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Heed well my words, for the Maker has spoken; Seven shall step forth to put the wrong

to right. The king who is no king but the protector, The wizened, living on borrowed life The exiled one, sinful in innocence The silver knight, his soul dead The hunter, hunting that which does not exist The lost, anger lighting the way And the guardian, the protectors queen. These shall spring forth to end once and for all The blight that began with the mortals pride.
* * *

The summons came on a very rainy day, the sort of day when men got restless and women sat inside and drank tea. The messenger, as was predictable, was soaked. His cloak was dripping rain all over the floor, and his boots would need thorough drying before the hearth. The horse was taken to the stables to be dried down with a thick cloth by the stablesmaster. The wind was cold and it howled as if it was not pleased with the current turn of the situation. I have an urgent message from Anderfels, he told the man who seemed to be in charge. For who? The Hero of Ferelden. The messenger was then made to wait for three hours until the said hero returned from the mission. Her party was on a raid, the man said, a routine hunt for the darkspawn that sometimes came out from the Deep Roads. He was dozing off in front of the fire when he heard footsteps that were quickly approaching his chamber: one was clearly wearing soft leather boots, another was heavier and he could hear the rattle of an armour, perhaps a sword banging into a shield. There were also voices. A woman was talking to a man. Not emotionally, no; the woman was just discussing matters, explaining something. Arian told me hes seeing dreams again, she was saying. But this cant be another Blight. We just had one! I know. Her voice was a clear contralto. But Arturo told me something similar as well. And you? A pause. Not yet. Im not saying I believe its a Blight, but do we even know where the next ones going to be? The mans voice had taken on a slight, plaintive note. I mean, the archdemon can be anywhere. We just stumbled on it in Bownammar by pure dumb luck. Please dont remind me, the womans voice said. I nearly fell off that cliff, remember? Thats one of my would not like to revisit moments. I caught you. I nearly fell off. I still caught you. I know. Laughter. What would I do without you? Then footsteps continued, and the door suddenly opened. There stood a woman and a man. The woman was an elf, her pointed ears slightly peeking from the dark hair that was cut right above the shoulders. She only reached the mans neck or so; the man was clearly human, tall and well-built, his blond hair cropped close to his scalp. They

the man was clearly human, tall and well-built, his blond hair cropped close to his scalp. They were still wearing cloaks, and both had long blades on their backs. The two were wearing Grey Warden-issued gear, the man in heavy armour and the woman in reinforced robes. There were bloodstains on the cloth of their gear, and he could see black, thick liquid smattered in their hair. Their faces were clean, however. But where was the Hero? He had heard that he was a tall man with jet black hair and electric blue eyes, well-built, and had a deep voice that could send glass shattering if he wished to. He looked to see if there was a third, and did not see any. Nope, just the two. The woman looked ordinary, and she could not hide a yawn as they sat down. Was the man in command of the woman? Probably; the woman was an elf, after all, and she seemed to defer to him. Maybe his servant? The messenger hastily got to his feet, but the man quickly gestured. Sit down. You must be tired. Thank you, ser he was quickly interrupted by the man again. Alistair, please. Im not so big into titles. The woman had went over to the fire and was pouring herself a cup of tea. Pour me one, he said to her. The woman made a gesture of acknowledgement, and brought over two cups with the fragrance of tisane in the air. As soon as they sat down, he looked around. I have an urgent message for Hero of Ferelden, the Commander of the Grey of Orlais. The man gestured to his companion, who was bringing the teacup to her lips with a clear lack of interest in the visitor. Youre talking to her. The messenger stared. This elf was it?! She looked well, she was not what he had expected. He had expected a stern commander, perhaps radiating with power, or a grizzled veteran with gruff voice and a levelling gaze. But this woman was neither. She did not look like a Grey Warden at all; her arms were too slim to be wielding swords with ease, and her face was too gentle, her voice too quiet. The only thing that he could accept were her eyes. Startlingly grey, her eyes seemed to see everything about him, yet did not return the favour. Determination and experiences of both joy and sorrow were there. But otherwise, she looked like an elven mage strolling in the White Spire, save for her garb. Then this Alistair must be her companion. Story had it that they had met right before the Battle of Ostagar and had been inseparable ever since. Rumour also had it that Alistair had been heir to the throne of Ferelden, and he had simply given it up to the current reigning queen without much fuss. The messenger observed the man with scepticism. He didnt look much the image of a Grey Warden. His face was too open, his expression too congenial. He almost looked as if he was just out of adolescence, but the lines around his eyes told the messenger otherwise. He took her hand in a manner that told the messenger that this was his habit and without thought, and surprisingly - most female Wardens that he knew were independent, almost angry lot - she let him. The mans large hand almost enveloped hers, but he saw that her hand wasnt small; just slender, with long fingers. There were matching rings on their hands. They were married. The messenger produced a scroll case that had been carried all the way from Weisshaupt. He handed it reverently to the Warden-Commander, who opened it without much thought or hesitation. She quickly scanned it, then showed it to her husband. Well, here it is, she said with a falsely cheerful air. Its official now. "The Blight, or the summons? asked the man. Neither. Were to look for the reason why the raids are increasing in number and frequency. The elven mage made a face. "Evidently something like this happened before, but it

frequency. The elven mage made a face. "Evidently something like this happened before, but it stopped without a cause. Its been documented, but the Warden fortress that kept the records was destroyed some time ago. They stood up. Thank you for delivering this. Have you been attended to? asked the Warden-Commander. Um, no. Ask the quartermaster to put you up. He will provide you with most necessities. Now, if youll excuse us, we need to start getting ready. With hurried footsteps and swirling of cloaks, they departed almost as unceremoniously as they had come in. The messenger stared at the seats where the Wardens had sat just a few moments before, puzzled. The Ander Wardens were grim, grave lot; but these two were starkly different. He remained in the seat for some time, trying to figure things out.
* * *

Alistair and Amarina were not particularly concerned with the messengers opinions about them. They had things that they needed to attend to. For example, they needed to bathe. Darkspawn blood gunked up in Amarinas hair faster than she could cast Tempest, and quartermaster had threatened to stop washing bed linen if people continued to sleep in their beds covered in darkspawn blood. Neither of them cherished the thought of sleeping without clean sheets, and so washing it was. Due to Grey Wardens coming back covered in filth, the compound had installed a water system so that warm water was accessible at all times. It involved a clever rigging of metal pipes and heating that had required quite a few of the mages. Amarina had no idea how it worked, but as far as it worked, she was not very concerned with it. She removed her tunic - that had to be thrown away, it was shredded beyond any hope of repair - and her trousers. That had to be cleaned. She got out of her shift and her smallclothes, resisting the urge to scratch at her healing wound on her arm. By the Maker, it itched like crazy. Throwing her clothes into the laundry basket, she stepped into the tub, shivering. The hot water was almost scalding on her skin and she watched as her feet turned pink from the heat. A jar of soft, brown soap sat in the corner, and she scooped some out and smeared it into her hair. Black clots fell out, trailing black ooze that was mixed with suds of soap. She quickly washed it off with more water, slightly disgusted. It smelled awful. The sewer system for the compound had to be specially designed, due to the toxic nature of darkspawn blood. The water was collected into an underground vat, which was then neutralised with a special potion that was brewed by the mages of the order. It was tedious work. Once she was clean, she opened the little flap on the bottom of the tub that released the water, and stepped out of the tub. She dried herself as the water gurgled out of sight. Dressing herself in a warm gown, she left the bathing room and returned to the suite. Alistair had already returned and was in a chair, dozing. She sat across from him and watched him. He had not changed much since that sunny day in Ostagar no, he had. Grief, responsibility, fear, and difficult decisions had erased the angelic youthfulness from his face a little. He wasnt quite a boy anymore. His hair was still wet, plastered flat onto his scalp, and there was a healing scar on his cheek. Well, she could not just keep staring at him forever. Wake up, Alistair, she said quietly. Huh? His eyes fluttered as sleep threatened to take over him again. I know youre tired, she said. But dont sleep in a chair, youll catch cold. Go to bed. You look sleepy too, he noted. She yawned so largely that he feared her jaw would dislocate. You should take a nap. I another yawn. I think I will.

