tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 115-116

There and Back Again Ch. 115-116

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Fifteen: DisenChanted

I slipped out of the tent, leaving my brother and my husband to 'important' discussions with the new Teyrn. Honestly, the meeting had gone about as well as I could expect, and I was just happy we could hopefully work together as needed, even if we'd never have a familial relationship.

I was trying really hard not to take it personally.

I finally caught Leliana alone when I got back to the Wardens' camp; with a grin for a fantastic distraction, I dragged the bard into my tent, made her undo the braid she'd put in my hair, and demanded she tell me everything about her and Nathaniel.

"Why didn't you tell me, Leli?"

She giggled. "I didn't want to...what's that word you use? Jinx? I didn't want to jinx it. He's kind, yes? And shy. I didn't want to embarrass him either. And when things are new..."

"I know. Sometimes you just want to keep it for yourself, right?"

"Exactly, my friend. But he is wonderful, Sierra."

"Sort of broody, isn't he?"

"Only on the surface. He's been through so much...but he has a sense of humour, underneath it."

"So is it serious?" I teased.

She flushed. "It hasn't been very long..."

"So that's a yes, then?"

She smiled. "It's not a no." Her smile faded. "Is that...do you think people will be upset? I sound Orlesian, after all."

"Leli...I know that you have ties to the Chantry. I know you're going to end up working as some sort of agent for the Divine. I know about Dorothea. But I also know that you're one of the kindest, sweetest, most devout people I know. If someone really has a problem with you because of your accent, then that's their issue. I think you deserve whatever happiness you can find, and I hope it keeps you from losing yourself too much to the Chantry. Does he make you happy?"

Her answering smile was radiant, but also mischievous. "I'll tell you one thing. He's a sinfully good kisser."

I snickered, and we spent the next couple of hours in girly giggles, comparing our love lives and sharing our dreams of the future. It was a nice change of pace from the fighting and fear we'd been living with for a year, and it was a good distraction from my issues with Fergus. Zev joined us, and the talk turned to comparing their experiences, bard and Crow trying to outdo each other with outrageous seductions and dangerous liaisons. I had nothing to offer that could compare – I'd been sheltered, despite my less-than-ideal upbringing – but it was amusing to relax and just listen, without worrying about politics, or being ambushed, or an upcoming battle with darkspawn.

Aedan and Alistair finally returned from their discussion with Fergus and Cailan; Nathaniel had apparently joined them and been reunited with Fergus, and he returned to our camp with the two new Warden-Commanders. Leli, Zev and I tumbled out of my tent, me blushing crimson from the stories they'd been telling, to get a strange look from the three men; giggling, I snuggled up to Alistair and pulled him in for a kiss.

"Tell you later."

"Mmm." He kissed me again. "You okay?"

Everyone looked interested in my answer, so the six of us settled around the fire companionably.

"I'm fine." Aedan scoffed, and I grinned at him. "No, really. I don't blame Fergus. He has no reason to believe me, and he's been through too much to be really willing to trust in anything right now. I wouldn't be willing to accept me either."

"You're far more forgiving than I am." Alistair scowled, and I pushed his cheeks up into a smile with my fingers.

"You're allowed to be upset on my behalf, but I don't want it affecting your relationship with him." I turned to Aedan. "You especially. He needs all the support he can get right now. I can't even imagine what he's going through. I'm fine; I want you to promise me you'll take care of him. I'll just stay out of his way for a while."

"That should be easy," Nathaniel declared. "He is leaving in three days to take back Highever. I'm going with him. I didn't expect him to accept me either, but if he can forgive me, I'll offer any support I can. King Cailan is sending us with a company of soldiers, and he'll send stonemasons and other craftsmen once Denerim's population settles. We don't know what is happening at the castle, but we'll find out, retake it if necessary, and start the recovery before I leave for Amaranthine."

"We're not going?" I looked at Aedan in surprise. "You're okay with that?"

He winced. "As much as I'd like to help Fergus, I have to admit, I'm not sure I could stomach fighting my way back through those halls again. We'll need to go eventually, but not right away. And Fergus isn't willing to wait. Besides, Cailan's asked for us – all of us – in Denerim for a celebration of the end of the Blight. I'm guessing he wants us there when he tells the Landsmeet he gave Ostagar to the Dalish. And I think he's got some sort of plans for the Alienage – he spent an awful lot of time talking to Kallian, recently."

