tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 113-114

There and Back Again Ch. 113-114

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Thirteen: Mourning

After a night spent reassuring ourselves with sight, taste, and touch that we were both alive and unharmed, I rose the next morning, tired but feeling better than I'd felt in months. Knowing that battle was hanging over our heads was a heavier weight than I'd thought. Alistair was still asleep, his golden hair slightly scruffy and spread about him like a short, spiky lion's mane, and after a few minutes watching him sleep, I was restless. I eased out of his arms, threw on a pair of smalls and a linen dress, and slipped out of the tent in the early morning light.

My brother and his love were sitting around the fire, and I snuggled up between them without a word, leeching heat and enjoying the fact of their continued existence. Aedan put his arm around me, and Zevran squeezed my hand as I sighed in contentment.

Both men were clean, and I assumed they'd made good use of my shower head. I hoped that they'd passed it on, after, and that I'd get it back eventually, but for now, I couldn't even bring myself to care. We sat that way as Aedan made the morning porridge, serving all of us Warden-sized bowls, and we ate together companionably. Leliana, clean but looking somewhat rumpled, came into the camp, blushing slightly as she saw the three of us looking at her. She hurried into her tent, as I narrowed my eyes suspiciously.

"Where do you suppose she slept last night?" I asked.

Zevran smirked. "Unfortunate you don't know any ridiculously awesome, talented rogues who could tell you that information."

I looked at him in surprise. "You know?" A slight widening of his smug smile was his only response. "Who?" He continued to grin without answering. "Come on, share, mio fratello. No fair keeping gossip this good to yourself!"

He didn't answer. Aedan was laughing at my irritation, and I knew I had even less chance of getting him to tell me if he thought it was funnier to keep it from me.

"Don't make me go wake Alistair. I'll make him hold you down while I tickle you."

Zevran paled slightly, even as he objected, "But I am not ticklish, cara. It won't work."

I examined his face, carefully neutral expression poorly hiding his concern. "Uh huh, sure you're not." I crooked my fingers in his direction, threatening his ribs, and he shifted uncomfortably.

"You're wasting your time. A Crow does not crack under torture. A Crow-"

I darted my hand in, finding his vulnerable waist through the thin cloth of his tunic, and squeezed; he squealed in a less-than-manly fashion, and Aedan and I cracked up completely.

"Fine, fine. I shall give you a hint and see if you can guess. Fereldan, noble, attractive in a broody sort of way."

I considered, but then shook my head, gesturing for him to tell me more.

"Dark hair. Strong arms."

I thought about it for a few minutes, and realised I needed one other piece of information. "Male or female?" Please don't let it be Cauthrien...please don't let it be Cauthrien...

"Male."

It couldn't have been, but... "Nate?" I whispered.

"Got it on the first guess, sis." Aedan chuckled. "She's spent a lot of time with our tormented, noble archer."

Thinking about it, I realised in game, the two never would have met. I had no way of knowing if they'd hit it off. "Really? How didn't I know this?"

"Well, she wasn't exactly advertising it, but you've also been a bit...distracted, I suppose, with your own romantic issues." Aedan stuck his tongue out at me.

"I'm not having romantic issues, for possibly the first time since I've been in Thedas."

"What your dearest brother means to say, mia sorella, is that you've perhaps been more focused on your rather...enthusiastic response to wedded bliss."

"Are you saying I've been having too much sex to notice?"

Aedan put his hands over his ears and started singing to himself to prevent hearing me talk about sex, and I elbowed him in the side as I rolled my eyes.

Zevran just laughed. "Well, cara mia, you know now you've missed out on one budding relationship, but have you noticed who else hasn't been alone in his tent lately?"

"Conrad, obviously."

"Well, yes, but no one knew about that, bella donna, even me. No, I mean the other Orlesian Warden."

"Riordan?" I was startled; in game he'd seemed so...focused. Single-minded, almost.

"No, no. The more distinguished looking gentleman with the two-handed hammer."

"Dougal?" I was stunned. "Dougal's got a girl - wait, is it a girl? - in his tent?"

"It's a girl, alright." Aedan's scowl transformed to a smirk.

"I object - I'd have to call her a woman, yes? No mere girl has a magical bosom like hers." Zevran outlined a curvy female shape with his hands, and Aedan choked.

