Alistair’s mabari had led Audra to a door near a garden. Light streamed through the window beside it, but she couldn’t tell who would be inside. She had no idea where the mabari had brought her, but she assumed that Diablo had led Anders to somewhere or someone safe. She’d half expected it to be Leliana, but something told her that a room off on the far edges of Skyhold didn’t fit.
“Do you want to come in?” she asked Akeva, squatting down in front of the mabari and scratching her behind the ears to reassure her. She knows he’s gone. It broke her heart even more, which she hadn’t thought was possible after trying to face the possibility of living the rest of her life without Alistair.
Akeva gazed from Audra to the door and back to Audra, looking reluctant. Audra leaned forward and planted a kiss on the dog’s head. “How about this: can you find where the stables are? I’ll bet we can probably find a spot for all of us there.” She shivered, hoping that at the least there’d be somewhere that they’d be able to escape the biting wind that had come in with the rain.
With a bark, Akeva left to walk into the darkness and Audra got to her feet, turning back to the door and putting her hand on the heavy iron knocker. It felt sold and cold under her hand, and for a moment she worried about what she wound find. She trusted Diablo to find Anders somewhere safe to go, but at the same time, there were complexities to people that mabari didn’t always understand. She knocked three times, then waited for the door to open, shifting from foot to foot to try to generate some warmth.
The door swung inward, and the light from inside the room caused her to blink a couple of times. A dark figure stood in the door, and Audra drew a surprised breath as the other woman’s face became clear in her vision. Most striking were her golden eyes.
The last time she’d seen Morrigan, she hadn’t thought that she would see her again. She had never been so glad to be wrong. “Morrigan,” she blurted out, throwing her arms around her old friend. Her hands clutched at the woman’s back, feeling the warmth of her skin. Few people understood what she and Alistair had truly been through together, and no one had a clearer picture of that than Morrigan. “Can I hug you?”
The other woman laughed, and Audra realized that she seemed to laugh more easily than she once had. “I think we’re already past asking.” She wrapped her arms around Audra. “You’re as wet as your dog always is.”
Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes at the sound of her voice, but Audra managed a smile. “Charming as always.” Her mind raced, wondering why Leliana had not told her. Or… Oh. Leliana had told her that she had an old friend here. She’d assumed that was Cullen, but in thinking on it further, her words made more sense. Her composure crumbled and she heaved a sob into Morrigan’s shoulder, suddenly grateful.
She had so many questions. Where had Morrigan gone? What about her son? Had Flemeth ever come after them?
She stepped back out of Morrigan’s arms and regarded her. She appeared very much like Audra remembered, all the way down her robes, which couldn’t possibly be warm enough in a place like Skyhold.
The sound of Diablo’s tail thumping against something caused her to look over his direction, and she realized that the dog stood beside a boy. Her breath caught in her throat. His resemblance to Morrigan’s was striking, and a casual observer wouldn’t have noticed anything more than that. Audra leaned against the doorway, feeling suddenly disoriented. It’s him. The child that Alistair fathered in the ritual that saved both of their lives. She could see hints of it in the shape of his nose.
She’d spent years feeling guilty about that ritual, as if she’d cheated a death that should have claimed her. And I had. The guilt had faded, but they’d never known what happened to this child. What or who he was. Confronted with him, she felt her heart thudding. He’s a normal, beautiful boy.
Seeing Morrigan’s alarmed expression, Audra pulled her face into a more composed expression. Her mind felt like a whirlwind of confusion, conflicting emotions, and burning questions. They’d have a lot to talk about. “It’s good to see you.”
“You as well.” Morrigan stepped aside to let Audra enter, shutting and locking the door behind her.
Diablo came to her side and sat patiently until Audra patted him on the head. “Good boy. Did you find a friend?”
“Kieran,” Morrigan said, gesturing to him. He came over and Morrigan put an arm around his shoulders. “This is a very old friend of mine, Audra Amell.”
“The Hero of Ferelden.” He smiled. “Hello.”
The slight quirk in his smile caused her heart to ache. “Hello, Kieran.” The sight of him overwhelmed her with a strange sense of relief, not just for the fact that he seemed so normal, but that Morrigan seemed happy. She wanted to hug him, to know he’s real, but there was a line that she couldn’t cross yet.
“You’ve known my mother a long time.”
“I have. Since before you were born.” She looked over at Morrigan. “Mind if we talk? I think we have a lot to catch up on.” She scanned the room, looking for Anders in either cat or human form. “I assumed that my cat made it here, but I don’t see him.”
“Here!” Anders called from another room, opening the door. “Just wanted to give you all some time to say your hellos. Whatever touchy feely stuff.”
“No one saw you?” she asked, concerned particularly about anyone that would get word back to Cullen.
“No. They saw an orange cat.”
