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Aimless and Astray

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Duty.

 

‘Twas all he knew.

 

His only true purpose. To follow the will of his mistress. To have faith in her decisions. To honor her words as if they were his own. And, to follow without question.

 

And, so he did. For days, weeks, months, years, centuries, and millenniums; moment after moment; time after time; he held fast to his duty. Her last request of him before she vanished from the world and the hearts of the people. Before the ancient war tore the world asunder and it was forever changed. And, still, he kept his oath. With humility and determination. Yeilding only to her benevolence, time and time again. Without complaint. Without hesitation. Without uncertainty.

 

But, uncertainty; he finds; is not something that can be banished forever from existence. Cannot be wiped away from his mind like that of an errant thought brought thoughtlessly forth without purpose or meaning. Or, forgotten. For now, it comes to him in droves, like the ever-flowing of waves crashing relentlessly upon the shore. Unstoppable. Unyielding. And, unending. A constant companion. Whose claws dig deep within his being, unable to find its release no matter how much he tries to let it go.

 

A foreign feeling. To feel so unsure. To know that all that he had known, all that he had fought for, and all that his brother’s had fallen for, had all been in vain. That they had thrown their bodies upon the blades of fate, willingly, time and time again. Holding fast to their duty.  Their oath. To protect the last beloved sanctum of their great lady. And, her greatest treasure. Defending it to the last. With honor. Dignity. And, humble pride. Only to see their purpose slip through their fingers. Lost for all eternity in the mere blink of an eye.  

 

Ravaged by the war once unseen. Unknown: until the very moment it had entered their wilds. Appearing on their doorstep with demands for more blood. More sacrifice. More death. And, they had answered the call. As they had always done. Unsheathing their blades, knocking their arrows, and summoning the gifts of the Fade, all in defense of their patron’s greatest request. And they fell, one by one, to their fate’s end. Without fear. Without regrets.

 

Abelas had never known more than a life of willing servitude. Had never wish for anything more, or dreamed of existence without Mythal’s blessing. It was the furthest thing from thought. Not something he could ever imagine ever wanting. Yet, it seemed that the world had other plans.

 

It all began that fateful day, the day when war came to their quiet sanctuary. Interlopers. Invaders determined to lay waste to all that was before them. Simply to claim the ancient knowledge kept safe within the temple walls from time immemorial. The fight had been brutal. Many fell. And the temple had been breached within mere hours. Still, they defended. Willing to defend to the last to protect the Well and keep their oath. They would not relent. They would not yield. They would not falter in their duty. And, yet, in the end, their determination and will were no match for the forces that besieged them. Or, more of fact, the woman who mounted a counter-offensive he had never seen coming.

 

He still remembers the moment when the shadow of his people; with her delicately long, ice-white hair flowing behind her like a feather-light wedding veil;  crossed the threshold of the outer sanctum. How blood streaked down her shimmering, blue, armored robes and the pale skin of her neck glistened under the natural sunlight streaming from high above. How her crystal blue eyes, as hard as steel, peered at the danger all around her from underneath the pale white vallaslin upon her brow–marking her as a servant of his own great lady, yet carried with them unshed tears swirling with both hope and desperation. Or how she tempered his vitriol at her invasion with measured confidence, compassion, and respect when he and his fellow Sentinels simply confronted her at murderous arrow point.

 

She had a strong will, determined and fierce. It was the first thing, even in his anger, he’d noticed. Yet, she did not seek blood. Did not wish to take the lives of those who were innocent. And willing paid the price to which the temple would always demand to those seeking his mistresses favor. On her own. Without ever knowing its truest significance. Willingly.

 

She had honored the gods with reverence and respect. And shown him respect, even when it had yet to be earned.

 

A turn of events, in the midst of battle, he had not expected.

 

It had surprised him –though he was loathed to admit it. That a quickling, a shadow of what his people once were, could have such a deep understanding of the old ways. Without first-hand knowledge. Without years of study. Without living a life of experience. Yet,  something in her being, just knew what was proper and expected. Almost as if she had a natural sense of the ways of their kind, inherently. And took the time, put in the effort, to seek out the will of Mythal in the most sacred of ways –above all else.

 

Abelas, however, refused to trust the woman. For he did not know her, truly. Under a more understandable circumstance, perhaps –with time –she could have come to earn his confidence as true supplicants of Mythal once strived. But, as the world turned, the opportunity to do so never occurred. The war upon their door saw to that. Made sure of that. And, in such an unlikely; unexpected; situation, he had to make a decision. A choice that would, ultimately, decide the fate of not only the Well but of him and his very own people.

 

To say that he’d come to regret his decision, that was certain. Never before had the Well’s blessing been bestowed in such a way. Nearly stolen from their grasp. And all because there was no better alternative. Yes, he had threatened to destroy it once. Justifying such action to himself as the only way to stop its power being usurped by the unworthy. But even then, he knew that he would’ve never had the heart to do it.  To betray his mistress in such a way. Believing; in the end; it better for it to be lost to one of the people rather than lost to a child grasping at the knowledge that could never benefit them. And, so, he had relinquished Mythal’s greatest treasure to a woman of the blood. Secretly hoping that –perhaps- it could, one day, at least, be returned to its rightful place. To await a deserving follower, someday.

 

But, even with such hope, he had still failed. In that, he was no fool. Nor was he uncertain. He knew that the choice forced upon him that day would, ultimately, condemn him to a regretful life. Yet, he never expected to find himself without purpose. Without direction. A duty, lost.

 

With the well gone, the temple nearly destroyed, and so many lost to the unwakable sleep, he slowly began to realize that with his failure came an uncertainty, and an uneasiness, that he had never truly felt in his entire life. They were wayward. Aimless. Now lost. Without a decision or direction. Afloat; adrift on the stormy seas of time with no way to find their way back to shore. Back home. And, those who remained –those who’d survived –could do nothing more but look to him; their leader; their commander; for answers. Answers that he did not have.

 

And, so, he prayed to Mythal, beseeching her knowledge and wisdom. Begging for an answer. A direction they could follow. A new order, a new purpose. But, alas, their great lady remained silent. As she had done so many times before. And, Abelas could not help but feel as if they had been abandoned. A punishment, certainly, for their failure. Condemned to the sound of silence. To nonexistence. To nothingness. The last of their kind, forever frozen in a perpetual state of incertitude, doubt, and fear. Where even Uthernera was now denied to them. All because he had not upheld the duty he swore to keep in perpetuity.

 

The aftermath of the temple assault left many questions unanswered and many tasks left undone. Over the days and weeks that passed after the keeper of the Well and her followers retreated from his wilds, Abelas did his best to contend with the myriad of questions and uncertainties left in her wake.

 

The first three days still thrummed with the chaos of the invasion. Fear and uncertainty loomed in every corner and in every ancient soul within the temple’s walls. Hearts lost to sorrow and to loss of purpose, needed to be steadied. Fears, growing from such loss, needed to be calmed. And, the gruesomeness of war needed to be tended and purged from their sacred ground once more.

 

Many were injured, some severely, and many more required the Rite of Absolution. It was a daunting task, but not so much more than had ever come before. T’was, after all, his duty and one that he had performed many times throughout time. But even in its relative consistency, each time such actions were required, it was never an easy task. To say goodbye; to those who had followed you beyond time, pledged their undying and unending loyalty to such a cause, and died so swiftly and without mercy; was horrific cruelty he’d wished none would ever have to endure. He had lost many. Mourned so many. And feared that before his end would come, he would repeat such a somber cycle many times over. For there was no reprieve, nor escape, from the unrelenting sorrow that would forever plague his spirit. That marked him as a man with such a name and branded him so.

 

Before long, after a month stranded in the waking world, word came to the temple of the triumph against the cruel monster that wanted to destroy the world. But not by a courier, nor by a scout. Abelas had been standing quietly upon a hidden balcony within the temple grounds; communing with the magic of the Fade in hopes of bringing clarity to his troubled mind and wayward thoughts; when the great flash of her victory echoed across the sky with the shimmering, familiar, magic of a time now lost.

 

So, she has won. he thought with a smile.

 

Months then passed, and Abelas did what he could to see to it that he and his remaining people could carve a path of survivability in this new time. Remaining secluded as they could, keeping the location of their temple secret, they scouted the lands and forest around them and gathered as much information and supplies as they could. Many hunters tracked beasts through the forest daily, while others did their best to cultivate what wild crops they could find, and while even more put what skills they possessed to good use in securing their home and their other necessities. And, such, their days were full. Busy and with a small sense of purpose.

 

But to Abelas, within the quiet walls of his room after night fell, it all seemed almost futile. Without the will of the Goddess to guide them, what true purpose could all of this effort ever really serve? Were they simply surviving merely to survive? Suffering for suffering sake? Or, were they merely prolonging the inevitable? Such questions, he could not answer. Though his mind and heart wished he could. The solitude of temple life, once so familiar and wanted, now carried with it an edge of regret and unkindness that he had never felt before. And no solace could he find.

 

Heaving a deep sigh, Abelas pushed away from the myriad of uncertain thoughts and fled reality for the comforting arms of the Fade. At least, in sleep, there would be some peace. For, in his dreams, it always lingered happily. But, he soon found out that always is never a certainty.

 

He woke to find himself standing in the inner sanctum of the temple. The marks of war that had befallen its ancient stones still loomed on every surface, the scent of blood still lingered in the air, and though no bodies remained, the press of death’s cold touch hovered around the space. Suddenly, from above, a soft sob echoed gently. Silently calling Abelas’ eyes from the marked and bloodstained stones at his feet up until they landed on the ornate staircase that led to where the Vir’Abelasan once rested. His feet, compelled to move, carried him towards the sound without his choosing and as he ventured nearer the sob echoed once more. Ensorcelled and entranced by the curious sound, he quickened his steps and took the stairs two by two until he had finally reached the top. Only to let out an unstoppable gasp the moment his eyes spied the source of the sound.

 

There standing quietly by the recess, the Well’s newest Keeper stood. She was dressed in a simple blue gown, trimmed lightly with silvery threads. Her long white hair had been tied back at the crown of her head, with a gentle silver ribbon, yet flowed down her back in luscious waves. And her face was bare.

 

“I know that I am unwelcome,” her sorrowful voice intoned gently. “Unworthy...But, please allow me just a moment...”

 

Abelas chose not to answer. Curious as to how she could be both so certain of his presence and so aware of her place within his dream. She had never struck him as anything more than a simple mage of this stilted time but something about her presence here seemed almost deliberate. So Abelas watched her. Watched her as she cried softly to herself almost as if she was mourning. And said nothing. Time passed slowly and, after a while, her tears finally began to fade. As she wiped away the remnants of her sorrow, Abelas decided to speak.

 

“Why have you come?”

 

“To see you,” she replied –her voice somewhat hoarse. “After all, this is your dream. Is it not?”

 

“It is,” he answered. “But you must realize that invading one’s dream without permission is an affront to the Gods. A sin, worthy of expulsion.”

 

“Perhaps...” she sighed. “But, since you were perfectly clear that I was never to return to the temple nor would ever be welcomed again, I had no other alternative, save this. To seek you out in dreams.”

 

“And to what purpose do your desires lead you to take such a path?” countered Abelas, his voice skeptical. “Why have you sought me out?”

 

“You knew, didn’t you?” she questioned. “The moment you saw us. Saw me and my companions. You knew what was hiding beneath the surface. You knew what my heart could not?”

 

“That a wolf was playing the sheep?” he countered, his tone mirroring his instant understanding. “Yes.”

 

“His magic was...familiar.” he sighed. “As, so too, was yours.”

 

“I see...” she sighed.

 

“Is that why you allowed the Well to be taken?”

 

“Was it because of me? Or because of him? Or because you could not bear to have it fall in the hands of a human?"

 

“It was...It was all of those.” he sighed. “And none.”

 

“I do not understand.”

 

“Nor should you,” he replied.

 

“For what it’s worth...Abelas...” she sighed after a pregnant pause. “I am sorry that we left you no other choice. It was never my intentions to undo all that had been kept safe within these walls. Nor was it ever an intention to usurp a legacy not meant for me...But.”

 

“But?”

 

“I am grateful, none the less.” she smiled. “That at least, through me, the Vir’Abelasan could be protected. That you chose to have faith, to trust in my words, and not destroy it instead.”

 

“As you say, I was left with no real choice,” he answered. “Though the situation isn’t ideal, the Well endures...at least.”

 

“So it does.” she nodded. “However, I fear that its knowledge is wasted with me. The voices are strange at times. Sometimes, naught a whisper echoes. And sometimes it is a choral litany of words and phrases too difficult to understand. Yet...still, I am learning things I could not have possibly imagined. In the moments they are peaceful. And yet, I feel that in all that I gain, in the end, the world has lost much more.”

 

“That you’ve lost much, much more.” she sighed, finally turning to face him.

 

“It can not be returned,” Abelas replied. “Even if you wish it. If that is what you seek. Once the Vir’Abelasan chooses its Keeper, only death can set it free.”

 

“I am aware.” she nodded gently. “But that is not why I say these things.”

 

“Nor, is any of this –truly– why I am here.”

 

“What do you want?”

 

“You,” she answered.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“And, your followers,” she added softly. “I...”

 

“No.” Abelas interrupted instantly.

 

She immediately shook her head and heaved a disappointed sigh.  

 

“So it must be a relative personality trait,” she mumbled.

 

Abelas looked at her suspiciously.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“You two are so much alike,” she stated flatly as if she was only confirming something she had already known. “Always assuming the worst –long before ever learning any of the facts.”

 

“Have I misunderstood you, then?”

 

“Without a doubt.” she nodded. “But, as this always seems to occur with Elvhen such as you, it shouldn’t really surprise me as much as it still does.”

 

“Then, speak plainly.” His tone, cold.

