The cool, clean water of the river caressed my bare legs as I waded to the center of the current and slipped my hands under the surface.  Bent over, my fingers danced across the stones along the bottom, picking up and discarding each as I came to them.  A whimper from the riverbank caught my attention and I turned to see my Mabari war hound Kiché looking at me curiously, his head cocked.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I said as I turned my attention back to the task at hand.  “You know as well as I do that Shale has a thing for interesting stones.  We’ve been leaving her behind at camp a lot so I thought I might try and find something for her.  You know, as a gift.”

I heard an answering chuff of air from my right and the rustle of the grass as Kiché settled down waiting for me.  I shrugged my shoulders at him as I continued searching, picking up stones, examining stones and putting them back.

“I know, Shale’s line of thinking doesn’t exactly parallel our own when it comes to tokens of appreciation or gratitude, but I’m not going to treat her any different than anyone else in my camp just because she’s made entirely of stone.”

I glanced over at my hound in time to see him yawn and lick his chops at me, managing somehow to look both bored and amused by my antics.  I could only imagine what he saw: here I was, in the middle of a river, my leggings rolled up to my knees, my arms submerged up to the elbow as I searched in the dark for rocks for my golem friend.  I chuckled and shook my head at him, letting the soft sounds of the night wash over me as I searched through the riverbed in the moonlight.

It had been weeks now since we had found the sacred Urn of Ashes and healed Arl Eamon from the poison he had been afflicted with.  With the arl’s backing, we had returned to Denerrim where Eamon called a Landsmeet to challenge Loghain’s right to rule Fereldan.  The Landsmeet would gather all the peers of the realm and we would be allowed to present our case against Loghain, then they would choose their sides and ultimately their fate.

And it was when we returned to Denerrim that Alistair had finally faced the fact that in order to heal our broken homeland, he would have to become king.  He wasn’t very happy about it by any means, but he seemed to accept it.  I think it helped that he knew I backed his claim.

There were those who were calling for Alistair to unite the kingdom by marrying his brother Cailen’s widow, Anora, daughter of Loghain.  Needless to say neither Alistair nor I were happy with the idea.  He felt it was rather awkward to marry his dead brother’s widow and that it would have been betraying me.  And while I would be the first to admit that there was no small amount of jealousy at the thought of the man I loved marrying another woman for duty, the fact that I trusted Anora no more than her father went much further.

I had met Anora, even saved her from imprisonment at the hands of Arl Howe, the bastard that butchered my family.  And I saw in her the same cold, calculating ambition I saw in her father.  I trusted neither of them with the throne or the country, and I was determined to keep it out of their hands at any cost.

As a result we had been travelling the length and breadth of Fereldan once more, gathering support from any corner we could and I had been spending less and less time at the camp with my companions and more at my clearing with Kiché.  Things were moving swiftly now, and soon it would all be over.  I found myself questioning my decisions more and more the closer were got to the end of things.  Was there anything else I could have done?  People I could have helped?  Lives I could have saved?  Did I miss anything that would help us win?  I knew now what people meant when they said that they had the weight of the world on their shoulders.  It certainly felt like it was on mine.

Motion from the riverbank caught my attention and I glanced over to see Kiché looking behind him in the direction of our camp.  Someone was coming, but since he hadn’t leapt to his feet growling like a demon, I knew it was a friend.  Soon enough I saw Wynne emerge from the tree line and head towards us, the moonlight glinting off her white hair, turning it silver.  She wore her blue mage robes and had brought her enchanter’s staff with her, a concession to the war we found ourselves in and the battles we had fought.

“Lurianna,” Wynne called, the soft swish of her footsteps through the thick grass coming closer.  “Could I have a word with you my dear?”  She smiled gently at me.

“Of course Wynne,” I nodded to the stone next to me.  “Pull up a rock.”

“I wished to speak to you about some of the decisions that you have made recently,” Wynne explained matter of factly as she settled herself on the cold granite, setting her staff on the ground beside her.  “They seem…inconsistent with the woman I have thought you to be.”  Wynne was the most diplomatic of my companions, but she also had the capability to be quite direct when she felt the situation required it.

