Chapter 1: Andraste's Grace
Oppressing darkness came from all sides, surrounding her. It was her world now. It was true darkness, for there was no sign of light everywhere, the very flames of hope had been doused. Everything was a black void, an Abyss ever fed by despair. It should have consumed her soul years before.
Yet a soul was energy, it could be transformed; but not destroyed. That is what the Grey Wardens hadn’t understood. A soul could be forced from the body and kept from taking a new host, such as an archdemon could do, but it wasn’t destroyed. Yet, she had shared in the archdemon’s fate when she killed it and had not returned to the Maker’s side, but traveled with the nightmarish creature to a bleak plain of reality. The creature had traveled off to Maker knew where long before.
She, however, railed against her fate. She refused to give in to the brutality of her reality. There was no light from without, all she could do was reach for the spark of light within her. She had lost all sense of time in the blackness of her existence. She had no idea how long she had held on to the memories of her life to enable her to remember who she was. She could remember the feeling of being held in her mother’s arms, a mother she had lost too soon. She remembered her father carrying her on his strong shoulders as she boldly commanded his men and looked over his Teyrny. She remembered playing on the shores of the Waking Sea with her brother. She remembered the first time she’d held her infant nephew in her arms and the first time she kissed a man. She also remembered the one time she’d fallen in love, those memories were the brightest of all. The feelings of euphoria and joy, she was content to just be in his presence. Then there were the more tender moments, being safely in his arms and the ardor of his kisses. The excitement and devotion when they made love. Their souls had united and been as one. Alas, that hadn’t kept her at his side, though when she’d plunged a sword into the archdemon to save her people. It had to be him or her, they had run out of choices, but she rarely thought about that. It was the happy memories that were the light that kept the waiting darkness from consuming her.
She was startled when she heard the crying, she wasn’t sure where it had come from, but followed it. There was a flare of magic and a strange green light. Light. She reached out for the light. She could see a being now, it was no longer crying but screaming. In an eternity of darkness, there had not even been sound. The screaming hurt. She saw a familiar looking symbol that was pulsing. Whoever it was needed help. What is wrong? She realized she’d thought it at the other woman, it had been so long since she’d used her voice.
I can’t, I can’t. I killed them all. They made me Tranquil, I couldn’t control my magic in my anger and I killed them! Don’t make me feel that all again.
Tranquil, wasn’t that a mage whose emotions had been stripped? This creature was not emotionless.
“Maker!” She could now hear the other woman’s voice. “Don’t make me feel this I’ll do anything, I’ll…”
There was another light, this one blue. A woman took the screaming not-tranquil mage’s hand and then reached out her other hand, it seemed to be held out to her. “I will take care of you, Desdemona Trevelyan. You will not have to deal with what was done in my name alone.”
Who were they? She wondered.
“Take my hand,” the woman in the blue light still held her hand out to her. “Elisabeta Cousland, for too long have you suffered in the Abyss for sins not your own long enough. I need you in the world of the living once more. Don’t worry, I will take care of this one,” she put an arm around the person she’d called Desdemona. Her fate and powers are now yours. Reclaim the life that was taken from you, return to the land of the living, and save our people once more.” The other women disappeared and she found herself in a land of green, at least there was light.
“Hurry!” There was someone else in there with her, an older lady dressed in the restrictive robes of the Chantry. “We must get out of here! Quick, they’re behind you!”
Sure enough, spiders were chasing her. She ran. There was a portal of some sort in front of them. The elderly sister grabbed her and threw her out, letting the spiders grab onto her instead.
Elisabeta Cousland, the Hero of Ferelden, breathed air once again and then collapsed.
Chapter 2: Gone
Elisabeta has more memory-dreams and wakes up in the basement of the Chantry.
The prisoner lay on the cold hard floor, her light red and golden blonde curls flared out around her. She was unaware of the feeling, of even being able to feel again, as she slumbered; remembering events of more than a decade before, another life almost.
In the dream of her past life, Elisabeta Cousland snuggled in the arms of the man loved; she was safe and she was loved. It was hard to believe the darkness that threatened their world was real when they lay together like this, but they were. “Alistair,” she stirred.
“Hmmm, what is it, my love?” He murmured.
“What if Morrigan was right? What if we could have ensured that no Grey Warden had to die to kill the archdemon?” She sat up and looked down at him. She couldn’t help tracing a finger along his face, as if memorizing his features. “I… I don’t want to lose you tomorrow and I don’t want to die.”
“Neither of us is going to die,” he assured her. “Riordan has already said that he is going to take the killing blow. He will, too, you’ll see. He is a Senior Warden and knows what he is doing. I’m sure he knows better than I do. Besides, there was no way I was going to be unfaithful to you, especially with that swamp witch.”
“Witch of the Wilds,” she corrected. Morrigan’s desertion when Alistair refused to lay with her still stung. Even if she had failed to convince Alistair to go through with Morrigan’s dark ritual, she had thought they were friends. Yet her friend had turned into a dog and run off. “She may have been using us all along to have this child with the soul of an old god, but I would be a lot less worried right now if you had done the ritual.”
“Beta,” he was the only one who called her that. Most called her Lissa or Elisabeta. He lifted her left hand and kissed her palm and then her engagement ring. It was blue and silver, made out of the metal of a Grey Warden’s armor recovered from Ostagar. He’d had the silversmith in Soldier’s Peak melt the armor and make her ring and a circlet from it. She remembered him kneeling before her as he slipped it on her hand. She had given him her father’s ring in exchange. She’d found it on the body of the hated Rendon Howe who must have stolen it from her father when he killed him. Well, she’d killed Howe and avenged her family. “Don’t worry, love. All will be well. We’ll defeat the archdemon tomorrow and then we’ll marry. The only thing we will have to worry about is having to rule Ferelden together. I know I couldn’t do that without you.”
She smiled down at him. Eamon had wanted him to marry Anora, Cailan’s widow and Loghain’s daughter. The woman was a shrew and a hag and, in Elisabeta’s opinion, a horrible ruler. Elves had been sold into slavery and a civil war had broken out under her watch. “Just promise me that if I die, if I’m the one who makes the killing blow tomorrow, you won’t marry Anora.”
He made a face and then kissed her nose. “Why would I ever go and do that? The woman is almost as bad as Morrigan. OK, Beta, I promise not to marry Anora.”
“Thank you,” she kissed him, sealing the promise.
When they parted, he still held her close. “I’ll do one better, I promise that you’ll be the only woman I’ll ever marry. My heart is yours and I pledge it to you, it will always be yours; now and when we dwell at the Maker’s Side.”
She rested her head against his chest. Morrigan had revealed to her that the soul of the Grey Warden who slew an archdemon didn’t go to the Maker’s Side, as Riordan had led her and Alistair to believe, it was destroyed with the soul of the Old God. If anything happened to Riordan during the battle they were preparing for, they wouldn’t spend their eternity together. One of them would never make it to the Maker’s Side. She didn’t even want to contemplate it. “And I pledge my heart to you,” she looked up into his whiskey hued eyes. “It is yours and yours alone.”
His hands moved to frame her face, holding it in place as his mouth descended on hers again. He gently laid her down beside him, before rolling gently on top of her. Her fears were driven away by his tender touch and passionate kisses. She closed her eyes as they merged together, their bodies conveying their love and devotion for each other.
The dream shifted to another memory, it was the battle they had dreaded. Elisabeta carved a path through the darkspawn that had invaded Denerim, Alistair at her side. Along with Wynne and Leliana, they had killed the archdemon’s generals. Now they needed to get to the archdemon itself.
Elisabeta could see the tainted old god that appeared as a dragon above her. There was someone on his back, Riordan. So the Senior Warden had made it to the monster. She felt a band around her heart loosen. He would be the one to kill the archdemon and she and Alistair would be okay. It was not to be, she watched in horror as the demon bucked and Riordan slid off; he plummeted to the pavement below. She ran to his body, he was dead. She looked over at Alistair, unaware of the tears already pooling in her sea green eyes. He just shook his head. They had to destroy the creature, this was no time to contemplate the consequences.
She just nodded and looked to the archdemon. It was veering in the sky, injured. She noticed it circling Fort Drakon. She fought her way into the fort and to the top. She could not let the archdemon escape, this was their opportunity to end the Blight. It had already taken enough from the people of Ferelden.
As she engaged the archdemon, she was joined by the Ferelden mages and Eamon’s troops. Wynne joined her comrades as they flanked the creature, not letting it take flight again. She smiled when she saw an arrow rip through one of its wings, she recognized Leliana’s skill and fletching. Her own dual swords flashed as she cut the creature again and again. Starfang and the Sword of Cousland seemed to sing as she dodged under the dark tainted acid the creature spewed and sliced under its neck. As she came out on the other side, she saw Alistair fighting three hurlocks. He easily disposed of the creatures and then took on two shrieks who were trying to sneak up on Eamon. She knew how fond he was of his pseudo uncle.
Turning back to the archdemon, Elisabeta saw it falter. She whipped her swords out, scoring its neck and back. It fell to the ground. This was it. There was no time to hesitate. She sheathed her long swords and grabbed the large claymore that lay beside one of Eamon’s fallen soldiers.
“No!” The sound tore through the air, it was desperate and frantic. She turned to see Alistair running towards her. “No!” His voice was broken and it cracked her own heart. She could see the future she wanted so badly shattering before her. She looked down at the ring on her finger. There would be no wedding for her, no happy marriage, no children with his bad jokes and her temper. There would be no lazy mornings twined in the arms of the man she loved, no placid summer days or walks in the crisp autumn nights. There would be no more sweet kisses and long nights of passion. There would be no more. But it was either him or her and she didn’t want to live in a world without him. “No, Beta, please, no!” He continued to run towards her.
“I’m sorry. I love you,” she drove the sword through the archdemon’s head. There was a flash of light and then nothing.
Elisabeta Cousland sat up on the floor of the chantry, screaming. She looked down. Her armor was different. She now wore a merchant’s coat in a style she didn’t recognize. Plus, her wrists were shackled. The ring on her finger was gone and there was a strange mark on her left hand. As she stared at it, it glowed green and pain shot through her.
Chapter 3: Meetings Made Possible by the Maker's Miracles
Cassandra and Leliana discover their prisoner is not whom they suspected she was. Leliana has trouble accepting the truth before her eyes.
The prisoner crying out from pain and shock brought no help, but caused two the guards to run to their superiors. Four more drew their swords on her. She’d been dead for years, or so she supposed as there had been no way to judge the passing of time, and she was already a prisoner to people wearing armor with a symbol that reminded her too much of the chantry.
When the doors did finally open, a dark haired woman marched in, glaring at Elisabeta. Elisabeta ignored her, though, and gazed at the woman behind her. The dark haired woman began circling her like a shark. She stopped behind Elisabeta and leaned over near her ear. “Tell me why we shouldn’t just kill you now.” Dang, she was loud.
“I’ve been in the Abyss for…” She stopped. “OK, I don’t know how long, but not so loud. I’m not used to noise anymore.” She turned to the woman in front of her and her jaw dropped. Sweet Blessed Maker, the woman before her was a sight for sore eyes. Why was she in restraints, though, if her best friend was here? Didn’t she know who she was? “Leliana, could you tell your friend to keep it down. I don’t know how long I’ve been floating around in the nothingness of the Void, but she seems awfully loud.”
“You were in the Fade, not the Abyss,” Cassandra insisted.
“I followed a voice into the Fade from… that hell,” she really didn’t want to think about it; the nothingness, clinging to who she was so she wasn’t lost to madness. Her friend, at least the woman who had once been her friend, was just staring at her. “Leliana, could you please have your friend stop shouting at me. I feel like I drank Oghren’s brew at some point and just can’t remember when.”
“How do you know Sister Nightingale’s name?” The dark-haired bean sidhe didn’t lower her voice. She grabbed Elisabeta’s collar and hauled her up so they were face to face. It was a good thing she wasn’t short.
“Cassandra, we need her alive,” Leliana reminded the other woman, she still couldn’t believe how much the prisoner resembled a dear friend she’d lost years before. Now she was even calling her by name in that voice.
“She killed the Divine!” Cassandra threw Elisabeta on the floor, but the other woman flipped so she landed back on her feet and faced Cassandra defiantly.
“Beatrix is old, really old, she probably died of old age,” Elisabeta declared. “She wouldn’t need any help.”
“Beatrix died in 9:34 Dragon,” Leliana studied the prisoner, her eyes were telling her a story she couldn’t believe. “Who are you?”
“What year is it?” How long had she been dead? Elisabeta studied Leliana’s face, her friend recognized her; she could see it in her eyes. Why was she acting like she didn’t? Didn’t she have a vision sent by the Maker once, was the Maker bringing someone back from the dead that much of a stretch for her?
“The conclave has been destroyed!” Cassandra was now shouting. “Only you survived.”
“I wasn’t at a conclave,” Elisabeta protested. “What conclave are you even talking about?”
“I had her belongings searched,” Cassandra revealed. “She is Desdemona Trevelyan, a Tranquil mage from Ostwick. I asked around about her, she was too powerful and couldn’t control her own magic so she was given the Brand… after killing two other mages and a dozen Templars.”
“She doesn’t have a Chantry Brand,” Leliana waved a hand at Elisabeta. “And she looks just like… but she died ten years ago, so it can’t be her.”
“She’s Trevelyan,” Cassandra was sure. She pushed Elisabeta who pushed back. A fireball flew from her hands and hit the nearby wall. “See!”
“Andraste’s Rabid Mabari!” Elisabeta’s mouth dropped open. “What do you mean ten years and I was never a mage!”
Leliana didn’t know how this mage had been born a near doppelganger to her departed friend, but Cassandra was obviously right. That didn’t change the matter at hand. “We need her, Cassandra. Besides, a Tranquil wouldn’t kill the Divine.”
“I was never a Tranquil!” Elisabeta objected. “I am not Desdemona Trevelyan, either. I am Elisabeta Cousland and I’m from Highever! And apparently I’ve been dead for ten years. What year is it?”
“It’s 9:41 Dragon,” Cassandra answered. “And you aren’t fooling anyone. People don’t come back from the dead.”
“I obviously did, although the fireball thing is new,” Elisabeta conceded. “Leliana, you know me.”
“No,” Leliana shook her head in denial. She had just lost someone whom she loved dearly. Now before her was a woman claiming to be the sister of her heart she’d lost a decade before. She certainly looked like Lissa. She hadn’t aged since the last time Leliana saw her… when Alistair had held the torch that set her funeral pyre aflame.
“Was I so forgettable?” Elisabeta sighed. “After I helped you avenge yourself on your ex-girlfriend? I’m sure you remember Marjolaine.”
“Who is Marjolaine?” Cassandra had a feeling she was losing control of the conversation.
“Her ex,” Elisabeta confided. “She was a snotty Orlesian who tried to claim Ferelden smelled of wet dog. She deserved what she got.”
“Because she insulted Ferelden?” Cassandra realized that was as much of an offense as whatever the Orlesian woman had done to Leliana. Perhaps it was the dog part, Fereldens did love their dogs.
“Then there was the time that Zevran tried to spy on me while I was bathing in a pond near camp,” Elisabeta ignored Cassandra’s question, the answer was obvious after all. “You blended into shadows and knocked him out. Then we stole his clothes and threw them in the pond. When he came to, we claimed a Hurlock had done it.”
“Boy, Alistair was so angry about that,” Leliana recalled the event. “He wasn’t upset about us throwing Zevran’s clothes in the pond, but about Zevran spying on you. He didn’t like your privacy being invaded and was the only one who got to see you naked.”
“Although, you would ask about our… private time frequently,” Elisabeta added.
“Hey, I wanted to make sure he was good enough for you,” Leliana smiled. Maker, this was her Lissa.
“At least you were better than Wynne,” Elisabeta conceded. “She came to Alistair and I separately and tried to get us to break up.”
“She could be such a busybody sometimes,” Leliana agreed. “Yet she was still flustered when Zevran wanted to lay his head on her bosoms. He kept coming onto her.”
“I think they might have had a one night stand,” Elisabeta confided.
“You know about that?” Leliana’s hand flew to her mouth and she blinked back tears. She’d thought she and Zevran were the only living people who knew that.
“I… might have seen more than I…” She was cut off as Leliana, ignoring Cassandra and the guards grabbed Elisabeta and pulled her into her arms.
“Leliana!” Cassandra objected. “She has the strange mark and she survived the Conclave.”
“I have no idea what the mark does,” Elisabeta protested. “I don’t even know what it is or how it got on my hand. Except… she said that our destinies were switched. The woman, the one who was screaming in the Fade went to the Maker’s side and I would get her pow…” She stopped and stared at the spot on the wall where the fireball had hit the wall. “It’s all fuzzy. I remember women and then there was another woman, older. She helped me get out of the Fade.”
“A woman?” Cassandra repeated.
“There were several women,” Elisabeta agreed. “I… I… remember one screaming, I followed her voice.”
“Where have you been for the last ten years?” Leliana still had her arms around her.
A flashback of nothingness shot through Elisabeta’s mind and she shuttered. “I… it was… I’m pretty sure it was the Abyss. I was dragged there with the archdemon.”
“You died on that rooftop,” Leliana confirmed, clutching her friend closer. “We… burned your pyre… you were… dead.”
“Don’t remind me,” Elisabeta really didn’t want to dwell more on… that.
“Leliana, could you please unhand the prisoner,” Cassandra demanded. “As you said, we need her.”
“I’ll take her to the forward camp,” Leliana declared. “You can meet us there.”
“You need to be the one at the camp,” Cassandra dissented. “The scouts answer to you and the army to Cullen. I’ll make sure the prisoner gets there safely.”
“Her name is Elisabeta, Lissa to her friends,” Leliana released her. Sweet Maker, it really was her. “She’s… well, let’s take care of that Breach. Then I’ll tell you who she is. The Maker is with us.”
“Breach, what breach?” Elisabeta had no idea what was happening. She watched her friend leave and turned to the loud, unpleasant brunette.
“It will be easier to show you,” Cassandra led her out.
Chapter 4: Though I Walk Through the Valley of Death...
Cassandra takes Elisabeta to her friends waiting in the valley.
Cassandra led Elisabeta out of the chantry and into Haven. Elisabeta moved to shield her eyes from the light for a moment. Light, she blinked and looked up, the day was overcast; but the rays of the sun still managed to filter through, giving light to Thedas.
She didn’t know she’d shed tears until Cassandra glowered at her. “What is wrong? Feeling guilty for your sins?”
“It’s light, natural light,” She continued to look up at the clouds. Even they were beautiful. “You don’t know how wonderful even a muted ray of the sun is after an immensely long night.” Then she noticed the Breach, a green tear in the sky. “Whoa what’s that?”
“It’s a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour,” Cassandra looked up at the massive green tear. “It’s not the only such rift,” she turned to Elisabeta. “It’s just the largest. All were caused by the explosion at the Conclave.”
“An explosion can do that?” She’d never heard of such a thing.
“This one did,” Cassandra insisted. “Unless we act, the Breach may grow until it swallows the world.”
The Breach expanded as they watched and Elisabeta’s left hand flared. She grit her teeth and let out a little sound of pain. She closed her fists and eyes, trying to will herself to get pass it.
“Every time the Breach expands, so does the Mark on your hand and it is killing you,” Cassandra explained. “It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn’t much time.”
“We might as well try,” Elisabeta flexed her left hand. “I died saving this world, you’d think you guys could keep it in order for at least a few generations, not a decade.”
Cassandra opened her mouth and then closed it, wondering how the prisoner didn’t know about the reason for the Conclave… unless her claims about coming back from the dead were true. Leliana certainly believe her. “Let’s go.” She led Elisabeta through the town.
Elisabeta stopped, looking around. She studied the lake, the location of the chantry, the far path leading away from Haven and the temple. “This is Haven.”
“Yes, the Conclave was at the Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Cassandra was taken aback by Elisabeta’s expression as she recognized the place.
“What about all the cultists who used to live here?” She looked towards the main bulk of the town. She remembered the bloody altar she’d found in one of those houses. “I more than decimated them, but some still remained.”
“Cultists?” Cassandra cocked her head. “A mage from Ostwick would have no reason to know that Haven used to be occupied by cultists. The Chantry dealt with them when they learned the Urn of Sacred Ashes was here. Some put up a token fight, but the Templars easily dealt with them. A few escaped their blades, the rest were sent to the Maker for judgement.”
“You killed them all?” Elisabeta didn’t like that idea. “The dragon they worshiped as Andraste was dead, I know I killed her, but that is no reason for genocide. Knights of Redcliffe were slaughtered, Brother Genitive was tortured, and the Chantry did nothing. Then when the real danger is passed they march in like they own the place and just slaughtered the survivors? That sounds like them all right.”
“You are in no position to judge the Most Holy after what you did,” Cassandra growled. “You…” She trailed off. “You said you slayed their dragon? That was… Let’s just go.” She continued through the town.
At first, the people were just glaring at her then they were jeering, demanding the prisoner’s head. “I think I preferred the cultists.”
“They are mourning Divine Justinia,” Cassandra excused their actions, despite the fact that one woman was holding a rope and another had a torch. “The Conclave was hers. It was a chance for peace between mages and Templars. She brought their leaders together. Now they are dead.” The gates were opened, letting them through. “We lash out at the sky, but we must think beyond ourselves, as she did, until the Breach is sealed.”
“The last time I did that, I ended up in the Abyss,” Elisabeta pointed out. “I would like to avoid that fate this time, thank you all the same.”
“There will be a trial,” Cassandra promised as she removed Elisabeta’s restraints. “I can promise no more. Come, it is not far.”
“Where are you taking me?” Elisabeta wondered. “There is a faster path to the temple. I’ve been there before.”
“Your mark must be tested on something smaller than the Breach,” Cassandra explained. “Open the gates,” she order the guards. “We are heading into the valley.”
They entered into a large, open area, covered by snow.
“Maker, it’s the end of the world!” A random soldier declared as they passed them.
The Breach expanded yet again, causing pain to flare across Elisabeta’s hand. “Andraste’s knicker weasels!” She cursed.
“The pulses are coming faster now,” Cassandra looked at the Breach. “We must get you to the temple.”
“How did I end up back in Haven?” Elisabeta wondered.
“You stepped out of the Breach and fell unconscious,” Cassandra explained. “They say a woman was in the rift behind you.”
“That was at the temple wasn’t it?” Elisabeta looked towards the structure in question. “Did you throw me over someone’s shoulder, carry me to the chantry, throw me on the floor, and put me in restraints?”
“Well… yes,” Cassandra admitted. “We did.”
“Figures,” Elisabeta nodded. She continued to walk in silence, until there was a rupture and the bridge she was on collapsed beneath her feet. She slowly climbed back to her feet as the Breach spat green balls out. The balls bubbled until one of them became a shade.
“Stay behind me,” Cassandra ordered, her sword drawn and shield before her. She charged.
On the very spot she’d been standing, the ice began to crack and green light began shooting out of it. Another shade popped up, like a daisy from the grass. Elisabeta tried using the magic she now possessed. She managed to form a fireball and threw it at the shade, it fizzled mid throw. Great, she had unwanted powers and couldn’t command them. She stepped back and noticed a sword lying across barrels and carts that seemed to have fallen from a supply wagon. She dove for the long sword and spied another one about five feet from it. With one sword in hand, she tried to blend into the shadows to grab the second. Then she easily flanked the shade and swept the swords, cutting it in two.
Cassandra was still fighting her own shade, so Elisabeta moved up to help, but Cassandra had finally made a killing blow. She turned on Elisabeta, menacing with her sword. “Drop your weapons. Now!”
“I don’t think so,” Elisabeta didn’t even lower the two longswords. “I know I can protect me with these. You were having fun dancing with only one shade. Am I supposed to just stand there and fight them off with my bare hands? I tried using magic, I really don’t know what I’m doing with it. These are what I was trained to use.”
Cassandra let out a long suffering sigh. “You’re right, I can not protect you and I can not expect you to be defenseless. Reminding me that you are also a mage who can apparently not even use their own powers is not comforting, though.”
Elisabeta looked for the sheaths to the swords. “You’re not comfortable with it? It’s my first day being a mage. No, I’m not a mage. I’m a rogue who suddenly has magical powers. I’m a roge or a rage, no not rage that doesn’t work. I’m a mogue.”
They continued on. After about a hundred feet, Cassandra turned back. I should remember that you did not attempt to run.
“Do you think I’m the type to run?” Elisabeta shook her head. “You really don’t know who I am, do you? You still believe I’m this Desdemona Trevelyan and I’m delusional.”
“I’m not sure what to believe at the moment,” Cassandra conceded.
They continued on for a quarter mile before they encountered more demons. Cassandra let out a disgusted noise and charged at her foe. Elisabeta unsheathed her duel long swords and slashed at one of the demons. She was a bit out of practice and needed to regain some muscle memory, but her skill remained true. She cut the legs out from a wraith and then lashed out, cutting both the wraith and a rage demon at the same time. She then easily impaled the rage demon. She noticed Cassandra had stopped to watch her.
“There is no way a mage from Ostwick is that good with a pair of swords. I don’t even know anyone who can wield two long swords at the same time, a pair of daggers, yes, but not long swords,” Cassandra conceded. “Who are you?”
“I am Elisabeta Cousland,” she curtsied. “I am of the House of Cousland who sat at the seat of the Teyrny of Highever. That was until Rendon Howe and an archdemon managed to wipe us out.”
“You’re…” Cassandra tried to keep a stern expression, but a bit of awe seeped through. “You’re the Hero of Ferelden.”
“Hero of Ferelden?” Elisabeta had never heard that expression. “I am a Ferelden noble who was conscripted by the Grey Wardens and died when she killed the archdemon. It was either me or Alistair, I made a choice.”
“I’m sure your king and queen are grateful for that,” Cassandra smiled. She had heard the story of how the Hero had sacrificed herself for her people many times, it was one of her favorite stories; second to that of the Champion of Kirkwall.
“Queen…” Elisabeta’s voice had dropped to almost a whisper. She had been dead for over ten years, she couldn’t expect Alistair to still be single. She followed Cassandra in silence, wondering who the woman he had chosen to stand in the place she once thought to be hers was. Whoever she was, she couldn’t be worthy of him, no one could. She hoped he was happy, though. She told herself that again and again, as part of her screamed at the universe for taking away the one thing that she’d wanted most.
As they climbed up the ice covered, steep steps that once led to one of the cultists who’d dwelt in Haven’s worshipping spots, Cassandra spoke again. “We’re getting close to the rift, you can hear the fighting.”
“Who’s fighting?” Elisabeta hadn’t seen any soldiers since they walked through the gates of Haven.
“You’ll see soon,” Cassandra assured her. “We must help them.”
“Oh, I was going to watch and give them pointers,” sarcasm dripped from Elisabeta’s voice. As she stepped into the ruins, she did indeed see a rift and a small group fighting shades. She unsheathed her swords and stepped into the fight. She used a whirlwind pattern, to kill two of the creatures; frowning at form. Her body didn’t seem to remember fighting the way it used to. She’d have to see to that as soon as she figured out how to get away from the Chantry Zealots who wanted her dead. As she beheaded a third shade, she briefly wondered if Alistair and his new wife would be willing to protect her. She rejected the idea as she flanked another demon. She might want him happy, but she didn’t want to be there watching him be happy with someone else. Howe was dead, perhaps she could sue the crown for the Teyrny of Highever. The chantry was a little more circumspect with nobles. She briefly wondered who now sat in the place of her inheritance.
She watched as a dwarf with a crossbow put a bolt through the last remaining demon. Then a bald elf grabbed her wrist. “Quickly,” he insisted. “More are coming through!” He thrust her hand up and a green light shot out of it. The light poured into the rift.
When she managed to pulled her hand back, the rift shut. She turned towards the elf. “What did you do?”
“I did nothing,” the bald, pointy eared man’s voice was a bit condescending. “The credit is yours.”
Elisabeta lifted her hand up and moved it slowly. “At least the funky mark on my hand is good for something.”
“Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky placed that mark on your hand,” the elf insisted. “I theorized that the Mark might be able to close the rifts that have opened in the Breach’s wake… and it seems I was correct.”
Cassandra slowly approached them. “Meaning it could also close the Breach itself.”
“Possibly,” the elf agreed. He turned back to Elisabeta. “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”
“Is that why Andraste sent me back?” She wondered. She should have known that the Bride of the Maker wasn’t merely being merciful. Mercy would have been to take her to the Maker’s side, instead she was sent back to the world that was falling apart yet again. One where the man she loved was now married to someone else and there were also demons running rampant.
“Good to know,” the dwarf spoke up. “Here I thought we’d be ass deep in demons forever.” He sauntered to the trio. “Varric Tethras: rogue, story teller, and occasionally unwelcome tagalong.” He winked at Cassandra who gave him a disgusted look in exchange.
“How did you get mixed up with the Chantry?” Elisabeta was shocked. “I know there was a dwarven priest in Orzammar, but I didn’t think such things would become common in a mere ten years’ time.”
The elf chuckled. “Was that a serious question?”
“Technically, I’m a prisoner, just like you,” Varric fixed his gloves.
“I brought you here to tell your story to the Divine,” Cassandra’s visage was one of impatience. “Clearly that is no longer necessary.”
“Yet, here I am,” Varric pointed out. “Lucky for you, considering current events.”
“That is a nice crossbow,” Elisabeta admired it. She’d never seen the like before. It was faster than any crossbow she’d encountered and somehow more elegant.”
“Bianca and I have been through a lot,” Varric smiled.
“You named your crossbow Bianca?” Elisabeta liked him already.
“What? You don’t name your swords?” He lifted his eyebrows.
“Of course I do,” she admitted. “Before I… I used to have one called Starfang and another called Asturian’s Might. That isn’t to mention the Sword of Cousland, which I sometimes used instead of Asturian’s Might. The pieces of scrap I have tied to my shoulders now don’t compare to them.” Her voice grew softer. “I wonder what happened to them.”
“They were probably lost in the explosion, sorry,” Varric shrugged.
“Starfang would have survived,” she assured him. “Don’t worry about it. Someday I might tell you the story of how I even got that sword. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Varric.”
“You may reconsider that stance, in time,” the rude, bald, pointy eared, elf asserted.
“Aww,” Varric put a hand to his chest as if wounded. “I’m sure we’ll become great friends in the valley, Chuckles.”
“Absolutely not!” Cassandra butted in. “Your help is appreciated, Varric, but…”
“Have you been in the valley, Seeker?” Varric questioned. “Your soldiers aren’t exactly in control anymore. You need me.”
Cassandra made a disgusted noise and walked off a few paces.
“My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions,” the rude, magical, bald, pointed ear, elf. “I am pleased to see you still live.”
He means ‘I kept that mark from killing you while you slept,’,” Varric did a Solas impersonation by dropping all feeling and tone from his voice.
“I guess thanks are in order,” Elisabeta supposed she hadn’t wanted to die as soon as she’d found life again. That was despite Alistair being married and Leliana not even believing it was her at first… she supposed.
“It was my pleasure,” Solas’ voice was more condescending than grateful.
“Solas is an apostate,” Cassandra began to explain.
“Technically, we are all apostates now,” Solas reminded her. “Although my studies of the Fade have allowed me to learn more about the Fade than any Circle Mage could ever dream.”
The pride dripping thickly from his voice reminded Elisabeta of someone else. “I’m just going to call you Morrigan 2. Tell me now if you are going to turn into a dog and abandon me now, please.”
“I…” Solas trailed off and just blinked at her. Then he turned to Cassandra. “You should know that your prisoner is a mage, but even she doesn’t possess the power that would be needed to open the Breach.”
“She has no control over that magic and the fireball she did try in combat fizzed out,” Cassandra confirmed.
“Thanks for telling everyone about my performance difficulties,” she muttered. “And don’t call me a mage.”
“Indeed,” Solas narrowed “Your magic is off. There is a spiritual… discrepancy in you. It is as if… I wouldn’t call it possession. There is only one spirit there, but the magic… the life force even… are not hers.”
“Leliana recognized her,” Cassandra informed Solas. “She says she is whom she claims to be.”
“Why would I lie?” Elisabeta wondered.
“And who are you?” Varric interrupted.
“Elisabeta Cousland, the daughter of Bryce and Eleanor Cousland who were the Teyrn and Teyrna of Highever before we were betrayed by the Howes,” she informed him.
Varric’s eyes widened. “You’re the… but you’re dead.”
“Not anymore,” Elisabeta shrugged.
“Apparently not,” Varric agreed. “You have to tell me all about it some time.”
“I’d really rather not,” she leaned against one of the walls of the ruins. “I guess it might help to talk to someone, though, and Leliana wouldn’t even believe it was me at first. I need to find a mirror and see if I look different.”
“Were you trapped in the Fade?” Solas was anxious to hear how a Fade spirit had taken the place of someone from the waking world.
“I wish,” she let out a little shutter. “I’ve been trapped in the Fade by a Sloth demon, and that was a picnic compared to where I was.”
“You were trapped in the Fade,” Varric repeated. “I wish I had a quill and paper right now. Hawke was in the Fade once, it was about five minutes and he had to fight a few demons. Along with Isabella who was willing to betray him for a new ship. She likes big boats and cannot lie. Oh, and Fenris, who betrayed him for help destroying his old master.”
“Only a few,” she shook her head. “Wait, he got to have his friends in there with him? I was trapped in there for days, by myself, and I had to fight demons, darkspawn, golems, and Chantry Sisters with shivs. Those Chantry Sisters were the most homicidal of the groups. And I was turned into a mouse in there.”
“A mouse?” Varric repeated.
“Well… I got better,” she rubbed her forehead. “I’m telling you, Varric. Weird shit goes on in the Fade.”
“Oh, please do,” Varric was grinning.
“We must get to the forward camp quickly,” Cassandra insisted.
“Tell me the story while we go,” Varric begged.
“It all started when I was trying to rescue the mages of Kinloch Hold,” she began as they followed Cassandra.
Chapter 5: Demons and Orlesians
Elisabeta and her group make it to the base camp. They go through the Mountain Pass
Wait, Nightingale knelt there, praying and cowering, as you fought off a bunch of skeletal demons that she had thought were a reverend mother and priestesses,” Varric would have now sold Solas in exchange for a quill and paper. He’d just have to write down the details of the story later, with a few embellishments.
“She did,” Elisabeta confirmed. “At least Wynne and Alistair helped.”
“Oh, you have to tell me what the King of Ferelden’s dream world was,” Varric insisted.
They came to another rift. “After we take care of this!” Elisabeta unsheathed her swords and struck down the two closest demons. “Then you can tell me about this friend of yours, Hawke.”
“You don’t know who Hawke is?” Varric was both shocked and excited. He hadn’t gotten to tell Hawke’s story to someone who hadn’t heard of him for many years. He shot a bolt through a demon. “We’re talking about Falcon Hawke.”
“I was dead for ten years,” she lifted her left hand and aimed it at the rift. Power shot into the rift, then she pulled back sealing it. “I missed a lot.”
“Open the gates,” Cassandra ordered.
They walked in to see a table set in the middle of a makeshift camp. A man in Chantry robes stood up strait. “Ah, here they come”
Leliana walked forward to greet them. “You made it.” She turned to the man in robes. “Chancellor Roderick, this is…”
“I know who she is,” Roderick insisted. “As Grand Chancellor of the Chantry, I hereby order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution.”
“Order me,” Cassandra made a disgusted sound. “You are a glorified clerk, a bureaucrat.”
“And you are a thug,” Roderick yelled back at her. “But a thug who is supposedly serves the Chantry.”
“We serve the Most Holy, chancellor,” Leliana corrected. “As you well know.”
“Justinia is dead,” Roderick threw up his hands. “We must elect a replacement and obey her orders on the matter.”
“Obviously, you do not know who I am,” Elisabeta interrupted. “I am not merely some prisoner.”
“I’m sure you were very popular in whatever Maker forbidden Circle raised you, mage,” Roderick looked down his nose at her. “But that won’t save you here.”
“Your accent is Orlesian,” Elisabeta observed. “You’re an Orlesian aren’t you?”
“I am from Val Royeaux,” he obviously thought that impressive.
“Figures,” she lifted her chin. “I will not lower myself to argue with an Orlesian Chantry puppet. What are you even doing in Ferelden? I know what country we are in.”
“The Divine declared the Conclave meet in the Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Roderick reminded her. “The Conclave you destroyed.”
“Oh? Did Divine Justinia liberate the temple from a bunch of crazy cultists and kill the dragon that guarded it? Don’t answer that, because what I really want to know is did the Crown do nothing to stop a bunch of Orlesian Chantry Bootlickers from marching into our country? None of you should have been allowed across the border,” Elisabeta had a strong desire to march to Denerim and chew out Alistair and this bride of his. “I’m the highest ranking Ferelden here, the country you’re in. You aren’t giving me orders.”
“You shouldn’t even be here,” Roderick sputtered. “How dare you suggest the Conclave itself was wrong?” He turned to Cassandra. “Call a retreat, Seeker. Our position here is hopeless.”
“Great,” Elisabeta threw up her hands. “We have a Chantry clerk insisting on making military decisions. No wonder Andraste brought me back.”
“We can stop this before it’s too late,” Cassandra insisted.
“How?” Roderick wondered, not that he had any reason to know. He was, after all, just a glorified church clerk who had zero military experience or expertise. “You won’t even survive long enough to reach the Temple, even with all your soldiers.”
“We must get to the Temple,” Cassandra insisted. “It’s the quickest route.”
“But not the safest,” Leliana dissented. “Our forces can charge as a distraction as we go through the mountains.”
“We lost contact with an entire squad on that path,” Cassandra reminded her. “It’s too risky.”
“Listen,” Roderick insisted. “Abandon this now, before more lives are lost.”
The Breach grew again, as if mocking his words. The mark grew yet again, shooting pain through Elisabeta’s arm. She noticed that everyone had turned to look at her as light waves ran along her hand.
“How do you think we should proceed?” Cassandra questioned her.
“Oh, now you’re asking me what I think,” they hadn’t seemed to care before.
“You have the Mark,” Solas reminded her.
“And you are the one we must keep alive,” Cassandra added. “Since we can not agree on our own…”
Elisabeta was about to make a comment about being able to keep herself alive and then remembered that she’d died. “Use the mountain path. Work together, you all know what’s at stake.”
Cassandra turned towards the Left Hand of the Divine. “Leliana, bring everyone left in the valley, everyone.”
“Don’t worry,” Leliana flashed a soft, sad smile at Elisabeta. “I’ve already stood helplessly by and watched you die, despite my best efforts. I will not have that happen again. I’ll protect you this time.” She hurried away.
Cassandra began leading her group past the chancellor, but he insisted on speaking. “On your head be the consequences, Seeker.”
Cassandra made a disgusted noise. “It always is.”
As she passed him, Elisabeta’s right hand struck out. He reeled and landed on his butt. “Heathen!”
“Orlesian,” she insulted him right back.
Elisabeta found herself in the lead as they headed to the mines.
“Did you have to punch the Chancellor?” Solas shook his head. “It was rather brutish.”
“Yes, I had to,” Elisabeta insisted. “I may die again, but I refuse to be executed by Orlesian Cheese Crumb Munchers. Especially, Chantry ones. The only thing his kind will do to divert a disaster like this is send their thoughts and prayers.” They made it to ladders leading up to the mines. “I didn’t notice these mines the last time I was in Haven.”
“They were left here long ago,” Solas assured her.
“Really? Were you in Haven a long time ago?” She wondered if he were somehow connected to the cultists who once held the town.
“I have spent much time in the Fade, exploring Thedas,” he explained. “The Fade remembers.”
“Yes, I’ve seen memories come to life in places where the veil was thin,” she recalled.
“You’ve been in the Fade, as well,” Varric reminded her. “So what was the king’s little Fade world like?”
“He has this sister who is just awful,” Elisabeta revealed. “He thought he was living with her and her four children. He grew up alone and always wanted a family he could call his own.” She wondered if he had that now. She knew he’d married and wondered if he’d been able to produce an heir, perhaps a few more children as well. Did they have his sense of humor and sweetness? Did their mother sing them to sleep or did he?
“Wow, living with my brother would have been a nightmare world I’d have hoped to avoid,” Varric commented.
They stopped as a group of demons slowly approached them. Solas shot arcane energy at one, while Varric hit another with a bolt. Then Cassandra and Elisabeta moved in with swords flashing. As she implemented the move she liked to call Punisher, quickly slashing at her opponent with both swords, Elisabeta didn’t move fast enough to avoid a second demon. It unleashed ice into her shoulder. She finished disposing of its companion and turned, favoring her now injured right shoulder. “I could use a little healing here,” she called to Solas.
“You have healing bottles on you,” he reminded her as he hit the same demon he’d been fighting the entire time with yet another energy bolt.
“What?” She impaled the wraith with her left sword and beheaded it, slower than she would have liked, with her right one. She then marched towards Solas, easily dispatching the shade he fought. The grabbed his tunic front. “Are you telling me that you possess no healing magic? You have just napped your life away and played in the Fade, learning no useful skills?”
“My magic is very useful,” he protested.
“Hah,” she let him go and swallowed the small bottle. Then she looked at it in discuss and threw it against a nearby wall. “It tastes like strait elfroot. Who made it?”
“I… Addon,” Cassandra admitted. “He’s the only healer the Inquisition has left.”
“It’s a simple healing potion, good only for simple injuries like mine!” Elisabeta declared stalking further up the path. “Andraste’s Bloodied Knickers, it won’t do us much good for a serious injury!” She stopped, her legs giving out from under her and tears undamming from her eyes. “I want Wynne! Where is she? Did she go to Tevinter with Shale like they’d planned? If she did, she should still be back. How am I supposed to fight demon after demon without a real healer and with a warrior who seems to be the Anti-Alistair when it comes to personality?” She sniffed. “At least she’s as good with a sword as he is.”
“Great, Chuckles, you broke her,” Varric pulled Elisabeta into his arms.
“We don’t have time for this,” Cassandra grabbed her arm, planning to pull her up.
“Don’t,” Varric’s voice held warning. “Don’t make me involve Bianca in this, Seeker. You are going to leave her be for a moment. She hasn’t told us what happened to her, but I gather it’s worse than returning from the Maker’s Side or even the Fade.”
“It was the Abyss,” Elisabeta whispered to him. “I was in the Abyss all that time.”
Cassandra took a step back. “I thought the Hero of Ferelden was a good woman.”
“Sheesh, Seeker, can you be more insensitive?” Varric continued to rock the sobbing hero.
Elisabeta laid her head against Varric’s impressive hirsute chest and then blinked at Cassandra for a moment. “The Grey Wardens have always kept it secret as to why they are the only ones who can kill an archdemon.”
“They’re braggarts who think themselves above the law,” Solas growled. “They are obsessed with the Blight.”
“You haven’t seen a horde of darkspawn or the destruction they leave behind, have you?” Elisabeta would have plenty of nightmares from the things she’d seen during the Fifth Blight without all of that time in the Void on top of it. She turned back to Cassandra. “The Wardens keep it secret, and with good reason. It’s hard to get recruits when the price they may have to one day pay is their soul. When an archdemon is killed without a Warden present, it’s spirit just jumps into the nearest tainted soul and it becomes an archdemon. If a Grey Warden is present, it can’t resist the closest one and jumps into them instead. Both souls are destroyed, or so I was told. In truth, a soul is energy that is indestructible. The archdemon’s soul, and that of the Grey Warden, are sent into the Abyss where they are lost. Only… I refused to give into the oblivion so easily.”
“You…” Cassandra leaned against a nearby wall and crossed her arms. “How did you get out?”
“I saw a light and heard screaming,” Elisabeta recalled. “There were two women there… it’s fuzzy.”
“Two women?” Cassandra stood straighter.
“Plus, the other one,” Elisabeta recalled. “There were three total.”
“Maybe the Maker is a polygamist,” Varric suggested.
“Varric!” Cassandra was outraged by his Blaspheme, but Elisabeta chuckled.
“Come on, Tempest,” Varric urged. “There are missing scouts who might be in danger.”
“You’re right,” she climbed to her feet. “Let’s go back to doing the right thing.”
“So Hawke was going into the Fade to save an elf who was a dreamer?” Elisabeta was riveted by the tale of a man who willingly went into the Fade. She glanced back at Solas. “I bet he was still able to do some healing.”
“I don’t know,” Varric admitted. “I thought most Circle Mages, at least, were taught the basics. Hawke was raised as an apostate, though.”
They stopped as they emerged from the mines to be greeted by the sight of a dozen bodies lying on the steps.
“Well, it looks like we found those missing scouts,” Varric commented.
“That can’t be all of them,” Cassandra insisted.
“Let’s keep going,” Elisabeta surged ahead. A quarter of a mile down the path, she saw a rift. She grabbed both swords and ran forward, Varric at her heals.
Cassandra followed, glancing back at Solas. “You kept her alive with the Mark, but you really have no healing magic?”
“My skills… we’ll discuss this later, Seeker,” Solas didn’t want to explain his abilities to her.
Elisabeta and Varric had cleared out a section of the demons by the time they caught up and Elisabeta was holding her left hand up, so energy was shooting around the hilt of her sword and into the rift.
Cassandra nodded to the Inquisition lieutenant who had been fighting the demons as she joined the fray, bashing one of the creatures with her shield, as she impaled another with her sword. She then lunged at a third. By the fourth, the creatures were all dead.
“Lady Cassandra!” The head scout greeted her.
“Lieutenant, you’re alive,” Cassandra’s relief was palpable.
“Just barely!” She looked around wearily for any more demons.
Solas looked to where the rift had been. “Sealed, as before,” he looked to Elisabeta. “You are becoming quite proficient at this.”
“Let’s hope it works on the big one,” Varric agreed.
“Thank the Maker you finally arrived, Lady Cassandra,” the lieutenant was favoring her side. “I don’t think we could have lasted much longer.”
“Thank our prisoner,” Cassandra insisted. “She insisted we come this way.”
“The prisoner?” The lieutenant was surprised. “Then you…?”
“I could abandon you if there was still hope you were alive,” Elisabeta assured her.
“Then you have my sincere gratitude,” the lieutenant saluted her.
“The way into the valley behind us is clear for the moment,” Cassandra assured those they’d rescued. “Go while you still can.”
“At once,” the lieutenant nodded. “Quickly, let’s move,” her soldiers followed.
“The path ahead appears to be clear of demons as well,” Solas observed.
“Let’s hurry before that changes,” Cassandra insisted.
Chapter 6: Pride Faileth
Elisabeta closes the Breach... or at least stops it from growing anymore.
“So he betrayed Hawke, and turned his sword on him, for the promise of revenge. Hawke really remained friends with this Fenris and trusted him at his back?” Elisabeta understood the need for revenge, better than many, but she didn’t understand easily forgiving a betrayal like that.
“I see your point, Tempest,” Varric conceded. “I’m sure Hawke regretted it when Fenris then joined Meredith and her crazier Templar in their attempt to wipe out the mages of Kirkwall.”
“What?” Elisabeta stopped in her tracks for a moment. “Did she succeed?”
“No, she didn’t,” Varric assured her. “Thanks to Hawke and his trusty dwarven companion.”
“A trusty dwarven companion is always a good thing to have at your side,” she agreed.
They arrived at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, what was left of it.
“This definitely looks different than the last time I was here,” she examined the crumpling walls. There were burnt bodies still standing where they’d been when the explosion had taken place. Their mouths were open in silent screams. They silently moved through what had once been halls and large rooms, careful not to disturb the morbid tableau of the dead.
They reached what had once been a balcony looking over a large hall. The Breach shifted and writhed in front of them. Varric gazed at it. “It sure is a long way up.”
Elisabeta followed his gaze. “Holy Maker,” she took in the thing. How was she supposed to close that? She’d have to find a way.
“You’re here!” Leliana ran to them. “Thank the Maker.”
Just the sight of her friend brought a smile to Elisabeta’s face. “We found your scouts and managed to save… some.”
“Of course you did,” Leliana never doubted her abilities.
“Leliana,” Cassandra ordered. “Have your men take up positions around the temple.” Leliana nodded and left.
“It would be better to have them form a perimeter around the Breach,” Elisabeta disagreed. “That’s where the demons are coming from. If you spread your forces across the temple, you will end up with soldiers who are just scratching their butts while their comrades are in danger.”
“My orders stand,” Cassandra insisted. “This way.” She led them down another hall.
“But this leads down, we need to go up,” Elisabeta protested.
“I know what I’m doing,” Cassandra kept going, ignoring her prisoners.
“I have to go with Tempest on this one,” Varric commented. “We need higher ground not lower.”
Cassandra made a disgusted noise, but continued on.
“So what happened between your friends, Fenris and Hawke?” Elisabeta asked Varric.
“I don’t know if I’d call Fenris my friend,” Varric clarified. “He wasn’t the most sociable person and he turned brooding into an art form. When Anders blew up the chantry in Kirkwall…”
“Someone blew up Kirkwall’s chantry?” Elisabeta wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She was no fan of the chantry. They hadn’t lifted a finger when her family was massacred or during the Blight, except to pray over the soldiers at Ostagar before they were slaughtered. They did manage to cause problems with the mages before the battle, though. When she’d first met Alistair he had been delivering a message to a mage from a reverend mother and the mage didn’t like an ex-Templar near him, which the reverend mother knew.
“He had issues and things in Kirkwall were really bad for mages,” Varric explained. “Sister Nightingale had even been sent in to investigate the situation. When the Left Hand of the Divine gets involved, there is trouble brewing.”