 

“I have not come to recruit you,” she answered. “Only, simply, to offer my aid should you ever have need of it.”

 

“I am not blind,” she admitted. “To what has happened to you and your bothers, Abelas. Nor, do I not accept blame. Because of my actions, which at the time were surely necessary, you have undoubtedly lost your purpose. Left without a path to follow.”

 

“Confusion, worry, fear, uncertainty and doubt,” she sighed. “I know such feelings well.”

 

“And, would have you know that you are not alone in them.”

 

“What would you know of our struggle?” he countered.

 

“You know that answer, just as well as I.”

 

“You have seen them, yourself, haven’t you? The strangers lingering in the dark shadows of your wilds.”

 

“You’re doing, I take it?” he countered again.

 

“In a way,” she answered calmly. “Though, not by my order.”

 

“Yet,” Abelas retorted spitefully. “Not unknown by you.”

 

“No.” she sighed. “They are not unknown to me. My...advisors unilaterally chose to send them. To observe you and your brothers without my knowledge or permission.”

 

“To what purpose?”

 

“You know that answer as well,” she replied. “For you would do the very same thing should an unknown element appear on your horizon with the apparent possibility of becoming a threat.”

 

“They see us as a threat?”

 

“Partially.” she nodded. “But, more so, a curiosity.”

 

“That is why they have kept their distance.”

 

“Observation,” she informed truthfully. “Is their only standing order. Not interaction.”

 

“I see.” Abelas sighed. “An how long will such observance last before their directive changes? Before they become more than just simple watchers. When action becomes their purpose.”

 

“It will not change. Neither to drastic effect nor to a beneficial one, and not without my direct order.”

 

“To which, on a number of levels, I am grateful. ”

 

“Grateful?” Abelas parroted suspiciously.

 

“At least, with their unsanctioned observation, I may know that the last of Mythal’s great Sentinels are alive and well. And are flourishing safely, despite what havoc I have wrought to their purpose.”

 

“You feel responsible for our fate?” Abelas questioned, surprised that she would offer up such an admission so willingly.

 

“Irrevocably so.” she sighed sadly. “This is why I have sought you out on this night.”

 

“If you desire absolution of your misdeeds, I will not give it.” he inferred sternly.

 

“I know.” she nodded, turning her eyes to him once more.

 

“I have done far too much already, to ever earn such forgiveness or empathy. From anyone, let alone you.”

 

“Still, I do not wish to end this night without revealing my forthrightness about my desire to assist you –despite my crimes.”

 

“It would never be able to undo what you have done.”

 

“I know that, as well,” she replied with an understanding nod. “But that does not mean my desire to help is weighted with ulterior motives, either. I do not seek forgiveness, Abelas. Nor do I wish my actions to ever be forgotten. What I have done has destroyed all that you and your brothers have held so dear for millenniums. And, nothing I can do or say will ever be able to undo that. No matter how I wish I could.”

 

“My earnestness, however, is genuine. And, my offer is eternal and unchanging.”

 

“For as long as I draw breath, The Sentinels of Mythal, within these walls, will forever be welcome where ever I may be. I will lend aid no matter the circumstance, should you need it. And, should you chose to come to my side –in any capacity– your safety, as well as the preservation of all that makes you who you are, will always be assured. And protected you will remain, until my dying breath.”

 

“In this, I swear.” she finished gently. “To both you and the All-Mother herself.”

 

“You...”

 

She immediately raised her hand, cutting him off, and motioned him to wait until she was finished.

 

“I know that my offer will land on deaf ears, Abelas. Being so close to the rawness of the moment. No matter my sincerity. Or, what truths I dare speak. So, no answer is necessary. Nor, is any denial or refusal.”

 

“As long as you accept that the offer remains open.” she sighed heavily. “Then I can do no more.”

 

“And that will be enough for you?” he countered.

 

“In that,” she chuckled slightly. “I have no choice.”

 

“Whatever may come,” she added softly after a quiet pause. “Now or in the future, I wish for you all to remain well. And, live well, Abelas. Protect those of you who remain and never forget that I am here should you ever need me.”

 

“Even if the whole of the world wars against us?” he countered.

 

“Even then,” she smiled.

 

“My shield to defend you. My sword to protect you. My home to give you shelter. My hearth to warm you. My words to bring you comfort. And, my heart to give you care. You will have it all, and much more. For, I could do no less for those who I have wronged so fully and so cruelly and live with myself for even a moment more.”

 

“Very well,” he replied. Moved by her words and accepting her sincerity.

 

 

 

 

Abelas sighed at the memory. It had been nearly a year since that night. The night she walked into his dreams and spoke of a place –a chance –for sanctuary if it was ever necessary, and vanished with her intent made clear. And, while he had accepted her feelings in such desires, in the end, he still felt weary of what would truly happen should a time come when he would have a need to call upon her.

 

In the time since that day, he had continued to do the best he could to care for his flock of lost Sentinels. Trying his best to assure their survival and calm the wayward worries they all carried in their hearts. And, as days and weeks fell into months, a harmony of spirit was finally cultivated. Gone, for the most part, were the concerns of their future. Lulled into obscurity by the necessities of the day. Somehow, managing to find a path among the chaos of their upended lives. For his people and, even more so, himself –finally gaining a small sense of purpose to keep himself going.

 

The strangeness of the world, however, still vexed him considerably. Though they managed to keep knowledge of their existence to a minimum, it became more and more necessary for them to broaden their horizons as time passed. To learn that which they did not know. Even though they were not going without, when it came to basic needs, the lack of information about the new world –that they were, now, a part of without question– was daunting. Seclusion had always been their way. The will of the Goddess in all things. But, with their abandonment now assured, they all knew that remaining hidden away would do them no favors. They needed to learn about this time, to understand the world as it now existed, and make plans to combat any threats that may be looming just beyond their wilds –should there be any.

 

And many, Abelas found, were. The destruction of the creature that split the sky; though a victory in every right; had put a spotlight upon the Keeper of the Well’s Inquisition. Rumors abounded at the viability of such a selective and commanding force left unchecked. And, more so, of their leader. Scouts sent out into the world came back often with disquieting news. Reports of more strife and political upheaval. Of, fear and concern towards her Inquisition. Quiet calls for their disbandment. Calls for their dissolution. Louder calls for their submission to both Fereldan and Orlais. And, more worryingly, conspiratorial calls for the Inquisitor’s head. Proliferated time and time again.

 

The last of which he found more disturbing than anything.

 

Her name and her deeds had been greatly admired by the common folk of the world. Reports of accounts of her care and compassion, given freely to all, had littered every Scouts’ recollection of their inquiries about her. She was beloved by most and respected by many more. Yet, the higher echelons of Thedosian society perceived her, not as an ally, but a very viable threat. An accomplished mage, and an elf, wielding a great power without sanction. Without oversight.

 

This belief, this distrust in her, quickly began to bother Abelas. Sometimes, to the point of very real irritation and anger. Of all that he learned about the woman who had taken the Vir’Abelesan’s blessing, she had never done anything that could possibly justify the ire of the entire world. And that realization, hit him harder than he expected.

 

Abelas had been content in mistrusting her. His thoughts tainted by the wariness of her place in the world. And what she intended. Along with the fact that she had taken the Well when he believed her unworthy. Yet, as time passed, he could not deny that the more he learned about her –coupled with their interaction in the Fade –had eroded away some of the animosity and distrust he felt towards her. The more the world offered up knowledge of her life, through stories and actual accounts of her glorious and kind deeds, he began to get a better picture of the strange invader who had been so careful and respectful of the Temple’s traditions the day he met her. And, how the world dared to villainize her. The woman who'd saved them all.

 

It was infuriating, to say the least. That she would be treated so cruelly, and so blatantly, simply because of the perceived uncertainty of her intentions. That, after all that she had done and been through, they would dare try to erase her existence from the known world simply due to her lineage. Abelas had no doubt that the fact that she was not human inflamed all that she now faced. He was no fool in that regard. He had seen it many times throughout history in the recollections of the Fade. The windows into the waking world he would peer through from time to time to see how the people endured. And it turned his stomach to know that such atrocities against one of the people would repeat itself once more.

 

It was one of those nights, where the thought of her plight had raised his ire and impassioned his anger, that he was visited by her wolf in sheep’s clothing. He had appeared out of nowhere, coming forth from walking Fade to materialize on Abelas’ secluded balcony. Dressed in the armor of their great people, with a poignant and familiar wolf’s pelt draped across his shoulders, and looking far more determined than Abelas expected.

 

“You are not welcome here, Wolf.” Abelas angrily commanded. “Begone from this place, lest you seek to find your own destruction.”

 

“Such hostility you offer,” Solas replied. “To what do I owe the honor?”

 

“I know what you seek.” barked Abelas. “And no ally will you find in me.”

 

“I will have none of the purposes you intend. Nor will I violate my oath to our Goddess simply because she has grown silent.”

 

“You speak of her silence...” Solas replied calmly, though his eyes were hard as steel. “Yet, do not seek to find out why. Are you sure that it is she who has abandoned you? Or, is it you that has abandoned her?”

  

“I will not debate such a thing with you, betrayer.” Abelas countered. “You sought to seek revenge upon those who dared separate her spirit from her vessel long ago. In that, I take no issue. But you have no right, nor justification, to dare question my loyalty. I served her longer than you ever did. And I was not the one who turned their back on the one who loved us most in the end.”

 

“My brethren’s cruelty affected her far too greatly,” Solas justified with a regretful sigh. “Their influence too great. She’d lost her way and the people needed me. I had no choice.”

 

“Do not dare spin your lies in my presence, Fen’Harel,” Abelas spat angrily. “No matter what was done, you swore an oath just as I once did. It was a promise to protect her and all she held so dear for as many lifetimes as she desired. And, follow her will in perpetuity. But, in the end, that promise meant nothing to you or your ego!”

 

“Ego?” Solas questioned. “Is that what you truly think of me, Little Sorrow?”

 

“That I rebelled against you and my brothers, betrayed my oath, defied the Evanuris, destroyed countless lives in the pursuit of ending their cruelty, and condemned future generations to misery and death at the hand of humans, simply because of my pride?”

 

Abelas scoffed angrily.

 

“Why do you ask questions you already know the answer to?” he spat. “You need only to look at your own face to know my thoughts.”

 

Brother,” he sighed with saddened emphasis.

 

“How dare you...” Abelas growled. His eyes narrowing. “You are no longer worthy to address me so. And no amount of recompense will ever see that fact undone.”

 

“You are nothing to me,” he added hatefully. “Leave!”

 

“You would foolishly send me away without hearing what I have to say?”

 

“No words can you offer that would ever call me to your side, as you wish.” he fired back. “I will not follow a monster who would betray his own mother. Nor one who would abandon an innocent woman willing to forgive all that you are, simply for love.”

 

Solas’ eyes widened. Though Abelas didn’t say the name outright, he knew very well of which woman he spoke.

 

“Then, I shall not waste any more of your precious time.” Solas acquiesced. “However, before I leave this place, allow me to offer a respectful warning in light of the bond we once had.”

 

“Speak quickly.”

 

“The Inquisitor,” he replied forcefully. “Do not seek her out.”

 

“If you choose opposition to my cause, to bind yourself to what she intends, I will grant no pardon. Nor give any reprieve from my intentions.”

 

“No matter what we once had,” he adds cruelly before immediately vanishing from sight.

 

“Then,” Abelas replied softly, as he watched the last remnants of Solas’ magical presence fade from the balcony. “So be it.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Can I help you, Commander?” the Inquisitor questions, glancing up over the battered tome in her hands from her quiet chair by the hearth in the Great Hall, with a slightly irritated look.

 

“Sorry to disturb you, Inquisitor, but I have the report on the issues we discussed last night,” he replies in an official, clipped tone.

 

“Very good,” she nods, motioning him to have a seat at the table next to her as she closes her book with a quiet snap. “Go ahead.”

 

“Master Einon reports that this storm will last three to four more days, a week at the most.” Cullen begins, sitting down across from her instead. “His justification: based on his mages research and pouring over the detailed reports of the weather in this area; that we’ve collected over the last few years. Conditions, he says, are favorable for extremely low temperatures and heavier snowfall than normal, sustained for many days.”

 

“So, this truly is a blizzard, then?”

 

“Yes, I am afraid so.”

 

“What of the adjustments to mitigate exposure levels for our people?” she questions.

 

“Yes,” he nods, pulling a slip of paper from underneath his armor marked with some notations and skimming them as he continues. “As we discuss last night, I have altered the guard rotations per your request and instituted my suggestions that you agreed to.”

 

“Exterior guard and lookout rotations have been regulated to no more than two hours of direct exposure every twelve hours. And, with extra braziers to be kept lit at all times. Interior guards, in partially exposed areas, are regulated to no more than three hours of exposure every twelve hours. And, castle guards, including your personal retinue, are regulated to no more than six hours of duty every twelve hours.”

 

“Good, good.” she agrees with a nod. “What about our guests in the lower cells?”

 

“Due to the extreme temperatures,” he answers, pulling his eyes from the parchment in his hand. “All of our prisoners housed on the waterfall side have been moved to the interior –per your order. But the necessity of doubling up was not as prevalent as I had expected. As for their comfort, the outer door has been sealed with Master Einon’s help and extra warming wards have been employed to keep them comfortable.”

 

“It’s a little cramped in some places, but on the whole, it’s better than the alternative,” he adds.

 

“Mmm.” she hums in agreement. “And the stables?”

 

“Master Dennet has taken all the necessary precautions,” he confirms. “With the help of some of the soldiers, and with some extra supplies, he has managed to seal up the stables somewhat. Employing a few of Master Einon’s mages to help in dealing with the incessant draft and more wards to relegate the temperature as best they can. The use of fresh bedding, along with heavy blankets and extra braziers, have been employed to mitigate the extreme temperatures and their stores have been moved indoors to protect from any damage or freezing.”

