tagSci-Fi & FantasyThere and Back Again Ch. 107-108

There and Back Again Ch. 107-108

byElyssaCousland©

A/N: I'm sorry about the mess with the previous chapters over Christmas. Somehow I uploaded the wrong chapter and it took half a dozen messages and reposting the chapter 3 times -- each of which takes about 4 days to be approved or refused -- before I could convince them to fix it. But it's done, and we're moving on -- the final battle approaches!

In response to some reviews: yes, this will continue into Awakenings and DA2, though obviously some things have changed -- it's going to go seriously AU from here. I'm contemplating Inquisition, so it's possible I'll make it there too. But things will be different -- Sierra won't be living in Kirkwall or working directly with the Inquisition, so it won't be in nearly as much detail as Origins was, fair warning.

Also -- these chapters have been posted as quickly as they have been because this site was catching up on a backlog of chapters already published elsewhere. It is now almost caught up. Once it does, updates are going to slow down dramatically -- like one chapter every 2 weeks, not 2 chapters every week. Just so you all know.

********

Chapter One Hundred Seven: Aftermath

After the Landsmeet, things moved quickly. Cailan -- it's really weird to call him that again -- moved into the Palace, and offered rooms for the Grey Wardens, our companions, and Nathaniel, so we all transferred from Eamon's. It was nice, having more space and not having multiple people crammed into one room. It was also nice to no longer pretend that we weren't married -- Alistair and I were given a large, lavish room in the family wing near Cailan's rooms, and Aedan and Zevran were next door. Everyone else had their own rooms down a long corridor, and he assigned us a small dining room where we could meet and share meals.

Denerim's Palace was enormous, but surprised me somewhat with its utilitarian style. The walls and floor were mostly stone, nicely done and sometimes painted, but there were no marble frescoes or whatever else I might have expected in a royal palace. There were beautiful tapestries on some of the walls depicting moments in Fereldan history, few of which I recognised, but most of the walls were bare except for sconces.

I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised -- in the game, Fereldans were always described as practical and not overly ostentatious, unlike the Orlesians. The only thing that made the palace truly grand was the scale -- it was, by far, the largest building I'd been in, on Earth or on Thedas.

There were multiple guest wings, no less than four enormous ballrooms, half a dozen huge dining rooms and many more small ones. There were sitting rooms, map rooms, gardens, armories, and rooms just for displaying statues of famous Fereldans. And all of them were done in a lovely, but minimalist style. However, the bedrooms had beautiful, thick rugs, and beds so soft you could get lost in them, and the family wing had bathing rooms attached to every bedroom with tubs and soaps and bottle after bottle of sweet smelling shampoos. If they'd only had indoor plumbing, it would have been perfect; as it was, my little shower head worked marvelously, and the staff were thrilled not to have to haul hot water -- especially given how frequently I tended to bathe.

Cailan fired most of the upper-level staff that had worked for Anora, providing some sort of severance package, then had Kallian help him replace them with qualified Alienage elves, for the most part. Blake stayed on as his manservant, of course, and there were chamberlains and seneschals and Maker knew what other sorts of staff that I didn't even try to get to know that Cailan hired. I met the maid responsible for cleaning our rooms, a young, nervous elf named Noni, and the three responsible for serving food in the Warden dining room, and figured they were probably the only ones I needed to know by name.

Duncan put Loghain and Wulf through the Joining the night of the Landsmeet, and both survived. Both were given rooms at the palace, which surprised me, but Loghain was apparently to be invited to the strategy meetings and having him stay somewhere else just didn't make sense. Cailan apparently treated him as though he didn't exist most of the time, which was probably for the best, though I heard that one night there had been quite a bit of yelling coming from the direction of Loghain's room. No one knew what, exactly, was said, but apparently Loghain was much subdued after that.

Personally, I avoided Loghain like the plague. Most of my friends had seen some horrible things done at his behest, but I'd seen Thedas with Cailan and Duncan dead. Despite knowing, and approving, of his conscription, I still wasn't sure I'd be able to avoid getting into it with him, and one way or another, that wasn't going to end well. We were supposed to be hiding my origin from him -- we didn't need him telling the Orlesians when he was transferred to Jader -- so staying away seemed the best policy. And Aedan wouldn't even tell me the things he said -- like any explanation for the stupid things he'd done since Ostagar -- because he figured I'd be unable to resist going to talk to him.