They crawled into bed and fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows. They had been asleep for several hours when they were roused by a loud knock on the door. WardenCommander! called the voice from outside. Is Warden-Commander in? They sat up, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Stay there, he told his wife. Ill get the door. What? Why? He looked at her general chest area. I can see it. What? She looked down; she then remembered that all she had done was throw on a robe. Now that the tie around her waist was loose, she understood that people could see the contours of her breasts down to her navel. And as much as she did not consider herself the beauty of the order, she also understood that women were scarce and men had needs. Alright. Alistair went to open the door while she sank into the sheets again. The man in the doorway stared at Alistair, who was clearly naked underneath the robe he was wearing, and then looked at the woman in his bed. He was new to the Val Royeaux branch; he had been in Ghislein before as a recruit, and had been sent here to replace old Stephan who had gone to his Calling a few months before. Is that Yes. Thats my wife. What is it? Um Get on with it, man. I havent all day. In the meanwhile, Amarina was slowly dozing off again. The bed was comfortable, warmed by their bodies, but she felt the chill and regretted not dressing properly. The bed smelled of her husband, and she hugged the pillow as she closed her eyes, enjoying the bed. She was almost asleep when her husband returned. What was it? She asked, her voice muffled with the duvet. Just that the reports have arrived from Montsimmard. He slid into bed next to her, then smiled as he saw that she had already fallen back asleep. The battle had not been a skirmish, as they had expected, but rather a full-on engagement. While the warriors and the rogues had been engaged with the genlocks, hurlocks and the shrieks, Amarina had to handle a trio of particularly stubborn emissaries. The battle had drained her. The day passed quickly with things to be done chasing after her like a hound. The two woke up in the afternoon, feeling refreshed and slightly more energetic. Alistair went to the warriors quarters to oversee the training regimen, while Amarina took care of her side of the business. There were household things to be taken care of, Warden matters to be done. She had scant time to make dinner, but thankfully her husband was not a fussy eater. She had finished ironing and was polishing boots and shoes when Gaspard popped his head into their suite. What are you doing? he asked curiously. She shook a rag in her hand, blackened and browned in shoe wax. He saw linen shirts, ironed and folded, lying in an armchair. She sat, crosslegged like a Rivaini pirate, dressed in white loose-fitting linen shirt and leather breeches. Polishing shoes? Ironing shirts? Why? There are people who can do it for you. Amarina snorted. Im not letting another woman touch Alistair, Gaspard. Even his feet? Exactly. Hes mine. She looked curious as he began snickering. Whats so funny? Nothing. He continued snickering. Her possessiveness of her husband was a little endearing, but all in all, funny. She had no problems letting him wander around the Free Marches and come back with scrapes and bruises, but Maker forbid if some other woman even touched his linen. Alistair wasnt handsome; pleasant to look at yes, but he lacked the delicate

touched his linen. Alistair wasnt handsome; pleasant to look at yes, but he lacked the delicate grace handsome faces had. He supposed Alistairs heritage as the bastard prince and the stories that the bards told were enough to set some women tittering. She put the boot down. What is it, Gaspard? I was actually looking for Alistair, but youll suffice. Thank you, she said dryly. I heard that you got a missive from Anderfels. She was smearing brown shoe wax onto her boot. Yes, she said without looking up. Did it list anyone else? Anyone who can help, she said as she vigorously rubbed the leather. Well, it mentioned Alistair and me specifically, but it also said any veterans. And no, I havent a clue whats happening, she confessed. Which makes me nervous. Id rather know about another archdemon waking up than walking into it in the middle of Deep Roads. But surely you didnt come for gossip. Or did you? Not really. Truth is, Im tired of raids, and I was wondering who you were bringing with you. Surely you dont mean to go just by yourselves? That would be a bit foolhardy. She tightened the laces on her boot, then began to work on the other. Would you like to come? I was going to ask around on who would be so sick of Orlais to come to Ferelden and Maker knows where else, but Id rather have a friend than someone I dont know very well. Done! said the man happily. When are we leaving? In a few weeks or so. As soon as I get everything done. Do you reckon Levian would like to come along? Gaspard grinned mischievously. Actually, he was the one who told me about it. I see. Id rather have a healer with us, so well have to look around, but I think thats set, then. She finally finished taking care of footwear. We should start getting ready. Id rather leave before snow starts falling in the Frostback. I heard the mountains become incredibly difficult to cross. It is, said the man who had nearly been snowed in the Anderfel mountains when he previously had gone to Weisshaupt. Even at the best season mountains can be tricky. Amarina, who was vigorously washing hands in a basin and scrubbing her nails clean, dried her hands on a towel. Well, lets go then. Well find Alistair and Levian, and get started. The men seemed rather relieved to be going, which made the Warden-Commander the only one who was reluctant to leave. As the men made several banters that clearly informed her that they were happy with the prospect of the journey, she sighed. Men were always men; why couldnt they just be content with staying in one place and living in domesticity? When their bantering had reached the point of we need to pack a deck of cards and Gaspard, you owe me five royals from the round of Diamondback last week, she finally saw the need to intervene. Boys, boys, she said in an exasperated voice, this is not some grand adventure in some Orlesian epic. It might become one, considering youre in it, Gaspard pointed out. You seem to attract trouble like prostitutes to nobles. Or we might end up darkspawn fodder in some back road in Nevarra. That sobered the men up considerably. Why do you always need to feel like spoiling the sport? grumbled the Dalish elf. Somebody has to. With all the hoopla youre doing, it sounds like were going to a party.

And here my wife sees the need to dampen our cheer. Youre not usually glum like this. Whats wrong? Glad to see youre on my side, as always, said the accused wife. The reason Im glum is because Weisshaupt said to look, but not the reason. Its either they cant tell me because its too secret, or they think well run as fast as our legs can carry us away from Anderfels if we knew the reason. My guess is the latter. Youve defeated the archdemon, killed The Architect, defeated the Harvester and a varterral. What can scare you away? The ex-Templar and the mage looked at each other. Another archdemon, said the two Fereldans in unison. You survived. By pure dumb luck! Alistair snapped; Amarina recoiled a little. She knew exactly what he had done to save both their lives, and shed be damned if he had to do it again. Once was enough. The fact that Morrigan bore him a child while she could not still nagged at her like a sore tooth. He told her he was not concerned, and she knew he wasnt lying, but that did not mean she wasnt concerned either. Not that luck had not been involved prior to the final moment. Alistairs chest burn would never heal completely; the scar was still there, the faint discolouration where the chestpiece of his armour had nearly melted into his skin. They could have both died from their wounds even after the Archdemon had been defeated. The air significantly lost its cheer after that. While they continued to discuss the tasks that had to be taken care of, correspondences to be answered and supplies to be purchased, a mage recruit came running in, begging for Alistairs help. A mage and a Templar recruit were fighting, he said, and it was getting out of control. Alistair went out in a run. A few minutes later, another recruit came in, asking Amarina to please sort out the recruit records as someone had mixed them up and they were now a mess. Well, there isnt much point discussing things now, Amarina said as she stood up. I say meet back later when we dont have things hounding our backs. And that was that. Gaspard walked off to send a message to his father. Levian sat in the room, staring into the teacup and wondering if this would be just a small task again, or part of something that was far larger than it seemed.
* * *

Alistairs task of keeping peace between the Templars and the mages in the Order was much harder than it looked. For one thing, nobody understood that being an ex-Templar and having a mage wife would have made him understand both sides. When he sided with the mages, the Templars whispered that he was just doing that because of his wife (evidently no one realised that the person who received the most of his Templar skills was, in fact, his wife), and when he sided with his former brothers-in-arms, the mages murmured that old habits and old beliefs never went away. Which drove him crazy. But this contentious pair was the worst so far. Gelsomina, a blood mage who had been rescued from execution by the Templars, and the Templar Leonard Durand probably would not have lasted a few minutes in the same room, let alone on a mission. It did not help that Gelsomina seemed far busier seducing the men than attending to her duties, and that she seemed to feel superior to others because she was a mage. Durand did not seem to grasp the concept that he was no longer a Templar, and that mages, maleficar or not, were no longer his concern. Alright, thats enough! he yelled as he followed the youngster who came to fetch him into

Alright, thats enough! he yelled as he followed the youngster who came to fetch him into the large room. The two paid scant attention to the Senior Warden, who was standing with arms crossed, looking very irritated. Alistair was generally an amicable man, but most of those close to him knew not to make him angry. Amarinas anger came in small bursts, but once Alistair exploded, nothing could stop him. His wife generally made it a point to apologise before his anger grew after a few fights earlier on in their relationship that resulted in broken furniture. Once Alistair Theirin put his foot down, there was no changing his mind, Makers help or no. But these two had no idea. His irritation mounted until his colleagues went scuttling away for safety. He did not notice, as he was too busy counting to fifty before unleashing his irritation on the hapless duo. He hadnt battled emissaries for so long without picking up a few tricks; one of them involved knocking the mage out clean off the feet. He concentrated for a moment, then unleashed his will, smiting both with a tremendous bang that left them stunned and dazed. Stop it this instant! He bellowed. By the Maker, you two fight each other more than you fight darkspawn! Stop it! The two stood, still stunned. Durand! He pointed a sword at the Templar. The blade blazed a happy blue as it was unsheathed from the scabbard; there was a flowing script running down the blade that said In War, Victory. I know you were a Templar, but good god, man, youre a Grey Warden now! It doesnt matter if shes a maleficarum or not, as far as shes fighting darkspawn! And you! he now waved his sword at the woman. Stop picking fights with the Templars! Youre a Grey Warden first. You dont see Warden-Commander picking fights with the Templars, do you?! The Warden-Commander warms the bed of one, Gelsomina retorted. Alistair brushed the insult off. One did not keep order in this rowdy group of people from all walks of life by taking insults personally, and it was common knowledge that he was married to her. If you two fight again, he threatened, Im going to shut you two in the Deep Roads for a week. That might teach you to cooperate. Whats the problem? He turned and saw his wife, her arms filled with scrolls. Two Wardens stood behind her, their arms also loaded with scrolls. Why are you here? he asked. I was on the way to the quartermaster when I heard a loud bang. I thought something exploded. Oh, that was me. He sheathed his sword, which was still cheerfully spitting out blue sparks. Sorry. Its not your fault. She stood, feet apart, frowning at the two who were coming out of the stunned daze. Just let me know if those two decide to destroy the compound. Well need to initiate evacuation drill. With a ghost of a chortle, she walked away, her lackeys in tow. He smiled fondly at her. Many women, like Anora, often took over and ran mens lives. Not her. Shed help if he asked for it, but otherwise she left him to his own devices. He had initially feared that the stubborn woman would insist on running his life - not that he minded that too much, but he did appreciate some autonomy - but to his surprise and dismay, she did no such thing. Instead, she carried on like she always had. Her life as a Circle mage had taught her to treat men just as she would women, and that placed her apart from Anora, who was the dominant partner in her marriage with Cailan, or Isolde, who was the exact opposite. Seeing his wife and remembering her search for a healer brought him an idea. Gelsomina, you trained as a healer, he said, his expression asking for confirmation. The woman, barely out