 

“And what of Inara and her colt? The foal was born out of season. And will not survive the cold without help.”

 

“Master Dennet has moved the mother and child as close to the stable’s main brazier as possible. And taken extra precautions to ensure the little one’s safety. Inara, herself, is uncomfortable in the space but at least her, and the babe, are warm.”

 

“See to it that Dennet spoils her little until the storm passes. She has never been able to handle tight spaces very well, so the encouragement will help her cope. As for the colt, please reiterate to Dennet that I will be VERY cross is something were to happen to him.”

 

“I’m sure he is well aware, Inquisitor. But, I will relay the message.”

 

“Good.”

 

“What about our soldiers in the valley?”

 

“Luckily, due to the time of year, our current forces are at minimal operating levels. So we were able to do as you asked. All non-essential personnel have been moved from our camp in the valley and are currently being housed in the lower hall. Lieutenant Ferris reports that our soldiers are all settling in well and without complaint.”

 

“I should hope not.” she chuckles. “Considering the alternative.”

 

“Yes. It is better to be warm and cramped than free and dying in the cold.” he agreed with a smile.

 

“As for our essential personnel; specifically the lookouts, scouts, and runners assigned to patrol and report back from the lower valley and surrounding areas; our apprentice Spymaster has done her due diligence and assures me that they are taking all necessary steps to attend to both their needs and their responsibilities to the Inquisition, properly.”

 

“I see,” she sighs, her voice slightly sad. “Then please make sure to inform our Little Raven that I am counting on her to keep them safe. I will NOT have another scout lost due to this damn snow. Do I make myself clear?”

 

“Of course, Inquisitor.” Cullen nods, understanding her concern. “And, if you will permit me, I will speak to Lace as well. She’ll be invaluable should our new Spymaster neglect her current duties in any way.”

 

“Please do so.” she agrees. “Has the Quartermaster turned in his updated report on our current stores?”

 

“Yes.” Cullen nods gently, glancing back at the parchment once more. “And our inventory is still at satisfactory levels. However, he suggests that we consume any of the remaining perishables as soon as possible. Though the low temperatures normally negate any rot, they do increase the likelihood of a pest infestation moving in. He fears we may lose a significant amount of our supplies to mice should the storm last too long.”

 

“Then make sure the kitchen staff is informed and that they alter their current meal schedule, to follow the Quartermaster’s suggestion,” she answers. “And please see to it that they make sure that any scraps that can be reused for things like broth or gruel are used rather than discarded. The likelihood that we could be snowed in for weeks, once the storm finally passes, is high. So, any effort to mitigate our consumption will aid us in the long run. At least, until we can reopen trade routes and be resupplied.”

 

“As for the pest problem, please have the Quartermaster speak to Ser Kline. His family comes from a long line of farmers, and traders, so he may have some better insights on how to keep the mice problem at bay. Things like rotating stores, where to store them and how. And so on.”

 

“As you wish.”

 

“Is there anything else?” she counters.

 

“Nothing of merit, officially,” he responds, crumbling up the parchment in his hand and tucking it back under his armor.

 

“And unofficially?”

 

“I’m concerned,” he admits after a long pause.

 

“About?”

 

“In point of fact, you, Inquisitor.” he sighs. “You’ve been quiet as of late. Except when it comes to the necessities of your position.”

 

“Is something on your mind? Are you not feeling well? Resting well?”

 

“It...” she answers with a sad sigh. “It’s been a difficult few days.”

 

“Have we not done enough to ease your worries?”

 

“No, no. It’s not that.” she immediately answers. “You’ve been wonderful. A true Commander in every right and the people here have rallied together well.”

 

“Then what’s bothering you?”

 

“I am...unsure,” she admits. “It not something I can really put into words. It’s just a feeling. A feeling that...that something is wrong. That something has happened. But, I can’t seem to figure out what.”

 

“And, your intuition is rarely wrong,” Cullen states with certainty.

 

“And that’s what’s worrying me.” she frowns. “I’ve been pouring over reports for days now trying to ascertain if there is something I’ve missed. Some situation that needs my attention. Or some atrocity that needs to be averted. But, there’s nothing of note.”

 

“Perhaps it's simply the storm that has you on edge?” he offers. “We have yet to see a storm this bad since we came to Skyhold. Perhaps the uncertainty of it all is what has you so uneasy.”

 

“I hope you’re right.” she sighs heavily. “’Cause for the life of me, I don’t really think I could handle another disaster in my current state. These past few months have just been one thing after another, and I have about had it with bickering nobles, assassination attempts, petty squabbles, irritating royalty, and the world falling apart every time I even dare to blink.”

 

“Enough to last a lifetime, in fact.”

 

“I just wish I could get some peace and quiet, for just once. You know?”

 

“I know the feeling.” Cullen chuckles in agreement.

 

“Hey, then maybe this storm is a blessing in disguise,” he added positively, finally discarding his official tone for a more friendly one.

 

“Maybe,” she smiles.  

 

“Why don’t you take this time to try and relax?” Cullen suggests with a smile. “After all, we have prepared as well as we are able. And, as you said, we will most likely be snowed in for several weeks. So, the likelihood that any trouble can fall on our doorstep is slim. Barring any catastrophe, in-house, you should be free to at least take a little time for yourself.”

 

“After all, I know you’ve been dying to get back to exploring the tomes of the lower library. And continuing your research on the Ancient Elvhen.”

 

“True.” she nods. “And maybe I will be able to. But, considering the situation, it would not be prudent for me to spend my days lounging with a book in my hand and living in obliviousness while the rest of Skyhold is uneasy about the storm.”

 

“Nonsense.” he quickly dismisses. “Your people know very well how hard you work on a daily basis to see that they are safe, well fed, and taken care of. They would not begrudge you a moment of respite.”

 

“Especially after the last few weeks,” he adds with finality.

 

“I don’t know.” she sighs.

 

“I do,” he confirms with a sharp nod.

 

“I’ll think about it.” she admonishes a quiet moment later. Knowing full well that if she were to argue with the man, about this, any further, she would always end up wrong no matter what she said.

 

“That’s all I can ask.” he smiles.

 

“Inquisitor!” a strong voice suddenly echoes causing her to look up to see a very familiar Templar advancing quickly.

 

“Yes, Lieutenant Ferris?”

 

“My apologies for the interruption, Milady,” he answers, with a quick; yet respectful; bow. “But, I fear we may have a situation.”

 

“Well, so much for that.” she sighs, glancing at Cullen with an unsurprised look.

 

“What is it now?”

 

“A raven just arrived with this report from our lookout post on the valley’s eastern rise,” he informs as he quickly slips his hand inside his tunic and produces a small piece of rolled parchment.

 

“About?” she counters.

 

“An intruder, Milady. Spotted early this morning, crossing the border of our territory. On foot.”

 

“ON FOOT?” she questions. The surprise in her voice: obvious. “In this?”

 

“Yes, Milady.”

 

Who would be so foolish to travel in a storm like this?

 

Reaching for the parchment with haste, she immediately opens it and begins to read. Taking in the report with concern and curiosity.

 

 

 

‘R, Be advised:

Intruder spotted crossing the border just after dawn, near eastern lookout position 3.

Single suspicion. Possible courier. But unlikely.

Heavily Armed.

Purpose unknown.

Moving due north towards the nest.

Any attempts at communication cut off by storm.

Estimated visibility: seven bells.

 

-K’

 

 

“Do we still have eyes on the main road?” she quickly questions as she hands off the lookout’s report to Cullen and stands.

 

“Yes, Milady.” Ferris nods. “And we have detected movement on the horizon.”

 

“It is nearly eight bells,” Cullen states gently as he comes to the end of the report and stands to his full height.

 

“Most likely delayed by the storm, Ser.”

 

“Why weren’t we informed sooner?” Cullen counters in frustration.

 

“Again, the storm Ser. It has gotten worse since this morning and it is causing issues for the Little Raven’s flock. We were lucky it arrived at all. The carrier may not survive.”

 

“Then put the rookery on standby,” the Inquisitor states flatly. “And ground any communications until further notice. There’s no need to put our birds in danger any more than necessary. Even in an event such as this.”

 

“Your orders?” the Commander questions, looking at his Inquisitor. His tone official once more.

 

“Standby as well,” she replies. “If the intruder is still on the horizon, and if their current pace is any indication, it will still be at least an hour before they make it within range of our lookouts and archers on the ramparts. Until then, however, double the detail on the main gate and make preparations to deal with any situation that may arise. And see to it that no one makes contact with the intruder without my direct order.”

 

“Should we close the gate, Milady?” Ferris asks for clarification.

 

“I don’t think that will be necessary. If the intruder is an assassin, the likelihood that he or she would allow themselves to be spotted as they have is rare. Therefore, it is a more reasonable conclusion that no matter who this person may be, they have ventured out in this weather with a serious purpose. Perhaps a courier as our lookout initially dismissed. Maybe something more. But until we know for certain, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions.”

 

“It may be something as simple as a traveler who’s lost their way.”

 

“With that being said, I’d also like for Master Einon to be informed immediately. Depending on the situation it is highly possible that our intruder will need immediate care. Have him prepare any contingencies that he feels will be necessary to combat any complications that can arise from extreme exposure. And tell him he has full authority to requisition anything from the Quartermaster should he need it.”

 

“Very well.” Cullen agrees.

 

With her orders given, both the Commander and his Lieutenant bow respectively and leave the hall to attend to her requests. The moment they are out of sight, she turns and heads to her quarters quickly. She needs to prepare herself. And change into her winter gear. It doesn’t take her long to do just that and after no more than thirty minutes, she makes her way back down to the Great Hall. The moment she clears the threshold of her private stairs, she is met by a scout waiting impatiently by her door.

 

“I’m here to escort you Milady, per the Commander’s orders.”

 

She immediately nods, knowing full well their ever-protective Commander would do such a thing.

 

“Let’s go, then,” she replies, shrugging her heavy wool cloak closed and lifting up her hood.

 

The violent chills, that sweep through her, the moment the door to the stone walkway opens just off the rotunda are beyond harsh and speak a telling fact of the terrible storm raging outside. Torrents of snow whip around in the cruel winds. Cutting deep. Nearly to the bone. She tries her best to push out the cold. Tightening her cloak around her a little more. Before following the scout across the icy bridge and entering the Commander’s office housed in a solitary tower at its end. As the door closes behind her, she cannot stop the shiver that runs through her from the temperature change of the warm office.

 

 “Any change?” she questions, turning to her Commander –who has taken up a position near the window that looks out over the main road –as she slips her hood from her head and dusts off the snow already sticking to her shoulders.

 

“His pace has quickened, though minimally. He will be in the range of our archers shortly.”

 

“He?”

 

“He carries the carriage of a man. Tall, muscular, though hunched due to...exaustion and the weather, I suspect. Leaning on the staff he carries, the color of snow.”

 

“What else can you see?” she questions, curiosity suddenly thrumming through her, as she clears the distance between them and joins Cullen at the window.

 

“Where is he?” she questions the second she stands on her toes and tries to look through the icy monsoon falling just outside the small window.

 

“Just there,” he informs, pointing at the location where the man now drudges up the main road some two hundred yards past the castle’s two watchtowers standing tall on the other side of the lone bridge strung across ravine directly below their vantage point.  “See.”

 

She narrows her eyes and focuses. Trying her best to spot the intruder and his unhesitating march towards them. It takes a few moments and then she finally catches his figure moving through the snow. And, Cullen is right. From his height, and his build, their intruder is truly a man. But there is no discernable mark upon his hunched over, and heavily cloaked form, that gives any inclination to his identity. The hood upon his head, covered in layers of snow and ice, is pulled down so tightly that naught a bit of his face can be seen. And the front of the cloak, itself, seems almost sewn closed. Revealing nothing. The only markable observation that she can make is to confirm that he does, in fact, walk with a staff of unknown origin. That it is as white as the very snow engulfing him. And, bearing almost nearly all his weight with every step he takes.

 

“Commander,” she calls out. Her tone: firm, but with an air of concern.

 

“Yes, Inquisitor?”

 

“Let’s go.”

 

“Go?” he questions instantly.

 

“Yes, go,” she responds sharply, a strange smile creeping across her face. “After all, he will soon be a guest of the Inquisition, will he not? What would Josie say if I were to not greet a visiting dignitary properly? Without all the pomp and circumstance she is now known for?”

 

Visiting dignitary?” Cullen counters, dismay in his voice. “How could you-“

 

“I don’t,” she interrupts.

 

She immediately sees Cullen’s desire to disagree with her flash across his face. The wish to counter her strange reaction to seeing the man. And her choice of words. Curious about her thoughts. But, she knows he will not. Over the last two years, he has come to understand her whims well enough to not outright question her unless her actions will put her in inherent mortal danger. And, he knows very well that he could never truly understand how she now thinks. He had tried, true enough, in the beginning. But after so long, he became resolved to the fact that he will never truly understand every part of her. So, he rarely contested any order she gave.

 

“Let’s go.” she reiterates, pulling her hood back over her head.

 

“As you wish, Inquisitor.” the Commander concedes.

 

In silence, they exit the western door and head down the stairs just off the ramparts and down to the lower bailey below. The walk is relatively short; only taking a few moments; and, soon, they enter the stone causeway between the outer and inner portcullises guarding over the main gates. Finding a total of six guards standing vigil; four soldiers, one of Master Einon’s apprentice mages, and a former-Templar named Ser Reinald; who all greet their Inquisitor with a respectful salute or an affirming bow.

 

“Inquisitor,” Ser Reinald nods.

 

“Situation?” she questions, knowing full well that what he may have to report may differ from what she may already know.

 

“No change,” he answers respectfully.