Duncan had apparently offered the Joining to Kallian, but she declined. I learned that Cailan had been talking with her and had her convinced to stay and work with him to improve the lives of the elves in the Alienage; I wondered if she'd eventually end up as Bann instead of Shianni. Her temperament might be better suited to it, actually...We hadn't seen Shianni at all since our visit to the Alienage, and I wondered what she would do if she didn't become the Bann.

Aedan, Alistair, Duncan, Cailan, Loghain, and Eamon spent most of the next few days closeted in meetings to determine the strategy for fighting the darkspawn; the rest of us were left to our own devices, for the most part. Some of us accompanied Kallian to the Alienage again, recruiting fighters for the King's new military unit, The Night Elves, named after the elves who'd fought with Maric and Loghain in the rebellion; Leliana dragged me to the market district to window shop for shoes; we had Master Wade make a set of armour for Wulf which was far superior to his old, cobbled together junk. Boring, but necessary.

A messenger came to the Palace one night for Wynne -- Gorim's wife was giving birth, and the midwife was concerned it wasn't going well. Leliana and I accompanied the mage as we hurried to the small house in the Market District, willing to help in whatever way possible. Wynne disappeared into Riana's room, leaving Leliana and I to console an overwrought Gorim. We heard talking, and then a rather loud argument; the midwife, a chubby middle-aged woman with an impressive scowl, stormed out and left the house, cursing mages to the Void. Leliana and I exchanged fearful glances, interrupted by Wynne bellowing for help.

Soon I was boiling a large pot of water and scouring cupboards for clean towels and linens, while Leliana went into Riana's room to aid Wynne. They did something -- I couldn't have said what, for which I was thankful -- and Riana screamed like the world was ending. I had to hold Gorim back as he tried to throw himself at the closed door, talking quickly and trying to convince him that Wynne had everything well in hand. I wasn't sure I believed it myself, but it seemed to calm Gorim some and he slumped back into his chair.

At Wynne's shout I grabbed the water and a huge armful of clean linens and went in, shocked by the blood pooled on the bed and splashing down onto the floor. It looked like someone had been murdered, and violently at that. Leliana was holding Riana down, a strip of leather between the dwarf's teeth to bite down on; Wynne had what looked like one entire arm up inside Riana, the aura of healing magic suffusing the room. I set down my items, uncertain how to help, just as Wynne slumped and fell heavily to her knees, pulling a very bloody arm out of the petite woman.

"Got it," she sighed, looking happy though incredibly weary, then levered herself to her feet and began scrubbing her hands in the hot water, while I used towels to soak up some of the blood. When Riana squealed again, Wynne turned back, tiredly, and bent over the end of the bed again.

"Push now, my dear. You can do it."

And Riana did; her face screwed up, in pain or concentration I couldn't be sure, and suddenly Wynne was holding a tiny, bloody, squalling infant. Riana collapsed back in relief, and spat out the leather strip, holding out her arms for her baby; Wynne carefully tied the cord and cut it, wrapping the baby in a towel and handing it to the exhausted mother.

"It's a girl."

Riana's face transformed as she beheld the tiny girl, who'd stopped screaming to snuffle adorably at her mother's chest; her skin was still slightly purple, her head cone-shaped and irregular, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The three of us went to work cleaning up the blood and other fluids, then Wynne ran a quick scan over Riana's belly and the bundled baby, declaring both to be healthy.

Leliana stayed with Riana and the baby, and I accompanied Wynne to talk to Gorim.

"They are both fine," she said, and Gorim took a big breath of relief. "The baby was turned the wrong way, but I was able to turn her; unfortunately, it caused significant bleeding. I've healed her, and she's safe now, but she lost a lot of blood. She's going to be tired, and need a lot of help for a few months. And she should eat red meat, or liver if you can get it, to help her build her blood back up."

Gorim promised to find her liver for every meal if that was what it took, and then he bolted into Riana's room to see her with his own eyes. Wynne followed him with an indulgent smile, and I grinned as she took the baby from Riana, tightened the blanket around her, and handed her to a very awkward-looking Gorim.