“A big orange cat,” Kieran commented.
“Yes, well, go big or go home.” Anders stretched. “Do I need to turn back so you can smuggle me somewhere else?” He plucked at his shirt. “I just got dressed but that’s easily fixed.”
Morrigan shook her head. “You may stay here for now. Audra and I have some… things to discuss.”
“Kieran, I’m glad you’re here,” Anders commented, taking a seat on the floor. “Otherwise, Diablo has no one to drool on but me.”
The whole scene seemed so normal: Anders sitting crosslegged across from her dog and her husband’s son that had been fathered with Morrigan. If only we had Alistair here.
She could feel any smile she’d managed to keep up drop from her face, and she turned away to hide her expression. Morrigan threw on a cloak and led Audra outside, where the cold still cut right through her cloak. She pulled the hood up over her head. “Is there somewhere we can talk? I’d rather no one overhear what we’re about to discuss.”
“We’ll go back to the room with the eluvian,” Morrigan said, taking the lead. “How did you find it?”
“We weren’t able to find it until Garrett was here, actually. We’d been trying to find one somewhat close to here, but it’s hard unless we’ve got something to sort of… attune to. In the case of this eluvian, we were able to use a spell similar to what’s used to track mages with a phylactery. Even though he’s not a mage, he’s Amell blood so I was able to use our eluvian to get to the crossroads, then find one where his sister could sense him.” They’d been lucky that they’d been able to reach Bethany, given her place among the mages of the Circle in Kirkwall, but she’d come immediately to their assistance.
“That’s quite the spell.” Morrigan arched an eyebrow. “How long have you been experimenting with this?”
“A little bit,” Audra admitted. “We have an eluvian near us, thanks to a contact of Garrett’s, and we’ve used it to try to get a sense of where we can go.” She’d been grateful for Merrill’s assistance with the eluvian. “We did not try to track Kieran, if that was your concern. In fact, we had no idea where you were here at all.” She reached out and put a hand on Morrigan’s shoulder. “And we weren’t going to come looking for you. That’s what you asked for.”
“I… appreciate that. More than you know.”
They reached the room with the eluvian, and Morrigan cleared a sheet off of a couch that was to one side of the room. She sat down. “I am sorry I never contacted you.”
“Morrigan,” Audra said, sitting down on the other end of the couch. “Let’s make something clear. You were a dear friend of mine, but you owed us nothing. Not even Alistair.” She reached out and took Morrigan’s hands in hers. “You saved us.”
“And you both gave me Kieran.”
“I’ll venture that Alistair may have had more of a part in that than I.” Even though that had hurt Alistair at the time; as a bastard himself, growing up without a father was painful thing to consider inflicting on a child.
“You say that, but he never would have done it if you hadn’t been willing to accept it. I know it was…” She hesitated, staring down at their hands. “Difficult. I know it is not what Alistair wanted.”
“What he, and I, wanted, was a chance to be together and keep the Wardens strong.” For the time that they could, anyway. After a time, as they realized what was left of their lives was slipping away, it became harder to keep the Wardens strong. We’ve both been so tired and we’re just ready to live out the rest of our days with our dogs and our friends. “You gave us that. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard at the time. Alistair… he was upset, when he came back. After being with you.” Audra remembered him crying, asking what have we done?
“I know. But I did what I did to save you both.” Morrigan squeezed Audra’s hands. “He’s a normal boy, Audra. He’s brilliant. He’s brave, like his father.”
Audra had to ask. “Did Alistair meet him?”
“He did, briefly.”
Closing her eyes, Audra nodded, swallowing. “Thank you. For giving him that. He always wondered about him.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t give him the chance sooner. I just felt it was better if our paths didn’t cross. For all our sakes.”
“Morrigan,” Audra croaked, raising her head. She felt a tear slip down her cheek. “You know you and Kieran would always be welcome to us. It didn’t matter how he was conceived. At the time, Alistair was devastated, but not because it was you.”
“It was because I was not you. I know it hurt him. And you. I am… sorry, for that.”
“Maker, Morrigan, no, that’s not what this is about. Never be sorry. Not for that beautiful boy, and not for us.” Her hands closed tighter around Morrigan’s. “If not for you, either Alistair or I would have died. And I wouldn’t have let it be him. Without you… I never would have had the chance to live all these years with the man I love. I would never have had the chance to know my cousin. Alistair and I have saved lives together. We had the most ridiculous Grey Warden wedding.” It had been more than she’d ever thought she’d had. They’d gotten married wearing their Grey Warden armor, and their union brought hope to many of the other Wardens that becoming a Warden didn’t mean you had to be alone. We carried the burdens together. “Everyone brought us alcohol and food because we were heroes. I don’t think anyone has ever got so much free wedding. Alistair ate so much cheese that I was sure he’d be sick, but the next day he was up like nothing happened.” Audra managed a smile. “I never expected a happy ending, from the time I was old enough to realize what the world did to mages. I’ve been so fortunate.” She squeezed Morrigan’s hands. “That’s you.”