“Sister Nightingale?” Elisabeta hadn’t heard that name before.
“It was Leliana’s codename,” he explained. “The Divine…” He stopped and stared at the red rocks jutting from the ground nearby. “Seeker, you know what this is.”
“I know,” she confirmed. “It’s red lyrium.”
“But what is it doing here?” He demanded to know. “You know my experience with this stuff. It’s bad.”
“Red lyrium?” Elisabeta studied it for a moment. Something about it felt… wrong.” She suddenly had a flash of when the archdemon’s soul had shot into her and started the struggle that wound up with both of them in the Abyss. She didn’t know what it was about the red stuff that brought up the memory and she consciously suppressed it.
“It’s lyrium gone bad, real bad,” Varric assured her.
Her hand flared and flame appeared. “Whoa!” She stifled the urge to throw the flame, closing her fist. The threat extinguished.
“So you are a mage,” Solas nodded.
“Not exactly,” she shook her head. It was just that something in her literally rebelled against something in the lyrium. Another, more fuzzy, memory popped into her head, that of a blonde woman smiling gently as she reached out and touched her.
“You will need to learn to control those powers,” Cassandra’s voice was harsh.
“Really?” Elisabeta snarked. “I thought I’d just let them appear whenever they want and perhaps cause ice storms in my sleep. We’re staying in Haven, no one would even notice the ice storm.” She continued walking for a bit. “Great, now I’m hearing voices.”
“Bring forth the sacrifice,” the disembodied voice was deep.
“Someone help me!” The second voice was feminine.
“That was Divine Justinia!” Cassandra recognized it.
“Oh, you’re hearing them, too?” Elisabeta sighed. “Well, that’s something then.”
“What’s going on here?” The new voice was also that of a woman, but no one recognize that one.
“Help me!” It was Justinia again.
“I think the second woman is Desdemona Trevelyan,” Varric surmised. “The woman you claimed Tempest was.”
They reached a large area that was either the main hall of the temple or a courtyard. “The temple didn’t have a courtyard,” Elisabeta remembered that. “This must be where the explosion took place.”
Before them, the air shimmered and a shadowy scene appeared before them. One large figure was all shadow, the other was an elderly woman in the robes of the Chantry Divine. A third figure appeared. It was a mage with a brand on her forehead. Her hair was blonder than Elisabeta’s and her eyes bluer, but there was a definite resemblance. They easily could have been related, closely related, and Elisabeta momentarily wondered if her parents had had a third child she didn’t know about. No, she reasoned, that was impossible. Yet, she knew that one of her maternal aunts had married a bann in Ostwick. She had a feeling she was looking at a woman who was once her cousin. She also knew she’d seen this woman before. The voice, she would never forget that voice. It had been her salvation, even as she’d screamed in denial to what was happening to her. “What’s going on here?” Desdemona asked.
“Run while you can!” The vision of Justinia insisted. “Warn them!”
“We have an intruder,” the shadow’s voice was frigid. “Kill the mage.”
There was a bright flash and the vision disappeared.
“You were there!” Cassandra accused her. “Who attacked? And the Divine, is she…? Was the vision true? What are we seeing?”
“I wasn’t there,” Elisabeta insisted. “That wasn’t me. That was Desdemona Trevelyan, not me.”
“It wasn’t her, Seeker,” Varric’s voice was gentle. “I see the resemblance, but Hawke and Carver bear that much of a resemblance to each other.”
“They’re echoes of what happened here,” Solas declared. “The Fade bleeds into this place.”
“It’s the same at Soldier’s Peak,” Elisabeta confirmed. “I saw the Grey Wardens turn on King Arland and their defeat. Arland was a tyrant, but he did command a large army full of extremely loyal men.”
“This rift is not sealed, but it is closed,” Solas declared. “Albeit temporarily. I believe that with the Mark, the rift can be opened and then sealed properly and safely. However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side.”
Cassandra looked around to those assembled. “That means demons. Stand ready.” She waited until each of the archers had nodded to her that they were in position. Then she nodded to Elisabeta.
Elisabeta raised her hand and let the Mark’s power shoot into the Breach. She poured it in longer than any of the others had taken, wondering if she would be able to sustain the stream. The Breach opened and a pride demon shot out.
The creature hung in the air for several moments, roaring. Then it landed on its feet and let out a snarl before turning on those gathered. The archers released their arrows as the warriors unsheathed their swords. Elisabeta blocked an electric whip by crossing her swords. She wished for Starfang and Asturian’s Might back. Still, the inferior ones she had now worked. She moved silently to flank the creature and cut low, slicing into a tendon. As she retreated quickly back, she noticed Leliana on the field, arrows flying. “Here take one of my healing potions just in case,” she threw a bottle at her friend. “They aren’t very good and have no flavor to cover up the taste of elfroot.”
“Keep it, you might need it and you do not have many to spare,” Leliana insisted.
“What do you mean?” Elisabeta wondered. “I haven’t drunk any.”
Leliana gestured to Cassandra. As they watched, the seeker drained a bottle and threw it at the Pride demon. “That’s her fifth bottle.”
“Maker’s Melted Meatballs!” Elisabeta swore. “We only had eight to begin with!” She lifted her left hand and poured power into the Breach. Before she could get it closed, a shade appeared. She quickly disposed of it and lifted her hand again.
“Language Lissa,” Leliana laughed. “I do miss being on the battlefield with you.”
“I missed you, too,” Elisabeta smiled over at her friend. “Although, I’m missing Wynne more at the moment. Do we have no healers here?”
“We’re a small group,” was all Leliana said in their defense.
Elisabeta lifted her hand again. “Let me get this thing closed before we realize just what having no healers in a battle means.”
Leliana was shooting at the pride demon again. “I miss my old bow,” she admitted. “Justinia insisted I give it up when I went to work for her. I could be identified by it alone… and it was an extravagance.”
“We must strip its defenses, wear it down,” Cassandra could be heard across the battle field. Then she opened another health bottle.
“Save some for the rest of us, Seeker!” Varric protested.
“Cassandra, put down the bottles until you really need it!” Elisabeta ran pass the pride demon, slashing it with both swords before she lifted the Mark to the Breach again. This time, she got enough energy into the Breach and sealed the rift. She noticed that the Breach was causing the head of a statue of Andraste to float. Then there was an explosion and she passed out.
Chapter 7: Thugs United
Elisabeta dreams of the past again. Then the Inquisition forms
Elisabeta found herself dreaming of the past yet again. Wynne was running a hand along her shoulder. “That should make it feel better, but be careful of it tonight. I want to make sure it is completely healed in the morning. That means you don’t let Alistair ram it into your tent floor while you… wrestle.”
“I know you don’t approve of Alistair and I…” Elisabeta began.
“I… I may have been hasty when I tried to break the two of you up,” Wynne admitted. “I just want to spare both of you from heartache. I’ve… lost someone… due to duty and I still fear that duty may separate you two. I see now, however, that what I thought was just an infatuation is something more and I shouldn’t have tried to keep it from you two, even if it does, ultimately, end in heartache.”
“Um… thanks… I think,” Elisabeta moved away from her.
“Is she still trying to keep you and Alistair apart?” Leliana approached her.
She glanced back at the elderly mage. “I’m not sure.”
“How are you and Alistair?” Leliana giggled.
“He is still coming up with his own ideas and… playing well with others,” Elisabeta assured her. “Although, I’m the only other he better be playing well with.”
“I don’t think he realizes there are other women in the world,” Leliana assured her. “When you two are together, it’s just you and him. I’m not sure you two would even notice if an ogre lumbered into the vicinity.”
“It’s a shame, really,” Zevran joined them. “I would have liked for you to have given me a second look or two. Alas, I must play forgotten fiddle to the young, rugged, ex-Templar.”
“Now you guys are just teasing…” Elisabeta stopped as Alistair approached the group in what he likely thought was a subtle way. There wasn’t a subtle bone in his handsome body.
“Could I talk with you… alone,” Alistair took her hand and led her away from her friends, ignoring their suggestive laughs.
“We wouldn’t mind watching!” Zevran called to them.
“He is just hoping we invite him to join in,” Elisabeta was sure of it.
“I wanted to show you something,” he continued to lead her further and further from camp.
“Wynne did advise that we not… wrestle tonight,” Elisabeta informed him. She wants my shoulder to heal.
“Oh, you want me to lay there and just take it?” Alistair raised an eyebrow.
Elisabeta chewed her lip. There was an idea. It might be fun. “Well…”
“This is what I wanted to show you,” they passed several trees until they were at a pool of water. “The water is rather warm. I thought it might help your shoulder,” he explained.
“Oh,” the water did look inviting. “Thank you.” She began undressing. “You are joining me of course.”
“Of course,” he grinned. He stripped and helped her into the water. The heated water hitting her skin felt wonderful. “Come here,” he sat down on a ledge and pulled her onto his lap. Then he cuddled her against him.
She lay on his lap, curled up, just enjoying the feel of him against him. She felt so safe in his arms, he would never do anything to hurt her and would always fight at her side.
They sat contentedly, talking. Then in silence and watching the stars. Her head against his shoulder and his arms cradling her to him. The night birds sang and crickets chirped in the distance as the stars shone brightly above them.
Elisabeta jerked awake, sitting up. She was unable to stop the floodgate of tears that rushed out. She wondered if Alistair held his new wife as close and carefully as he’d once held her and had ever taken the mysterious other woman to a spring just to cuddle. She needed to stop thinking about him, but it was hard when she’d clung to memories of him for so long, using them to keep her sanity. Now she was dreaming of him. Well, she would just have to, she couldn’t waist the gifts the Maker had given her; like a new life.
The door opened and an elf stepped in. “You’re awake!” He threw the towels he’d been carrying down and knelt on the floor in front of her.
“Please, get up,” she wiped her eyes and stood. “I’m a Cousland, not a Kendell.”
The elf scrambled to his feet. “Sorry, m’lady. It’s just… you’re her. I’ve heard of what you’ve done. You’re Andraste’s Chosen One. Oh, and Lady Cassandra said that when you were awake, you were to meet her in the chantry at once. At once she said.” The elf hurried away.
Elisabeta sat on the bed, stunned for a moment. When had Cassandra become the boss of her? She supposed she must still be a prisoner. Did Leliana no longer trust her? She looked around the room. There was not much there. The bed was small and there was a candle set on the small table beside it. In the corner was a chest.
She went to the chest and opened it. There was armor and weapons inside. A smile slowly slid over her face. The armor design reminded her of dragons, which brought Wade to memory. This was definitely not his work, but it wasn’t bad. She liked the orange tones of the sash and scarf as well as the artistic bent. There was also a long sword with a hilt that was made to resemble a dragon and two long daggers. She sniffed at the daggers in disdain, but couldn’t seem to find a second long sword. She looked for the ones that she had recovered in the valley between Haven and the Temple of Sacred Ashes, but could not see either one. Fine, the dagger would do for now, but she was going to find a second long sword; even if she had to kill someone and take theirs. The town’s folk were hostile enough to her that she should have more than one challenging her to a duel.
As she stepped out of the door of the little cottage she’d woken up in, she noticed those hostile villagers were lined up in front of it. Well, she wasn’t one to back down, she had already more than decimated the village of Haven once, she could do it again if need be. She held her head high, but was ready to grab her sword at any moment, as she walked forward. That was when they began cheering her.
What in the name of Andraste’s Mabari was going on? They had gone from wanting to lynch her to cheering as she walked by. She wasn’t sure which one was more unnerving, but she walked faster. It was the first time she had hurried to a chantry.
She walked in to blessed silence. She stopped and looked around. This had definitely been renovated since she was here last. It had been more… phallic…. Shaped and had secret rooms. There was still a long hall, but it now had room on either end. There was also a large room at the end. As she approached the room, she heard voices arguing, it was Cassandra and the annoying Orlesian Cleric. It sounded like they were fighting over her.
Elisabeta opened the door and walked into a large room with a massive table in the middle. Leliana stood on the other side of the table wearing the same purple and chainmaille outfit she’d seen her in before. Cassandra and the cleric were also dressed identically. Was there a shortage of fashion in Haven? The cultists had had changes of clothes in their closets. She was sure of it, she’d searched some of their homes.
“Seize the prisoner!” Roderick ordered the guards. “I want her taken back to Val Royeaux to face charges.”
“Stand down,” Cassandra ordered. The guards hadn’t even moved.
“What! I demand that she be taken to Val Royeaux to answer for the Divine’s death,” Roderick bristled. “You are a thug, but a thug in the service of the Chantry.”
“I served the Most Holy, not you,” Cassandra faced him down.
Elisabeta leaned against the table and glanced at Leliana. She noticed her friend’s hand was dangerously close to a hidden dagger in her robes. “What happened to the last person who tried to imprison me against my wishes, Leliana?”
“That would be Ser Cauthrine,” Leliana recalled. “You killed her. You killed all of her men. You killed her boss. You killed her boss’ best friend. You were going to kill her boss’ daughter, but Alistair stopped you. And you laughed merrily while you did it and made bad jokes with your boyfriend. Maybe you should try it, I haven’t heard you laugh in over ten years.”
“That just proves you are capable of killing the Divine,” Roderick declared.
“I saw what happened at the Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Cassandra reminded him. “She wasn’t even there.”
“She also didn’t close the Breach,” Roderick countered.
“Neither did you?” Elisabeta snapped back. “Maybe you killed the Divine!”
“I am not a suspect,” Roderick lifted his nose.
“You are,” Cassandra assured him. “You and everyone else who was in a position to gain any power from this disaster.”
“Me?” He guffawed. “But not the prisoner?”
“Do you see this?” Leliana produced a large book. “It is a writ from the Most Holy declaring an Inquisition if peace was not made at the Conclave. This gives us the power to form such an Inquisition and to oversee the investigation into the Divine’s death. And if you lay one hand on Lissa I will beat you with it.”
“You’re all thugs!” Roderick marched from the room.
“Orlesians,” Elisabeta shook her head. She turned to Leliana. “What is this about an Inquisition?”
“We’re starting an Inquisition, like the one of old,” Leliana declared. “I’d like you to help me with it. We need you to close rifts and help restore order. There is no one else left alive I trust more either. Will you help me?”
“Of course,” Elisabeta hugged her friend. “This must be why Andraste sent me back. She did send me to you, it seems. I appeared where you were, not Denerim. I have no idea where any of my other friends besides you and Alistair are.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” Leliana promised.
Chapter 8: Impressive Titles
Elisabeta formally meets the heads of the Inquisition
Elisabeta welcomed the constant work that building the Inquisition required. Messages went out to the rulers of Thedas and a declaration was nailed to the chantry door.
She spent two weeks absorbed in the Inquisition’s business. She watched amazed as people flocked to the new organization’s banner. She had spent so much time enforcing treaties when she fought the Fifth Blight that the idea that people would come together voluntarily pleasantly shocked and delighted her. The work helped keep the memory dreams away; although, there were a few nights that she woke up screaming after dreaming of darkness. They decreased, at least.
Cassandra pulled her into meeting after meeting. She, finally, saw the new Commander of the Inquisition’s forces, who had come with Cassandra from Kirkwall. Something looked familiar about him. She couldn’t put her finger on what, though. She swore she’d seen him before, but he looked different now. She had only seen the new ambassador for about five minutes a few days before, she was definitely a stranger.
“Does it trouble you?” Cassandra asked out of the blue as they walked through the chantry halls that now glowed with candlelight.
“The dreams? If I stay busy, they aren’t so bad,” Elisabeta assured her.
“What dreams?” Cassandra wondered. “I meant the Mark. What is this about dreams?”
“Don’t worry about them,” Elisabeta was sure there was nothing Cassandra could do about them. She had to suffer through those nightmares alone, when she dreamt of the Void, she just lit a candle in her room to assure herself that there was light again in her world. No one had asked how she went through so many candles, at least they hadn’t yet. “I wish I knew what this Mark is and how I got it. I don’t know if it has something to do with my resurrection or if I came by it some other way. I think Andraste wanted me to have it, but I don’t know why.”
“We’ll find out,” Cassandra assured her. “What’s important is that your Mark is now stable, as is the Breach. You’ve given us some time to figure this out now and Solas thinks a second attempt might succeed, provided the Mark has more power. The same level of power used to open the Breach in the first place to be exact. That is not easy to come by.”
“Then I guess we just need to find a way to get more power,” Elisabeta reasoned. “Can we figure out how to form a few treaties to oblige other groups to help us? I won a way against a horde of darkspawn and an archdemon doing that.”
Cassandra gave a small laugh. “I like the way you think.” She led Elisabeta into the room where Leliana had shown her the writ from the Divine. Leliana was already there, as were the commander and ambassador. “May I present Commander Cullen, Leader of the Inquisition Forces.”
“Such as they are,” his deep, rich voice held self-depreciating humor. “We lost many soldiers in the valley and I fear many more before this is through.”
“Cullen…” Now Elisabeta was positive that she knew him. He’d been younger, but she swore he looked more vibrant now; although his hair was less curly. “Were you at Kinloch…” She remembered the condition he was in and what had happened to him. She hadn’t talked to anyone about what she’d gone through before Andraste’s Delivery. She doubted he wanted to talk about what he’d gone through, especially in mixed company.
“Yes, you two have met before,” Leliana’s voice was hasty. She, too, realized that the question was best left unasked.
“Yes, that’s where we met Wynne as well,” Elisabeta now looked at Leliana who nodded in response.
“And this is our ambassador, Josephine Montilyet,” Cassandra continued.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you at last,” Josephine nodded to her. “And of course you know Sister Leliana.”
“I do?” Elisabeta raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yes, didn’t we fight a Blight together or something?” That earned a little chuckle from Cullen.
“My official position here requires a degree of…” Leliana began, she and Elisabeta hadn’t discussed her exact position in the Inquisition.
“She is our spy master,” Cassandra cut her off.
“Tactfully put, Cassandra,” Leliana grimaced.
“We are going to get spies this time,” Elisabeta liked the sound of that. “That could have been useful on our last big adventure, Lel. Think about it. We could have learned the full truth of that Dalish Keeper, Zathrian, and the Werewolves’ curse before killing so many of them.”
“That would have been nice,” Leliana agreed. “We would have still needed someone like Josephine to convince the wolves to talk to us, though.”
“Talking wolves,” Josephine looked from Leliana to Elisabeta and back. “I think I’m missing something here.”
“Well, they were talking werewolves,” Leliana clarified.
“You’ll have to tell me about it later,” Josephine insisted.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Elisabeta’s politely nodded, but not even a smile cracked her lips. She wondered how Josephine and Leliana knew each other. Leliana had never mentioned the ambassador to her.
“I mentioned that your mark needed more power to close the Breach for good,” Cassandra was ready to get down to business.
“Which means we must approach the rebel mages for help,” Leliana asserted.
“And I still disagree,” Cullen’s hands rested comfortably on the top of his sword’s hilt. “The Templars could serve just as well.”
Cassandra let out a long, heavy sigh. “We need power, Commander, enough power poured into that mark…”
“Might destroy us all,” Cullen cut her off. “Templars could suppress the Breach, weaken it so…”
“Pure speculation,” Leliana interrupted him.
“I was a Templar,” he reminded her. “I know what they’re capable of.”
“It wasn’t helping to stop a Blight,” Elisabeta snarked. “No, it’s first ‘we must stop these evil blood mages’, then it’s ‘we must guard the mages you rescued for us, go talk to them’. I’m not sure Greagoir was capable of much.”
“Yes, well… he had a lot on his plate,” Cullen didn’t want to talk about what had happened in that tower, but he was willing to stand up for his old Knight Commander. The man was more stable than Meredith that was for sure.
“Unfortunately, neither group will even speak to us yet,” Josephine pointed out. “The Chantry has denounced the Inquisition. And you specifically,” the last part was aimed at Elisabeta.
“That didn’t take long,” Elisabeta wasn’t surprised. “What if I denounce them first?”
“I don’t think you can do that,” Josephine seemed certain.
“Shouldn’t they be busy arguing over who should be Divine,” Cullen obviously didn’t like that news either.
“Some people are calling you the Herald of Andraste and that frightens the Chantry,” Josephine explained. “The clerics and sisters have declared this blaspheme and we heretics for harboring you.”
“I was in the Void and she delivered me out of that hell,” Elisabeta nodded. “I don’t know if I’m her Herald, but she sent me here instead of throwing me back into that place, leaving me in the Fade, or taking me to the Maker’s Side. She must have had her reasons. I’m not going to argue with Her. It isn’t blasphemy, it’s what happened. Were you not supposed to harbor me? Were you supposed to let the crazy cleric take me or throw me out of Haven?”
“Chancellor Roderick’s doing no doubt,” Cassandra was sure of it.
“It limits our options,” that was Josephine’s concern. “Approaching the mages or Templars for help is currently out of the question.”
“How do they explain my return from the dead if it was not the workings and will of the Maker and His Bride?” Elisabeta wondered.
“Most believe you are indeed the Herald of Andraste, a view we are encouraging,” Leliana confirmed. “The fact that you’ve already saved Thedas from a Blight reconfirms that belief. Everyone is now talking about you.”
“That’s quite the title, isn’t it,” Cullen smiled at her. “How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know,” she rubbed her forehead. “I’m not comfortable with the label of Hero of Ferelden, either. I hear that there are people who have been calling me that for years. Part of me would like to just go back to being Lady Cousland, but I can’t throw away the gift that was given me. I was returned to this world for a reason.”
“Good,” Leliana came around the table and threw an arm around Elisabeta’s shoulders. “The people are desperate for a symbol of hope and for many you are that symbol.”
“For others you represent everything that’s gone wrong,” Josephine declared.
“Oh, so I’m the problem?” She rested her head against Leliana’s shoulder for a moment, closing her eyes. “If I could just leave, I would. But I don’t think that’s what Andraste intended when she returned me. If it was, I wouldn’t have this Mark.”
“No, it isn’t an option,” Cassandra agreed.
“They would have censured us anyway,” Cullen assured her.
“There is something you can do,” Leliana gave her a little smile. She frowned when Elisabeta didn’t return it. “A Chantry Cleric, by the name of Mother Gisselle, has asked to speak to you. She’s not far and knows those involved far better than I. Her assistance could be invaluable.”
“Are you sure she isn’t part of some elaborate Chantry trap?” Elisabeta was suspicious.
“If she is, I have no doubt that you could take out her and all of her friends,” Leliana assured her. “You will find her tending to wounded in the Hinterlands near Redcliffe.”
“Look for other opportunities to expand the Inquisition’s influence while there,” Cullen urged.
“Don’t worry,” Elisabeta cocked an eyebrow at him. “I’ve raised an army before. I think I know what I’m doing.”
“In the meantime, let’s think of other options,” Cassandra urged the Inquisition’s leaders. “I won’t leave this all to the Herald.”
“I’ll make preparations to leave,” Elisabeta started making a mental list of what she would need. “I’ll take Cassandra and Varric with me.”
“We’re taking Solas as well,” Cassandra insisted.
“Why? Is he going point out the best napping places for us?” Elisabeta snarked. “It’s not like he’s going to make a decent healing potion or heal our wounds if we get into trouble.”
“In case you start throwing fireballs again,” Cassandra grumbled. “You must learn to control that magic. He says you’ve only come to one lesson.”
“He wanted to teach me in the Fade, while we were asleep,” Elisabeta still thought that sounded ridiculous. “Besides, I’ve been trying to retrain my body to fight.”
“You will train your body to control the magic it now possesses,” Cassandra insisted.
“Yes, mom,” Elisabeta muttered.
“I am not your mother,” Cassandra ignored Leliana’s giggle.
“That’s true,” Elisabeta agreed. “You have yet to remind me to be a proper lady or bugged me about providing you with more grandchildren. Nor are you an expert archer who has a secret past as a pirate who targeted Orlesian merchants.”
“What?” Cassandra looked back at her. “That’s so roman… I mean… I thought your parents were nobles.”
“They were,” Elisabeta confirmed. “Ferelden nobles, not the squishy kind.”
Chapter 9: Painful Paths
Elisabeta tries to get a new sword. Leliana tells of what happened with her funeral and the events afterward.
Elisabeta could hear the pounding of hammers against anvils as she approached the covered area where the Inquisition’s head blacksmith worked. “I was hoping to meet you soon!” He beamed at her. “How is your armor?”
“You made my armor?” She hadn’t realized he’d been there for so long. “It fits well and is warm. Haven is even colder than I remembered.”
“Good, what else can I do to help aid you, my lady?” He hesitated and then spoke. “It isn’t just that you are Andraste’s chosen. I was in Redcliffe when the undead attacked. You came and fought them for us, probably saved half the town. You could have left and come back after everyone was dead.”
“No, I couldn’t have,” she shook her head. “I hope to never be the type who could.”
He grinned at her. “I suppose that’s one of the reasons Andraste picked you.”
“You said you made my armor, did you also make my sword and the daggers that were left?”
“I did,” he confirmed.
“Can you make me another long sword?” She hoped he could. “I prefer to have two long swords rather than a dagger when I go into a fight.”
“You can swing two long swords at once?” His eyes widened. “I would be happy to make you another. I can make anything with the proper materials and schematics. Bring those to me and I’ll make you what you need.”
“How about another long sword before I go into the Hinterlands?” She had heard the fighting was bad there.
“For you, I’ll dip into my personal supplies,” he assured her. “I imagine Threnn, the head Requisition Officer, would like to talk to you before you leave. Why don’t you go and see her while I work on your sword.”
“Thank you,” she nodded and headed into the center of the city. She found the Requisition Officers tent, but as she walked to it, Threnn turned and hurried away. Elisabeta just shrugged and headed over to Leliana’s tent.
Leliana was talking about a scout who had apparently killed one of her other people. “I’m going to have to kill him; did he think I wouldn’t find out?”
“You’re back to just killing people?” Elisabeta was surprised. “You felt so guilty after killing Marjolaine and she deserved it more than whoever the traitor is.”
“He killed one of my men,” Leliana pointed out.
“But why? Do they secretly work for whoever killed the Divine or are they just a Chantry shill? We should question them first and find out,” Elisabeta insisted.
“I…” Leliana hesitated. “I guess you’re right, we should at least find out why before I do.”
Elisabeta studied Leliana for a moment, she’d grown cold and even harder in the last decade. “I’ve heard you called the Left Hand of the Divine. How did that happen?”
“Sister Dorothea became the Divine and asked me to be her Left Hand,” Leliana explained. “So I did. I owed her so much. She’s the one who got me out of Orlais after… Marjolaine’s betrayal.”
“What did you do for her?” Elisabeta had a feeling she wouldn’t have liked Divine Justinia after what she had done to Leliana.
“What does your Left Hand do?” She shrugged. “She sent me out where she couldn’t go. I was her eyes and her ears.”
“And her assassin,” Elisabeta deduced. “Many hold their sword in their right hand and a dagger in their left. While they are watching the sword, you strike with the dagger.”
“Well… yes,” Leliana admitted. “Is Justinia the only reason you came to see me?”
“What? I can’t just want to talk?” Elisabeta shrugged. “We used to talk all of the time. I was wondering why your quartermaster was trying to avoid me.”
“Threnn is trying to avoid you?” Leliana glanced in the direction the head of requisition’s tent was. “I wonder why. She’s from Denerim and holds some… unpopular opinions, but I don’t know why she wouldn’t want to talk to you.”
“There is something else as well,” Elisabeta sat on the edge of Leliana’s work table. “I miss my old swords. What did happen to my things when I… died?”
“I’m not sure,” Leliana admitted. “Alistair saw to everything. He was so broken on that roof top. You collapsed and he ran to you, gathered you into his arms. He wouldn’t let anyone take your bod… take you from him. I don’t know how long we were up there. Everyone else in Denerim was celebrating and his world had just ended. I… well; I didn’t handle things much better. We’d been victorious, the Maker had smiled on us, and then… tragedy. He enacted a heavy payment for His mercy and aid. It was some time after the sun set that Alistair carried your body to the palace. He saw to your funeral. I’m not sure what he did with the items you were carrying or that were in your pack. I don’t even know where your clothes went. You weren’t wearing them when he lit your pyre.”
“What was it like?” Elisabeta found herself wanting to know.
“It…” Leliana shook her head. “It isn’t a pleasant memory.”
“It isn’t a pleasant thought for me that it even had to have happened,” Elisabeta pointed out.
“Alistair wanted to keep everything private,” Leliana recalled. He just wanted it to be your companions, those who’d fought at your side throughout the Blight. Eamon convinced him that he had to let the rest of the people also mourn you. They didn’t even know you!” She hadn’t realized that she was still angry. “They just wanted to continue their celebrations and make you into... into some symbol. They wanted to celebrate their hero, as they were celebrating the destruction of the archdemon and its horde. You were dead and they were partying.”
Elisabeta found she didn’t like that thought, either. Yes, they had been saved, but at a terrible price. It wasn’t just her, there were thousands dead from Ostagar, the destruction, the civil war, all of it.
“Alistair listened to Eamon, though. He does that too often,” her disapproval dripped from Leliana’s voice.
“Eamon has always wanted to be the power behind the thrown, I guess I gave him that opening when I got rid of Loghain,” Elisabeta mused.
Leliana nodded. “Things might have been better if you were there to block the Guerrins, but… you weren’t. Wynne tried her best for a few months. She did convince Alistair to arrange for a private wake just before the masses descended on us. When he had you set on the pyre, you were wearing a lace and satin white dress. He’d placed a red rose on your chest and a gold circlet on your head, as if you had been coronated as his queen. Everyone spoke, even Oghren and Sten. Calenhad howled and barked some. I guess it was a eulogy.”
“Where is Calenhad now?” Elisabeta referred to her dog, the only part of her family that had been left. “Did Alistair keep him?”
“I don’t believe so,” Leliana admitted. “I have an idea of where he likely is. I’ll send out some letters.”
“Thank you,” Elisabeta nodded.
“We had less than half an hour before the masses realized your body was on display and interrupted,” Leliana continued her narration. “Alistair let them pass, but no one was allowed to touch your body. He gave a grand speech about how you’d saved everyone. Then… he took a torch and lit the pyre. Your ashes were scattered in the waking sea off of the cliffs of Highever.”
“So I was eventually taken home, that’s good,” Elisabeta supposed she did like that. She’d wanted to return there since Duncan had dragged her away the night Rendon Howe and his army had destroyed the things she cared about most. “Thank you for telling me. I wonder if Alistair still has my sword then. I should write him, but I hear he has a wife and…” She shook her head. “I need to finish getting ready to go to the Hinterlands. She left.
Leliana watched after her friend. She realized that Zevran and Oghren likely did not know that Elisabeta was… back. She had no idea what had happened to Oghren. He had joined the Grey Wardens after the Blight and the Wardens were all missing. She had no idea where Sten or Shale were, either. Wynne was dead and Morrigan… Well, she knew where Morrigan was, unfortunately. That didn’t mean she had to communicate with her, though.
It struck her that she had not seen Elisabeta smile once since her return. Her friend had yelled and cried, she’d thrown herself into work, but she no longer smiled. She supposed that she didn’t laugh as much as she used to, either. Still, it bothered her. She would have to see what she could do to get her to laugh.
Chapter 10: The Thoughts and Prayers People
Elisabeta goes to the Hinterlands to Meet Mother Gisselle
“Control, you must learn control!” Solas’ voice held frustration and long suffering.
“I haven’t accidentally thrown a fireball since my first day back from the dead,” Elisabeta pointed out.
“You haven’t used your magic at all since then, have you?” Solas challenged.
“No,” she admitted. “I think that means I’ve got control of it. I don’t want to use it.”
“It is a part of you now,” Solas reminded her. “If you don’t learn to channel it, you will either unleash it at an inopportune time or be as useless as the Tranquil.”
“He’s right,” Cassandra decided. “You have to learn to channel the power…”
“The Herald of Andraste!” An adorable dwarf beamed at Elisabeta. “I have looked forward to meeting you! Welcome to the Hinterlands! Things are a bit tense here. I’m Scout Harding by the way.”
“Tense?” Cassandra repeated.
“Most of the Free Mages are holed up in Redcliffe,” Harding explained. “The ones out here are the extremist who have gone crazy with their new found freedom. They are facing off against Templars who are the living examples of why the mages rebelled. They’re batshit crazy! The two groups are bent on destroying each other and they don’t care who gets in their way. The farmers and refugees have been continuously attacked and persecuted. They are in a desperate state.”
“Tell me they haven’t released a bunch of demons and abominations,” Elisabeta had a flash of the mess that had become of Kinloch Hold.
“No, the demons are coming from the rifts, not the mages,” Harding assured her. “That is all we would need.”
“No kidding,” Elisabeta agreed. “I’ll go find Mother Gisselle and then see what I can do about the crazy fanatics.”
“Good,” Harding smiled. “I’m glad you came. If I could bother you for one thing more… Master Dennet is the best horse master this side of the Frostback Mountains. Everyone has always said so. We need his horses for the Inquisition, but we can’t get to him.”
“This side of the Frostbacks?” Elisabeta repeated. “You aren’t suggesting any Orlesian horses would be better than our Ferelden ones?”
“Never!” Harding’s smiled widened. “Your accent is Ferelden; I hadn’t realized the Herald of Andraste was Ferelden.”
“I am,” Elisabeta assured her. “I’m from Highever.”
“I grew up right here in Redcliffe,” Harding beamed. “Be careful out there.”
“Harding, huh?” Varric looked her up and down. “You haven’t been to Kirkwall’s Hightown, have you?”
“No,” she blinked in confusion at him.
“It’s just that you would be Harding in High…” He began.
“Let’s go,” Cassandra cut him off and made a disgusted sound.
Things went smoothly enough at the beginning of the trip to the crossroads. Cassandra had stumbled on an abandoned cabin; Elisabeta looted it and read a few notes. When they were within a hundred feet of the Crossroads, they were attacked by half a dozen mages.
“Cassandra, see how many you can mana drain while I flank them,” Elisabeta ordered. “Varric, I’ll go left to flank. You go right. Solas… Solas, what can you do? You have no healing and I haven’t seen much offensive magic. Just hit them with arcane bolts and hope for the best. Let’s go.” She moved, expecting her orders to be obeyed.
“What…” Cassandra trailed off. She hadn’t expected to be taking fighting orders from Andraste’s Herald, a religious symbol, but realized that Elisabeta did have experience fighting. She’d led an army against an archdemon and hordes of darkspawn. “You heard the woman, let’s move.”
After the mages came a wave of Templars, then a mix of both. “They really don’t care who they attack, do they, Seeker?” Varric muttered to Cassandra as he sent a strafe of bolts from Bianca.
“We are not your enemy!” Cassandra protested as she struck at a Templar.
“They are attacking us, so yes we are,” Elisabeta moved, unbalancing her opponent and moving back in for a deadly strike.
It took half an hour, but eventually the rush of attackers died and the guards that the Inquisition has set around the refugee’s encampment were enough to discourage stragglers. The refuse of Ferelden were huddled together and were sharing huts. There were Inquisition soldiers helping some, but no sign of Ferelden’s Crown.
“Why haven’t the Guerrins set something up for their people or the local banns?” Elisabeta wondered. “Where is Alistair’s aid? He isn’t helping with this.” Now she began to wonder just what sort of queen he had picked to sit beside him. A good one would have been finding a way to help her people as they were displaced by a conflict not of their making.
“King Alistair has other commitments,” Cassandra assured her. “Hopefully Arl Teagan is safe in Redcliffe.”
“Arl Teagan?” Elisabeta repeated. “Did something happen to Eamon? Did Isolde decide to poison her husband herself this time, so she could marry his brother?”
“What?” Cassandra made a disgusted noise. “No, Eamon moved to Denerim to be the king’s official adviser and left the arldom to his brother, as his son can not inherit.”
“Connor’s a mage,” Elisabeta nodded. “I remember.” She walked to a reverend mother who was comforting a wounded soldier.
“Hush, the healers will take care of you,” the reverend mother was assuring him. “There are mages here who can easily hear your wound. Lie still.”
“Don’t let those… don’t let them touch me, mother,” the soldier insisted. “They’re magic is…”
“Turned to noble purpose,” the elderly reverend mother interrupted. “Their magic is surely no more evil than your blade.”
“There are soldiers who harbor such prejudices against mages in the Inquisition?” Elisabeta glared at the soldier in question. “I was assured that the Inquisition was not part of the Chantry. I’m pretty sure the Inquisition’s were declared heretics for harboring me.”
“The Chantry did declare the Inquisition a heresy,” the reverend mother confirmed. “That is why I asked to speak with you.”
“Mother Gisselle?” Elisabeta questioned.
“I am,” she stood. “And you must be the Herald of Andraste.”
“Among other things,” Elisabeta confirmed.
Gisselle chuckled. “We seldom have choice in our fate, I’m sad to say.”
“You have no idea,” Elisabeta wasn’t sure if she was about to laugh or cry. “I am the Maker’s greatest example of that. Someday, I may tell you my full story.”
“I have a feeling it may be worth listening to,” Gisselle mused. “But I did not ask you here to listen to stories of adventure.”
“Too bad,” Elisabeta cocked an eyebrow. “I’ve had many. So why am I here?”
“I know of the Chantry’s denouncement and I know of those behind it,” Mother Gisselle revealed. I won’t lie to you. Some of them are grandstanding or hoping to increase their chances of becoming the new Divine. Some are simply terrified; so many good people were senselessly taken from us.”
“You are Orlesian and wearing Chantry robes,” Elisabeta pointed out. “Aren’t you part of the Chantry?”
“With no Divine, we are each left to our own conscience,” the reverend mother explained. “And mine tells me this… go to them; convince the remaining clerics that you are no demon to be feared. They have heard only frightful tales of you. Give them something else to believe.”
“You want me to appeal to them?” Elisabeta couldn’t believe the proposal.
“If I thought you were incapable, I wouldn’t suggest it,” Gisselle’s words stung.
“I’m not even sure why I need them,” she explained. “They no longer command the Templars or the mages. What good will they do me in closing the Breach? Are they going to send me their thoughts and prayers? That’s all they did during the Fifth Blight. I don’t think it helped… considering where I ended up.”
“You were involved in the Fifth Blight?” Gisselle’s surprise was plastered across her face. “The Blight ended within a year, so obviously those fighting it had some type of divine help. I’m sure the Chantry was part of that.”
Elisabeta just stared at the woman for a moment. She apparently didn’t know who Elisabeta was, beyond being the Herald of Andraste. She wracked her brain for any time that the Chantry had aided against the darkspawn. She could think of a couple of prayers, but that was it. “Yes, I was involved in the fight against the archdemon in the last Blight. There was a former Houseguest of the Chantry in the group who fought the Blight, but that was about it for any aid they gave. Well, I’m sure their thoughts and prayers were with us, but that really isn’t enough when fighting an archdemon.”
“Still, you need the Chantry now,” Gisselle insisted. “At the least, you can not afford to have them as enemies. Go to them; cast some doubt in their numbers. That way you will at least receive the time you need.”
She didn’t want to take on the Chantry now that was for sure. “I see your point. I’ll go.”
“I honestly don’t know if you’ve been touched by the Maker or sent by Fate in our time of need, but I hope,” Gisselle declared. “Hope is what we need now. I will go to Haven and provide Sister Leliana with the names of those who will be amenable to a gathering. The future sits with you. You can build this Inquisition up into something that will save us or destroy us. Maker go with you,” she walked away.
“No pressure,” Elisabeta muttered. She went to find Corporal Vale, who was in charge of the local Inquisition forces. As she wandered through the town, the refugees and soldiers came to her, asking her for small favors and help. It felt like old times.
Chapter 11: Nightmares and Sorrows
Elisabeta and her party move around the Hinterlands
Darkness pressed from all around; there was no escape from the black nothingness. Elisabeta sat up screaming. Everything was dark. She put her hand down, feeling her bedroll. It wasn’t the Nothing, there was matter around her. Forcing herself to breath, she assessed her surroundings. She was in a tent. She and her companions were at one of the Inquisition camps in the Hinterlands, she could hear the waterfall nearby. She concentrated on the sound of the waterfall, listening to the water as she tried to synch her breaths. There was a skull on a pole nearby that she refused to touch and she had a friend and two acquaintances nearby. She was all right.
She wasn’t going to stay in the tent, though. She needed to get out of the lonely darkness, though. She breathed easier when she found herself under the stars. Those beautiful, bright stars. Gazing up, she found them calming, knowing the Maker was somehow watching over her. After everything that happened to her so far, she had no doubt that there was a higher power out there.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been stargazing before Varric came and sat down beside her. He patted her hand and silently gazed with her for half an hour. Then he spoke. “Do you want to talk about it, Tempest?”
“I…” She was silent for several minutes.
“It’s all right, you don’t have to…” Varric didn’t want to press her.
“You know that I was trapped in the Abyss, don’t you?” She waited for his nod. “I… sometimes… too often… dream about it. It’s hard to be in the dark alone sometimes. So I came out to be under the light of the stars.”
“As long as you aren’t stressing about having to find that refugees son to get the potion for him or finding blankets for those who are cold in the Crossroads,” Varric mumbled. “Do you know Hawke had some rather ridiculous jobs in his day? He framed a Templar and hunted down a dwarf to return his favorite pair of pants to him.”
“I have wrangled nugs. Oh, and took care of hiding bodies for a crime syndicate in Denerim,” she recalled. “I dumped them into a well, not just any well, though. It was the chantry’s well, right in front of the sisters and Templars. None of them even noticed.”
“Not a one?” Varric chuckled.
“No!” She remembered trying to be stealthy with the first body, by the third she’d realized there was no danger of being caught. “I just threw them in. Sploosh! No one even batted an eye. The Chantry well in Denerim has at least three dead bodies in it and I don’t know if anyone ever noticed.”
“You should go just to find out if anyone has realized what is in there,” Varric suggested. “Perhaps get them to build a new well somewhere else.”
“I… I have thought of visiting there, to talk to Al… the king, but I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” she admitted. She looked to the north. “I want to go home, but my family were all killed and I don’t know who holds Highever now. It...” She sniffed when Varric patted her leg. “It should have been mine. No… it should have been Fergus’.”
“Who’s Fergus,” Varric’s voice was gentle.
“He is… was… my brother,” she started to stand up. “I’m sorry; I don’t want to bring on more rain, as the tempest you nicknamed me for.”
“Tell me,” he urged. “I promise that it won’t end up in one of my stories if you don’t want it to.”
She sat back down. “It was the beginning of the Fifth Blight. My father was going to travel to Ostagar with his… friend… Arl Rendon Howe, but the arl claimed his men had been delayed. My father sent Fergus ahead with our soldiers. First Fergus had to say goodbye to his wife and son…” Despite the years that had gone by, tears still flowed down her cheeks as she thought of her lost family. Varric listened quietly as she told him the story of their loss.
“So what were you two talking about so late at night?” Cassandra looked at her companions as they scoured the remains of Fort Connor after having killed the Rogue Templars who guarded it.
“It’s none of your business, Seeker,” Varric insisted. “What Tempest and I discuss under the stars is between her and I.”
Elisabeta closed her eyes in gratitude. She didn’t need, or want, to explain her most painful memories with Cassandra. She respected the woman, but they weren’t friends. They were both friends with Leliana, but that was the closest they had become. She turned and looked down at a note that had been left behind. “It seems that someone has summoned the Templars, this doesn’t say where. It does say where those that stayed are camping, though. I say we pay them a visit.”
“Bianca’s itching to clear the Templars out,” Varric agreed.
“It’s too dangerous,” Cassandra dissented. “We should wait for reinforcements.”
“From where?” Elisabeta challenged. “Should we wait for Cullen and his men? Those at the Crossroads can barely protect the refugees. Who knows why Ferelden’s army isn’t here to help. How many more will die while we sit and wait?”
“If you get yourself killed, we’ll lose our only means to closing the rifts,” Cassandra objected.
“Then watch my back,” Elisabeta marched out, heading for the West Road where the note said the Templars were hiding. “A healer would be useful.” She glanced at Varric. “Did your friend Hawke have the help of a healer?”
Varric nodded. “His name was Anders. I suppose you’d have heard of him.”
“The mage who kept escaping Kinloch Hold? Wynne mentioned him a time or two,” Elisabeta recalled. “She thought he was funny.”
“He used to be,” Varric sighed. “Before his issues and… demons… got to him.”
“Why don’t we have a healer on our team?” Elisabeta wondered for the hundredth time. She turned to Varric as they continued to the West Road. “What issues and demons. What happened to him?”
“You haven’t heard?” Varric was shocked.
“No,” she admitted. “I’m trying to play catchup with the last ten years.
“He… sort of had a hand in starting this mess,” Varric began his story.
“So then he destroyed Kirkwall’s Chantry,” Varric sent a bolt through a Templar who tried to defend the rogue base.
“Was the Chantry’s Templars really making mages who had passed their harrowing into Tranquils, Cassandra?” Elisabeta made a pinpoint strike that felled yet another Templar.
“It would seem so,” Cassandra admitted as she used her shield to block a Templar’s blade.
“And no one stopped them?” Elisabeta moved to another Templar, frowning as one of Solas’ arcane bolts shot past her. He had wonderful barriers, but that didn’t help injured party members. “No one even removed their commander?”
“No,” Cassandra lunged at one of the few remaining camp defenders. “The Divine did send Leliana to investigate the town. She was beginning to consider an Exalted March on Kirkwall.”
“What?” Elisabeta’s swords slashed out.
“This really isn’t the best time to talk about this?” Cassandra insisted.
“Why not?” Elisabeta moved to the last Templar.
“We’re in the middle of a battle, herald,” Solas reminded her.
“So?” Elisabeta beheaded the last Templar. “Why does that make a difference?” She began looting the camp.
“Well…” Cassandra shook her head. Elisabeta did seem capable of holding full conversations and fighting at the same time. “Some of us need to concentrate.”
“Fine,” she pocketed a small bag of gold and examined a pack with unused leather. “So the Divine was going to send an Exalted March on a group of people who were already suffering, instead of admitting there was something wrong with her army? What about the local grand cleric. Why didn’t she do anything?”
“Falcon, that’s Hawke, suspected that Meredith and Elthina were secretly lovers,” Varric confided. “I don’t know if it’s true, but it would explain a lot. Elthina refused to lift a hand against Meredith and gave her free reign, despite the fact that she was stopping anyone from becoming viscount and was openly persecuting the mages.” He examined a leather hat he found in one of the chests. “King Alistair of Ferelden even visited once and Meredith tried to go after him. He was hoping he could back Falcon as the next viscount. Plus, he was offering an open door to all Fereldens to return home. Hawke is Ferelden, like you, Tempest.”
“Alistair went?” Elisabeta’s lips twitched as if she was going to crack a smile, but then she frowned again.
“He was there with his sort-of uncle, Teagan,” Varric confirmed. “He’d left the queen in charge in his absence and Teagan didn’t seem to like that.”
“Really?” It made Elisabeta wonder at her identity again.
“The Rogue Templar camp is taken care of,” Solas observed. “Now we just need to take care of the Rebel Mages.”
It took half a day to cross the broken bridge near the Rogue Templar camp and then fight off the rabid wolves that prowled the farmlands near Master Dennet’s ranch. When they did arrive, it seemed that Dennet had decided that the Inquisition would do a few favors for him before he would send horses to them. He did provide Elisabeta and her friends with horses, though.
They then moved out and found a hidden chest that a hapless adventurer had left a note about. They also found the den of the wolves that had been plaguing the local farmers. A terror demon had made itself pack leader. Was the demon was gone, Solas was confident that the wolves would return to normal. He was a little too confident for Elisabeta’s state of mind. Cassandra and Varric were just happy they didn’t have to deal with unusually aggressive wolves anymore. The next day, they decided they preferred the possessed wolves to the local bears.
The day after, they had returned to the camp that set next to the river that ran through the Hinterland’s largest farms. The requisition’s officer ran up to her. “Herald, might I have a moment?”
“A moment?” Elisabeta snarled at her. “You fall under Threnn, don’t you? She hasn’t given me a moment of her time. Every time I come near, she goes running. So what do you want? If it is as ridiculous as finding a bunch of love letters or finding your lost acorn, I will tie you up and leave you in the wolves’ den.”
“Never mind,” the requisition officer gulped.
“Wow, Tempest,” Varric shook his head. “I never thought to threaten those ladies. What did she want?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “The last one wanted Ferelden locks. Don’t ask me why she couldn’t just go get some on her own.”
“Did you make the requisition officer cry?” Cassandra came storming up to her.
“Did I?” Elisabeta pursed her lips. “It is possible. I did threaten her. If you have time to go find Ferelden locks feel free. I can’t even get the quartermaster to talk to me, but her requisition officers want to send me on silly little quests.”
“Threnn won’t talk to you?” Cassandra found that strange. “The Ferelden Crown sent her to us.”
“Really?” That was odd, Elisabeta wondered why. “I really need to talk to her.”
“I’ll arrange it,” Cassandra promised. “Meanwhile, please apologize to the requisition officer.”
Elisabeta crossed her arms. “Find out what she wanted first.”
Cassandra left and returned ten minutes later. “Never mind, I let her know that Andraste’s Herald is too busy to find bear fur and onyx.”
“If I find those, I’m taking them back to Harritt to make me a new outfit,” Elisabeta declared. “Some of his schematics looked neat.”
