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The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even

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Heaven is a very beautiful and a very empty place.

 There are soaring balustrades of gilded light, there, columns stretching into the infinity of the sky, and everything, everything clouds.  It is bright, it is warm, it is hollow.

 The world - the whole world, and all its layers, seen and unseen - is below it, at once immediate and distant.  Time passes strangely in it.  Andraste, herself, cannot tell the difference between the hours and the days and the ages any longer.  Everything is in the agonizing present.

She suffers, but she cannot look away.

 And she knows He wants her to suffer.

 He knows she doesn’t want this.  Maybe He’d been innocent, once, meaning no harm, wanting only to love her, but no longer.  He is a creature that punishes with absence, and even she is not immune.

 But even then, before the malice and the silence, He terrified her.

She remembers, clearly, and with the hot sharpness of a brand, the day she met Him.  The image comes to her, enamel-bright, a facet catching the light of a gem.

 She knows that there are pictures of this meeting.  She has yellow hair in them.  She kneels before Him, submissive and accepting.  None of these things are true.

 He comes to her with the bright and terrible suddenness of a lightning strike.  She falls on her back, gracelessly.  Her dark hair gets in her mouth.

 (At least, she thinks, she thinks, she was singing at the time.)

 She cannot describe Him well, even in the shell He wears to meet her.  He is vast, boundless, contained, fragile - He shines.  She cannot see his face.  Perhaps He has no face.  He is the suggestion of a human form.

 He says her name.  His voice is bells, is everywhere, is only for her.  “Andraste.”

 The air is raw in her throat.  Her voice tastes like iron when it comes out of her mouth.  “Here I am,” she says.  The words feel flimsy, foolish, but right.

 He has no face, but He smiles.  He lowers Himself, extends what she knows to be a hand.  “My beloved Andraste.”

 “Who are you?”  She is whispering.  She is afraid to shield her eyes.

 “You know Me,” He says.  “You have seen Me.  And now I am here for you.”

 She knows this is true.  She feels a hungry weakness, a coldness in her body, as if she has been starving for His presence.

 He comes to her in visions.  They are not kind visions.  They make a prison of her body.  Her eyes see everything and nothing in them - all the colors of the world in an overwhelming light.  She emerges from them trembling and glass-boned and overloaded with awe-full, unprocessed truth.

 He is before her.  He is her prism.  He is there for her.

 “What do you ask of me?” she says.  She is only slightly aware of her arms.

 “I have seen the depths of your faith, Andraste,” He says.  “I have felt your love for Me.  I am here to take you to my side, where you belong.

 “You are here to… take me?”

 There are brown, faded scars on her back.  She has been taken before.  She has been a possession.

 He must see her fear, know her fear. He makes himself smaller.  “As my bride, Andraste.  As the sharer of my Throne.  You alone, my beautiful Andraste, understand the world as I do.

 Andraste has a husband.  She has children.  She has a nation.

 Andraste has a great and unknowable god proposing marriage to her.

Andraste has a clever, jewel-brilliant mind.

 She pulls herself to her feet.  “What do you offer me, as your bride?” she says.

 “I offer you everything, Andraste.”

 “Everything?” 

“Were you to ask me for the key to My Golden City, I would give it to you,” He said.  “If you desired the loom on which the Veil is woven, I would give it to you also.  All things are Mine, my love, and you may have them all if you but take my hand and leave this world with me.”

 His hand remains stretched out to her.  It radiates, it draws-in, it does not look like a hand.

 “If I were to ask for happiness, then?” she asks.

 “I can give you pleasure beyond the limits of physical sensation.

 “Pleasure,” she says.  “Not happiness.  And you cannot simply give me happiness.”

He dims, and bends lower.  There is concern in him, concern for her.  “What aspect of happiness am I unable to give you?”

 “My people suffer.  The worshippers of the Old Gods kill and enslave them.  I pray for their deliverance.”  She smells blood on her face.  Her ears feel wet.  “Deliver them, and you will have given me happiness.”

 “And if you are given this, you will join me, then?”

 She feels fury.  She feels power.  She feels her fingers tangled in an opportunity.

 “Yes,” she says.

 (And when she looks back she cannot think of any other answer.)

 (She cannot see him allowing her to live with a refusal.)

 (She cannot see anything but what is.)

 “Then I shall deliver your people,” He says.  “The children of the False Gods will know my wrath and my anger, and all those who follow you will know my mercy and my blessing.

 “And how will you do this?”

 She feels the air grow hot, agitated, prideful.  “I will order it done, and it shall be done.”

 “I must know,” she says, “and my people must believe.  You must give me something so that I may prove to them you are now there.”

 “Then I shall go with you, and be with you.

