, always the flocks of ravens circling overhead, forever present. It overwhelms some of the younger mages, scarcely more than children - all without homes or families to return to. The poor things held themselves together through Redcliffe and Haven, but after the fight, the avalanche, and the exhaustive trek through the Frostbacks, they can scarcely focus or sleep for all the chaos of Skyhold rebuilding herself from ruin.
The noise and constant movement scarcely bothers Fiona; she suspects she could sleep through anything, save another archdemon attack. At a certain point, even the busiest din of people rushing to and fro in their daily tasks just fades into the background.
Today, however, Fiona's attention falters before she quite realizes why. A titter of amusement ripples through the room when she stutters to a halt mid-sentence in her summarization of different Fade spirits, the young mages no doubt amused to see their unflappable leader falter so badly.
"Enough of that, if you please," Fiona says smoothly, all the while casting her eyes about the busy courtyard for the source of her disturbance. It is a sunny day, though unseasonably cool, and a brisk breeze stirs the boughs of the trees in Skyhold's courtyard. Leaves dance and skitter around the hem of her robes. "Galterus, if you would kindly continue where I've left off - I shall return shortly, but something else demands my attention."
Before she turns to leave she sees nine young, pink-cheeked faces fall ever so slightly: though Galterus is quite an accomplished Enchanter, he's rightfully earned his reputation of stern (a polite word for hardass) among the young ones at their lessons. But breaking away from the group, Fiona finally is able to put a finger on what's distracted her so thoroughly: The usual bustle of the courtyard has been broken by the Inquisitor, moving in the slightly hunched way of a very large person trying with all their might to go unnoticed.
Admittedly, Fiona is curious as to why Inquisitor Adaar would try so hard to move unseen in her own keep, as much as she is amused that a woman of Adaar's stature would even try to blend in in the first place. In Redcliffe, the first thing that struck Fiona was the sheer size of her - for all Fiona has seen in her years, during a life that's been by no stretch of the imagination unadventurous, female Qunari were few and far between. Female Qunari mages, it would seem, doubly so.
Though, Fiona's readings helpfully amend, the Inquisitor is technically Tal-Vashoth - not Qunari. Fiona supposes that is rather akin to her own titles, gained and lost. Perhaps a Qunari without the Qun is similar to a Grand Enchanter without a Circle.
The Inquisitor has to duck her head to avoid the low-hanging lintel in the entryway to the stables; the last thing Fiona sees is her broad, sun-brightened back disappearing into the cool darkness of the barn. Cautiously, she follows. Truthfully, Fiona does not quite know what she intends to say to the Inquisitor, or why she's even approaching her for a conversation in the first place. All she knows is that something is amiss, and she intends to discover what.
"Inquisitor?" Eyes adjusting to the relatively dim light of the stables, Fiona squints as she looks to and fro. The building smells warm and comfortable in an animal sort of way - all dust and leather, sweet hay and the pervasive scent of horse. From down the row of stalls she can hear a horse snort irritably, followed by a sob - soft, and hastily stifled.
Ah, Fiona thinks. That explains why Adaar was in such haste to be alone. Logically, she knows she should turn to leave the Inquisitor in peace, but something within jabs at her to stay.
"It is only me," she says, approaching the stall the Inquisitor's ducked into. Unoccupied by any equine inhabitant, it's being used in the interim for storing tools and straw, and it is here the Inquisitor sits, hastily wiping her face.
"Grand Enchanter," she says, clearing her throat so Fiona won't hear the thickness of tears. "I'm sorry - is something wrong? Are the mages all right -"
"We are well, your Worship," Fiona says, shaking her head when Adaar makes to rise. "I could ask the same of you, however. Is all well?"
Adaar fidgets under Fiona's gaze like a new apprentice, and it suddenly strikes Fiona just how young she is. The Enchanter was perhaps a little taken aback upon meeting Adaar in Redcliffe, a little awed by the sheer size and impressiveness of her: A tall, horned mage of considerable skill, surrounded by her own personal vanguard of close companions, all equally awe-inspiring in their own right. The might of the anchor and rumored divine blessing swirling around her like an aura were almost palpable.
Now, in the dusty stable, Fiona can see faint freckles on the bridge of her nose and tears still clinging to her eyelashes.
Fiona makes her decision, and sits on the bale of straw opposite Adaar. She gives her a brief smile, hoping it comes across as warm rather than patronizing. There is nothing, she knows from experience, that makes new recruits and apprentices alike turn on their trainers quite like being spoken down to.
"What is upsetting you?" she asks. "With any luck, perhaps we can see it right together."