That night, Varric found himself restless. Cassandra had been in her tent with a book and he was determined to find out what she was reading and why she was trying to hide it. Solas had gone to his tent and fallen asleep right after dinner. He and Elisabeta had played a couple of rounds of Wicked Grace, but he didn’t remember seeing her go to bed. He’d woken, swearing Bartrand was calling to him. His brother had been crying about red lyrium and being doomed by the Ancestors.
He slowly meandered towards the river. That’s when he heard singing. The voice was smooth and sweet, but the song was sad.
Sunshine was yours and mine
As I lived safely in your arms
I knew you would keep me safe from harm
I’d thought I would be there for all time.
Then the storms moved in and we tried to hold on
But the lightning flashed all around
And the rain pelted down
And then you were gone
Now I stand here all alone
As you cradle someone new
I tried to hold on to you
But you let me go
“You aren’t alone, Tempest,” Varric decided to interrupt before her song broke his heart. He was already having flashes to hearing about Bianca’s wedding to what’s-his-face. “I’m here and so are the Seeker and Chuckles. Even Rowan is here.”
Elisabeta laid her head against Rowan’s neck. “Thanks. It isn’t the same, though.”
“Were you having more nightmares?” Varric prompted. When she just nodded, he tried to get her to talk again. “Who is he, the one who has you heartbroken?”
“He…” She patted Rowan’s neck and shook her head. “He married someone else. I was dead, so our engagement was over and he fell in love with someone else. What else is there to know?”
“You were engaged when you died?” Varric had not known that. “Do you know how long he waited until he chose a new bride?”
“I don’t,” she admitted. “Part of me wants to know, but another part doesn’t even want to know who she is. I want to see him, but I don’t; not if we can’t be together.”
“Do you know where he is now?” Varric prompted.
“That I do,” she admitted. He let out a deep sigh. “He has to know I’m back, but hasn’t even tried to contact me.”
“Let’s take care of the mages and the cult in the hills, then we can go back to Haven and have Nightingale look into things,” he suggested.
“We need to get Cullen to build those towers for us. That is more important than Al…” She stopped herself. “Than the life I left behind. I do want to talk to her about finding out if Wynne is still alive. She was already old and… living on borrowed time.”
“Oh, I sense another story,” he grinned. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“Perhaps later,” she sighed. “I was hoping to ask Leliana to find out what happened to Wynne for me. I miss having a healer.”
“She likely knows already,” Varric assured her.
“I don’t suppose you know where Anders is?” She pursed her lips. “Perhaps he would join.”
“Did you miss the part about him blowing up the Chantry?” Varric raised an eyebrow.
“He had his reasons,” she shrugged. “He is a Ferelden Freedom Fighter who had had enough of oppression and you told me he is a Grey Warden.”
“Well… yes,” Varric agreed.
“So, what is a chantry or two in comparison to having a competent healer on your team? One who can sense darkspawn, because I don’t think I can anymore. My nightmares aren’t those of Grey Wardens.”
“Grey Wardens have nightmares?” Anders had never mentioned that to him.
“Especially during a Blight,” she confirmed. “They are mostly about darkspawn and archdemons. Wardens can almost hear the archdemon talking to his spawn.”
“Having a spirit turned demon in his head didn’t help, then,” Varric muttered. He wondered if Justice might have been able to influence those nightmares to take a more firm control over Anders before the chantry explosion.
“He has a spirit possession?” Elisabeta’s eyes widened. “So did Wynne. If we can find them, Wynne might be able to help Anders. Although her spirit seems to be a lot less… aggressive.”
“I didn’t realize there was anyone else in Thedas who had merged with a spirit,” Varric admitted.
“I doubt they talk about it much,” Elisabeta reasoned. “After all, the Chantry would not take their ‘conditions’ lightly. They would kill them immediately if they knew.”
“You’re right,” Varric nodded. “Let’s not tell Cassandra about either of our friends.”
“Agreed,” Elisabeta nodded.
“Good, let’s go back to camp,” he suggested. “We could get in another hand of Wicked Grace. Then maybe we could prank the requisition officer… or better yet, Solas… if we still can’t sleep.” He led her back. “Why were you at the river anyway?”
“Rowan was thirsty,” she shrugged. “And I felt like singing.”
“Don’t leave camp to sing,” he urged. “I like your voice. Although, if you are going to sing such sad songs, I’m going to have someone to teach you to play the bagpipes. They’re miserable enough.”
“Varric, I’m from Highever,” she reminded him. “I already know how to play the bagpipes.”
Chapter 12: Pinning and Punching
Elisabeta returns to Haven. She gets some bad news. Leliana demonstrates what she thinks a good time is.
As soon as Elisabeta and her party returned from the Hinterlands, Leliana grabbed her and dragged her into the forest.
“Where are we going?” Elisabeta wanted to know. “I need to take care of my horse.”
“Did you not see the half dozen workers who rushed to take care of that mare for you?” Leliana continued to drag her along. “I want to show you something. Look.” She pointed to where a nug nursed her young. “Aren’t they adorable?”
“They’re very sweet,” Elisabeta sat down and drew her knees to her chest, watching the mother with her young children. It was indeed sweet, but it reminded her of her own dream to one day have a family of her own. Then Alistair had told her how difficult it was for two Grey Wardens to have a child together, still they were going to try. Then the disaster had happened. She supposed that someday she could try with someone else. Heck, she was pretty sure she was no longer a Warden. There was nothing stopping her.
“I thought you would like them,” Leliana looked at her intensely, as if expecting something. She must have been disappointed, because she sighed and went back to watching the young family.
The day after the return from the Hinterlands, Cassandra cornered Threnn and sent a messenger to fetch Elisabeta.
“Oh, there you are,” Elisabeta blinked innocently at Threnn. “You would be the Inquisition’s quartermaster?”
“Yes,” Threnn looked nervously at Cassandra who made a disgusted noise and walked away. “You would be the Herald of Andraste. You don’t appear to be a Tranquil Mage.”
“I’m not,” Elisabeta confirmed.
“Oh, I must have heard wrong,” Threnn seemed perplexed. “Well, I’m trying to supply this mess. If you find what I need, I’d appreciate you brining it in.”
“What do you even do here?” Elisabeta wondered why the requisition officers kept asking her for such silly items.
“I make sure the Inquisition troops have what they need,” Threnn explained. “Food in their belly and iron in their hands. Lots of people expect us to be heroes; well it turns out that heroes need to dig latrines just like everyone else.”
“And how did you end up here?” Elisabeta didn’t want to mention that she’d already heard that Threnn had been sent by the Ferelden Crown.
“I served Ferelden under Teyrn Loghain MacTir, best commanding officer this world has ever seen,” Threnn didn’t know how much danger that one statement put her in. “After they all turned on him at Denerim, though, there wasn’t much use for those who held that opinion. Queen Anora offered my aid to the Inquisition. It was a kindness. She knew I supported her father and got me away from the political garbage.”
“You served that vile traitor?” Elisabeta growled. Then the rest of the statement penetrated her brain. “Queen Anora?”
“Loghain wasn’t a traitor,” Threnn insisted. “Were you at Ostagar? Well I was…”
“Yes,” Elisabeta cut her off. “I was at Ostagar. I lit the beacon and it wasn’t too late, despite Loghain’s attempts and the darkspawn who had infested the Tower of Ishal.” She grabbed Threnn’s tunic. “Now tell me what you mean by Queen Anora?”
Threnn trembled, fearing the insanity that obviously gripped the Herald of Andraste. “She was the widow of King Cailan. King Alistair rightly married her after the Blight to keep his throne secure. After all, she was Loghain’s daughter and they had run the country.”
“There was a civil war while she was running things and the Blight was allowed to spread unchecked!” Elisabeta shouted into Threnn’s face. “Loghain’s line had no claim to the throne. His parents were farmers. Farmers! Why would he marry her? How could he have married her?”
“Anora and Loghain are the greatest people…” Threnn began, forgetting that she should fear the Herald’s grip. She remembered though when Elisabeta’s fist connected with her face. Threnn’s head snapped back and she slithered to the ground when Elisabeta released her tunic. She lay curled up for a moment. “What the…”
“What is going on here, Herald?” Solas was rushing towards them.
Elisabeta had to get out of there. He’d married her. The one person he’d promised not to. She needed to be alone. She needed… She wasn’t sure what she needed. She rushed out of the gates and passed the practicing soldiers. She thought she heard Cullen call out after her, but couldn’t be sure.
She didn’t even notice where she was running to; she just had to get away. She looked up to realize that she was running towards the Temple of Sacred Ashes. The Breach still reared above it. She wondered for a second if she had been trying to run back into the Fade, but then the thought of whether the gauntlet was still hidden behind it and if the guardian was still there reached her mind. It was the last place she’d seen her father, she was still unsure if it had been a trick or not; but she wanted to see him. She needed the safety and security he once provided. The thought caused her to pause; it was the she realized that she couldn’t breathe. The pressure of the news she’d received was too much. Her heart didn’t want to beat and her lungs were struggling to breathe in air. Her knees buckled.
It was a shock when she didn’t hit the ground. Instead, she was engulfed in softness and warmth. “I have you,” it was Cullen’s voice. “What’s wrong, Lissa?”
“He…” Her voice caught on a sob and the floodgates opened. “He promised and he lied!” She cried into his mantle, clutching he soft red cloak. “He broke his promise to me.”
He gently rocked her for several moments. “Who? Who hurt you? Who broke his promise to you?”
“Alistair,” it was Leliana’s voice. “Alistair married Anora. Threnn admitted what she had said right before Lissa planted her fist in her face.”
“You punched the quarter master?” Cullen ran a soothing hand down Elisabeta’s curls.
“She…” Elisabeta’s voice broke on another sob.
“Threnn is a fan of Loghain MacTir,” Leliana sat down beside the pair and began rubbing Elisabeta’s back. “I was wondering what the Ferelden Crown was thinking when they sent her.”
“Anora sent her,” Elisabeta mumbled into Cullen’s fur mantle. “It was a slap at me and Alistair didn’t stop her.”
“I don’t think he realizes that you are the Herald of Andraste,” Leliana assured her. “I didn’t include your name in the messages.”
Elisabeta’s tears continued to flow and it took several more moments before she could gather the breath to speak again. “He promised and he married her anyway.” She couldn’t get past the feelings of betrayal and despair.
“He promised what?” Leliana had a sneaking suspicion of what the promise was.
“That no matter what, he wouldn’t marry her!” Elisabeta wailed out the word her. She had wanted Alistair to be happy, she didn’t want him to hand the throne back to his brother’s verminous weasel of a widow.
“Eamon thought… well, he has always had a lot of influence over Alistair,” Leliana reminded her. “He did raise him.”
“He gave him to the Chantry when he was ten at Isolde’s insistence,” Elisabeta murmured
“You and Alistair…?” Cullen continued to cuddle her against him.
“They were engaged,” Leliana answered for her.
“Oh, Lissa,” Cullen’s arms tightened around her.
“Tempest…” Varric stood nearby with Cassandra, silently watching the trio. He slowly approached them. “I…” He looked at Cullen and Leliana, assessing whether to reveal information he’d kept secret even from Hawke. “I… know what it is like to the person you love marry someone else. I have not had to learn they married someone I hated, though.”
She looked up at him through watery eyes, drops still falling from her long lashes. “Perhaps you can tell me about it someday.”
“I take it that you were not a fan of Teyrn Loghain,” Cassandra’s voice was deadpan.
Elisabeta gave an unladylike snort and laid her head against Cullen’s chest.
When Elisabeta returned to the village of Haven, she was escorted by Leliana and Cullen on either side of her, Cassandra in front of her, and Varric behind.
“Herald,” Josephine met them at the gate, near Seggrit’s shop. “May I speak with you?”
“I don’t know anyone named Herold,” Elisabeta shrugged.
“Another time,” Cassandra’s voice was testy.
“I must insist…” Josephine began again.
“Not now,” Cassandra moved a step so she was more firmly in front of Elisabeta.
“This is no time to argue about who killed who, Josie,” Leliana moved up and put an arm around the ambassador.
“Threnn isn’t dead, thank the Maker,” Josephine closed her eyes. She does have a nasty bruise along her jaw, however. We can not have the Herald of Andraste going around punching people. What if we had King Alistair or Empress Celene here?”
“They would have been likely targets as well,” Leliana agreed. “If we had the heads of Orlais and Ferelden both here, Elisabeta punching quartermasters would have been the least of our troubles, though. You should come up with a contingency plan if they do both show up. Perhaps we should bring in a trained assassin to assess any possible dangers of something worse. That way we can prevent them now.” She led Josephine away.
“Why don’t you go lie down and get some rest,” Cullen suggested to Elisabeta as he watched his coworkers walk away.
“I don’t know if she should be alone right now, Curly,” Varric hesitated. “Why don’t you… no, that’s not a good idea, either. It would look bad. Perhaps if I…”
“I will go in and make sure you relax,” Cassandra put a surprisingly gentle arm around Elisabeta and steered her towards her cabin.
“Lissa,” Leliana ran into Elisabeta’s cabin later that night and grabbed her. “You’re coming with me.”
“Leliana… what is wrong?” Cassandra stood, quickly hiding the latest copy of Hard in Hightown behind her back. She’d brought it to distract Elisabeta, who was now reading the first book in the series.
“Nothing,” She called over her shoulder. “I was just smoothing Josie’s feathers. She is planning to have a talk with Threnn about her pro-MacTir views. You aren’t the only one who has no love of Loghain’s memories, or even for Anora,” she informed Elisabeta as she dragged her along. “You may have the strongest feelings in that field, though.” She stopped and faced her closest friend, the sister of her heart. “If you want, I can have Anora killed for you. I know someone that would do it for free, even.”
Elisabeta was tempted to say yes, to allow her friend to do so. She realized that Leliana would indeed follow through on her offer. However, it would hurt the Inquisition’s reputation irreparably if they killed the Queen of Ferelden, no matter how much the woman deserved it. “No, not until we can justify it to the rest of Thedas.”
“I heard ‘until’,” Leliana continued to drag her along.
“Where are we going?” Elisabeta saw the tavern looming closer. “I can’t drink. Cassandra has forbidden me to do so until I learn to control my new found magic.”
“And do you always do what Cassandra tells you to?” Leliana giggled.
“Not usually,” Elisabeta admitted. “She may have a point now.”
“Let’s relax,” Leliana walked in and ordered two whiskeys and grabbed a table. “Stress is going to cause you to shoot off random fireballs before alcohol will.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Elisabeta sat down across from her. “Maker knows I need some down time. Do you know that I was about to write Alistair before Threnn opened her mouth? I was trying to figure out exactly how to phrase things.” She didn’t add that she wanted to go back to Highever. That would have to wait until after the Breach closed.
The two friends talked amicably for an hour, while also enjoying a couple of glasses of wine on top of the whisky and panunto con provatura fresca, a sweet and sour fried bread with mozzarella cheese that had been introduced to the Inquisition by a Raivani pirate who had joined up and been sent back onto the sea by Leliana as one of her spies. Then Leliana reached into her pack and pulled out a large ball of twine, several papers, and a packet of herbs. “OK, whose small clothes are going on the chantry board?” She’d been hoping for at least a giggle from Elisabeta, instead she got tears. Her heart despaired until her friend jumped down from her stool, skirted around the table, and embraced her.
“I thank the Maker every day that He had me brought to you,” Elisabeta confessed. “Does it have to be just one pair?”
“Oh, no,” Leliana grabbed the twine as Elisabeta scooped up the papers and herbs. The two women looked around conspiratorially as they snuck out.
Their first stop was the tent where Threnn worked.
“We’re mixing in some new requisition orders,” Leliana explained.
Elisabeta read some of the orders, and the names of real requisition officers and Inquisition leaders attached, as she slipped them in randomly with the real orders. “You do realize that one of them is going to try and get me to find this unicorn for them.”
“Just tell them to do it themselves,” Leliana suggested. “I hear that’s what you do when you aren’t threatening their lives.”
“I’ve done some ridiculous quests in my life, but some of the things they want me to procure for them are ludi…” She stopped and read another paper. “This one might work, ‘A sample of every type of cheese in Thedas to bribe the King of Ferelden with’.” Her lips cracked and a soft smile appeared as she recalled just how much that king loved cheese. Then the smile slipped as she recalled a rather sensuous experience when he’d nibbled cheese off of her in the privacy of their tent. Maker, she had to forget him.
Leliana cursed whatever memory had stopped that smile. She was using the twine to tie everything not nailed down in the tent up. She then placed a bomb under Threnn’s stool. When Threnn sat down, glitter would explode everywhere.
“What will Cullen do if they actually find him a giant ball of glitter to launch from one of his trebuchets?” Elisabeta was reading another fake requisition request.
“Launch it at our enemies?” Leliana shrugged.
“Will that be before or after we send Celene a gilded plum floating in perfume inside a glass jar with a decorative lid in the shape of a lotus? Does Josephine really want a pair of frilly smalls?” Elisabeta read yet another request.
“Josie likes frills on everything. After she gets them, we can then steal them and pin them to the chanter’s board,” Leliana suggested then she smiled at the next sound she heard.
Elisabeta let out a little giggle. “Does Cassandra really need a copy of Naughty Tales from Navarra and a trio of large, oiled men to read them to her?”
“She may not realize she does, but she does,” Leliana insisted.
“Do you think they really can get deserts from every corner of Thedas as the best mulled wine created for Flissa?” Elisabeta wondered as she helped Leliana replace Threnn’s tea leaves. “Oh, and thank you for requisitioning a healer for me. Let’s see if she can get one.”
They moved into Aden’s workshop and used the twine to tie all of his bottles together.
“He did implement that rejuvenation potion recipe I found for him,” Elisabeta noted as she held bottles together for Leliana. “But he is making me mix my own.”
“You’re an expert poison maker, Lissa,” Leliana pointed out. “You know how to mix ingredients.”
“Shush, I haven’t told anyone about that,” Elisabeta admitted. “I just tell them they’re for my health. Varric is the only one who’s realized I coat my swords with them. They are for my health, weakening my enemies is good for it.”
“Yes, yes it is,” Leliana agreed as they moved on to the forge.
“No, not the forge,” Elisabeta shook her head. “Harritt’s working on a new sword for me, along with a battle coat. He’s using the supplies I brought back.”
They’re next stop was the soldier’s camp. There, they tied the men’s boots together. They also procured Cassandra’s smalls.
The last stop was Josephine’s office and rooms. Both respected Minaeve’s efforts with the Tranquils too much to mess with her things. They did add some interesting missives to Josephine’s pile of work, though.
“What if she does decide to help Gaspard get Celene and Briala back together?” Elisabeta wondered.
“Then it may bring peace to Orlais,” Leliana revealed. “The two women really were lovers. They had been together for a long time, but parted ways about a year ago. I have reports that Celene actually cried about it, more than once. I also have reports that it was all Celene’s fault.”
“Is Prince Donatello really in love with his Cousin Merissa?” Elisabeta added more messages to Josephine’s pile.
“Possibly,” Leliana shrugged. “Does it matter? I should find out, I’m curious now.”
The next morning, both Cassandra and Josephine stared at the board outside of the chantry with red faces.
“How… by the Maker…” Cassandra looked around to see if anyone realized just whose smalls those were right above a notice that all of those who had come to serve in the army must report to Commander Cullen.
“Leliana,” Josephine whispered. Apparently, her friend had had a very good time the night before. She had other things to worry about. She’d just received a message from the Duchess of Jader that she was coming and would need accommodations for her half dozen cats that had to each have their own room and personal petter.
Chapter 13: It's a Terrible Idea!
Elisabeta goes to Orlais to address the clerics.
Elisabeta was in better spirits as she made her way to the war room in the chantry to finish her preparations to go parlay with the Chantry Clerics, like she gave a giant rat’s ass about the Chantry and its clerics. She’d beaten a Blight without any help from the Chantry. Everyone else thought the Inquisition needed to get some of the clerics on their side, though.
She heard fighting as she approached the building.
“Your kind killed the Most Holy!” A man in a Templar’s uniform was shouting at a man in mage robes.
“Quit spouting lies! Your kind let her die!” The mage retorted.
“Tell that to my sword, mage!” The Templar began to draw his sword as the mage’s hand went to his staff.
“Enough!” Cullen stepped between the men and forcibly made them step back. “This infighting will help no one!”
“Good luck keeping peace around here,” Roderick sniggered. “I wonder how your Inquisition and Herald will restore order as you have promised.”
“Of course you are,” Cullen muttered. “Back to your duties, all of you,” he ordered the gathering crowd.
“Who let you back in Haven?” Elisabeta wrinkled her nose as if he smelled of Orlesian horse droppings. “Cullen, why is this… Orlesian… still here?”
“He’s harmless,” Cullen assured her. “He barks like a mabari, but he’s really just an Orlesian lap dog.”
“He knows he can’t touch me,” Roderick countered.
“He does yip like those tiny little dogs from Antiva, the ones that like to bite ankles,” Elisabeta decided. “I also suspect that he has something to do with the fighting.” She glanced at Roderick in disdain. “That was the Chantry’s influence, wasn’t it? They like to watch men in skirts abuse men in dresses. It’s how they amuse themselves.”
“I used to be one of those men in… it’s the uniform, OK?” Cullen tried to defend it.
“Yes, they are so fashionable,” Elisabeta commented. “I knew an ex-Templar who would sleep with his under his pillow. It brought back such fond memories. I’ll hopefully be back soon.” She smiled as Cullen stepped to her side and walked with her to the war room.
“I must admit that I threw my uniform into the Waking Sea,” he confessed. “I wanted nothing more to do with that life.”
“How am I supposed to get to get twenty live partridges and two door mice for the Bann of Rainsfere?” Josephine was wailing as they walked in.
“You could just tell him no, Josie,” Leliana suggested. There was nothing in her voice that would have hinted that the Bann of Rainsfere had not sent that message.
Cassandra joined the group ten minutes after Elisabeta and Cullen and they got down to business.
“Having the Herald address the clerics is not a bad idea,” Josephine declared to start the meeting off.
“You can’t be serious,” Cullen’s hand went to the hilt of his sword.
“Mother Gisselle isn’t wrong,” Josephine insisted. “At the moment, the Chantry’s only strength is in their united opinion.
“And we should ignore the danger to Lissa?” Leliana challenged.
“Let’s ask her,” Josephine suggested.
“It’s a terrible idea!” Elisabeta declared. “The only worse person to send would be Morrigan! I have no idea where she is now or I would suggest you send her instead.”
“Well…” Leliana opened her mouth to speak. “Never mind.”
“Just because they hiss, it doesn’t mean they’re vipers,” Josephine assured him. “They won’t bite, as long as you don’t punch them. Please, don’t punch the clerics.”
“I will go with her,” Cassandra stepped forward. “Mother Gisselle said she could provide us names? Use them.”
“But why?” Leliana didn’t want to send her friend into that pit of vipers. “This is nothing but a…”
“What choice do we have, Leliana?” Cassandra challenged. “Right now we can’t approach anyone for help with the Breach. We must use what influence we have to call the clerics together. Once they are ready, we’ll see this through.”
“Cassandra and Elisabeta are both going,” Josephine set down her clipboard. “Now I’m sure a cleric is going to get punched, but we have no choice.”
It was only a couple weeks later that Elisabeta found herself strolling across a marble bridge lined with a plethora of marble statues. More could be seen in the river that guarded Val Royeaux’s southern border. The air was fragrant, cloyingly so. The scents that came from the city were like the perfumes of a wealthy trophy wife who attempted to raise herself up that the level of her husband’s peers by shows of gaudy wealth and crimes against those who were now on a lower socio-economic rung than her. It was heady, overpowering, and unpleasant. She was also quick to note that the statues were those that depicted Chantry tales. There were no statues of past Orlesian royals or heroes, much less anyone out of their tales. For all the wealth displayed, it left her cold. Ringing across all of the stark marble was the sound of bells.
“The city still mourns,” Cassandra declared.
“I wonder if there were any observances to mourn King Cailan’s death or my father’s in Highever,” Elisabeta listened to the bells. “Loghain didn’t waste any time before he declared himself regent and the civil war started. Any mourning would have waited until we saved the city from the darkspawn. We gave him a proper Andrastian funeral, but that was all. My father may not even have gotten that. I don’t know who our teyrn was given to after the Blight. I killed Howe, but I don’t know if Alistair appointed anyone new. Anora probably gave it to one of Howe’s surviving children, Delilah or Nathaniel.” She had an urge to turn around, grab the men Cullen was training, and march on Highever to take it back for the Couslands right there and then, the Chantry be damned.
Two Orlesians passed them, a man and woman in matching outfits. The man looked at them and walked faster. The woman gasped and tried to scurry further towards the edge of the bridge.
Varric turned to Cassandra. “Just a guess, Seeker, but I think they all know who we are.”
“Your skills of observation never fail to impress me, Varric,” Cassandra’s voice was deadpan.
As they reached the end of the bridge, which led them to a tunnel of yet more Chantry statues, a scout ran up to them. “My Lady Herald,” the scout bowed.
“That’s Lady Cousland,” Elisabeta corrected.
“You’re one of Leliana’s people,” Cassandra stated the obvious, unless a spy had stolen and Inquisition Scout’s uniform. “What have you found?”
“The Chantry Mothers await you,” she reported. “But so do a great may Templars.”
“There are Templars here?” Cassandra was obviously surprised.
“People seem to think the Templars will protect them from…” The scout hesitated a moment before continuing. “From the Inquisition. They’re gathering on the other side of the Market. I think that’s where the Templars intend to meet you.”
“Only one thing to do, then,” Cassandra led the way. Elisabeta and Varric followed her with Solas bringing up the rear.
Elisabeta glanced at Varric. “I hope she means we’re going to destroy this over rated town.”
“I doubt it, Tempest,” Varric sighed. “She and Ruffles would probably both frown on that.”
Cassandra paused in the middle of the statue tunnel. “They wish to protect the people? From us?”
“We knew there would be resistance,” Elisabeta reminded her. “I’m the one who they’re afraid of.” She lifted her hands and shouted. “That’s right, Orlais, Andraste has sent the big bad Ferelden Herald to smite you. Fear and tremble!”
“Lissa,” Cassandra sighed.
“Don’t stop her, Seeker,” Varric advised. “She isn’t yelling or crying… well, she is yelling, but I’m entertained. Let her have her fun.”
“The people may be assuming what the Templars will do,” the scout soothed Cassandra. “I’ve heard no concrete plans.” She turned to Elisabeta. “I thought you were a Free Marcher, Herald.”
“Nope, I’m Ferelden,” Elisabeta assured her.
“Do you think the Order’s returned to the fold maybe?” Varric wondered as Elisabeta went to read the scribblings a vandal had added to the statue’s plaques. They told a much more interesting story than the one the plaques had.
“I know Lord Seeker Lucius,” Cassandra revealed. “I can’t imagine him coming to the Chantry’s defense, not after all that’s occurred. Return to Haven,” she instructed the Scout. “Someone will need to inform them if we are… delayed.”
“As you say, my lady,” the scout bowed and left.
Cassandra continued on, as Elisabeta took in the shops in Val Royeaux’s center. There was a large variety and rivaled Denerim’s market district. She wondered if it had as much crime.
“Stand firm, men,” she heard a guard captain tell two of his underlings. “The Templars will protect us from the Inquisition.”
Elisabeta snorted. “That’s right!” She called out to those passing by. “The Inquisition has sent Andraste’s Herald to you. Quake in fear, because like Andraste herself, she was born and bred in Ferelden! Mords Moi, Orlais!”
There were several gasps from those nearby and one woman dropped in a faint. Behind her, Solas turned even whiter, Cassandra made a strangled sound, and Varric tried to contain his laughter. “Perhaps my Orlesian is rusty, or the Herald’s is,” Solas had covered his eyes with one hand.
“Nope, Chuckles, you heard right,” Varric assured him. “Tempest just told Orlais to bite her.”
“The Templars will deal with this,” the guard captain stated again, as if trying to convince himself.
Elisabeta just strolled to where a reverend mother stood on a makeshift, wooden dais, giving a speech. There were two other women in Chantry robes behind her and a dark skinned Templar beside her. The older woman was holding her arms out to those gathered in front of her. “Good people of Val Royeaux, hear me!”
“We hear you, mother,” a man with a thick Orlesian accent called out.
“Together we mourn our Divine,” she continued. “Her naïve and beautiful heart silenced by treachery! You wonder what will become of her murderer? Well, wonder no more! Behold the so called Herald of Andraste! Claiming to rise where our beloved fell. We say this is a false prophet! The Maker would send no mage in our hour of need!”
“You’re wrong!” Elisabeta stepped forward.
“A Ferelden!” A man in the audience gasped. “Just listen to that accent.”
“I was sent by the Maker,” she ignored the cheese muncher. “I was not born a mage, the magic was something given by Andraste when she delivered me back to Thedas. I was not at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. I died on a roof top in Denerim, fighting and killing an archdemon, more than ten years ago!” The crowd gasped. “Andraste herself brought me back to save Thedas once again. Some of you may have heard of me. I am Elisabeta Cousland: Daughter of Bryce and Eleanor Cousland, Lady of Highever, Conscript of the Grey Wardens, and the Hero of Ferelden!” She couldn’t believe she was using that ridiculous title, much less that she was doing it for the first time when in Orlais. “The fact that I stand before you, alive, is a testament to the power of the Maker and His Bride. They have not abandoned us. The Inquisition is Their will. We plan to close the Breach and bring order back to His people.”
“It’s true,” Cassandra spoke up. “Leliana, veteran of the Fifth Blight is part of the Inquisition. She recognized Lady Cousland immediately. Andraste delivered her back to us. The Inquisition seeks to end this madness before it’s too late and the Herald is here to help us do so!”
“It is already too late,” the reverend mother pointed and a group a dozen men in skirts strolled forward. Some wore the uniform of the Templars, others that of the Seekers. “The Templars have returned to the Chantry! They will face this ‘Inquisition’, and the people will be safe once more!”
The lead Seeker walked pass the reverend mother, but the Seeker behind him punched her, knocking her to the ground. The crowd cried out as she weaved on her feet and then face planted onto the wooden dais.
“Shit,” Varric cussed. “Now I owe Ruffles twenty silver pieces. Although it wasn’t you Seeker and Tempest who did the punching.”
The Seeker’s Leader, Lord Lucius, patted the shoulder of the Templar who had been standing by the reverend mother. “Still yourself, she is beneath us.”
“Why are you now punching out reverend mothers?” Elisabeta demanded. “And you Orlesians think we Fereldens are barbarians.”
“Her claim to ‘authority’ is an insult,” Lucius explained. “Much like your own.”
“Oh? Is the Maker resurrecting you?” Elisabeta challenged. “Have you led an army and killed an archdemon? So far I’ve only seen you hit weak women.”
“Lord Seeker Lucius,” Cassandra hurried to him. “It’s imperative I speak with…”
“You will not address me,” Lucius stepped down from the dais, not even deeming to look at Cassandra.
“Lord Seeker?” Cassandra was in a bit of a distress.
Lucius only glanced at her as he gathered his men again. “Creating a heretical movement, raising a puppet as Andraste’s prophet. You should be ashamed. You should all be ashamed!” He cried at Cassandra’s companions. “The Templars failed no one when they left the Chantry to purge the mages! You are the ones who have failed! You who’d leash our righteous swords with doubt and fear! If you came to appeal to the Chantry, you’re too late. The only destiny here that demands respect is mine.”
“The only destiny here that demands respect is mine?” Elisabeta repeated. “You practiced that in front of a mirror, didn’t you? Alistair’s very first speech as king was better than that. Really, it’s up there with You will rue the day you messed with me, right before I kill you. Talk to me about destiny when you have a deity bringing you back from the Abyss. Templars,” she addressed the rest. “I saved several of your brethren from their doom at Kinloch Hold. My death is a known fact. Yet here I stand before you, because Andraste herself delivered me from the Void. If that isn’t a sign of the Maker’s will, I don’t know what is. Join us; it is obvious that the Maker is with us.”
“Blaspheme!” Lucius declared.
The Templar who’d stood by the reverend mother spoke up. “But Lord Seeker… what if she really was sent by the Maker. What if…?”
“You are called to a higher purpose,” one of the Seekers interrupted. “Do not question!”
“I will make the Templar Order a power that stands alone against the Void. We deserve recognition. Independence!”
“Against the Void?” Elisabeta laughed bitterly. “You can do nothing against the Void. I didn’t feel you resisting it while I was in it for a decade! You are powerless against it! The Old God who’d become an archdemon couldn’t fight its pull and neither can you.”
“You have shown me nothing,” Lucius continued. “And the Inquisition is less than nothing. Templars, Val Royeaux is unworthy of our protections! We march!” He led his men away.
“How did that bullying idiot become the head of the Seekers?” Elisabeta wanted to know.
“Charming fellow, isn’t he?” Varric agreed.
“Has Lord Seeker Lucius gone mad?” Cassandra wondered, watching after him.
“Obviously,” Elisabeta joined Cassandra’s vigilance. Solas walked by them. “Oh, are you still here, too?” Instead of answering, Solas went to check on the reverend mother, although he just tried to pat her shoulder. He had no healing to help. She turned back to Cassandra and Varric. “Well, we’re not getting the Templars help.” That felt a bit familiar.
“I wouldn’t write them off so quickly,” Cassandra disagreed. “There must be those in the order who’ve seen what he’s become. Either way, we should first return to Haven and inform the others.”
“We should do some shopping first,” Elisabeta decided. “I’ve never been shopping in Val Royeaux.”
Chapter 14: News From the White Spire
Elisabeta does some shopping and then gets some bad news.
Val Royeaux Market was over rated. Some of the shops were elegant and there were luxuries to be had, but half of the items were not to the quality that their snooty purveyors seemed to think they were. Although, there were a few wonderful shops that Elisabeta would have liked to have had more of in Ferelden. Still, the silly banners that fluttered over the market, shading the sun in several spots wouldn’t have been needed in their neighboring country where nature was kind enough to cover the sun herself most of the time.
Elisabeta was glad she hadn’t given up her habit of looting those she killed, as she perused the shops. She found herself at a book seller who had some interesting accessories. She’d picked up books that covered the events of the past ten years. There was also one that claimed to cover the Fifth Blight. She was too curious not to get it. She’d also picked up a book on magic theory and practice. She hoped it would help her to continue to control the magic Andraste had decided to hoist upon her. She’d lost her Grey Warden and abilities and gotten magic instead. She wasn’t sure it was a good exchange.
She found herself gazing at an ancient rune stone that she’d picked up without thinking. It was almost insistent, Alistair loved them and she would always get him one when she came across it. “Is this real?”
“That was found in the Deep Roads, near Rialto, in Antiva, my lady,” the shopkeeper, who insisted on being called Jeanette, informed her. “They are most common in Ferelden, but there is a theory that it was dropped there by a Grey Warden during the Fourth Blight.”
Elisabeta found herself caressing the stone with her thumb. “I… used to… have a … friend who collected these.”
“Oh? Perhaps you should get it in their memory,” Jeanette urged.
“No,” Elisabeta set it down. “I need to forget them.” She moved to another display. “I do know someone who might get a kick out of this quill.” The feather was unique, red and orange, and the tip gold. There was a gold ink pot beside it.
“The feather is rumored to come from a firebird that lives in the mountains near Nevarra,” Jeanette reported. “I don’t know if that’s true, but it is pretty, isn’t it?”
“That it is,” Elisabeta agreed. “I’ll take it, along with a stack of parchment. I would also like a scroll.” She wondered if Leliana had a quill. She hadn’t seen her write since her return from the dead. She’d just have to convince her favorite bard to start writing new songs again. She picked up another quill, this one with a phoenix feather, for her friend. She also picked up air dried quills, something the shop was trying. They barely had any feathers and seemed to be more of moderately lengthened, sharpened shafts.
As she walked out of the shop, she glanced back at the rune. No, she had to forget him. Besides, if Alistair still liked to collect runes, it would be Anora who now bought them for her king.
When she left the shop, Elisabeta had an arrow land near her feet. It instructed her to find red items. She felt silly doing it, but the note promised a meeting with Red Jenny. She’d wondered about the bandit’s identity since she’d delivered a painted box to a strange house in Denerim long ago.
As she was looking for the items, she was stopped by a messenger with a strange invitation. “Why would I go to a salon at an Orlesian duke’s estate, especially when he isn’t giving it?”
“The note says it’s to meet the head of the Loyal Mages,” Cassandra pointed out. “They could be valuable allies.”
“Loyal to whom? The Circle? The Chantry?” Elisabeta shook her head. “That isn’t encouraging. Why do we want the help of people who are so brainwashed they reject freedom when they finally get it? I’ve allied with Dalish, Circle mages, dwarves, and a Guerrin who still had his army. That last alliance is the one I regret most. Now I’m supposed to discuss an alliance with the Circle Mages who chose to stay prisoners? Do you know that the Templars would take their babies when they were born? They ripped children from their mothers’ arms all because those mothers were mages.”
“I… did know that,” Cassandra admitted. “I haven’t always agreed with the Chantry’s methods, but I do with their message."
“I’m not going,” Elisabeta decided as she found a glove in a café.
“You need to go,” Cassandra insisted. “We can’t ignore potential allies.”
Elisabeta supposed she was right, but didn’t have to like it. “Fine, we’ll make an appearance. I guess we’re going shopping for appropriate clothes. I wonder if I can find something in Ferelden style. I refuse to look like an Orlesian.”
“Appropriate clothes?” Cassandra grimaced.
“That’s right, if we have to go you are going to wear a dress,” Elisabeta declared. The look on Cassandra’s face made the prospect of going to an Orlesian soiree almost worth it. We’ll send Solas back to Haven to tell them what is delaying us.”
“I can go with you, Herald,” Solas insisted.
“You really want to go?” Elisabeta looked at him sideways, brows furrowed. “Why? Now I’m afraid to have you within a hundred feet of that estate.”
“Yep. Only us poor schmucks who would rather go back to Haven are going,” Varric agreed.
“Oh, Tempest, I bought you a present,” he passed a large package out to her.
“You bought me a bagpipe?” She sniffled. “It’s beautiful.” She gave the instrument a testing blow. The sound came out; clear and melancholic. “Thank you. I’m touched, did you remember me mentioning I played? I got you something, too.” She handed him the firebird quill and the air dried one, with the gold inkpot.
“Ah, Tempest, I’ll cherish these,” he promised. “I haven’t had time to write since the Seeker, there, dragged me away from Kirkwall.”
“I haven’t drawn since I… left… Denerim, nor have I played,” she stroked the bagpipe. “I guess we both need to find the time. Let’s go find that last item.”
As they finished up their errands and leaving Val Royeaux when they were stopped again. “If I might have a moment of your time,” a soft, feminine, Orlesian accent stopped them. They turned to see a dark haired elf in mages robes approach them.
Cassandra knew the woman. “Grand Enchanter Fiona?”
“The leader of the Mage Rebellion,” Solas added. “Is it not dangerous for you to be here?”
“I heard of this gathering,” Fiona explained. “And I wanted to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes. If it’s help with the Breach you seek, perhaps you should look to your fellow mages.”
There was something about the Grand Enchanter’s eyes that reminded Elisabeta of Alistair. She crushed that thought. She had to forget him. She had to move on. “I wasn’t a mage before Andraste returned me to Thedas, but I would have preferred to deal with the mages the Templars.”
“We’re willing now,” Fiona assured her. “That’s the important thing. Consider this an invitation to Redcliffe; come meet with the mages. An alliance could help us both, after all. I hope to see you there. Au revoir, my Lady Herald.”
“Wait!” Elisabeta still had questions. “I must know…”
“Yes, my lady?” Fiona had begun to turn back towards the city, but stopped.
“I… I have a friend, an old friend, who may be among your number,” Elisabeta explained. “I miss her and wish to see her again. Is there a mage from Kinloch Hold named Wynne in Redcliffe? She might be known as a Hero of the Fifth Blight. She was…”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Fiona took a deep breath.
“It’s all…” Elisabeta began, but the Grand Enchanter continued.
“She was one of the casualties of the Battle of the White Spire,” Fiona finished. “The moment we cast the vote to leave the Circles, the Seekers and Templars swarmed us. It was less of a battle and more of a massacre. They proved that they would not just let us leave. I lost track of Wynne during the fighting, her son Rhys had cast the final vote to declare our freedom. By the time the dead were accounted for, she was among them. I’m so, so sorry.”
Elisabeta just nodded as she tried, and failed, to hold back tears. “Thank… thank you. I appreciate you telling me. I…” Oh, sweet Maker, she needed to sit down. Wynne had been old, but she needed her. She had already lost Alistair to that… Whore of a MacTir. She had no idea where the rest of her companions were, either. Even her dog was gone. Leliana seemed to be all she had left in Thedas. She glanced at Varric; she had this new friend at least. Her gaze went to Cassandra, and a potential friend. Then it went to Solas, well she had Varric and Cassandra. Varric’s arm slid around her.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Fiona walked away as Varric hugged Elisabeta.
“It’s all right, Tempest, let the storm come,” he told her and held her while she mourned her friend.
Chapter 15: To Recruit or Not to Recruit
Elisabeta meets Red Jenny and then goes to a soiree.
Elisabeta walked into the Orlesian Estate where Red Jenny had asked to see her. The last time she had dealt with Red Jenny had been in Denerim, why would she move to an estate near Orlais. The estate was as over decorated and pretentious as all of the others she’d seen in the overblown, pompous nation.
A fireball hit the wall near her as she entered. “Great, it was a trap.” She unsheathed the two new swords that Harritt had made for her. She called them kindness and patience, because Josephine told her she needed to use more kindness and patience with her adversaries.
“How did you find me?” The Orlesian mage demanded.
“Who are you?” Elisabeta demanded to know. “I was told to meet Red Jenny here. You are obviously not them.”
“Do not pretend you don’t know who I am,” the Orlesian mage sneered. “It must have cost the Inquisition dearly.”
“Oh, yeah, we spend precious resources going after non-account Orlesians all the time,” Elisabeta snarked.
“No we don’t,” Cassandra’s voice was stony.
Out of one of the darkened corners of the courtyard, an elf appeared. She flipped onto a stack of crates and pointed her bow at the mage. “Just say what?”
The Orlesian was just as startled as Elisabeta and her party. “What the…?” His words were cut off as an arrow pierced his heart.
The elf wrinkled her pert nose. “Ugh, he was a squishy one. Did you hear that? You heard me, though. Just say what? I’m Sera; you may also know me as Red Jenny.”
Elisabeta smiled at the sound of the Ferelden accent. While the explanation of who Sera was confused her companions, she’d seen and experienced stranger. She welcomed the woman on board.
Sera accompanied Elisabeta to Vivienne, Madame de Fer’s, salon. She refused to change, though. She wore a torn tunic and yellow plaid pants. Elisabeta, herself, was dressed in Highever style. Her chemise was cream with an underskirt that was a green and black plaid. The lined overdress was a green that brought out her sea green eyes even more. Her light red curls were pulled back by several braids and cascaded down her back. There was a small circlet set in her hair. She’d been delighted to find a seamstress in Val Royeaux who offered Highever styled clothing in her shop. She said she now had an exchange with a seamstress in the teyrn. She sent Orlesian clothes and received Highever styles in exchange. Elisabeta was less happy at the prospect of her former people wearing Orlesian style clothes.
“I look ridiculous,” Cassandra tugged at the skirts of her blue, Antivan style dress. The low cut bodice and imperial waist emphasized the impressive bosom she tried to hide and the skirt exaggerated her already long legs.
“You look wonderful, Seeker,” Varric assured her. He was still dressed in his normal clothes, insisting his chest hair was appropriate dress for the soiree.
The group approached the estates, a swagger in their step and small smiles at the Orlesians who eyed them nervously. The majordomo was acting as court marshal and introduced Elisabeta. “The Herald of Andraste and agents of the Inquisition!”
“Mordez Moi, Orlesian,” Elisabeta hissed at him as she passed. “Je m'appelle Elisabeta, pas Herold."
“You’re the daughter of Bryce Cousland?” An elderly man approached her.
“Yes,” she gave him a small smile. “Did you know him?”
“I did,” he led her to where a servant was passing by with mugs and flutes. He grabbed two flutes and handed one to her. “I had heard that you are dead.”
“I was,” she took a sip of the wine. It was inferior, that figured. “It’s a long story.”
“I have a feeling that it is the most interesting thing at this party,” he led her towards some of his friends. “Why don’t you tell us all about it?”
“There are parts I’d rather not even remember,” she sighed.
“Fine,” he shrugged. “Make up something interesting to fill in those parts.”
Even as she laughed, she remembered telling Alistair something similar once. “All right, I’ll tell you what happened to me if you tell me about this Madame de Fer and why she is throwing this party at this duke’s estate.”
“You have a deal,” he agreed. “I think the day has greatly improved.”
“Thank you, good ser,” she gave him a bow and followed him to his comrades. All of whom were men and women who’d called the Cousland friends at one point.
“So Andraste exchanged your life force with that of someone else?” Lord Idun raised a mug to his lips an hour later. “Wow.”
“I know, it’s even more exciting than an Orlesian Duke carrying on with a mage,” she still didn’t believe that the duke’s wife had been all right with his long time affair with this Vivienne.
“There you are, the so called Herald of Andraste,” a deeply accented Orlesian voice interrupted the group.
“Do I know you?” Elisabeta blinked at him. “And no, I’m not the ‘so called Herald of Andraste’, I go by Elisabeta Cousland. I am part of the Inquisition, though.”
“The Inquisition is nothing but a bunch of washed up sisters and thugs, it’s pig swill,” he continued.
“Do you have a point or did you just come to me to insult the Inquisition?” Elisabeta demanded to know. “If you are trying to go get a reaction, I suggest you go bother Cassandra.”
“You are nothing but a false prophet,” he yelled at her.
“Oh? You try dying and coming back to life then,” she challenged. “I’m not going to be questioned by some cheese crumpet munching git.”
“That is it,” he declared. “We shall go outside where your honor will face my blade.”
“Fine,” she shrugged. “If I must kill you with kindness and patience, I will. Let’s go.”
“My lady,” Lord Idun protested.
“It’s all right,” she assured him. “Kindness and patience are the names of my swords. Plus, I was taught to duel by the famed Antivan pirate, Isabela.”
The aggressive Orlesian reached for his sword, but stopped frozen. “Poor Marquis,” a dark skinned woman with an obviously faux Orlesian accent tsked. “This is no way to talk to my guests. What would your aunty say? Here you are all dressed up in your best hose and doublet. Didn’t she buy those for you for the grand tourney? Yet the other chevaliers have gone and you remain.” She gave Elisabeta a sidelong look, as if judging her appearance. “You are the injured party, my dear, what would you have me do with him?”
“I’ve never gotten to kill an Orlesian before,” Elisabeta realized. “I want you to let him go so I can duel him. You’re ruining my fun.”
“Lissa,” Cassandra’s voice carried across the room, as did its warning tone.
“Well, I haven’t,” she kept her voice light and innocent. “And she is.”
“Why don’t we step away so we can talk?” Vivienne walked into an antechamber. Elisabeta rolled her eyes at Vivienne’s back as they walked.
“How did a mage come to be holding parties in a duke’s estate?” Elisabeta asked as they posed in front of a large, bay window. There was something so indefensible about a window that big.
“I’m sure someone has told you about my… friendship… with the duke,” Vivienne waved that away. “I’m more concerned about what the Inquisition and I can do for each other.”
“Yes, about that,” Elisabeta agreed. “How is your healing magic?”
“Excuse me, my dear?” Vivienne pulled out a fan and began waving it about.
“Can you do even the most basic healing spells on a battle field?” Elisabeta pressed.
“My dear,” Vivienne let out a long suffering breath. “I am the head of the Loyal Mages.”
“So you should know how to heal and mix a mean healing potion,” Elisabeta agreed.
“My dear, you aren’t listening to me,” the fan moved more vigorously.
“Are you telling me you can’t heal people?” Elisabeta frowned at her.
“No, I cannot,” Vivienne admitted. “My talents…”
“Then what do I need you for? I already have my shifty, apostate mage,” Elisabeta cut her off. “Thanks for the drinks. You need better food at your parties, though. You need better drinks, too.” She walked away.
“What happened?” Cassandra saw Vivienne fuming behind Elisabeta.
“She has no healing skills, this was a waste of time,” Elisabeta walked to Lord Idun. “It was good seeing you, come visit the Inquisition some time.”
“When this is over, it will be time for you to return to Highever,” he hugged her.
“I will,” she promised, before exiting the estate with her head held high. Her companions followed.
Chapter 16: Amid the Encircling Gloom
Elisabeta returns to Haven. A war table mission brings very welcome news
Leliana greeted Elisabeta when she returned to Haven. “How did it go?”
“The Templars have collectively gone insane and the Chantry Clerics aren’t much better,” Elisabeta reported. “On a side note, I recruited a Red Jenny and Val Royeaux is over rated.”
“Val Royeaux is not…” Leliana shook her head. “Red Jenny is a real person?”
“Yes and no,” Elisabeta dismounted from Rowan. “I’ll tell you tonight over dinner.”
“What about the Grand Enchanter that Solas mentioned you were going to talk to?” Leliana prompted. “Josephine was worrying about her coming. She is said to be very particular in her tastes.”
“Oh, you’d heard of her?” Elisabeta took her packs off of her horse. “Did you know she can’t even heal? I wasted my time going to that party. It was full of Orlesians.”
“So you didn’t recruit her?” Leliana realized.
