Part 6: The Assassin and the King

“What in the blessed name of the Maker is that?” I asked, staring at the frothy cream confection in front of me with a mix of fear and abject horror.  Alissa, my lady in waiting, curtsied to me with a look of confusion on her face.  The only word you could think of when you looked at her was ‘tiny’.  Barely topping five feet in height she had a pretty, slender face, long elegant hands, and strawberry blonde hair pulled up into a demure knot at the base of her neck that framed her sky blue eyes.

“It’s your gown for the coronation ceremony my lady,” she explained hesitantly.  “Do you not approve?” Her words were tinged with a bit of fear as she saw me shaking my head violently, my hands drawing the lapels of my robe closer together.

Three weeks had passed since I awoke from my slumber and life was finally beginning to move forward.  The injured were healed, our allies had returned to their homes, the rubble was cleared from the streets, rebuilding was well underway, and I had made as full a recovery as one could after sustaining such wounds.  I was finally able to walk freely around the city, and Arl Eamon had declared it time to coronate Alistair and officially make him king.

As a result my companions and I had finally been transferred to the palace a few days ago in preparation for the ceremony.  Alistair and I had been given separate rooms due to formalities, but it did not stop him from visiting me each night.  The coronation ceremony was to start in a few hours, and I was trying to get myself ready to address my former peers and be presented to them as their future queen.

Trying being the operative word.  Instead of my armor I was presented with a lace and fabric concoction that looked more at home on a fancy pastry than a person and I shook my head again, surprised that it had managed to stay on my shoulders.

“No,” I said as I slowly backed away from the so-called dress.  “It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I was planning on wearing my armor today. It has been repaired yes?”  I finally stopped warily eyeing the monstrosity before me long enough to look at Alissa.

I was told that my armor was mangled during my battle with the Archdemon, but I had begged Alistair to try and fix it.  That armor had saved my life more than once and I was loath to part with it.  So Alistair had it sent off to Soldiers Peak and delivered into the care of Mikhael Dryden , the same smith who had made my beloved long sword Starfang out of star metal that I had found in my travels.

And as one would expect from a man who could make magical arms and armor from metal that falls from the sky, Mikhael was able to repair my armor and return it to its former glory.  Or so I was told as I hadn’t laid eyes upon it yet.

Alissa nodded at me and bobbed a quick curtsey.  “I will have it brought up right away my lady,” she said softly before slipping out of the room.

When she was gone I raked my hands through my disheveled hair and blew out my breath in a rush as I looked around my room.  So much had happened in the span of one short year and now it was coming full circle.  I had gone from luxury to poverty and now to opulence, my room was twice the size as the one Alistair and I shared briefly in For Drakon although many features were still the same.  Divided into three chambers, the main room was for entertaining and working with plush sofas and elegant wooden furniture, the bedroom boasted a thick featherbed with soft, lush covers and multiple wardrobes, and there was even a separate bathing area off to the side.  I sighed and sat down on the nearest sofa, sinking into the material with relish as I eyed the dress like it was going to bite me and reflected upon all that had brought me here.

There were many things I would never forget about my life.  Wonderful memories forged in love and friendship of my time on the road with my companions.  Playing fetch with Kiché as we wandered the road.  Talking with Wynne and discussing things such as the meaning of life, the strength of duty, and the weakness of love.  I remembered drinking contests with Oghren, bantering with Leliana and Zevran, even arguing with Shale, Sten and Morrigan.  All would serve to warm me when my life grew cold and dark.

But there were things I wished I could forget.  Things that gave me nightmares now and I was sure for years to come.  The faces of the men and women who died because of or in spite of me, the multitudes of darkspawn corpses, the abominations I killed, demons I survived, dragons we took down, and of course my battle with Urthemial the Archdemon, once revered as the Tevinter god of beauty.  I had lived such a short time, but seen and done and learned so much.

And despite everything I had survived, I feared.  No one knew why I had slept so long or so deeply after my battle.  Wynne hypothesized with me one day that the Archdemon’s soul passing through mine damaged it in some way, and since a wounded soul took longer to heal than flesh and bone, my body slept to aid the process before the damage killed me.

I had my own theory of course.  I remembered my time in Oblivion, that place between the worlds that those unfaithful to the Maker are doomed to wander for eternity.  I was not unfaithful, but I was stopped there by my parents and I was given the choice to pass on to the Maker or come back.  I came back because I had too much left unfinished, but facing your own death marks a person.

I did not fear death, for unlike most I knew what awaited me.  What I feared now was dying too soon, and the small whisper of doubt that I came away from the battle with my soul intact.  I didn’t react to extreme heat or cold anymore like most people would.  I heard whispers in the dark of night when I was alone in my room.  And every so often I saw shadows out of the corners of my eyes, shadows that disappeared whenever I tried to spy them.