I stared at him, open-mouthed in shock. "Wynne?" I was shouting, until Aedan gestured to keep quiet. "Wynne and Dougal?" I whispered. "But that's so..."

"Perfect?" Aedan suggested. "At least, I think it is. She said it isn't serious, just two people who've been through a lot giving the other companionship. He's still going back to Orlais when we're done with the clean-up."

"So she's having a...fling? I'm sorry, I think you broke my brain."

"Cara," Zevran chided. "You should not be so close-minded. They are both adults, yes? And they may have grey hair, but that does not mean they can't enjoy a little physical pleasure to keep the loneliness at bay. I'd think you would be pleased they found any happiness."

The more I thought about it, the less weird it seemed, somehow. Zevran was right. "I am. I'm happy for them, if they're happy with it. I was just shocked, is all. In the game...well, Wynne wasn't receptive to any of that sort of thing. I'm just surprised." I wonder if Greagoir knows?

"You've changed lots of things, sister." Aedan kissed my hair as he squeezed me slightly. "All of them for the better."

I winced as an image flashed through my mind: Duncan, blood pooling around him as Cailan wrenched an axe out of his side. Guessing why I flinched, Aedan hugged me even closer.

"He had a much better end than at Ostagar. I know he wouldn't regret it - you have to stop blaming yourself."

"I know, I just..."

"Just nothing." I hadn't noticed my husband come out of our tent while we'd talked.

Aedan vacated his spot in favour of sitting by Zev, and Alistair lifted me effortlessly onto his lap as he sat down. "I know no one else will be able to convince you, but personally, I'm quite sure Duncan is at the Maker's side right now, pleased with how everything worked out, smiling down on all of us."

Riordan's voice joined the conversation from somewhere behind me. "I agree." He stepped around Alistair and settled across from us. "Mourn him, grieve, miss him like I will, but don't take the heroism out of how he died by taking credit for his choices."

I flushed, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

Alistair pulled me to him, and I turned my head and let a tear fall that I'd been holding in since the subject had changed. I felt ridiculous, but saw only honest concern when I glanced up at everyone watching me.

Riordan smiled. "No more apologies."

I nodded, overcome by the support of everyone around me. I briefly wondered where I'd have been had I never come to Thedas, and the image of myself sitting alone in front of a computer screen rolled past. I put it out of my mind gladly. No time for that. I am not going back.

Just then, the others started filtering out of their tents, and we all got busy serving breakfast to those who hadn't eaten yet. Leliana avoided eye contact, and somehow Wynne managed to emerge from Dougal's tent without drawing a comment. Or everyone but me already knew, and no comment is needed...We knew a summons would be forthcoming for the pyres, and began getting ready as soon as everyone had eaten.

I wanted to talk to Leli - and Wynne, for that matter - but in the bustle, there was no opportunity. I resolved to find the both of them after the service. Instead, I quickly dressed in the set of armour not currently soaked in darkspawn blood before rejoining the group. Everyone, it seemed, had had a chance to get cleaned up; even Oghren had at least rinsed off the worst of the gore. It seemed his good hygiene had become a bit more voluntary - requiring a lot less drunken force-bathing - since visiting Felsi, and I smiled. Everyone's armour had been cleaned and polished courtesy of some of Cailan's servants, except those of us who wore leather; we wore our spare sets. At least for Leli and me, someone had come to take our dirty sets and see if they could be salvaged. We all wore our tabards, Wardens and companions alike, and it made me sad thinking of when Duncan had presented them to us back in Orzammar.

Bel returned my showerhead to me, and I tucked it into my bag before we left.

Once everyone was ready, we went together to Cailan's command tent, where he was giving out instructions to the various battalion captains. We waited until he was done, and he turned to us finally, clasping forearms with most of our group in the strange handshake apparently common in Thedas, kissed hands of the few women ostentatiously, and then he accompanied us to where the pyres had been laid.

There were actually several pyres, and I didn't even want to count them; each had dozens of bodies, covered in blankets, sheets, cloaks, or whatever other shroud could be scrounged up to serve. There was simply no way to have individual pyres for that number of people, and the bodies were too badly tainted to allow the families to claim them for private pyres. I felt sorry for the families left behind without so much as a chance to say goodbye.