“She can’t heal,” Elisabeta said it even slower. “I need a healer. I need…” Her voice cracked. “Did you know that Wynne died during the Battle of the White Spire?”
“I… I’d wondered,” Leliana admitted. “A list of the dead was brought to the Divine, but it was incomplete. Her body wasn’t left behind, but her son disappeared. He was rumored to have been seen with a rogue Templar. She wasn’t part of the group that went crazy, but still left the Order itself during the fight.”
“Wynne found her son?” At the end of the Fifth Blight, Wynne hadn’t known what had happened to the baby who had been ripped from her arms at birth.
“She did,” Leliana confirmed. “His name was Rhys and he was at the White Spire.”
“I guess that’s something.”
“Come,” Leliana insisted. “Cullen and Josephine are waiting in the Chantry to hear more news.
Elisabeta wished she could just go back to her cabin and take a nap.
“We can’t just give up on the Templars,” Cullen insisted. “There must be another way to contact them.”
“We need to go get the mages,” Leliana insisted.
“The Templars…” Cullen began.
Elisabeta shook her head. “Wynne was at the White Spire when the Templars attacked it. She was there when the vote was cast. It is her people I must go save in her stead. She would be fighting for them, even now, if the Templars had not killed her. I know where my loyalties must lie.”
She turned to leave, but was stopped by Leliana. “Walk with me a bit longer.”
“Of course,” she stepped in time with her friend.
“I’ve heard rumors of a Grey Warden who is operating out of the Hinterlands,” Leliana explained. “You need to find him. Lissa, your… your former comrades have all disappeared. Oghren was among the Grey Wardens in Amaranthine. I knew the Wardens in Orlais had disappeared, but now it appears that those in Ferelden have as well. King Alistair is the only one accounted for. He and this Blackwall who has been helping farmers near Redcliffe fight off bandits.”
“Oghren is missing? They’re all gone? Well, the Orlesians weren’t exactly a help during the last Blight, but Oghren was. I thought he and Felsi got back together, why would he have joined the Wardens. Why…” She shook her head. “I’ll go and talk to him on my way to see Fiona,” Elisabeta assured her. “I was never really part of the Order. I was put through the Joining in Ostagar and within forty eight hours it was just Alistair and I left. Still, they are needed if there is ever another Blight. You and I know why.” She’d already saved Thedas from one Blight, but there were two more old gods somewhere in the Deep Roads. Even now, darkspawn searched for them. Without the Wardens, her world was doomed. Shit.
“We do,” Leliana agreed. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
Elisabeta didn’t get far before Inquisition business stopped her again. This time it was the second of command of a small mercenary band called the Chargers. His captain was interested in joining and wanted to talk to the Herald of Andraste about joining the cause. She agreed to work it into her schedule. She would head north after talking to Fiona. That would put her near Highever. Perhaps it was time to make the journey home already.
Highever was obviously on Elisabeta’s mind that night. She’d had trouble sleeping and taken her new bagpipe to the lake. She was playing when she heard singing from behind her.
Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene--one step enough for me.
She turned. It was Cullen singing the words to the song she was playing. “I’m sorry if I woke you. I… it is hard to sleep sometimes.”
“So Varric mentioned to me,” He sat beside her. “I… also suffer from nightmares. You know part of the reason. What I went through wasn’t as literal of a Hell as the Void, but it still haunts me.”
“I imagine so,” she agreed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’d rather listen to you play,” he admitted. “There isn’t enough music in Haven. I just hope you don’t mind if I sing along.”
“I think I’d like that,” she smiled. “I was without music for so long… in that place. It’s such a wonderful, soul touching thing. I don’t know how to describe it. It a place where the soul is meant to be lost, it had no place. I never appreciated how wonderful it is. If I could go back and thank my mother for all of those voice and instrumental lessons, I would. If I could go back and just see her again, I would,” she admitted.
“My parents died during the Blight,” Cullen revealed. “I would give anything to go back in time and leave my studies for one day and spend the day with them.”
“So would I,” she nodded. “Maker, I miss them.”
“Do you wish Andraste had taken you to the Maker’s side and saved Trevelyan?” He wondered.
“There are times,” she admitted. “It’s hard to return to a life after being… gone… for so long. The one thing I wanted to return to most is no longer mine to return to. I still have Leliana, though. And I have new friends.”
“That you do,” he agreed.
She lifted the pipes to her lips and began playing again.
White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height,
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree,
Falls down scarce audibly.
The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.
Elisabeta trudged into the Chantry for yet another war table mission. She had a mug of Oolong tea and a crumpet. Most of the missions had to do with patting nobles on the head and soothing feathers. Cullen’s men had finished building the watch towers in the Hinterlands, though, and she wanted to take care of getting the Inquisition’s horses on her way to speak with Fiona and the mages.
“We received a new message this morning,” Josephine reported as Elisabeta trudged in. “Oh, you and Cullen look so tired Herald. Perhaps you should spend your nights sleeping instead of continuing to serenade Haven every other night.”
“From your mouth to the Maker’s ear,” Cullen muttered.
“Here, here,” Elisabeta agreed.
“Our message comes from an important Ferelden noble,” Josephine bristled.
“If it’s Queen Anora, tell her she can kiss my blessed ass,” Elisabeta informed her.
“I will say no such thing,” Josephine gasped.
“You’re right,” Elisabeta conceded. “I don’t want that viper’s lips anywhere near me.”
“It’s from Fergus Cousland, the Teyrn of Highever,” Josephine began. “He wishes to convey his deepest sympathies for the death of Divine Justinia V and Highever will be holding a vigil for her. He has invited the Inquisition to attend.”
“We don’t have time…” Cullen began.
His words were cut off by the crash of Elisabeta’s mug. The crumpet followed. Her hands were over her mouth and she was crying again. “Fergus…” Her hands clutched the table. She looked at Leliana. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you knew?” Leliana had forgotten that Fergus Cousland had made his way to Denerim, very much alive, after the Blight had ended. “Oh, Lissa.”
“He’s alive,” she was smiling through her tears. “Fergus is alive. He is the teyrn. I’m going to the vigil.”
“I’m afraid that it is not a priority,” Josephine objected.
“My brother has invited me home and I am going,” Elisabeta insisted. “My family will always be a priority.” Home, the word that had meant so much to her, yet one she thought she could no longer use. Tears streamed down her face. Highever was back in the hands of the Couslands, her home had been returned.
After leaving the meeting, Elisabeta walked to Varric’s tent. “He’s alive,” she hugged him.
“Great,” Varric patted her back. “Who’s alive?”
“My brother,” she shed more tears of joy. “My brother is alive. He holds Highever. My home is waiting for me again. My…” She broke off as she was overcome yet again.
“Oh, Tempest,” he regretted that he didn’t have this type of relationship with his brother. This was what Griffon would have been like if Bethany had been restored to him. He held Elisabeta and then invited her to join him in celebratory drink. There was one thing she had to do first, though.
She went into the forest to be alone. There, she knelt and thanked the Maker. After all that had been taken from her, He’d protected her brother. A precious jewel had been returned. I’m going home she thought. I’m going home!
Chapter 17: Guests Both Welcome and Unwelcome
Vivienne arrives at Haven, demanding a place in the Inquisition. Another guest arrives as well.
The overly ornate carriage stuck out like a sore thumb as it trumbled into Haven. The outside was I white lacquer with gold trimming. The seats were covered in blue velvet. The passenger’s head was held high as she sniffed in disdain. Madame de Fer instructed her driver to stop the coach just outside of the Chantry. She stepped out and walked in, grabbing the first elf she saw. “I must speak with Ambassador Montilyet.”
“That’s nice, like I give a care,” the elf snorted. “Hey, weren’t you that tart who is boffing a duke and threw a boring party at his house in Orlais a couple of weeks ago? Get better booze woman.” She blew a zerbert, lifted two fingers, and strolled off.
Vivienne stood in shock. She grabbed the next person who walked by, also an elf. “Ambassador Montilyet’s office, now.”
“She’s there… the last room on the left,” the elf pulled away and ran. He had no idea who the woman was, but didn’t care. There was something not right about her. Why had she assumed his job was to give directions?
Vivienne stalked to the room indicated by the man she had assumed to be a mere servant. She found the ambassador sitting behind her desk, reading a missive. She looked up. “Why does Bann Alfstanna need a satin blanket embroidered with sea horses for her horse when she comes to visit and does she really have to have quarters facing the lake ‘because it’s will remind her more of home’. In another missive, she asked to be put near the Herald ‘because she wanted to see if she is who she is rumored to be. She would know’.”
“A satin blanket for a horse is a very bad idea,” Vivienne declared. “I am here, because your Herald insulted me.”
“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t actually tell me who you are,” Josephine was sad to say that. “She insults a lot of people.”
Vivienne struck a pose. “I am Grand Enchanter Vivienne of the Montsimmard Circle of Magi, Head of the Loyal Mages. I attempted to discuss an alliance with your so called Herald of Andraste, but she just kept asking me if I was a healer.”
“Are you?” Josephine perked up a bit.
“No,” Vivienne glowered at her.
“That is too bad,” Josephine let out a sigh. “Lady Elisabeta desperately wants a healer on her team. I do appreciate, however, what an alliance with the Loyal Mages could do for the Inquisition. Sit down and I’ll happily discuss that with you.”
“Very well,” Vivienne looked around. “Do you have a more comfortable seat for me?”
Josephine was proud of herself for securing an alliance with the Loyal Mages. “Welcome to the Inquisition, Lady Vivienne. We are happy to have you.”
“Yes, dear, you are,” Vivienne stood. “The Loyal Mages will ensure that order, proper order, is restored to Thedas. Now as to my quarters…”
She was cut off by the sound of a dog barking and a loud boisterous voice. “Tell Leliana that her favorite Crow has come to nest. Oh… and I brought a friend.”
“Obviously you need me,” Vivienne pulled out her fan. “Why do I smell wet dog?”
Chapter 18: Conflicted King
Alistair goes to Highever for the Divine's memorial. He sees someone he did not expect.
Happy Dragon4age day. In honor, I am posting chapters in all of my DA related fictions.
Alistair, the King of Ferelden, closed his pack. He looked at the harp that he kept on his bedside table. It was a smaller lap harp that he planned to one day learn to play. It had belonged to Elisabeta and was one of the few things of hers he had kept. There was a strange, magical wooden box on top of the desk in his office that held another.
The door opened and Anora poked her head in. “I don’t see why you feel obliged to go. We could have our own memorial to the Divine here. There is no need to go to Highever. Fergus Cousland is just trying to manipulate you. He expects you to name his daughter, Eleanor, as heir.”
“Eleanor is going to be my heir,” Alistair’s voice was matter-of-fact. “The Couslands are second only to the Theirins in Ferelden, even if Fergus and his children are all that’s left.”
“What about the Guerrins?” She urged. “Or we could try to have one of our own.”
“The Couslands have always outranked the Guerrins, besides Eamon’s only child is a mage,” Alistair reminded her. “As far as I know, Teagan has no children. Perhaps you and he were planning to change that?”
Anora let out a little gasp, as if hurt and shocked by Alistair’s not very subtle accusation. She wasn’t fooling him, though. He knew that Teagan had celebrated becoming arl by spreading the queen’s legs. “As for the suggestion of us having a child together… my dear, you never had a child with Cailan, nor with your myriad of lovers that we both try to pretend don’t exist. There is no reason for us to think about that route again.” His marriage was one of curtesy and tolerance. They partnered as far as the rule of Thedas went, but he even regretted giving into Eamon’s pressures to marry Anora.
After Elisabeta’s death he’d found himself facing running Thedas by himself and he’d grown scared. It wasn’t long after he’d taken her ashes up to Highever that Eamon had come to him. Most of the nobles accepted that he was indeed the bastard son of King Maric, but there were those who questioned it. Eamon insisted that marrying Anora would unite Ferelden and bring healing to the land faster. It was also give a stronger, more united front against the Orlesians. Besides, Alistair needed to marry and have an heir. Eamon had given many reasons why the new king should marry his brother’s widow and the new king had acquiesced to his urgings. What did it matter? He would never be able to marry the woman he loved, she was dead.
He’d soon learned that every insult Elisabeta had hurled at Anora was true. She was a cold snake who craved power. Her father had spoiled her, putting ideas in her head that she was born to rule over others. She also wasn’t at good at running the country as she’d tried to convince others. Elisabeta had argued with Eamon when he’d suggested Alistair and Anora wed. First she’d let him know in no uncertain terms that she was not handing the man she loved over to another woman. She’d then listed evidence as to why Anora was a horrible queen. A civil war had raged under her rule, her first husband had been killed by her father’s machinations, the most powerful teyrn in the land had been killed in his own home and his family massacred, one of the arls had been poisoned and his lands sieged by the walking dead, and a Blight had swept through the land. Still, they had settled into a joint rule and Ferelden was prospering. Now, rifts were ripping the skies of Thedas and the Divine was dead. He’d received word of an Inquisition forming, but that was it. He was shocked that Leliana had sent no note.
“Alistair,” Anora interrupted his thoughts. “Are you even listening to me?”
“I’m sorry… what?” He glanced at her.
“There is no reason we cannot try for a baby together,” Anora huffed. “I don’t know where you get the idea that I’m not faithful, but there is no harm in trying to produce our own heir.”
“We’ll talk more about it when I return from Highever,” he ran a finger along the strings of the harp. She was dead and he needed to move on. He didn’t love Anora, but she was his wife. Then again, did he want to share a woman with his uncle? She was his wife, though. They had a nice enough relationship in public. Maybe it would be nice to have a constant bed companion again.
The trip to Highever wasn’t dull. They had encountered two rifts. Alistair’s personal guard, John, tried to stop the king as he approached the first rift. “Your majesty, your guards will take care of this.”
“I can help,” Alistair protested. “I helped kill an archdemon.”
“Yes, your majesty,” John agreed. “Stay back here and help if any get through. “I’ll stay with you.”
Alistair let out a long suffering sigh. This was typical. Ever since he became king, no one would let him have any fun. He twirled his sword in boredom as his soldiers took care of the rift.
When Alistair arrived in Highever, he was met with open arms. “It’s good to see you again, Al,” Fergus embraced him.
“Uncle Alistair!” Eleonore raced to him.
He scooped up the five year old child and embraced her. She had her aunt’s haunting sea green eyes. She was the closest thing he had left to his Elisabeta. No wonder he planned to make her his heir. Not only were the Couslands next in line, but if she had half of her aunt’s spirit, then Ferelden would be the better with her at the helm. “How’s my favorite girl?”
“I’m good, but Bryce keeps following me around,” she referred to her younger brother. “Momma keeps telling me that I’m too young to learn to use a sword. Dadda tells her that he and Aunt Lissa had lessons with wooden swords at my age. That’s why she was so good. If she was so good, why did she die?”
“I’ll tell you someday,” he kissed the top of her head.
“Oh, the ‘quisition, Herold, is coming,” she added. “He sent word and may be staying at our castle. Will you be this trip?”
“Not this time,” he regretted that. After the Divine is honored, I have to go on to West Hill. There is a rift there.”
“Isn’t it Herold’s job to close them?” She pointed out. “I’ll tell him as soon as daddy meets him.”
“You do that,” he encouraged.
“Where is he?” She looked around. “Daddy went to meet him.”
Fergus came back after several minutes. Cassandra and a one-eyed Qunari accompanied him. “Sorry, I…” There were tears in his eyes. He looked nervously at Alistair, his look filled with both hope and fear. “Will you be staying at the castle tonight?”
Alistair shook his head. “I have to go to West Hill to deal with a rift.”
“I can have the Herald take care of that on our way to Redcliffe,” Cassandra offered.
“Why isn’t this Herald of Andraste here now?” Alistair wondered.
“She…” Cassandra hesitated. “Perhaps you should talk to her after the ceremony.
“She is visiting the memorial to my family,” Fergus informed him. “She asked for some time alone, but will try to join the crowd during the ceremony itself.”
Alistair found that rather strange, but could not think of anything to say. He remained silent as the reverend mother got up to speak. However, as she droned on, he found a moment to duck out and go to the Cousland memorial. He’d wanted to lay flowers on the statue that commemorated Elisabeta’s life and death… only; he’d forgotten to bring any flowers. The statue to her, his lost love, was that of a woman in warrior’s dress holding a sword as if to strike down. He didn’t think it did her justice.
As he drew closer, he heard soft crying. There was something familiar about the sound. Then a figure came into sight. She wore a dress in the Highever style and her light red and gold curls blew gently in the breeze. A pair of sea green eyes lifted to his. It couldn’t be. Was he seeing a ghost or deluding himself into thinking that this was his Elisabeta? She slowly stood, as if she were going to walk to him, but then stopped.
“Beta?” The name was a whisper.
“Your Majesty, the crowd is noticing your absence,” John spoke from behind him. “Is that the Herald of Andraste? She fits the descriptions I’ve heard.”
Fergus had said that the Herald had gone to the memorial. “It must be,” Alistair followed him away, stunned at how much the woman who played a key role in the Inquisition looked like his Elisabeta. He returned to listening to the reverend mother drone on and trying not to look bored out of his mind. His mind was racing at what he’d seen, though, and was definitely not bored.
After the ceremony, Alistair said goodbye to Fergus’ family.
“She didn’t want to talk to you?” Fergus asked.
“Who?” Alistair wondered. “The Herald of Andraste? We didn’t have a chance.”
“I guess it’s better you didn’t,” Fergus shrugged. “You are a married man, after all. Perhaps it’s better that you two not chance restarting anything. After all, she is trying to begin a new life after being dead for ten years and had enough on her plate with the Inquisition. She doesn’t need to deal with things she can no longer have.”
He saw those eyes again. It couldn’t be. “She… isn’t the Herald of Andraste just some mage who managed to survive the Conclave and can now close the rifts?”
“Alistair,” Fergus rubbed his eyes. “I had problems believing the evidence in front of my eyes, too. She is… somehow… it’s Elisabeta. Our Elisabeta. The Herald of Andraste is my little sister. The Maker… Andraste… they gave her back to us.”
“I… I should go see her,” he couldn’t believe that it had been her he’d been looking at. It wasn’t a ghost or a doppelganger. “I should…”
“You should go,” Fergus advised. “Among the belongings you gave to me when you brought her ashes to Highever was a pair of rings. You took the ring she gave you off of your hand and you wear someone else’s ring now. Let her find happiness with someone else, as you did.”
No, Alistair wanted to scream. No, he hadn’t found love with anyone else and had no desire to. He wanted to rush to the woman he still loved, would always love. Fergus was right, though. He was married and she deserved more happiness than he could give her. She’d been gone for ten years and… and… her death was his fault. All he had to do was agree to Morrigan’s plan and go through the dark ritual. They would have been together the last ten years, then. As it was, he’d watched her die, helpless to stop it; to take her place as he’d planned. It was his entire fault. He nodded and rode away.
Chapter 19: The Place Where I Belong
Elisabeta returns to Highever.
Elisabeta’s first stop from Haven had been the Storm Coast, where she’d found the Chargers fighting off Venatori. That’s what they apparently called themselves according to the mercenaries who had been fighting them. She didn’t like finding the cultists so close to her home, especially crazy Tevinter cultists. The head of the Chargers was a Qunari, one of the horned type. He seemed confused that she’d believed his people didn’t have horns.
“I met an Arishok once without horns,” he admitted. “It’s rare, though.”
“I knew a Sten of the Barasaad,” she explained. “He had no horns.”
“He didn’t do something great, that would have celebrated by all Qunari did he?” Iron Bull had an idea of whom she might be speaking.
“No,” she shrugged. “I found him in a cage, awaiting death by darkspawn. A reverend mother had thrown him in there for killing a family of farmers.”
“Oh,” Iron Bull didn’t think that fit what he knew of the Arishok. “Do you know who the Ben Hassrath are?” They had then spent half an hour negotiating his work in the Inquisition, since he was a spy for the Qunari, but agreed to pass Qunari secrets on to the Inquisition. At the end of the discussion, they sent the Chargers on to Haven and Bull accompanied her to Highever.
Elisabeta’s heart pounded and she found herself twitching with excitement as she approached Highever. She knew she was near when she Castle Cousland rising above the forest, standing guard over the Waking Sea. There it was, the home she’d been dragged away from so many years before. “It still stands. The castle was on fire the last time I saw it,” she told her companions.
“It’s made from sturdy stone and bricks, the wood would have been replaceable, but the foundation would have remained,” Iron Bull studied the structure.
“Like the Couslands, the castle survived that dark day,” a retainer rode towards them. “The teyrn is still at the castle. He is cautious these days and wanted me to meet you first, to ensure you are truly the Inquisition representatives.”
“Does he expect us to carry membership cards,” Elisabeta rolled her eyes. “Actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Cassandra, we should do that.”
“How are we going to make these cards,” Cassandra’s voice was flat.
“I might know someone in Kirkwall who could,” Varric offered. “At least it would be something for those who lead the Inquisition and those who tend to accompany the Herald. We could be our own private club.”
“Really?” She let out a long suffering sigh.
“Talk to your contact, Varric,” Elisabeta instructed. “Make sure they know my name isn’t Herold.” She turned to the retainer. “I’ll just go to the castle and meet Fergus there, then.”
“Teyrn Cousland insisted that…” The teyrn began.
“Teryn Cousland lost the ability to give me orders when I broke one of his teeth with a wooden sword when I was six and I know the way to the castle,” Elisabeta urged her horse forward, bending forward at the waist to allow Rowan more head as she galloped towards the castle, her home.
As she approached the castle, the clouds overhead split and sunlight shone through; framing her. Highever itself was welcoming its lost daughter home. The sun still shone around her as she rode through the gates and into the courtyard. Some of the older soldiers, those who had by a miracle survived Howe’s betrayal and onslaught, stopped in their tracks and stared at her. “By the Maker…” Ser Gilmore’s voice trailed off as he looked at his childhood “It can’t be.”
In the middle of the men was her brother. The brother she’d thought lost in the Korcari Wilds. “Fergus!” She jumped off her horse.
Fergus stood stone still. “You’re dead.”
“Not anymore,” she objected. Her voice softened. “I thought you were dead.”
“I was found by Chasnd and nursed back to health,” he explained. “You had a funeral, though. Your ashes were scattered over the sea.”
“It’s me,” she assured him. “Fergus Sarim Cousland, you snuck out of the castle, while buck naked, when you were six and were found by a local shepherd. Who else would know that I didn’t tell Oriana that she wasn’t the first girl you took to ‘your secret hideout’, as you called the caves near the waking sea. I recall there was a local girl named Natasha you’d snuck into those caves. She came screaming out of them, half-dressed after you two had discovered that giant spiders had moved in. Then there was the time you’d used our mother’s prized chalice to make sand castles when you were ten. I never did tell her it was you. Nor did I tell father that you took his prize stallion out hunting when he told you that you couldn’t. Who else knows that you hate Brussel sprouts and your favorite food is strawberries? Who else would help you try to steal mother’s ship for a midnight cruise? Who else’s mother swore she was born with eyes the color of the sea as a tribute from the sea gods, acknowledging the offspring of the greatest noble born pirate ever to sail the Waking Sea?”
Fergus walked slowly towards her. “Pup?” He touched her hair. “It really is you,” he pulled her into his arms. “Oh, pup. How?”
Elisabeta felt her tears begin to flow as her brother used their father’s old nickname for her. “It was a true miracle. Andraste herself truly did return me to Thedas. I’ll tell you the story over dinner tonight.”
“I look forward to it,” he continued to hold on to her as her companions caught up to them.
“Wow, I didn’t know they gave such warm welcomes in Highever,” Iron Bull eyed the embracing siblings. “Am I next?”
“Bull…” Cassandra swallowed hard, her eyes swimming with memories of love and a pain she did not wish to share. “Don’t interrupt their moment. Teyrn Fergus Cousland is our Lissa’s brother.”
“Qunari don’t have families,” he commented, eying the pair who’d found each other again. “They like to see us as one big family.”
“That is their mistake,” Cassandra stated.
Fergus, finally, let his sister go. “We need to go to the dedication. There is something I want to show you on the way there, pup.”
The small garden was a work of love. There were statues and flowers all around. There was a statue of a woman with a serene expression, carrying a small child. The child was reaching out to someone else, a smile on his face. Antivan bluebells had been imported and planted around the pair.
There was also a woman in pirate’s garb, her left hip cocked up and her hand on her side. The statue of a soldier was kneeling before her, placing flowers at her feet. The flowers, and the live ones planted around them, were rose hips; they were native to Highever. Those around the statues ranged in color from white to dark pink.
The last statue caused Elisabeta to pale some. It was that of a woman dressed as a warrior. She was raising a large sword as if about to stab it through and enemy. Rosebushes had been planted around her. They now seemed to both protect and trap her.
A stone bench was set nearby, as if to invite people to come by and gaze at the statues and flowers. She sat down. “Tell me that isn’t supposed to be me.”
“You were missed, sis,” Fergus kissed the top of her head.
“The others…” She gazed at her rendition of her departed sister-in-law and nephew, as well as that of her parents. She hadn’t been able to give them any type of rites. “Did you…”
Fergus sat down beside her. “I’d lost everyone, pup. I needed this. I needed to remember those the Maker had given to me. At first it was to give me a place to mourn, and then it became a place I could cherish as I tried to move on. I have remarried and… I have two more children. They are beautiful children. River and the children are already with the reverend mother, I’d love for you to meet them. King Alistair should be here at any moment, as well.”
Elisabeta felt her heart speed up at the mention of Alistair. Part of her wanted to run to where he’d be, the rest of her knew how much hurt that would cause. “Is An… his wife going to bet there as well?”
“I don’t know,” Fergus looked over at the statue of his first wife as if looking to her for answers. “She doesn’t often come to Highever with him, but she does like to be seen; to make sure no one forgets she is queen.”
“He married her,” she whispered. “I could see him again, but he could be with her.” She looked to the statues of her parents. They’d been so much in love and had built such a beautiful life together, before choosing to die in each other’s arms. “Perhaps it’s best if I don’t see him. I need to continue to build a life without him. Cassandra, could you attend as the Inquisition’s representative, please? I want to stay here and… I never even got to say goodbye.” She wasn’t sure if she meant her parents or Alistair. “Not a real goodbye, anyway.”
Cassandra nodded and let Fergus lead her away. “Iron Bull, with me.” He obediently followed.
Elisabeta didn’t know how long she’d sat at the beautiful memorial before she sensed a presence, a very familiar presence. It was as if the other half of her soul had reached out to knit back together with the part she still carried. She lifted her eyes and met a pair of familiar, golden brown ones. He’d changed, it had been ten years after all and he hadn’t been restored to life by a goddess. His hair was blonder, and styled differently, and he had a tidy, close cut beard. There were also a few new lines around his eyes. Worse was his stance and expression, it was evindent that some of the joy had been seeped from him and he was harsher. She’d wanted him to stand up for himself more often, but there was just something more rigid about him.
He spoke first; at least she thought he had. “Beta?” His old nickname for her was little more than a whisper.
She stood, unsure if she was about to go to him or run for him. She realized that she needed to go to him. She needed to touch him, to make sure he was really in front of her.
“Your Majesty, the crowd is noticing your absence,” a dark haired soldier broke their moment.
Alistair nodded and left with him. Just like that, he’d left her? Did he not even want to see her? She realized that he likely didn’t. He was married now, to Anora. He didn’t need old lovers chasing after him. He didn’t need them at all. She was an inconvenience now. If she tried to go after him, she’d also be an embarrassment. What would she say anyways? Thanks for breaking your promises? Hey, I’m back from the dead, is there something you wanted to tell me? So, what’s it like bedding a viper, does she try to sink her fangs in you while you hump her? The thought of Alistair with that snake made her blood boil. No, she wouldn’t go after him. He’d chosen long ago. Heck, he’d just seen her and chose to walk away. She would just avoid him from then on. Thedas was a big place, it wouldn’t be hard.
Elisabeta slowly made her way to the back of the crowd that was listening raptly to the reverend mother. She was speaking of the Divine’s deeds and tragic death, going on about her greatness and how she would be missed. From her own understanding, Kirkwall’s chantry had been destroyed and the mages and Templars had both turned on the Chantry. She wasn’t sure how that made the woman great.
As the woman droned on, her eyes met those of the king’s and held for several moments. Maker’s Breath. Her breath stilled and her heart began to beat faster. She used to love gazing into those big, brown eyes and even now the world seemed to freeze around her when she did. How did he have so much power over her still?
When the reverend mother was done, Fergus lit a symbolic flame and the people all bowed their heads. Yet the cursed ex-lovers still locked gazes as if their souls were trying to communicate with each other. It was Fergus who broke the spell. He whispered in Alistair’s ear and led him away.
Elisabeta moved to rejoin Cassandra and Iron Bull, but was stopped by an elderly lady. “I have sold my weaves to the Couslands for three generations now. How did you manage to return to life Little Lissa?”
Elisabeta recognized the woman. “It was a gift from Andraste.”
“Bianca, James,” the woman called to two of her grandchildren. “Come listen to this.” She turned back to Elisabeta. “You’re the Herald of Andraste, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Elisabeta confirmed.
“Tell us what the Inquisition is doing,” James pleaded as he joined them. “If Andraste resurrected our hero to help them, their work must be important.”
Elisabeta had a large crowd gathered around her by the time Fergus came to her. “Sorry, I was just seeing... the king… off.” He took in the gathered Highever citizens. “Pardon me, everyone, but I’d really like to catch up with my little sister. I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me.” He took her hand and led her away. “Let me introduce you to River and our children. Then we’ll have a nice dinner and get you settled in.”
Dinner was a lively fare. The Iron Bull kept young Bryce entertained. The toddler and Qunari seemed charmed by each other. Eleanor was more interested in Cassandra. She asked her question after question about her sword and the Seekers.
“You would think that she didn’t know that you know how to handle a sword,” Elisabeta commented to Fergus.
“River wants her to be an archer like her,” Fergus revealed. “Eleanor wants to be a warrior.”
“Like your father?” Elisabeta thought it sweet.
“Like Uncle ‘Tair,” Eleanor declared. She scowled at her aunt. “He didn’t stay to visit because of you.”
Elisabeta’s head jerked back as if she had been slapped. “Really?”
“Eleanor Oriana Cousland!” Her mother glowered at her child. “Apologize to our guests. The Inquisition being here had nothing to do with him having to leave. There is a rift in West Hill and he wanted to get it contained.”
“That’s their job, isn’t it?” Eleanor indicated the Inquisition members. “He pob’ly didn’t stay cause he doesn’t’ like the ‘quisition.”
“This is your Aunt Lissa’s home as much as yours young lady,” Fergus’ voice was firm. “I, for one, will be saying a prayer of thanks to the Maker tonight that she is back here again, even if she does have to leave to go save Thedas.”
“One of the guards told another that it was good that the king and Aunt Lissa weren’t both staying here,” Eleanor declared. “He said ‘it would only be trouble’ and that the evil queen would have a fit.”
“He’s likely right,” Elisabeta stood. “I’m going to bed. I hope no one is sleeping in my room now.” She left the dining hall without a backward glanced and walked through the castle to the family wing, her feet taking her unwaveringly to the room where she’d slept most of her life.
When she opened the door, she let out a little sob. Very little had changed, but there were a few items that had changed. It still had the same bedspread and curtains. But on the bed and bedside were some of the items she’d had on her when she’d died.
“Alistair gave me most of your belongings,” Fergus spoke from behind her. She hadn’t realized he’d followed her, which was rather sad for a rogue. “Most of them are in the chest,” he indicated the chest at the foot of her bed.
Elisabeta sat down on the floor and opened it up. There were her sleeping clothes, the armor that she was wearing when she’d died, a pair of leather leggings and a few tunics, as well as a few dresses. She began lifting out the items on top of the clothes. The first was a blue ribbon choker with a silver pendant that depicted a pair of griffons facing each other. “This was a gift from Alistair,” she whispered. She still remembered the sweet, loving look on his face as he tied it around her neck in the middle of the Denerim market. He’d kissed her neck tenderly after he had. “As were these,” she lifted a pair of gold combs with tiny diamonds and apatite stones.
“They’re very pretty,” Fergus dutifully nodded.
“I’m glad you approve,” Elisabeta muttered. Then she lifted the other two items, a pair of rings. One was a winding blue and silver metal. The other was gold with an engraved Highever pattern. She’d found her missing engagement ring. The one she’d thought had likely still been on her hand when her body was cremated. No, here is was. Nestled next to it was the one she’d given to Alistair. It had been her father’s, recovered from Howe’s body. She still remembered the searing anger she’d felt when she realized that he’d taken it. She also remembered how touched Alistair had been when she’d held it out to him after accepting his ring. He’d put it on his left hand and swore he would never take it off. Yet here it was. “He…” She choked on a sob, her hand closing on the rings she held in her palm. He drew her legs to her chest, closed her eyes and let the tears flow.
“Lissa… pup?” Fergus sat beside her, unsure what to do. He drew her into his arms and just held her as she sobbed.
It was several moments before she could talk again. “He… he gave you our rings.”
“Wasn’t one of those our father’s?” He questioned.
She nodded. “I gave it to him when… Fergus, we were engaged when I…” She couldn’t say the rest.
“I know,” he patted her back awkwardly. “He told me. He said that I should give the rings to my first child so they and their spouse could wear them one day. He said something poetic about them possibly being his heir, if he never had his own children, and how that meant that one day the King and Queen of Ferelden would wear them.”
That just made her cry harder. “We were supposed to wear them and pass them down to our children… that will never happen, though. Will it?”
“Pup…” Fergus had no idea what to say. He did want her to move on, to find her own happiness. “I thought… well, they’re your rings. Alistair said you took father’s ring off of Rendon Howe’s body.”
“I did,” she confirmed.
“So you should give them to your children, the ones you’ll have some day when you find someone worthy of your love,” he assured her.
“Or when I enter into some loveless political marriage,” she snorted. “Apparently, that is what everyone is doing these days.”
“Hey, I love River,” Fergus protested. “If I can find love again, then so can you. I promise.”
Elisabeta climbed to her feet. “I guess you’re right, at least in my head I know that is the right choice.” She went through her old belongings on the bedside table and found a gold chain. She put the rings on there and put the chain around her neck. She noticed her old harp sitting in a corner. She plucked one of the strings and then began tuning it. “What about my lap harp? I purchased one while I was running around Ferelden during the Blight.”
“It wasn’t among the things Alistair gave me,” Fergus found that strange.
“How about my swords?” she continued to tune the harp. She decided that she would send it onto Haven.
“Alistair sent back the Sword of Cousland, which I’m grateful for,” Fergus admitted it. “I have been using it.”
“That’s fine,” she nodded. “What about Starfang and the Asturian’s Might?”
“How many swords did you need?” Fergus chuckled.
“Two,” Elisabeta shrugged. “But it’s always nice to have a backup.”
“He only gave me one back,” Fergus admitted. “He keeps one that belonged to some mighty Grey Warden displayed at the castle.”
“That would be Asturian’s Might,” her mind went back to when she’d seen Alistair earlier in the day. He hadn’t been wearing a sword at all. She wondered if that were wise for a Ferelden king. Starfang was made from star metal and was superior. She couldn’t see him keeping it, though; not the man who had married Anora and sent her brother their engagement rings. “Was there a magically preserved rose? It was in a strange wooden box that kept it bespelled?”
“No,” he confirmed. “Maybe it was destroyed. I know there was a rose on your body when you were cremated. Your friend, Leliana said Alistair had placed it there. She came up to Highever with me to ensure that all of those loyal to the Howes were gone.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore,” she needed to let go, not hang on. She tested the harp again and then began running her fingers across the strings, the melody was somber and full of melancholy.
Fergus sat down on the bed. “I’m glad you’re home, pup. You don’t know how thankful I am that you have been returned to us. Don’t worry about Eleanor; I think she’s a bit jealous of you. She has a crush on the king. She’s only five and has a crush.” He didn’t mention that the king’s own feelings had been evident to anyone who’d seen him looking at Elisabeta. If Anora had been there, he would have had to protect his sister from the queen’s wrath. He studied his only sibling. Perhaps it would have been Anora who needed protection. “I hope you can stay more than one day.”
“What about the rift in West Hill?” She continued to play.
He waved the concern away. “The king will take care of it; he didn’t just get his sister back. Besides, you can easily win Eleanor’s affections if she sees you sparring with the guards in the morning.”
Elisabeta let out a little laugh. “It’s good to know she’s a Cousland.”
Chapter 20: Recruiting
Elisabeta travels back to the Hinterlands, going through Lothering.
Elisabeta stopped in at West Hill on her way to the Hinterlands and closed the rift reported there. She had sent a few of her personal effects to Highever, including her harp. Then she had stayed in her home for another two days. Fergus had been right, the moment her nieces had seen her spar with Ser Gilmore, she’d won the girl’s admiration.
During the journey, she worried if Alistair might still be there and harshly reminded herself for the hundredth time that she didn’t care anymore. She was moving on and he was no longer part of her life.
She was both sad and relieved when she efficiently closed the rift with only a handful of Ferelden soldiers there. Most had no clue who she was, but there were a few who gasped as they realized just who and what she was; not to the Inquisition, but to Ferelden.
“It’s her,” one declared to his companion. “I fought in the final battle against the archdemon in Denerim. That’s our hero. Andraste has returned her to us.
They stopped to camp south of the town of Lothering, as they progressed to Redcliffe. Elisabeta was disturbed by what she saw. She remember a town with lush farms, green grass, trees, and refugees fleeing for their lives. Now the ground was brown and cracked. Vandal Aria and Felicious Aria were breaking through the ground. It would be many more years before the land was useable. “Cassandra, can we find out if the Crown has used mages to try and heal this land?”
“I’ll have Josie ask around,” Cassandra shook her head at the area. “Was this caused by the Blight?”
“Lothering used to be a lush, green land,” Elisabeta revealed. “I met Leliana here. There was a darkspawn horde on its way when I did.”
“Hawke is from Lothering,” Varric revealed. “He’s talked about running from here. His family… they didn’t quite leave on time, an ogre killed his sister. He really loved her; he says she was the best of the Hawkes. I never thought that I would be here to see what was left behind.”
“I didn’t think I’d return, eith…” Elisabeta stopped talking as she passed by the remains of the chantry building. There were swords and armor scattered around. There were also piles of ash, as if those who’d finally come back to take care of the casualties of the Blight had just piled up the remains of the darkspawn’s victims and burned them in a huge pyre. “This isn’t right; they should have been given proper Andrastian funerals.”
“Whoever oversaw the cleanup efforts was probably more concerned with making sure they didn’t raise as the undead,” the Iron Bull reasoned. “There was no time left for sentimentalities and they would have been lucky if there was anyone left for such emotions.”
“Bethany Hawke and Aveline’s first husband, Wesley, were both killed fleeing this place,” Varric revealed. “I wonder if there is anything of theirs left among the rubble. I wonder if we can at least give them a proper funeral at last.”
“We can look,” Elisabeta offered.
“I’d also like to find their home,” Varric admitted. “There may be something salvageable that we can take back for Hawke.”
“I thought you didn’t know where Hawke is,” Cassandra’s voice was terse.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t hold on to the item,” Varric shrugged.
“Let’s look around… and loot,” Elisabeta slid from her horse.
That night, Elisabeta unpacked her pipes and stood on a small hill, looking towards Ostagar as she played. Her leather battle coat swayed in the wind and her long braid swirled around her matching, tilted brim hat. The song was solemn and comforting as she played to the spirits of those who’d fallen during the Blight.
“You fought in the Blight?” Bull spoke when her first song had ended.
“I did,” she confirmed. “I… well, let’s just say I was the last victim of the Blight.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” He urged. “Perhaps it would tell me what is going on between you and the King of Ferelden.”
“I’m trying to get past that,” she lifted the pipes back to her lips.
“O.K.,” he stopped her before she had a single note out. “Can you just tell me about some of the battles? Did you ever fight a dragon?”
“There were a few dragons,” she admitted.
Things had improved a bit when Elisabeta’s group returned to the Hinterland’s Crossroads. They spent a day asking around about a Grey Warden running around and then went to the cabin where he was believed to be staying. The cabin was situated picturesquely by a lake. It was small, but well kept.
Near the cabin, we burly man in Grey Warden armor standing in front of men who were dressed, and held their weapons, like farmers who were hoping they just had to scare away a few crows. “They will make this a fight, not us,” he declared. “Remember how to carry your shields! You’re not hiding, you’re holding. Otherwise, it’s useless!”
“Blackwall?” Was he really instructing men who had never fought before? Elisabeta knew without a doubt that Grey Wardens didn’t recruit those who had no idea to fight.
“You’re not…” he approached her, sword drawn. “How do you know my name? Who sent…?” Shouts interrupted him. He lifted his shield, stopping an arrow meant for Elisabeta’s head.
A man dressed in a bandit’s garb and carrying a mace shouted, running out from the nearby trees. Elisabeta briefly wondered how they had approached so quietly. They would have either had to cross the lake or made the trip through mountainous foliage. It wouldn’t have been easy.
“That’s it,” Blackwall declared. “Help or get out. We’re dealing with these idiots first.” He turned to the men who were likely more skilled at wielding pitchforks. “Conscripts, here they come!”
Elisabeta unsheathed her swords and slipped into the shadows. She took her first two opponents out before they even realized their danger. Meanwhile, Varric’s Bianca released arrow after arrow, as Iron Bull swept two of the supposed bandits into the lake where their blood mingled with the water. Cassandra took out the remaining one.
Blackwall stood his sword out and his jaw open. “Yes, well…” He rammed the tip of his sword into the earth and walked purposely towards one of the fallen men. “Sorry bastards.” Then he walked to his own recruits. “Good work, conscripts, even if this shouldn’t have happened. They could’ve… well, thieves are made, not born. Take back what they stole. Go back to your families. You saved yourselves.”
As the men walked off, Varric murmured to Elisabeta. “What did they do? We saved them.”
“Noticed that, too, did you?” Elisabeta continued to watch the men go.
Blackwall gazed at Elisabeta. “You’re no farmer. Why do you know my name? Who are you?”
“I’m many things to many people,” she began. Something seemed off about him. She figured that it had to do with his being a Grey Warden, when she no longer was. She couldn’t quite put her finger on things, though.”
“Well, I’m asking,” he growled.
“My parents named me Elisabeta Cousland. I’m an agent of the Inquisition.” That was all she planned to tell him for now. “I’m investigating whether the disappearance of the Wardens has anything to do with the murder of the Divine.”
“Maker’s Balls,” he cursed. “The Wardens and the Divine? That can’t… no, you’re asking, so you don’t really know. First off, I didn’t know they disappeared. But we do that, right? No more Blight, job done, Wardens are the first thing forgotten. But one thing I’ll tell you, no Warden killed the Divine. Our purpose isn’t political.”
“Isn’t...” She gave a little snort and shook her head. “There seems to be a few things wrong with that statement. If the Wardens just disappeared after every Blight, Thedas would be in even worse shape every time one started. I’m not accusing, though, not yet. I just need information. I’ve only found you, not any from Ferelden and not the rest from Orlais.”
“Why do you believe I’m from Orlais and not a Ferelden Warden,” he seemed a bit nervous suddenly.
“You’re accent is decidedly Orlesian,” she informed him. “Relations between Ferelden and Orlais would have had to have drastically changed in the last ten years if the Crown is all right with a large group of Orlesian Wardens moving in, instead of replenishing Ferelden’s numbers among her own people.”
“Perhaps I was assigned to Ferelden before the last Blight,” he challenged.
“No, you weren’t,” she crossed her arms. She wasn’t going to tell him just how she knew he couldn’t have been assigned to Ferelden or how she knew that only one Ferelden Grey Warden made it through the Fifth Blight alive.
“I haven’t seen any Wardens for months,” Blackwall admitted. “I travel alone, recruiting.”
“Have you?” She didn’t want to tip her hand about just how much she did know about Grey Wardens. He hadn’t reacted at her name, so she thought he was unaware of her own connection to the Grey Wardens. Still, some things really bugged her. “You called those men recruits, but did you even put any of them through the Joining?”
“The Joining… uh, yes, the Joining,” he stammered. “That is done at our fortresses and I didn’t want to take those men from their families.”
“Yet they think they’re Grey Wardens now,” she continued to push. “What is going to happen when they try to go up against a darkspawn? They don’t have the ability to sense them yet. They don’t appear to have the skills to fight them, either. When did Wardens start recruiting the untrained?”
“We can train them after recruitment,” Blackwall shrugged. “Things are different in peacetime. There isn’t much interest since the archdemon is dead and there is no need for conscription, since there’s no Blight coming. Treaties give Wardens the right to take what we need. Who we need. These idiots force this fight, so I pretended to conscript their victims. They had to do what I said, so I told them to stand. Next time, they won’t need me.”
“Since when can Wardens take what they want?” She had worked so hard negotiating treaties and working for the money to pay for the supplies her team needed. They could have just taken what they wanted? Dang, she wondered if Alistair had known. Likely he hadn’t. They had been the two youngest Grey Wardens.
“It’s complicated,” he shrugged. “If there’s a Blight, everyone has to help fight it. The treaties are ancient, Outside of Blights; they are as binding as a clever tongue can make them.”
“Really, then why…” She broke off. She was going to ask where the Orlesian Grey Wardens were while Ferelden fought on its own. That would be revealing more than she planned to, yet. It was easier to investigate the disappearance of the Grey Wardens without anyone realizing it was a former Warden, returned from the dead, asking. It was also obvious that this Blackwall hadn’t ever tried to enforce a treaty with a Circle of Magi that was being overrun by abominations, a dwarven kingdom in a civil war, or Dalish Elves who were under siege by werewolves. That was part of her problem, she realized. He didn’t seem to react like a man who had stayed home while the neighboring kingdom was battling the Blight. Something was definitely off. “Well, thank you, Warden Blackwall. Your information has been… well, rather useless. But you tried.” She moved to walk away.
“Inquisition…” Blackwall called after her. “Agent, did you say? Hold a moment.” He rushed to her. “The Divine is dead and the sky is torn open. Events like these, thinking we’re absent is as bad as thinking we’re involved. If you’re trying to put things right, maybe you need a Warden. Maybe you need me.”
She lightly bit her bottom lip. If she let him join and took him to Haven, then Leliana could figure out who he really was. No one in their right mind would pretend to be a Grey Warden. Perhaps he was just trying to forget his inaction from ten years before. She could make sure at least one Orlesian Warden did the right thing this time. “The Inquisition needs all the support it can get, very well, Warden Blackwall. Welcome aboard.”
“Good to hear,” he smiled at her. “We both need to know what’s going on and perhaps I’ve been keeping to myself for too long."
Chapter 21: Return of the Green Warden
Elisabeta visits Redcliffe Village.
Elisabeta approached Redcliffe Village. She’d been in the village before, but it seemed to be in a new location. The entrance had definitely moved. As she approached the gates, she thought back to the last time she’d been in the seemingly cursed village. That time, she’d found the people cowering in the cellars of their home and the chantry building from the walking dead. It was also when Alistair had told her the truth of who he was, that he was King Maric’s bastard son and the last of the Theirin line. They’d had that in common, or so she’d thought at the time. Now she knew the Couslands would go on. Would the Theirins, though? They’d once dreamed of combining their bloodlines, of creating life together; a son and daughter. They would have his sense of humor and her determination. Now, because of twists of fate and a broken promise, those children would never come to be.
She unsheathed her swords and unleashed her anger on the demons spilling from the rift. Her handsome prince was married to someone else. The children and life they’d dreamed of together were obliterated from existence and she’d do the same to the demons. She noticed that they were spawning and moving strangely, they’d slow down and then speed up as if time itself was slowing down and then speeding up. She cut a swath through the demonic creatures and lifted her left hand. The light shot out and tore into the rift. She then pulled back, stitching the hole into the Fade closed.
“Are you all right, Tempest?” Varric frowned at her.
“Just some bad memories,” she assured him.
“Thank you!” The guard gushed. “You have saved the city!”
“For the third time,” Elisabeta muttered. “One would think this city could figure out how to defend itself.” As she entered the gate she looked back and then back at the town. “They rebuilt in a different spot. That explains the more defensible position… from walking dead.”
“This town is full of mages now, though,” Bull pointed out.
“They needed defense, too,” Elisabeta shrugged. “Those Rogue Templars were rather bloodthirsty.”
“The bandits running around seem to be just as bad,” Blackwall pointed out.
“Seeker Pentaghast!” A scout ran to her. “I told the others you were coming, but no one was expecting you.”
“They weren’t expecting the Inquisition?” Elisabeta’s leather, musketeer style hat covered most of her hair and shadowed her face, but her raised eyebrow was evident.
“Not even Grand Enchanter Fiona?” Cassandra was shocked.
“No, my lady,” the scout trembled before her.
“Go to Haven and report to Leliana,” Cassandra was visibly trying to hold her tongue. The sound of disgust didn’t come out until after the scout had left.
“So Fiona just forgot chatting with us?” Elisabeta rolled her eyes. “This town is cursed, I’m telling you.”
They continued into the city, the crowds were made mostly of mages, but there were a few locals walking around. They walked past an older woman who was telling stories to those gathered around her. “King Alistair is from here. He and the Hero of Ferelden…” She stopped speaking. “The Warden!” She gasped and rushed to Elisabeta’s group.
“Yes, I am Warden Blackwall,” Blackwall smiled at her, benignly. “How might I be of service, my lady?”