"We'll also announce that Ferelden's Grey Wardens have seceded from the Order at Weisshaupt. I imagine we'll receive a delegation from the Anderfels fairly soon; Duncan sent a messenger before the battle. Might as well be there to receive them."

After that, the rest of our companions started filtering back into camp, and we separated to go to bed. Alistair pulled me into his lap once we were alone in our tent, his shirt off, weak firelight glinting off his toned abs and broad shoulders.

"You sure you're okay?" he asked.

"Hmm?" I was far more interested in running my fingers over his impressive muscles and nuzzling into his neck than I was in discussing my liege-lord.

"Love," he chided, pushing me away slightly.

I sighed. "I won't say it doesn't hurt. I didn't expect him to come running with open arms, but I wasn't quite prepared for the degree of hostility. I was telling the truth though – I'm not surprised he isn't totally trusting, and I don't blame him. He's been through too much – I think I was just one thing too many."

"With time, maybe he'll come around?"

"I doubt it. He wouldn't give himself the chance. That would involve getting to know me, and he doesn't want to. But he said he will work with me; if we can tolerate each other, that's enough. I have you, and Aedan. Fergus has no one, and I won't be the thing that gets in the middle between him and Aedan."

I snuggled in again, burying my nose in the crease between his neck and shoulder. "I don't really want to talk about Fergus right now." I punctuated my statement with a gentle bite on his neck making him gasp as I started stroking my fingers across his bare chest again. "Do you?"

"Not in the slightest." Alistair's tone was husky as he bore me down to my bedroll, divesting me of my clothes in record time and distracting me rather admirably from thinking about anything, never mind about my brothers.

Over the next several days, many things happened. The mages completed their work scouring the land with fire, and the sensation of the darkspawn taint around the site of the battle began lessening slightly. Sten and Irving finished their work of preserving the Archdemon's blood, hide, and much of the bone, and it was all crated for travel to Denerim. The wounded largely either died or rallied, and each day, the small pyres got smaller until they stopped.

Aedan performed several Joinings for soldiers who'd been tainted by the darkspawn; none of them survived, though I wasn't that surprised given how quickly they'd become ill after the battle – most of them looked barely better than ghouls by the time it was even attempted.

Leliana, who'd been helping out with the wounded, came to me one day asking me to get Alistair, Aedan, and Anders, and then follow her. We scoured the camp until we found the two Warden-Commanders in a meeting with Cailan, and pulled Anders away from the makeshift infirmary where he'd been working with Wynne and the other Circle healers. Anders grumbled as we followed Leliana almost outside of the army's encampment; Aedan and Alistair raised their eyebrows at me, but I just shrugged. Don't ask me! She was wearing the same Chantry garb she wore back in Lothering; I'd gotten so used to seeing her in armour, I'd forgotten what it looked like.

A ways beyond the rest of the tents, around the edge of a large outcropping, we finally came upon a camp. There was a small earthworks ringing the area, with make-shift fences planted in the mud; it was guarded, strangely, and the templar armour on the two guards was a clear indication of who camped there. I hadn't paid attention to where the templars and mages were set up, but given how much I'd seen of Irving and Greagoir, they had to have been sleeping somewhere more central. And this camp was far too small for the entire contingent from Kinloch, not to mention it seemed strange they'd be so isolated, almost vulnerably so on the edge of the army encampment.

The two templars on guard, neither of whom were wearing helmets, initially seemed excited to see Leliana, and watching her smile coyly at them, I could see why; however, they stiffened when they noticed us following her, and immediately moved to block entrance.

"Sister-" one of them began, obviously planning to turn us away.

Leliana gave the one speaking a look that every Catholic school child, and from what I'd seen, everyone who'd ever set foot in a Chantry, was intimately familiar with. It was the glare of a woman in control, one who could see right through you and know without checking that you hadn't washed behind your ears. One who knew your innermost thoughts, and wasn't totally averse to using them against you. The poor man visibly withered, glancing desperately at his partner for help, and finding no aid there, he muttered something that sounded whiny and discontented, and stepped aside.