“And what kind of a woman do you think I am?” I asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.  All joking aside, I was genuinely curious as to what she thought of me.  Wynne had seen many more years than me, I valued her advice and opinions in everything and she had taken to filling in my mother’s shoes a bit since I lost her months ago.  Was it any wonder that I was eager to know that she thought well of me?

Wynne was the first of my companions to join me on my crusade if you didn’t count Alistair or Morrigan.  She was the first mage I met when entering the Circle Tower at Lake Calenhad, searching for a way to save Arl Eamon’s son from the demon that possessed him.  But instead of finding a cabal of mages deep in thought and study, we found a tower in disarray and the Templars, whose jobs it was to watch and police the mages, waiting for the order to come down from the Chantry to wipe them all out because one of them had delusions of grandeur and released demons upon the tower.

I couldn’t let that happen.  Never mind the fact that I need the mages alive to save Connor and fight in the Blight, I was not about to let a wholesale slaughter occur because of the fallibility of one mage.  Wynne had gathered the children who were living at the tower by the entrance and sealed off the one entryway to the rest of the tower to keep them safe.  I was impressed at the strength that it took for her to keep the barrier up.  Wynne was a self-proclaimed old woman, but was strong despite her apparent frailty.  Her achievement was even more impressive when I learned later that her health was fast fading due to a Fade spirit that had attached itself to her life force when she was a child.  The spirit meant well at the time, but unfortunately whenever it need to use its gifts to help Wynne, it used a little bit of her un-replenishable said life force to do so.  In the end, the very spirit who sought to aid her was, in fact, slowly killing her.

Wynne chuckled.  “You are a young woman, still learning but certain of your place in the world.  I admit when we first met I was concerned about how one as young and sheltered as you would cope with the sudden responsibility that was thrust upon you.  You lost your family, were drafted into the Grey Wardens and thrown into the middle of a Blight, all within such a short time.  I wondered if you would rise to the occasion and do as your duty commanded, or if you would simply go through the motions, doing only so much as you needed to benefit yourself.”

I kept silent, not rising from my search.  I had a feeling I knew what this was about, and what prompted it.

“Until we approached Denerrim,” she continued, “my concerns were unfounded.  Your actions had proven you to be a kind, honest woman, helping those less fortunate than yourself and steadfast in your beliefs.  But then we entered the city and you seem to be more ambiguous in your morality.  I must admit my dear, I am becoming concerned.”

I nodded in understanding.  “You watch me go from saving kittens stuck up trees to taking contracts and doing favors for crime lords, assassins, and smugglers.”  I eyed Wynne shrewdly.  “You see me helping the mages guild with one hand, and betraying them on the other.”

At least Wynne had the grace to look a little abashed at that.  I had long ago become acquainted with the mage’s guild, a group of mages operating outside the influence of the circle and hiring out odd jobs they needed done to any willing adventurer.  Harvest some herbs, deliver some potions, find some magical sites for them to research, that sort of thing.  Normally, I dealt fairly with all my business partners, but my last interaction with the guild left a bad taste in my mouth so to speak, and it was no surprise that Wynne was concerned.  I straightened from the water with a sigh, wiping my hands mostly dry on my tunic as I waded towards my friend and settled myself on the stone beside her.

We sat silently together on the rocks for a moment as I contemplated my answer.  Kiché rose from his place long enough to amble over next to us and lie down beside me.

“Everything I do Wynne, I do for a reason,” I started slowly, carefully choosing my words as I spoke. “Not for a fancy, or a whim, or because of someone else’s wants or needs.  And yes, I will freely admit that these reasons directly benefit me.” I looked at Wynne.  “I help everyone when and where I can, because in the end, everyone can help me.”

Looking back across the river, I let my hand fall to my side and absentmindedly scratched Kiché behind the ears as I continued.  “The dwarves, the elves, the mages, all are mine to call upon when we face the Darkspawn army at last, and all because of the aid I lent them.” I began ticking off on my fingers.  “The Crows will no longer be a threat to any of us because of the contracts I took.  And those crime lords can provide me with invaluable information on the inner workings of the city because of the favors I did for them.”

“And the mages collective?” Wynne interrupted.  “Why do you help them only to betray them?”