you trained as a healer, he said, his expression asking for confirmation. The woman, barely out of girlhood, nodded. The Warden-Commander is looking for a healer, he explained. You will accompany her to Anderfels. What?! You heard me, he replied to her outburst. Otherwise well return to the compound to see a full-blown war. Start preparing. But Ive never gone into the wilderness! And theres always a first for everything. Now, get going. Youll have lots to do. We leave in a few weeks. Without giving a pause, he ushered the girl out, then watched as the girl stalked away. As soon as she was out of eyesight, Durand looked at him. That was No, I dont want to hear a word out of you, the was-to-be king snapped. Well Not. One. Word. He turned on his heels and left to find his wife to tell her that her search was over. He was slightly worried - Gelsomina was going to be a trouble - but Amarina had handled worse. Feeling slightly better about the incident, he set off to search for his wife, who was so busy these days it seemed that she never stayed in one place for more than ten minutes. He found her with the quartermaster, who was arguing with the Warden-Commander. He was known as one of the very few people who could talk her down and overrule her. He was an elderly man with rheumy eyes and a slightly hunched back, but that evidently did not hinder him from going about his business. He was the one who took care of everything that went on in the compound, and it was generally known that there was nothing that went on within the compound that this man did not know. Alistair had a disturbing thought that he probably even knew what went on in their bedroom, every fight they had, his favourite kind of cheese. I cant get all this in a week, the quartermaster said stubbornly. I know, Guillaume. But were leaving soon. She cocked her head and wore a pleading expression, which she rarely did with him. Please? Impossible. Is there anything I can do to convince you otherwise? No. I cant get this many potions in a week. Fine. Ill make the rest. She threw her hands in the air and sighed in defeat, then turned her head and saw her husband, who was watching the exchange with a very amused look on his face. I hope that exchange was entertaining, Alistair. At least someone can have a laugh. I found you a healer. Her face brightened. Is that so? Who? Gelsomina. Without a word, she yanked him out the quartermasters office. What did you say? She demanded as soon as the quartermaster was out of earshot. Gelsomina Felandera. She stared into his golden eyes and he stared back. She lost the staring match. I hope youre jesting, she whispered. That girl is one archdemon short of a Blight, Alistair. Why do I feel like weve had this conversation before? he wondered. Dont deflect. Are you serious? I thought it'll knock out two birds with one stone. You said you were looking for a healer, and leaving those two in the same compound would be a bad idea.

I hope you know what youre doing was the murmur he received. Jader and Montsimmard refused to keep her, you know. We had to take her in. I know, I know. He patted her hair soothingly. Have you eaten? He did not wait for her answer, as she had to think for a moment. Clearly, you havent. Come on. I have to go and No. Youre eating. Last thing I need is for you to pass out in middle of a spell. Amarina did not object any further as she may have done in the past, but silently followed him. He had gotten a little more assertive, she noted, over the past few years or perhaps she had become more pliant. Regardless, he was leading her more and following her less. It was odd, in a way, since in the beginning Alistair had reminded her slightly of a big shaggy dog, following her everywhere and never asserting himself. She supposed he had gotten used to her. Alistair was generally shy around new people, often deflecting questions with banter. But after that initial stage was over, he began to show his true colours, some of them rather acerbic, depending on who you were. His comments could be just as biting as Morrigans. Alistair managed to load more food than she could eat onto her plate, as usual, which was quite a lot, with both being Grey Wardens. But then again, he loaded the same amount onto his own and managed to finish it in its entirety down to the last drop of sauce, so perhaps it was just the difference of physique. Amarina had never been the most robust; she had never been terribly sick, but she had often come down with chills and head colds throughout her youth. There had been a very persistent cold when she was seventeen that had forced her to sneeze and cough for an entire week non-stop. Her body had filled out into a womanly form during her adolescence, but she would never be a buxom maiden like Lily. She had once envied the more curvaceous apprentices that she studied with, but had given that faint dream up long ago after seeing a few terrible failures by her fellows that involved enhancing breasts. They generally ended up in the infirmary with embarrassing effects and a very irate healer. She had been all long, thin limbs as a child, and she seemed to be cursed with the thin bones in adulthood. There wasnt much point in crying about it. You didnt finish, he accused when he saw her sit back, napkin on the table. She stared at him. This is enough for three, Alistair. I just dont want the potatoes, Ive eaten bread. And I can snap your wrist with my right hand. You could always do that, if you tried. Also true; her wrists had been so small it had easily fit into his hand. Many times he had taken advantage of it while holding her down when the fight got a bit more physical than either had intended, which had been often during the first two years of their marriage. Two stubborn people trying to get their own ways generally did not end peacefully. Alistair sat back and watched as Amarina meticulously peeled off the skin of a peach with her knife, then slice the peach into wedges. She ate slowly and methodically, concentrating on the fruit as if it was her last meal. The fruit was the white variety, and he noted with some humour that the skin of the peach was exactly the same hue as his wifes own skin. She always had a penchant for fresh fruit. Right, Im done, she said finally as she finished chewing on the last slice of the fruit. I have to go and finish the missives. Can you tell Levian and Gaspard to start checking on their supplies? Ill go get your sword from the smithy. Did you want Vigilance? Her sword had to be

Ill go get your sword from the smithy. Did you want Vigilance? Her sword had to be repaired after she parried a dagger away from her face a few weeks before. She thought for a moment. No, Ill stick to Spellweaver I think. Right. The two left the Mess Hall and went to attend to their own tasks. The smith grumbled that the Warden-Commander had no idea how to use a sword, and he had to bite down a wry smile. Amarina had never trained as a warrior, and lacked the basic discipline to be one. She had the knowledge of being an arcane warrior and was probably the very last in Thedas, but her primary training had been in wielding the arcane. At precisely the fifth hour, the announcements went up in the Mess Hall. The Wardens crowded around it, reading the commands from their Warden-Commander. Some of them were mundane, but others were more serious; three, in particular, was in regards to the expedition they were planning. It made an announcement that Amarina Theirin, Alistair Theirin, Gaspard de Soliere, Levian Rahndael, Gelsomina Felandera and one other would venture out into the Anderfels to answer the summons of the First Warden. Another announced that while the Commander of the Grey was in absentia, the Senior Warden Adrian Vega was to act in her stead. Et cetera. Each was signed by the elven Warden-Commander, and was stamped with the official seal of the Grey Wardens. The colour of the seal was yellow, which was the designated colour for Orlais. Of course, there was a stampede to the office of the Commander of the Grey as soon as the majority finished reading the announcements. Alistair went ahead of them by going through their suite and knocked on the door. Amarina opened it immediately, and a look of relief came across her face when she saw who it was. It was curious, really, since only he had access to the suite other than herself. Hiding out here, my dear wife? He asked as he entered her office. The office was cluttered with maps on the walls, quills on the desk, books stacked on the floor and scrolls in an armchair by the bookcase. The room also smelled faintly of lyrium and, for some reason, peonies. It was an odd combination but not unpleasant. Not very successfully, she replied as she kissed him as a greeting. Her breath smelled of tisane. I can hear them coming. He grinned at her. You sound as if theyre darkspawn. Theyre worse. I cant cut them down or freeze them then shatter them. Would you like to have some tea? Alistair said yes, and so a few minutes later he sat in her armchair, nursing a cup of fragrant tisane with citrus peels. She was in her Warden blue again, probably to give herself an air of authority. She wasnt a very authoritative figure; she was too petite, too slender to be so, and her face was far too soft for that. She looked a trifle uncomfortable in it. Generally, she wore thin gowns and soft linen shirts in privacy. She never was the one to wear any sort of armour if she did not need to. There was a sharp rap on the door. Come in, said the Warden-Commander without looking up; she was studying a letter from Avernus, who was regularly sending her updates on his research. She was also funding his projects, much to others dismay. As the Warden-Commander of Orlais she personally received quite a large stipend, which generally ended up in a chest in her office, unused. Her section in the vault was nearly overflowing with precious gems and trinkets that she had picked up through her travels. But all she seemed to value were personal gifts from her friends and the rose Alistair had given her when they initially embarked on this