“Not you,” she waved him away and beamed at Elisabeta. “It is you, isn’t it? I remember you. First you saved us from the walking dead. Then you returned when the horde came and saved us again. Now, in our time of need, you’re back.” The woman embraced her. “But you died at the Battle of Denerim, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Elisabeta confirmed. “Andraste brought me back.
“Praise be to the Maker,” the storyteller continued to hold onto her. “Our hero has returned to us. It is the Warden!” She announced to everyone.
“Warden?” Blackwall studied her, Elisabeta thought he looked nervous.
“I was a Green Warden,” she still didn’t want him to know her own connection to the Grey Wardens yet. “We were a group of young nobles who went around helping the people of Ferelden. It isn’t like I have the taint or anything.”
“Taint?” Blackwall repeated. Elisabeta narrowed her eyes at him. “Um… of course, you don’t have the taint. Why would you?”
“I just thought that you had thought she’d meant Grey Warden,” Elisabeta still eyed him suspiciously. It was the first time she wished she did have her old Grey Warden abilities, just so she could detect whether or not Blackwall had the taint.
“A Tevinter Mage had taken over and thrown Arl Teagan out of the castle, he is trying to force all of the Children of Redcliffe out of our home,” the story teller continued. “We need your help once again.”
“Because no one else can seem to deliver you from invaders and marauders,” Elisabeta murmured. “Teagan certainly seems incapable. This may take a bit of finessing, but I shall save you… again.”
“I’m glad you’re helping the town’s folk,” Blackwall complimented her.
“I’m surprised they managed to rebuild without me,” Elisabeta muttered. “Do you know that they were suffering from an outbreak of wyvern fever the first time I ever visited Redcliffe? When I returned after the Battle of Ostagar, they were under attack by the walking dead.”
“Which I unleashed on them,” a sandy haired young man spoke from nearby. He had been on the docks with some of his friends.
“Connor?” Elisabeta supposed she shouldn’t be surprised to see him. She knew he’d been sent to Kinloch Hold after Morrigan had chased the demon out of him. “What happened wasn’t your fault.” It was his mother’s.
Cassandra scowled. “His case is a shining example of why we need Circles.”
“It’s true,” Connor sighed, melancholically. “I caused so much death and destruction.”
“It was his mother’s attempts to hide the truth that led to the disaster,” Elisabeta countered. “She wanted to keep his magic a secret and hired an apostate to teach him. Only the apostate happened to be working for Loghain at the time, because it was better than going with the Templars who were hunting him. He poisoned Connor’s father. Connor had no one to guide him, except his crazy Orlesian mother who had to ask who I was. It wasn’t as if we’d seen each other less than a year before at Arlessa Wulff’s banquet.”
“You’re being more forgiving than I deserve,” Connor protested.
“I was there, Connor,” she reminded him. “I know what happened. I have been returned to Thedas by Andraste herself. She forgives you, you were a frightened child.”
“But…” Connor began.
“Are you questioning Andraste’s Herald?” Elisabeta put her hands on her hips. “You are forgiven, live with it.”
“The tavern is nicer since they rebuilt,” Elisabeta observed as she walked in.
Fiona rushed to her. “We’re waiting for the magister, he should be here soon.”
“Magister?” Elisabeta repeated. “And how exactly did a magister come to be calling any shots in Redcliffe?”
“Sit down, I’ll explain,” Fiona led her to a table.
“This had better be the most compelling explanation I’ve ever heard,” Elisabeta muttered.
A barmaid ran to the table and placed a flute of red wine in front of her. “It’s the Dragon 9:30,” she smiled. “In your honor. It’s compliments of Madame Bella,” She leaned closer. “She and I beg you to help us again!”
“I’m working on it,” Elisabeta whispered back. She turned her attention back to Fiona. “You approached me in Val Royeaux about a possible alliance. Now I come to Redcliffe to talk to you and I hear you’ve made an alliance with a Tevinter Magister. This is not a good thing; it’s a very dumb move. I’m also very unhappy to hear we have a large Tevinter presence in the city known as Ferelden’s First defense. So what’s the deal, Fiona?”
“It was shortly after the Breach appeared,” Fiona explained. “The Templars were bearing down on us when Magister Alexius and his fellow Tevinters appeared. They repelled our assailants and saved several mages. Since then I have… turned over the Southern Mages to him.”
“Turned over?” Elisabeta took a sip of her wine. “I didn’t realize they were your property and part of your domain to give over to anyone. This is Ferelden, not Tevinter. The last person who tried to condone slavery in this nation lost a duel to me and I let my boyfriend behead him. His head rolled across the bannorn and landed at his daughter’s feet. It was a thing of beauty. Where is Arl Eamon? He was there and could tell you all about it.”
“He’s in Denerim,” Fiona explained. “He moved there to be King Alistair’s head advisor. He made his brother, Teagan, arl as his son, Connor, could not inherit… due to his being a mage.”
“Ah, the Herald of Andraste,” a Tevene accent interrupted her. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I am Magister Alexius. The Southern Mages are mine, so you will be dealing with me.”
“Oh, they’re yours?” Elisabeta leaned back and glanced at her friends.
“They have entered into indentured servitude to Tevinter,” Alexius explained.
“Oh, really?” Elisabeta glanced at her friends. “The last time I dealt with Tevinter Slavers, they were more forward about what they were doing.” She leaned across the table towards Alexius. “Those slavers are all dead now, by the way.”
“Are you threatening me?” Alexius’ eyes widened.
Elisabeta raised her eyebrows. “I’m just giving you the history of Ferelden. After all, you are a long way from home.”
“I am,” he acknowledged. “But you are no Ferelden, either.”
“Yes, I am,” she corrected him. “Does the accent not give me away? I’m from Highever.”
“You’re… not from Ostwick?” His brows creased in confusion.
“No, I’m definitely from Highever,” she assured him. “I have an annoying little title that even has ‘of Ferelden’ in it, but that is neither here nor there. We were talking about the mages.”
“Yes, you will need to deal with me if…” Alexius stopped talking as a man in a garish yellow outfit approached. “Ah here he is…” The magister began.
“I…” The man stumbled. Elisabeta rogue reflexes allowed her to easily leap from her chair and catch them man.
“Felix,” Alexius immediately began fussing over the man like an overprotective, obsessive mother hen with her favorite chick. “You aren’t well come with me.”
When he was one, Elisabeta looked down at the note the man in garish yellow that Alexius had called Felix pressed into her hand. Meet me in the chantry; your life is in danger. She showed the note to her companions.
“He could be a potential ally,” Blackwall decided.
“It’s probably a trap,” Varric signaled the barmaid. “We should go and trigger it.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Elisabeta smiled when the barmaid set another wine in front of her without her even having to ask.
The tavern owner, Bella, came up to them. “Can you do something about the Vints?”
“I’m working on it,” Elisabeta assured her. “It may take some doing, though. They seem to be well entrenched in here.”
“A little too well,” Bella sat across from her. “A few of the ‘Circle Mages’ seem a little too fond of Tevinter and just happen to not be able to recite the Canticles of Light, or any other canticles, correctly. They are like the children of nobles who skip the Chant on Sunday morning to go sailing. Who grows up under the stern eye of the Chantry, with Templars guarding them, and can’t do their canticles?”
“They probably have had spies in here since the rebellion,” Varric spoke up. “They’d have been foolish not to, but if they are still undercover then something bigger is going on here. It sounds like they had a bigger plan all along.”
When they’d finished drinking, Elisabeta began striking up conversations with the mages who patronized the tavern.
“Tevinter is our salvation,” a gaunt blonde mage declared to her not ten minutes later.
“Really?” Elisabeta raised an eyebrow. “And where are you from?”
“I was in the Ostwick Circle,” she declared. “They always overlooked my talents, though.”
“Oh? Perhaps you’d like to recite the Canticles for me. I always liked the part about the magisters invading the Golden City or Andraste becoming the Maker’s Bride,” Elisabeta requested. “Any Circle Mage can do it.”
“You’re just trying to trick me,” the mage flounced away.
“Spy,” Varric concluded.
“Spy,” Elisabeta agreed.
They met up with a tranquil on their way to the stairs and recruited him. He’d be a great aid to Minaeve and claimed he was great with healing potions. When he made the pronunciation, Elisabeta had hugged him. He was now on his way to Haven.
In the tavern’s rooms, they found references to the atrocities committed by the Templars. Entire Circles were annulled for giving their mages too many freedoms.
Elisabeta glared at Cassandra. “So this is what the Seekers and Chantry were up to while I was gone. They were slaughtering innocents.”
“I had nothing to do with that… and neither did the Divine,” Cassandra insisted.
“If the Divine isn’t responsible for the actions of the Seekers and Templars, then who is?” Elisabeta challenged. “She oversaw the Chantry and claimed to have been anointed by the Maker. Are you telling me the Maker is all right with what happened or with the head of Andraste’s Chantry being so busy attending parties in Orlais that she ignores what is happening to His children? “Do the Templars and Seekers not answer to her? If she isn’t responsible, then who is?”
“Those balls and parties are an important part of politics,” Cassandra declared. “Her Most Holy endured them for the sake of the Chantry.”
“Her focus should have been on her sheep, not keeping the Cheese Eating Mask Monkeys happy,” Elisabeta stuffed the account in her pack and stormed off.
“I thought Ferelden’s king was obsessed with cheese,” Bull followed her. “Owe, Varric, why’d you kick me?”
Elisabeta stopped for a moment. “Yes, he is very fond of cheese. I’m impressed by the Qunari spy system. Did you also know that he tells bad jokes and his favorite color is blue? Oh, yeah, Ferelden needs to fear you guys.” She rolled her eyes and kept walking down the stairs.
“You know the…” The Iron Bull stopped and glared at Varric. “Why do you keep kicking me?”
“I want you to be quiet until we can have a private little conversation,” Varric hissed. “It appears there are some things the Ben Hassrath have not uncovered.”
Neither of them noticed Blackwall glaring stonily behind them. They did notice that Cassandra was fuming.
Chapter 22: Magnificent Mages
Elisabeta meets Dorian.
Elisabeta walked into the new chantry in Redcliffe to discover a rift in the middle of the grand hall. A mage was fighting the demons that were spilling out of it.
“What is it with this town?” She unsheathed her swords and lopped off the closest demon’s head as her companions entered the fight. “Leave it for 10 years and it goes to shit.”
“Oh, yea, this is what I signed up for!” Bull roared. “Who’s your daddy?”
Elisabeta snorted. Why hadn’t Sten been so free spirited? She’d thought all of the Qun were dour sourpusses until now. She lifted her left hand and spilled energy into the rift. More demons popped out, but her companions were on them like white on rice before she could even swing her sword. She lifted her hand again and poured more energy into the rift. When she pulled back, the energy stitched it shut.
“How did you do that?” A rather handsome Tevinter mage beamed at her. “You don’t know, do you? You just wiggle your fingers and it happens.”
“Who are you?” Elisabeta was pretty sure she’d never met the rather dapper Vint before. His accent was definitely Tevinter.
“Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself, I see,” he grinned cheekily at her. “Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathus,” he bowed to her. “How do you do?”
“Watch yourself,” Bull warned. “The pretty ones are always the worst.”
“Suspicious friends you have here,” Dorian’s elegant eyebrows lifted.
“Suspicious and a bit offensive, I thought I was the pretty one,” she performed a curtsey that had Dorian gazing at her in admiration. “Elisabeta of the House of Cousland, most recently of Haven; although, I am one of the Highever Couslands.”
“You are very lovely,” Dorian agreed. He swept up and arm and posed. “But there is none more dashing than I. I have the fact that I am the only child of Magister Halward Pavus and a wonderful catch.”
“I am the only daughter of Bryce and Eleanor Cousland and the younger sister of Teyrn Fergus Cousland,” Elisabeta announced. “We are the most powerful noble family of Ferelden, second only to the king.” She stepped in front of him and also posed, one hand on her hip and chin lifted.
He laughed merrily. “We must just be amazing together.”
“Yes, we must,” she agreed.
“Are they bonding over how pretentious their families are?” Cassandra snorted in disgust to cover up her astonishment.
“You could join them, if you just embrace your own family, Seeker,” Varric pointed out.
“The last of the Couslands…” Blackwall frowned. “I swear I’ve heard of the family before.”
“So you’re a powerful mage?” Elisabeta eyed Dorian.
“I am,” he agreed.
“So you can heal during a battle, right?” She gazed at him hopefully.
“Well… no, that is a specialization that I didn’t learn,” he admitted. “I…”
“What is going on?” Elisabeta threw up her hands. “I am stuck in the Void for ten years, come back, and mages have all forgotten how to heal! The healers apparently all died… or blew up chantries and disappeared.”
“Yes, well… sorry,” Dorian was confused by her dismay. “I… anyway, Magister Alexius used to be my mentor, so my information should be valuable… as you can imagine.”
“That is true,” Elisabeta agreed. “That may not be your greatest value. How good of a mentor and teacher might you be to someone who suddenly woke up with, or returned from the dead with, magical powers? Could you teach her how to channel and control them? Because all she has now is a bald elf who hates boots and loves naps. He tried to get me to go into the Fade. The last time I was dragged there, well… I don’t remember it all and I think I met Andraste. The time before that, though, I was alone and fighting darkspawn, golems, demons, crazy mages and Templars, and Chantry sisters with shivs. It was horrible and I don’t want to go back. He went storming off when I told him I’d killed spirits and demons in there.”
“I could help you, yes,” Dorian agreed. “Wait! Came back from the dead?”
“Great, you’re coming with us,” Elisabeta decided.
“You can’t just invite a Tevinter Magister home with us,” Cassandra protested.
“You heard him,” Elisabeta pointed out. “He isn’t a magister.”
“Don’t you want to talk about how your life is in danger?” Dorian wondered. “Let’s start with Alexius claiming the allegiance of the mage rebels right out from under you. As if by magic, yes? This is exactly right. To reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition, Alexius distorted time itself.”
“Oh, you mean he used magic to suddenly appear right after the Divine died?” Elisabeta considered the possibility. “I was making my way out of the Abyss and being brought back to life by Andraste, so I believe it. Besides, that rift we closed when we arrived in Redcliffe was twisting time, funkily. Of course, that could be something to do with Redcliffe. I swear this town is cursed.”
“You catch on… wait,” Dorian’s eyes widened. “Made your way out of the Abyss?” He shook his head. “I’ll have to ask you about that later, we have to worry about the rifts and time distortions now. Soon there will be more rifts like the one you saw here, which I would love to discuss as soon as you explain what you mean by making your way out of the Abyss. I’ve changed my mind and I must here about this now. The rifts are what can wait.”
“I’ll tell you the story in exchange for teaching me how to control and channel the magic I suddenly had when I returned to life,” Elisabeta promised. “I had no magic before I died.”
“Very well,” he wanted to hear this story. “For now, let’s concentrate on Alexius, the magic he is using is wildly unstable, and it’s unravelling the world. What I don’t understand is why he’s doing it, ripping the world apart just to gain a few hundred lackeys?”
“He didn’t do it for them,” Felix emerged from the shadows.
“Took you long enough,” Dorian gave his friend a little bow. “Is he getting suspicious?”
“No,” Felix shook his head vigorously. “But I shouldn’t have played the illness card. I thought he’d be fussing over me all day.” He looked to Elisabeta. “My father’s joined a cult of Tevinter Supremacists. They call themselves the ‘Venatori’. And I can tell you one thing; whatever he’s done, he’s done it to get to you.”
“All this for me?” Elisabeta’s hand fluttered over her heart and she sniffed. “And here I didn’t get Alexius anything.”
“Send him a fruit basket,” Dorian suggested. “Everyone loves those. You know you’re the target. Expecting the trap is the first step in turning it to your advantage.”
“Are you coming, Dorian?” Felix turned to leave.
“Oh, no,” Elisabeta put a possessive hand on Dorian’s arm. “He’s coming with me. You are free to tag along as well. You don’t know healing magic do you?”
“I’m not the most gifted…” Felix let out a sigh. “No.”
“Did the Chantry put some sort of ban on healing magic?” Elisabeta wondered. “What is going on around here?”
“I guess I’m going with the Herald,” Dorian put a hand dramatically on his forehead. “It seems she has magical powers that no one taught her to use and only I can save her from herself.”
“Something like that,” she agreed. “Plus, he needs to tell me about these rifts and time magic. In exchange, I’ll tell him all about returning from the dead.”
“I’ll keep in touch,” Dorian promised his friend. “For now, I must go and join the rustics.”
“Oh, Haven is even rougher than you think,” Varric warned.
“It used to be inhabited by cultists,” Elisabeta informed him. “And the fact that they liked to commit human sacrifice wasn’t why they remained undiscovered for thousands of years.”
Chapter 23: Watery Tarts Handing Out Scimitars
Elisabeta gets a new sword.
The sun was still shining when Elisabeta stepped out of the chantry. “Dorian,” she looked back at her newest companion. “Did you need to pick up any new supplies here?”
“I don’t believe so,” he sniffed. “I don’t suppose they have any high quality staffs or mage coats.”
“We have and excellent smith at Haven,” Elisabeta assured him. “Let’s go get you some supplies. If nothing else, we should get some better materials for our smith. He doesn’t have much back in that village.”
They headed into several of the shops. As Dorian perused different material, the story teller wondered in. “Oh, I was hoping to see you again, Lady Cousland. There is another story that I feel compelled to tell you.”
“Oh?” Elisabeta hoped it didn’t have anything to do with Ferelden’s current leadership.
“There is a story about a spirit of valor that lives in a nearby lake. Some call her the Lady of the Lake,” the storyteller began. “Young ladies bring her daisies and crystal grace, but she is of Valor and prefers blood lotus. Some say she is waiting for another flower as well, one that represents valor and a pierced heart. Go to her, she may be of aid.”
Elisabeta had an idea of a proper offering. “I will, thank you.”
Upon reaching the Crossroads, she deployed some of the troops into the city itself. “Don’t interfere with what is going on with the mages… yet. Just watch over the townsfolk and keep them safe.”
“This should be Cullen’s decision,” Cassandra objected.
“He isn’t here and the people asked for our help,” Elisabeta countered. “I’ll send him a message, letting him know what is going on, but I’m not changing my mind.”
The Ferelden Crown is not going to like this,” Cassandra didn’t let up.
“I really don’t care what they do and don’t like,” Elisabeta pointed out. “They should have been taking care of their people. If they don’t like the Inquisition being in a key strategic city, then they can get off of their butts and protect their own people. I thought that is what Alistair was going to do when I helped put him on the throne. It was his birthright, but I really thought he was going to do well by it. Then he proved me wrong by continuing to listen to Eamon and marry Anora. I dare any of them to come challenge me to my face. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick some flowers.”
“I can’t believe you are really doing this,” Blackwall shook his head as Elisabeta walked along the docks near the cabin where he had stayed during his time in the Hinterlands.
“The storyteller’s other tales were all true,” Elisabeta revealed. “Why not this one? Now move a bit back, we don’t want to scare this spirit.”
“You don’t want to be trafficking in spirits at all,” the Iron Bull protested.
“Now you sound more like Sten,” Elisabeta shooed him back. Then she knelt on the docks and did not lower a single flower, but a bouquet into the water. It was a blood red rose surrounded by blood lotus. She’d tied red twine around the stems to hold them together.
The tip of a sword slowly appeared, then the hand holding it. Elisabeta reached to take it from the hand. When her own hand touched the hilt, the rest of the spirit emerged. It appeared to bet that of a young woman. Her blonde hair flowed in an unseen wind and she was clad in a flowing white dress.
“There you are, finally,” the spirit spoke. “Elisabeta Cousland, the chosen leader of Ferelden.”
“Alistair is the leader of Ferelden,” Elisabeta protested.
“You were meant to rule at his side, though, weren’t you?” The spirit gently reminded her. “You, who were born of the mighty Couslands, who lost their chance at greater titles, first when Elethea listened to the wrong advisers and lost to King Calenhad. Then again when your own father supported Cailan. The banns were ready to name him king, instead. Many lost lives could have been prevented that day.”
“I… yes, they could have,” she agreed. “My father would never have trusted Loghain.”
“No, he wouldn’t have,” the spirit smiled gently. “You are still meant to be a great leader of Thedas and I give you this to aid in your cause. New trouble stirs and you must use it to defeat a would-be god.”
“A would be god?” Elisabeta repeated. “Is that who killed the Divine?”
“It is,” the spirit agreed. “Take this sword, Excalibur, and use it to unify the people of Thedas together. It is a sign of your position and destiny.”
“I will,” Elisabeta studied the sword. It was well balanced and made of a strange silver metal that might even be stronger than star metal. The hilt was decorated with Highever knots and the end sported a red ruby. The cross guard had the same pattern, but with a rose in the middle and blood lotus at either end. She ran a finger along it, she could feel power coming from the sword itself. “Thank you…”
“I have many names,” the spirit continued to smile. “Some call me The Spirit of Valor. Others call me The Lady of the Lake. One mage used to call me Nimue. You may call me friend. You will always have my blessing, just remain worthy of the sword.” She sank back into the lake.”
“Thank you!” Elisabeta called again.
The land lifted again, this time holding a leather scabbard that held the same markings as the sword. Elisabeta took it and sheathed her prize.
“Your majesty,” Dorian bowed.
“Watery tarts handing out swords is no system for government!” Bull objected. “A council deciding what is best for the people is better than someone lobbing swords at whomever they please.”
“What did she mean by you putting Alistair on his throne and that you were supposed to rule by his side?” Blackwall wanted to know.
“It’s just an old heartache and choices having consequences,” she waved it off. “Someday I may tell you about it, but not now. Now we need to get back to Haven.”
Chapter 24: The Return of Calenhad
Elisabeta returns to Haven to find new Inquisition members. Some are very welcome, some are not.
Elisabeta returned to Haven with three new companions and the belongings of a previous life, although she’d sent much of that ahead of her.
“I’ll get settled in before our first lesson,” Dorian told her as they rode into the town. He looked around. “That may take a while.”
“I need to speak with the Inquisition’s leaders,” she informed him. “That will also take…” She trailed off as she heard a dog’s barking. Hearing a dog’s barking shouldn’t have been that strange in Haven, after all they were still in Fereldan, yet she hadn’t seen any dogs there. This dog’s bark was very familiar. She was sure her ears were playing tricks on her, but slid from her horse and followed the sound anyway.
The sound was coming from where the Inquisition’s soldiers were training. Sure enough, she could see Cullen yelling at the men. There was a mabari standing beside him, barking, as if also giving orders to the inadequate fighters. The markings were exact, still she did not dare believe.
She didn’t have to say anything, the dog’s ears perked and his nose went into the air, sniffing. Then he turned around and began giving a succession of yips. The large mabari ran at her.
“I’ll take care of this creature,” Bull began moving forward. She hadn’t seen him nearby.
“Don’t you dare touch my dog!” She shouted at him.
Calenhad sprang past the Qunari as if he weren’t there and jumped on Elisabeta, his paws on her chest. He gave another bark and licked her face.
Elisabeta threw her arms around him. “Calenhad!” She burst into tears and her mabari began nuzzling her in comfort. She sank to the ground and pulled him into her lap. “Oh, Calenhad, you’re alive.” She kissed the top of his head and his nose.
“He’s been keeping me company since he came to Haven,” Cullen sat down beside them and began petting Calenhad. “He is a fierce and mighty warrior.”
“That he is,” Elisabeta agreed. “Although, he is past due for retirement.”
“That doesn’t mean he can not assist in commanding,” Cullen scratched the dog’s ears.
“No, it doesn’t,” she agreed. “It is so good to see you, old friend. Did you know that Fergus is alive and has more children?”
The dog huffed. He knew, but Fergus hadn’t been his human. He’d belonged to her.
“Where has he been sleeping?” She asked Cullen.
“In your cabin,” he admitted. “He sniffed it out his first day here and insisted on sleeping beside your bed, he’s been waiting for your return. Although, he keeps me company in the mornings and Leliana in the afternoons. She says they have fought many fierce battles together.”
“So they have,” she agreed.
“Leliana asked to talk to you when you returned,” Cullen admitted. “So did Josephine.”
“They can wait a while,” she continued to cuddle with her mabari hound. “Calenhad and I are having a reunion.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I keep you two company while you do, my lady,” Cullen continued to stroke a hand along Calenhad’s flank.
She was shocked that he would take time from his duties, but he had obviously forged a friendship with her dog and that was the highest recommendation of character anyone could have. “I would be happy for it.”
Elisabeta went to Leliana first. She could hear the spymaster talking to someone else. Her steps sped up when she heard the other voice.
“So she knows about Alistair and his… poor decisions, my poor deadly goddess,” there was still a thick Antivan accent in his words and a devil may care undertone. Yet there was also sorrow in them, as if he took on some of her pain. It was that that caused her to continue to walk slowly to the tent.
“Zevran?” She noted that he did look a bit older and now sported a scar near his hairline and another along his left jaw. “Where have you been? Did you bring Calenhad back to me?”
“Lissa!” He gathered her into his arms. “So it is true, the Maker has returned you to us in our time of need. Yes, I had Calenhad with me. He has aided me in hunting down the leaders of the Crows for the last eight years.”
“How did you end up with him?” She hadn’t thought them overly close and would have suspected Sten of stealing her dog before anyone else did.
“I… it is not a story you likely want to hear,” he warned.
“The parts that she doesn’t know only make you look even better,” Leliana assured him.
“I can not look any better than I am,” Zevran assured them. “Still, if you must know, I shall tell you. After your…funeral…” Zevran sniffed, but made sure to keep his arm around Elisabeta, assuring himself that she was really there. “I stayed with Alistair. I’d decided, before the final battle, to become your bodyguard. Who better to guard Ferelden’s queen than a former assassin? When…well, I decided to honor you by guarding Alistair. After all, if I couldn’t protect you, I’d protect the person you loved the most. It only took a few weeks for Eamon to begin insisting that Alistair find a bride and continue the Theirin line. After a year, he began insisting that Anora was the only viable choice. He would pressure Alistair and hounded him relentlessly until he gave in a couple of years later or so it seemed.”
“Eamon did want him to marry Anora, he’d pressed the match since we revived him using Andraste’s ashes,” Elisabeta remembered.
“I do seem to recall that, yes,” Zevran agreed. “Alistair would not go for it and you were determined that the shrew not get anywhere near the throne or your man.”
“It seems she has both now,” Elisabeta bit her lip, refusing to give into the pain of that.
“Yes, well, I wasn’t going to stick around to watch that happen and told Alistair that myself,” Zevran slid to the ground and patted the spot beside him, waiting for Elisabeta to sit down beside him again. “I informed him that if he married her, it would betray your memory and all you stood and died for. I also called him a coward and a schmuck for not standing up to Eamon. You had taught him to stand up for himself and his giving in was equivalent to spitting on your pyre.”
“Thanks for that,” she hugged him.
“He claimed it was what was best for Ferelden,” Zevran patted her back. “On the morning he married the shrew, I left. As I was packing up, Calenhad came into my room. Alistair had insisted on keeping him. Well, Calenhad wasn’t going to stick around either. He sat beside my bag and put his favorite chew toy down beside it. I took that as him expressing his wishes and we departed together.”
She kissed his cheek. “Thank you for your loyalty. I saw him while in Highever, you know.”
“You saw Alistair?” Leliana had known the circumstances of Zevran’s departure from Denerim and had only been listening with half an ear.
Elisabeta nodded. “He was at the dedication to Justinia.”
“What did you say to each other?” Leliana put down her reports.
“Nothing,” Elisabeta slumped against Zevran. “He said my name and then his guard, or an aid, or somebody came up and talked to him. He just walked away. He made no effort to even talk to me.”
“What about after the ceremony?” Leliana pressed.
Elisabeta just shook her head. “He immediately left for West Hill. I… Fergus gave me everything that Alistair had sent to him after… the battle.” She pulled the chain out from under her tunic. “I’m thinking of having Josephine write and demand Starfang back; he gave Fergus almost everything else, including our rings.”
“Did he keep nothing?” Zevran was scandalized.
“The rose, the first present he’d ever given me, was magically preserved,” Elisabeta recalled. “That wasn’t in Highever, neither was my lap harp.”
“I remember listening to you play that thing,” Zevran smiled. “Most often, it was Leliana playing her lute and singing around the campfire. You’d wait until you were alone in your tent. Alistair being in there with you apparently still counted as alone.”
“The music helped with our nightmares,” she explained. “Besides, a noblewoman who plays the harp is so clichéd.”
“I miss hearing you play, too,” Leliana admitted. “Although, I have enjoyed the sound of the bagpipes at night when you’re in Haven.”
“I had my larger harp from Castle Cousland sent ahead,” Elisabeta admitted. “Everything else I brought along is in my pack. So Zevran, how many of the Crows’ leaders have you killed.
Zevran leaned back. “Let me tell you about my wicked adventures in Antiva.”
It was several hours later, that Elisabeta stepped into the chantry with the intent of finding Josephine.
“There you are, my dear,” Vivienne stepped in front of her.
“What are you doing here, you wannabe Orlesian who can’t even do healing magic?” Elisabeta raised an eyebrow. “And why are you in my way? I’m looking for Josephine.”
“I heard you are talking to the Free Mages,” Vivienne didn’t move. “They are dangerous, you have no idea what can happen without Chantry oversite.”
“I’ve seen the worst that can happen with Chantry oversite,” Elisabeta announced. “They couldn’t do worse policing themselves than they did under the thumb of a bunch of religious zealots. Now, I came to talk with Josephine, not you. I have no interest in talking to a Templar Tramp.” She moved to step around Vivienne, but the mage stepped in her way again.
“Darling, you obviously…” Vivienne didn’t see the fist coming. She was knocked back half a foot and landed on her butt, legs splayed in an undignified spread. “Why you…” She sent a freezing spell at the Herald of Andraste.
What she did not realize was that she was facing the Hero of Ferelden. Elisabeta quickly unsheathed her swords and crossed them, blocking the spell. A light flared from Excalibur and the spell rebounded, freezing Vivienne in her undignified splay.
Elisabeta sheathed her swords and walked into Vivienne’s office. “Why was I just confronted by the Chantry Shill?”
“Who?” Josephine looked into the hall and saw the iced Vivienne statue. “What happened?”
“She tried to freeze me, her spell was rebounded,” Elisabeta shrugged. “I am the chosen of Andraste after all.”
“Tell me you didn’t punch her first,” Josephine waved at Vivienne’s position.
“She wouldn’t get out of my way,” Elisabeta explained. “Besides, anyone who would pretend to be Orlesian really needs to be punched. Does she think I can’t tell a fake Orlesian accent? Where is she from really?”
“The Free Marches,” Josephine admitted. “Leliana had her background looked into after she joined the Inquisition and I agreed to…” She stopped, looking at Elisabeta nervously.
“What did you agree to Josephine?” Elisabeta pressed.
“I agreed that she could have a spot in your inner circle,” Josephine finished.
“You what?” Elisabeta glared at the ambassador. “She can’t do healing magic and dresses like she’s from Orlais. Furthermore, they are my inner circle. She can work for you.”
“Threnn is still trying to requisition a healer who can hold their own in a fight, perhaps Vivienne can help me with that,” Josephine hedged. “But I did agree to…”
“She can take care of my dog while I’m away from Haven,” Elisabeta wasn’t sure she wanted to do that to poor Calenhad, though.
“I don’t think Commander Cullen would agree to that,” Josephine sighed. “He is already wrestling care of that mon… lovely example of a mabari war dog from your friend who thinks I’m either his long lost sister or his next lover.”
“Why not both?” Elisabeta remembered how Zevran used to hit on her until he realized that her heart had been spoken for and that what was between her and Alistair was simply physical or a fling.
“He’s an elf and both my parents are humans,” Josephine pointed out. “There is no way I am his sister.”
“You could be the sister of his heart and his next lover,” Elisabeta sat down. “Give it a shot. Meanwhile, I have returned with three new members of my inner circle, I really don’t need another.”
“Vivienne can teach you to control your magic,” Josephine further argued.
“Not in the condition she’s in now, she can’t,” Elisabeta smirked. “Besides, I brought Dorian back to Haven and he’s teaching me.”
“Dorian?” Josephine repeated.
“He’s a mage from Tevinter with inside knowledge about the Magister who has taken over Redcliffe,” Elisabeta explained. “Alexius used to be his mentor.”
“Speaking of Redcliffe, I understand that you ordered Inquisition soldiers into the city,” Josephine lifted her quill. “I imagine that Ferelden’s rulers will not be happy when they hear that. What should I write to them to explain our presence?”
Elisabeta leaned forward. “Tell them that they aren’t doing their jobs, so their people came to me for help. Tell them this isn’t the first time and that Anora is still an incompetent git. Tell Alistair… the king…” She stopped for a moment; a lump had formed in her throat. “Tell him that I expected better from him.” Tell him I still love him. NO! She didn’t want that getting to him. That was a personal problem that she had to overcome. “Also, tell him I want my swords back, especially Starfang.”
“I can’t tell them that!” Josephine was scandalized.
“Fine, I will then,” Elisabeta grabbed Josephine’s quill and paper. She wrote the exact message and made sure to sign her name large and clearly. “I’ll have Ser Plucky deliver it.” She stood, strolled pass the Vivienne ice sculpture to Leliana’s tent. “I have a message I need delivered,” she declared.
“No!” Josephine ran after her.
Leliana took the message and read it. “There is nothing erroneous in the message and explains perfectly the Herald’s motivations. The Inquisition will back her.” She whistled for one of her birds, while Zevran read the message.
“Leliana!” Josephine objected.
“Anora is a git, she’s right about that,” Zevran agreed as Leliana tied on the message and sent the bird.
“What is all of the commotion?” Dorian entered the tent.
“Well, hello,” Zevran stood and eyed the Tevinter Magister.
“Just a diplomatic disagreement,” Elisabeta assured him. “I’m ready for my first lesson.” She let him lead her away.
“Who’s that?” Zevran eyed the mage’s backside as he left with Elisabeta.
“He’s a Tevinter mage,” Leliana warned. “You don’t want to find yourself shackled and on the way to the Imperium.”
“He can tie me up any time he likes,” Zevran declared. “As long as I get to tie him up later.”
“I thought you wanted to tie me up,” Josephine objected.
“Oh I do, my little apricot,” Zevran assured her. “You would enjoy it, believe me. Have I mentioned that I was born in a whore house? You wouldn’t believe what I learned… and how I need a sweet noblewoman to teach me… proper manners.”
“I should have grabbed Dorian to unfreeze Vivienne,” Josephine silently cursed herself for not thinking of it earlier. “Perhaps I could get Solas to do it.”
Chapter 25: A musical interlude
Elisabeta breaks out her harp
Elisabeta left her bagpipes in her cabin and had a couple of workers take her harp down to the lake for her. She sat down behind it and closed her eyes. She strung a finger along the strings, eliciting a beautiful scale from them. It was still in tune, despite everything that had happened to her since she’d last played it.
She opened her eyes when she heard Josephine’s voice. “Solas and Dorian both refused to do it. Solas said Vivienne would learn humility this way. Dorian just laughed. Will you please unfreeze Madame de Fer?”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” the mage in question answered. “I would not dare to presume that my skill matches hers and could easily break one of her spells. If I did, she’d harangue me and try to outdo me on every occasion. I would prefer to be ignored by her, like everyone else she deems beneath her notice.”
Elisabeta shook her head. She supposed she should feel at least a little bad for what she had done to the enchantress. She didn’t, though. Vivienne seemed to represent everything she despised. Everything that woman did, she did for power. She wasn’t there for her people, as she claimed. She lived with a married Orlesian duke while the mages back at her circle were left to the mercies of the Templars without anyone to speak up for them, much less protect them. Let her suffer from her own rebounded spell.
Elisabeta’s fingers moved along the harp strings as she sang.
Cruel is the weather
And crueler the fate of Tristana the fair
For daring to find a lover
Tragedy followed that young pare
Cullen slowly approached her as she played, Calenhad walked sedately beside him. She nodded to him and continued.
She fell for her lovely Sloan
And gave her heart to him alone
Yet when he went off to war
His own heart it seemed felt free to roam
And he thought his deeds would be hidden in the clamor
When Tristana learned of his betrayal
Her heart broke and she wore a black veil.
Then came her parent, Tristana you must wed another
And this time she was decked in a white veil
As she vowed her hand and heart to his brother
“To his brother?” Cullen interrupted her song.
“It was no more than he deserved, the cheating snake,” Elisabeta declared. “Although, the brother turns out to be a sniveling coward himself.”
“Really?” He sat down beside her and shook his head. Calenhad sat on her other side and laid his head on her lap.
“Yes, and then Sloan returns and he and Tristana realize that they both still live the other, but it’s too late. Neither can take back their mistakes of the past. He tells her he thought he would die at war and just sought comfort and she tells him perhaps it would have been better if he had, but she’d still be married to someone she can’t care for. They go on this way for decades, each pining for the other, but unable to go to the one they love … and then they die, ironically on the same day.”
“Well, I guess that’s something,” Cullen shook his head. “Why couldn’t she just wait to fall in love with someone worthy of her heart?”
“I always thought her parents pushed her into the marriage,” she mused. “If the brothers had a nice inheritance coming and she was even a minor noble, it wouldn’t have been unheard of. It could have been the other way around as well, a social climb and she was the one with the fortune. I was lucky that my parents had decided to let me marry for love; otherwise, I would have been married off quite early to whomever they thought was the best match. As it is, the boy I was courting was killed when Rendon Howe attacked my parent’s castle and the man I loved married a horrid shrew while I was dead. At least I’m not tied to a sniveling coward.”
“That’s true,” Cullen agreed. “I guess the absence of a title has its advantages.”
“I’m sure it does, Commander,” she agreed.
He laughed. “Fine. How about something less tragic, though?”
“Spoilsport,” she huffed. “My life is tragic, I’m wallowing. If you insist, though…” She began to sing again.
Now come and listen to my tale,
My tale of a hateful witch
Who tried to cast on the Herald of Andraste
She truly was a bitch
Now her powers were not up to the task
For they paled compared to the Makers, Alas
Cullen started laughing. “You’ll have to teach me this one.”
“Right after I teach you The Empress and the Mabari. The empress’ unmentionables end up strewn across Southern Thedas and that’s the least of her problems,” Elisabeta began singing again.
Chapter 26: It's an Obvious Trap
Elisabeta gets an invite to Redcliffe Castle.
“Let’s not do the Stormcoast again,” Dorian protested as Elisabeta sipped her wine. They sat a table in the tavern with Iron Bull and Sera.
“I thought we did well,” Sera burped. “We killed a bunch of spiders and got the Sword people behind us.”
“You did it by killing only one person, too,” Bull raised his mug. “Good work, boss.”
“Hmm… I like boss better than Kadan,” Elisabeta decided. “That’s what Sten started calling me. I have no idea what it means.”
“He called you Kadan!” Bull dropped his mug.
“Whoa there big man,” Dorian protested. “I’ve damaged enough outfits teaching Lissa to channel her magic.”
“I only ruined one,” Elisabeta protested. “I thought my magic was coming along nicely.” She had managed to channel flame into her sword and one point and ice at another. She was hoping for electric next. Each element made her swords more deadly. She kept Excalibur in her right hand and channeled with her left.
“There you are,” Leliana walked in. “Josephine wants to talk to us, but you said you wanted to speak to me in private first.”
“I do,” Elisabeta waved farewell to her friends and followed Leliana. When they were in a secluded corner she spoke. “It’s about Blackwall.”
“What about him?” Leliana had her own suspicions, but wanted to see if they matched with Lissa’s.
“I know that Warden Blackwall is a Grey Warden,” Elisabeta began. “I found a couple of references to him during the Blight and Riordan mentioned him briefly. I’m not sure the man I recruited is a Grey Warden, though. When Andraste brought me back, she undid the Joining, but this suspicion is from more than not being able to sense him. He seems confused about references to Wardens being tainted and the requirements of the Joining. I plan to question him further, see what he says. I want you to look into him, though. Something isn’t right.”
“Agreed,” Leliana nodded. “Oh, before we do see Josephine again, she will probably bug you about unfreezing Vivienne. She is still decorating the chantry hall.”
Elisabeta threw up her hands. “I’m only beginning to learn to channel and control the powers I have. I don’t know how to unfreeze her.”
Elisabeta passed Vivienne on her way to the war room. The enchantress was still frozen, sprawled on her bottom. That had been quite the spell. It had probably depleted all of her mana, which would be why she was unable to free herself. She could hear Cassandra and Cullen arguing in the war room.
“We don’t have the manpower to attack the castle,” Cullen was saying as she walked in. “Either we find another way in or give up this nonsense and go and get the Templars.
“Redcliffe is in the hands of a magister,” Cassandra countered, warming Elisabeta’s heart. She understood the danger. “This can not be allowed to stand.”
“The letter from Alexius asked for Elisabeta by name,” Josephine revealed. “It’s an obvious trap.”
“He finally figured out what my name was? Good for him,” Elisabeta pumped her fist into the air once. “What does he say about me?”
“He’s so complimentary that we are certain he wants to kill you,” Leliana revealed.
“Not this again,” Josephine visibly retrained herself from rolling her eyes.
“Redcliffe castle is one of the most defensible fortresses in Ferelden,” Cullen protested. “It has repelled thousands of assaults. If you go in there, you’ll die,” he told Elisabeta. “And we’ll lose the only means we have of closing these rifts. I won’t allow it.”
“You won’t allow it?” Elisabeta repeated. “The only man who got to tell me what he will and won’t allow died over ten years ago, when he allowed an enemy, who was in the guise of a friend, into our castle. However, I do appreciate you pointing out what value I hold in the Inquisition. Apparently, it is the Mark on my hand that matters, not me. What if I cut off my left hand before going? Would that make you happy? Maybe the Mark would still work without me. You can hold it up to the rifts and see. Wait, no, I like my left hand. We’ll use magic to transfer it to some schmoe more willing to do what you say.”
“We can’t leave the mages under Alexius’ control,” Leliana protested. “And we’d have a hostile force on our doorstep.”
“Even if we could assault the keep, it would be for naught,” Josephine protested. “An Orlesian Inquisition’s army marching into Ferelden would provoke a war our hands are tied.”
“An Orlesian Inquisition?” Elisabeta snorted. “I did not sign up for anything Orlesian. The Chantry denounced us and no one in this room is Orlesian by birth. Even Leliana’s mother was from Ferelden. She was just raised in Orlais. You also forget that we are leaving a hostile army in Ferelden. Redcliffe is known as Ferelden’s first defense. It is the easiest way to invade the country. The south is protected by the Wilds, the north by the Waking Sea, and the east by the Amaranthine Ocean. I know how formidable that castle is to get into. Queen Moira allowed herself to be captured just to get in and talk to Arl Rendorn Guerrin. She was able to convince him to join the rebellion against Orlais, though. So her plan worked. I went through the family’s escape tunnel when I had to sneak in. Leliana was with me. Alistair is apparently asleep on the throne and Anora is incompetent, but I will not abandon my country!”
“There must be a way,” Cassandra insisted. “There is a tunnel into the castle?”
“Yes,” Elisabeta confirmed. “Where is Teagan, anyway? It was his job to protect his castle. Was he hiding in the chantry again? I didn’t see him there, but I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Once he was displaced, Arl Teagan rode straight to Denerim to petition the Crown for help. I doubt he’ll want our assistance once the Ferelden army lays siege to his castle,” Josephine enlightened her. “Especially since you insisted on sending soldiers into the city.”
“If the Ferelden army is going to lay siege, those soldiers are needed to protect the town’s folk,” Elisabeta insisted. “If they aren’t, those soldiers are still needed to protect the town’s folk against the invaders.”
“I could send agents through the tunnel,” Leliana decided.
“Too risky,” Cullen declared. “Those agents will be discovered well before they reach the magister.”
“Why? I managed to get through a battalion of the undead with just Leliana and Alistair. Oh, and Calenhad and Wynne, of course. The tunnel emerges in the dungeons. Not only does that allow a widening of the staging area, but there may be sympathetic prisoners down there now. The dungeons then lead to the courtyard and into the castle itself,” Elisabeta explained. “The courtyard is the most likely area for anyone to notice our agents, but it also has plenty of shadowy corners and a lot of trees. Heck, it even had a revenant when I snuck in.”
“What we need is a distraction,” Leliana declared. “Perhaps the envoy Alexius wants so badly.”
“Focus their attention on Lissa, while we take out the Tevinters,” Cullen’s hand moved to the pommel of his sword. “It’s risky, but it could work.”
“Fortunately, you’ll have help,” Dorian threw open the door and posed dramatically. “You didn’t think you could have a meeting about Alexius without me, did you. I’m going with you to Redcliffe.”
“Well, of course, you are,” Elisabeta agreed.
“Felix will slip me into the castle, unseen before you make your grand entrance. Your agents won’t make it pass Alexius’ magic without my help,” he declared. “From there, I will add to the chaos and be able to watch your back. I do like watching your back,” he added.
She began to smile, but it slipped. What mysteries do you find in those swaying hips? “Thank you.”
“The plan puts you in the most danger,” Cullen looked her in the eyes. “We can’t in good conscience order you to do this. We can still go after the Templars if you’d rather not play the bait.”
Elisabeta let out a sarcastic laugh. “Come on, Dorian. Let’s go save Redcliffe and the mages.”
“Well, at least she’s laughing again,” Leliana watched her friend leave.
Zevran strolled into the war room. “Are you having councils without me? For shame. My little kumquat,” he addressed Josephine. “You must tell me what was so concerning that you are sending Lissa off to Redcliffe again. Don’t you know that bad things happen when she visits? The town has been attacked by the undead, it was attacked by darkspawn, and she cured Eamon and saved his life. The latter might be the worst thing that has happened to poor Ferelden. We should go with her.”
“Perhaps next time, Zev,” Josephine sighed. “Our jobs are here in Haven for now.”
Chapter 27: Denerim Arrivals
Elisabeta's letter and Teagan both arrive in Denerim.
Alistair ran a finger along the mahogany box that he kept on his Bocote desk, as he thought. Inside the box was a magically preserved rose. He’d kept the box on his desk for over a decade now. He would often run his finger along it as he tried to decide what she would have advised him to do. He now knew that he hadn’t been taking that unspoken advice. Beside the box, now sat the lap harp she’d played for him night after night. After he’d seen her again, after so so many years, he’d begun to get professional lessons to play it. If the music master thought it strange that the king was taking harp lessons, he said nothing.
A messenger walked in with a pile of missives for him. “We have reports from our spies in Orlais on their civil war, two letters from the Free Marches, one from Navarra, and one from the Inquisition.”
“Thank you,” Alistair took them. He opened the one from the Inquisition first, wondering if it was from their Ambassador, Josephine, or from Leliana. He had demanded to know why he was receiving reports of Inquisition soldiers in Redcliffe. He still needed to figure out what to do about the castle being occupied and now had to deal with the Inquisition inserting their soldiers into the town. The castle wouldn’t be easy to retake it. Anora suggested not trying and Eamon insisted it had to be dealt with at once.
The letter wasn’t from Josephine or Leliana. After all this time, he still recognized his Beta’s handwriting. He could even tell that she’d been angry when she wrote it; from the handwriting, not just the words. Those words were quite heated.
“Is everything all right, your majesty,” Eamon entered the room, Anora trailing behind him.
“It is the answer from the Inquisition, about their moving troops into Redcliffe,” he handed the letter over.
Eamon’s eyes widened, causing Anora to snatch the letter. “She’s… she… she died at the end of the Blight.”
“It’s her,” Alistair assured him. “She is the Herald of Andraste. The early reports about the Herald’s identity were wrong. It’s Beta… Elisabeta Cousland. She doesn’t think we are doing a good job and that she will do it for us, then.”
“Fuck you, Anora!” Anora repeated the words near the bottom of the message. “How dare she. We will write the Inquisition immediately and assure them that they can not talk to us like this!”
“I believe she has earned the right to do so,” Alistair disagreed. “If you write a letter to her, challenging her, she’d likely just come here and…” Actually, he liked the idea of having her around. Even if he couldn’t be with her anymore, he just wanted to be near her again. To look into those sea goddess eyes and hear her mystic voice. “If it will make you feel better, go ahead.”
“Alistair!” Teagan marched into the room, sweaty. His retainers behind him. “There has been a disaster at Redcliffe and you must help me. A Tevinter Magister has taken over. I think it may be an invasion.”
It was time to do his job, Alistair decided. He turned to Eamon. “Get my army ready. We are marching on Redcliffe.”
Chapter 28: Infiltrating Redciffe Castle
Elisabeta plays bate and meets with Alexius.
Elisabeta traveled through the front gates of Redcliffe Castle with Varric and Blackwall by her side. “Blackwall, how did you become a Grey Warden?” The same as you, I drank from a goblet of magic badness and passed out. She gave a half smile at the remembered answer. Maker, how could she miss someone so much, someone who had hurt her while she was dead?
“I was recruited in the Free Marches and then assigned to one of our keeps in Orlais,” he answered.
“I’m sure there is more to becoming a Grey Warden then being recruited,” she knew it, but wasn’t going to tell him how.
“Well, the recruiter has to think you are worthy of becoming a Grey Warden,” he insisted.
“There aren’t any secret rituals or…” She was cut off by a mage who’d betrayed the cause of his own people by becoming Alexius’ lackey. He was flanked by two armed men in Tevinter style clothes and horned masks. It was as if a Magister had had children with a particularly snooty Orlesian countess. The offspring was a combination of the worst of the two in both looks and personality.