I just about said 'awwww' out loud, but managed to stifle it; watching Gorim's face was seeing someone fall completely in love at first sight. He may not have been her biological father, but that didn't seem to matter; he was smitten. His expression passed through a variety of emotions, from frank fear, to love, to a fierce protective instinct, and Wynne actually had to encourage him to loosen his grasp a little. It was adorable, and all four of us women exchanged pleased smiles.

And then Revan wandered in, rubbing his eyes irritably and scowling at the lanterns. When he saw his little sister, however, he was all smiles, and he climbed into bed beside his mother as they very carefully placed the baby in his arms. The same array of emotions crossed his little face as Gorim's, and I had to wipe away a tear as he declared he was her big brother and would protect her forever.

The three of us finally left, leaving the little family to sort itself into some sort of routine.

I had only one real chance to talk to Cailan before I left Denerim with the Wardens, leaving Cailan behind. Alistair and I found him in a small sitting room we'd taken to using when we wanted to talk privately amongst ourselves, and if I hadn't known better, I would have sworn Cailan was hiding in it.

"Cailan?"

He flinched and spun away from the barely ajar door, where he'd been peeking out at whoever was in the hallway outside; we'd come in through another door leading off the hall nearest the Warden dining room.

"Uh, hi!"

I saw his eyes flit guiltily back towards the door, and stepped past him, putting my eye to the crack between door and jam. Blake stood there, a polite smile glued to his face, as an angry-looking red-headed woman glared at him imperiously.

"I demand to be brought before the King immediately, do you understand me?" Her voice was loud, shrill, and extremely annoying, and I adjusted my age estimate down as her voice reverberated through the hallway. Not a woman -- a girl. "I will not be treated this way! I was robbed, I say, right in the market..."

Blake deftly led the woman away, and her voice thankfully receded as she followed him down the hallway to the sound of his polite rejections.

"Thank the Maker," came Cailan's voice at my back, and I turned away from the door to see my brother-in-law on his toes, watching the same scene over the top of my head. "I thought she'd never leave."

"What was that all about?" Alistair inquired, as he held his hand out to me and I ducked under Cailan to take it. He pulled me securely against his side, wrapping his arm too casually around my shoulders; I rolled my eyes and he flushed before turning his attention back to Cailan.

"Habren Bryland," Cailan complained. "She's been coming up with one excuse after another to speak with me. What she expects me to do about being robbed in the market before the Landsmeet, I have no idea. Honestly, who keeps a tiara in her handbag anyway?"

I pinched my lips together, trying not to laugh; I had a good idea who had stolen that tiara, and Cailan didn't need to know. He continued muttering angrily, unaware of my inner amusement.

"Well you are the most eligible bachelor in Thedas at the moment, your Majesty." Cailan grimaced, and I grinned. "I'm not sure why you're surprised. Just think of all the shopping she could do if she were queen!"

Cailan shook himself like a wet mabari, shuddering in horror. "Can you imagine it? The country would be bankrupt in a week. Though perhaps I could convince her that the darkspawn have the best Orlesian silks...she'd probably annoy them to death -- or at least into running away from Ferelden."

Alistair guffawed, and Cailan smirked before running a hand through his hair ruefully. "I'm lucky you found Blake, Sierra. I don't know what I'd do without that kid. He's cute and innocent enough to lie straight to someone's face without being caught. Habren will find herself out on the street before she knows how she got there."

"You'd better not be throwing that child to the dogs, Cailan. He doesn't deserve to be shouted at because you're ducking the nobles you don't like."

"Honestly, no one's given him any trouble. I watch. And he seems to think it's all fun and games, really."

"Has he done it to Eamon yet?" Alistair's expression was amused.

Cailan actually giggled. "Twice. Funniest thing I ever saw." Cailan sank into a chair, and only then did I notice the dark circles under his eyes. Someone hasn't been sleeping any. "So what can I do for you two? You found me, after all." He winked.

I relaxed and sat in a nearby chaise, while Alistair curled up at my feet, his head in my lap, eyes closed as I stroked his hair softly. "Nothing. We weren't even looking for you; Aedan and Duncan are supposed to meet Alistair here. I just came along for the ride."

Alistair opened one eye a crack while Cailan seemed to try and puzzle through my Earth vernacular. "Since we found you, though, how are you doing? You look tired."