gifts from her friends and the rose Alistair had given her when they initially embarked on this relationship. The door creaked open, and there stood a dozen Wardens, each wearing a different expression. What is the meaning of this?! The dark-skinned Antivan demanded, while others clamoured in, some in question, some in plain anger, some in agreement and some just to make noise. Amarina stared at them blankly for a moment. One at a time, please. Adrian, you first. What do you mean, Im in charge?! The Antivan demanded. Is this some kind of a trick? No trick, Senior Warden, she replied soothingly. Amarina knew Adrian was not happy with her being named the Warden-Commander; for one thing, she was significantly younger than he was, and for another, she was an elf and a woman, and he retained all the prejudices Antivans had. This was going to be tricky. I thought you knew the Wardens the best, and therefore you would be the best to serve the order as the leader while I am gone. You lie! She shrugged. If that makes you happy, Senior Warden, then by all means, do believe that. But my order remains. Alistair watched with amusement as the man left the office, nearly frothing at the mouth. The Wardens that followed in had various things to say, some very unpleasant, some purely peculiar, and some others just pleas to let them join the expedition. Amarina evaded the insults skillfully, sent the peculiar ones back on their way, and informed them that applications to join the expedition must be written, not verbally delivered. In an hour the crowd in front of her office was gone, leaving a very tired Warden-Commander and her very amused husband in the office. Amarina stretched her arms, and then sprawled onto the desk in a defeated manner. I think Im done for the day, she declared. The letters to Jader and Montsimmard have to wait. I really cant bother to do anything now. Why do you need to send letters to Montsimmard and Jader? To maintain the status quo. I dont want Adrian ruling with an iron fist. I like the two outposts maintaining their autonomy. She stood up and began to pull off her long blue surcoat. After a few moments of struggling, she managed to pull it off her head; she tossed the tunic behind her, then stretched languidly like a cat. That feels much better. The evening was spent quietly; Gaspard came over to share the meal, which was galimafree with rye bread. As they ate, they discussed the road to Anderfels, what to pack, and what to watch out for. As Gaspard was the only one who had been there before, the two Fereldan Wardens found his advice invaluable. Quietly but quickly, the Wardens began to prepare inexorably for a very long and difficult journey.
* * *

Opalia came and went. The city of Val Royeaux celebrated the harvest festival with much grandeur, and the Wardens were not immune to its merriment. Casks of wine were opened, and the tables were laden with food in the Mess Hall, and the Wardens, generally grim people with doom hanging over their heads most of the time, shed their grim fate for a week and basked in the joy of drinking and tomfoolery. The Commander of the Grey of Orlais was generally invited over to some parties with her husband, and was therefore generally away during these events. The Wardens got generous donations from the nobles after they had heard how this slight elven woman had quelled the Blight and had saved Thedas from destruction. Much to Amarinas dismay, this meant donations - which she more than welcomed - but also required attendance to whatever festivities they saw

- which she more than welcomed - but also required attendance to whatever festivities they saw fit to hold. And Opalia was no exception. Two Fereldans at Celenes party, she mumbled as she pulled on a stiff surcoat of the Wardens over her dress. Loghain would have had an apoplectic fit. Alistair, who was pulling on a grey hose, looked up. I wonder how my brother was going to pull off divorcing Anora and marrying Celene, you know. Amarina stopped her hand. Not once had Alistair referred to Cailan as brother. But it had been years since the Battle of Ostagar; perhaps his wounds were beginning to heal. She also had a distinct feeling that this was perhaps because he had a family now, namely, herself and his friends. He had told her once that he had always felt a gaping hole made by the fact that he was an orphan with no family to call his, and that she had mended it when they had gotten married. Over the years she had learned that while Alistair looked a simpleton, he was just as complicated as Zevran was. But that, Leliana had said, was just who the men were. Ugh. She shifted her shoulders slightly. I hate breast girdles. The Orlesian fashion was much more advanced than Fereldan, and there were many parts to the female dress that made absolutely no sense. For the Warden-Commander who was usually dressed in brown trousers and a linen shirt, things like breast girdle and snood just seemed excessive and unnecessary. It wasnt like Amarina could wear the bejewelled crespine, anyway. Her hair was too short. Alistair watched his wife as he dressed himself. She looked very good in the Warden blue; the kirtle was grey with trains to honour the formal occasion, and the surcoat was made of deep blue velvet, lined with silvery grey silk that bore the her heraldry, a griffon with a single white rose in its beak. Her dark hair was as usual, shorn just above the shoulders. A brown belt cinched the surcoat at her waist, the buckle adorned with a silver griffon. What are you looking at? his wife asked curiously as she finished buckling her belt. He tore his eyes away from her and resumed his task. He pulled on the grey cotehardie, then the blue houppelande. The outer garment was made of the same blue velvet as Amarinas surcoat, and was lined with the similar fabric, but his rose was red, not white. He picked up a similar belt to his wifes, although made from a bit wider leather, and began wrapping it around his hip. Amarina was putting on the baldric; as the Warden-Commander of Orlais she was allowed to come into the Empress presence armed with a blade. The blade, however, was more ornamental than anything else for her. Her Spellweaver and Vigilance were in their stands beside her desk in her office. Magically imbued with untold powers, they were magnificent weapons that had slain more than one could count. In half an hour, they were dressed and ready. Swords were sheathed in their baldrics, the surcoat and houppelande worn and cinched. They blew out the candles and left the suite. Alistair heard the commotion in the Mess Hall and turned his head, a forlorn expression on his face. Im sorry, said the elven mage. I dont want to go either, but we have to appease the nobility. They are our patrons, after all. I know. He resumed walking again. Its just that Hm? Well, Id rather spend the evening with you alone. The tone of his voice hinted that if he had his way, they wont be sleeping very much that evening. The Commander of the Grey blushed. Gaspard de Soliere joined them at the door; as the son of a powerful duke, he knew almost everyone who was coming to the party. He was dressed similarly to the Fereldans, his blond hair swept behind his ears and tied with a blue ribbon at the nape of his neck. He wore a longsword

swept behind his ears and tied with a blue ribbon at the nape of his neck. He wore a longsword today, one of the Warden issues, with a golden griffon engraved on the hilt. Ah, heres the famous couple, he said with a smile that transformed his otherwise cold face into something that was affable. Looking forward to the party? Alistair laughed. Sure, why not. Its not like I refused the throne to avoid this. But the made-up women! The men clad in silks! The cheeses! Of course. Thats all there is to life. They were carried by a waiting carriage to the palace, the wheels clattering along the cobbled streets through Val Royeaux. People were still awake and walked the streets, but made way for the carriage bearing the mark of the Empress, flanked by silver-armoured chevaliers. There were nobles going to the red light district, merchants closing shops or making last minute deals, messengers doing last minute errands. The Waking Sea lapped against the shores sleepily, the moon singing a soft lullaby. Amarina could see the White Spire in the distance like a ghostly finger of a bone pointing an accusing finger at the sky or the Maker. She was not sure which. The Wardens were shown into the palace when they arrived to the courtyard. The sentries frowned at their long blades on their backs, but a quick bark from the butler sent them away; although the Grey Wardens were under each nations sovereign jurisdiction, the monarchs also understood the importance in their presence, especially after the fiasco in Ferelden in which the regent had successfully wiped out almost all Grey Wardens and placed a bounty on the two surviving members of the Order. After the news spread, they were terrified that without the Wardens, their nation may be overrun a century or two from now. And so, they were freed from many shackles each sovereign placed upon the citizens. Despite Alistairs repeated claim that he had abdicated all rights to the throne of Ferelden, the Orlesians still evidently saw him as the bastard son of Maric and some did not bother to hide their hostilities against the bastard dog prince of Ferelden - that is, until his slender wife came near them. Then they were all oily smiles. Some assumed that the bastard had married the Commander of the Grey to seek her protection, but nobody said it out loud. Alistair ignored them; he was not particularly concerned with the Orlesian nobility, and for better or for worse, the Theodosians owed him and his wife their lives. And he thought that Rabbit was far nobler than some of the Orlesians that deigned to call him names. The Grey Wardens, Alistair and Amarina Theirin! The herald boomed into the hall when the Wardens and the butler walked up to the gilt and heavily jewelled double doors. The two put on a rather tense smile that felt more like a facial exercise. The nobles would be crowding around them in a minute, just so that they could later casually say, oh, I was talking to the Commander of the Grey the other day. It amazed her every time when she realised that people saw different entities in others just because of the titles; the Orlesians evidently saw three or four different people in Alistair, for example, from the bastard son of the usurper to the Commander of the Greys husband to the Grey Warden, but very few seemed to see that at the end of the day, he was just Alistair. Sure enough, some noble lady - minor, from the look of his robe - sidled up to the blond Warden with a smile on her face that seemed a bit too wide for her jaw to be natural. Alistair cast a helpless look at his wife as she drifted away, accosted by some nobleman who was dressed rather opulently in orange and green. She heard Gaspard being announced - not as a Warden, but as the son of a Duke - and turned to face her first opponent. Amarina was not very pleased with the nobleman. He seemed to chatter incessantly, his flow peppered with hiccuppy shrieks of laughter that evidently grated on everyones nerves but his. He chattered about everything from cabbage to kings, unaware that the Warden-Commanders