“Alexius’ invitation was for Lady Cousland only,” he stood in front of them.
“You wouldn’t expect me to travel by myself, would you?” She gasped in shock. “I am a proper Ferelden lady. These are my chronicler and fashion expert.” She struck a pose, her leather battle coat expertly framing her and her hat tilted in a roguish style.
“Your what?” Now the mage was confused.
“Chronicler and fashion expert,” Varric repeated. “I write down her ladyship’s exploits so all of the bards and minstrels can sing about it.” He began to sing. “Now here's the tale, the tale of the beautiful Lady Cousland. She has saved cats, she has saved dogs, and she has even saved a nug. That nug, Ser Schmooples now resides with the Maker, but Schmooples II continues on. He is the spoiled one of the Nightingale.”
“Schmooples?” The mage blinked as if trying to wake up.
“Well, I didn’t name him,” Elisabeta objected. “The Nightingale did. That is one bird you do not want to argue with.”
“It’s true,” Blackwall spoke up. “All of these deeds were done while she was clad in only the finest of fashion. Her coat is made from bear leather, native Ferelden Great Bear leather. It is why it is fashionably black. Her hat is made from the same material. See how they contrast with her pale skin and bring out the color of her hair and eyes. They are both so lovely. The matching black ribbon in her hair that was my doing.” Secretly he thought it a silly noble affection, the ribbon.
“What about the gold chain hiding something under her clothes?” The mage couldn’t believe he’d just asked.
“That is to add mystery,” Blackwall assured him. “The gold reflects the red gold of her hair, but makes the beholder wonder, what does she have to hide under there? Perhaps it is a sign of her station or a token from a lover?”
“You wouldn’t expect me to go before Alexius without them, would you?” Elisabeta fluttered her lashes, as if she were a harmless Orlesian lady. She wondered if this mage had any idea how dangerous any Ferelden lady really was. “What if I say something that needs to be recorded? What if I see something that inspires me? I need my expert to tell me whether or not we should change my look.”
“They’re armed, though,” the mage pointed out.
“This is Ferelden, everyone is armed. My lady-in-waiting is armed, even when she does my hair,” Elisabeta assured him. “We’re barbarians, didn’t anyone tell you?”
“Good point,” the mage acceded. “Follow me.” He led them past the two Venatori and into the throne room.
Elisabeta looked around the room. Either Alexius or Teagan had done some major redecorating, likely both of them had. Alexius sat in a throne in front of the fireplace, flanked by Felix and Fiona. Yet flanking them, in a pose as if they were about to attack, were two large statues of mabaris. The dragon and serpent were not aware of the danger of the mabari; for the great war dog would snap the neck of the serpent and rip out the throat of the dragon.
Alexius still seemed to be oblivious of the danger, as the Daughter of Ferelden and Chosen of Andraste approached, flanked by the Free Marchers.
“The agents of the Inquisition have arrived,” the mage lackey announced them.
“My friends,” Alexius stood up. “It’s so good to see you again. And your… associates… of course. I’m sure we can work out some arrangement that is equitable to all parties.”
Fiona turned on him. “Are we mages to have no voice in deciding our fate?”
“Fiona,” Alexius voice dripped with long-suffering impatience. “You would not have turned your followers over to my care if you did not trust me with their lives.”
“Because you have one of those faces that just screams trustworthy,” Elisabeta raised an eyebrow. “Fiona may have mistakenly turned her people over to you, or been compelled to by nefarious means, but I still welcome her participation in these talks.”
“Thank you,” Fiona nodded to her.
Alexius turned and walked deliberately back to the throne. He turned dramatically and slowly sat down. Not paying attention to the looming mabari beside him. “The Inquisition needs mages to close the Breach and I have them, so what shall you offer in exchange.”
Elisabeta walked to one of the statues and laid a hand on its head. “I’ll let you leave Ferelden with your life.”
“Are you threatening me?” Alexius was actually surprised.
Felix turned on him. “She knows everything, father.”
“Felix,” Alexius slowly shook his head. “What have you done?”
“Your son is worried about you, you are in over your head and this can not end well for you,” Elisabeta explained.
“So speaks the thief,” Alexius growled. “Do you think you can turn my son against me? You walk into my stronghold with your stolen mark, a gift you don’t even understand, and think you are in control. You’re nothing but a mistake.”
“Your stronghold?” Elisabeta raised her eyebrows and let her gaze tell Alexius that she thought him batshit crazy. “This castle belongs to Clan Guerrin and has for hundreds of years. I am not their biggest fan, but this is definitely their home. If you think I am a mistake, take it up with Andraste and the Maker. I would be happy to arrange an introduction.”
“You are nothing and compared to the Ancient One, less than nothing,” Alexius sneered.
“Father, listen to yourself,” Felix pleaded. “Do you know what you sound like?”
“He sounds exactly like the villainous cliché everyone expects us to be,” Dorian emerged from a side room.
“Dorian,” Alexius was not happy to see him. “I gave you a chance to be a part of this. You turned me down. The Elder One has power you will not believe. He will raise the Imperium from its own ashes.”
“That’s who your master is, and the one who killed the Divine, isn’t it?” Elisabeta deduced. “Is he a mage?”
“Soon, he will become a god,” Alexius declared. “He will make the world bow to mages once more. We will rule from the Boeric Ocean to the Frozen Seas.”
“You can’t involve my people in this!” Fiona insisted.
“Alexius,” Dorian’s voice was a mix of anger and pleading. “This is exactly what we talked about never wanting to happen. Why would you support this?” No one noticed the Venatori behind him, drop to the ground; quite dead.
“What is it with Tevinters wanting to be gods?” Elisabeta asked her companions, who both shrugged. “Isn’t this how the Blights started? Yes, I’m pretty sure it is.”
“Stop it father,” Felix continued to plead. “Give up the Venatori. Let the Southern Mages fight the Breach and let’s go home.”
“No! It’s the only way, Felix,” Alexius insisted. “He can save you.”
“Save me?” Felix was incredulous.
“There is a way,” Alexius persisted. “The Elder One promised. If I undo the mistake at the temple.”
“I’m going to die,” there was no fear in Felix’s voice at those words. “You need to accept that.”
“Seize them Venatori!” Alexius dramatically pointed at Elisabeta. “The Elder One demands this woman’s life.”
The Venatori’s answer was not what he expected. Instead of marching or running boots, there were grunts and thuds. Alexius watched in shock as his remaining Venatori lining the throne room, fell dead. Inquisition soldiers stood where they once had.
“Hah!” Elisabeta raised an arm. “Your men are dead, Alexius. Seizing me will now be quite difficult for them.”
“You are a mistake!” Alexius lifted an amulet. “You should not have existed.”
“No!” Dorian shot an arcane bolt from his staff and towards the amulet.
Alexius was forced back, but the spell had been cast. A vortex appeared. When it closed, Elisabeta and Dorian were gone.
“Well, shit,” Varric cursed.
Chapter 29: Dark Futures and even Darker Hearts
Dorian and Elisabeta find themselves in a dark future.
Elisabeta felt herself falling; she landed on all fours in a pool of water. It took her a moment to realize that she was in a flooded dungeon. The room looked vaguely familiar. Had she been here before?
“Blood of the Elder One!” Two Venatori were in the room with her, both gripped large two-handed swords. “Where did they come from?” They charged.
Elisabeta unsheathed her swords as Dorian swung his staff in front of him. He unleashed a fireball at their attackers, even as she caused the sword in her left hand, Kindness, to ice over. She blended into the shadows and re-emerged behind the furthest Venatori, crossing her swords at his neck; decapitating him.
Dorian’s set a jet of fire at the other Venatori, engulfing him. By the time the man realized he should submerge himself in the water they were wading in, it was too late for him. Elisabeta looted the bodies and nearby storage containers while Dorian studied the bodies.
“Interesting,” he mused. “It’s probably not what Alexius intended. The rift must have moved us to… what… the closest conclave of arcane energy.”
“The last thing I remember, we were in Redcliffe Castle’s hall,” she looked around again. “Wait… we’re still in Redcliffe castle. I have been here before, it’s their dungeons.”
“You’ve been in the dungeons of Redcliffe Castle before?” Dorian raised an eyebrow. “Do tell.”
“I was sneaking in to save Teagan and find out what dastardly evil creature was causing the walking dead to attack the village,” she explained. “The family escape tunnels emerge here in the dungeons. There was even a bloodmage locked up. Isolde was blaming everything on him.”
“Was it his fault?” Dorian’s dislike of bloodmages was evident.
“He did poison Eamon,” Elisabeta conceded. “But, no, Connor had become possessed by a desire demon and the demon was responsible for the rest.”
“Consorting with demons is never a good idea,” he agreed. “If we’re still in the castle, it isn’t just where, but when. Alexius used the amulet as a focus. It moved us through time.”
“Did we go forward or backward?” She wondered. “I don’t remember Redcliffe castle looking this bad, but it does overlook Lake Calenhad. It could have flooded in the past. Wait, never mind. There have never been Venatori in the castle, so obviously it was forward. Now the question is how far forward were we flung?”
“Excellent question,” Dorian agreed. “We’ll have to find out, won’t we?”
“What was Alexius trying to do?” She wondered.
“I believe his original plan was to remove you from time completely,” Dorian deduced. “If that happened, you would have never mangled his Elder One’s plans.”
“I didn’t,” she reminded him. “That was Tranquil Trevelyan, although she wasn’t very tranquil after she ended up in the Fade. I can still here her screaming as her emotions all returned. It would have just meant that she was the one he was facing. That idiot! It would also mean that I would likely have been right back in the Void.” Now she was angry. She began picking the lock, trying to still her furious hand. “I’m going to kill that bastard and then beat him with his own head. Souls can’t be destroyed. Why don’t Thedosians understand that?” The door swung open and she marched out.
“I think your surprise in the hall made him reckless,” Dorian continued to talk. “He tossed us into the rift before he was ready. I countered it, the magic went wild and here we are. Makes sense.”
“Sure, your old mentor is insane,” she checked the nearby cellblocks and then headed up the stairs.
“I don’t even want to think what this will do to the fabric of the world,” he followed. “We didn’t so much travel through time as much as punch a hole through it and toss it into the privy, but don’t worry. I’m here, I’ll protect you.”
That took some of the wind out of her. She’d never had anyone offer to protect her, not since her father checked under her bed for monsters. She found her heart softening even more to him. “Thank you,” she said softly and turned around to kiss his cheek. The sound of clanking distracted her.
The halls of Redcliffe had been destroyed and now catwalks stood in their place. Two Venatori were running towards them. “I’m really not liking Alexius’ decorating decisions. “ They easily disposed of the two Venatori, without even breaking a sweat. “You have a plan to get us back, I hope. We need to stop this crime against good taste.”
“Agreed. I have some thoughts on that,” he assured her. “They’re lovely, thoughts, like little jewels.”
They found a couple of mages who seemed to have completely lost their minds. They were practically unaware of Elisabeta and Dorian’s presence. There was red lyrium in their cell and they were chanting to Andraste. Then they found Fiona. She was standing, encased in red lyrium. When they first found her, she was leaning against the wall as much as her situation allowed.
She stood straight, however, when she saw Elisabeta. “You’re alive… again! I saw you disappear into the rift. I should have… known… that Andraste would just send you back to us again.”
“Is that red lyrium growing from your body?” Elisabeta studied the mage. “How?”
“The longer you’re near it… eventually… you become this,” Fiona’s words were labored. “Then they mine your corpse for more. I have lasted… longer… than the others, likely because of whatever drove the taint from my body.”
“The taint… were you infected by a darkspawn?” Elisabeta was surprised. She only knew of one way to save, or rather delay the death of, someone who had been tainted.”
“Not exactly,” she laughed bitterly. “I was a Grey Warden.”
“You managed to undo the Joining?” Elisabeta was impressed. “How? Could it be done to save others?”
“Joining? Grey Wardens?” Dorian was confused.
“I was a Grey Warden when I died,” Elisabeta explained. “Andraste took the… taint from me. All Grey Wardens are tainted; it’s how they can sense darkspawn and archdemons.”
“I don’t know how I did it,” Fiona admitted. “It was when… well, I guess there is no need to keep the secret anymore. I became pregnant. After I gave birth, the taint was gone. I… other Grey Wardens have given birth before, but they haven’t had their taint removed when the umbilical cord came out.”
“Other Wardens have given birth?” So she and Alistair might indeed have been able to have a child together if she hadn’t died.
“It’s rare, the Wardens aren’t exactly an ideal place to raise a child and few keep them,” Fiona explained. “I had… my best friend…Duncan… take my son to… friends he trusted to love the child and raise them right. They were… connected… to his father.”
“Duncan?” The surprise was evident in Elisabeta’s voice. “You were best friends with that… Duncan.” She had never forgiven him for conscripting her and dragging her from her family. She’d had no desire to become a Grey Warden and he’d forced her. It was the one matter she and Alistair had fought most often about. Alistair worshipped the man.
“You knew him?” Even now Fiona smiled.
Elisabeta was struck by how much that smile reminded her of Alistair. Maybe it had something to do with people who loved Duncan. “He conscripted me.”
“I’m sure Duncan was an amazing man,” the impatience in Dorian’s voice was almost palpable. “We have other concerns right now.”
“No, kidding,” Elisabeta pointed at Fiona. “Fiona has red lyrium growing out of her. I was saying that is quite a problem.”
“Can you tell us the date, Fiona,” Dorian wanted to get back to his biggest worry. “It’s very important.”
“Harvestmere 9:42 Dragon,” Fiona answered.
“9:42?” Dorian was shocked. “Then we’ve missed an entire year!”
“And I missed everything again!” Elisabeta sighed. “One year isn’t as bad as ten, though. It looks like we need to get back. I wonder how far back that amulet can take us. If I can go back to 9:31 perhaps I can prevent my first death and that of the Divine.”
“I… don’t believe it would work past the… explosion… at the… temple,” Fiona was finding it more and more difficult to talk. “The rifts… are… likely… fueling… it.”
“Dang, so I couldn’t prevent Alistair from marrying that shrew, Anora?” Elisabeta exhaled. “Of course, one would think he wouldn’t, because the woman he claimed to love asked him not to. What I would have needed to do was kill Eamon on the rooftop of Fort Drakon. I could make it look like a darkspawn did it.”
“We apparently can’t get back that far,” Dorian reminded her. “But we can go back to the point where Alexius sent us forward. We just need the amulet.”
“Please stop this from happening,” Fiona pleaded. “Alexius serves the Elder One… more powerful than the Maker. No one challenges him and lives.”
“Um, that Maker brought me back from the dead. Well, His Andraste did,” Elisabeta admonished Fiona. “I would like to see the Elder One do that? Killing is much easier than creating or restoring life. I’ve fought an old god before and won, this Elder One will be but another false God that I take down.”
“Our only hope is to find the amulet that Alexius used to send us here,” Dorian insisted. “If it still exists, I can use it to reopen the rift at the exact spot we left… maybe.”
“Good,” Fiona approved.
“I said maybe,” Dorian advised her. “It might also turn us into paste.”
“You must try,” Fiona leaned forward again; the effort to stand straight any longer was too much. “Your spymaster, Leliana, she is here. Find her quickly, before the Elder One learns you’re here.”
“He has my Leliana!” Elisabeta was not going to leave her best friend in the hands of a Venatori madman. “We’ll find her. Be assured of that.”
The next person that Elisabeta found, however, was Blackwall. His eyes now glowed red and he seemed a bit spacey. “Andraste have mercy,” he begged when he saw Elisabeta and Dorian. “You shouldn’t be here. The dead should rest in peace.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve returned from the dead,” Elisabeta revealed.
“Only this time, she didn’t die,” Dorian sat down to explaining everything while Blackwall freaked out. Elisabeta picked the lock and let him out.
Blackwall decided he’d gone mad, but would go with it. Then he followed them on their search.
Next, they found Varric; he was humming as they approached. Varric took everything a bit more in stride. “Andraste’s sacred knickers, you’re alive.” He stood up, revealing that his eyes, too, glowed red now and a red glow seemed to come off of him. “Where were you? How did you escape?”
“We didn’t escape,” Dorian explained. “Alexius sent us into the future.”
Varric stepped out of the cage the moment Elisabeta opened it. “Everything that happens to you is weird.”
“You noticed that too, huh?” Elisabeta thought back through her life. Yes, weird was one word for it.
“If we get to Alexius, I may just be able to get us back to our own time,” Dorian added. “Simple really.”
“That may not be as easy as you think,” Varric warned. “Alexius is just a servant. His Elder One assassinated the empress and led a demon army in a huge invasion of the south. The Elder One rules everything. What’s left of it, anyway. Alexius is really not the one you need to worry about.”
“Everything?” Elisabeta repeated. “Highever… all of Ferelden? What about their rulers?”
“They’re all dead, every noble house has been wiped out… sorry, Tempest,” Varric realized what he was saying.
Tears sprung up in Elisabeta’s eyes and then began falling as she thought of her brother and his family. And Alistair… no… she felt her heart still and then crack. She couldn’t breathe for several moments. NO! The tears flowed as she slumped against the wall, falling slowly to the floor, he legs curling up against her chest as if they could somehow protect the heart that was breaking. She’d already thought it broken, but this… “How,” she finally managed.
“Highever was one of the last domains to fall,” Varric sat down beside her. “When Fergus repaired the castle, he wanted to ensure no invading army could take it again. It was more impregnable than Redcliffe and he used its position against the Waking Sea to his advantage. But there is only so much that wood and stone can do against an army of demons. He made sure he kept his family with him until the end.”
“At least he didn’t have to live with their deaths this time,” she wondered who’d had to tell Fergus about Oren and Oriana after the Blight. What about…”
Varric knew her enough to know whose name she was reluctant to say. “King Alistair led his armies against Redcliffe several times. He and Curly joined forces and the joint Ferelden-Inquisition Force tried to penetrate the walls of the castle three times. Alistair and Cullen both died upon it the third time. After news of your death got out… well, Kingly went to Leliana and the Inquisition and begged for their help. He… he felt he had let you down and… the man was inconsolable… he welcomed his death; he just wanted to avenge you first. Curly was more than willing to help.”
That only made her cry harder. At least he… they… were at the Maker’s side, she tried to assure herself. Neither was floating in the Abyss. It was of little comfort.
“We have to go find Leliana and Alexius,” Dorian pulled her to her feet. “We can mourn later, or better yet, get back to our time and make sure they don’t die.”
Elisabeta considered punching him, but he was right… and it would be a shame to bruise that handsome face. “Fine, just point me towards someone I can kill. Someone point me towards this Elder One.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Varric warned. “You want to take on Alexius, I’m in. Let’s go.”
Venatori continued to try and stop Elisabeta and her friends, much to their own detriment. Unfortunately, they were too late to save a Chantry Cleric from being killed. The woman’s only crime was the refusal to denounce the Maker.
“I’m here to avenge the faithful,” Elisabeta declared as she killed the woman’s torturers and the man who’d taken the cleric’s life. “And I’m solving this theological disagreement by sending you all to the Maker himself.”
“She is like a force of nature,” Blackwall stopped fighting to watch Elisabeta perform a whirlwind move that took down three Venatori at once. She kicked a fourth one for good measure.
“There was a reason Andraste chose her,” Varric shrugged.
As they moved along, they could hear someone else being questioned.
“How did Trevelyan know of the sacrifice at the temple?” A deep voice was asking. “Answer!”
“Ask her yourself,” it was Leliana’s voice. “I understand that she is with the Maker now. I never met her.”
“How did she make herself look like the Cousland woman,” the deep voice was followed by a loud slap.
“You fool,” Leliana’s voice came again. “That wasn’t Trevelyan. You really don’t understand, do you? You never will.”
“There’s no use to this defiance, little bird,” the deep voice insisted.
“You’re wasting your breath,” Leliana informed him.
“So be it,” was the answer. As Elisabeta opened the door, a Venatori was grabbing some sort of tool and approaching Leliana. She looked horrible. Her skin was deeply scarred and rough. Her eyes were becoming sunken and her lips pronounced. It was a nightmare version of the beautiful bard she’d once been. Elisabeta was ready to kill the Venatori, and Alexius, for that alone. Alexius would already die for so many other reasons, though. “You will break.”
“I’ll die first,” Leliana’s outer condition may have gravely deteriorated, but her spirit had not. Her eyes widened as she saw Elisabeta. “Or you will.” She wrapped her legs tightly around the neck of her torturer. In a move that would have made the most dedicated warrior envious, she snapped his neck with her thighs.
“You’re alive,” she breathed as Elisabeta finessed the locks of her chains. “Will Andraste always send you to me in my time of need?”
“I pray so,” Elisabeta hugged her. “You look horrible.”
“Pfff…” Leliana waved her concern away. “I feel great. Anger is stronger than any pain. Do you have weapons?”
“Lel, this is me you’re talking to,” Elisabeta put an arm around her, offering support.
“Of course you do,” Leliana nodded. “The magister’s probably in his chambers.”
“You aren’t curious how we got here?” Dorian obviously was dejected by not getting to tell his story again.
“No,” Leliana informed him. “I’m not.”
“Alexius sent us into the future,” Dorian told her anyway. “His victory, his Elder One, it was never meant to be.”
“What he means is we need to get an amulet from Alexius and return to the moment he sent us through the vortex,” Elisabeta explained. “It may be the only way to defeat them. It will be the only way to bring the dead back.”
“Well, I’ve suffered, the whole world suffered,” Leliana announced as she went to a nearby chest and pulled out a longbow. “We’ve gone through it. Still, it may be our only option. You’re right, it is the only way to bring back everyone we lost. Elisabeta, Alistair…”
“I know, Varric told me. Let’s go kill Alexius, you know how fond I am of revenge. We kill him after we remind him that there is but one god and he is the Maker, that is,” Elisabeta declared.
“That sounds good to me,” Leliana agreed.
The two women led the way from the cells towards the rest of the castle.
Chapter 30: Andraste Guide Me
Elisabeta and Dorian continue to make their way to Alexius.
On the way to Alexius’ chambers, Elisabeta’s group passed through several rooms. In the modified dining room, it wasn’t where the dining room had been a year before, they found a written prayer. It denounced the Maker and praised the Elder One as the new God. “People are bowing down and worshiping this false god,” Elisabeta threw the prayer in disgust. “This is a job for Andraste’s Herald then. I shall avenge both His faithful as the Herald and my countrymen as Ferelden’s Hero. Someone find me more Venatori to kill.”
“This way,” Leliana took the lead.
They went through the courtyard, where Elisabeta had to close two more rifts. Then she looked at the sky. “Makers breath!” Barely any blue was visible, it all glowed green.
“The rifts continued to expand unchecked,” Varric explained. “They’re everywhere now. Redcliffe was one of the worst places hit.”
“Isn’t it always?” Elisabeta noted. “I swear there is something else going on in this area. I would love to do a study of its history. Perhaps send a team out to find out if there is any reason it is constantly being hit by supernatural, and non-supernatural, attacks. It is as if someone cursed this town… or perhaps the Guerrins.”
They continued into the main hall of the castle, where they found yet another large rift and a dozen hapless Venatori fighting it. Elisabeta was happy to lead the charge that killed the Venatori and demons alike, and then she closed the rift. The next thing she knew she was on a silly quest to find a bunch of shards to open the lock that Alexius had put on his door.
“Really?” She shook her head. “Does he expect his own Venatori to attack him?”
“Yes, he does,” Leliana’s voice was matter of fact. “While some may sing the praises of this Elder One, plenty have realized that they made a mistake when they backed him. What good is it to win, if the entire continent is laid waste in the process? Before long, this Elder One and his demons will be all that is left.”
“Not once I get that amulet,” Dorian swore.
About half an hour later, they ended up finding Connor, only to watch him die fighting a demon possession the moment they opened his door. “Really?” Elisabeta folded her arms.
“He fought that demon to the last,” Dorian admired him.
“Of course he did, after what happened the last time he was possessed,” Elisabeta snorted. “He was no fool, despite who his parents were.” She looked at her companions. “My vengeance list is full. Does anyone want to avenge Connor?”
“I’ll do it,” Dorian swore.
“Good, let’s find those shards,” Elisabeta went to the next room.
She soon found Alexius’ journal: Nothing works. I have tried countless times to go back before the Conclave explosion, before Felix's caravan was attacked by darkspawn, before the Venatori first arrived in Minrathus - without success. The Breach is the wellspring that makes this magic possible, and travel outside of its timeline is impossible. The Elder One's demand that I change the events of the Conclave can never be fulfilled. He may kill me for failing him, but I must protect Felix from his wrath.
“It is as I thought, the time magic only works up until the point when the Breach first appeared,” Dorian observed.
“That figures,” Elisabeta let out a deep sigh. “No way to go back before then… to fix other events. Something else gets me, though. Dorian you said Felix was suffering from a long time ailment. That wasn’t it, was it?”
“What do you mean?” He tried to keep his voice casual.
“Felix and his caravan were attacked by darkspawn,” Elisabeta jabbed a finger at the journal. “He had the taint, didn’t he?” She turned on Blackwall. “Who are you Warden Blackwall?”
“What do you mean?” Even now Blackwall was nervous.
“Why didn’t you sense the taint in Felix?” She pressed.
“I… I don’t know what you mean,” Blackwall took a step back.
“I mean that a Grey Warden would have sensed that Felix was tainted. The only thing that could have saved him was the Joining,” she took a step forward. “If I do go back, you are not going to know this about me again, but I’m the frelling Hero of Ferelden. I died when I killed the archdemon on top of Fort Drakon. I was a Grey Warden. When Andraste brought me back, she took that all out of me, which is good as I didn’t want to be struck down by the Calling in thirty years.”
“You’re the Hero of Ferelden!” His eyes widened and he looked like he was going to throw himself at her feet and start praising her.
“Let’s just go,” Leliana urged. “There is no time for this now.”
“Fine,” Elisabeta conceded.
In the next room she found more notes. Introduction of blight to prisoners yields no discernible pattern. Disease progresses erratically; some subjects die within hours despite all efforts, others show no symptoms at all. Subjects may harbor some natural resistance, which makes isolation and testing a priority.
“They were purposely giving people the Blight?” Blackwall had not realized this. “Why?”
“He was trying to cure Felix,” Dorian admitted. “Yes, Felix has the Blight.”
Then there was yet another note. Six more subjects died. Transfusions of blood from resistant prisoners slow the rate of corruption only slightly. Healthy flesh taken from live subjects and implanted in the infected will often die even before corruption spreads to it. In cases where implantation is successful, blight corruption spreads across donor flesh faster than host flesh. Prisoner Leliana has been the most useful source of resistant blood and skin to date.
“They were…” Elisabeta looked to her best friend, noting every single scar and blemish. She reread the words that Leliana had been the most useful. “Leliana, when I first met you, you said that the Maker had sent you to me.”
“Yes, I told you about my dream, or vision, or whatever it was,” Leliana confirmed.
“You said Oghren became a Grey Warden,” Elisabeta tapped her fingers on the desk where she found the note. “Do you know how he fared at the Joining, I mean obviously he lived.”
“I heard he drank from a chalice, burped, and that was it,” Leliana recalled.
“He didn’t even lose consciousness?” Elisabeta shook her head at wonder. “Wynne was a functioning abomination and Sten a hornless Qunari. I wonder what I still don’t know about Alistair and Zevran. I think you all may have been Maker sent.”
“Well, thanks for that,” Leliana raised an eyebrow. “I don’t feel Maker blessed at the moment.”
“You’re still alive,” Elisabeta looked to Varric and Blackwall. “And you actually look better than these two. Who was your father?”
“I don’t know,” Leliana admitted. “Whoever he was, he must be dead now.”
“I’m not so sure,” Elisabeta murmured. “If you never found out, I don’t know how I can and my theories are a little too wild.” Her thoughts ranged from Leliana’s father being a Grey Warden to him being the Maker Himself. Although, her real guess was King Maric. There were legends that spoke of dragon blood in the veins of the Theirins. Dragons were resistant to the Blight.
“Might I suggest we continue looking for shards?” Dorian interrupted. “Fathers are not a topic I like discussing.”
“I adored my father,” Elisabeta recalled. “He was a wonderful man.”
“He didn’t have preconceived concepts about who you should be?” Dorian wondered.
“He had a few ideas and did try to point me in the direction he wanted me to go, but he was never too pushy about it,” she explained. “Right before Howe’s attack, he was leaving me in charge of the castle as he went off to fight at Ostagar. I was expected to take my place among the rulers of Ferelden one day, but at least my parents had decided to let me marry for love and pursue my own interests as well. For noble parents, they were quite loving.”
“Yes, it sounds like they were,” Dorian tried not to let his envy show.
When the last shard had been found, Dorian took the lead to Alexius’ door. He placed the shards and then threw open his arms. “Open sesame.” The doors swung open as if on their own, with a loud bang.
The throne was gone from the room, but the fire still burned. Alexius stood in front of it. A humanoid creature crouched on the ground near his feet.
“I am Elissa Cousland, daughter of Teyrn Brice and Teyrna Eleanor Cousland,” she announced herself. “I am here to avenge the lives of those I loved; Alistair Theirin, Fergus Cousland, Eleonore Cousland, Bryce Cousland II, Zevran Aranai, Cullen Rutherford, Sera: The Red Jenny, Cal…” She turned to Varric. “What about my dog?”
“I’m sorry,” Varric shook his head.
“Calenhad the Mabari,” she continued.
“I did it for my country, for my son,” he interrupted.
“I am not done listing names,” she clenched her teeth. “And don’t think your son is more important to you than all of those people were to me.”
“She really loved her dog,” Varric agreed. “Oh, and the king, her brother, her nieces and nephews, I wouldn’t interrupt her again if I were you. She’ll probably just kill you more.”
“I will also be avenging…” Elisabeta continued to list names.
“I knew you would appear again,” Alexius didn’t care about her list, although he wondered why the king of Ferelden had been listed first. “But I didn’t know it would be now. I knew I hadn’t destroyed you, my final failure.”
“Was it worth it?” Dorian needed to know. “Everything you did to the world, to yourself.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Alexius didn’t even look up. “All we can do is wait for the end.”
“It does matter,” Elisabeta assured him. “Everyone who died because of your actions matter to me. People I love more than my own life are dead now. Do you think you were the only one who had someone they cared about in this world?”
“I’ve tried to undo this,” Alexius admitted. “Hundreds of times, I have tried to go back and change the past. But the past can not be undone. All that I fought for, all that I have betrayed, and what have I wrought? I have brought ruin and death, there is nothing else. The Elder One comes for me, for you, for us all.”
Leliana leaped forward and grabbed the creature on the ground, holding a knife to its throat.
“Felix,” Alexius held out a pleading hand.
“That’s Felix,” the horror in Dorian’s voice was palpable, as he took an involuntary step back. Then he took a step forward, letting his anger wash over him. “Maker’s Breath, Alexius, what have you done?”
“He would have died,” Alexius still couldn’t accept that inevitability. “Dorian, I saved him. Please,” he begged Leliana. “Don’t hurt my son. I’ll do anything you ask.”
“Hand over the amulet first,” Elisabeta commanded. “Then we will talk about this.” She didn’t think letting Felix live was doing him any favors.
“Let him go and I swear, you’ll get what you want,” Alexius parlayed.
“I want the world back,” Leliana let the knife slide across Felix’s throat. He fell dead at his father’s feet.
“No,” Alexius’ first word was soft and disbelieving. ”NO!” He lifted his staff and fired and cracked it across Leliana.
The rogue was sent flying, but she simply rolled and landed back on her feet, bow drawn. She fired and flipped away. As she moved out of the blast, Elisabeta disappeared and reappeared behind Alexius. Even as he tried to use his magic to summon a rift, she moved him so he was off balance. Then she used Excalibur and Kindness in a Punisher move. Kindness now had flames of fury coming off of her. He faltered and then felt a bolt from Bianca in his shoulder.
“I’m sorry about this Alexius, but it’s the only way,” Dorian hit him with a fireball.
Alexius tried to cast again, but was hit with an arrow, even as the flaming sword and the holy one crossed sending his head rolling across the hall.
Dorian knelt by the body. “He wanted to die. All of those lies he told himself, the justifications, he lost Felix long ago. He didn’t even notice. Oh, Alexius.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Elisabeta rubbed his back. “I know what it’s like to lose those close to you. Now, let’s use that amulet and stop several people I love from dying.”
Dorian held up the amulet as he took it from Alexius’ body. “This is the same amulet we used before. I think it’s the same one we made in Minrathus. That’s a relief. Give me an hour to work out the spell he used and I should be able to reopen the rift.”
“An hour,” Leliana decided the Dorian had either lost his mind or was secretly an idiot. “That’s impossible. What part of ‘there is a demon army on its way’ did you not understand? You must go now.” As if to emphasize her words, the room began to shake.
“That would be the demon army,” Varric confirmed.
“It’s the Elder One,” Leliana agreed.
“You can not stay here!” Blackwall held his sword and shield ready. He and Varric nodded to each other.
“We’ll hold the outer door,” Varric explained. “When they get past us, Leliana will be the next level of defense.”
“No,” Elisabeta shook her head. “Varric, I can’t let you sacrifice yourself.”
“I love you, too, Tempest,” he smiled sadly at her. “If it weren’t for Bianca and that king you can’t get over, and the ex-Templar who seems to have a thing for you, or… actually, there are a couple of other guys who were pining away, but you never noticed… well, if it weren’t for all of those, we might have had something. As it is, I was glad to call you friend and favorite storm cloud.”
“Leliana, I can’t let you commit suicide,” Elisabeta pleaded.
“Says the woman who already sacrificed herself for Thedas,” Leliana reminded her. “You were stuck in the Void for ten years; at least we will go to the Maker. Just look at us, we’re already dead. The only way we’ll live is for none of this to have happened. This time, we’ll be the sacrifice. You do what you do best and save the world. Cast your spell,” she told Dorian. “You have as much time as I have arrows.”
Elisabeta kept her eyes on the doors as she slowly backed up with Dorian.
“Though darkness closes over me, I am shielded by flame,” Leliana drew her bow, arrow at the ready. The door opened and demons threw Varric and Blackwall’s bodies into the room. “Andraste guide me,” she released arrow after arrow. “Maker take me to your side.” The arrows continued to speed into the demons coming through the door, felling one after another.
“Leliana!” Elisabeta stepped towards her friend.
Dorian grabbed her arm and dragged her back. “If you move, then we all die!”
Venatori had managed to get past Leliana’s arrows. She hit them with her bow and began slashing with her dagger. She rolled over the back of one of the traitors to humanity and used the momentum to kick one of his fellow human vermin. One of them caught her and held her as a demon approached. It then looked like he slit her throat, but she continued to fight.
Dorian pulled Elisabeta back through the rift.
Chapter 31: Heartbroken Heroes
Alistair and Anora arrive in Redcliffe. There is a lot of yelling.
“Well, shit,” Varric cursed when Elisabeta had disappeared, taking Dorian with her. Then the rift reopened and both were back. “Never mind,” he grinned.
Alexius backed up as Elisabeta marched towards him, rage in her every step.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Dorian declared.
Alexius sank to his knees. As Elisabeta stood over him. “Did you really think that could stop me? I have already returned from the dead once. I have faced an archdemon and you think a time vortex could stop me?”
“You’ve won,” Alexius conceded. “There’s no point in extending this charade.” He looked to his son, who was once again himself. “Felix.”
“It’s going to be all right father,” Felix assured him.
“You’ll die,” Alexius’ heart wrenched just saying the words.
“Everyone dies,” Felix declared. Alexius just closed his eyes.
“You don’t have to yet,” Elisabeta informed him. “There may be a way to extend your life. We just have to find the Grey Wardens. Their Joining might give you a few decades. You’ll spend them fighting darkspawn, but they will be years of life to spend.”
“Unfortunately, they’ve disappeared,” Blackwall reminded her.
“We’ll find them,” Elisabeta assured him. “I’ll let you know when I do and get your decision then.”
“Thank you,” Alexius stood and allowed the Inquisition soldiers to lead him away. Felix followed.
“Well,” Dorian watched them go. “I’m glad that’s over with.”
As if to mock his words, the sound of metal boots marching in order filled the hall. The soldiers wore silver armor with orange trim. Their helmets had the most ridiculous orange ribbons painted onto them.
“… or not,” Dorian had a bad feeling about this.
At the end of the soldiers, Alistair walked in with Anora at his side. They both wore the same shade of brown with white fur trim. Elisabeta felt her nausea well up. It mixed with the myriad of other emotions that were welling up at seeing Alistair again. She was sure that Anora was responsible for both the bad fashion and the ridiculous Ferelden uniforms. At the end of the hall, far from danger, was Arl Teagan. Teagan’s eyes widened, recognizing her, but Alistair’s full focus was on the woman he blamed for Redcliffe’s predicament.”
“Grand Enchanter Fiona,” Alistair addressed her, as Anora folded her arms in what she thought was an intimidating manner. “Imagine how surprised I was to learn you’d given Redcliffe Castle away to a Tevinter Magister.”
“King Alistair,” Fiona approached him.
“Especially since I’m sure Redcliffe Castle belongs to Arl Teagan,” he continued.
“Your Majesty,” she began. “We never intended…”
“You pose a wonderful question,” Elisabeta stepped forward.
“Beta,” Alistair took a step back. “I… what are you…”
“What,” her mouth dropped open. “You didn’t see me standing here?” She let her anger boil, it was the only emotion that wasn’t confusing her and tearing her apart. She’d been trying to deal with the loss of Alistair in that dark future and he was before her. He wasn’t alone; Anora was at his side, in a position that she’d once thought would be hers. Not that of queen, but Alistair’s partner in life. There she was, the evidence that he’d broken a promise to her. She also noted that Starfang hung at his side.
“I… Fiona…” He stammered and then told the truth. “I don’t know what to say to you, Beta. There are millions of things I want to, but not with all of these people standing around us.”
“Well, I have plenty to say to you. The first thing I want to know is how Fiona could give away Redcliffe Castle when it is Arl Teagan’s responsibility to protect it,” she challenged. “Did he give it to Fiona at some point and go on vacation? It is his job to protect Ferelden’s first line of defense, not hers, and a Tevinter Magister seems to have easily taken it from him. Not one villager mentioned any battle, just people being thrown out; including Teagan. Was he cowering in the chantry, expecting others to do the fighting, again?”
“That’s beside the point, Beta,” Alistair’s voice was firm, but his hand reached out to touch her.
She took a step back. “No, it isn’t. You can’t lay all of the blame on Fiona.”
“She supported the magister and turned the mages over to him,” Anora spoke up. “We wanted to help the mages, they’ve made it impossible. Fiona and her followers are no longer welcome in Ferelden.”
“Shut up, Anora,” Elisabeta commander. “Don’t worry, Fiona’s my newest ally and the Free Mages are now part of the Inquisition. Believe me; none of us want to spend a single moment more in your company than is needed. The last I saw of you, you were being escorted to a tower. You were supposed to be executed after the Blight. How did you manage to live? Did you seduce Eamon? Did you seduce a bloodmage into bespelling Eamon? I know he has an undue influence over Alistair. I would hope your Templar training would have been enough to protect you from any blood magic influences, Alistair. Alas, it appears that no one could protect you from bad advice or your own bad decisions. I thought Templars took their vows seriously, I guess it’s a good thing Duncan saved you from that life then.”
“Beta,” his tone grew a bit impatient.
“You promised!” She realized that her voice was growing higher and louder. “I asked one thing of you. Do you remember that? I made you promise one thing if I died. One thing! You couldn’t even keep your word to me. Did you ever love me or was I just some fling that you decided to marry because my family is so highly ranked?”
“I do love you, Beta,” he insisted. “I never meant to…”
“To what?” She cut him off. “To get caught? I was dead so promises to me no longer mattered? It was hard enough to…” She shook her head, aware that tears were welling up. “Are there any promises to me that you have kept or was everything a lie?”
“I’ve never lied to you,” he insisted.
“Alistair…” Anora interrupted.
“I told you to shut up, you vile snake!” Elisabeta shouted at her. “One more word from you and I will cut your tongue out myself.”
“You can’t let her talk to me like this,” Anora looked to her husband.
Alistair ignored her, his eyes on Elisabeta. His heart was breaking as tears began falling down her beautiful face. Each one tore at his soul. “Beta, I never meant to hurt…”
“Of course not, I was dead. According to Morrigan, my soul had been destroyed,” she let the tears flow, too angry to bother fighting them. Not that she had any luck in that area lately. “I’m sure you thought what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. Well, guess what? I know, you idiot! I can’t believe that all that time I spent in the Void I was clinging to…” She shook her head. Then she reached up and pulled the chain from under her shirt. Their engagement rings were there, side by side. She unclasped the chain and slid the blue and silver ring he’d given her so long ago from it, the token of his love and devotion.
“Elisabeta, I still lo…” His words were cut off as the ring hit his nose. It hurt! He reached up to rub it and the ring fell into his hand. He looked down for a moment. “Beta, I…”
“You what? You’re sorry you brought your whore of a wife to Redcliffe? You’re sorry that you couldn’t keep your promise to your dead fiancée?” The tears were beginning to obscure her vision. She restored the chain and turned, she had to leave. She couldn’t stay.
“I had to do what is best for my kingdom,” he stared at the ring still.
“Except you didn’t do that,” she assured him. “You did what…” She realized that arguing with him about Eamon was futile. She hoped it had been Eamon’s idea. She didn’t know what she’d do if Alistair had decided to break his promise to her on his own. She took another step away from him. “Oh,” she glanced back. “I want Starfang back.” When he just placed his hand on the hilt of the sword, but didn’t remove it, she shook her head and forced herself to continue walking. Fine, he’d keep her sword. It wasn’t worth trying to scuffle with him for it.
“Beta!” Alistair called after her. “I…”
Her legs buckled, but Dorian moved to sweep her up. She wound her arms around his neck as he carried her from the room. “Fiona is coming with us as full partners, yes?’ He asked. She nodded.
“Get your people together, Fiona,” Dorian called. “We’re going home.”
Alistair closed his hand around the blue and silver ring he’d once slipped onto the left hand of the only woman he’d ever loved as he watched another man carry her away.
Dorian didn’t go far; he just went to the grand entrance of the castle and found a stone bench to sit on. He kept ahold of Elisabeta as he sat down. She curled around him, bathing his shoulder with her tears. He gently rubbed her back. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“She used to be engaged to King Alistair,” Varric came and sat beside him.
“So I gathered,” Dorian sighed dramatically, to think that the dwarf would not realize his vast intelligence had allowed him to quickly assess the situation. “I take it he gave you the ring you just threw at him, Lissa?”
“Engagement,” she managed.
“What?” Dorian wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
“It was a ring to mark their betrothal,” Varric enlightened him. “Tempest made the king in there promise that if she died, he wouldn’t marry Loghain’s daughter. That was his wife, Loghain’s daughter, standing beside him.”
“Ouch,” Dorian shook his head.
Blackwall quietly slipped into the room. “Fiona is gathering her people together. She will meet us at the Crossroads in two days’ time. Then we can return to Haven. I think it best we leave after the Herald just told the Queen of Ferelden to shut up.” He ignored the wild gestures that Varric was making towards him. “Josephine isn’t going to like that.”
“Is féidir le Josephine mo asal a phóg,” Elisabeta muttered in native Highever.
“What?” Blackwall had no idea what she’d said.
“You don’t want to know,” Varric assured him. “How many languages do you speak, Tempest?”
She didn’t say anything more, but held up three fingers.
The door opened yet again and Arl Teagan walked in. “Lissa…” He hesitated.
“Don’t worry, now that the Magister is in our custody, we’ll get our men out of your town,” Blackwall assured him.
Elisabeta lifted her head. “You don’t speak for me, Warden Blackwall. What do you want, Teagan?”
“I… you’re alive,” he managed. “Can I not come and say hi to my friend and tell her how happy I am to see her again?”
“Happy? Friend?” She glared at him through her tears. “You’re just happy I’m here to fix your messes again. Did you have anything to do with that unholy union in there?” She jabbed a finger towards the throne room, where she assumed Alistair and Anora still were. “Did you back it or was it just your brother?”
“Eamon felt…” He began.
“Eamon felt,” she cut him off, her voice rising. Dorian kept his grip on her, half in support and half to keep her from ripping out the arl’s throat with her bare hands. “Eamon has wanted to be the power behind the throne as long as I’ve known him. Your father thought he was that to Queen Moira, didn’t he? He made sure your sister was betrothed to Maric, a convenient little arrangement for the Guerrins. How long has your family been trying to wrestle true control of Ferelden from the other noble families? Does Eamon openly call himself the King Maker now? That’s what you’ve all wanted for generations. Well, know this. The Couslands will not stand idly by while you play games that would make the Orlesians envious. I’m declaring a feud against the House of Guerrin here and now. We aren’t friends and never will be. I will use everything within my influence to stop your family’s continued rise to power.”
“Are you sure this is such a good idea,” Blackwall couldn’t believe he was witnessing the Herald of Andraste declaring war on a family. “Aren’t we supposed to be better than this?”
“Clúdaithe, Blackwall,” Elisabeta snapped at him, not caring that he didn’t understand the ancient language.
“Very well, my lady,” Teagan bowed. “The Guerrins accept your challenge. After all, we are the ones in positions of power now and you have been dead for ten years. Do your best.” He swept out of the room.
“Did he just forget that your brother is still a teyrn?” Varric wondered.
“I’ll write Fergus and let him know I declared a family feud,” Elisabeta leaned back against Dorian. “He never liked Eamon or Teagan, anyway. Eamon married an Orlesian and Rendorn was an Orlesian sympathizer until Moira convinced him to join the Ferelden Rebels. Father always suspected they were more power hungry than truly in it for the cause. Rendorn sent Eamon and Teagan to the Free Marches when he began fighting; they weren’t part of the effort to regain our freedom.”
“They could cause trouble for the Inquisition,” Blackwall objected.
“It doesn’t look like they were exactly helping us before,” Dorian pointed out.
“Still, Lissa has told the Queen of Ferelden to shut up and now declared a feud on the rulers of Redcliffe,” Blackwall didn’t want to be the one to try to smooth over matters between Ferelden and the Inquisition now.
“I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as you fear, Blackwall, relax,” Dorian had seen the way the King of Ferelden looked at Elisabeta.
Alistair continued to stare at the ring in his hand for several moments. Then he took a leather binding from his own clothing and slipped the ring through. Then he tied it around his own neck for safe keeping.
“You aren’t going to keep another woman’s ring, are you?” Anora demanded an answer.
“Yes, I am,” his voice was cold. Elisabeta had thrown the ring he’d given her, the token of his love and devotion back at him. What did Anora expect him to do with it? He would keep it, just as he was keeping Starfang. The sword had been with him since he’d lost Elisabeta. It was like always having a piece of her by his side. He wasn’t giving that up, not even to her. “Oh, look, your boy toy’s back.” He noted as Teagan marched back into the room.
“Is the Inquisition going to get their soldiers out of Redcliffe now?” Anora asked Teagan as he strolled to them.
“I’m not sure,” he looked back at the door. “Elisabeta seems to have gone insane. I don’t know if it has something to do with dying and coming back or if this Inquisition really is made up of a bunch of crazy seekers and washed up Chantry Sisters. Probably, both. She is being unreasonable and we should make an effort to disband the group. They are obviously under Orlesian control and a threat to us.”
“I believe the large Breach in the sky is the real threat,” Alistair disagreed. “Is Beta all right?”
“She was wound around that Tevinter Magister that she keeps by her side,” Teagan sneered. “I have no doubt they are lovers.”
Alistair blanched. What was he supposed to do with that knowledge? He wanted to challenge the other man to a duel. He was sure that no one, much less a Tevinter Magister, was worthy of Elisabeta. But she was a strong, smart, beautiful woman and he was a married man. He had married out of duty to his country and now he was ready to hang it all and chase after her. What kind of man would that make him, though? Not one that deserved a woman like her. Maybe one who deserved a wife like Anora. He tried to reprimand himself for the last thought, but couldn’t. “Well, her taste hasn’t improved much then.” He turned to Anora. “Let’s go home. Teagan, try to take better care of your castle from now on.”
Chapter 32: Well Informed Watery Wenches
Elisabeta gets advice from the Lady of the Lake and then plays cards.
The small lake’s rippling water reflected the clouds that covered the Hinterlands. Beside it, on the docks, Elisabeta sat cross-legged with a basket in her lap. The basket was filled with blood lotus. “I don’t want more swords,” she tossed one of the flowers in the lake. “I just came to talk,” another flower followed. “I need someone to talk to, but… I can’t talk to my companions. Not even Varric, who I know is my friend. I… I am still trying to sort out my own feelings.”
The water stirred and a barn swallow flew down to sit beside her.
“I guess I can talk to both of you,” she nodded to the bird. “I’m not sure where to start; when I returned from the dead, while I was in the Abyss, before I died, when my family was massacred? During the Fifth Blight, I was one of the only two Grey Wardens to survive the Battle of Ostagar. We’d been betrayed by Loghain. Alistair and I were rescued by Flemeth, The Flemeth, the Legendary Witch of the Wilds. She sent us off to build an army to face the archdemon with. She insisted her daughter, Morrigan, go with us. During the time we were gathering allies, we… I… fell in love. I thought he… Alistair loved me, too. Now I don’t know if he did. Before a Landsmeet in Denerim, we found another Grey Warden. He was an Orlesian Warden named Riordan. He gave us some bad news.”