I was a very changed person from the girl who had fled into the blood filled night so long ago.  Only time would tell if I had changed for the better.

A knock at the door interrupted my reverie and drew me back to the present.

“Come in,” I called eagerly as I scrambled to my feet. If the Maker was kind it would be Alissa with my armor.  The door swung open and while I was disappointed it was not my longed-for armor, I was nonetheless pleased to see my visitor.

“Leliana!” I exclaimed joyfully as I embraced my dear friend.  Leliana returned my hug and stepped back to take me in.  Well dressed as always in a gown of soft earth tones that beautifully complemented her slender frame, fair skin and light red hair, Leliana had that soft kind of beauty that drew men in like moths to a flame.  Her makeup was done perfectly, and she glided across the floor like any well bred noble lady.

Few knew her true calling as an Orlesian spy.  Her slender hands could handle a harp, a bow, and pick a lock with equal ease and skill enough to rival an elf.  Her talents had come in handy on our journey together and I had to wonder what was left for her now that the Archdemon and her former teacher Marjolen were dead.

Leliana had come to Fereldan to become a sister of the Chantry and to escape punishment in Orlais for a crime she did not commit, a crime that her mentor Marjolen had framed her for.  She remained sequestered for a long time before leaving the Chantry to search me out, convinced the Maker was calling her to join my side, an act that made Marjolen suspect that Leliana was finally coming for her and she decided to strike first.

I am not one to take kindly to anyone coming for my friends with any form of ill intent.  Leliana was the first I had defended, but she would not be the last.  And all the aggressors went the way of Marjolen: into a cold grave at the end of my sword.

“What in the name of the Maker are you doing here?  Aren’t you supposed to be getting ready as well?” I asked her.  Leliana smiled at me as she did a small pirouette in her gown.

“But I am ready my dear,” she giggled at me.  “I know it has been a while since you wore a gown so I thought I would come and help you, and it seems I have arrived just in time.”  Leliana grinned at my hair, still tangled from sleep.  With a laugh she ushered me into the bedroom and onto the seat in front of the vanity, picking up a brush and applying it to my hair with a vengeance.

I sighed and sat stoically in front of the mirror as Leliana brushed and primped my hair, prattling away in excitement the whole time.

“Umm, Leliana,” I interrupted at one point.  Leliana paused in piling my hair on top of my head in some sort of complicated Orleasian knot.  Catching my eye in the mirror, she looked innocently back at me through a mouthful of hair pins.  How she was able to articulate through them I don’t think I’ll ever know.

“You do know I’m just going to be wearing my armor?” I asked.

“What about that beautiful dress?” she mumbled around the pins.  Leliana had a thing about dresses.  And shoes.  And hats.  And just about anything that a woman could wear or do to herself to look pretty.  It was refreshing having someone a little more frivolous around on the road to lighten the mood and take your mind off things.  “That color would look gorgeous on you.”

I narrowed my bright green eyes at her reflection in the mirror, meeting her soft brown ones suspiciously.  “Leliana…” I drawled, “did you have something to do with that dress?”

Leliana continued to smile innocently at me through the pins clenched tightly between her lips.  I sighed and shook my head slightly, all the movement I was allowed with my hair firmly in her grasp.  “I can’t wear it Leliana, not today.”

Leliana frowned and took the pins out of her mouth.  “Why ever not?” she asked.  “That color will go beautifully with your skin, and you’re going to be introduced as the next queen of Fereldan!  Don’t you want to look your best?”

I could tell she was hurt but didn’t want to say anything.  No doubt she had gone shopping as soon as she could and picked something out just for me.  I smiled at my dear friend and tried to take the sting out of my words.  “I do Leliana,” I assured her, “But they know me as a warrior, and afterwards I’m going to have to parade around the city.  I’d rather do it in my armor than a dress.  It’ll stand up to the abuse better, and at least this way I’ll have something better to wear at the feast tonight.”

That seemed to mollify her as she put the pins down on the surface of the vanity and resumed brushing my hair, this time putting it up in the simple braid I always favored.  No sooner had she finished then there was a knock at the door and Alissa rushed in.

“My lady?” she called out hurriedly as two pages followed behind her, bits and pieces of armor in their hands.

“Here Alissa,” I called as Leliana and I made our way out into the main sitting room.  The two young men blushed at seeing the great Hero of Fereldan in nothing but a thin robe.  I nodded to them.  “Leave the armor on the sofa please,” I bade them.  The deposited the pile of steel and leather on the cushions and swiftly departed, but not soon enough if the look on Alissa’s face was any indication.  The poor girl looked absolutely terrified.