 

She does not venture further for any more clarification than that and instead turns her attention to the far end of the bridge and the slowly advancing form of their visitor in the distance beyond. Taking a few steps ahead of her gathered guards as she does. And, vaguely registering the word of warning that falls from Cullen’s lips. Until she is standing within five steps of the fall line of the outer portcullis and stops. Her eyes never breaking from the man, she studies him intently. Watching with a purpose in thought, as he stumbles through the thickness of the piled upon snow and ever-incessant winds; his grip never relenting from the steadying purpose of the staff in his hand.

 

Minutes pass in complete silence. As no one knows what, if anything, to say at that moment. Choosing, simply, to focus on the reason behind their assembly and the reactions of their leader. Who’s attention has been completely consumed by their visitor’s very presence from the moment she set her eyes upon him.

 

Some of the tension, rising between the guards, breaks when the sound of Cullen’s sudden sigh falls from his lips. All knowing, without a doubt, that the man’s patience is growing thin with just that simple act. They do not spare even a glance in his direction when he starts to move. Clearing the space between him and the Inquisitor in a few determined strides, before coming to a stop at her side. Only to find themselves slightly surprised when he doesn’t choose to speak and merely watches the man with the same intensity as she.

 

For a few moments more they watch the visage of their query and concern advance, and then all in the stone causeway feel a sudden shift. A shift in the Fade. A tremble in the Veil. The tell-tale sign of magic, being employed. And, by none other than the Inquisitor herself. Each turns their eyes to her and see no sign that she has cast a thing. Only noticing, that her right hand is tapping against her thigh. In a very precise rhythm. A very telling rhythm. One in time with their visitor’s very own steps. As if she’s counting.

 

As the minutes slowly tick by, the bending of the Fade around them grows exponentially stronger and begins to twinge upon their skin like the tickling of the light touch of a feather. For the soldiers, it is a disconcerting feeling. For the former Templar, the Commander, and Master Einon’s apprentice, however, it is very telling. They have no doubt to the reason behind the build-up of her magic. Know exactly why it is so. And simply wait for her true purpose to be revealed to all.

 

And the moment their visitor comes within a hundred yards of the watchtowers, a few minutes later, it does. When she immediately lifts her hand, suddenly thrumming with a spell, flicks her wrist in his direction, and a barrier snaps immediately around his form.

 

But, with such movements, her build-up of magical energies does not fade. Which, is unusual.  

 

Barrier magic, when used in battle, was never used in a sustainable fashion. Always considered a one-off spell. A cast and then move on; until it needed to be reapplied; type of spell. But, this barrier was different. Though the intention of the spell had been cast from her magic-laced hand, it had not faded. Or, ended. Instead, it still thrummed with the very spell she had invoked.

 

A sustained cast.

 

Without batting an eyelash, and without even bothering to sooth the hearts and minds of those gathered around her, the Inquisitor immediately pulls upon the fade once more. Lifting her left hand out before her, and casting a second sustained spell. This one, every single person knows and can recognize –even in their sleep.

 

Fortitude of Will.  To give strength to the weary in times of utter weakness.

 

“Allow me to assist, Milady.” Master Einon’s apprentice immediately implores, rushing to the Inquisitor’s side. Knowing full well how a sustained cast, let alone two, could drain even the strongest of mages. And, quickly.

 

A simple nod gives him permission, and with the both of them protecting the man from the elements and lending him the strength to trudge ever forwards, his pace quickens somewhat. Coming to the far end of the bridge far swifter than he would have, had they’d left him to his own devices. To his own suffering.

 

“I have him, Inquisitor.” the apprentice confirms as the man’s unfaltering strides soon bring him near the halfway point of the wooden bridge a few moments later, and his steps becoming somewhat sluggish once more. “You may disengage.”

 

“He will collapse long before he reaches us if I do that.” she counters.

 

“I assure you, he will not,” he declares with finality. “Even if it takes all I have, he will make it across. I swear it.”

 

“Then, allow me to retrieve him.” the Commander suggests. “I could-“

 

“No,” she counters, her voice stern and sharp. “The winds blowing across the ravine are far too dangerous to make the attempt. The fact that he has yet to fall to his death in a miracle in-of-itself. I will not allow anyone else to put themselves in harm's way. Not when there is a safer alternative.”

 

“Inquisitor,” Cullen sighs in disappointment.

 

“I said no, Commander.” her voice, once again, firm but suddenly laced with a hint of exhaustion.

 

“Inquisitor,” the apprentice emplores once more, protestation in his voice. “I must insist. Your magic will not last much longer if you try to push past your limits and keep ahead of the elements like this. Please disengage and leave his safety to me.”

 

“I promise you, he will not fall.”

 

“Very well,” she sighs, after a nearly disobedient pause, as she seems to finally notice the tiredness trying to seep into her bones and snuffs out both her casts with a simultaneous flick of her wrists.

 

This reprieve, unexpectedly, gives her a moment of clarity. Her mind no longer focused on the man’s protection, her eyes immediately scan his form with a more decerning eye. Clearly noticing both the quick glimmer of the green and golden armor hiding underneath his cloak; that drags the very ground behind him; and the impressive bulge of the snow-covered fabric lingering just above his shoulders.

 

An unmistakable sign of copious amounts of worn weaponry.

 

He is truly armed to the teeth, prepared for battle. As the lookouts reported.

 

But for what purpose? And why does she faintly sense magic in him?

 

It was not uncommon for those trained in the magical arts to be skilled in alternate ways of warfare. Often choosing to learn skills like swordsmanship and archery as a secondary defense mechanism for a time when they were confronted by an adversary where magic would serve no purpose. Giving them no advantage. Or when their magic had been unexpectedly depleted, by either overuse or by Templar employed negation tactics. In fact, it had become more and more prevalent as of late. Especially at the height of the Mage/Templar conflict, some years ago, where the outnumbered mage rebels were at a disadvantage. So, in all, it did not surprise her, really. Though, it seemed rather odd in her mind. And, not because he was armed, seemingly so well-versed in other forms of combat other than magic, but because he was so obviously traveling in such weather without using his given talents for the magical arts to protect himself. It seemed so very foolish.

 

Letting out a disconcerted sigh, she tries to pull her thoughts back to the here and now, and not allow herself to get mired down in all the possibilities all at once. The priority, she knows, is to see to it that their visitor; no matter who he is, or for what purpose he has come; makes it into the safety of Skyhold’s walls first. What comes after, if anything, will have to wait. No matter how much his effect upon the people now causes them to fear, worry, and doubt his intentions.

 

How fortuitous it was, for them all, that Master Einon’s apprentice is, in fact, so well skilled. For his barrier and cast of fortitude upon their visitor does not falter. And, only a few minutes more pass until the unknown man is finally stepping across the very edge of the warm, protective stone where they now stand. But, what relief they might have felt at his safe arrival is short lived. For the very moment, he appears under the causeway he instantly collapses to his knees. Breathing heavily, his grip upon his staff finally gives away at the fall. Allowing the ornate, and hand-carved magical item, to crash upon the stone beside him with an unhindered thwack. As if its purpose had truly, finally, been fulfilled.

 

At that moment, an unexpected gust blows through the entryway from behind him. Bringing with it a strange scent that a part of her instinctively recognizes. Though from where she cannot be certain. However, even with its origin unknown, the feeling that it invokes within her cannot be ignored and almost immediately she is moving, rushing to the collapsed man before her. Kneeling before him the moment she gets within reach, she grabs him by the shoulders to steady him. For a few quiet heartbeats, she tries to still him and the thoughts that are suddenly running rampant in her head, as she listens to his slow and shallow breathes falling from his frozen form.

 

An out-of-place unexpected thought suddenly flashes across her mind. Sending a wave of urgency and panic from someplace deep within her. Causing an unknown fear to instantly flicker across her face a split-second before the man unceremoniously falls against her –disappearing into unconsciousness, without uttering a word. Suddenly frantic, and worried about the man’s survivability, she quickly catches him in her arms before he can fall completely to the hard stone beneath them.

 

The moment he falls against her safely, her right hand is immediately on the move. Slipping under the hem of his hood, in search of the face underneath. What she soon finds there does, and does not, surprise her. As the feel of even more cloth brushes against her fingertips. And, she instantly understands that he has gone so far as to cover his face to protect himself from the elements. With such understanding, she crooks her finger ever so slightly and pulls down the fabric just enough to make contact with his frozen skin. The instant her searching fingertips make contact a strange recognition immediately shoots through her, making her pulse spike.

 

“It’s not possible.” she breathes out worriedly.

 

Spurred on by the feeling of sheer panic that instantly consumes her, she tilts the man’s face to her and what she sees there, under his snow-covered and iced-over hood, makes her heart plummet into the pit of her stomach. So lost in the disbelief of what she is now seeing, she doesn’t even realize that Cullen has rushed to her side in the short moments that have just transpired until his voice instantly rings out.

 

“Inquisitor?”

 

“He’s so cold,” she states almost desperately, her voice full of worry and fear. “We must get him inside quickly.”

 

“Do you know this man, Mina?” Cullen questions softly, using her rarely spoken, given name, as proof of his real concern.

 

She immediately looks up at him and tears are suddenly in her sorrowful eyes.

 

“Help me, Cullen,” she pleads. “Please...”

 

“Who is-“ Cullen, barely, manages before being instantly cut off with her answer.

 

“It’s...Abelas...”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The response he gives is nothing more than a simple, quick nod before he crouches down beside her and offers his back to bear the weight of the unconscious man in her arms. With the help of Master Einon’s apprentice and Ser Reinald, they quickly; but carefully; maneuver Abelas onto the Commander’s frame and drape the ancient Elvhen’s arms over his shoulders. His movements are slow but strong, as he lifts the man from the floor and, with the help a few more adjustments he is finally secured well enough against the Commander, to be moved. With a worried, yet gentle, sigh, the Inquisitor takes one last look at them both before ordering in a strong tone for them to move. 

 

With the sea of raging white falling from the heavens above, their choices are limited in which route to take. They could go for the main entrance to the Great Hall; which would get him inside the fastest under normal circumstances; but, that would require them to trek up a medium incline covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. Which would slow them down considerably and, with the storm raging as it has been, that would also mean even more time exposed to the unbearable cold. They could take the more linear route, bypassing the castle proper and taking the entrance to the kitchens, near the stables, but that choice would offer an, even more, slower pace as they would have passed through the lower hall where the majority of her soldiers were riding out the storm, just to reach the stairs that led to the Great Hall. Leaving the only feasible choice of carrying Abelas up the steep steps that lead to the top of the ramparts; through Cullen’s office; and taking the bridge that led to the rotunda and the Great Hall beyond.

 

The Inquisitor has no choice but to choose the latter and makes her intentions known to the Commander by simply leading the way. When he falls in step behind her without a whisper of protest a second later, she feels reassured that he understands her decision and does not disagree. Ser Reinald and the apprentice follow suit, both choosing to flank the Commander on both sides as they step out into the storm. Reinald taking up the task of simply aiding Cullen with the weight of Abelas form, employing a strong press of his hands upon the Elvhen’s back so as to assure that he does not fall. While Master Einon’s apprentice does his best, with what little magical strength that remains, and tries to keep some semblance of a barrier around their unconscious charge.

 

The trek up the steep steps to the top of the ramparts is not as harrowing as most of them imagined it would be. With the ramparts themselves standing fast and providing a break from the howling winds barreling up from the valley beneath their castle on a mountaintop. It is only when they reach the top of the stone structure, that the necessity to rush into Cullen’s office is felt. And, they do so. And, quickly. When all are within the office’s confining walls, they take a moment to ready themselves for the treacherous task of crossing the ice-covered, stone bridge that leads into the castle’s rotunda. It is in this small moment of hesitation that the Inquisitor takes a second to look over Abelas once more. Perhaps hoping to find some sign that he has begun to recover even the slightest bit, but there is none.

 

With another deep sigh and order for them to move, they exit the office door and, as the situation now demands, cross the stone bridge with slower movements. With the buildup of ice upon the stone platform, any wrong move could have them falling to serious injury or even death from the sheer drop to the ground below. And, with their Commander currently over-encumbered by an unconscious man nearly his own height and weight, the likelihood that even a strong gust could send them over the edge is unimaginably high. With this understanding, the group unconsciously bunches together as they cross. All, no more than an arm’s reach of their burdened Commander, until they finally reach the other side and push open the rotunda’s heavy outer door.

 

It is in that moment, when the door finally closes behind them, that Cullen’s mind entertains the question of where they will be taking Abelas now that they are finally in the castle proper. But, he is given no time to ask as the Inquisitor orders them the follow again and she immediately crosses the rotunda –her eyes locked on the door leading to the Great Hall. When she reaches the door and opens it, Cullen finally understands her destination.

 

From the Great Hall, there were two routes to two very different destinations that could possibly house their unconscious guest. One was directly across from the rotunda door. A doorway that led into the gardens and the passageways toward the rooms set aside to house the upper echelons of both the Inquisition and Thedosian society. Where all guest would normally be housed.

 

And the second was the final door at the end of the Great Hall. The door that led to her personal quarters.

 

Cullen does not even bother to spare a second thought about the guest rooms, off the garden. For he knows his Inquisitor well and knows she would never dare to seclude Abelas in a room unfit for the man he was. So it is not surprising when her steps quicken and turn towards the end of the Great Hall. By the time their little group makes it to the entryway to her private stair, they are met with an open door and two members of her personal retinue waiting readily.

 

Observant as always, they had moved quickly the moment they had spotted their Lady and their Commander, and what he was carrying. Opening the outer doorway and making room for them to enter. One of her guards immediately turns; after having backed up into the stairwell; the moment they arrive and heads for the inner doorway, so as to open that one as well. They make the last bit of the climb with hurried steps and enter her private quarters in a rush. Cullen immediately intends to place Abelas down on the very large bed in the middle of the room, but before he can get too far from the top of the stairs, the Inquisitor instructs him otherwise.