He chattered about everything from cabbage to kings, unaware that the Warden-Commanders attention had drifted away. Amarinas attention had managed to wander during her own wedding, and it certainly was wandering off now. For some reason, his breath smelled of garlic, and she wondered what in the name of the Maker he had eaten before coming to the party. Most Orlesian foods were not so heavily seasoned. She was about to wrinkle her nose in distaste before she managed to stop herself. By some dumb luck, she heard her name being called in the distance, and realised that she must pay her respects to the Orlesian empress. Excuse me, she said as politely as she could, I must pay my respects to her majesty. Oh, of course! exclaimed the obnoxious man as she hurried away. Patchouli, vervaine and garlic did not go well together, Amarina decided. She wasnt used to men being perfumed, either. Her husband smelled of soap when washed, but mostly leather with a slight tang of metal, and quite often, darkspawn blood. She found her husband being flagged down by a woman who was as thin as a reed, and almost taller than he was. He seemed a bit flustered as the lady chatted away. A wave of sweetsmelling fragrance hit her nose as she approached. But surely, the young lady purred, your highness can spare a few moments alone? Um, no, he replied with a panicked look on his face. And please dont call me your highness. Im just a Grey Warden. But I have heard the tales, how the prince, denied of his throne, still yet dedicated his life to save the country he so loved the woman went on. Alistairs eyes showed relief when he saw his wife approaching. And a plea for rescue. Amarina nodded from behind the noblewoman, a slight smile on her face. Excuse me, she said, but may I have my husband back? We are called to pay our respects to the Empress. The woman became befuddled at once, realising that the woman who stood before her was the Commander of the Grey and the wife of the man she was trying to seduce. I, I beg your pardon, my lady! She mumbled. My humblest apologies when she looked up, the two blue-clad figures were already disappearing into the crowd, the hilts serving as standards to announce their rank and their membership of the Order so old that it predated the Chantry itself. Thanks, Alistair whispered, relieved, as he waded through the crowd of people. Amarinas slender hand found its way into his, and he felt her squeeze. He was aware of the political power his wife could wield, and just why these Orlesians wanted her attention. Even the Empress listened to her when she made her demands, which had happened exactly once before: when she had asked to enter the Great Library of the University of Orlais in search for an ancient tome. Alistair had no doubt that if she wished, his wifed be granted a grand duchy in her name and all sorts of wealth. But what was wealth when you had Calling further down the road in a decade or two? And she seemed to almost squirm away from such things. Good food, gentle breeze, a good nights sleep and a soft bed made her happy. Not a grand duchy. They walked up to the chair where Celene sat. A long table sat before her, loaded with foods from around the world: sugared grapes, exotic dishes, cheeses to name a few. A red carpet extended from where she sat down the steps and a few yards beyond, fringed and embroidered with gold. The Grey Wardens! The herald thundered. Celene nodded languidly, her blond hair held in a silvery net. A delicate crown was perched atop her head, and her gown was of the deepest purple silk. Alistair knelt while Amarina curtsied, heads bent in an air of obeisance.

Welcome, Celene said, her voice commanding power. We thank you for coming, Grey Wardens. We are honoured by your presence. Your majesty is too kind, the Warden-Commander murmured. We are delighted to attend. A lie, but none in presence was crude enough to point it out. Alistair glanced at his wife, who was still curtsying, and it was only the Makers providence that he caught some movement from the corner of his eyes. In one, fluid motion his hand grasped the hilt of the sword, freeing it from the scabbard. The blade sprang to life in a blue fire as he parried away a dagger that had very nearly lodged itself into the elven mages back. There was a piercing scream as a loud clang was heard and a twang as an arrow was released from a bow somewhere in the room. The dagger fell onto the floor. Surprised and shocked, the Warden-Commander got to her feet swiftly, turning around to see who had tried to kill her; but the crowd was already pressing in, and the assassin, if he had still tarried, was now hidden behind the throng. Alistair picked up the blade, now notched on one side from the impact of the parry. He showed it to his wife. Antivan, he said. She nodded in agreement, not paying attention to the reigning monarch of Orlais or her subjects. Crows, she said, tracing the flying bird on the hilt of the blade. Did anyone see who did it? I did, said a mans voice. I killed him. The two turned to see a man, a bit older than they, walking up toward the throne with a dead body dragging behind him. Several women screamed at the body with the arrow protruding from its forehead. The man was dressed in a white armour and had a longbow on his back; he was tanned but had vividly blue eyes that almost seemed green depending on the light. His hair was chestnut brown and he had a serious countenance, as if he had known both sides of the road. Ah, Sebastian, said the Empress, looking at the man. The Wardens looked at each other. Who was this man? The Warden-Commander, through various connections, knew most of the nobility by face, if not by name, but she had never seen this man before. And his accent was most definitely not Orlesian. She guessed somewhere in the Free Marches, for he sounded slightly similar to Nathaniel, but that was all she could learn from the first glance. Sebastian Vael, Chantry brother and the prince of Starkhaven, explained the butler, who had walked up to them amidst the commotion. Your highness, may I present the Commander of the Grey? Sebastian looked at the woman. So she was the Blight-queller. Her large grey eyes were alert, angry, and her mouth was drawn in a strict line; her surcoat was blue, and he could see the griffon rearing on her belt buckle. Her husband, the rumoured prince of Ferelden, stood by her side, his stance protective. His blond hair was cropped short, and his face, which seemed that it usually wore a smile, was grim. These two had stopped the Blight, had defeated the high dragon that had sat atop the ancient temple of Andraste for centuries, uncovered her ashes. The WardenCommander alone had defeated a powerful, sentient Darkspawn, while her husband had been in Orlais, the instrumental figure in driving almost all darkspawn underground again. These two had worked tirelessly against the menace, and were formidable opponents or formidable allies. Alistair bent down and looked at the assassin. Crow, he murmured. Who hired him? Any clues? Alistair kicked the man over. No idea.

You seem calm, Warden-Commander, Sebastian commented. The elf had a wry smile on her face. Two of my best friends tried to kill me when we first met, your highness. She gestured to the body. Can we have someone carry that to the compound, please? Id like to see what information we can glean from him. The Wardens left right after that, parting the sea of silks with their blues. Their faces were controlled, but something told the prince that the warrior, at least, would hunt the assassins employer down. His arm was around her shoulder as he escorted his wife out of the hall, their long blades still on their backs. Their equipment were no less than their masters; Sebastian had seen the blade flare in blue fire, almost as if it was made of sapphires. The WardenCommanders blade seemed ornamental, but the warriors was not. Grey Wardens, it seemed, still lived up to their name. The Wardens returned to the compound as soon as they could. Exhaustion overtook the mage as she pulled the surcoat off. She lay down on the bed, still in her kirtle, and hugged the pillow. Mm. Tired? Alistair was stripped from waist up; muscles visibly moved under the skin as he pulled off the shirt. He came onto the bed as well, and kissed her cheek. She cast a sharp glance at him, and inwardly groaned. Alistairs face told her that he wanted her and he wanted her right now. She wondered if she just didnt have much stamina or he just had too much of it. Probably both. She also supposed it stemmed from insecurity about her safety; he was always like this when she had a close brush with death. It was almost as if he ascertained to himself that she was alive by doing this. Alistair, not now. Im tired. He smiled. She inwardly groaned again. But Ive been very sinful as a Templar, he whispered. I keep having these dreams about this woman. She looks all innocent, but I dont think she is. She might be a desire demon. Alistair My thoughts have been dirty, my soul sullied. He nuzzled her neck, knowing that she was extremely vulnerable to this kind of attack. What kind of thoughts? She asked, then regretted it. Curiosity got the best of her, and someday it was going to get her killed. I keep smelling the soft wisterias in my dreams, and have these visions about her dark hair brushing my skin as she moves her face down my body, her hands on my chest Amarina narrowed her eyes. He was very eloquent when he wanted to be. So what was up with the witch-thief! and all those bumbling phrases that he had a habit of saying? Was it just a pretence? Or maybe he just really had a dirty, filthy mind that had remained suppressed by the Chantry until she released it. On hindsight, maybe she should have listened to Zevran. I keep wanting to do things to her, he was saying. Do what? Oops. She could almost hear the trap snapping and ensnaring her. I dont think I can explain it with words, was the devious answer. She felt his hands burrow under her skirt, gently caress the soft skin on her inner thigh. May I show you? Damn. Damn, damn, damn. She noticed his hands unbuttoning and unlacing her dress, his mouth on her skin. She mentally prepared herself for a very sore morning as he kissed his way down from her neck to her collarbone and then beyond.
* * *