“My lady, we must hurry.  The ceremony is about to start!” Alissa exclaimed as she stared at the jumble of my Juggernaut Plate armor.

“Do you know anything about putting on armor?” I asked her as I approached the sofa, undoing the tie of my robe.  She shook her head no.  Nodding to Leliana, I dropped my robe.  I was wearing nothing but my small clothes underneath and was unconcerned.  Modesty was something you didn’t cling to so tightly in a war.  I picked up a piece of plate mail and held it out to her as I caught Leliana’s eye.

“You’re about to learn,” I said grimly.

***

Thankfully, Alissa proved to be a quickly study with nimble fingers, and between the three of us I was dressed and rushing out the door in record time.  Leliana and I ran through the hallways of the palace as I strapped on my swords Brightblood and Starfang and managed to slip into the throne room before the ceremony started.

We arrived just in time.  Like all buildings in Fereldan, the palace of Denerrim was built of wood and stone, and the throne room was no exceptions.  Long and narrow due to the wooden viewing balconies along each side, with large double doors at one end and a raised dais at the other with steps leading up.  Discreet doors flanked the dais at the foot of the stone steps where stewards and officials would slip in and out of during important meetings and audiences. Drapes and tapestries were hung around the dais and at strategic places along the walls, more of consent to foreign aesthetics than any local sensibilities, and a long narrow floor runner ran the length of the room from door to wall.

The Revered Mother of the Denerrim Chantry waited at the top of the dais to give the coronation blessing along with Arl Eamon and a handful of knights.  There was a soft buzzing in the room as the gathered peers of the realm, lords and ladies all, talked amongst themselves as they waited for the ceremony to start.  It was jewels and silks as far as the eye could see, aside from the splashes of leather and steel at the foot of the dais that marked the location of the rest of my companions as well as the guards along the walls and lined up the steps of the dais.

Slipping in through one of the side doors, Leliana and I made our way swiftly to the cluster of our companions at the base of the dais.  My heart stopped then soared as I caught a glimpse of my brother Fergus in the crowd near us.  My parents were right.  A part of me feared that they were wrong, or that my whole time in Oblivion was a fever dream, but seeing Fergus alive and well before me only reaffirmed that everything that had happened during my convalescence was real.  Leliana and I look our places with the others just in time.  As soon as Fergus and I exchanged smiles of greeting with one another, the doors at the far end were thrown open and Alistair marched down the center of the room, eyes fixed on the dais.

The room had fallen silent when the doors opened, and now the only sounds to be heard was the thump of Alistair’s boots on the carpeted stone, and the creak of his armor as he moved.  He looked resplendent and powerful in his golden armor, with his sword and shield slung across his back.  Alistair strode down the hall with firm purpose and without hesitation he climbed the steps and knelt at the feet of the Revered Mother, head bowed as she began the blessing confirming Alistair as the new King of Fereldan.

I admit I paid little heed to her words.  My eyes were only for my betrothed, and my mind was only on the future: mine and that of Fereldan’s.  I saw heads bow, lips move, then I saw Alistair stand and the Revered Mother bow to him before he turned to face the assembled crowd who now broke their silence and greeted their new king with cheers and applause.  Alistair’s eyes roamed across the assembly for a moment, letting the noise die down before he addressed his new subjects.

“My friends,” he began, “We are gathered to celebrate those responsible for our victory.  And of those who stood against the Darkspawn siege of Denerrim, there is one in particular who deserves commendation.” Alistair paused and spared me a quick smile.  “The one who lead the final charge against the Archdemon remains with us still, an inspiration to all she saved that day.”  That was my cue.  I stepped away from the circle of my companions and ascended the steps, joining him on the dais.  His voice was strong and proud as I stood next to him and his voice carried over the assembly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I formally present my betrothed, who will soon be your queen.”

Together we turned to face our assembled friends, family, companions, and peers.  The response was overwhelming.  I saw Leliana and Fergus pumping their fists in the air at the news, Wynne smiled gently at the pair of us as she clapped, Sten stood stoically as usual, Oghren somehow had a mug of mead in hand that he saluted us with, Zevran whooped with joy and somewhere I heard Kiché barking.

Of my golem friend Shale there was no sign, and I could not blame her.  She had spent enough years being stared at by humans when the son of her master ordered her immobilized and set her about being a living town ornament.  Being here at the coronation ceremony would only lead to more stares, whispers, and questions none of us were quite willing to answer just yet.  We had discovered on our travels that the ancient dwarven golems were powered by the souls of the living, and Shale was once a woman of the dwarven clan Caddash who volunteered to be turned into a golem.  No one was quite comfortable with that information going public just yet, so Shale had decided to stay within Wynne’s room during the ceremony.