The four of us followed her past the small entrance, and the reason for the camp's isolation became immediately obvious. There were injured men and women there, being tended by a small number of harried-looking mages; strangely, those writhing on their pallets on the ground looked superficially whole – there were no missing limbs, no bleeding wounds. But the sensation was the kicker; the taint was everywhere here, much stronger than the rest of the camp. A closer glance showed several templars with blackening skin, dark blotches and black veins marring their pale Fereldan complexions; two had eyes white with rheum, like Duncan in the Deep Roads. Two others were being restrained as they struggled, hairless, gnashing their teeth and snarling like animals – or darkspawn.

Those that weren't so obviously tainted weren't far behind, sweating and grey, moaning in pain and delirium. A number of mages were also affected, huddled together in one corner of the enclosure.

I glanced up at Alistair to see him returning my hopeless gaze; very few of these people would be healthy enough to undergo the Joining, given how much time had passed since the battle. It was a minor miracle any of them had avoided becoming ghouls already, and I assumed that the mages healing them had been the only reason they hadn't all turned. My gaze slid over to Aedan, to see raging fury instead of the helpless sadness Alistair and I had shared.

"Why have these people not been brought to the Grey Wardens before now?" he asked, his tone dangerously calm.

The templar guard, an incredibly young-looking redhead with a bit of a nervous tic in his eye, twitched, which was probably the most sensible response to the unspoken threat. I hadn't even noticed he'd followed us inside the makeshift gate. I'd be scared of Aedan if he used that tone on me too. "I do not know, my Lo-, uh, Warden Commander." He was eyeing Aedan's tabard, which he'd insisted all Wardens now wear. "The Knight Commander and the Grand Cleric told us to stay here and be on guard, so we did."

"I suggest you send a runner for the Knight Commander now, then." It was strange to think that Aedan, with all his twenty-four years, was considerably older than the young man trying not to cringe under my brother's gaze.

The poor kid nodded, and left us to head over to another young, untainted looking templar; the blond saluted smartly, smashed his helmet onto his head, and left at a jog. Anders knelt down next to a mage writhing on a thin blanket, and I felt the aura of his magic as blue healing poured forth; the elf slumped into what looked like a deep sleep – a kindness, I was sure. Anders looked less relieved than I expected, moving to kneel beside the next mage he saw. Looking around, I realised why; the healers circulating through trying to do what they could were focusing mainly on templars. The mages had been left largely to themselves, and I guessed the only thing that would prevent the healers from helping other mages was the threat of violence from their templar guards.

One of the tainted mages appeared to be the only one helping his fellows; from the pallet on which he sat, I could see him reaching out towards his neighbours, magic streaming from his fingers. While obviously sick, he appeared much healthier than the others; his hair had not fallen out, his skin showed black veins only up one arm, and his eyes were clear, though dark circles underneath them betrayed his exhaustion. With a start, I recognised him as a mage I'd met before: Alim. I was willing to bet anything his last name was Surana.

I stepped over to him just as Anders took over his healing; the elf collapsed back, panting slightly. As I got closer, I could tell he was completely drained; he'd used every last scrap of his mana trying to keep his fellows alive, when he was dying too.

I knelt beside him, gently touching his hand. "Alim?"

He turned his head slowly, his eyes focusing on my face, his expression bleak until he recognised me. "Sierra?" I nodded, and he flipped his hand to grip my fingers with surprising strength. "Thank the Maker. I've been asking for the Wardens since we were dragged here, but I didn't know if you were still with them, and I doubt any of my messages would have gotten through anyway." He squeezed my hand until it ached, but I held his just as tight. "Please, Sierra, you must recruit us." He gestured with his free hand, a vague wave that seemed to encompass the entire camp. "All of us."

I ignored that for a moment, unwilling to be the one to shatter the hope he'd clearly been clinging to since he'd become tainted. "What happened here?"

Alistair and Aedan approached behind me, and I heard the two crouch to hear his response.