There was a separate pyre for the handful of nobles who'd perished when the darkspawn ambushed our camp. I didn't know any of them, fortunately, but that didn't make it any less tragic.

There was one pyre with only a single body - Duncan's. As befitted the hero who (supposedly) ended the Blight, he was laid out, his armour repaired, his body cleaned, his beard and hair trimmed, looking much as he had in life. His weapons were at his sides, his arms crossed over his chest in a sick parody of his usual greeting bow.

I wanted to look away; I couldn't separate the mental image of him dead in my arms from his life-like corpse waiting for a pyre to be lit. But I wouldn't disrespect him by avoiding the reality of his death. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and forced myself to stand straight and hold still. Alistair squeezed my hand on one side, Cailan on the other, and I tried to remind myself that it wasn't my fault, and that I wasn't alone to deal with my grief.

There were hundreds assembled for the service, all the nobility spread out around our group, the common soldiers, dwarves, mages, and templars behind them; a small dais had been erected so everyone would be able to see. Irving had offered the services of a small group of mages who could amplify what was said, and to the Grand Cleric's dismay, Cailan had graciously accepted before she'd had any chance to decline; as a result, everyone would be able to hear the service as well.

The Revered Mother giving the service, old and wizened even for her senior position, slowly climbed the dais, and the murmuring and shifting around me died off as everyone gave her their attention. I was surprised it wasn't the Grand Cleric, but as she began to speak in a strong, clear voice, I decided I was glad; this was much preferable to listening to the whiny, superior tone of that old hag.

She began with several verses from the Chant of Light, listing off their sources with each verse; a few of them I recognised from their game codex, but some I couldn't recall. Most of what she said washed over me without even registering, as I let my eyes travel over the bodies of so many who'd died to keep Ferelden safe. She spoke of the horrors of the Blight, through the dogma of the Canticle of Threnodies, and I couldn't listen.

A few verses, however, stood out, and I felt my grief pour out through my tears as I tried to remain stoic.

Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls.
From these emerald waters doth life begin anew.
Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you.
In my arms lies Eternity.

-Andraste 14:11

The Light shall lead her safely
Through the paths of this world, and into the next.
For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water.
As the moth sees light and goes toward flame,
She should see fire and go towards Light.
The Veil holds no uncertainty for her,
And she will know no fear of death, for the Maker
Shall be her beacon and her shield, her foundation and her sword.

-Transfigurations 10:1

My Maker, know my heart
Take from me a life of sorrow
Lift me from a world of pain
Judge me worthy of Your endless pride

My Creator, judge me whole:
Find me well within Your grace
Touch me with fire that I be cleansed
Tell me I have sung to Your approval

O Maker, hear my cry:
Seat me by Your side in death
Make me one within Your glory
And let the world once more see Your favor

For You are the fire at the heart of the world
And comfort is only Yours to give.

-Transfigurations 12:3-12:6

Draw your last breath, my friends,
Cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky.
Rest at the Maker's right hand,
And be Forgiven.

-Trials 1:16

I listened as she spoke, and wished I knew if she was right. Was it possible? Was there a Maker, and was he merciful, like she said? Supposedly he'd turned his back on the world, but somehow, were Duncan and the hundreds of others sitting at the Maker's side, drinking heavenly wine, never again to know suffering? I wished I could believe, wished it with all my heart, and decided that my wish would have to serve in place of the faith I'd never known, hadn't been raised to understand. I hoped my prayers, such as they were, would reach Duncan, my parents, and the Maker himself, and that those I loved, those I owed for my life, were out of the reach of the grief I felt.

Half-way through I gave up, turning to Alistair and pressing myself against his unforgiving dragonbone armour as I cried; he held me, several of his own tears joining mine cascading down to mix into the mud at our feet.

Finally she finished, and sniffling, I pulled myself together and turned to watch as Cailan deliberately climbed the steps, bowing low to the Revered Mother as she stepped aside. He looked out at the crowd for several silent moments, and I wondered if his nerves had gotten to him, or if he was frozen up there, unable to speak.