 

“Put him on the chaise,” she orders, her voice full of urgency as she points to the sofa near the stairs.

 

“Mina...” Cullen begins to protest. “Don’t–”

 

“We need to get him dry before we can get him warm,” she states flatly, her tone is almost as cold as the weather. Declaring, with no uncertain terms, that she will not accept anyone’s defiance or second-guessing at a moment like this.

 

Cullen complies without any further argument, moving quickly to where the sofa sits and crouching down so that; with the help of Ser Reinald and one of her guards, he can safely deposit the unconscious man gently. Once he’s is no longer over-encumbered, and the man is safely settled on the chaise, he stands and turns to Mina for instructions.

 

And, she does not hesitate.

 

“Marcus,” she begins, turning her attention to the taller of her two personal guards awaiting any order she would give. “In the chest, by the wardrobe, there is a bundle of drying linen sitting on top of extra blankets. Retrieve them and cast the blankets on the bed. Then, bring me the linens.”

 

“Yes, Milady.” the guard named Marcus replies.

 

“Dominic,” she orders, now turning to her other guard. “The Sentinel Commander will require a warm room to recuperate. Close all the balcony doors, draw the curtains, and stoke the fire.”

 

“Right away, Milady,” the second guard replies.

 

“And, you,” she adds, turning to the apprentice. Obviously unknowing of his name. “Please retrieve Master Einon immediately!”

 

“Yes, Inquisitor.” the apprentice nods, and after a quick glance to make sure the Ser Reinald has a proper hold of their unconscious visitor he lets go of the man and leaves with hurried steps.

 

“Cullen,” she continues. “I need you and Ser Reinald to help me. His body temperature is dangerously low and we need to get him warm, quickly. But, to do that we need to get him out of his armor and wet clothes.”

 

The two ex-Templars give her a simple nod in understanding and take to task her request. Cullen chooses to take a position at Abelas’ side, adopting the role of keeping the man steady, as Mina reaches for the clasp of the man’s heavy, woolen cloak and unclips it. With some gentle maneuvering and a couple of well-placed tugs, the frozen and soaked fabric comes loose from around him and is quickly tossed to the floor –echoing with a sloshing smack as it hits the stone beneath them.

 

The removal of the cloak instantly reveals the weaponry that had been hidden from their sight. Stashed underneath the cloak and locked into a familiar looking harness that was, definitely, of Ancient Elvhen design.

 

“Maker’s breath,” Ser Reinald exhales, looking at the multitude of armaments accompanying the man and taking stock of all that he has been carrying. All-in-all counting some twenty different weapons; tucked everywhere; including a broadsword, a spear, a handaxe, an ash bow with two full quivers of arrows, and two sets of daggers. All, on top of both the set of short swords hanging on each of his hips, several pouches of throwing daggers placed in strategic locations all around his armor, and the memory of the staff he had left abandoned at the gate. “He looks like he’s prepared for the end of the world.”

 

“It is their way,” the Inquisitor simply dismisses, before ordering. “Take care with everything you remove. Many weapons were sacred to their kind and are as much an extension of their body as their very limbs. To disrespect them is to disrespect him.”

 

“I understand, Inquisitor.” Ser Reinald nods, as Marcus suddenly returns to their sides.

 

“I have done what you’ve asked, Milady,” he informs her with a slight bow, the bundle of linen in his hands.

 

“Good,” she replies, taking it from him and placing it on the floor at her feet before instructing him further. “Please assist Ser Reinald with the Sentinel Commander’s weapons, while I work on his armor.”

 

The two men return to focusing on removing Abelas weapons without protest and the Inquisitor turns her attention to the Elvhen’s vambraces and gauntlets, kneeling down before him in the process. With great care she reaches for Abelas’ right hand first, fear at what she will most likely find when it is finally free of its armor, thrumming through her, and slowly begins to untie the leather cording holding his vambrace to his forearm.  With a gentle tug, the cording comes free and the armguard follows suit, falling to the floor at his feet. Dropping the cord where the vambrace landed, she moves her attention to the clasps and buckles of the gauntlets around his wrists. Two of them come free fairly easily, but the third resists. Though, for not very long. And soon, the gauntlet loosens to the point that its removal will not be restricted.

 

What she finds when the gauntlet comes free a moment later, makes her heart fall into the pit of her stomach as she comes face-to-face with one of her worst fears: blackened skin.

 

“Frostbite,” Cullen observes worriedly.

 

“Yes,” she sighs with great concern, taking in the damage to his hand carefully and finding that all of his fingers have been affected greatly. His thumb, and first two fingers, far worse than the others but they, too, are nearly as bad. Blackened fully from the tips all the way down the final knuckle on the worst of them, and to the second knuckle on the rest. “It will be difficult to heal.”

 

Pushing back her worry, knowing that there was much left to be done before she could even think about trying to heal the damages caused by the overexposure he was subjected to during his journey, she gently repositions Abelas’ hand so that it dangling between his thighs without making contact with anything but the warm air of the room, and turns her attention to his other hand. It isn’t long before she is once again staring at another injured hand. This one, thankfully, is not as badly damaged as his right, but still shows enough progress of the affliction to constitute even more worry.

 

“Inquisitor,” Ser Reinald informs. “We’re ready to start removing the bulk of his armor.”

 

She nods and, after placing Abelas’ left hand as she had done his right, she stands. Ready to help with the removal of the man’s shoulder guards and chest plate.

 

Which takes more time that she would have expected.

 

From what she had already learned of her ancient people, she knew that many of the armor designs now employed in many countries across Thedas were all designs that could attest at least a part of their over-all style; or particular usability; from Elvhen schematics. Those original designs being the literal progenitor of armor design, in many aspects, throughout the ages. And, as such, the similarities would be somewhat numerous. But, what she finds, as they begin to trace the lines of the straps and buckles to set his body free, is almost perplexing, utterly fascinating in every aspect and, for a few moments, even confounding. Straps seemed to appear out of nowhere, and then disappear in the exact same way. Buckles and clips litter the shoulder guards and chest plate at strange angles. And, she immediately finds herself wondering how in Mythal’s name could Abelas ever manage to don such a thing on his own. Without a sliver of assistance.

 

Over the next few minutes, they take the necessary time to puzzle out the proper way of disengaging the armor from Abelas form, and during that time the Inquisitor moves her attention to Abelas’ legs –crouching down once more to remove the man’s leg guards and the strangely present boots upon his feet, which is all-together quite odd. Dismissing her temporary confusion of such a sight, she reaches for the leather straps holding the leg guard upon his shins and takes her time to remove them both carefully before turning her attention to the boots. It is at his feet and those unexpected foot coverings that she tries her best to reign in her worry once more. For she knows very well that if his hands were affected by the cold so badly, his feet would also suffer such a fate.

 

And, her intuition is not wrong.

 

When she finally manages to remove the pair of leather infused, chainmail boots; and the foot wrappings that were hiding underneath them; she, once again, comes face-to-face with more blackened skin and she cannot stop the nearly pitiful whine that escapes her lips in worried protest.

 

“Dominic,” she calls out, knowing full well that the guard is most-likely finished with the task she had assigned him, considering how warm the room now felt.

 

“Yes, Milady,”

 

“Retrieve Master Einon, NOW!” she shouts forcefully.

 

“Drag him here, if you must,” Cullen adds with his most official tone as his eyes land on the man’s damaged feet.

 

“Instantly, Commander,” the loyal guard replies. His words declaring with no uncertainty that such an order will be carried out to the letter, before turning and hastily exiting the Inquisitor’s quarters at a rushing pace. 

 

With the guard's exit, Mina stands once more and with a gentle step walks around the chaise so that she slips between where Abelas now sits and the stairway railing. Her next task: the man’s hair; braided and soaked thoroughly; in sight. With a few gentle pulls, the tether holding the braid in place comes loose and soon her hands, encased in a gentle warming spell, are running through the long, silver-white strands until they are finally dry. As she finishes, Cullen and Reinald finally manage to safely pull Abelas’ confounding armor away and his upper body is instantly exposed to the warm air of the room.

 

A gentle shiver instantly crawls across Abelas’ form.

 

A good sign.

 

She immediately returns to her position before him and, without uttering a word, reaches for the hems of his tunic and undershirt at his waist and pulls them up and over his head; before discarding them, as she did his cloak, into a pile of wet mess on the stone floor beside her. The second she reaches for him again, her intent and hands heading for the waistband of his leggings, however, a strong hand immediately grasps her wrist.

 

“Mina...” Cullen warns.

 

“Everything has to come off.” she immediately informs, her tone curt.

 

“Then, allow Ser Reinald...and I.”

 

“No,” she cuts in. “He is my responsibility, Commander.”

 

He immediately wants to protest further, knowing full well that it would not be appropriate for their Inquisitor to personally undress a strange man in her quarters, in such a way, without consent but she instinctively cuts off anything he would dare counter her with, with her very next words. 

 

“I have no intentions of invading his privacy, Cullen,” she states flatly. “So you can let me go.”

 

“Marcus,” she calls out, turning to the guard standing just out of reach. “The linens.”

 

“Right away, Milady,” he replies –taking a step, retrieving the bundle from the floor, and untieing the knot holding them together in a matter of seconds.

 

“Cover him, carefully,” she orders gently, her tone not as forceful as before as she unabashedly wrenches her wrist from Cullen’s grip. “And try to avoid his hands if you can. They are severely damaged and any extra movement could do even more harm.”

 

The guard does not answer her order, focusing instead on following her instructions dutifully. After a few minutes of gentle maneuvering of the cloth and adjusting, Abelas is covered well enough for what she intends. She lets out a steadying breath and reaches for him again. Slipping her hands under the edge of the linen and searching out the waist of his leggings once more. Taking them firmly in her grip, she turns her eyes to Cullen thoughtfully.

 

“You will need to lift him,” she states calmly and they oblige –grabbing Abelas carefully under his upper arms and lifting him just enough for Mina to slip the soaked fabric of his leggings over his hips and down to the middle of his thighs, under the obscurity of the linen draping his lower half. She immediately gives them a nod, signaling that they can sit him back down properly, and then continues to slowly move the fabric down his legs. When it reaches his lower shins, she instantly finds that she has now come upon an unfortunate problem: how to get them off without having to drag them across the blackened skin of his feet. The answer, she finds, is presented to her no more than a split-second later when she hears metal slipping from a scabbard and a small dagger appears before her eyes –sitting readily in Ser Reinald’s hand.

 

“Use this, Inquisitor.” he offers, in a deep, concerned voice.

 

“Thank you,” she nods. Taking the dagger from the ex-Templar.

 

With a few slips of the dagger, the fabric falls freely from the Elvhen’s legs and he is finally stripped fully.

 

She stands once more and glances at all three of the conscious men around her.

 

“Use the extra linen to dry him off,” she orders. “While I see what I can do about raising his body temperature.”

 

All three men nod in acceptance and she turns her attention back to Abelas once more. Retracing her steps to the back side of the chaise, she lays her hands upon the man’s shoulders and immediately pulls on the Fade –summoning a warming spell into her hands.  A few minutes pass and Mina can tell that what effort she is employing, is lacking. A warming spell, by its very nature, works quickly even when infused with even the lightest strength. But her, with more than over half her remaining strength left, seems to be doing nothing of note. He is still cold, and there is no change. Fearing that her magic at its current level must be too inadequate for the extent of his exposure, she pulls on the Fade with strong intent and intensifies her cast.

 

A few moments later, the sound of numerous footsteps rushing up the stairs echoes into her quarters, and is succinctly replaced by the sight of their cause a few seconds after. Dominic enters first and trailing just behind him is not only the apprentice from the main gate and another apprentice she does not recognize, but also Master Einon as well.

 

At the sight of him, her anger flares. She wants to yell, to scream at him, and demand to know where in the Gods’ name he’s been. But, before she can even begin to chastise him, he immediately speaks up.

 

“Back off your cast, da’len.” the elderly mage gently orders. “To warm him too quickly will put his heart in jeopardy.”

 

“You are doing more harm than good.”

 

She suddenly wants to hit him, his condescending tone not to her liking,  but she complies pulling back the intensity of her cast and resettling on the intensity she had previously used.

 

“Take over for her,” he orders, turning to the apprentice standing beside the one from the main gate. “You know what to do.”

 

“Yes, Master,” the apprentice nods.

 

“Please, Inquisitor,” he says gently as he approaches Mina. “I am well-rested. So, allow me.”

 

Mina nods and hands off the warming duties to the young man without argument. The second her hands leave Abelas’ skin, however, her eyes lock on Master Einon.

 

“What took you so long?” she demands, as the old mage walks around the front of the unconscious Sentinel and crouches down to take a look at the man.

 

“You told me to prepare for any contingencies, did you not?” he counters in a nearly patronizing tone. “Planning takes time.”

 

“HAHREN!” she instantly growls.

 

“Calm down, da’len,” he sighs, what little spark of fire that was in his voice already gone. “You needed time to prepare him, and I need time to gather what supplies I needed. And, I am here now. So, please, take a breath.”

 

Mina crosses her arms defiantly but still gives in to his request. Taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly to calm her mind.

 

“What do we know?” Master Einon questions as he reaches out, grabs Abelas’ left wrist and inspects the damage there.

 

“Very little.” the Commander informs.

 

“And, does very little happen to include how many days he has been exposed to the cold?” he counters.

 

“I’m afraid not,” Cullen replies.

 

“At least four days, if not five,” the Inquisitor clarifies before justifying her own speculation. “Considering the damage progression.”

 

“Closer to five,” Master Einon nods, taking note of the rest of the damage to the man’s other hand and both his feet, and agreeing. “By the looks of it.”