Cailan scoffed, clearly planning to ignore the question, until he saw Alistair and I both watching him seriously. He sighed. "I don't sleep well," he confirmed. "Bad enough we're having a Blight without all the idiotic politicking everyone keeps doing. I thought I was supposed to be the foolish one? Compared to them, I look more constant than Anora."

I winced at the mention of his ex-wife's name; the Grand Cleric hadn't waited long to annul that marriage, and Cailan was officially single again. "Have you made any decisions yet?"

I didn't have to explain further; Cailan wasn't married to her any more, but he still hadn't decided what he was going to do with her. He'd mentioned exile in the Landsmeet, but so far she was still on house arrest in her old rooms in the Palace.

"Nevarra," he finally answered, just before I'd given up hope of an answer. "I have a few contacts there. A friend of my father's, a widower who's already got heirs, needs a political-minded wife in his bid for power within the nobility. He has large holdings for her to run, and she could work her way into the women's circles in Nevarra City, help him harness the rumour mill. It's far away from here -- and from anyone who might have thoughts of using her to foment rebellion. I already offered it to her, and she seems...accepting. Maybe even pleased. It's better than she expected from the man-child she believes me to be -- she thought I was going to have her killed to assuage my ego."

I frowned thoughtfully. Truly, it seemed better than she deserved after all she'd done, but I couldn't fault Cailan for not wanting to execute or ruin a woman he'd once loved. It seemed cruel to place her fate in the hands of the one she'd hurt the most.

"How does Loghain feel about that?" Alistair's tone was almost defensive, and I could picture him taking Loghain aside and chewing him out if he'd been a jerk about it.

"Surprised, mostly. Relieved, I think, and while he isn't happy, he's not made an issue about it either. Maybe I really am growing up, if I can avoid fighting with Loghain about even that." We all chuckled.

****

Within a couple more days, Duncan had us moving again, leaving Denerim behind. I was sad to lose my cushy bed, but strangely glad to have a purpose again. We were to establish a command post near where we hoped to engage the horde before it reached Denerim, and form patrol routes between the mages, elves, dwarves, and Fereldans who were slowly assembling to form our army. And then, the armies were to combine and train. Loghain's plan was for mages, archers, and close-range fighters to be interspersed with each other, divided into small units that could be mobile and responsive, linked by fast-moving messengers, and the mages were all to be taught a spell that sent a small flare into the sky, in different colours for different messages.

Each mage would be accompanied by one or more templars, which was the only reason they'd been given permission to play such an important role; to my surprise, Knight-Commander Greagoir, who had accompanied those who'd arrived from Kinloch Hold, argued passionately with the Grand Cleric to provide Chantry oversight to allow the mages more freedom and influence.

We had sent Morrigan off to find the three dwarves and direct them to us, and she flew off in bird form with a caw. We'd left Gorim in the city with his wife and new daughter; he promised to catch up with us in a month or so, once she'd started to feel better. I wanted to encourage him to stay and be with his family, but he'd promised Sereda to act as a liaison between the two dwarven groups -- the Warrior Caste and the new Military -- and the Fereldans, so I knew he'd come regardless.

The weather, finally turning from winter to spring, was suddenly disgustingly rainy, and every single thing anyone owned at the camp was immediately covered in mud. I was grateful that it wasn't so cold, but disgusted by the conditions at camp. People were eating, sleeping, and training in the mud and rain, and sickness started to spread among the gathered troops. Loghain soon had crews of men felling trees and building raised platforms for the tents to be pitched on, and had a roof built over an area that served as a mess hall; between that and the healers, who worked tirelessly with the troops, the illness was halted before we'd lost more than a handful of men.

The next month was busy. Every day more people arrived -- elves, dwarves, mages, templars, and the first groups of the Fereldan army. The Wardens who were not patrolling the edges of the Wilds were divided among the groups, teaching the various armies tactics, as well as how to avoid becoming tainted. Our companions were divided with them, so each Warden had at least one helper. I was assigned with Alistair, of course; it felt really weird teaching experienced fighters anything, given how new I was to fighting, but the tactics we'd used successfully for months against darkspawn were relevant no matter how skilled the fighter. Emissaries first, then ranged and stealth fighters take out archers while melee hold the front line. There were several small skirmishes between darkspawn raiding parties and one or two of the units, and the groups handled themselves well, with few casualties and no one tainted.

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