The swallow cocked its head at her and hopped closer.
“I guess I should get back to the Landsmeet. No, before that. I found the Temple of Sacred Ashes and used a pinch of the Ashes of Andraste to cure Arl Eamon. When I did, he declared that Alistair must be the next king. He was right about that. Alistair was the bastard son of King Maric, after all. He was the last of the Theirin bloodline, I guess he still is. He and Anora don’t have any children, believe me, I asked around about that. Then again, I guess he could have produced a bastard child of his own with someone. He refused to with Morrigan, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Eamon was not only insistent that Alistair must take the throne, but he wanted him to wed Anora to secure it. It was one way to ensure that the Landsmeet went in our favor.” She tossed another flower into the lake.
“You didn’t need Anora’s aid to sway the bannorn to your side,” the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water. “Perhaps if you were not a Cousland, you may have, but you outranked her. Her father may have held the title of teyrn, but he was born a farmer.”
“Wow, you are well informed,” Elisabeta was impressed.
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” the spirit assured her. “Continue, though. I can just listen if you’d like. Gawain,” she greeted the swallow.
“I could use some sage advice,” Elisabeta assured her. “Eamon wanted Alistair to marry Anora, but I wasn’t going for that. I declared that we would rule together. He, Alistair that is, seemed thrilled at the prospect. He even rushed us to Soldier’s Peak where he had my engagement ring made. I gave him my father’s ring. When we returned to Redcliffe, though, we got some bad news from Riordan.”
“He told you that the only way for an archdemon to die is for a Grey Warden to die with it,” the Lady supplied.
“Morrigan was waiting in my room that night,” Elisabeta continued. “She told me that the Warden’s fate was worse than death, that the archdemon and Warden’s souls were both destroyed.”
“A soul can not be destroyed,” the Lady declared. “It is not temporal; it is energy and will go on no matter what.”
“Which is how I ended up in the Abyss for ten years, she was right that the Warden’s soul didn’t go to the Maker’s side. I guess that the Abyss was the only way to make sure the Old Gods didn’t come back,” she reasoned. “It would have been so easy to get lost in that place. It is just unending darkness. The darkness isn’t all of it, though. It… it is an oppression that makes you want to forget who you are. You wonder, lost. Not just lost as in you can’t find your way to something, you lose you, who you are. I clung to my memories, refusing to lose myself. There was a bit of the pain, but mostly it was the memories of who and what I cherished the most that I held onto. I clung to every memory I had of that man, everything I felt for him. He was the best part of me, him and my family. Yet when Morrigan told me of the dark ritual and how she could ensure we both lived, I… I considered it. I would let her do that just to keep him safe and I didn’t want either of us to be destroyed like that. He refused. He hated her and… he claimed he couldn’t betray me like that,” he let out a bitter laugh.
“Yet you feel he has betrayed you,” the Lady supplied.
“Oh, yes,” Elisabeta agreed. “As we marched to Denerim from Redcliffe, I made him promise me something. I made him promise that he wouldn’t marry Anora. I admit part of it was that I absolutely abhor the woman. The other part was that I thought she’d just make him miserable. I realize now that he’d had no doubt that he would be making that final kill. He is faster and stronger than I am. I doubt he’d factor in one of us being much closer to the archdemon. Still, he made the promise and I made the kill. He…” She let out a little breath as she realized she was on the verge of crying again. “I’m almost certain Eamon started pressuring him immediately to just marry Anora.”
“He’s the one who gave into the pressuring, though,” the Lady understood better than Elisabeta realized.
“He did,” Elisabeta nodded. “He’s hers now.”
“Is he?” The Lady questioned that. “She certainly must believe so, but do you and does he?”
“I… he… they’re married,” Elisabeta tossed another flower into the water and then laid one beside the swallow.
“And you?” The lady prompted. “Do you fight to get back what she and Eamon stole from you or do you find another?”
“That’s the question,” Elisabeta agreed. “I’m determined to move on, but… For example, Cullen is a good man and I like spending time with him, not that there seems to be more there. Well, maybe there is. Or I could make a political marriage as he did.”
“Because that has made so many people happy,” the Lady crossed her arms. “No, it has not. If it did, this land would not have run red with blood so long ago; staining the soil permanently and giving the town and castle their name.”
“What?” Elisabeta hadn’t heard this story. “There was a battle?”
“More than that,” the Lady assured her. “You’ve already noted that there is something wrong with this area. It seems cursed to you, does it not? The land and the Guerrins.”
“I… sort of… just declared a family feud upon the Guerrins,” Elisabeta admitted.
“Good for you,” the Lady nodded. “They are part of the curse upon this land. Both a cause and a result. They aren’t the rightful heirs to this land, but descendants of one of Tiranon’s bastards. Go to the Keep where Lornan was exiled. You will find the evidence against them. The truth of who they really are. Under the Keep is where you will find some of the truth about who the original Guerrins really were.”
“You’ll help me against them?” Elisabeta was surprised.
“I am a spirit of Valor, Rowan was the last to bear the name Guerrin who showed any,” the Lady declared. “I like most of yours and will counsel you to fight against the cowardice of your heart.”
“The cowardice of my heart?” Elisabeta repeated.
“Your heart has known what it wants, yet you are too afraid to seize it,” the Lady explained. “You would even consider a political union rather than fight to recover what you lost. When Howe seized your family’s castle, did you think of marrying an arl or bann and settling for their lands instead?”
“No, I avenged my family and was going to retake our lands,” she asserted.
“Even after you returned from the worst of the lands of the dead, you were still determined to take back your family’s lands,” the Lady could see the valiant path. “You found, however, that it was back where it belonged. So why would you leave something you love just as much in the hands of another?”
“Well…” Elisabeta was a bit flummoxed. The spirit had a point. “Alistair chose to be in her hands. In the end, it was his choice to make.”
“Look,” the Lady’s voice was soft, but her words firm and a bit harsh; which reminded Elisabeta of Wynne. “Love is love, not a suicide pact. If you want him back, take him back, but being angry because he continued living is just plain stupid.”
“I don’t know if I want him back,” Elisabeta objected. “That’s what I need to figure out. I just threw my engagement ring, the one he gave me at him.”
“Then your answer is easy,” the Lady smiled. “Do you want the ring back or do you want someone else’s.” She sank back into the lake.
The swallow looked up at her, head cocked. He then picked up the blood lotus in his beak and flew off
“Damn,” she knew the answer, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
Fiona sat back in a large, comfortable chair in the Gull and Lantern when Elisabeta returned to Redcliffe. “We’re ready to leave when you are,” Fiona announced when she saw the other woman. She studied Elisabeta for a few moments. “What…” She shook her head. “Never mind.”
Bella came running out from behind the bar. “Thank you!” She embraced Elisabeta. “When you returned to us I knew… I knew you’d save us again.”
“That seems to be my job,” Elisabeta agreed.
“And you’re so good at it, Tempest,” Varric commented from a nearby table. “I don’t suppose you play Wicked Grace, do you? I was going to start a game with Hero and Sparkler.”
“I do play,” she sat down across from him. “I hope you don’t cheat like your friend, Isabela does.”
“Isabela cheats?” Varric scowled, thinking of all of the times the pirate had beaten him at cards. “How do you know she cheats? Also, she’s more Hawke’s friend than mine.”
“I beat her at cards once. It seems I cheat better than she does,” Elisabeta revealed. “She agreed to teach me to duel because of it.”
“So are we going to get this game started?” Dorian pulled a chair up to their table. “I’m anxious to win all of your money; I have a feeling that living in the south means good fashion will cost me more.”
“Here in Ferelden, we like our fashion practical,” Elisabeta explained. “We like to be able to look good, but still rip the hearts from our enemies. Orlesians, on the other hand, try to outdo each other in ridiculousness. If it’s shiny or overly pretentious, they have to wear it. Have you seen some of those noble women try to even run in those shoes of theirs? And they would have no chance against a rabid bunny.
“A rabid bunny?” Blackwall pulled a chair up to the table.
“It seems that Orlesians are in danger from them,” Dorian explained. “The bunnies of Thedas are apparently also fashion critics, as they should be.”
“Are you in or out, Hero,” Varric began to shuffle the cards.
“I have another mission in the Hinterlands,” Elisabeta studied her cards.
“Please, Tempest, let’s just go back to Haven first,” Varric begged.
“Do you want me to find evidence of wrongdoings by the Guerrins without you?” She fluttered her eyelashes over her cards at him. “Think of all the secrets we might uncover. We’ll go back to Haven, though. I don’t want Fiona facing off against Cullen, the ex-Templar, by herself.”
“It would be really bad if the Iron Lady has unfrozen,” Varric agreed. “My sources say that she and Fiona never got along.”
“I may have… reinforced… the spell on her,” Elisabeta admitted. “Dorian has been teaching me to channel my magic and, well, I know she isn’t a weapon, but I sort of… channeled some ice magic into the Vivienne statue before I left Haven.” She looked at her companions. “If anyone tells Josephine, I’ll make sure Leliana pins their small clothes to the chanter’s board.”
“Speaking of channeling,” Dorian picked up his mug and handed it to Elisabeta. She bit her lip and then touched it with her index finger. The mug frosted over. “Very nice.”
“Isn’t it wrong to use magic for personal gain?” Blackwall scowled. Dorian laughed in response.
As Elisabeta and the Free Mages headed to Haven, news of her encounter with the king reached Highever. She’d sent a personal message to her brother after all.
“She’s declared a feud against the Guerrins,” Fergus reported to his wife over dinner.
River grinned and lifted her goblet. “They have been trying to wheedle some of the power from Ferelden’s teyrns and Eamon thinks he is secretly ruling Ferelden with no one noticing. We have been powerless to move against them. Good for Lissa.”
“That’s my pup,” he agreed.
River looked at Eleanor. “Darling, you may see how Fereldens play the game and why Orlesians are short-sighted.”
Chapter 33: Thawing out Madame de Idiote
Elisabeta returns to Haven with the Free Mages. Not all of her advisers are happy.
Elisabeta could hear the Inquisition’s leaders arguing as she walked into Haven’s chantry. “It is not a matter for debate,” Cullen was insisting. “There will be abominations among the mages and we must be prepared.”
“If we rescind the offer of an alliance, it makes the Inquisition appear incompetent at best and tyrannical at worse,” Josephine countered.
Cullen turned on Elisabeta as she walked in. “What were you doing? Turning mages loose with no oversight.”
“Yes, because Templar oversight has always worked so well,” Elisabeta snarked. “They turn to blood magic to win their freedom, all because the men and women in dresses are sick of being oppressed by the men and women in skirts.”
“With the veil broken, the threat of possession…” Cullen trailed off, letting the implication speak for itself.
“I’ve fought through plenty of rifts and have had only Dorian to teach me to use this newfound magic,” Elisabeta shrugged. “I haven’t been possessed once.”
“Why didn’t you insist on going with her?” Cullen questioned Cassandra.
“Even if I was there, I doubt things would have been different,” Cassandra assured him. “Lissa does what she wants, but has proven she knows what she is doing in such situations. She has built an army before. Besides, while I may not be thrilled about the situation, I approve of it. We need the Free Mages by our side.”
“The voice of pragmatism speaks,” Dorian stepped forward, from where he’d hidden in the shadows behind Elisabeta. He set a wine glass on the head of the ice statue of Vivienne; he found her double horned headwear to be perfect for holding such things. “And here I was beginning to enjoy the more circular arguments.”
“Closing the Breach is all that matters,” Cassandra declared.
“That much magic means a lot of lyrium,” Elisabeta observed. “I have contacts, but King Balen is a personal… friend.”
“If that is what you want to call it,” Leliana smirked. “I would call him more of a grateful acquaintance who’d better remember his debts.”
“We should take talk of the Breach to the war room,” Cullen suggested. He turned to Elisabeta. “Join us; you’re the one who will have to close that thing, after all.”
“And here I was hoping to sit out the assault on the Breach, go for a walk or take a nap perhaps,” she objected.
He grinned at her. “What is it they say? No rest for the wicked.”
“Speaking of wicked,” Josephine glared at Elisabeta. “I have a few things I need to talk to you about. What is this I’m hearing about you yelling at the King of Ferelden? Did you really punch Anora?”
“I did, I really did,” Elisabeta freely admitted. “You have to understand, though, her face really, really needed punching. There was that whole throwing of the Free Mages out of Ferelden and the fact that she is a viperous bitch.”
“I need to speak with Lissa privately,” Leliana apologized to Josephine. She led her friend out of the chantry building.
Josephine stared at the Vivienne ice statue. At least with all of the Free Mages in Haven, there should be someone who could do something about her.
Elisabeta followed Leliana through the main gates of the village and to the cabin in the woods that Zevran had taken for his own.
“So our beautiful death goddess has returned,” Zevran embraced Elisabeta. “I hear you had a run in with our own blushing former choir boy and his viper of a wife.”
“I did,” she confirmed.
“I could kill that ogress for you,” Zevran offered. “You just have to say the word or convince Leliana that the Inquisition wouldn’t suffer as a result of… an accident per se… befalling the woman when I just happen to be in the area.”
“You can’t just assassinate her,” Leliana insisted. “Not if Alistair is around, I don’t want him to be accused of arranging it; even if he did marry the harpy. Besides, Josephine would have a fit.” She switched to an Antivan accent. “Niceness before knives, Leliana.”
“What happened when you saw him with that…perra?” Zevran wondered. “I left after he married her, as I had explained. After that betrayal, I couldn’t stay. It didn’t matter that I suspected that Anora planned to assassinate Alistair herself, so she could sit on the throne unopposed as she had wanted to in the first place. She only tolerated him, to begin with, because he is a Theirin.”
“I suspect that Eamon has been the one keeping her from having a knife plunged into Alistair’s back,” Leliana added. “Even with you declaring some war against the Guerrins, I doubt Eamon would turn on Alistair. He and Anora have some unholy alliance, but I doubt he would support her if she killed Alistair outright. He cares too much about the Theirin bloodline and knows he would be the next under her knife. Alistair is a strong king in his own right though. He’d do you proud, Lissa. If Eamon were to die, he’d be fine, but Anora would lose a strong influence over her husband.”
“She might take a page from my countrymen’s leaders and kill them both,” Zevran warned. “The only thing that has kept her from doing so is that she has no child of the royal blood to keep her in power. Her sterility is likely a blessing for Alistair, although if it is he who can not reproduce it may also be a bit of a curse. Still, he has named Eleanor Cousland as his heir. Anora would have to take out Fergus and River Cousland as well to take control of her. With a feud going, she may try to send assassins to Castle Cousland to kill Fergus and his family first. She would then frame Eamon.”
Elisabeta’s heart froze and a cold wave of ice spread through her veins. In her anger and rage at Eamon and Teagan, she may have endangered her family. “Zevran…”
“Don’t worry, my sweet dagger,” he assured her. “I will bring these concerns to Josephine and we shall come up with a plan to protect those you love. Perhaps I will have to go myself. I’ve never seen your home. Alas, that would mean not getting to see my Antivan Melagrano every morning.”
“Wait, are you serious about Josie?” Leliana’s eyes widened and a little smile spread across her pretty face. “I thought you were just flirting.”
“Oh, I am flirting,” he assured her. “She is an interesting mix of Antivan cold processing and a passion to see right done, there is also an underlying need for adventure. She needs more feats of daring to keep her entertained and jeopardy to keep life interesting. You can see that need brimming under her lovely olive skin and those dark fawn eyes.”
“Oh,” Leliana tapped her fingers against the dagger hidden on her upper thigh. “Keep flirting with by all means, then. You aren’t going to Castle Cousland; Anora knows what you look like. I’ll send my spies to blend in and protect the family. Don’t worry, Lissa, no one will get near your family.”
“Thank you,” Elisabeta closed her eyes. “I… the Guerrins make me so angry; they have been trying to maneuver themselves behind the throne. And I’m furious that Anora has the very things I wanted in life… even… the one person I…” She stopped, but then felt compelled to continue. “And she doesn’t even appreciate what she has. She thinks the throne should be hers because her daddy said so. And she isn’t capable of loving someone else the way Alistair should be loved. The way…”
“The way you and he loved each other. We all saw how much you two loved each other,” Zevran sighed and brought both hands to his heart. “I still have scorch marks from being between the looks you two used to give each other from opposite ends of the camp.”
“You still love him, don’t you,” Leliana added. “You wouldn’t be so angry if you didn’t. You wouldn’t have thrown your ring at him. You loved that ring; you loved it more than you should have and you did so because he gave it to you.”
“I would be a fool to still love him,” Elisabeta didn’t want to admit just how much she did, she might break. NO! She shouted at herself. She could not let herself… admit… how she felt. There was no reason to, he’d made his choice. The words of the Lady in the Lake came to her, though. The man she loved was in the hands of another. Still, he’d put himself in those hands. “I disliked the Guerrins before, but now I despise Eamon for pushing Alistair into…” She shook her head. “I need to go back to the Hinterlands. I have been led to believe that there was once a fortress there that would reveal secrets the Guerrins rather not see the light of day.”
“I could just send scouts,” Leliana offered.
“No, I want to do this myself,” Elisabeta insisted.
“Who do you plan to take with you?” Leliana wondered.
“Dorian, of course, I’m still learning to use my magic,” Elisabeta thought for a minute. “Varric, he hates the Hinterlands, but he’s great at ferreting out things others would rather keep hidden. I’ll take Bull for the same reason.”
“Meanwhile, you might want to find a way to smooth Cullen’s feathers, he’s still fretting about all of the mages. Josephine’s also trying to write a letter of apology to the Ferelden Crown for the callous way you addressed their majesties and your uncivilized actions,” Leliana informed her.
“They exiled the mages!” Elisabeta’s face turned red just thinking about it, Alistair had seen what they went through. “He saw the results of their oppression when Kinloch Hold had an uprising, the mages declaring they would rather turn to blood magic than remain under the control of the Templars. He traveled with Wynne and Morrigan. He heard about Wynne’s baby being taken from her, he’s heard of Templars who force themselves on the mage’s under their control, he knows of the bullying and inhumanity. They must have heard of what led to the rebellion at Kirkwall. I was dead at the time and I’ve heard about mages who had passed their Harrowings being made Tranquil. They don’t deserve an apology. No one is apologizing to my ex and his hag. Teagan left his people and abandoned a fortress on Ferelden’s borders to a Tevinter Magister.”
“You’re going to give Josephine the vapors if you keep referring to the heads of a nation like that,” Leliana warned.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t call Celene the Head Invasion Frippery Frog in front of her?” Elisabeta raised an eyebrow. “Don’t send her to a Landsmeet, she’d have an apoplexy. I still would prefer that any apologies she sends on behalf of the Inquisition don’t include one from me, I’ll let her know. Perhaps we can send Cassandra with flowers and a fruit basket to explain to them that the Inquisition is not responsible for the acts of the crazy Herald of Andraste.”
“Your act of allying the Free Mages was that of an agent of the Inquisition and we will not step back from your authority to do so,” Leliana insisted. “You protected the citizens of Redcliffe and expelled a magister from a Ferelden Castle. I will not allow your position and power to be diminished in order to assuage the hurt feelings of those who allowed chaos to rein in their lands. I’ll talk to her. You can go check on our new allies.”
Josephine approached the head of the Free Mages as they settled in. “Fiona? Grand Enchanter Fiona?”
“Yes?” Fiona gave her a little smile. “May I help you?”
“Yes,” Josephine took a deep breath. “An… incident… occurred and a member of the Inquisition was frozen by a rebounded spell. I need for you to… fix… her.”
“Show me,” Fiona nodded. She followed Josephine into the chantry building and to the Frozen Vivienne. She threw her head back and laughed. “Tell me that someone has at least sketched this scene.”
“Sera insisted on it, as did Dorian,” Josephine’s teeth ground against each other.
“I can’t fix her, I don’t think anyone can,” Fiona declared. “I can unfreeze her, though. Would you have someone bring me a chair, please?”
“Why do you need a chair?” Josephine wondered, but went and had one brought.
“Thank you,” Fiona sat down, crossing her ankles primly. Then she smirked once again before getting to work. “The mage who reinforced these spells has quite the potential. I believe the first spell was Madame de Idiote’s own, however.”
“Yes, it was… deflected back on her,” Josephine recalled.
Fiona slowly pulled away the extra reinforcements on the spell and then snapped.
Vivienne blinked up at her for a second, still splayed on the stone floor. “Fiona, my dear, did they compel you to come and see me? Are you done having a temper tantrum and smacking at Templars ineffectively like a testy kitten?”
“The Free Mages are now the allies of the Inquisition,” Fiona’s smile was belittling. “Josephine, our new ally’s ambassador, asked me to unfreeze you as a favor. It seems you’ve been an even more official Chantry decoration for the last couple of months. People didn’t just say you were a useless decoration, you really were. I hear there is a Tevinter Altus who will miss having his favorite coaster around.”
Chapter 34: Plotting With Friends
The Ferelden royal couple plots against each other's best interests.
“It’s nice having you around again, your majesty,” Gareth, the Ostwick Ambassador, lounged in comfortable, armed chair with deep, soft red cushions in the music room that Alistair had designated in the Denerim Palace. There was a large harp in the middle of the room, with a soft crimson cushion behind it. There was also a lute, a large hammer and dulcimer, an organistrum, and a zampogna. There had once been a large and a small bagpipe there, but Anora had destroyed them after Alistair named Eleanor his heir. She had said some choice things about the Couslands as she did so. There was a raised dais in one corner where a band could set up. On the walls hung a tapestry that depicted a fairy with pipes playing to a dragon. Red and gold banners were on the other walls, set between the large iron sconces.
Alistair sat behind a large harp, as Simon Tabor taught him to play. Master Tabor was sought out among all of the noble houses of Ferelden to teach their children to play instruments.
“I was wondering when you were going to learn to play that thing by your bed, Al,” Gareth commented. “Isn’t this one new?” He waved at the harp that Alistair was settled behind.
“It is easier to learn on a large harp than that little lap harp he keeps in his private rooms,” Simon had seen the lap harp and insisted that Alistair get a larger one since he knew the king could afford one.
“You’ve been thinking about her again, haven’t you?” Four years before, Gareth and Alistair had gone drinking. Truth be told, they went drinking often. On that particular night, however, Alistair had told Gareth about the woman he’d loved and lost. He had told him of how they had met and how much he’d come to love her. He also told of the chain of decisions and events that had led to the horrible day he’d held her lifeless body in his arms as others cheered. By the end, both heavily inebriated men had been crying.
“I saw her,” Alistair admitted. “She was at Redcliffe Castle when I went to expel the Tevinter Magister from Ferelden… only she’d already taken care of him. Of course, she had, I should have expected it.”
“Alistair…” Gareth sat up straight and then leaned towards his friend. “She really is this Herald of Andraste. She is… alive, it isn’t just someone claiming to be her?”
“I told you that Fergus had already confirmed that for me,” Alistair reminded him. “I would have had no doubt after this meeting, that’s for sure. She yelled at us for being bad rulers, punched Anora, and threw her engagement ring at me. Oh, she also apparently declared a feud against the Guerrins.”
“But… she was dead,” Gareth was having a hard time wrapping his head around that.
“I was there when she died,” Alistair confirmed. “I…” He swallowed hard. “I lit her funeral pyre myself. It is her, though. She’s back… and I’m married to someone else.”
“Someone she punched,” Gareth couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. There was no love lost between him and Anora. He knew she’d used her body to influence the previous ambassador and she’d tried with him when they had been negotiating a trade deal.
“Someone I promised her I wouldn’t marry,” Alistair stared at the harp. “I did betray her and I have no idea how to make it up to her.” Simon softly gave him instructions and he followed, playing a simple children’s song as he thought.
“Is that why you are learning to play the harp, finally?” Gareth wondered.
“She used to play it and sing to me when I had nightmares,” Alistair’s cheeks pinked. “I… she… we both had horrible nightmares during the Blight.”
“If you could pick any outcome for this scenario, what would it be?” Gareth listened to the little tune. His friend had been practicing, that was evident. He had a feeling that it had something to do with the return of a certain woman to Thedas. She was on his mind that was for sure.
“If I could pick out any outcome?” Alistair kept playing and smiled dreamily. “Anora would drop dead from her cold heart having not beaten since birth and Elisabeta would forgive me and tell me that she loves me again.”
“Has she told you she doesn’t love you anymore?” Gareth pushed.
“She threw her engagement ring at me,” Alistair stopped playing and reached under his shirt, pulling out the ring that was still attached to a leather cord.
“So she still feels something,” Gareth nodded. “How did she have the ring again, by the way? Was she resurrected with it?”
“I gave our engagement rings to Fergus,” Alistair began playing again. “He probably gave them to her. “I asked him to give them to one of his children. I thought Eleanor and her husband could wear them someday, so they would at least be on the left hands of the rulers of Ferelden as they were once intended to be.”
“You are more sentimental than I thought,” Gareth grinned at that. “For a man who is uncomfortable about his ties to his own family, you get very maudlin and rosewater about your Beta.”
Alistair couldn’t deny that he would always have a romantic soft spot for Elisabeta. He fully realized that in the ten years he’d been without her, his feelings for her hadn’t diminished. He would love her for all eternity. “Fergus must have given them to her.”
“And she took them,” Gareth added. “She didn’t leave them in Highever or sell them.”
“My engagement ring, the one I wore, used to be her fathers,” Alistair objected. “Of course she wouldn’t sell it.”
“And the one you now have around your neck, like a love token, she kept it,” Gareth continued on. “She had it on her when she saw you.”
“She had both rings on a chain around her neck,” Alistair admitted.
“She was wearing them?” Simon spoke up.
“Interesting,” Gareth nodded. “And very telling. Have you ever met her, Ser Simon?”
“I taught her music, as well,” Simon admitted. “I’ve known her since she was a little girl. She also plays the bagpipes and has a lovely singing voice.”
“Apparently, she used to sing to our king here,” Gareth’s voice became teasing. “She’d sing him to sleep.” Then the teasing edge disappeared. “I’ve never had a woman who would sing me to sleep or sit and play beautiful music while I relaxed from a nightmare.”
“I don’t have one anymore,” Alistair pointed out. “Maker, I do miss her.”
“Then get her back,” Gareth pressed.
“I’d rather be married to her than Anora,” Simon muttered under his breath.
“But I am married to Anora,” Alistair protested. “Wishing cannot make it otherwise.”
“Win your love’s affections back and then worry about the harpy Eamon convinced you to chain to yourself,” Gareth insisted. “Send the ring back to her. No, it’s too soon to return the ring. We must try something else first. As soon as you are done with your music lesson, we’re going to the market.”
“We’ll finish later,” Simon stood. “Let’s go now.”
“What are those men doing?” Anora watched her reluctant husband sneak past her with his buddy, Gareth, and an old music teacher.
“Do we care?” Megan, the Ambassador from Starkhaven and one of Anora’s closest confidants, snorted. “Unless they are going to finally rid of us their unwanted presence. You could finally start calling the shots in Ferelden again if you could just get rid of Alistair.”
“If I did, Eamon would make sure that my part in things was revealed,” Anora sighed. “I’ve had to answer to his demands since he arranged for me to get my throne back. However, now that the Bitch of Andraste has declared a personal feud against his family, he might begin to see things my way. My Tender Teagan told me all about it in the letter he sent from Redcliffe. Her soldiers are still there, intimidating him and his men.”
“At least Eamon may be more likely to turn a blind eye to your activities,” Megan agreed. “I have some… friends… from Tevinter that might be able to help you there. I will put out some feelers.”
“Do so,” Anora agreed. “I’m tired of having to answer to that buffoon, especially now that the woman he wanted to put on my throne is back. See if they can’t get rid of that idiot from Ostwick as well.”
“Gladly,” Megan growled. “Ostwick and Kirkwall are getting obvious favoritism from the Crown and Starkhaven shouldn’t be putting up with it.”
“It would help if your prince didn’t put an embargo on our goods,” Anora wasn’t happy about that.
“You were helping the Rebel Mages,” Megan reminded her. “What was Prince Sebastian supposed to do, pat you on the back?”
“We exiled them,” Anora pointed out. “Tell him to lift the bans.”
“You might have exiled them, but they are in Haven with the Inquisition. Haven is in Ferelden,” Megan wondered why few seemed to remember that fact.
Chapter 35: Morning Suprises
A package arrives from Denerim, but trouble is brewing elsewhere.
Elisabeta realized that she was biting at the bit to get to the Hinterlands and find the old Guerrin fortress. She was extremely curious about what hidden secrets were within. She started her day by weaving through the throng of the increasing Haven population, with Calenhad at her side. Her visit was to Leliana.
“There you are,” Leliana beamed at her. Josephine sat under the spymaster’s tent, chewing her bottom lip.
“Were we supposed to meet here?” Elisabeta looked from one woman to the other. “I thought we were meeting in the war room in a few hours to discuss my departure to the Hinterlands tomorrow.”
“I still disagree with you using Inquisition sources on a personal vendetta,” Josephine had already expressed her displeasure at Elisabeta following a course that might add to further strain between the Inquisition and Ferelden. “I also think you should stay and take care of the Breach first.”
“I thought you guys wanted to plan that out without me,” Elisabeta rolled her eyes. “Cullen was so happy putting his little men on a map of the area and his little mage dolls and marching them around, while Cassandra told him to rearrange them. Alistair…” She trailed off. She’d been thinking how happy Alistair would look doing something similar. It had made her want to make a scale model of the Denerim Palace and little dolls of soldiers so he could coordinate the defense of his home. Why did she want to make him presents, even if they would bring a smile to his face? She thought for a moment about his smile and found herself comparing it to Cullen’s. Cullen’s was sexy and made her heart flutter. Alistair’s, on the other hand, was sweet and innocent. At least it had been, she wondered how it might have changed in the more than ten years since she’d seen him smile. He had looked confused and sad when she saw him in Highever and he definitely never smiled when she saw him in Redcliffe. No, he’d scowled and yelled at Fiona for trying to protect her people.
“We have another concern now,” Leliana interrupted her thoughts. “She held up a package. “This came for you from Denerim. I… it says it is from the king, I was afraid the queen might have sent something. Perhaps one of her venomous cousins or a poisonous needle that would prick out. It seems legitimate, though.”
Elisabeta looked over to Josephine. “What are you doing here, then?”
“I have an interest in the interactions between the Herald of Andraste and Ferelden’s Crown,” Josephine insisted.
“I told you, Josie, when Alistair and Lissa are interacting, they aren’t the Herald or the Ferelden Crown,” Leliana’s exasperation was evident in her voice. “This likely has nothing to do with Ferelden.”
Elisabeta took the package and opened it. In the package was a roll of vellum and a gold circlet. Green painted vines and bold red metal roses wound around the circlet base. It was delicate and made with a loving hand. Roses. Alistair was sending her tiny roses and jewelry. She couldn’t help the little smile that lit her face. She opened the letter.
My Dearest Beta,
Please know that I thank the Maker every day that He has returned us to you, just as I curse Him every night for not stopping me from betraying the woman who will always hold my heart. I am sorrier than you can ever know. I admit that I could have handled things in Redcliffe better and it is evident that I did not lose only the one person in Thedas I valued the most, I lost my greatest adviser. I told you once that you were the brightest spot in the darkness of the Blight. Even without a Blight, my world is darker without you. Please, accept this token of my affection and know that you are still the one bright spot in the darkness of my world. Even though we are no longer together, you are the greatest light in my life; just knowing you are out there means so much.
I will always love you,
“Damn him!” She sat down on the ground, holding the paper and circlet. How was she going to move on when he was declaring his undying love and sending her presents? It wasn’t any mere present, it was sweet and sentimental.
“What’s going on?” Cassandra ran in. “I just heard Lissa. What has happened?”
“It seems that a certain king is sending her tokens of affection,” Leliana took the paper out of Elisabeta’s hand and read it. “Affection indeed,” she handed the letter to Cassandra.
Cassandra quickly read it, while Elisabeta studied the circlet. “How roman… interesting.”
Elisabeta put the circlet on her head, almost without thinking and snatched the letter back. “This is between Alistair and me.”
“Of course, Beta,” Cassandra purposely used the nickname.
“As the Inquisition’s ambassador, I should be privy to all communications between you and the heads of our allies,” Josephine held out her hand to take the paper.
Elisabeta held it to her chest. “This is private.” She stood to leave.
“I wanted to discuss the Hint…” Cassandra began but was interrupted as Cullen came rushing in.
“Oh, good, Cassandra, you are… Lissa, good you’re both here,” his hand was gripping his sword hilt so tightly that it was turning blue. “We have trouble in the Fallow Mire. Avvar have seized one of our patrols. They sent a messenger to Scout Harding. The messenger said someone calling the Son of Korth, a chieftain’s son, has them and will only release them if the Herald of Andraste comes and faces them.”
“I was going back to the Hinterlands,” Elisabeta protested. “I guess I can swing by the Fallow Mire on my way there.”
“You can’t put off closing the Breach that long,” Cassandra objected. “You can go back to the Hinterlands after we take care of that Breach.”
Elisabeta knew she was right, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. “Fine. I have to go save our men. Make sure that the soldiers and mages are ready when I come back.”
“I’m going with you,” Cassandra insisted.
“We’ll be ready, Herald,” Cullen assured her.
“I’ll go grab Dorian and Varric,” Elisabeta exited the tent.
“Why not Sola or Sera?” Cassandra wondered. “Not that I want Sera, either, but Varric is going to gripe about the Wilderness.”
“They both are,” Elisabeta went to get the dwarf. “I wonder which one will out gripe the other.”
“Nice circlet, Lissa,” Dorian sauntered up to her. “When did Seggrit get nice jewelry? Or is Harritt making you very lovely pieces now?”
“It’s from Alistair,” she admitted.
“Oh, do tell,” Dorian grinned. “Was there a note with it? Was it a naughty note?”
“We’ll talk when we’re away from the others,” she assured him, still holding the letter close to her chest.
Chapter 36: Fallow Mire Friends and Fiends
Elisabeta fights through the Fallow Mire to save Inquisition soldiers. She finds a new friend while there.
“He told you that you are the light of his left and he will always love you?” Dorian rode beside Elisabeta on their way to the Fallow Mire.
“He did,” she confirmed.
“I’ve never had a nation’s ruler send me trinkets, much less sworn their undying love to me,” Dorian sighed melodramatically. “I don’t know what to tell you. He did still marry that harpy he promised not to. That does put his word into question.”
“That circlet was an awfully nice bauble for someone who doesn’t still love you,” Varric dissented. “I have friends who have made some pretty bad mistakes. That doesn’t mean they’re not trustworthy or unlovable. It just means they occasionally do stupid things.”
She laughed bitterly. “That does sound like Alistair.”
“You seem awfully quiet, Seeker,” Varric turned to Cassandra. “Do you have anything to say about Tempest’s little conundrum?”
“He is a married man and there are others who hold… affection for you,” Cassandra revealed. “However, he thought you were lost to him and if… well, never mind that. The letter was so full of passion and… I’m not one to give advice on matters of the heart.”
“What matters of the heart?” Scout Harding was grinning at the group as they rode up to her. “Is this about the circlet that King Alistair sent to you, Lady Elisabeta?”
“How did you know about that?” Elisabeta wondered if everyone knew.
“I’m not the head of the Inquisition’s scouts because I’m their best archer,” she smirked. “Welcome to the Fallow Mires, I hope you like rain. It hasn’t stopped since I’ve arrived. Now we have more of a mess that I hope you can fix. Our missing patrols are being held hostage by Avvar. The barbarians have come down from the mountains.”
“How did they end up in a bog?” Elisabeta wondered. “Did they want a change of scenery this badly? Is this their spring vacationing spot?”
“That’s the thing…” Harding hesitated. “Their leader… he wants to fight you, because you’re the Herald of Andraste.”
“Because I’m the Herald?” Elisabeta snorted. “Why doesn’t he just ask for my autograph?”
“He thinks reading is for wusses,” Harding explained. “I doubt he can sign his own name. The leader calls himself the Hand of Korth and believes he is the chosen of their mountain god… who is called Korth. I hope you don’t mind the undead. You fought them when you saved Redcliffe during the Blight.”
“They have never been my favorite,” she admitted. She turned to Dorian. “It’s a good thing I brought you.”
“You expect my necromancy to fight those creatures?” He shrugged. “I’ve never tried to take control of the walking dead, but I probably could if I tried.”
“I actually meant your fire magic, but the other part sounds good,” she thought about it. “Morrigan used to set them on fire. They’d run into each other and spread the flames. You could have them wobbling about, holding swords and combating the other skeletons. Either works”
“We could even make bets on who would win,” Varric suggested. “We could somehow mark them to who is who.”
Cassandra made a disgusted noise. “Let’s go find our men.”
The first thing they found were plague victims, though. They were lying on makeshift pallets with the remnants of worn blankets over them.
“The South’s healers are obviously a thing to be envied,” Dorian snarked.
“How have this many dead been left just to rot?” Elisabeta wondered after they found more bodies left in a cabin, which she looted. “The bog seems to be full of them. How long ago did the plague take place? This area should have fallen under the Teyrn of Gwaren. I admit that I let Alistair kill the last teyrn, but he should have replaced him… unless he let Anora inherit the title. She is a pretty incompetent leader. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”
“I don’t keep up on Ferelden politics,” Dorian admitted.
“I’ll find out for you, Tempest,” Varric swore. “What about the Chantry, though, Seeker?” He addressed Cassandra. “Shouldn’t they have been here, giving last rites and seeing to the funeral pyres?”
“There doesn’t seem to have been any local Chantry presence,” she observed.
“Oh, come on now,” Varric taunted. “The Chantry is everywhere, even harassing poor dwarves while their crazed Seekers stab innocent books.”
As they continued on they found beacons that drew the undead and terror demons out of the moors, making them easier to find. When they camped for the night, they found two notes. One was from one of the patrols, expressing concern that Elisabeta was in danger. The other was from an apostate mage who was hiding out in the bog.
I tried to help, but I was too late. By the time I came to the Fallow Mire, the plague had spread like wildfire. There were few survivors left and they were delirious, burning with fever. There was a woman here who was trying to harvest demons and spirits when I came. She, too, succumbed to the fever, but not before her notes gave me great insights. Another mage had followed her, to find her secrets, but they were crazed and attacked. I had to defend myself and now I have the blood of my fellow mage on my hands, along with the blood of so many others. Now, I hope to find solace. I hope to find the quiet from the songs and the voice. Thedas will do better if I stay here, but there is no one left to help.
Varric shook his head. “That handwriting looks like… someone who desperately wanted some alone time.”
“I miss my lap harp,” Elisabeta murmured as she rinsed out her little wooden bowl. Cassandra had cooked lamb and carrot stew. It reminded her of Alistair’s lamb and pea soup, a uniform mushy grey thing.
“Those horrid whiny bags you insist on playing seem more apropos to this environment, anyway,” Dorian sniffed.
Elisabeta did indeed pull out her bagpipes and began playing. As she did so, Varric and Dorian put their heads together over a ledger. She overheard some of what they were saying.
“No,” Dorian insisted. “She may not realize he is courting her, but he thinks he is. Watch him when they are together, he’s smitten. She just doesn’t seem to realize it. I would give him really long odds, though.”
“I don’t even know if she realizes he’s a man,” Varric replied. “She’s too busy being courted by Curly and a King.”
“What about the Bull,” Dorian muttered. “I think he has a soft spot for her.”
“I think he has a hard spot for you and everyone else in Haven,” Varric countered.
Elisabeta stopped playing and looked over at the pair. “What are you two doing?”
“Nothing!” They chimed together.
That attracted Cassandra’s attention. As Elisabeta began playing another haunting tune, the seeker looked down at the ledger between the two men. “How many pools are there and what are these odds? Why are all of the leaders of the Inquisition, and the king of Ferelden, on there when I am not? There is even Iron Bull and Blackwall. What is this?”
“It is a simple business ledger,” Varric assured her. “You aren’t in it, because… you’re… business doesn’t go that way.”
“What?” Cassandra was confused.
Elisabeta continued to play, wondering what the men were up to.
The second day in the Fallow Mire brought more beacons and undead. It also brought a couple of strange standing stones. “I wonder what these are from,” Elisabeta mused, looking around. “You know what the Inquisition needs, Cassandra?”
“A stronger military and more infrastructures around Haven?” Cassandra suggested.
“Well, yes,” Elisabeta agreed. “We also need an archeological team. Who put these stones up and why? Now that the Temple of Sacred Ashes has been destroyed, we should find out what was under there before the cultists came. We need to know more about who the cultists were. Why doesn’t Ferelden have a university to rival that in Orlais? They have historians and archeologists, but we seem to be lacking.”
“Yes, well… you can talk to your king about… never mind,” Cassandra flinched, remembering the state of affairs between Andraste’s Herald and Ferelden’s rulers.
They continued to explore the area around the stones and found a crack in a circular rock formation that led to more marsh, but there was dry land beyond. There was a camp on that dry land and an apostate mage in robes facing them, staff at ready. Elisabeta let her magic loose to form a ring of frost on Kindness, but didn’t attack.
Cassandra moved forward, sword drawn and the apostate moved his staff, ready for an arcane bolt. “Wait,” Elisabeta commanded. “Are you the healer whose notes I’ve read? The one who came to help?”
“What if I am?” The voice was male and Ferelden. “I’m a dangerous mage, you should attack.”
“I’m a dangerous mage,” Dorian countered from behind Elisabeta. “You don’t want me to attack.”
“Men! Are we going to play a game of who has the bigger staff?” Elisabeta rolled her eyes. “Look, I worked with Morrigan during the Fifth Blight, you can’t be worse than her.”
“You don’t know how…” The mage was cut off.
“Anders!” Varric holstered Bianca and strolled forward. “Is that you under those robes?”
“Varric? What are you doing here?” Anders wanted to know.
“A group of Avvar abducted an Inquisition patrol, we’re going to rescue them,” Varric explained.
“Anders?” Cassandra repeated the name. “The mage who blew up the Kirkwall Chantry?”
Elisabeta sheathed her swords. “Are you, him!” She strolled forward, quicker than the mage could follow and gripped his robes. “You are a healer aren’t you?” She spoke quickly, her voice rising in excitement.
“Yes, well, I was,” he blinked at her.
She tightened her grip and pulled him forward a little. “You helped Hawke in her battle against the crazy Kirkwall Templars, right? You can fight and heal in the combat field?”
“I… yes, I…” He tried to step away, but then stopped and searched her eyes. “Has the plague addled you? I’m a dangerous mage who blew up a church building. People are scared of me.”
“Pfsh,” she let out a ladylike snort. “I’ve killed an archdemon, you don’t frighten me.”
“I have a Fade spirit in me who seeks Justice and encourages me to make rash decisions,” he further protested.
“Okay, so I won’t let you decide on who should become the ruler of Orzammar or Ferelden then,” was her answer. “Orlais is still up in the air. The rash decision could be funny and good for Ferelden. I doubt they would want either of us picking their ruler, though.”
“Let me decide…” Anders took a step back. “So you aren’t just saying that you aren’t going to kill me?”
“Kill you?” Desperation burned in her eyes. “Of course I’m not going to kill you.”
“What about all of the people he killed in the Kirkwall Chantry?” Cassandra protested. “He must be brought to justice.”
“Justice is in the eye of the beholder,” Elisabeta shrugged. “I’ll just pull a chapter out of the Grey Warden’s book of rules and conscript him to the Inquisition.”
“I was conscripted to the Grey Wardens,” Anders admitted. “I ran from Amaranthine.”
“If there were still Howes there, I don’t blame you,” Elisabeta confided. “Wait, you’re a Grey Warden? See, Cassandra, we can’t judge him. The Wardens are the only ones who can and they have disappeared.” She turned back to Anders. “Do you know where they are?” He just shook his head. “Dang, first they all get themselves killed in Ferelden and then when I return from the dead, they all disappear except the one who likes to blow up church buildings. Actually, your pyrotechnic abilities may come in handy, but I really need a healer on my team.”
“Return from the dead? Killed an archdemon?” Anders' eyes widened. “Are you…”
“Elisabeta Cousland, at your service,” she curtsied. “Now I need your service. You are joining the Inquisition. I’m a former Grey Warden, so is Fiona. As we are the only people around who have gone through the Joining, besides the King of Ferelden, you must join us.”
“Do we get matching robes?” Anders wondered. “Wouldn’t that be special, the ex-Grey Warden Society?”
“We should,” she agreed.
“What about Blackwall?” Cassandra wondered. “He is still a Grey Warden.”
“So he claims,” Elisabeta looked sideways at Anders and lowered her voice. “He doesn’t seem to know what the Joining entails and became confused when I talked about the Taint. I still plan to hit him with more questions to see if he knows anything. Perhaps you can see if he feels like a Warden to you.”
“Varric?” Anders looked at his friend.
“It’s good to see you again, Blondie,” Varric grinned. “Welcome to the team. I got nicked by an arrow earlier. Could you see to it?”
“Very well,” Anders sighed. “I am sick of this swamp, I’ll go with you. It seems that Varric needs me.”
“Elisabeta,” Cassandra was exasperated. “You can’t just recruit the mage who blew up Kirkwall’s Chantry and helped start the Mage-Templar war.”
“Josephine recruited Vivienne,” Elisabeta pointed out. “I don’t see a difference. Wait, yes I do. Anders is actually helpful.”
“They say you have a Spirit of Justice in you,” Dorian sidled up to Anders as he packed up his camp.
“He was more like Vengeance there for a bit,” Anders admitted. “The… the apostate who was here before’s notes really did help in teaching me to wrestle full control back from him.”
“I’d like to help you more with… control,” Dorian wiggled his eyebrows. “I find this all so fascinating.”
“Dorian is an Altus from Tevinter,” Elisabeta explained.
“I hope you don’t run into Fenris,” Anders murmured to Varric.
“Wouldn’t that be interesting,” Varric agreed.
“So how did you become a Grey Warden?” Elisabeta wanted to know as they continued towards the castle.
“I was conscripted,” Ander’s voice was terse.
“So was I,” Elisabeta confided. “I told Duncan I had no interest in becoming a Warden. Then he tried to pressure me into becoming one in exchange for his help getting me out of my family’s castle when Howe’s forces besieged it. I still told him no, that’s when he conscripted me.”
“I had been captured by Templars near Amaranthine,” Anders confided. “When the castle was taken by darkspawn, I managed to survive and escape; but my guards were all killed.”
“I haven’t found that Templars do particularly well against darkspawn myself,” Elisabeta confided. She turned to Varric. “Didn’t you say that your friend Aveline was married to a Templar who was killed near Lothering during the Blight?”
“Yes, Ser Wesley,” Varric confirmed.
“As I fried the last trio of darkspawn who had killed my Templar guards, Elyon Andras burst into the room. He was an elven Orlesian Warden who had been sent by Weisshaupt. He was impressed that I still lived.”
“They sent an Orlesian?” Elisabeta’s eyes narrowed. “Does Weisshaupt have no shame… or sense? The Orlesian Wardens couldn’t seem to show up in Ferelden when there was a Blight going on, but the moment the Blight is over, they’re traipsing in; the stinky cheese crumpet masked invasion monkeys.”
“King Alistair came out to meet him,” Anders explained. “He had met up with the rest of the Templars who were hunting me. The Templar Commander tried to arrest me. The king strongly suggested that Elyon conscript me, which he did.”
“It was Alistair’s idea?” She could just see him protecting the apostate mage who’d fought off a horde of darkspawn. He would always champion someone seeking freedom. The thought of seeing him outmaneuver the Templars brought a small smile to her face. Damn him.
“It was,” Anders confirmed. “Boy the Templar Commander was angry about that. It made me kind of like him.”
Twilight had fallen when they made it to the castle. The undead milled about, aimlessly in front of it. Elisabeta unsheathed Excalibur and Kindness, unleashing her magic to coat Kindness in flames. She slashed at the undead, easily blending into the plentiful shadows.
Cassandra batted one walking dead back with her shield, as she beheaded another. “There are too many to fight all of them. We must get to the castle.”
Varric shot bolt after bolt at the oncoming undead. “That’s easier said than done. Why did we leave the horses at camp again?”
“We didn’t want them getting hurt by these creatures,” Dorian reminded him. “Lissa is very fond of Rowan.” He took control of one of the dead and redirected it against its former comrades. Then he threw a firewall up in front of a new group that was trying to join the fray.
Elisabeta cut a swath through the creatures and rushed through the gates, spying a small group of Avvar who were standing in front of a fire, bows ready. She dive-rolled and came up behind them. She beheaded the one who thought themselves safely in the back. Bianca sent one of her bolts between the eyes of another, while Dorian and Anders sent arcane bolts into the Avvar warriors.
“I kind of missed this,” Anders admitted.
“Of course you have, no mage should be sulking in a swamp no matter how radical he got,” Dorian insisted. “Believe me, I’ve seen worse than blowing up a Grand Cleric.”
“Dorian,” Cassandra hissed.
“So have I,” Elisabeta confirmed as she dispatched another Avvar. “I’ve seen abominations running through the halls of Kinloch Keep, I’ve seen the dwarves of Orzammar bury axes into each other over political disagreements, and I’ve heard of a Dalish Keeper summoning a curse on not just a clan of humans but also their decedents because they had raped and murdered his children. If the Denerim Palace had been blown up, would the Chantry have even blinked? I know they did nothing when the inhabitants of Castle Cousland were massacred by the Howes.”