 

“Can it be undone?” Mina counters with worry finally resettling in her voice.

 

“Possibly,” he answers. “But, until we get his body temperature closer to normal, we won’t be able to progress to even that stage of treatment.”

 

“Commander,” he continues. “Ser Reinald, please move the Sentinel Commander to the bed so that I can begin to ascertain a strategy for his treatment.”

 

Cullen and Ser Reinald nod, and with some effort, they manage to reposition Abelas just so as to aid them in moving him. It takes only a few minutes more of gentle maneuvering, lifting, and carrying, and soon they are settling the unconscious Elvhen safely on the far side of the large bed in the middle of the room, near the windows. Laying him prone gently, the two men step aside to allow the old mage, his apprentice, and the Inquisitor back to his side. The apprentice resumes his calmingly warm cast, laying hands on Abelas’ shoulder and Mina takes the moment in the interim to pull the several layers of blankets resting beside him, over him. Making sure to keep more injury from occurring and leaving both his hands and feet exposed for care, before turning her eyes to where Master Einon attention rests and the blackened foot in his hand. A few minutes of quiet contemplation passes, and she speaks up again.

 

“Will you be able to heal the damage?” she questions, worriedly.

 

Master Einon takes a long pause, contemplating his answer as he inspects the blackened skin with a keen eye, and finally releases a sigh in resignation.

 

“It will take time...” he answers slowly. “But, it is possible.”

 

She sighs in relief, only to realize a second later that it may be premature.

 

“However, even still, I cannot guarantee at this time whether or not he will retain full use of any of his limbs. Frostbite this severe, even when healed slowly, over time and carefully, does not simply go away easily, without some repercussions and lasting effects.”

 

“What kind of lasting effects?”

 

“In most cases; and with my ability; movement and usability can be restored to some extent but the likelihood that he will have full feeling restored, as well, is low,” he explains further, glancing up at their Inquisitor. “There will always be some residual numbness, tingling, and the occasional uncontrollable spasm, that will occur –even with continual treatment.”

 

“How severe will the consequences be?”

 

“That, da’len, we will be unable to know until much later, I’m afraid.” the old mage replies.

 

“Please do all that you can, Hahren,” she asks, with sincere worry. “Abelas has suffered far too much already to lose the use of his hands or the ability to walk properly. To lose them would fundamentally change his ability to function as Sentinel Commander and leave his people more lost than they are now.”

 

“I have taken enough away from this man, as it is. Don’t allow him to lose another piece of himself because of me. Because I failed to protect him.”

 

“I will do my best, my precious da’len. You have my word.”

 

“Cullen,” he adds with a concerning sigh as he began to summon his magic into his hand.

 

“Yes, Master Einon,” he answers from behind the old mage.

 

“Would you be so kind as to remove my precious da’len, so I can work?”

 

“I’m not going anywhere!” she immediately counters.

 

“I did not expect you would,” Master Einon chuckles softly. “But you will need to leave the Sentinel Commander’s side so that we can work. You will be in the way, da’len. So, cool your anger and temper your worry by the fire, for now.”

 

She wants to protest again, her mind and heart screaming for her not to take even the smallest step away from the unconscious man’s side, but she is not so far gone that she cannot listen to reason. The finite amount of space granted to them around the bed would not yield to another person lingering –besides those who are actively healing. She knows this, yet still wishes to stay.

 

“Mina,” Cullen calls softly, suddenly appearing at her side with a gentle and understanding grasp of her arm. “Come with me and let them do the work the Maker and the Gods charged them to do.”

 

She turns to her Commander, seeing the worry for her own emotional state in his eyes, and nods –reluctantly relenting to her friend’s, and the Inquisition’s Master Healer’s, concerned requests.

 

An hour passes slowly, and while the healers tend to the task at hand, Mina cannot seem to stay still.

 

She had tried, at first, to take her mind off Abelas’ condition by reading some of the reports and letters still stacked upon her desk in the far corner of the room, but found she could not summon the concentration to do her due diligence. She had tried, then, to sit by the fire and just try to call forth any semblance of calm by relishing in the stone hearth’s warmth but, that too didn’t seem to help. Frustrated by her lacking ability to center herself and find a mood that would have her more apathetic, she eventually allowed her worry and fear to take over, and unconsciously settled into a repeated pattern of pacing back and forth across the stone floor near the fireplace.

 

“Da’len!” Master Einon nearly shouts after about twenty minutes of her pacing. “Will you please sit down, you are being a distraction.”

 

“I can’t help it, Hahren,” she replies without missing a beat. “I’m...”

 

“Worried, I know,” he answers for her. “But, allowing your worry to not only distract my apprentice and me but also tear you up from the inside will do none of us any good.”

 

“Then, what would have me do?” she counters. “I cannot help. I cannot concentrate. I cannot sit down...And, now, I cannot even pace.”

 

“Perhaps a more thorough distraction is in order.” Ser Reinald comments.

 

“I agree,” Cullen adds.

 

“So do I,” Master Einon agrees.

 

“What do you suggest?” she counters again, her tone challenging.

 

“Rather than fretting over the Sentinel Commander’s current condition, and digging a rut in the stone floor at your feet, perhaps it would be better to come up with a conclusion as to why the man even dared to come to Skyhold at a time like this. What were his motivations and why? If you can determine that then, perhaps, we can get a better idea as to why he came to us in such a condition as he has. Seemingly disregarding the damage to his own body that he would likely suffer, simply to get here.”

 

The Inquisitor immediately stops her pacing and looks up.

 

“Why would Abelas come to Skyhold?” Cullen ponders aloud. “That’s a very good question, indeed. Any ideas, Inquisitor?”

 

Mina takes a quick moment, closes her eyes, and concentrates on the question proposed. The answer itself is a conundrum but it doesn’t take her long before a preliminary answer crosses her mind.

 

“He wouldn’t,” she replies. “Not normally.”

 

“Mythal’s Sentinels are sworn to serve their great lady in perpetuity. To never abandon their temple, even under the direst of circumstances...”

 

“So,” Cullen adds. “That begs the question: What would have to happen to cause the Sentinel Commander to violate his vows to his Goddess and leave the temple...in search of you?”

 

“It...” she begins to answer slowly, only to rush to her conclusion. “It would have to be threatening, life-threatening. Nearly apocalyptic in nature. To make him do so such a thing.”

 

“Meaning,” Ser Reinald concludes after her words. “That something may have happened to his people, something that may be beyond his ability, and he knew of no other path to take other than to seek you out for aid.”

 

As those words fell from the ex-Templar’s lips, Mina instantly rounds on Cullen.

 

“Commander,” she calls, her tone authoritative and strong. “I want you to send a raven to our post in the Arbor Wilds and find out the condition of the Sentinel’s remaining at the Temple.”

 

“That will be difficult, Inquisitor.” the Commander replies. “The rookery is still grounded, by your order, and with the storm as vicious as it is right now, any bird we release will most-likely never make it.”

 

“Then send Enoch and Argoth through the Eluvian.”

 

“That would violate your own orders, Inquisitor.” Cullen counters. “By your own agreement, the Eluvian was to be locked down and not used under any circumstances.”

 

“I am rescinding that order as of now,” she states flatly. “This could be an emergency and information is key.”

 

“As you wish, Inquisitor,” Cullen acquiesces with an affirming bow. “What are your orders?”

 

“Send the head scouts, through the Eluvian, to the Arbor Wilds,” she answers. “Enoch to the forward observation camp outside the Temple. Argoth to our main camp at the border.”

 

“Their instructions?”

 

“Enoch is to find out the current situation within the Temple, and the condition of the remaining Sentinels. As soon as he has a grasp of the situation, he is to send word to our main camp at the border crossing and send his apprentice stationed there back through the Eluvian network to report directly to me, immediately.”

 

“Argoth is to inform the main camp leader of the situation and see to it that they make preparations for any contingencies that may require us to lend aid. Soldiers, healers, supplies...no matter the need. Until he receives confirmation of the situation from Enoch and further orders.”

 

“I understand, Inquisitor. I will inform the lead scouts and Little Raven immediately.”

 

“Reinald,” she adds. “You are relieved. You may return to your duties, and thank you for your assistance.”

 

“As you wish, Inquisitor.”

 

Cullen and Reinald instantly give a quick bow to their Inquisitor and leave a moment later.

 

Another hour passes and Mina has managed to find more calm than she previously could. Making the concern for Abelas’ Sentinels the more pressing issue and trying her best to ignore the copious amounts of magic being employed at the Elvhen’s bedside. Allowing herself to fall into her thoughts of what scenarios could possibly justify the man’s nearly week-long trek through a blizzard just to find her. As she thinks, many come to mind: Invasion, catastrophe, illness, unexplained deaths, but without any information, she finds that she is simply grasping at straws at this point.

 

“You’re done,” Master Einon’s voice suddenly rings out, drawing the Inquisitor's attention. The elderly mage is looking up at his apprentice with an understanding look. “Any more and it will be you lying in the bed next to this man, unconscious.”

 

Mina turns her eyes to the apprentice and immediately understands the meaning behind her Hahren’s words. The young man looks exhausted, stretched thin, and so weak that a stiff breeze could easily knock him to the ground.

 

“I...I.” the apprentice tries to argue before letting out a reticent sigh. “As you wish, Master.”  

 

The apprentice excuses himself and as he leaves Abelas’ bedside, Mina decides to take his place.

 

“Allow me to help.” she offers.

 

“That won’t be necessary, da’len.” Master Einon replies, his eyes never leaving the still-damaged hand in his own hands. “Young Cassius did well. Your Sentinel Commander’s body temperature is finally back to normal.”

 

Mina reaches for the unconscious man’s shoulder instantly and feels that his skin is once again retaining the warmth it should.

 

“Thank goodness.” she sighs in relief, before turning her attention to the old mage’s work. “How is he progressing otherwise?”

 

“His feet have recovered nicely. His left hand as well, but...”

 

“But?”

 

“His right hand has become a challenge,” he answers, leaning back just a bit so that his da’len can get a good view of his progress. Abelas’ fingertips are still as black as night but, overall, there is a significant improvement.

 

“Will you be able to heal it completely?”

 

“Tonight?” he replies. “No, probably not.”

 

“For the first time in quite a while,” he adds with a tired sigh. “I find myself admitting that I am nearing my limit. I do not think I will have the strength to complete the task in the original time I allowed.”

 

“I will need rest.”

 

“I understand.” she nods, knowing full well that he has exerted far more energy and time in attempting to heal Abelas’ wounds than he is normally used to, at his age. “Shall I summon another apprentice?”

 

“That won’t be necessary. The progression of his healing has carried through far enough to allow his body some reprieve from the incessant flow of magic that has been poured into him over the last couple of hours. Rest without treatment will do him far better than continuing with another of my healers.”

 

“Are you certain that is wise?” she counters gently. “The damage could continue to progress without more healing. Fester. Doing more damage to the sections that still need to be healed.”

 

“I have already arrested any possibility of such,”  he replies. “So there is no concern there...However...”

 

“However?”

 

“I fear that I may have inadvertently discovered the reason behind his choice to travel to Skyhold.”

 

“What do you mean?” she questions.

 

“Take a look,” he prompts, raising his hand and pointing towards Abelas’ upper body. “Just under his left ear.”

 

Mina instantly turns, concern flickering across her face, and inspects the location Master Einon pointed out. Leaning in, she takes a good look and for a few moments, she sees nothing of note. Suddenly she thinks that, perhaps, Master Einon had mistakenly seen something that was not there and nearly dismisses his concern until she spots a strange group of markings; shaped like swirls; faintly marring the Elvhen’s warm skin. She leans in further, brushes away his long silver-white hair with her hand, and takes a better look. Not too positive that she, herself, is seeing what she thought she saw. The closer inspection confirms that she was not imagining it.

 

“What is it?” she questions, lifting her hand and tracing the marks upon his skin with one delicate finger.

 

“I cannot be entirely certain...” Master Einon answers, words laced with worry for the first time since he’d stepped into her quarters earlier in the day. “It has been many years since I have last seen another afflicted as such...but.”

 

“But?”

 

“It looks like Darkwood poisoning.”

 

“Is it fatal?” she counters, suddenly alarmed.

 

“Very,” he answers, harshly.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The waking world had always been a strange place. Even before the rising of the Veil and the ensuing disconnect from the touch of natural magic. Feeling old, almost out of place, and out of time, what use to be an existence filled with the gentle caress of what is, what was, and what could be, now was nothing more than a memory. A construct from a dream once loved, once lived, and now missed. And, he missed it. Truly. The way the world was before; before everything changed and his long vigil in service truly began; was the epitome of utopic life. Where everything was as it should be and not a care in the world could be found. Contentment reigned supreme and the world was a place of happiness and serene living.  

 

But time is never kind. And, just as it is meant to, everything changes.

 

The pain of the waking world was his first real shock to the system he had ever experienced. Finding the strange feeling much more jarring than any feeling he had ever come across. In the time of his people, physical pain was not something so easily felt. The contentment of the world’s natural magic soothing it away long before it could ever manifest in the heart or mind. It was never something that anyone felt, even in the very throes of one’s very own death. Allowing the loss of existence to dissipate freely with nothing more than joy and acceptance of your own peaceful end.

 

But that world was no more, and the pain of existence is much harsher in this new time than he’d ever realized. For its pain that he now feels, as his world falls from the darkness of unconsciousness to the land of the living once more. In his head, the pounding of stampeding animals rush. In his chest the weight of a thousand men press. And in his limbs, the prick of thousand needle tingle with precise sticks.

 

He moans softly at the agony he now feels.

 

The warmness of his surroundings slowly infuses into his building consciousness at that moment, pulling forth the thought –the question –of where he was. The last thing he remembers is trudging through a snowstorm in search of the Inquisitor’s fortress, to seek her aid for his people, and spotting the castle on the horizon just after the dawn. Hoping, beyond hope, that she would be able to help his people. Help them before they all were taking from this world without reason.