Once the crowd had settled down once more, Alistair turned to face me with that mischievous smile I fell in love with.  “My friend,” he said, “It is hard to imagine how you could have aided Fereldan more.  I think it only appropriate that I return the favor.  As a reward, and as an engagement gift, I offer you a boon of your choice.”

We had discussed before what would happen at the ceremony today, rehearsed his speech time and time again.  I knew he would offer me a gift, but until then I had no idea what I would ask for.  Many things were mine if I only said the words.  Land, a title, money, wealth, anything and everything I could ever want would be given to me at the snap of his fingers.

The only thing was I already had everything that I wanted that anyone could give me.  I had my life, my health, good, dear friends and a man who loved me.  I had saved my homeland, avenged my dead, and in a few minutes I would be reunited with my brother, the last of my living family.  There was nothing I wanted, but I was suddenly struck by something that we all needed.

All that had befallen Fereldan could be traced back to one man who let fear and hatred drive him to madness, who had forgotten the lessons of the past and the true reason for the existence of the Grey Wardens: to fight back the Darkspawn and defend those who could not defend themselves.  I knew then what boon I would ask of my new found king.

“The sacrifice of the Grey Wardens should not be forgotten,” I declared loudly, my voice echoing firmly across the room.

Alistair was surprised at my announcement but I could tell he was pleased.  “Now that’s a very good point,” he said softly enough for only me to hear.  Aloud he said “I think we can begin with a monument here in Denerrim dedicated to the Grey Wardens who have fallen.  Duncan, Riordan, all of them.  And its high times some scholars were collected to learn more about the Darkspawn.  We’ll face them again, with the dwarves as well as here.”  Alistair turns to face the crowd once more, his voice resonating across those assembled.

“Let it also be known that the arling of Amaranthine, once the land of Arl Howe, is now granted to the Grey Wardens.  There they can rebuild, following the example of those who came before them.”  Alistair turned again to me and I wondered idly if he was getting dizzy with all this back and forth, addressing me and the crowd.

“What are your plans?” he asked me, “I assume with the wedding you will be remaining within the city.” I shook my head.  As much as I wanted to remain with him, I knew the wedding was a few months off yet, and there were those who needed me more.

“The Darkspawn are still a threat.  The Grey Wardens need me,” I said.

“That they do,” Alistair nodded to me.  “I’m glad one of us is staying with them at least. But there’s a group of Fereldan citizens waiting outside to get a look at their hero.  I suggest you make at least a brief appearance before they storm the gates.” He laughed. “Just tell the guard at the door when you’re ready.”

And with that, it was over.  All the pomp and circumstance was done.  Alistair was king and in a few months I would be his queen.  All that remained was to say a final farewell to those who had fought beside me on this long journey.  We had all feasted together one final time last night, for we knew it would be the last we would all be together again for a very long time, if ever.  I knew many were leaving this very night for their homes and families, and that once I walked out those doors there were some I would never see again.  So I was determined to say a few final words to those who had come so far with me before we parted ways forever.

But I couldn’t make my rounds yet without saying a few words to Alistair.  Once he had told me of those waiting outside for me, he had taken himself off to the side of the dais, enjoying a few more moments of quiet and solitude before being a king in truth.  I approached him and he smiled at me.

“So, we made it.  I’m impressed aren’t you?” He asked.  But then the smile fell from his face and the light in his eyes faded a bit as his hand came up to brush my cheek.  “I was so scared I might lose you,” he whispered, “but… here you are and here I am.  Not bad right?”  His hand fell away as his voice grew more serious.  “I guess Morrigan was telling the truth after all about the ritual.  The rest of the grey wardens haven’t arrived yet from Orlais but they’ve already sent questions.”  Alistair looked at me, his eyes almost pleading.  “What should I tell them?” he asked.

I smiled to myself.  Alistair may be king, but he had yet to break his habit of following me.  I knew he would always consult me when he could before making his own decisions because he valued me and my opinion, but for now he was still looking for direction, still wanting to follow orders.

“Tell them they were wrong,” I said with a shrug of my shoulders.  Nothing much else we could tell them that wouldn’t get us lynched.

“Hmmm.  Yes, all you need is a malificar willing to have your demon baby,” Alistair drawled sarcastically.  “Who knew?” He smirked at me and shook his head.  “No I think I’ll be keeping that to myself.  I’ll just shrug and look stupid, I’m good at that.”  He looked at me curiously.  “Speaking of Morrigan do you know where she went?  I’m told she vanished right after the battle, no goodbyes or anything,” he said, and I could have sworn he sounded a little bit hurt by her abrupt departure.