Finally he cleared his throat. "Fereldans," he started, "dwarves of Orzammar, elves of the Dales: we are gathered here today not to grieve the loss of so many dedicated, incredible fighters, though we do, indeed grieve; not to mourn our losses and lick our wounds, though we do those things as well. No, we are here not in sorrow, but in celebration. Today we celebrate the lives of every man and woman here who stood up and said 'I will not go quietly,' and instead chose to fight. We celebrate the strength, the determination, the will and the prowess that make us who we are: fighters. Warriors. Allies.

"Today, we celebrate that mages, templars, elves, dwarves, and humans, for the first time in hundreds of years, if ever, learned to work together, to build trust, to accept each other's strengths and protect weaknesses. We celebrate the first alliances that may actually last the test of time and stand us in good stead when next the world needs them.

"We celebrate our differences, and our ability to overcome them in the face of a common cause. We celebrate breaking the horde, stopping the Blight, and ending a dire threat to all of Thedas, without outside intervention.

"We celebrate the lives of those we lost - those brave souls who are now resting at the Maker's side - and their families, who will need our help to survive those losses and face the future.

"We celebrate the Grey Wardens, who dedicate their lives, and take these same risks day in and day out, to protect Thedas from evil. We celebrate the Warden-Commander, Duncan, my friend and mentor, who gave his life to ensure that others may live. We celebrate their duty, and ours, so that none might be forgotten.

"Today, though we do so through tear-filled eyes and heavy hearts, we celebrate victory. And today we show the world that we will not, we will never be broken; not by darkspawn, not by politics and civil war, not by foreign despots or our own, dangerous doubts. Today, Ferelden extends the hand of friendship to the Dalish and to Orzammar, and we ask them to stand beside us as we celebrate the future they fought with us to procure.

"For Victory. For Ferelden!"

The roar of the crowd behind us, repeating Cailan's last words, was ear-splitting, the enthusiasm hard to shake. His speech was intensely emotional, for me and for the rest of us who'd fought so hard, for so long; caught between laughing and crying, I was passed around from person to person and embraced by equally overcome friends. Leliana sniffled and offered me a handkerchief, which I took gratefully. I even ended up hugging Oghren, who pinched my ass and earned himself a head slap from an irritated yet bemused Aedan.

When Cailan returned to stand with us, I launched myself at him and pulled him into a hug; I could feel him shaking slightly, whether due to nerves, repressed grief, or sheer relief I couldn't have guessed.

He turned back and gestured; several soldiers, who stood at the ready with torches lit, slowly approached the pyres and touched the flames to the dry wood. The crowd watched silently as the flames whooshed and caught, rising high into the afternoon sky.

The last two pyres, the nobles' and Duncan's, had yet to be lit. Cailan stepped forward and accepted a torch from a nearby soldier; he gestured to Alistair to do the same. Alistair put his hand on Aedan's shoulder, and the two stepped forward together to accept a second one. All set, Cailan bowed and carefully lit the pyre holding the handful of nobles, while the new Warden-Commanders did the same for Duncan's. Tears streamed down all three faces, mirroring my own sadness as I bid a last farewell to the man who, had I the choice, I'd have chosen as a father.

The pyres would burn for hours, I knew, in order to reduce the bodies to ash; some of the mages had been volunteered to use their magic to augment the pyre's flames if necessary, since it had been difficult to find enough dry wood. We all watched for a while, then slowly, the crowd began to disburse. I could hear captains calling out orders to march, and the main body of the army returned to their tasks, breaking camp, patrolling the perimeter, or whatever other activities a standing army did when the battle was over.

I turned to Cailan. "Good speech, your Majesty." I grinned as he huffed at me. "No, seriously. That was amazing. I'm impressed that you're so eloquent." My teasing grin died, and I reached out and squeezed his hand. "Duncan would have been proud."

I'd have said more, but we were interrupted by a breathless scout bursting through a last clump of soldiers and nearly bowling over Riordan in his rush to reach Cailan.

"Your Majesty! My Lord!" he called to Cailan and, apparently, Aedan.

"It's been a long day," Cailan complained tiredly. "It's not exactly good timing, Scout...er..."

"Ruald, your Majesty." He bowed, belatedly, face flushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, but this can't wait. There's a group of soldiers at the south perimeter, your Majesty."

"I imagine there are several, Ruald. This is important because...?"

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