Alistair woke up that night to get a drink of water. He had to get up and walk to the table where the pitcher sat; he appreciated Amarinas habit to throw limes into drinking water at times like these. To avoid water going bad, she said, but he knew the reason. As a girl who grew up in the Tower, she was not used to brackish, tepid water that was sometimes the norm in this part of Orlais. Lime took care of the taste, and made the warm temperature tolerable. Finishing the cup, he went back to bed, smiling fondly at his sleeping wife. Her hair spread out onto the pillow in an arc, and her shoulders and her arms were peeking from the duvet. She was a delicate thing, he thought; oftentimes people got awed by her titles as the WardenCommander, the Blight-queller, the dragonslayer, but at the end of the day she was still an elf, and a very thin one at that. He kept forgetting too, and hence the light pink bruises on her arm, where he had grasped onto her without a thought. Itd turn a light purple by tomorrow morning, and then Amarina would be slightly annoyed with him, as usual. But how could he explain that these outbursts were stemming from his fear of losing her? When he had seen that dagger flying instinct kicked in and hence nothing drastic had happened, but it nearly froze his brain when he saw it. He had almost asked her to leave the Order once before so that he knew she was safe, but one never left the Wardens; once a Warden, always a Warden, as the saying went. And her expression when he had hinted it was so flinty that he was amazed she didnt catch on fire. Alistair, she said in a quiet voice, you do realise that if I leave, then Id never see you? Wardens wives very rarely got to see their husbands. A Warden, with constant moving and combat, didnt make very good husbands or wives in general. Or parents. He had not thought of that. Oh. Unless you want to spend your time with a ravishing Orlesian lady her voice went up an octave. Uh oh. He raised his hands pleadingly, but Amarina had continued on for a good five minutes before he had managed to calm her down. Mm, said the sleeping mage. Hm? He responded, thinking that she might have woken up, but all she did was turn toward him. Her face told him she was still asleep. Mmm. She clung onto his arm like a small infant. Mm. And she remained that way for the rest of the night. Eventually he fell asleep again, her in his arms as always; a vestige of their adventures during the Blight, he had a habit of wrapping his arms around her as he slept, from the time when a darkspawn attack had ruined half their gear. But he had to wonder, so he asked the next morning, over breakfast. What? she said, stopping her hand that was buttering a slice of bread. What did you just ask me? What were you dreaming about last night? Her expression told him that it was probably something very naughty. She closed her mouth with purpose. Well? Not. Telling. He started to laugh over his cup of coffee. Your face told me enough. He continued to laugh as she glared at him over a bowl of strawberries. He reached over and picked one from the bowl, then plopped it into his mouth. Hey! came the indignant cry. Get your own strawberries! Mmhmm. Well, at least it wasnt some nightmare again. Despite her years as being a

Mmhmm. Well, at least it wasnt some nightmare again. Despite her years as being a Warden, she still hadnt quite gotten the hang of shutting out the nightmares and keeping the meaningful ones. Hed much rather have his wife have naughty dreams that, from her expression, involved him as well, than have her dream of her own deaths and monsters that lurked in the shadows and spread darkness. Those days were the glum ones, when shed be silent, her eyes dark with apprehension. But not today. Today she was as he had magined she would have been, had she not been taken away to the Tower. A young woman, joy and laughter in her face. Her steps had little bounces as if she was walking in air. She smelled of wisterias, that sweet, gentle smell tracing her path through the room. She always smelled of plants, that hint of wet earth, the fresh cut green, perhaps because she worked with plants in her free time. Some mages disdained from working with plants, but she wasnt one of them. She knew how important it was to know how to brew potions and salves, and she had done her share of them during her travels. Over the years she had learned how to distill fragrances from various plants, which she wore to hide the stench and the acrid odour that darkspawn always had. The two got together with Arturo, the former Crow, who was now the liaison between one of the guilds and the resident rogue master. The body had been carried in overnight and now lay quietly in one of the laboratories, where mages conducted their experiments in trying to tap the darkspawn Taint. With just one glance the Antivan affirmed their suspicions: Crow, he said. What guild? The warrior asked. Arturo gently thumbed the tattoo that marked the mans forehead, a curling arabesque that snaked down to his jaw. Its one of the more powerful ones, he replied. Amarina pursed her lips. Its not Zevran Arainais, is it? The Dalish elf had left the Wardens company soon after she had gotten married, but the two had kept regular correspondence. Many knew of his wistful affections for the elven woman but she and her husband; growing up in seclusion had kept them blissfully ignorant of the dealings of men and women except for blunt words of love, the dance steps crude and straightforward. The couple had gotten better with the dance, but only to each others steps. And so practically all of Antiva knew of Zevrans affections for the famed Warden, except herself. Arturo knew, of course, but kept his mouth shut. The Antivan owed the elf his life, after Zevran had paid off the severance. Serve her well, he had said. And indeed he had. As he was doing now. No, he replied. Its not his guild. Zevran would never send her an assassin; if he saw the need to kill her, hed come himself. We should contact him anyway, Alistair said. Hed probably know who hired this man. A prod with his knife. His wife nodded, unaware of the immense pain that this would cause the guildmaster. It was funny, really; Zevran Arainai, who had bedded both men and women in his days as one of the most promising Crows, had forsworn such things after he had returned from the south, with only one woman in his heart, the woman who had saved his life when he had attempted on hers. Id been cursed, he had smiled with some self-derision on his beautiful face, the night Arturo had left for Orlais. To fall in love with a prey is not a wise idea. The candlelight in the laboratory faltered as Arturo turned the man over. Amarina replenished the flame with a gesture, then bent over to see the mans lower back. It was crisscrossed with tattoos, just as Zevrans had been. She remembered the mans back, from the time

crossed with tattoos, just as Zevrans had been. She remembered the mans back, from the time she had accidentally trespassed on him bathing. That was a very humiliating incident, when he had smiled that sultry smile of his and asked, Care to join me, Warden? in a voice that dripped honey. She had fled. But the mans tattoos were not the graceful spirals that had adorned the elfs back. They were crude mockeries of the tendrils that had marked Zevrans golden skin. The pigment was not as vibrant, either; Zevrans tattoos had been emerald green, sapphire, the colours of precious gems. This mans was faded, not from the years but from poor quality. Another testament to this mans background, that whatever rank he had held before his death, he had won it the hard way. He was no thoroughbred as Zevran had been, no; this man was no assassin bought for three gold pieces at age of seven, trained in the deadly arts as a boy. Well, I think were done here, said the elf finally. With a flick of her wrist she set the body on fire as the two men jumped back in slight panic. You could have warned, said the warrior. It was customary to burn the bodies to prevent demons from possessing, and the last thing the Wardens wanted was an errant animated corpse running around underground in their laboratory. His wife cast him an apologetic look. Sorry. They trunged back upstairs, their slippered feet making soft noises on the carpeted floor. Arturo had to some fast talking, but in the end Amarina agreed, wearily, to let Arturo contact his former guildmaster instead. The letters, written on thick paper, smelling of violets that were used to pigment the Warden-Commanders ink, would only hold sweet pain for the elf. Amarina didnt seem to care to know why Arturo had insisted; she had just walked down the hallway, leaving him rooted on the spot, trailing the faint smell of wisterias. Arturo returned to his room, seated himself at the desk, and picked up a quill. He didnt know how to start, so he started off bluntly. Zevran might be anywhere in Thedas, but the Crows had connections. He informed the guildmaster that an assassination attempt had been made on the Warden-Commander, and she had made it out alive and unscathed. That the assassin was a Crow. And that the Wardens were searching for the employer. Arturo imagined Zevrans fury when he read the letter. Hed tear Antiva apart to find the answer to her questions. The Commander of the Grey had formidable allies. Interestingly enough, none had been bought; they had become her friends through blood, tears, and her offerings of life. Her life. He vaguely wondered what the Warden-Commander was doing right then. Perhaps in the loving embrace of her husband, or in her office, or perhaps sparring. Either way, he needed to get the message out by sunset. He wrote in a period at the end of the sentence, and then sprinkled sand onto the ink, wondering what would have happened if his former guildmaster had been chosen instead. Across the compound, in a room outfitted to receive wealthy donors and guests, the said Warden-Commander was absently touching the silver rim of a porcelain cup as she sat across the table, facing the Starkhaven Prince. Sebastian, his name was, Sebastian Vael, and he had the countenance of a man who had seen both darkness and light. But his harrowing had not been as grim as hers had been, or Cullens, or any of her companions; she knew when she saw the scar the darkness left behind, and she saw it everywhere, in her husbands golden eyes, in Gaspards sky blue, in Zevrans brown, in Morrigans amber. It left scars of varying shades and degrees, but Sebastians turquoise eyes werent as dark as her husbands, or Zevrans. No, this man had