I sighed, feeling the weight of my decision that night press down on my shoulders again.  “I don’t know.  I’m not sure I want to,” I admitted.

“I’m just concerned about what that ritual is going to cost eventually,” Alistair and I were silent for a moment before he gave his head a quick toss and smiled fondly at me.  “At any rate I can’t wait to be alone with you.  These formal affairs drive me insane,” he murmured as he stepped closer.

I chuckled deep in my throat at I wrapped my arms around his waist and kissed his cheek.  “Meet you upstairs later?” I whispered in his ear.

“Oh I’ll be waiting don’t you worry.” Alistair’s eyes were dark and filled with wondrous promise.  His arms tightened around my waist briefly before he stepped back out of my embrace and flashed me a grin.  “I’ll let you get to your adoring public,” he said.  “They want to see the hero of Fereldan and who am I to keep them waiting?”

I laughed as I turned from him and started down the dais.  My eyes searched the crowd, looking for one familiar face.  I found him to the left of stairs leading to the dais, leaning against one of the thick wooden support beams for the balcony above him. One of the few in the room wearing armor, his leather was dark with age, worn but well maintained.  He had been watching me with Alistair, waiting patiently for me but pushed off from the beam as I made my way swiftly towards him.  I threw my arms around my brother and hugged him tight, his arms going around me and returning the gesture in force.  We were both smiles and laughs as we broke apart and it was Fergus who found his voice first.

Fergus held me at arm’s length and looked me up and down.  “When I heard that my little sister was not only a grey warden but also leading Fereldan into battle, I was surprised, to put it mildly.”  He smiled sadly at me and gave my arms a gentle squeeze.  “Father…he would have been so proud of you,” he said softly.  “I know I am.  You’ve done good.”

“I knew I should have looked harder for you.”  My voice was thick with emotions at being reunited with Fergus after so long.

“I’m not sure you wouldn’t have just been wasting your time to be honest,” Fergus admitted with a shrug.  “I never made it to the battle at Ostagar.  We were still scouting in the wilds when we were attacked by a party of darkspawn.  Most of my men were killed,” his voice was grim as he related what happened to him.  “I awoke two weeks later in a Chasind hut, wounded and feverish.  By the time I was able to sneak out of the wilds you were already marching to Denerrim.  I tried to get word to Highever.  You can imagine what happened I suppose.”  I could hear the pain in his voice despite his attempts to hide it from me.  He didn’t want to add to my worries, but I knew he was still mourning the loss of his wife Oranna and son Orrin.

I wanted so bad to tell him how sorry I was for what had happened.  I knew there was nothing I could have done, but there was a small part of me that asked why, if I had so many, why couldn’t I have saved them?  “Howe paid for what he did,” I said instead, hoping to give him some measure of peace.  “I killed him myself.”

“Howe was a greedy treacherous bastard,” he snarled at me.  “I only wish I was there to help you kill him.  At least amaranthine belongs to the grey wardens.  There is some justice in that I think.”  Fergus took a deep breath to calm himself down and I saw the rage slowly leave his body as he brought himself under control.  “I need to get back to Highever,” he said at last.  “Try and see if I can clean up the mess Howe made of it.”  Fergus looked at me expectantly.  “I will see you soon I hope?”

I nodded to my brother.  “Of course you will,” I promised him.  I had planned to make Highever my first stop when I left the city.  It had been too long since I been home, and while there were many painful memories there, there were many good ones that I needed to revisit, and a brother who needed me to help put things right and mourn his family.

Fergus grinned at me.  “Good,” he declared.  “Highever won’t be the same without,” he faltered briefly, “everyone around.  Take care of yourself will you?  Else I’ll find you and nag you like mother did until you’re ready to tear out your hair,” he threatened with a sad smile.

I looked fondly at my brother as I gave him one more hug before moving on.  Looking around I caught the eye of Arl Eamon, the man who had been so integral in helping us to get here.  Eamon lent his knights to our cause, called the assembly to call Loghain’s right to rule into question, and backed Alistair’s claim to the throne.  I don’t know where we would be without his help.  I crossed the room to where the Arl stood with his brother Teigan.  Eamon smiled to me as I drew closer.

“It is over,” he said as I drew up beside him.  Dressed from head to toe in Redcliffe red, his voice was full of awe and disbelief, and his eyes had a dreamy, unfocused look to them.  “I can barely believe it.  You stopped the civil war and then defeated the blight.”  Arl Eamon blinked rapidly and drew himself back to the present and focused his eyes on me. “On behalf of Fereldan, allow me to say thank you.  It truly cannot be said enough.”