 He enters her.  He fills her.  Light and power leak from her mouth and her eyes and her ears.

 He is gone.  He is with her.

 She is bound.  She awakens.

 Time returns to her and she is alone in the forest again.  She is bleeding.  She touches her face and the blood smears and clots on her fingers and in her hair.  There is a red, red stain on her skirt, on her thighs.

 She is bleeding. 

 She trips-runs-falls to the threshold of her home.  Maferath takes her into his arms.  He expresses the fear that she cannot feel, that she should feel.  Her blood brings him horror, not joy.

 “I had a vision,” she tells him, when he asks, and asks, and asks again.  “He walks with me.  He walks with us.”

 The jewel turns.  Another facet.  The past becomes the present becomes the past.

 She has a child, yes, a girl.  She knows it is His doing.  A miracle.  Proof.  He is with her, in her.

 The girl carries none of His light.  She is disappointed.  She is grateful.

 There - a snag, a tangle of consciousness - the girl entwined with the Tevinter.  His darkness mixes with hers.  A sign, maybe, or a punishment. 

 His signs are never subtle. 

 Light-negative, starry blotches fill her eyes.  She hears his voice.  He speaks of strategy and resource and land and she turns his word into song and she turns the world with her song.

 He asks her of happiness.  She speaks of suffering, and He silences Himself.  He returns, always louder, a beautiful and deafening ring.  She does not ignore him.

 There is so much suffering.  She cannot rest until it has all been erased, wiped clean, bled out.

 She sees: elves, generations-worth, under a common yoke, under a common banner.

 She sees: a sword, raised to her, for her, by a small and slender hand, and eyes as wide and alert as a deer’s.

 She sees: one who has suffered as she has.  A comrade.  A friend.

 She finds quiet with Shartan.  His skin is stone-cool.  He smells of autumn, of grass and rotting wood.

 With Maferath, she finds focus.  He pulls her from Him when He keeps her too long, returning her to speech and world-clear sight.  He is a man and a warrior and he smells like smoke and things being unmade.

 Shartan demands nothing of her but freedom.  That, she knows, will be given.

 He demands everything of her.  She feels Him claiming her body, her senses, as they drive the Tevinter forces back and back.  She is His prism, His instrument.  There are days in which she finds herself singing, preaching, for hours.  She is listened-to.  His words are His are hers.  Her voice disappears into whispers.

 Maferath demands to know if she still loves him.

 (This, yes, this, is the moment that she returns to, the focal facet, the root of suffering.)

 Maferath’s face is knotted and red.  She cries.  “I did not ask for this!” she tells him.  “I did not wish to be His bride!”

 (It is not the betrayal, no, that hurts.)

 (The roots of her husband’s actions run deep, into every past, into every present, and she cannot tell when they are, where they end.)

 (What hurts is that she cannot see what would have happened if she had just asked for his help, his hand, his warm-smoke presence that always pulled her back.)

 (The hard omnipresence of her sight cannot give her this comfort.)

 She does not resist the Tevinters when they come for her.  She resists Him.

 His light rises in her throat, but she swallows.  Her sight blurs as His light comes upon her, and she closes her eyes.  His voice pierces her ears like dull, persistent needles.

 She appeases Him, still.  She speaks, sings, of suffering, of inspiration, of martyrs.  She murmurs psalms of separation, of partnership.  Of freedom.

 They take her.  They judge her.

 She is bound.  She burns.

 Even before the archon’s sword touches her throat, she feels relief.

 He leaves her.

 (There are words, burning brightly in the memory, hard and clear and always.)

 (Magic exists to serve man, not to rule over him.)

 (Only in her captivity, in her silence, does she understand.)

 And He takes her.

 (He never served her.)

 And He binds her.

 And He does not make her his bride.

 She is not happy.

 “When the suffering ends, my love.  You asked to witness it, to know it, and I promise to honor your every word.”  In His realm, the sky stretches to forever, His voice still fills every space.  His body is fire and chains and gold.  “When the suffering ends, you told me, you will be happy.  And you shall be my bride.

 And she watches.

 And the suffering magnifies.  Her life is a prism, and her words spread through it, through her into infinite possibilities of hurt and hate.

 She sees: the Tevinters absorb her songs, her light.  They are not destroyed, but made stronger.  Her words are contorted into anthems of servitude and captivity.

 She sees: her sons, her children untouched by this blood and business, founding dynasties and faiths and wars.

 She sees: her promise to Shartan put to the sword and denied where it lives.

 And she cannot look away.

 Time passes strangely, in Heaven.  An hour is a year is an age.  The past is the present is the past.  There are magics are spirits are gods.

 Andraste is praying.

 She is praying for suffering to end. 

She is praying that He never returns to the world.