but Sebastians turquoise eyes werent as dark as her husbands, or Zevrans. No, this man had not been tested as they had been; yet who were, but the Wardens? I seek an alliance, he had said, as she offered hot cup of tisane. Honeybush, rosebuds, and pieces of orange peel floated in the hot water as she poured the beverage through a strainer into a cup. I must reclaim my city-state. Why come to us, your highness? She asked as she pushed the saucer forward, cup perched on it like some bird. We are no sovereigns, and I certainly hold no jurisdiction or any power to help you to your throne. I am just a Warden. Sebastian shook his head. Not just a Warden, no, my lady. You are The Warden. Amarina nearly sighed. That name had haunted her like a bad stench, as if no other Grey Wardens existed in Thedas. But so many men and women carried forth their duties that could not be forsworn, had sacrificed, trusting that they would not be in vain and that their work, their legacy shall be carried forth. It was like a torch, their mission; when one fell, another would pick up, and walk on. But people behaved as if there was no other Warden in Thedas, as if all the deeds had been hers. Ridiculous. Still, I do not speak for my Order. The First Warden does. The First Warden, who was too embroiled in Anderfels politics. Where was Alistair when she needed him? She knew of the whispers that Alistair was actually the one controlling the Orlesian branch of the order, that he had traded the Fereldan throne for the Warden one, that she, Amarina, was weak, not suited for the role. She did not care. Alistair was her beacon, the chink in her armour that made her invincible. And if they wanted to talk, well, what harm would that do? He didnt give a damn about reputation - one learned not to care about such things as a royal bastard - and neither did she. She would have gladly stepped down if someone had offered her that luxury. Unfortunately, no one did. Well, except for her husband. He had always said that she could step down, live as a normal woman, which always made her reexamine her just how much she could carry. On the eve before the Battle of Denerim he had offered her to run away to Orlais, eat pastries and live in sin, and now that they had done that, he had said to her that they could run off to Antiva or wherever she wished when things seemed almost hopeless. And because of that, she could smile, believe that she could walk a bit further. But would I have your support? You, personally? asked the prince. She thought of her punishment for meddling in politics. That had not been pleasant. She thought about how to frame the answer. I can give you my personal support, but as a Warden-Commander, Im afraid I cannot, she replied. She realised much to her chagrin that Alistair had not found the all powdered sugar that had managed to make its way to the nook and cranny of her body as he had claimed; there had been a terrible fiasco when they had made their way out through the kitchen, when one of the cooks, startled by two armed people storming into the territory, had accidentally knocked over a canister of powdered sugar as Amarina was running through. Alistair had found some creative ways to get the sugar off that had made its way down the kirtle her body, but evidently he hadnt been thorough enough. She felt the grit of it on her back. That would suffice, nodded the man. How, she had no idea. People respected her as the Warden-Commander, not as herself. It was her capability as a Warden that people saw, as a mage. He stood up. Thank you for your time, Commander of the Grey. She nodded. There was no smile on her face. She had other things to consider, other things

She nodded. There was no smile on her face. She had other things to consider, other things that needed her attention. Like this next visitor. Amarina usually put aside a few hours, twice a week, to see people who came to speak to her. Some needed help, some demanded adjustment; there were empresss messengers, peasants, merchants, all sorts of people from all walks of lives. Being notorious did have its merits, but it also attracted unwanted attention. Like this man. Sorely wishing again that Alistair was here - he had all but disappeared, telling her that he needed to go oversee a training session - and sighing, she faced her new adversary. This man was almost a gibbering idiot. This man was also her admirer, as Levian had called him with distaste. Amarina had to agree. There wasnt any other term to describe the man. The man, by the name of Jedediah, had first set his dark eyes on her when she had been at one of the functions as the Commander of the Grey. Almost everyone in Thedas had heard of her, but she kept most at bay, hiding in shadows whenever she could and keeping an impassive face when she could not. As the result, the Warden-Commander was known as unreadable, if not downright cold. Some sashayed up to her to be able to tell others that they had talked to her and were close to her, but both parties knew that it was not for her company per se, but rather for the prestige. As the result, she had been blissfully left alone with her friends and companions. Jedediah, however, seemed to know no personal space. He asked after her, even made his way into the compound once, before one of the rogue initiates found him and chased him away. And intentionally or not, this man was obtuse if nothing else. No biting remark set him off, and no refusal ever got through his thick skull. Crass and clearly uneducated, his language seemed to obey no known syntax, and that drove Amarina mad. He called himself a warrior, but had no sinews or the iron-hard look Alistair had, and he said he had wooed women but there was nothing to be seen that may have swayed even the most depraved of women. All in all, the man was like a very loud mosquito, and Amarina had a few occasions in which she just wanted to slap the man hard across the face. She did not; she had a feeling he might think it an honour. Commander of the Grey, the man wheezed. Amarina stifled another sigh. She almost wished she was back in Ferelden as a nameless Warden mage. The Blight had ended years ago, the last rabbles of darkspawn vanquished and chased back into the Deep Roads, but there were many, many things that required her full attention. The Wardens presence in Ferelden was beginning to be accepted, but the trust was still tenuous at best, and the current Warden-Commander of Ferelden much relied on her to cement the fragile trust. There were a few entrances to the Deep Roads, one just in the outskirts of Val Royeaux, that had to be constantly patrolled and guarded. New Wardens had to be sought out and trained, and then there were the elder Wardens who left for their Calling. The Wardens stronghold always had a bustle of activity, and for some reason, she always seemed to be right in the centre of it. The following fifteen minutes were the most painful in the day, and as the man tottered out, her husband came in, a frown on his face. Why do you talk to that man? he asked a little gruffly. I dont. If you dont pay attention to him, hell go away. Alistair sat down in the chair. He stalks you. Ignore him. Amarina raised an eyebrow. Do you think Im a child? Be honest. No. What makes you say that?

Well, because it seems like you think me a child speaking against her betters. I use that term because of the set phrase, not because I do or do not think you are better. But her explanation evidently did not get through to him. I do not think Im your better, and neither should you, he said defensively. No? Because Ignore him is something a parent may say to a child. You should ignore him is something that one might say to an equal. Things went rapidly downhill after that. In anger, Amarina flounced off, retorting that she was in no state to argue with him right then and itd be better if shed just leave. No, dont bother, he said, Ill leave. But Amarina had already beaten him to it; she was marching out the door, her face tense and her hands jammed in her pockets like a small boy, smell of wisterias trailing behind her like a faint reminder. With a slam of a door and the pat of the heel of her slippers, she was gone.
* * *

That evening, Alistair lay in bed, but Amarina did not come. He sighed. She was the love of his life, and hed willingly lay down his life for her any minute of the day, but at times she could be obstinate. Sometimes apologising came difficultly for her. She needed time to calm down, to logic herself, for she refused any other to do it for her. If there was one thing she hated, it was someone showing the logic - and her err of it - to her before she could reconcile it herself. He got out of bed, wincing at the cold air that attacked his skin, shrugged on a robe, and left the room, candle in his hand. He knew exactly where she was, and he figured shed have calmed down by now. It was likely that she just needed a little encouragement to apologise. She often simulated many situations in her head, but when it came to apology those simulations stood in her way. He had asked about it once, and she had replied that most simulations came to her being rejected after her apology. He left the suite, crossed the compound, and into the Mages Tower. It was not as tall as the White Spire, but it was airier, perhaps because there were no Templars about with their gleaming blades and stern eyes. Although all rooms could be sealed by a Warden mage, he found his way unbarred by the doors. He continued climbing up the spiralling stairs that ran in the centre of the tower. The tower itself was constructed with the spiralling staircase going down the centre, and rooms were sequestered by walls that made each room in a shape not unlike a pie with the middle cut out. The top floor was the observatory, from where one could get onto the roof, if one so wished. He guessed Amarina was going to be there, looking at the stars, as she always did when she needed time for herself or to think. He walked through the observatory and up the ladders that led up to the trapdoor to the roof. He blew out the candle and left it on the floor, but the sky was clear and the moon was a huge disk in the sea of dark blue, the stars twinkling and shedding its light onto the city below. Amarina was sitting a little away from the exit, hugging her knees and looking up. She looked toward him when he walked toward her. The roof itself had a slant, but it was not steep enough to warrant any particular care. She said nothing as he sat next to her. They continued to watch the stars for a few minutes in uncomfortable silence, until Alistair heard a mumbled sorry. She looked vulnerable as she said it, her pale face looking more pale - and wan - under the moonlight. She was tired, Alistair realised. Not the satisfying kind that sank through the muscles after a long day, but a more lasting kind, coming from years of fraying nerves and work. And she had been working for the past six years nonstop, keeping the darkspawn at bay, taking care that no disciples would cause havoc. Most reports had been false, but there were far too many that were true, and Amarina had