“I’m a Grey Warden.  That’s what we do,” I said nonchalantly.  I don’t think I would ever be comfortable with the praise people laid upon me for what was done.  I only did what I felt was right, what I felt needed to be done.

Eamon laughed at that.  “So I’m learning,” he said with a smile.  “It’s too bad that you aren’t remaining here in the capital the hero of Fereldan would have influence, but I understand.  Myself I will be remaining here to help Alistair, Teigan will be taking over the rule of Redcliffe.  Connor seems well enough, and Isold refuses to speak of what has happened.  She refuses to go back.  I cannot thank you enough for saving them, they are the joy of my existence.”  Eamon’s face clouded over and he stared thoughtfully into the glass of wine in his hand.  “Tell me, have you noticed…anything strange about the lad?” Eamons raised his head and looked at me.  “He seems…quiet.”

“Consider what he’s been through,” I smiled reassuringly at the Arl.  When we first started to gather our forces, we learned that the Arl had been poisoned by a mage named Jowan who had been brought in by Eamon’s wife Isold to train their son Conner.  When the Arl fell ill, Connor used his burgeoning powers to try and save his father, but instead was possessed by a demon of the Fade and was the cause of so much death and destruction in the Arl’s home.  But I wasn’t about to tell the man that.  He had suffered enough and had already lost his son to the Circle.

“Ahh you are no doubt correct,” he said with a nod.  “It is my imagination I am sure.  But here I am rambling on,” Eamon waved his hand at me.  “I shall let you get back to your celebration Warden.  Enjoy it while you can.”  Arl Eamon and I shook hands as he turned back to his brother and I resumed my rounds.

Motion to my left and further down the hall caught my eye.  It was Leliana waving me over to her, and I obediently crossed the room until I stood before her.  She greeted me with a smile and a glass of wine in each hand, handing one to me.

“So here we are.  The conquering heroine has won the day, and now she takes her bow and exits the stage.  A fine ending.”  Leliana beamed at me as she took a sip of her wine.

“You should be taking a bow with me,” I said.  Somebody needed to share the notoriety with me, and hopefully take some of the attention away.

“Oh, my part was small,” she said dismissively.  “I’m happy to watch you receive the accolades.  It’s quite fun.” Leliana cocked her head questioningly.  “You know,” she mused, “I can’t help now but think of my vision.  Weather it was the maker sending me to you, or whatever, it was a good thing.  I thought I was supposed to save you, to show you the way…but it seems it was meant to be the other way around.  Odd how that works, no?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” When we first met Leliana claimed she had visions from the Maker that lead her to me.  In the beginning I wasn’t too sure how to react or what to believe of what she said, but now it would be rather hypocritical of me to dismiss what she saw.

“I’ve been offered a position…to head up an investigation into the darkspawn.  It’s quite exciting, really.”  Leliana changed the topic swiftly, easily distracted as her eyes traveling over the crowds.  She always was rather fond of fashion and parties, and I could almost see her comparing the differentiating fashion sense of Orlais and Fereldan.

“An investigation?” I prompted after moment.

“Well, we really don’t know much about them do we?” Leliana looked back at me, her eyes focusing on me once again.  “Alistair says we need to find out more, see how far they go in the Deeproads and where those brood mothers can be found.  I agree.  It will be a grand adventure all my own.”  Her eyes fixed on a point past me and she nodded at someone I couldn’t see before turning back.  “At any rate you should get back to the celebration.  We can speak another time,” she said with a smile.

I nodded and took my leave of Leliana, leaving her in her element to socialize and gossip.  I drifted around the room acknowledging the smiles and nods until I caught sight of Zevran and made my way over to his side. I almost didn’t recognize him at first.  I had never seen him out of his light leather armor, perfectly suited for his profession, but now he was dressed in a red and yellow silk tunic with fine leather breeches.  The clothing complimented his slight frame and dusky complexion, and I couldn’t help but admit to myself that he looked good, if oddly uncomfortable in his new outfit.

“I will be relieved when all this pomp and ceremony is done,” he greeted me with a frown as his eyes watched the room carefully.  “Such events are perfect opportunities for assassins, after all.  I can’t help but expect the crows to appear at any moment.  Which would be a welcome break, mind you.”

“You think the crows will still come after you?” I asked as my gaze followed his.  Zevran had been drafted into the Crows, a group of assassins based out of Antiva at a very young age.  Loghain hired the Crows to take me out, and Zevran was the one who took the assignment.  Thankfully he failed, but failing the Crows is the same as death.  You either die trying to succeed, or the Crows kill you for your failure.  Zevran failed, I spared him, and so the Crows sent another assassin by the name of Talisen to kill Zevran.