Adaar sniffs loudly. She shakes her head, so slightly Fiona wonders if she's conscious she's doing it. "It - it's nothing, Grand Enchanter. You don't have to -"
Fiona leans back on the bale, ignoring the way the straw ends poke through her robes and prickle her legs and rear. "You are right; I don't have to do anything. Wanting to help someone who is crying, on the other hand, is entirely my own choice. And one I stand by, coincidentally."
Giving her a watery smile that's rapidly washed off her face by a wave of fresh tears, Adaar turns away from Fiona and wipes her face on her sleeve again. She sniffles, and Fiona politely looks through the slats of wood to the horse in the next stall until Adaar is able to meet her eyes again. They sit in silence for some minutes until the tears abate, and Adaar rubs beneath her red-rimmed eyes with a large knuckle.
"It's really hard, some days," says Adaar. "Half the time I'm in a daze because things are just - moving too fast for me. And that's before all the - the deaths, the people we lost at Haven. Good people." Her eyes go distant; Fiona's seen that expression on the faces of senior Wardens. She knows it herself: Recollections of brothers-in-arms lost in battle. She's willing to bet that Adaar often lays awake at night, seeing faces on the backs of her eyelids and wondering if she couldn't have done more.
"Most of the time I'm fine," Adaar continues, sighing. Fiona nods. "Sometimes it's not too different from my merc band - keeping one foot in front of the other, checking off directives, looking out for the people who have your back. But sometimes it's...too much," she admits, color rising in her cheeks.
She doesn’t think she is enough to handle it, Fiona thinks, instinctively knowing what Adaar means to say though the words are unspoken.
Fiona sits quietly for a moment, considering. Even though Adaar’s hand is clenched, faint cracks of greenish light seep out from between her fingers. Fiona wonders if it keeps Adaar awake at night - the light of it, always shining, rather than the weight of all it implies for her. “Tell me about them,” she says gently, instead of commenting on the anchor.
“Huh?” Adaar blinks at Fiona, obviously not expecting that.
“Your mercenary troupe,” Fiona prompts, giving Adaar an encouraging smile. “I would like to know more about them."
Adaar leans back, shrugging with one shoulder. “Not much to say. The number of us remained the same almost the entire time I was with them, all of us being Tal-Vashoth. Shokrakar’s our leader - I’d like to see her go toe-to-toe with Iron Bull, or match him for drinks,” she adds, a little smile unconsciously curving her lips. “Taarlok’s her second-in-command, mostly because he has more of a head for negotiating, rather than fighting. I ran support and crowd control when they needed it. Kaariss, he…” She snorts, and it could be a gust of laughter if Fiona is interpreting it correctly. “I’ve never seen anyone more skilled with a bow, but he also fancies himself a poet. Two weeks after I joined up I found a poem wrapped up in my bedroll, comparing my eyes to….moonlight off the pond we were camped near, I think.”
“Oh dear,” Fiona muses, trying not to smile at the description of the lively company. “Did the poem have its intended effect?”
“What? Oh, no,” Adaar says, shaking her head. “I told him he was sweet, but Shokrakar…Shokrakar is still a very impressive woman,” she admits. There is a warmth to her voice, poorly-hidden, that brings Fiona back years and years - back to the Deep Roads and two Orlesians in her company who were absolutely mad for each other. Though the pain of their loss has abated, she does not dwell on them all the same.
“You miss them,” she says to root herself in the present, still keeping her voice gentle. Adaar stares at her, chin jutting out a fraction.
“They were my family,” she says. “Is it wrong for me to miss them - that I wish I was still with them? Is it bad I’d trade anything to go back?”
“Not at all,” Fiona says. “Although many may envy the purpose you now bear, I do not.”
“No,” Adaar says, a touch wistfully. In the moment, she reminds Fiona more of a lost teenager than a young woman with unfathomable powers at her command. “I wouldn’t either, if it weren’t me.”
For several minutes they sit quietly in the warm golden light of the barn, Fiona sure Adaar is as lost in her own thoughts as she is in hers. It has been some time since she’s dwelled on her time with the Wardens, long-ago and distance at it is. She wonders if the world would be different now if she had made different choices back then. She supposes it is too late to matter. The world is Adaar’s now, belonging as much to the Herald of Andraste as it does to the blossoming Inquisition. Fiona supposes, then, it is now her duty to lead the mages - the young ones who will inherit the world the Inquisition will forge - and to lead and teach them well.
“Grand Enchanter?” Adaar’s voice breaks the silence, curious but hesitant.