Morrigan’s eyes were wide and she tilted her head to the side slightly. “I… did not realize how much it meant to you.”
“It was hard at the time to understand it.” Audra remembered talking to Morrigan about having Alistair father a child with her, in order to absorb the Archdemon’s essence and save her or Alistair from having to die. “We had to sit around talking about which one of us would sacrifice ourselves. And it was horrible. We both knew that no matter which of us went, the other would be left alone. Maybe it was selfish of us, but we couldn’t do it.” Alistair, walking from the room to go to Morrigan’s. Audra waited, sitting on the edge of the bed and waiting for him to return. When he finally came back, his eyes were pained, as if he’d betrayed her. He’d wanted to go his whole life having had no one else but me. At the time, she felt like she betrayed him, too.
They’d held each other until they both fell asleep. It had been the hardest night of their lives. “I remember your last words before we stormed Denerim. ‘Live well, my friend. Live gloriously’.”
“And you did,” Morrigan said softly.
“But I missed you. We were best friends, once.”
“That is not negated by how long it has been since we spoke, is it?”
“You are going to make me cry” Audra drew in a deep breath. “I can see how much you love him. It’s good for you. You’re everything that your mother was not. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you.” Her face softened. “When I called you a sister, I meant it.”
“No matter how far away we are, you’re family. I just want you to know that…” She met Morrigan’s gaze. “You and Kieran always have a home with us.”
Morrigan was silent for a long moment, appearing to be lost in thought. Finally she regarded Audra. “Why did you come to Skyhold?”
Sighing, Audra let go of Morrigan’s hands and wiped at her face. “I don’t think Alistair is dead. I’m dreaming about him constantly. He’s injured. Sometimes he’s talking to me, sometimes he’s just babbling. And I don’t even understand how he got there, but he’s trapped somehow.”
“He entered the Fade physically, with the Inquisitor.” She hesitated. “Kieran says he has dreamed of Alistair as well.”
Audra’s heart leapt in her chest. “Then it’s possible. He could be alive.”
“Tis my understanding that it was a dire situation, I would caution against too much hope.” Morrigan placed a hand on Audra’s shoulder. “But we’ve faced impossible odds before.”
“That we have.” Audra managed a smile. “I’d considered meeting with your Inquisitor in the morning, but perhaps we should consider this sooner rather than later.”
“And I was enjoying having a quiet night in.” Morrigan sighed. “How safe is your mage?”
Audra dreaded this sort of question and suppressed her urge to snap. “For you and Kieran? Absolutely safe. Neither will harm anyone unless harmed first, or if harm is threatened. Believe me, neither would hurt Kieran for instance, but I’m certain that if Kieran was threatened by someone, it would not end well for that person.”
“Fair enough.” Morrigan sat back and pondered. “Does Anders know who Kieran’s father is?”
“Maker, no. Anders knows many of my own secrets, but how your son came to be is a secret I will carry to my grave. It is not for me to disclose, ever.”
Morrigan nodded. “I… thank you.”
“No need to thank me. We’re family. This is what family does.” Audra stood, brushing away the dust she’d picked up from the old couch. “Do you mind if Anders stays with Kieran for a while?”
“That is fine. It sounds like it might be the safest place for them both. I am certain that Cullen will not take kindly to Anders being here.”
Audra shook her head. “That’s why I’m not telling him unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“You will find it’s hard to keep secrets for long here,” Morrigan noted.
“I don’t have to keep it for long, just for long enough to do what needs to be done.” I hope that Cullen and Leliana can forgive me for this.
“Audra, did you ever…” Morrigan hesitated a moment. “Were you able to use the information I gave you about how to potentially cure the Taint?”
Audra ran a hand through her hair. She had wondered when that question would come up, given the final conversation she ever had with Morrigan. “I did. I think I know how to do it. It’s taken a lot of effort. I just don’t know how to…” She trailed off, thinking. Her research had shown that she could bind the Taint and pull it from them, but she’d found no way to bind it far enough away to remove it.
The Fade might just be far enough away.
The implications ran through her head. Of course. She could save Alistair… and end the Taint. At the same time. Her eyes widened and she found herself staring at Morrigan. “We can bind the Taint into something we leave in the Fade, so that leaving it will remove it.”
“Surely you can’t be serious,” Morrigan scoffed, then she paused, and Audra watched the realization dawn on her face. “You are serious. And it may work.”
Audra nodded, reaching out a hand to bring Morrigan to her feet. “It just may.” If it doesn’t kill us in the process.
Either way, though, she and Alistair were dead if it didn’t work. They had nothing to lose.