“Eventually,” he admitted grimly.  “With Taliesen dead, it may take them time to figure out what happened but they are like the tides. Predictable.”  Zevran eyed me with a speculative grin.  “You know it does occur to me that staying in one place is only going to invite the crows to find me that much quicker, he drawled.  “While fun that might eventually get…complicated.  You said earlier that you were planning on returning to the Grey Warden fold soon.  Is that true?”

“Why?  You thinking of joining?” I smirked.

Zevran seemed honestly shocked by my question and spluttered a bit as he answered.  “A Grey Warden? me?” he asked with a laugh.  “Oh no no no.  There are some bodily fluids even I won’t touch.  The Grey Wardens seen to be a fun bunch to hang around, however.  Maybe they won’t mind a resident assassin?  I’m an excellent mascot.”

“I’d be happy for the company,” I said honestly.  Alistair would not approve, but he would not stop me either.

“And I promise not you get you into too much trouble.  Well… no more than you get me into, anyhow,” he said with a wink.  “Well, then, since we will be leaving together, we can speak after you have been sufficiently paraded in front of the populace.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on you and make sure no one gets a clear shot.  Not without paying me a great DEAL of coin anyhow.”

I laughed as I bid Zevran farewell and turned around to see Wynne surrounded by some of her fellow mages.  She looked different out of her enchanter’s robes, more dignified and matronly in a gown of soft yellow and pale blue, although she did seem tired.  Even from across the room I could see the slump of her shoulders and the weariness in her eyes.  She smiled weakly at me as she noticed me walking over.

 “The hero of Fereldan.  My, my.  How does it feel?” she asked me with a chuckle as I drew up alongside her.

“It’s a little strange,” I admitted with a smile.

“Of that I have no doubt.  It’s a title you’ll be wearing for a long time to come, just as Loghain wore his.  But it’s not so bad, is it?” Wynne asked me.  “A Blight defeated with the other nations barely becoming aware.  Who could ask for better?”

“I didn’t do it on my own,” I pointed out.

Wynne saw what I was doing and shook her head slightly at me, still smiling.  “I don’t think many heroes ever do,” she said.  “I’m glad not to be on the receiving end of all this attention myself.  I say let the young have their fame.  Not that I’ve gone without notice.  Irving has asked me to take over as first enchanter.  But I don’t wish to go back, not after all this.”  Wynne looked so said when she said that, I had a feeling she was remembering all the lives lost in the Circle tower before I came, after one of the head mages went rogue and unleashed abominations on the tower.  “Instead, I’ve decided to travel.  Shale has expressed a desire to go to Tevinter to look into a way to regain her mortality, and I will join her.”

“But what about…your problem?” I asked hesitantly.  Wynne basically had a good spirit of the Fade attached to her soul, a spirit that meant to help her when she was a child, but unknowingly bound its life force to hers, and was slowly killing her.

Wynne stilled for a moment, looking down for before turning back to me.  “It’s true; I…don’t know how much time I have.  Maybe not very long at all.  So I shall as much of the world as the maker allows,” she said firmly as she drew herself up and set her shoulders in determination, despite her eyes turning wistful.  “Perhaps this is a gift, in the end…a nudge in the right direction.”  Wynne looked at me and a sadness came into her face and eyes.  “I doubt we will meet again my dear,” she said softly.  “If not… please accept my best wishes.”

I felt tears pricking my eyes as I hugged the old sage firmly but gently, feeling the brittle bones in her strong frame.  Of all the goodbyes I had to say, this one was the hardest.  Wynne had taken on a motherly role for all of use when she joined, but none more so than me I believe, having lost my own mother so soon before meeting her.  Wynne had been one of my steadying voices when I began doubting myself, and I would miss her soft smile, her gentle words of advice, and our late night conversations on subjects ranging from politics and morality to the nature of love and duty.  Pulling away from Wynne before my tears threatened to break free; I looked around almost desperately for something to distract me, and caught sight of Oghren in his Legion of the Dead armor at the far left end of the room, conveniently next to the keg of mead.

“Humans have a better taste for spirits than I thought,” Oghren greeted me with a mug of mead as I drew closer, still fighting tears.  “Heh.  The ale up here is actually good.  Orzammar ale tastes like dirt in comparison.  Probably because they put dirt in it.  Go figure.”  Oghren shrugged and tossed back half of the mead in his mug before letting out a belch that drew the eye of everyone in the room.

I wondered briefly if Oghren was homesick, and asked as much.  “Think you might go back to Orzammar?” I took a swig of my mead.