 

Abelas slowly opens his eyes with the thought of that intent, suddenly worried that he may have fallen into Uthenera unexpectedly and condemned his people by his own failure or fallen into the hands of an unknown enemy. What he finds, when his eyes finally adjust to the low light in the room is something that he’d never expected –something that immediately jars his senses. He quickly realizes that he lays upon a soft bed and, beside him, he finds a woman in a deep sleep.

 

She is snuggled deeply under the shared blankets that cover them both. Her eyes are closed under the long swath of hair obscuring her face, and her breathing is even.

 

The strangeness of it notwithstanding, he cannot stop the curiosity that sudden rushes through him the moment he spies her. Curiously wondering not only who she was but why she was there in the first place. And, for what purpose.

 

Determined to know her identity, he slowly pulls his hand from where lay under the heavy blankets covering him, reaches out to her, and with a gentleness that he is not known for, brush aside the long hair obscuring her face. His own eyes going wide with recognition a second later.

 

The Inquisitor.

 

Confused, even more so than just a moment ago, he takes a moment to scan her face for confirmation only to receive a confirmation he did not; in his wildest nightmares; expect: the noticeable swirls marring her skin across the edge of her hairline, down her jaw, and disappearing just under her ear.

 

No.

 

“It is not as bad as it looks, I assure you.” a sudden, deep voice echoes from somewhere in the distance.

 

Abelas, surprised by the possibility that he and the Inquisitor were not alone, jerks his head around to see an elderly human leaning against the corner post of the bed in which he rests. The man is tall, with a relatively thin frame, a balding head with a long grey beard, and is dress in a set of dark grey mage robes.

 

“So, there is no need to worry too much.” the man adds.

 

“Who are you?” Abelas instantly demands.

 

“Forgive me, Sentinel Commander.” the man intones respectfully, before standing tall, tucking his arms behind his back and bowing. “And allow me to introduce myself.”

 

“I am Alorith Einon, formerly of Amaranthine, Grandmaster Healer of the Inquisition and Master Enchanter of the Never-Ending Path,” he announces with humility. “But you may call me Master Einon.”

 

“Enchanter of the Never-Ending Path?” Abelas questions, never having heard of such a title.

 

“A title: given to those who travel the wilds in search of knowledge. Choosing to serve the people, rather than swearing fealty to cause or ruler.” the old man explains.

 

“Yet, you serve the Inquisition?” Abelas counters with confusion.

 

“You misunderstand me,” Master Einon replies with a calming voice. “Though my title may suggest otherwise, it is not the Inquisition I serve. It is to Mina of Clan Lavellan that I have dedicated my service to.”

 

“And why would you do such a thing?”

 

“Because she is my da’len.”

 

The use of that Elvhen word causes Abelas to suddenly suspect the old man even though he has yet to do anything that would normally make him find someone untrustworthy.

 

“But, you’re human.”

 

“Yes,”

 

“Then how do you have the right to call her...”

 

“Because I am family,” he replied. “Though, not by blood.”

 

“And how is that possible?”

 

“In short,” the man answers. “Many years before the Inquisitor was born, I provided a great service to the, then, Keeper of her clan. Saved the life of her only child and cured an illness that had been plaguing her people for many months. In gratitude, I was granted the honorary title of Ba’isa’malin.”

 

“Honored Uncle,” Abelas repeated.

 

“Yes,” Master Einon nodded. “And, as such, became a part of her clan. Honored Brother and friend of her people and elder to all the generations that would come in the future.”

 

“And, you accepted such a gift without question?”

 

“I knew the significance of such an honor.”

 

“I see...” Abelas sighs.

 

The old Master was right in his thinking. To be accepted into a clan, as a human, in this era was almost as unlikely as suddenly becoming an heir to the throne of Orlais or Fereldan. Very rare. So to accept such a thing would mean taking on a responsibility to a clan of people, not your own, and being bound by their laws and beliefs so long as you remain entitled. And, as such, a great honor.

 

“How long have I been here?” Abelas questions softly, feeling and knowing that some time has passed since he was last conscious.

 

“Five days,” Master Einon answers as he moves closer to Abelas and stops at the edge of the bed near the Elvhen’s mid-thigh.

 

“Five days?”

 

“Yes,” he nods.

 

“But the illness plaguing my people...The inflicted don’t live past three days.”

 

“True enough.” Master Einon agrees. “So, how fortuitous it is that you would travel to the one place in the whole of Thedas where true help could be found.”

 

“You healed me?”

 

“I was not alone in such an act but, ultimately, it was due to my knowledge and the Inquisitor’s diligence that you still remain with us. As does your people.”

 

“Then, my brothers...”

 

“Are recovering nicely,” Master Einon smiles. “And should be back to their righteous and well selves, entirely, within the fortnight.”

 

“How is that possible?” Abelas counters. “When, at last, I left...nearly half of my brothers were already ill. Some already days into the illness.”

 

“Well, yes,” the old man sighs sadly. “Unfortunately, there were a few casualties that could not be deterred in time. However, the loss was minimal.”

 

“How minimal?”

 

“According to our Lieutenant Commander in the Arbor Wilds, three were lost during your trip to Skyhold and one was lost the day our aid arrived. Of the original thirty-five Sentinels, twenty-nine remain.”

 

“A Sentinel, by the name of Sarion, was our team’s first contact with your brothers when they arrived. He was already a day into the affliction but was non-confrontational about our team’s orders to assist. He was quite accommodating, considering the animosity to outsiders your people seem to share, and did what he could to steward the Temple in your stead –before becoming incapacitated by the illness himself.”

 

“Is he alive?”

 

“Yes,”

 

“He has sent a report for you,” Master Einon adds. “Detailing the current situation, the names of those who were lost, and of the status of your people. In great detail, I might add.”

 

“May I see it?” Abelas questions, suddenly curious of the state of his brothers as he presses his hands into the mattress and tries to push himself up.

 

But before he can even move even the slightest bit, his muscles instantly protest and send shooting pains throughout his whole body.

 

“Easy now,” Master Einon warns worriedly. “I would advise you not to move so quickly for the time being. The poison flowing through your veins is not fully excised yet and weakness will be prevalent for a few more days.”

 

“Poison?” Abelas parrots, confused by the man’s choice of words.

 

“From your reaction, is it safe to assume that you were unaware of the nature of your affliction –and the illness affecting your people?”

 

“The cause was unknown to us, only the symptoms,” Abelas replied, his tone now reflecting his frustration. “We did everything we could to control the fever, the vomiting, and the convulsions, but nothing worked. No herbs could affect it, and no magic could relieve it.”

 

“That is not surprising.” the old mage observes. “Darkwood Poisoning is an affliction not common among the current era and even rarer –practically non-existent –in the days when your people thrived.”

 

“Darkwood Poisoning?” Abelas counters. “Who would do such a thing?”

 

“Not who,” Master Einon corrects. “But, what.”

 

“I do not understand.”

 

“Nor, did I expect you to.” the old man retorts. “Or anyone for that matter.”

 

“Darkwood Poisoning is extremely rare.” the man continues. “And, only effects those with strong Elvhen bloodlines.”

 

“What would Elvhen bloodlines have to do with the nature of an illness?”

 

“It is hard to explain,” Master Einon admits. “But, I will try.”

 

“But first, I would need to explain what Darkwood poisoning is and where it comes from.”

 

“Then, please...”

 

“Very well,” the old mage nods. “How well-versed are you in Herbology and plants?”

 

“Somewhat.”

 

“Are you familiar with the term: spider rooting?”

 

“It refers to certain plants that thrive with their roots exposed to the air, rather than buried in the earth.” Abelas answers.

 

“Right. And, considering the nature of...well...nature itself, how do you suppose that such plants survive with said roots exposed? Without them being consumed by local wildlife?”

“They are bitter to the taste. It deters animals from eating them.”

 

“Correct, again.” Master Einon nods. “Of the ten, or so, varieties of spider rooting plants known to Thedosian Herbologist, all create or secrete a toxin to deter such destruction. Under normal circumstance, said toxins are completely harmless. Only giving a mild jolt, a friendly reminder to the would-be predator that they are not for eating. And, they are fairly benign.”

 

“Are you saying that my people, somehow, ingested such a toxin?”

 

“Not a toxin, but several toxins, in point of fact.”

 

“How?”

 

“Though on their own, spider rooting plants; such as Murkwood, Twilight Lotus, and Moonglade Orchids; are completely harmless –even if ingested in high quantities, the bitterness is the only side effect of consumption. However, under certain circumstances; and in certain combinations; their toxins can be quite deadly.”

 

“Naturally, one would assume that no one with the knowledge of that possibility would dare to consume the combinations that would cause death, but that cannot be said for the unwitting.”

 

“To put it plainly, that is what happened to you and your people.” Master Einon continues, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and looking pointedly at Abelas. “You inadvertently consumed the poison, unknowingly, which led to the illness that afflicted all of you.”

 

“But, where did it come from?”

 

“A polluted water source.” the old man answers, before continuing. “When exposed to standing waters, it is inevitable that the roots will grow in search of it –as it is there nature. This leads, in turn, to the roots submerging a part of themselves in said water. Over time, after many cycles of replenishment of the toxin to new roots, the toxin ultimately begins to leech into the surrounding water. Tainting it.”

 

“On their own, when the toxins are infused into standing water, the water will carry a strange taste but will not be harmful.” Master Einon states, and then adds. “Unless there is more than one toxin in the water.”

 

“Unfortunately, in your case, that is what happened,” he concludes. “Once I realized what was affecting you, and confirmed my suspicion with a few moments of research, the Inquisitor informed our Lead Scout sent to tend to your people at the Temple in search of your main water source. What he found there confirmed my suspicions even more and we easily determined that is was, in fact, Darkwood Poisoning.”

 

“And that, ultimately, the culprit of your illness was an Eliean Willow,” he adds. “The spring, in which, is the source of your Temple’s drinking water was, in fact, contaminated by both Twilight Lotus and Murkwood, but it was the willow that caused the condition to come to the forefront.”

 

“I see...” Abelas nodded. “But, why now? Was the poisoning a cumulative effect? Growing over time until it was too strong for us to withstand. Or was it something else?”

 

“Something else.” Master Einon nods. “Eliean Willows only bloom every five years, and only during the season of its bloom is its toxin replenished in the roots.”

 

“Which released the toxin.”

 

“And mixed with the toxins already infused into the water.” the old mage nods in affirmation. “Creating a poison strong enough to affect even Ancient Elvhen.”

 

“But, we have more than one water source for the temple. Are you saying that they were both tainted?”

 

“No, only the southern spring was affected.”

 

“Then how did it spread?”

 

“Through bodily fluids. As the toxins culminate in the body and wreak havoc they begin to affect all major system and the body does what it can to rid itself of the cause anyway it naturally can: vomiting, excess urination, and sweating. The expulsion of these fluids, while good for the survivability of those infected, make others highly susceptible to the toxin. Any physical contact with said fluids can easily make another ill and, thus, spread the illness even more.”

 

“That’s how everyone got so sick so quickly,” Abelas mumbles in dismay.

 

“Yes.” Master Einon nods.

 

“You said something about bloodlines, before. That it affects Elvhen differently, how?”

 

“Yes, Ancient Elvhen bloodlines...as well as bloodlines pure enough to resemble their ancient predecessors, are more susceptible to Darkwood poison than their common day Dalish counterparts. Over the centuries, the Dalish have built up an immunity to the toxins. And, in some cases, often consume the roots of some plants such as Moonglade Orchid and Whisp Flower for medicinal purposes. This, in turn, allows them to no longer be affected by the combination of toxins that can cause death.”

 

“But Elvhen, such as you and your brothers, have not had centuries to be exposed to their effect and, as such, have a negative reaction to it.”

 

Abelas immediately nods in understanding, only to instantly counter with another question.

 

“Then why is the Inquisitor ill?” he retorts. “She is Dalish, is she not?”

 

“Yes and no.” Master Einon says nonchalantly. “She is Dalish by heritage but Elvhen by birth.”

 

“What do you mean? Are you saying that her parents were my people?”

 

“She is a direct descendant of a Dalish woman and Ancient Elvhen.” the old man answers. “Her Grandmother was Dalish, her grandfather was an Elvhen from your time.”

“How is that possible?”

 

“I do not know the entire story; only bits and pieces, truth be told; but Mina is the grandchild of said grandparents,” he admits. “And, I only learned about her true heritage out of happenstance.”

 

“Can you tell me more?”

 

“If you insist?”

 

“I do,” Abelas nods.

 

“I was barely twelve.” the old man recalls. “When they appeared on our front doorstep. A tall Elvhen man with long hair and a Dalish woman marked as one of Mythal’s chosen.”

 

“My mother was Herbologist and was well-versed in the abilities of plants to heal the sick. My father was a mage who once held the title of Master Enchanter of the Never-Ending Path, a healer by trade and by gift, who met my mother and fell in love and ultimately choose to leave that life and settle down to raise a family. But, their abilities did not go unused. They spent their years tending to the sick and helping anyone that was in need of it. No matter their lot in life. And, when I finally came along, they began my training to be healer long before my magic ever made itself known.”

 

“One night when I was twelve, we were visited by a couple in need of help. When my father opened the door to the knocking that had woke us, he found an Elvhen man; carrying an unconscious, Dalish woman; begging for help. They were rushed inside and tended to, but the woman’s illness was getting worse and worse by the minute. My mother did everything she could for the woman but nothing worked. And, all the while, the Elvhen man slowly began to follow suit. Slowly showing signs of the same illness.”