“The Grand Cleric was killed,” Cassandra countered.
“She was part of my target,” Anders revealed.
“Was she any more important than Sister Maerie? Did she deserve to die any less? It sounds like she earned her fate, unlike the priestess who served in my family’s chapel,” Elisabeta snapped out. “I saw Sister Maerie’s body, she’d been impaled by a dagger and her legs were… I suspect some of Howe’s men had violated her. The Chantry never said boo to Howe. What did this grand cleric do when the Qunari attacked? Did she help defend the city or was she hiding in the chantry’s basement? She supposedly had a holy army at her disposal, where were they?”
“Knight Commander Meredith led the Templars against the qunari,” Varric informed her.
“Boy she was mad when Hawke stole her glory and defeated the Arishok,” Anders added as he brought his staff across the head of the last Avvar, and then followed up the blow with a jab from the bottom of his stave. “Later we realized she had indeed gone mad.”
“Did the grand cleric send her thoughts and prayers then?” Elisabeta snarked. “What did she do about the crazy Knight Commander?”
“She refused to get involved in the disputes between Meredith and Orsino,” Varric explained.
“Mages were being abused in the Gallows and she refused to lift a finger to help them,” Ander’s teeth were gritted.
“That is no reason to kill her!” Cassandra insisted.
“Are you sure?” Elisabeta began exploring the castle instead of heading to where Korth was waiting. She found a locked door that she easily opened. She began exploring the room and was surprised at what she found. Her finds included a book that had belonged to the Grey Wardens and several pieces of weapons and armor. “I think this used to be a Grey Warden outpost. I’d never heard of one here, but there used to be a fort in the Korcari wilds, so it’s possible. If we ever find the Ferelden Wardens perhaps we can return it to them.”
“Blackwall would have liked to be here for this,” Cassandra commented. “He has mentioned that he would like to find the history of the Wardens.”
“Oh? When we return to Haven ask him why he didn’t learn their history in the Grey Warden University?” Elisabeta’s voice was sweet.
“Univ…” Anders began, but caught the look Elisabeta shot him. “Indeed.”
Elisabeta eventually led her team further into the ruins where a rather large and smelly Avvar Warrior waited for her.
“Fight me So-Called Herald of Andraste!” He yelled.
“My parents named me Elisabeta!” She shouted back. “You might have known that if you picked up a book, you half-witted druffalo dropping!”
“I am the Hand of Korth!” He attacked her.
She easily dodged the attack, moving to trip his balance. “OK Hand of Korth, that’s the Mountain Father, isn’t it?” she feinted and struck him with Excalibur. “I’ll send your hand to a mountain after I kill you. Which one would you like me to send it to?” She performed a whirlwind move, followed by a cripple. He lurched.
Cassandra charged into his opening and buried her sword into his back. Excalibur and Kindness flashed across his neck, Kindness searing what used to be his throat as Elisabeta finished him off. “Let’s get our men and get out of here.
Chapter 37: Lies and Uncomfortable Truths
Elisabeta returns to Haven with Anders and Blackwall.
“What in the name of Andraste’s bloody nickers is he doing here?” Cullen glared at Anders as Elisabeta’s group road in.
“He helped save our men and he’s a healer,” Elisabeta informed him. “I have recruited him to the Inquisition. I, finally, have a healer on my team and it’s about bloody time.”
“Do you want to explain to Hawke why you tried to hurt his best buddy, Curly?” Varric warned. “You’d have the Hero turned Herald and the Champion after you.”
Cullen continued to scowl at Anders. “I’ll be watching you, if you take one step out of line, I’ll be waiting.”
“You are not arresting my healer,” Elisabeta insisted. “Anyone who wants to arrest or challenge Anders has to face me first.”
“You were there, Cassandra,” Cullen turned to the Seeker. “How did you let her recruit the mage who destroyed the Kirkwall Chantry?”
“I couldn’t stop her,” Cassandra huffed. “And she does need a healer on the team. My shoulder feels better than it has in weeks. It seems are Herald is in support of his actions against the Chantry.”
“What was Meredith’s relationship like with Grand Cleric Elthina?” Elisabeta already had her suspicions.
“They had a friendly relationship, very friendly” Cullen was confused. “Why?”
“I’ll have Leliana look into a suspicion,” she shrugged. “Your men will be back by nightfall. We can take care of the Breach tomorrow morning.”
Cullen nodded and marched stiffly off. He passed Josephine who was strolling to the stables.
“Tell me you didn’t,” Josephine ordered. “Tell me you did not recruit the mage who blew up Kirkwall’s Chantry.”
“He goes by Anders,” Elisabeta informed her. “You recruited the Orlesian Humping Chantry Loyalist and her followers, who I have yet to see. So I believe I have the right to also recruit whoever I want if there is a need for them.”
“Lissa, did you…” Leliana now joined them. She stopped when she saw Anders. “You did. Well, if we wanted a symbol to hold up that we support the Free Mages, this is it.” She sidled beside him. “I’ll support you and the symbol to the Inquisition, but if you blow up another building without my permission, I’ll put a dagger between your ribs and no one will know it was me. I’ll apologize to Lissa for it after the fact.” She then smoothly turned to Josephine and slipped an arm around her shoulders. “We can twist this to our allies so they see the benefit. We truly support freedom for mages and have even taken on the mage who first dared to stand up to his oppressors and declare freedom for his people.”
Anders nodded and glanced at Elisabeta. “This is actually a warmer welcome than I expected. Could I have someone who isn’t homicidal show me to my cabin?”
“You can bunk with me, Blondie,” Varric offered. “I’ll keep you safe… and make sure you aren’t blowing things up without permission.”
“I’m going to get permission?” Anders wondered.
“I’m sure I’ll need something blown up,” Elisabeta was confident. “Someone called the Elder One is planning to assassinate Empress Celene. I would love to blow up some buildings in Orlais. Perhaps a palace or one of those markets that sell those atrocious masks.”
“Let’s go, Blondie, before you give her ideas,” Varric insisted. “Knowing Tempest, she’ll come up with a whole list of buildings she wants to see destroyed and then Ruffles will tell her that the Inquisition can’t just go around destroying the dwellings of her enemies and it will turn into a big ado.”
“Actually, a bit of pyrotechnics might be fun,” Dorian mused as he slid gracefully off of his horse. “We appear to have made a big entrance again. It seems the members of the Southern Chantry are rather uptight about their buildings being blown up.”
“Where else will they hide while the rest of us save their asses?” Elisabeta wondered. “I swear more of them hide there than hide in their cellars.”
“Let’s go have a drink and toast the latest scandal you’ve caused,” Dorian suggested. “This might beat punching the Queen of Ferelden.”
“It isn’t as satisfying, though,” Elisabeta pouted. “Still, let’s go drink.”
The tavern was buzzing with news of Elisabeta’s newest recruit as the pair walked in and found a table.
“Hey boss,” Iron Bull sat across from her, he winked at Dorian who became a bit flustered. “Did I hear correctly that you’ve added an abomination to your team?”
“Why not?” She shrugged. “I had one on my team during the Blight. She was also an excellent healer. It seems that healing ability and spirit possession go hand in hand.”
“That would be interesting to study,” Dorian commented as Flissa came by with his and Elisabeta’s usual drinks. She jumped as Bull smacked her bum playfully.
“Bull, don’t please,” Elisabeta sipped her mulled wine.
“Oh, she likes it,” Bull assured her. “She really likes to be spanked if you know what I mean.”
“That was not an image I needed in my mind,” Dorian protested. He smirked at Elisabeta. “I don’t see the appeal, even if the rear in question is as lovely as yours.”
“Oh, I could show you the appeal,” Iron Bull assured him. “Why don’t you and the boss join me tonight and I’ll show you just what the allure is.”
“At least that is more direct than Zevran offering a massage,” Elisabeta took a long drink. “If he offers to give you a massage, by the way, make sure you question him about what it entails. He revealed his hand after I told him that if he gave me one, Alistair and Wynne would both be in the tent as well. He was all right with the idea until Alistair assured him that he’d be there to make sure that Zevran didn’t try anything… improper and told him exactly what would happen if he tried it.”
“Really?” Bull mused. “He’s being so gentlemanly with Josie right now.”
“That is strange,” Elisabeta agreed.
Sera strolled up to the table. “Now you’re recruiting more scary mages? Tell Possessed Chantry Demolisher that he better warn me if he is going to bust out his demon.”
“I’ll let him know,” Elisabeta assured her. “Join us,” she motioned to a chair.
“Fine,” Sera sat down and took a long drag of Bull’s drink and then choked. “That’s good stuff, it’ll put chest on your hair.”
“You don’t mind that he blew up a chantry building?” Bull was surprised.
“Nah,” Sera shrugged. “They were oppressing his people and all. He took a stand, good for him.”
Elisabeta left the tavern, with Sera passed out and Dorian and Iron Bull discussing the peculiarities of the Southern Chantry. At least the men had their cultured horror at some of the strange customs in common.
“Ah, there you are,” Blackwall approached her. “I’ve been meaning to thank you.”
“For recruiting Anders?” He would be the first one. Well, Varric was happy to see his friend again and in good mental state, but he was trying to not let on too much.
“Um… you really recruited the mage who blew up the Kirkwall Chantry?” Blackwall’s surprise was obvious. “No, I wanted to thank you for bringing back the Grey Warden artifacts that you found in the Fallow Mires. Our history needs to be uncovered and preserved, but you aren’t a Grey Warden and didn’t have to care for such things.”
“Of course I care about history.” Did he think her a barbarian or Chasind? “You really admire the Wardens. Tell me about them.”
“What do you want to know, my lady?” He smiled at her.
She was still shocked that he hadn’t figured out her connection to the Grey Wardens and the previous Blight. “Tell me about their Joining. I’ve heard that to join the Grey Wardens one must go through a ritual called the Joining.”
“Well, that’s secret now, isn’t it,” he hedged. “I… If you join, you will find out about it.”
“Oh,” she sat on a nearby crate and crossed her ankles. What she was going to ask next was sensitive, to her. She wanted to gauge whether he knew. If he did, then she’d believe he was really a Grey Warden. “How do you kill an archdemon? The stories say that only a Grey Warden can do it. There has to be more to it than just using a Grey Warden’s sword.”
“Not really,” he insisted. “That is all there is to it. But an archdemon isn’t easy to take down and it takes a great number of Wardens to get it to the point where a Grey Warden can deliver a killing blow… with their sword.”
“You’re sure that’s all there is to it? Weren’t there only two Wardens when the last archdemon was killed?” She bit her bottom lip. She hoped she looked coy. She was trying not to cry. For a moment she found herself back on the roof of Fort Drakon, knowing that either Alistair or her life, and soul, would have to be sacrificed and praying to the Maker that she could protect the one person she loved the most in the world. This fool was claiming to be a Grey Warden, but had no idea just what a sacrifice it could be. He talked of their honor, glory, and sacrifice, but she doubted he understood just what it could entail.
“Trust me,” he assured her. She trusted the abomination she’d just recruited more. “Have I told you how much I admire you?” He was obviously trying to change the subject.
“Admire me?” She wondered if he was insane. Perhaps he had taken to many blows on the head and now lived in some alternate reality.
“You’re unlike any woman I’ve ever met,” he confessed. “I… enjoy… your company. You’ve proven yourself to be an honorable woman, principled. You have the world at your fret, myself included.”
Whoa, this was a bit too much. She wondered if he’d been drinking by himself while she’d been up at the tavern. “So you take your cue from everyone else?” Hopefully, that would discourage him. “What if they despised me?”
“If that were to happen, I would reject the world for its lack of good taste,” he declared. “Perhaps we could continue as we are, us against them. Now, we should get back to our duties before I get carried away.”
It was too late for that. “I think I need to go talk to Zevran.” She needed him to tell her if Blackwall had been hit by some type of potion and how to get him to back off. His talk about just the two of them against the world also reminded her too much of someone else, another Grey Warden; a real Grey Warden that was. She remembered being the last two facing off against insurmountable odds, together in every way that mattered. She needed Zevran to make her laugh and get thoughts of that Grey Warden out of her head as well.
Chapter 38: Irony and Fate
The Herald of Andraste closes the Breach
Elisabeta looked around at her companions before they began their march up to the Breach. “This should be pretty easy. We’ll walk back to the Breach, I’ll pour energy into it and if all goes well, it will close. The worst case scenario is that the Breach will somehow rebound and destroy me.”
“You’ll be fine,” Cassandra’s voice was flat and unamused.
“Right, that’s what Alistair told me before the Battle of Denerim,” she pointed out. “You’ll be fine, Beta. Riordan will make the final kill. Everything will be fine, better than fine. We will get married, rule Ferelden together, and try for a baby, we’ll try and try and try some more.”
“You were at the Battle of Denerim?” Blackwall sounded a bit nervous.
“I was,” Elisabeta confirmed. “So was Leliana. Were you Anders?”
“No, I was taking a vacation from Kinloch Hold during that time,” he explained. “I decided to take a tour of Ferelden while we were on our way to fight the darkspawn at Ostagar.”
“Then you fell in with a group dedicated to fighting darkspawn,” Varric chuckled. “That’s irony for you.”
“Let’s get to the temple,” Elisabeta turned to leave. She was interrupted by the head of the Loyal Mages storming towards her.
Her double hennin was slightly askew as she stopped in front of her. “Why was I not invited to go to the temple as well? You have those rebels up there already and your inner circle is going with you, all of them. I should be going as well. I am going.”
“Who’s this?” Anders whispered.
“She was the grand enchanter over one of the Orlesian circles, but abandoned her people to spread her legs for some duke who couldn’t be faithful to his wife,” Elisabeta answered at full volume. “They had a baby, the duke and his wife that is, they named her Calienne. Calienne was married to a duke who goes by the name Gaspard. Thus I’m sure the duke and duchess loved each other enough to have intercourse. That means she’s a home-wrecking grand enchanter who abandoned her people and likes the chantry… including Templars.”
Anders shivered in mock horror. “And they call me evil.”
“I know,” Elisabeta tsked.
“Very funny Herald,” Vivienne sniffed, ladylike. “When you are done with your little amateur skit, we can get going.”
“What is this we?” Elisabeta lifted her chin. “You work for Josephine and are not part of my inner circle.”
“I brought you the loyal mages,” Vivienne objected. “I am the Court Enchanter.”
Elisabeta turned to Cassandra. “Do we have a court enchanter? Do we even have anything that would count as a court?”
“You don’t even have a leader,” Bull interjected. “You need one.”
“No, we do not have a court,” Cassandra assured her. “As Bull pointed out, we do not have a leader yet. Nor do we have a place to hold court.”
Elisabeta turned back to Vivienne. “So you can’t be our Court Enchanter. We don’t have a court, and even if we did, Dorian called dibs. We like him better, anyway. He has better taste in hats.”
“That’s right, Madame Cagna,” Dorian lifted his nose into the air. “I am her enchanter, while our Anders is her healer. She doesn’t need more.” He made a shooing motion with his hands. “So shoo. We’re going to go close the Breach.”
“Do I have to remind you that I have Empress Celene’s ear and can make life very difficult for you, especially in Orlais?” Vivienne threatened.
“She’s right,” Cassandra cautioned. “We still need to stop Celene from being assassinated and it will be much harder without her cooperation.”
“Oh, you have Celene’s ear?” Elisabeta rested her thumb on her chin for a moment, as if thinking. “When I met you, you were in the home of Duke Bastien DeGhislain. I even understand that you have been letting him… caboodle you for years. Bastien DeGhislain is the father of Duke Gaspard’s dearly departed wife, Calienne. Gaspard is leading an army against Celene even as we speak and that is besides Calienne’s personal history with Celene. Are you sure you really have the empress’ ear?”
“I do,” Vivienne pulled out a fan and began vigorously moving it. Elisabeta quietly noted the tell. Orlesians weren’t as subtle as they thought, no wonder they wore masks. “And who uses a term like caboodling?”
“The king of Ferelden for one,” Leliana giggled to Josephine, who was trying to look dignified when she obviously wanted to start throttling people.
“I’ll tell you what,” Elisabeta glanced back at Solas. “I have a mage for healing, and one for offense. I even have a useless one already. I’ll let you and Solas fight for the position of the useless mage. You can decide which one of you will be unable to heal, or tell me about ancient elves, or…”
“I can tell you anything you want about ancient elves,” Solas objected.
“Really?” Elisabeta was surprised. “I thought you hated the Dalish and you avoid cities. What do you know of your own people?”
“I have studied them in the Fade,” his voice was impatient. “I have seen the history of Thedas.”
“Really?” She mused. “We must talk later. We’ll discuss this after I close the Breach. Perhaps when we see what those loyal mages you promised Josephine can do. Where are they now by the way?”
“They are…” Vivienne began.
“The Free Mages are waiting for us,” Anders glared at Vivienne. “We need to get going.”
“Vivienne, tell Josephine we have left. Leliana’s scouts from the temple will keep her appraised,” Elisabeta turned on her heel and walked her group away.
“I will do no such thing,” Vivienne lifted her chin and followed. “I am going with you.”
“Whatever,” Elisabeta rolled her eyes and considered punching the mage again. She was too busy to dwell on such things at the moment. As they made their way through the valley, she glanced at Solas. “What parts of history have you seen in the Fade?”
“The spirits like to dwell near sites of great emotion and great violence,” he began.
“So they couldn’t tell me why Alistair decided to marry Anora?” She tried not to let her disappointment show.
“What about the battle of Ostagar?” Blackwall wondered. “Did you see Loghain betray the Wardens and quit the field?”
“I saw the Hero of Ferelden and the future king light the beacon, only to have the teyrn abandon the field,” Solas declared. “I have also seen the battle from the point of view of Loghain’s soldiers and watched the darkspawn overwhelm the field. He saved his people.”
Elisabeta whirled on him. “He left the king to die! All of the Grey Wardens were killed except the two in The Tower of Ishal!”
“Were you there?” Solas challenged.
“Yes, I was, you scroffa bat,” Elisabeta thought he was as blind as a bat and he had the ears of one. “Do you not realize who…?” She stopped; Blackwall seemed very interested in her rant. She was fairly sure he was no Grey Warden, but Leliana had yet to figure out who he really was. “Yes, I was there. Loghain betrayed the king and ran with his forked tail between his legs. He then declared himself regent and tried to rule the country himself. Ferelden would have been overrun with darkspawn and Orlais would now be under siege if he had his way.” She turned to Blackwall, gauging his reaction to what she said next. “That is why Duncan died.”
“Which is very sad,” Blackwall nodded sagely.
Fiona was waiting for them when they arrived at the temple. “My men are in place.” She spied Vivienne. “Oh, did you decide to air out the riff-raff today?”
“Fiona, my dear,” Vivienne drawled. “You’re looking… worn today.”
“Yes, well, when you lead a real army of mages, it can be stressful,” Fiona admitted. “Where are your loyal mages or are they all still just imaginary?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but turned to Anders. “You’re Anders, aren’t you? The Anders, the mage who blew up the Kirkwall chantry and shouted that there could be no peace while our people were enslaved?”
“I am,” he admitted. He was obviously taken aback at being welcomed by his fellow mages with open arms. “You’re Fiona? Didn’t you declare that the Divine could go fuck herself when you were at the White Spire for the vote?”
“I did,” she grinned, causing Vivienne to hiss and Cassandra to make a disgusted sound. Varric didn’t hide his little chuckle. “It’s wonderful to meet you.”
“And you,” he bowed low. “I thank you for taking up the cause for our people.”
“I’m glad introductions are in place,” Elisabeta nodded. “Feel free to take Vivienne if you think you can use her.”
“Oh, no, we’re good without her,” Fiona assured her. The look she shot Vivienne said that her help would have been useless.
“Great, so I get stuck with her,” Elisabeta muttered as she made her way to the center of the temple, so she could place herself directly under the Breach. Her companions were fanned out behind her and Fiona took her place behind them.
The grand enchantress turned to her people. “Concentrate your magic on Lady Cousland. Aid her in using the Mark to close the rift!” She turned her back on the mages, facing the Breach, and struck her stave into the ground. The other mages, who lined the exposed areas of the Temple of Sacred of Ashes, followed suit.
Elisabeta walked under the Breach. She lifted a hand to protect her eyes from the green light. Strangely, that light was reassuring. She had spent so much time in the dark that the Breach was a constant reminder that she was back in a land with light. Still, that light threatened her world and she had to vanquish it. She lifted her left hand and aimed the Mark at the center of the rift, pouring energy into it. When she thought she had nothing left, the magic Andraste had imbued her with flared to life. It was further fueled by the magic from the mages behind her. She poured more and more energy into the rift. She had kept herself and her sanity through ten years in the Abyss, no tear in the sky would beat her. She continued on until there was an explosion, it knocked her companions and the mages back.
Cassandra was the first to make it back to her feet. Then Fiona followed. Fiona stood over Vivienne and grinned. “Wow, there is something besides a rich and powerful man that can knock you off of your feet.”
Cassandra made her way to Elisabeta who was standing, leaning on Excalibur. Elisabeta turned to her and smiled.
Chapter 39: It's All Fun and Games Until a Dark Lord Appears
Haven's celebrations are cut short.
With Calenhad at her feet, Elisabeta watched as the citizens of Haven celebrated. She hadn’t seen such an impromptu celebration in years. It was greater than that in Redcliffe when she’d eliminated the undead. She hadn’t been there to celebrate the destruction of the archdemon. She’d heard that Eamon had led a large celebration, even as Alistair had remained curled around her body; pleading to the Maker to give her back and cursing himself for refusing Morrigan’s offer. Leliana had stood guard over them both, as had Zevran.
She now stood guard over the people of Haven. She couldn’t help the feeling that something was coming. Trouble was on the horizon and this was but the quiet before the storm.
Cassandra slowly approached her. “Solas reports that the Breach is closed. The sky is scarred, but quiet.”
“It’s too quiet,” Elisabeta murmured.
“The musicians are playing, I wouldn’t call this quiet,” Varric stepped up to her side. “Why don’t you go and join them or ask Curly to dance?”
“Who would keep Calenhad company?” She laid a hand on the dog’s head. “Besides, Cullen is busy with his men and I wouldn’t want to ruin his fun. I hear he plans to calibrate the trebuchets again tonight. You know how much he likes doing that.”
Varric laughed. “That’s true. We could have Curly watch Calenhad and then dance ourselves,” he offered.
She smiled at him, considering. “I like that idea. Can I ask you about the woman you loved who married another?” She fluttered her eyelashes. “You’ve hinted that you understand some of my broken heart.”
“I’ll let you ask, but I won’t promise that I will answer,” he compromised.
“All right,” she agreed. She took a step towards the celebrating villagers when bells began ringing through the village, no they began from outside of the villages. The soldiers started to run.
Cullen was in the middle of the dashing soldiers. “Forces approaching, to arms!”
The villagers began to panic, throwing their hands up as if to ward off their attackers or running to their cottages.
“What the…?” Cassandra began. “We must get to the gate,” she unsheathed her sword and ran.
At least one person in Haven wasn’t panicking and Elisabeta was grateful for it. “So it looks like our celebratory drinks are on hold,” Varric observed.
Elisabeta gave him a nod and ran after Cassandra. “Cullen,” the Seeker was addressing the Commander when she caught up to them.
“There is one watch guard reporting,” he informed them. “It’s a massive force, the bulk is over the mountains.”
“Under what banner?” Josephine joined them.
“None,” was Cullen’s reply.
“None?” Josephine’s voice held her disbelief.
Elisabeta gazed at the gate. It had been put in after the cultists had been eliminated, but it was far from sturdy. She saw it begin to shake and belatedly realized that someone was pounding on it.
“I can’t come in unless you open it,” a voice announced from the other side. It took a moment for those inside Haven to realize he was speaking to the gate and expected it to open for him.
Elisabeta rushed to the gate and one of the guards opened it for her. She saw a soldier approaching. The armor looked familiar. It took her a few moments to realize that it was the armor she’d seen the Venatori wearing in the dark future. It had to be the Elder One who came now. Then the soldier arched his back and cried out. When he fell to the ground from the dagger wound in his back, he revealed a slight figure wearing a large hat that covered most of their face.
When the figure looked up, they revealed the features of a man who was barely past boyhood. “I’m Cole. I came to warn you, to help. People are coming to hurt you. You probably already noticed.”
“They wouldn’t be the first who came to hurt me,” Elisabeta agreed. “Who are they this time? What is happening.”
“The Templars come to kill you,” Cole announced.
“Templars?” Cullen held out his left hand to force Cole away from Elisabeta. “Is this the Orders response to our talks with the mages, attacking blindly?”
“Did you think they were going to wait for a Rite of Annulment?” Elisabeta snarked.
“The Red Templars went to the Elder One,” Cole continued. “You know him, he knows you. You took his mages.” Cole pointed up the mountain to where a man in silver and blood silver stood on a cliff, overlooking his army. “There.”
As she watched, a large creature approached from behind the man, glaring down at the city of Haven. Elisabeta was now positive that she was no longer a Grey Warden and the taint was gone. Something about the creature screamed darkspawn, but she couldn’t sense him. “The last time I looked, we were still in Ferelden and there is no slavery in Ferelden. They were never his mages.”
“He’s very angry that you took them,” Cole insisted, backing from the creature and its army.
Elisabeta turned to those standing near the gate. “Mages, those are Templars, Red Templars, in that army that approaches. You no longer have a need to fear them. It is they who should fear you. It is time to stand up to those who chose to try and force you to stay in bondage. Hold nothing back. Show them why they feared you in the first place!” She heard Anders cheer from the watching group.
“Get out there and hit them with everything you’ve got,” Cullen instructed. He turned to those preparing to fight. “That is Sampson, he was a Templar and will not make this easy. Inquisition, with the Herald, for your lives, for all of us!”
Elisabeta directed her group as they defended the gate. A scout ran up to her. “The Templars are going for the trebuchets!”
“We’re going to need those,” Elisabeta sighed. She turned to her team. “With me!” She cut down a Templar with red shards of lyrium coming out of his skin as she ran to the first trebuchet. There were more of the cursed men attacking the trebuchet. She coated kindness with ice and then lashed out with both Kindness and Excalibur, easily felling two of the attackers.
Varric unleashed bolts from Bianca on the invaders as Sera rolled in, letting two arrows loose.
“Is this their answer to losing the war?” Cassandra wondered as she lunged at one of the men, cutting into his armor.
“Some people can’t handle losing,” Dorian set a stream of flames from him to a nearby wall, flaying the attackers between them.
“So they went to that creature up there? It reminds me of a darkspawn,” she narrowed her eyes at Blackwall. “What do you think, Blackwall?”
Anders had opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it, realizing what she was doing.
“I didn’t get a good look at it,” Blackwall slashed at another Templar. “I can’t be sure.”
“Can’t be sure?” Now Anders spoke up. “I can sense him down here and when I used the mage in the Fallow Mire’s notes to suppress Justice, it caused psychic deafness that may not let me hear the Calling. You should have sensed him before the army got over the mountain.”
“I had a lot to drink tonight,” Blackwall continued to fight as he tried to excuse himself.
Anders turned to Varric. “He felt familiar, like in the Vimmark Mountains.”
“It can’t be him, Blondie,” Varric insisted. “He’s dead.”
“Who’s dead?” Elisabeta wondered as she finished off the last of those trying to take the trebuchet.
“We’re good, but the other trebuchet should have fired,” the chief operator reported. “Check on it.” The operator signaled to her men and the trebuchet fired, hitting the mountain and raining rocks and snows on the invading army.
“We’ll take care of it,” Elisabeta ran east towards the silent weapon.
“It was someone who tried to cause trouble for Hawke and his brother,” Varric explained. “But we killed him.”
“He was definitely dead,” Anders agreed.
Sure enough, the Inquisition soldiers around the second trebuchet lay lifeless around the weapon. The red Templars who had just committed the slaughter did not recognize the danger they were in as Elisabeta’s team quickly slaughtered them. First, she went to the large stone sitting in the weapon’s basket and called on her magic, setting a small flame that would grow as she sent it through the air. She then grabbed the controls to the trebuchet and launched it. The flaming boulder hit the top of the mountain and brought down an avalanche. She could spot several bodies being flung in the air as they tried to flee from the snow roaring down upon them.
The soldiers around the Herald of Andraste cheered and she looked back at them, giving them a small, tentative smile. When she turned to look back at the mountain she heard the roar. She jumped from the trebuchet before it went up in flames. A scarred dragon soared overhead.
“Oh, that’s just messed up,” Iron Bull growled.
“Everyone to the gate,” Elisabeta commanded, running towards it herself with her swords still drawn. As she ran, she took another look at the dragon. Its wings and hide were dark and almost appeared to have holes in them. The color reminded her of another dragon, as did the way it flew. NO! Her mind screamed. It couldn’t be, not again. It reminded her of the archdemon. Part of her wanted to shut down and hide. The other part refused to let another archdemon conquer her world when she’d sacrificed so much to take down its predecessor.
“Lissa,” Anders caught up to her. “It’s… that creature is tainted.”
“Shit,” she closed her eyes. “Not another one.”
“It isn’t trying to talk to me like others say the archdemon did,” he continued. “I’m not sure what it is.”
“It’s trouble, that’s what it is,” Cassandra insisted.
Elisabeta was never more grateful that she was no longer a Grey Warden. They stopped to help Harritt gather his supplies and raced towards Haven’s gates.
“Move it! Move it!” Cullen was motioning the remaining soldiers, workers, and villagers through before he had one of his men slam the gate shut. “We’ll gather in the chantry, it’s the only building that has a chance of standing up against that… thing!”
“The cultists used to have living quarters in the mountains between the temple and the gauntlet,” Elisabeta revealed. “See if Leliana knows a way to them, they will hold out better.”
Cullen nodded. “Save who you can and join us there.”
“Of course I’m the one who has to save the villagers yet again,” Elisabeta muttered as she led her team forward. She easily sliced through the oncoming Red Templars. Flames bounced off of Kindness, biting into steel, and none could stand up to Excalibur’s strong, sharp blade.
“Here I am helping to slaughter Templars,” Anders grinned as he used a telekinetic blast on a group of oncoming foe. “Have I thanked you for this yet, Lissa? Many of the Templars have become the monsters they secretly were and you’re letting me kill them with impunity. If so many innocents weren’t struggling for their lives right now, this would be a beautiful day.”
“I’m glad to help,” She cut down another Templar.
“He’s right, boss, this is mayhem!” Iron Bull swung his sword, chopping a Templar that was turning into an even larger brute in half.
She sent Cassandra with Anders, Iron Bull, and Sera into the burning tavern to revive those caught inside, while she led the rest of the team to Adon’s shop. They found the apothecary and Minaeve both unconscious. “This is no place to sleep,” she hauled the mage to her feet. “Where are your Tranquil?”
“They stayed in the chantry to work,” Minaeve coughed. She weaved on her feet, but stayed upright. The apothecary wobbled beside her.
“Let’s go,” Elisabeta commanded. She glanced back to see Blackwall and Varric helping the pair along.
It only took a couple of feet before she came face to face with the other half of the group and those they’d saved. As they continued on, though, they found a small group of requisition officers fighting a contingent of Red Templars that was four times their size. Elisabeta thought about abandoning them for a moment, realizing the quartermaster was probably among them. She had no desire to break a sweat saving anyone loyal to Loghain. She wasn’t sure she could justify letting the others die, though.
Before she could even make a decision, Cassandra was letting out a battle cry and charging in.
“I could accidentally hit Threnn with a fireball if you would like,” Dorian offered.
“How did you know…?” She shook her head. “No, although, if it were truly an accident, I wouldn’t mind.” By then Blackwall and Iron Bull had joined the battle, as had Solas. She sighed and began dispatching Red Templar after Red Templar until there were none left living in the immediate area. “To the chantry!” She commanded, leading the retreat.
Chapter 40: Wannabe's and Chosen Ones
Elisabeta and Corypheus face off for the Frist Time
The doors of the chantry were flung open for the gathering villagers. Roderick, of all people, stood near the doors urging the people on. “Move! Keep moving! Come on! Keep going! The chantry is your shelter.” As Elisabeta passed him, stunned at his change in heart, he collapsed against Cole.
Cole supported him, bringing him further into the chantry. “He tried to stop a Templar. The blade went deep, he’s going to die,” Cole’s voice was matter of fact.
“What a charming boy,” Roderick continued to lean against him.
“Lissa,” Cullen ran to her, with Calenhad at his heels and Leliana close behind. “Our position is not good, that dragon stole back any time you might have earned us.”
“I’ve seen an archdemon,” Cole revealed. “I was in the Fade, but it looked like that.”
“I don’t care what it looks like, it cut a path for that army,” Cullen’s voice was firm. “They’ll kill everyone in Haven.”
“It isn’t an archdemon,” Anders stepped forward. “Lissa and I discussed it. It is tainted, but it doesn’t feel like an archdemon.”
“I’ve seen one before,” she confirmed. “Anders can hear it, but it isn’t what is emitting a Calling.”
“Something is, though,” Anders warned. “It also feels… familiar.”
“This isn’t the time to worry about such things,” Cullen insisted. “That army is about to wipe all of us out.”
“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village,” Cole insisted. “He only wants the Herald.”
“That’s popularity for you,” Elisabeta sighed. “Maybe he was a friend of the archdemon’s. If it saves the village, he can have me. I just want a guarantee that I’ll go to the Maker’s side this time.”
“It won’t save anyone,” Cole warned. “He wants to kill you, nobody else matters, but he’ll crush them, kill them anyway. I don’t like him.”
“He reminds me of Loghain,” Elisabeta commented.
“You don’t like…” Cullen threw up his hands. “Lissa, there are no tactics to make this survivable. The only thing that slowed them was the avalanche. We could turn the remaining trebuchets, cause one last slide.”
“We’re overrun,” she countered. “To hit our opponents, we’d have to bury Haven.”
“We’d die,” Cullen agreed. “But we would decide how. Many don’t get that choice.”
“Wow, aren’t we defeatist,” Elisabeta turned to Leliana. “Did the Chantry destroy the cultists’ secret tunnels when they slaughtered those that remained?”
“No,” she assured her. “I… may not have told those who were behind the Exalted March about all of the ways through, and out of, the village.”
“Good,” it was good to know her friend hadn’t fully condoned the slaughter of the children and those who might have been innocents within the cult. “Lead the Inquisition member through there now.”
“I will,” Leliana nodded. “I don’t want to do this again. I…”
“We have little choice,” Elisabeta insisted.
“What about you?” Cullen began, but Elisabeta turned, not seeing the pained expression on his face. “Perhaps you will surprise it, find a way.”
“I will find a way back to you,” Elisabeta promised.
Calenhad barked twice, sharply.
“I know I said that last time and didn’t come back,” she conceded. “I… it had to be Alistair or me, that time. I will do a better job of not dying, I promise.”
Cullen went to his soldiers. “Inquisition, follow Sister Nightingale through the chantry. Move!”
Cole passed her, supporting Roderick. “Herald,” Roderick addressed her. “If you are meant for this, if the Inquisition is meant for this, I pray for you.”
“Andraste didn’t bring me back for shits and giggles,” she assured him.
She watched as soldiers filed pass her and Cullen walked up. “They’ll load the trebuchets. Keep the Elder One’s attention until we’re above the tree line. If we are to have a chance, if you are to have a chance, let that thing hear you.”
“I’ve never had a problem with that,” Elisabeta assured him. “Cassandra, Iron Bull, Varric, and Anders with me,” she commanded. She noticed Dorian looking at her pointedly, all of her companions were. “And Dorian. The rest of you help Leliana and Cullen get everyone to safety. Calenhad, make sure Leliana doesn’t try to double back for me. I’m counting on you to take care of her.” Her old, faithful Mabari barked in response.
“What about me?” Zevran stepped to Leliana’s side. “Am I supposed to just let you step into mortal peril without me again? I remember what happened last time.”
“So do I,” she admitted. “Once I release that final trebuchet, though, there will be a limited amount of time to get out. I want you waiting by the tunnels to make sure those who are going out there with me make it out of Haven.”
“And you, my deadly goddess?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Andraste is with me,” she assured him. “I’ll find a way.” Or she wouldn’t. She wondered idly what would happen this time. Would she get another funeral pyre or be buried in Haven? Would she be mourned? Would Alistair still cry over her? Would Leliana’s faith be shaken yet again?
When they stepped out, Dorian grinned. “We need to be noticed? That happens to be a specialty of mine.
The group moved together, Warrior Spirits sent by the Maker to avenge the people of Haven. Although, as they cut through the Red Templars, spilling their red tainted blood as offerings to Andraste on the land of those who once thought themselves Her chosen people, they did stop in their own homes to grab supplies and items they weren’t willing to leave behind. Elisabeta was embarrassed that that included a gold circlet with winding roses.
They cleared a path to the trebuchets leaving the remains of those foolish enough to ally with a false god and continued to the last of their catapults. The soldiers who had loaded it, lay dead about its base.
“This is for Calvin, Colart, Woodrow, Ubaldo, and Bob,” Cassandra named the Inquisition soldiers as she cut down their killers. As she quickly beheaded a knight, Elisabeta was impressed that Cassandra had known all of their names. When they’d cleared the area out, more came. Dorian set fire mines around her, so Elisabeta could aim the trebuchet. It had to be done manually. Then the largest Templar they had ever seen came rumbling in.
“Did he drink an entire wine cellar full of red lyrium?” Dorian wondered as he sent a fireball at him.
Iron Bull yelled and leaped at the creature, sword already swinging. He’d been hurt earlier and almost lost the use of his arm, but Anders had healed him. Thank the Maker for Anders, because they didn’t have enough healing potions for the battle they’d just faced.
“Bianca wants to tell you what she thinks of Templars,” Varric commented as he unleashed a bolt. “And of red lyrium. Let me tell you about what it did to my brother,” another bolt followed.
“At least your brother still looks better than him,” Anders healed Cassandra as she wobbled on her feet.
Elisabeta continued to aim the trebuchet as her friends took out the behemoth Templar. As the Templar fell and the trebuchet was aimed, the tainted dragon returned, spewing its red acid. “Move, everybody move!” She shouted.
Her friends ran for the tunnels as she was knocked off of her feet by yet another blast. She lay stunned for a moment. When she sat up she noticed a large form emerging from nearby flames. It was the ugly darkspawnish creature that she and Cullen had spied earlier. She backed up towards the gate, then felt the ground rumble beneath her feet. She turned to see the tainted dragon land and lumber towards her. She unsheathed Excalibur. She’d taken out an archdemon, she was willing to take on this creature, even if she didn’t have an army backing her this time.
“Enough!” The creature’s master commanded. She realized that the darspawnish Elder What-ever was the master. He tried to throw some sort of magic at her. “Pretender, you toy with forces beyond your ken no more.
“The name is Elisabeta, Elisabeta Cousland, not Pretender,” she corrected him. “What are you? You remind me of a darkspawn, but are unlike any I’ve ever seen. Why are you doing this? Shouldn’t you be off hunting for an old god to infect?”
“Mortals ask for truth they can not have. It is beyond what you are, what I was,” he declared. “Know me, know what you pretend to be. Exalt the Elder One, the will that is Corypheus” He extended an arm. “You will kneel.”
“Kneel?” She laughed bitterly. “I have been restored to life by Andraste and the Maker. I am the daughter of the most powerful noble house of Ferelden. I kneel before no one, much less a darkspawn. Now say it with me Elder Cory-I don’t care, daaaarkspaaaawwn.”
“I am not a darkspawn,” he insisted. “I am Corypheus, the Elder One, and you will kneel.”
“That’s not happening,” she lifted her chin.
He lifted his hand and revealed a large round ball. “I’m here for the anchor. The process of removing it begins now.” His other hand shot out and the Mark on Elisabeta’s hand began to glow.
She held her wrist as her left hand began to vibrate. “I can still kill you with my right hand, incapacitating me won’t help.”
“It is your fault, Herald,” he declared. “You interrupted a ritual years in the planning. Instead of dying you stole it!”
“Oh, Desdemona, who interrupted your ritual, did die,” Elisabeta informed him, glaring. “Andraste traded our lives. She took the mage to the Maker’s Side and gave you me instead. Think about it! Why would she send me instead? Do you not realize that I am a weapon of the Maker’s hand sent to stop you? Look on me and fear.”
“I admit… while you two have many similarities, there are some… differences,” he conceded. “You may somehow be someone else, yet that isn’t possible. I’m sure the trip into the Fade just lightened your hair a bit and… changed your eye color some. However, there is no Maker so he could not have brought you back to life. Yet you stand here before me with your insane story and your stolen Mark, the Anchor. What you use to close the rifts, I crafted to assault the very Heaven.” He closed his fist.
The pain from the Mark caused Elisabeta’s legs to buckle, but she didn’t give in. No1t even when the dragon began circling her. The tainted dragon gave her a scare, not for her life, but for that of others. “Where are the Grey Wardens? You are a darkspawn, aren’t you; one that is somehow intelligent? What did you do with them?”
Corypheus would not have his monologue interrupted, though. “And you use the anchor to undo my work. The gall.”
“What was it that you meant to do with this thing,” she held up her left hand. She had to keep him talking. If the dragon just ate her now, she wouldn’t be able to help those escaping from Haven.
“It is meant to bring certainty where there is none,” he vagued things up for her. “For you the certainty that I would always come for it.” He strolled to her, grabbing her by the left wrist and lifting her off of her feet so they were face to face. “I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the old gods of the empire in person. I found only chaos and corruption. There were dead whispers, for a thousand years I was confused. No more. I have gathered the will to return under no name but my own, to champion withered Tevinter, and correct this Blighted world. Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the Throne of the Gods and it was empty.” He threw her against the trebuchet. “The Anchor is permanent, you have spoilt it with your stumbling.”
Elisabeta realized that she was still holding Excalibur. It truly was a great sword. “Yes, this is a Blighted world. You and your magister buddies caused that, you nitwit.”
“So be it,” Corypheus just continued on with his long monologue. “I will begin again. I will find another way to give this world the nation and God it requires.”
Elisabeta’s eyes widened as she saw a flare fly into the sky, far above the tree line. They were safe. They had made it.
“And you,” he still continued on. “I will not suffer an unknowing rival. You must die.”
“I’ve already died and I am back,” she reminded him. “I told you that, but you don’t listen. You just keep on and on with your monologue. You are like a villain in one of Varric Tethras’ stories, telling the hero his plans and not letting anyone stop him. You are a fool, do you think I’ve let you just go on yammering because I like the sound of your voice? Ha!” She kicked the trebuchet’s control with her foot.
Corypheus and his dragon both stopped to watch the large, heavy rock fly into the mountain. It wasn’t just any rock though. As it exploded, glitter filled the air, it got everywhere, scratching his poor dragon’s iris and cascading pink and blue glitter onto his hood. Then the snow that had been laying on the peak began rumbling down, gathering and growing. The avalanche was heading straight for Haven. They turned to see Elisabeta running. The dragon turned and scooped Corypheus into his claws.
Elisabeta ran from the oncoming snow. She stumbled and tripped over a loose board and then crashed through rotting wood as snow blanketed Haven.
Chapter 41: Finding Skyhold
The Inquisition moves from Haven to a new home.
Darkness, darkness was pressing from everywhere. NO, her mind screamed. Not again! No, she could hear water dripping and her back ached. She hurt too much to be dead again. A light pierced the darkness and a figure stood before her, holding out a hand.
Elisabeta took the hand and let the woman in front of her help her to her feet. “I know you.”
“Of course you do, little one,” the woman’s voice was gentle. “Don’t worry, all is well. Desdemona is safely by her Maker’s side, but her sister needs to join the fight. You will find her in the keep in the Hinterlands. Also, the viper and the weasel are plotting against your paladin. Well, he was yours. He still is in many ways, your knight in shining armor.
“Can you clarify that a bit?” Elisabeta had a horrible feeling that she knew exactly what the woman, Andraste, was talking about.
“You’ll find out,” Andraste assured her.
“What about the Tevinter Magister, turned darkspawn, who thinks he’s a god?” Elisabeta knew she hadn’t seen the last of him. He would come at her again and she had to stop him from destroying Thedas.
“You’ve dealt with would-be gods before,” Andraste reminded her. “You’ll be fine. Go find your friends.”
Elisabeta made her way to her feet and looked around. She’d fallen into a cellar. She noticed that there were underground tunnels that ran under the town. She encountered a trio of demons meandering in one of the caves but quickly dispatched them. She found that whatever Corypheus had done to the Mark… or anchor… whatever the thing on her hand was… it could now open up a small rift and pull demons through. That was… interesting. She wondered where they went. Did they go back into the Fade or into the Abyss? Did they all go to a specific place in the Fade? Was there some Fade building where they were all wondering around confused?
She made her way from the tunnel… and into a blizzard. Sweet Maker, could she not get a break? She lifted a hand and tried to shield her face as she struggled through the frigid cold and ice of the Frostback Mountains. She found a camp, but the embers of the fire had long gone cold. Had no one stayed back to see if there would be any survivors? She continued on. The only other choice was to curl up and die. She found a second camp. This time, the embers were still warm. She continued on, but her legs began to buckle. “Andraste,” she whispered. “If you want me to take out this false god for you, I’ll need your help.”
As she fell, she heard shouting. “There she is!” She saw Calenhad leading Cassandra and Cullen’s blurry forms before she passed out.
Elisabeta moaned as she came to. She was lying on a cot and everything hurt. Her head hurt, but she could hear the Inquisition’s heads arguing nearby. Calenhad was curled up at her feet. Beside her were Anders and Mother Gisselle. She reached up and took Ander’s hand. “Thank you. I don’t know how I would have survived that if Thedas’ most talented healer hadn’t been here?” The shouting had finally stopped and the Inquisition Leaders had gone back to their respective corners.
“What about me?” Mother Gisselle objected. “Or the Seeker and Commander who carried you to camp?”
“I’m sure your thoughts and prayers were very helpful,” Elisabeta patted her hand. “What were the others fighting about?”
“This time?” Gisselle shook her head. Then she went on about faith and uncertainty. Elisabeta wasn’t sure what she was talking about, something about her coming back to life yet again, and just let the woman ramble. She tried not to laugh when Anders started to make faces at her behind Gisselle’s back.
Then Gisselle freaked her out and began to sing to her. She hadn’t had anyone sing to her since Alistair did more than ten years ago. Worse, everyone else joined in, the entire camp with the exception of Solas surrounded her as they sang to her. She cringed back and tried to step behind Anders. He put a comforting arm around her. It was awe inspiring to be sung to by so many people, but also terrifying. She knew the song, it was about staying the course through the night. She supposed there was some significance to it.
When the singing was done, Solas signaled to her, as if he wanted to talk to her. She reluctantly trudged out to him. He led her to a lamp post and lit it. She blinked at the lamp post, what was doing in the middle of the Frostback Mountains? She hadn’t seen the ruins of a village nearby. The Inquisition needed some archeologists who could begin digging around the area in an effort to solve the mystery.
“A wise woman,” Solas declared. “One who knows how to unite a cause.”
“Who is?” Elisabeta looked back at the camp.
“Mother Gisselle,” Solas shook his head. “I wanted to talk to you about Corypheus, though. The orb he carries is of ancient elven design.”
“How do you know that?” Elisabeta challenged. “You weren’t there when I faced him. How do you know what the orb looked like or what type of magic it used?” She eyed him with suspicion. Was he another Morrigan, waiting to reveal that he knew more than he was letting on?
“I… saw it in the Fade,” he proclaimed. “I saw part of your battle… and the orb.”
“Right,” she narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “You just happened to see it. I’m supposed to believe that? Do you know anything that you didn't learn in the Fade? Also. how do you know that it's Elven? I mean, what if the spirits in that part of the Fade are wrong? You said yourself that 'it's all true,' depending on the way you look at it. So, maybe the spirits only thought it was Elven, but it really wasn't. It could really be some Qunari artifact that they found and claimed. You tried to claim that Loghain’s desertion wasn’t intended to ensure King Cailan and the Wardens were all killed, that the field was overrun. I’m the Warden who lit that beacon, I was there, not just seeing it in the Fade.”
“You were the Warden who…?” He cut himself off and went back to his topic. “I was just afraid that people were going to blame the elves when word of the orb’s origin got out,” he explained.
“How would anyone know?” She wondered. “I still say it could be Qunari for all we know. Do you think he has a team of archeologists and historians studying his orb for him and they’re going to publish a paper in the Dirty Dowager when they’re done?”
“I guess we’ll worry about that later,” he waved off her non-concern. “There is a place here in the Frostbacks that you must lead the Inquisition to, one that will be defensible. One where the Inquisition can grow. It is called Skyhold and has lain empty for far too long. Lead them there. Go to the north and you will find it.”
“To the north?” She wondered what was there. “Fine,” she nodded. “I’ll let Leliana and Cullen know that we will head out in the morning. It’s as good of a direction as any.”
Elisabeta Cousland: the daughter of Teyrn Bryce Cousland, Hero of Ferelden, and Herald of Andraste, led the Inquisition’s members along the Frostback Mountains, with her mabari hound trotting by her side. They waded through the snow and the cold in search of their new home.
After four days of slow travel, turrets and battlements came into view. Then a castle rose from the horizon. It stood proudly atop the mountains, reaching for the sky. “It’s perfect,” she declared.