havoc. Most reports had been false, but there were far too many that were true, and Amarina had to take care of them all. The only time she had been free from her Warden duties was right after the Blight. Freed from obligations, the two had enjoyed the six months doing nothing productive. The nights together, the whispers at dawn, time shared with friends it had given then the glimpse of the time they had traded to service the homeland. They had lived as any other lovers might have, joy in each others company, sighs of pleasure in each others arms. That had been the happiest time of his life. But her hair was still dark with no touch of frost on them. Alistair thought vaguely that she might not have any when they went to the Calling. He himself had a few strands of silver hair now, almost invisible with his cropped hair and blond besides, but he was well aware that their times were short, like a burst of a flame. That was the fate dealt out for this choice. Old age will not claim them. He gathered her into his arms to show that he accepted her apology. She leaned her head against his shoulder, her breaths quiet and steady. He smelled the tang of lyrium about her, that slightly acrid, mineral smell hitting his nose with her own fragrance. She had used magic, not something minor but something that required a potion or dust. Vigilance lay naked beside her. What had she been doing? What have you been doing? he asked. There was a genlock sorcerer who was possessed by a demon, she replied. I had to go stop it. And you didnt tell me? Im sorry, she said again, and she truly looked apologetic. It was in the Mage Tower. What?! Here?! She nodded. In the basement. The laboratories. The mage Wardens began to conduct experiments after Amarina had lent her copies of Avernus research - or part of it - to the mages. Amarina personally did not do any of them, as she did not have the time and she said she didnt have enough analytical mind or patience to repeat the same steps over and over again. They locked the genlock in the laboratory, she explained. I had to go in, and I had to kill it. She made it sound like getting rid of vermin, but the strong tang of lyrium told him otherwise; she had duelled the thing, duelled it with spells and her sword. It had not been deadly - she did not bear much injury - but it had sapped her of her strength. Lyrium potions always gave her bursts of power but she always used it when she was severely pressed. All who had dealt with mages had seen the aftereffects of lyrium addiction. To say it was unpleasant was like saying darkspawn were dangerous. She must have been drained of mana before she could kill the sorcerer. But why was such a powerful genlock in the basement? Youre wondering how the genlock ended up in the laboratory, Amarina said absently, twirling her hair. Alistair looked at her again, startled. He nodded. He was captured, she said simply with a shrug. Blindfolded and bound mages dont do much. Well, that solved the mystery. Its odd, though, she continued, which pulled him away from his reverie. There are more raids in a week than there used to be in a month. Somethings Calling them but what? Another Blight? Alistair sincerely hoped not. Have you had dreams? He shook his head. Just the usual. Nothing profound.

Neither have I, she replied. I dont think its another Blight. What she meant was that she hoped it wasnt. They both knew that they were just lucky when they had stopped the Blight; but nothing guaranteed them that theyd be lucky again. With the increasingly tense situation between the mages and the Templars in Kirkwall, Ferelden still trying to hold Orlais at bay while trying to recuperate, Thedas was in no state to face another large-scale attack. She picked her sword up, doubt on her face, balancing it on her knees. Alistair looked at it. The blade was magnificent, with golden hilt shaped like a dragon and a silver gleaming blade. The flowing script running down the blade gleamed in the moonlight. I am Vigilance, and I keep the vigil eternal, the inscription said. On the back of the blade, Dragons life had forged me, and the Commander of the Grey wields me. The increasing raids, the genlock sorcerer freeing itself, the assassination attack they all pointed to trouble. This only meant one thing. The two better get on the road, and quickly, to find out what exactly was so important that Weisshaupt felt the need to summon the Commander of the Grey to relay the missive personally, not via a written message. The two looked at each other; they knew exactly what they were thinking. When can we leave? Alistair asked. I dont know yet. There had been cases like this, and Ive sent letters to the Fereldan Circle, The Vigil and Minrathous branch to look for anything that might have something to do with this problem. Minrathous and The Vigil hasnt found anything, but Irving hasnt responded yet. Will he respond soon? Alistair enquired about the man who was, for all intents and purposes, his wifes father. First Enchanter Irving had been present at their wedding, and had given away his beloved apprentice to the Templar-turned-Warden with his blessing. Much of her logical thinking and her control had come from him. Amarinas own father was dead long before Alistair had met her; widowed, her mother had raised three children in poverty, working late hours to feed the three elven children. Amarina had, in part, gone to the Circle to relieve her mother of the burden. Arith Surana had been a gentle father, Amarina had said, but she barely remembered him. That depends. She recalled the tall, vaulted library of the Tower, rebuilt after it had turned into a mess with Uldreds debacle. Im taking the delay as a sign that he must have found something. Or one of the apprentices. She knew most of the grunt work had always fallen to the students; she had done her share in her youth. The letter indeed arrive a week later, written on fine parchment and stamped with Irvings signet. Amarina was in the library trying to locate a spell when one of the junior Warden mages came in, holding the letter. She thanked the mage then sent her on her way, then hurried to her office. She needed peace and quiet and familiarity to read his letter. The seal was in silver, the motif of Kinloch Hold engraved into the wax. She gently touched the wax, remembering the signet on her masters finger. She then broke it, and began to read. Warden-Commander, the letter began. It relieves me to find you well, my child, for it has been years since I last beheld you. No doubt your duties behold you now, but it seems to me that it was only yesterday when Duncan had taken you away. I have enclosed the copies of the documents that we have found in our library. Im afraid we cannot provide more help. May the Maker watch over you, child. Amarina sighed as she picked up the handwritten papers. They werent much; she berated

Amarina sighed as she picked up the handwritten papers. They werent much; she berated herself for expecting more. She began to read the snippets, the memorandum that had been written centuries before, trying to decipher the meanings. Most of them were incoherent or parts of correspondence that clearly needed context for it to have any significance, but she read on, quill in hand. She read through them thrice, making notes, thinking. If these were true, they made sense. She knew where to go to learn more. The problem wasnt the knowledge. It was the location. She had never expected to return there. That place was forever sealed within her memory, cursed and twice cursed. She had returned there once to fulfil an obligation, and had sworn never to return. It retained too many memories and too many dead. Could she? Could she return there? Could she control her rage, her grief, all the emotions in between, standing on the soil that had sucked up all the blood? The place was probably cursed, the Veil thin. It had been a glorious day that day, the air clear and crisp, the pennants dancing in the wind, the sky cloudless and blue. The soldiers had been sure of the battle and the victory. She had been young then, untested and unwary. She had not questioned the outcome of the battle, nor had she witnessed any betrayal on that scale. She had never felt the cold, stark fear sit in her stomach. Untested, young and ignorant, she had wished to join the battle. To do her part. It was only the wisdom of the elders that she had survived that nightmare. And even then, just barely. Whats troubling you? said Alistair, who had been watching his wife from the doorway from some time now. Her expression was troubled, and for the past fifteen minutes she had sighed, scratched her head, groaned, covered her face with her hands, scrunched her eyes shut. Her face was generally impassive, but when she thought no one was looking, her expression changed like a mountain weather. He had no idea what was going on, but evidently it was not good. She nearly jumped and fell out of the chair in surprise. A, Alistair! Dont do that! Do what? Cant you knock? I suppose I can. His impish grin told her that he wont. Hell just take her by surprise again. You have a guest, by the way. Who? Zevran. He got the message already? She exclaimed, puzzled. Arturo had sent that yesterday. How come he was here already? Then it struck her that maybe he was here without any message, that perhaps he just happened to be in Orlais and remembered that he had friends here. Zevran travelled a lot; that would not be impossible. Where is he? Behind me, said her husband with a wide grin. Years had erased the initial doubt and animosity the warrior had against the assassin; Zevran had proven his loyalty time and time again, enough times that he could easily leave the man with his wife and not worry about it. He stepped aside to let the elf in. Zevran had not changed much. His hair was slightly darker, indicating that he had not been near Antiva for a while; but his face was still beautiful, his eyes still mischievous. He wore a finely crafted elven armour, and it was clear that he had taken care of it well all this time. Twin blades were on his back. I see you havent changed, she said with a smile. Oh, I have. Not in ways you can see though, my dear Warden. He still called her that, much to Alistairs chagrin. What message?

Id rather not talk about it here. Well go get Arturo, then head out to our suite. Alistair, where is he? The man stared at her. How would I know? Youre right. My mistake for asking. She stood up, stretching. Come on. Lets go find him. Arturo was in the courtyard; he was facing away from the approaching party, but he immediately stood up as soon as they were within earshot. Warden-Commander, he said politely, as always, but with just a hint of impetuousness; then his eyes widened at the guest. Guildmaster. Dont call me that, Zevran replied in good humour. I am no guildmaster. Alistair snorted. Thats not what I hear. Zevran ignored his jibes. The Warden-Commander wont tell me her big secret without you there, he explained to the baffled Antivan. So help me sate my curiosity.

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