“If you don’t mind me asking - what made you agree to Alexius’s terms in Redcliffe?” Adaar seems to consider her question for a moment, and rushes to add, “I just thought - personally - I would rather die than indenture myself to a magister, and I still don’t know if he offered you something that you couldn’t turn down -”
“Ah,” Fiona says, feeling her lips purse. How to explain - how to describe the feeling of bile rising in her throat as she shook hands with that Tevinter to seal their contract? How can she outline the sleepless nights she spent grappling with herself for selling herself and her fellow mages to an unscrupulous magister? It takes some time before she is able to say, “I’m sure you understand, Inquisitor, what desperation will drive rational minds to.”
“Oh,” Adaar says softly. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“It was a mistake,” Fiona says. She sighs, banishing thoughts of that terrible mistake, the dishonest and uncomfortable slide of the magister’s magical energy. “I will not lie to you, Inquisitor. I made a dreadful mistake, and it is a burden I continue to bear. And I am grateful that events conspired to cause you to right my wrongs. But in the moment, we were alone - isolated, pressed on all sides and desperate for a helping hand. We were frightened.” She has to take a moment to steel herself, to remember to breathe. “I was frightened. Not for myself, but for the people I am responsible for.”
This is the exchange, she thinks. Adaar has let Fiona see her with her guard down, upset and weeping. It would be unfair of her to deny Adaar the same thing, her vulnerability and regrets. But all the same, she has to raise her eyes to the patchy roof of the stables before she can continue.
“Learn from my mistakes, Inquisitor,” she says. “Do not go anything alone. You’re surrounded by people who want to see you succeed - who care for you, without ulterior motives. Your Seeker and your diplomat, your mercenaries and mages. They rally behind you, Adaar.”
The younger woman nods, though Fiona can tell from the quirk between her brows that she doesn’t quite know what the Grand Enchanter is leading up to. Fiona must choose her words carefully: She’s lived long enough to know a tipping point when she sees one. She suspects Adaar was in need of such a tipping point when she tried to sneak into the stables unseen, huddled in on herself.
“It can feel like it’s too much for one person to bear,” she says. “That simply means you cannot bear it alone. You may not feel like you are enough,” she says, leaning forward and putting a hand on Adaar’s, “but you have those around you - good people, which is all you need. Rely on them. Their love, their weapons, their support. With so many behind you, you cannot get pushed back into a corner. And even if you do,” she adds, squeezing Adaar’s hand briefly for emphasis, “you have the power to tear down and rebuild the world with your bare hands, if need be.”
Adaar stares at her, wide-eyed and young, but they’re sitting closely enough that Fiona can feel the waves of magical energy rolling off of her. Fiona suspects that, even if she were not in possession of the anchor, her prowess as a mage would still be something to behold indeed.
“You doubt yourself, Inquisitor?” Fiona asks, releasing her hand. Hesitantly, Adaar nods.
“Every damn day.”
“Good,” Fiona says bluntly. “Doubt is not a bad thing. It means you care, Inquisitor - you care about the outcome of your actions, how they will affect those around you. It means you will choose what you believe is right, and choose carefully. I believe if you did not doubt yourself, we would all very well be lost.”
An expression somewhat akin to revelation passes across Adaar’s face. Her crumpled brow smooths out, and once again Fiona is reminded of how young she is - this horned giant with the power to shape the future. The Inquisitor heaves a weighty sigh, sitting back and looking at ease for the first time since Fiona’s seen her. “I admit,” she says, “I’ve been expecting….I don’t know. I thought you were going to scold me for crying like a ninny. Half of everyone here is upset that I’m Tal-Vashoth, and the other half are concerned about the image I present of the Inquisition…”
Yes, Fiona decides. She trusts Adaar, and trusts her doubt. Nonetheless, she gives Adaar a gentle smile. “You are not a pupil of mine,” she says. “And even if you were, there is no shame in crying. Only, remember what I said about relying on the people around you. You shouldn’t have to cry alone.”
“It is miserable,” Adaar agrees. Already she seems lighter, and Fiona can already see it flickering within her - the tender, small flame of resolve. She knows she did not light it; she only found it and encouraged its growth. Once encouraged and kindled, Fiona knows, Adaar’s resolve will burn brightly enough to see the Inquisition through the night and into the dawn.
Rising, Fiona dusts her robes free of bits of straw and extends a hand to pull Adaar off the haybale. “Then please consider me as just one more person you can rely on,” she says. “If you need a shoulder, or a scolding, or even just to talk. Tell me more of Kaarriss and his poetry.”
Adaar considers, and her dark lips look like they're on the verge of a smile. “I would like that,” she says, and takes Fiona’s hand.