 

“It took two days for my parents to realize what was causing the couple's downfall, after noticing the strange smell from the water in their water skins and retracing it back to the water source they had filled them from. My mother recognized the affliction, instantly, after that. Having, apparently, seen another Elvhen afflicted by the same illness when she, herself, was young. And, knew how to cure them.”

 

“They recovered after a while and were so grateful that they could not even express their gratitude to mirror it properly.”

 

“But, they were able to tell my parents about who they were,” he adds. “After a few days of recovery, my father asked about their story. I was not awake at the time to hear it in its entirety, but what my father recalled for me later was that the man was Ancient Elvhen, once in service to Andruil, and had awoken many years before he met his wife. He had been traveling, trying to learn of the new era he had now found himself in when he was attacked by bandits and nearly beaten to death. It was his wife who found him and, with the help of her clan, nursed him back to health. They fell in love, over the year that it took for him to recover from his injuries, and decided to be bonded but her Keeper was against the idea and refused to give them his blessing. So, they chose to forge their own path without her clan and left on their own.”

 

“And this couple was the Inquisitor’s grandparents?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I see...” Abelas sighs, turning his attention to the sleeping woman beside him. “Does she know?”

 

“That her father was a half-blood? No,” Master Einon answers. “Her grandparents were killed before she was born, her mother died in childbirth, and her father was hunted down and killed by Templars when she was barely three, so there was no one left in her bloodline to prove her heritage to her when she got old enough to understand”

 

“But, she is aware that she is different from her Dalish counterparts. I suspect that she is suspicious about her parental heritage but she has not mentioned or asked for further details on her history to me or even, in the past, to her Keeper.”

 

“Although, after all of this, I’m fairly certain she will put two and two together and realize that by all rights as a true Dalish she shouldn’t have gotten sick and understand that there is more behind her heritage than she already knows.”

 

“And, are you prepared to answer those questions...when they finally come?”

 

“I have always been prepared.”

 

“Then, why not tell her beforehand?”

 

“As you are well aware, the title of Honored Uncle affords me no leeway in circumventing clan law or family traditions. And, as such, I cannot disobey the will of the clan’s Keeper –even after her death.”

 

“You were ordered not to speak of it unless she asks.”

 

Master Einon can do nothing, more than nod.

 

The room goes quiet for a few moments, as Abelas tries to assimilate all that he has learned so far. The fact that the Inquisitor is part Elvhen is a shock to the system but not so much as one would suspects. He had always believed her different.

 

First, she was an adversary who was infuriatingly kind.

 

Then she was a hero to the world who did great deeds.

 

And now she was not only like him but also his very own savior.

 

She had saved him. She had saved his people.

 

And put her own life on the line to do it.

 

Abelas frowned.

 

“This is my fault.” he sighed sadly as he reaches out and brushes away the Inquisitor’s hair from her face once more and looks at her sweaty brow and the swirls marking her skin.

“I wish I could say that such a statement was untrue, but I cannot.” Master Einon replies. “But whatever guilt you may feel because my Da’len is now ill, please take comfort in the fact that she chose to help you even though she knew it could possibly kill her.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Before she fell ill, Mina was informed of your situation...and of the situation regarding your people. She knew the risks; the dangers; as I surreptitiously warned her that there could be a possibility that the affliction could spread to anyone and yet she chose to be by your side and stay in command of the effort to aid all in spite of what could happen. She would not, and could not, allow you and your people to be lost from this world and did everything within her power to see to it that all of you survived –for as long as she was capable.”

 

“In truth,” he admits offhandedly. “She was quite infuriating about the whole situation, to be honest. And stubborn.”

 

“Stubborn.”

 

“Even when she began to show signs of the poisoning, she refused to stand down and rest. Pushed herself to the brink until, ultimately, I had to sedate her just so she would get some rest.”

 

“I did not wish to go that route, and adamantly asked, then ordered, then begged for her to allow me to treat her, but she refused until I had no choice but to slip raw thistle root into her tea.”

 

“Raw thistle root can be deadly!” Abelas counters, his tone: horrified.

 

“Only in large quantities.” the old man retorts.

 

“You could have killed her.”

 

“It was the only choice left to me at the time.” he justifies. “Her resistance to sedatives is more advanced than most, due to her habitual use of them as of late. So, the raw form of thistle root was the only option left. Every other known sedative would have only been a minor inconvenience and ineffective.”

 

“Habitual use?” Abelas counters once more, glancing at the man before turning his eyes back to her. “Why is she taking sedatives so often?”

 

“That, my dear Sentinel Commander, is not a question I’m at liberty to answer.” Master Einon replies. “To find such truth, you would have to ask it of her. Only she can give you such answers.”

 

“Yet, you administer them to her? Do you not know why she takes them or is it simply for a reason she does not wish to be known outside of her closest circle that you will not say?”

 

Master Einon lets out a soft chuckle.

 

“It is the latter,” he replies.

 

“I see...” Abelas sighs as he caresses her cheek gentle in worry.

 

Abelas immediately comes to his own conclusion in regards to the sedatives. In his mind, he can justify their use with just the little amount of knowledge he has acquired of her already. After everything she has been through; everything she has seen and done; it would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume that she could have issues sleeping. That insomnia most likely plagues her night after night or that many nightmares affect her regularly.

 

The use of sedatives was often employed in the days of his people for reason such as those. Some even going as far as to use them to keep themselves from having to relive the memories of past events, battles, and deaths, as they would wonder the Fade. So much so that it became a common practice of their healers throughout the generations. But, it was a hard way to live. Being disconnected from the Fade, from the dreams that could be, and the joy that could be found in such a state of consciousness, just to avoid the creeping dread.

 

“How does she feel?” suddenly questions the old man, breaking Abelas from his thoughts.

 

“Cold...and clammy,” he replies as he registers the feel of her skin under his fingertips.

 

“Good.” Master Einon nods.

 

“How can that be good? For what reason would you even say such a thing?” the Sentinel counters, nearly offended by the mage’s comment.

 

“The reasons are two-fold.” Master Einon answers with a knowing smile. “One: if her skin is cool to the touch that means that her fever has finally broken. A good thing.”

 

“And, two?”

 

“And, two: if her skin is cool to the touch, that means that you can feel it. Again, a good thing.”

 

“I am not following,” Abelas admits with confusion.

 

“When you arrived here; and fell unconscious; we discovered that the storm had affected you greatly. Your body temperature had dropped to dangerous levels and your hands and feet were nearly consumed by frostbite. It took several hours, and several healers, to heal the damaged the freezing temperatures caused, but the prognosis was not good.”

 

“Frostbite is a common occurrence here, but usually with minimal damage. Due to the fact that the Inquisitor’s orders demand a strict exposure schedule during the worst of the winters here. But you were exposed to the freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall for days. And, as such, your condition was more advanced than we have ever seen, and nearly untreatable by our normal standards of care.”

 

“The damage to your feet and left hand was severe by our normal experiences; yet, treatable; but the damage to your right hand was nearly unimaginable, worse than I have ever seen since taking my position as Healer of the Inquisition. I suspected that is was likely due to the fact that it had been exposed directly to the elements; as you were carrying your staff in your right hand; unlike your left which must have been somewhat shielded in the folds of your cloak –at least, according to witnesses who were there when you arrived.”

 

“Fortunately, however, we were able to arrest any more damage to your tissues and were able to heal them without tentative complications. My only concern, as was the Inquisitor’s, was –and still is –whether or not you will retain function –specifically in your right hand. Frostbite, no matter the stage, can take a heavy toll on an appendage’s ability to work properly. Movement, dexterity, ease of use, and sensation can all be affected in varying degrees. To the detriment in some cases, and not at all in others.”

 

“We were, and still are, concerned if whether or not you will come away from your exposure relatively unscathed, or if you would have to live with a remnant disability.”

 

“So, if you will permit me, now that you’re awake, it would be prudent for me to ascertain if such injuries linger. If further healing may be necessary. And, whether or not, there may be repercussions to your injuries that will linger indefinitely.”

 

“It will not take long, I assure you.” the old mage adds seemingly trying to placate any worry that Abelas may now be feeling with reassurances. “But, I must insist that you be checked out.”

 

“Otherwise, I will have to answer to a very angry Da’len –when she finally wakes up.”

 

“And that frightens you?” Abelas counters with humor in his voice.

 

“More than you will ever know.” the old man chuckles.

 

“Very well,” Abelas nods with an amused smile.

 

Master Einon takes his time, first returning to the foot of the bed and uncovering Abelas’ bare feet. With a discerning eye, he inspects the fresh, newly healed skin and intermittently applies pressure to parts of the entire foot checking for nerve reaction. Abelas finds the whole interaction uncomfortable at first; as his feet have always been sensitive to light touches, and tries not to pull away or laugh at the tickling sensation that he feels. But the moment passes without loss of composure and Master Einon then begins to ask every time he touches the Elvhen’s toes if he feels anything. For the most part, he feels every touch but, when the old mage moves to the smaller of his toes on the outer foot, Abelas begins to realize that not everything is as it should be. They, for the most part, move well when the healer asks him to do so, but the nerves under the last two toes are dulled. The tops feel fine, but the underside is somewhat numb.

 

Master Einon shakes his head at the man’s voiced concerned and simply moves to his other foot. Soon finding that the same can be said for Abelas’ other set of toes. The same feeling on top and the numbness on the bottom. The old mage merely shakes his head at the same confirmation and stands once more before pulling the blankets back over the Sentinel’s feet.

 

When he returns to the head of the bed, he immediately takes Abelas’ left hand and repeats the process. Checking their mobility and ease of use with a few requests for the man to flex his fingers and move his wrist. They are fine, normal, and he smiles ever so slightly with relief. A few minutes more pass as he tests the hand for sensation loss, and then he smiles once more. No damage. Perfectly fine. A good sign that Abelas will have use of, at least, one hand. Then he turns to attend to the man’s right. Soon finding that, though his mobility, dexterity, and ease of use is perfectly natural and holds no impairment, the two smallest fingers on his outer hand are suffering from some numbness. Down the length of his palm, on the side, and underneath the smallest two fingers are signs of unfeeling. Though not severe enough not register any sensation at all but surely compromised in comparison to normal, healthy, ability.

 

“What’s the verdict?” Abelas questions, already understanding that all is not well.

 

“There is some residual numbness.” Master Einon informs. “But it is not bad enough to affect your ability to walk. The left hand has come out of this virtually unscathed, but your right hand has some impairments. The likelihood that the numbness there will affect your day to day life, however, I am uncertain without some more information.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“How do you hold your bow? Do pull with the left or the right hand?”

 

“Right,” Abelas replied.

 

“That’s unfortunate.” the old man sighs.

 

“Are you implying that I may not be able to use a bow properly, after all this?”

 

“I am implying nothing, only that there may be some degradation in your ability. The only way for us to be certain is for you to test if the numbness will affect your accuracy and strength in the draw. Which, I cannot allow you to do until you are fully recovered, and have regained the ability to stand and move under your own power.”

 

Abelas sighs in disappointment but knows that his choice to come to Skyhold even during a blizzard was the right thing to do. He may suffer the consequences of such action –possibly for even a lifetime –but to save his brothers any sacrifice he made was worth it.

 

“It is permanent?”

 

“Impossible to say,” Master Einon replies. “In some cases, the lost feeling returns on its own and in some cases it never does. Only time will tell.”

 

“But do not be discouraged,” the old man adds reassuringly. “In my experience, Ancient Elvhen have a penchant for healing far-better and far-faster than most. So there is a high probability that after some time you will be back to your normal self –without any lasting effects.”

 

“I understand.”

 

“Now,” the old mages perks up. “Might I suggest some food?”

 

“While the treatment for Darkwood Poisoning has some inherent nutritional value, enough to sustain a person through the healing process, and we have tried to supplement you with broth, you have not had any real food in many days.”

 

“So, it is necessary that we get you back to proper eating as soon as possible, to speed up your recovery.”

 

“Please,” nods Abelas, only realizing how truly hungry he felt the moment Master Einon mentions it.

 

“Very well, then,” the Master Mage replies. “I will see to it personally. Until I return, however, I must insist that you remain where you are. Do not attempt to leave this bed and just continue to rest.”

 

Abelas nods in agreement.

 

“Good,” the old man acknowledges before turning to leave.

 

Abelas quickly believes that he will have finally have a few moments to himself when the old man finally begins to cross the room, only to be practically startled by his loud call the second he gets to the stairs.

 

“Ser Dominic!” the old man calls out.

 

Seconds later the sound of heavy footsteps can be heard echoing up the staircase, mixed with the sound of heavy armor in movement, and the Sentinel cannot help but raise his eyebrow curiously at the goings-on. A minute more passes and soon a tall man, clad in Templar armor, suddenly appears from behind the stairway’s railing.

 

“Yes, Master Einon,” the Templar questions in a deep voice.

 

“The Sentinel Commander has finally rejoined us,” the old man answers. “And needs food. Please follow the Inquisitor’s orders, until I return.”

 

“Yes, Ser.” the Templar replies, a second before he turns himself in such a way to allow Master Einon to pass him and go down the stairs.

 

The moment the old mage disappears out of Abelas line of sight, the Templar climbs the remaining stairs and positions himself in the corner of the room; just at the top of the stairs; and stands tall –his hand resting on the pommel of his sword, his eyes scanning both the entirety of the Inquisitor’s quarters and the stairwell, over and over, dutifully.

 

“You are to watch over me?” Abelas calls out across the room after watching the Templar for a time.

 

“Inquisitor’s orders,” the Templar replies. “Neither the Sentinel Commander nor the Inquisitor, are allowed to be left alone, together, under any circumstances.”

 

“Meaning that I have not been alone from the very moment I arrived in Skyhold.”

 

“That is correct, Ser,” the Templar confirms.

 

“And, that I’m not allowed to be alone with your Lady...”

 

“As per her orders, Ser,” the Templar nods sharply.

 

Why?