“Mmph.  I don’t know,” he rumbled.  “Maybe eventually.  I’m getting used to that big sky up there.  And I’m thinking I might just look up Felsi again…see where that goes?”  Oghren looked at me questioningly.

Felsi was a female surface dwarf that Oghren was involved with a long time ago.  After losing his wife Branka in the Deeproads under Orzammar, I was happy to try and reunite my dwarven friend with an old flame and play matchmaker.  Oghren was a good man, in love with life, and he deserved to find a good woman.  “I’m glad.  I hope you two are happy,” I said earnestly, relieved that my first attempt at match making hadn’t blown up horribly in my face.

“Ha!  I’ll drink to that.”  And he promptly did so, draining the last of his mug and swiftly refilling it from the keg beside him.  “Ah well!  Enough babbling.  That potbellied son of a whore Teigan said I’d pass out before drinking an entire barrel of pickle juice–I aim to prove him wrong.”

I grinned at my favorite drinking buddy.  “Don’t ever change,” I said.

Oghren laughed.  “Who me?” he asked innocently before sobering.  He nodded sagely at me.  “It’s been good travelling with you warden.  Don’t get lost in the shuffle now.”

I knocked my mug against his in one last salute and drained my mug in one gulp.  I may be a queen but I knew how to drink.  I looked around me and saw I had made my way down the length of the room.  Sten was the only one left that I needed to speak to, and he stood stoically by the wide wooden double doors, waiting for me.  Sten wore the thickest, heaviest steel armor I had ever seen.  I could only imagine how uncomfortable he must have been, standing still there for so long.  But I knew he wouldn’t complain.  A part of me wondered if he even noticed any discomfort.

“It is good to see you again kadan,” Sten rumbled as I approached.  “These people they call you a hero.  It is a strange word, but I think I understand its meaning.  The Arishok on occasion has declared a Qunari to be qunoran vahl, one who serves as an example to others.  Such examples are always made after their death, however.  A death in service to the qun.  A living qunoran vehl would be too proud.”

“I’m not sure it’s the same thing,” I said slowly.  I’m not quite sure I understood everything Sten was talking about.  Even after travelling with him for so long, I still had little to no understanding about the Qunari or their customs.  All I knew was that they were a proud people who followed a strict code of conduct that only they truly understood.

“Not for the qunoran vahl,” Sten insisted.  “For the qunari people it is a cause for much celebration.  It is one of the few occasions when the qunari are permitted to engage in…revelry.  There is imbibing of spirits, public chanting, meditations abandoned…it is madness.

“That would be quite a sight,” I admitted.  I had a hard time imagining such a thing.  Sten was always so reserved and stoic, and from my conversations with him I knew that was the way of most Qunari, so it was difficult to think of such a serious race engaging in something so simple as a party.

“It is…interesting.  It could take days for the bahasran to restore order.  There may even be executions.”  Sten paused for a moment and I swear he almost looked sad.  “I suppose I should tell you…I have decided to return to my people.  Your quest is done, and thus so is my reason for accompanying you.

“The Darkspawn are still a threat,” I pointed out, in case he was looking for a reason to stay.

“But the blight is done,” he countered.  “I have an answer for the Arishok that no longer requires the question.  It must be said:  you found my sword and gave me a chance to restore my honor.  I owe you a great debt.”

“You helped me, as well,” I reminded him.  He seemed determined to leave and I did not want him to feel as if he owed me anything.  “It’s been good.”

“It has,” Sten admitted.  “That one of the bas…a foreigner…would be known as kadan to me?” he shook his head as he spoke with disbelief.  “Unthinkable.  Yet here it is.  Perhaps I will see you again one day.  Until then may you always find the path you seek.  Farewell Kadan.”

I nodded a final farewell to Sten and turned away.  Finally I stood before the wide wooden double doors at the end of the room.  Kiché made his way to my side from where he had been laying quietly in a corner, waiting for me.  I looked back the way I came, down the length of the hall, and saw all the faces familiar and strange swirling around and occasionally looking back at me.  I stayed there long enough to catch their eyes one more, trying to tie us together one last time before turning to one of the guards flanking the doors.  There was nothing more to do, nothing more to say.  I had said my farewells to my companions, taken leave of my friends, and while my heart was heavy with their loss, it was also oddly buoyed by the knowledge that if ever the need arose again one day, they would stance by my side once more.

“Are you ready my lady?” the guard asked innocently.  I took a deep breath and nodded.  He opened the doors wide and I heard a mummer of all those gathered beyond that rose swiftly to a crescendo of a roar of approval as the populace caught sight of who was coming out.  Raising my chin and squaring my shoulders, I took the first step on the road to a new life, my faithful hound forever by my side.

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