"The Grand Cleric." Alim's response was bitter, venomous – a remarkable change from the man who'd ratted out Jowan in the tower. "When she found out a group of mages and templars had become ill, she forced the Knight-Commander to isolate us. Didn't want to allow the Wardens access to too many mages – it put too many of us outside of Chantry control, she said. She was angry that Greagoir let Solona and Anders slip through their grasp, and wouldn't allow any more of us to be conscripted."

He coughed, blackish blood flecks on his hand where he covered his mouth. "Greagoir tried to argue with her, tried to convince her that templars were being harmed by the same decision, but she said she wouldn't allow them to become Wardens either. She forced some healers into trying to 'cure' the templars, threatened them with Tranquility if they wasted mana on healing the mages, and left us here to die. I was the only one well enough to try to heal the others. I only had a small cut – just a stupid nick on a finger when I was grazed by a piece of broken sword that flew by. I've been trying to keep the others alive as long as I could, hoping someone would find us."

I squeezed Alim's hand, trying desperately not to cry. It was so typical, so stupid; I didn't even know why I was surprised. The old prune of a Grand Cleric was a zealot of the worst sort, using Chantry law to achieve her own ends, as I'd clearly seen in the Landsmeet. It shouldn't have come as a shock that she'd be threatened by the power wielded by the Wardens, though I was appalled at the deaths she was willing to countenance just to keep the Wardens from gaining a precious few recruits. And it was even worse than that – soldiers from the army had died for the lack of healers, soldiers who could have been saved if the handful of healers keeping the afflicted templars alive had been available to aid in the effort.

I couldn't decide whether to throw up, or find the Grand Cleric and beat her silly.

I took a deep breath, murmuring some sort of reassuring nonsense to Alim before standing to talk to my brother and my husband.

"Aedan..."

"I know." He looked over the group of sick mages and templars with barely concealed rage. "There's maybe four of them who will even live until I can get Jowan to make the potion, never mind how many will survive the ritual. If we had only found them sooner..."

Leliana spoke, startling me; the bard had approached unheard as we talked. "I am sorry I didn't find out sooner. I thought it was strange, that several healers were nowhere to be found near the infirmary tents, and started searching for them; I only discovered this place this morning, by accident. I had never imagined..."

I turned and hugged her. Her voice sounded so lost, so defeated, and I couldn't stand hearing my friend sound that way. Growing up without religion, I could only imagine that seeing the result of your closely held beliefs being abused must be horrifying.

"Not your fault, Leli," I assured her, and Aedan and Alistair murmured agreement. "I'm glad you found them at all, and I just hope that Cailan can use this to make sure that old hag never lives it down."

She choked out a dismayed laugh, torn between amusement at my irreverence and despair at the tragedy that her faith had propagated.

Just then the Knight-Commander arrived. The four of us – Anders was still busy soothing tortured mages – turned as one to glare at him; he just sighed, gesturing for us to step to the side where we couldn't be heard.

"I'm not supposed to say this, but I'm glad you've found our little secret, Wardens." Aedan looked to be nearing apoplexy, and Greagoir waved his hand defensively. "This was not my idea, believe me. Think of me what you will, assume the worst about the mages in my care, but you have to believe at least that I would not allow so many of my own men to perish for politics."

He has a point. I don't know whether he'd have been happy with more mages being recruited, regardless of the circumstances, but I can't believe he'd let the templars die with them.

"I...you...they're all going to die, Knight-Commander. At your order."

"And what was my alternative?" He just sounded tired. "I can't ignore the Grand Cleric of Ferelden when she gives me a direct order. I argued with her until she threatened to have me excommunicated. And if I'd kept on without regard for myself until she did that, she'd just promote someone less likely to even try."

The reality of the situation was sinking in, leaving me numb. If not for one, stupid, hateful, narrow-minded woman, some of these people might have survived. I sighed. It was too late – most of them were already dead, even if they didn't know it.

Aedan appeared to be trying to swallow his rancor to do what needed to be done. Finally he spoke, his voice tight, the only thing that betrayed his dismay. "I hereby conscript every man and woman in this camp who survives until," he paused and checked the position of the sun, "sundown. I will leave my healer here to keep the most likely survivors as healthy as possible. Those who have already turned, Knight-Commander, I will personally put out of their misery – immediately. You should have your men prepare a pyre; I'd be somewhat surprised if even one or two survive the night."

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