I sighed.  “I do not understand the plight of the mages as you do Wynne, for I am not one.  But that does not mean I am not sympathetic or do not emphasize with them.” I shrugged.  “They want me to help innocent mages from being condemned, sure.  Corral some apostates, I’m all for it.  Hunt down malificar, and I’m in.  But even you must agree Wynne, that passing those Lyrium potions to Templars as a bribe…” my voice trailed off as I shook my head.  “Even that was too much.”

“Mages should not be locked away to live out their lives like thieves in a cage, or bugs in a jar.  But until things change, the Templars are just doing their job, and I cannot condone purposely feeding an addiction that will eventually drive them mad and kill them.”

Templars were essentially knights of the church, and were tasked with watching mages throughout the course of their lives to ensure that they did not use their magic for ill or summoned creatures of the fade to corrupt our world and wreak havoc.

Mages consumed Lyrium potions to fuel the spells that they cast, and in order to protect themselves and others from mages, Templars did as well, albeit to a lesser degree than their charges.  In most cases, the consumption of Lyrium gave the Templars the strength they needed to withstand any outside magical attacks, at least long enough to put up a physical defense.  But sometimes Templars formed an addiction to the blue potion, an addiction that affects the mind as well as the body and eventually drives the person mad.

I had received a task to deliver some Lyrium potions to a group of Templars as a bribe to look the other way during some shadier mage dealings.  I took the potions but turned them over to a knight captain, thus ensuring the persecution and imprisonment of all parties involved, mage and Templar.

I couldn’t do it.  I was willing to do a lot of things in order to win this war, but something inside me said that was going too far.

“My father always told me that in order to be a good leader you need to do what is right.  And failing that, what needs to be done,” I said aloud suddenly.

“You father, Bryce Cousalnd,” Wynne mused.  “I never met him, but I heard he was a great man.”

I nodded.  “That’s all I’m trying to do Wynne.  We’ve all been picked up by the scruff of our necks like newborn Mabari and dropped into the middle of this Blight.  We’re all fighting to win here, and you’re all looking to me for guidance.”  I scrubbed my face with my hand, feeling so much older than my years.  What was it about a person’s life that aged them so?

“Everything I’ve done up until now has been because I felt it was the right thing to do,” I continued.  “I sided with Lord Harromont among the dwarves, because my only other choice was a prince who quite possibly committed patricide.  I lifted the curse Zaknafaen laid upon those humans because they had done him no wrong.  I didn’t kill Zaknaefan because of the grief he carried for his murdered children.  I convinced the Templars that there were no abominations hiding among the mages, not only because that’s what I believed or because I needed the mages, but because I could not condemn everyone left alive in that tower because someone might be an abomination.”

I laughed suddenly, a short, harsh bark of humorless sound.  Wynne looked at me, startled.  “In all honestly, I don’t think its right to help everyone I have in Denerrim.  The crime lords, the Crows,” I shook my head.  “I’m not sure what I did was right, but it’s what I felt was needed.”

Finally facing Wynne, I shrugged and smiled sadly.  “I guess in a way you’re right Wynne.  I am morally ambiguous.  I do what I think is best in any given situation.  Damn the consequences and damn what others think.”

Wynne and I sat in contemplative silence for a few moments before she spoke again.

“That is a dangerous path to tread my dear,” she said softly to me.  “You must be careful not to lose yourself to the darkness that we see all around us.  You must keep that sense of right and wrong that your father instilled in you else I fear we will all be lost.”

This time when I laughed, it was real and cleansing.  By her words, Wynne had accepted my reasoning and understood me a little better now, hopefully.  I grinned at my mage friend.

“That’s what I got you for Wynne,” I glanced back towards the camp.  “That’s why I have all of you.  To remind me what we’re fighting for and to bring me back if I walk too far off the ledge.”

Wynne nodded to herself, picked up her staff and rose off the stone she was sitting on.  Dusting off the seat of her robes she smiled at me.   “I’m glad we had this talk my dear,” she said softly as she patted my shoulder.  “My heart feels lighter for it, and I am glad you confided in me.  But now I’ll leave you to your solitude, and meet you back at camp later.”

And with another smile at me Wynne turned and head back the way she had come, leaving me sitting on the cold stone and staring up once more the stars, my hound by my side.