|Victory at Ostagar
Author: Arsinoe de Blassenville PM
When Bryce Cousland's little spitfire scaled the Tower of Ishal and lit the beacon at the critical moment, King Cailan won a mighty victory against the darkspawn. The Blight, however was far from over. All other origins included, plus Hawke and his companions. Cousland/Loghain, Morrigan/Anders, Surana/Zevran, Fergus/Anora, and more. Half a million hits and still going.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Cousland - Chapters: 115 - Words: 1,044,015 - Reviews: 4,286 - Favs: 813 - Follows: 676 - Updated: 05-19-13 - Published: 03-18-10 - id: 5825274
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Victory at Ostagar
Chapter 72: A Priestly Conclave
Pleasant as holidays were, when they were over, they were over. The glow from the Satinalia Ball and a private, intense celebration in her room did not survive the cold light of morning. Bronwyn felt wrong-footed, not having sufficient time to plan her next move.
She had told Loghain that the Grand Cleric wanted to talk more about the Queen's healing, which was perfectly true. About the sick child and the upcoming test, she said nothing. It was quite bad enough that the Grand Cleric knew about the other Ashes, and no doubt would have witnesses present, who would then also know. There was just time to put a word in the ears of her chosen companions.
Leliana, of course. If she did not come, there would be questions. She had already done her worst, and was somewhat repentant. And she had been present, both at the gaining of the Ashes, and the Healing of the queen. Anders and Jowan. Jowan because he had caused this ridiculous affair, and Bronwyn was not going to let him sleep in when she had rise early on the day after Satinalia and be examined by the high clergy. Anders was coming because she wanted this test subject examined by a competent Healer first. Perhaps this was all a trick.
Zevran she would not bring with her, nor would she disclose his name or that he had journeyed with her. Leliana had told the Grand Cleric that there were other pinches of the Ashes, but not the names of those in the party. That would not be all that difficult to discover, but Bronwyn wanted to protect Zevran and Tara from Chantry scrutiny as long as possible.
They met for a breakfast, glum and shadowy-eyed, all wearing their Warden tunics. Bronwyn dug into her porridge without conversation.
"Perhaps we should bring that golden bowl again," Leliana suggested gently, after a long uncomfortable silence. "It would not do to put the Ashes of our Lady in cheap crockery."
"I'll bring it," Bronwyn agreed. "Though the Chantry might not like it. They'll probably want to examine it, too, for traces of magic."
Anders spoke from around his mug of hot, strong tea. "Probably have a Templar do a Cleanse. With my luck he'll Smite us all for an encore."
"Leliana," Bronwyn said, very sternly. "Do not volunteer any more information. Do not give the exact location of Haven. Do not give the numbers or names of the others in our party. I don't want them hunted down like rabbits for those Ashes."
A submissive nod. Bronwyn hoped Leliana's obedience would hold.
It had rained very late in the night, dowsing the embers of the Satinalia bonfires. A heavy haze hung in the air. The smell of wet wood permeated everything, even dominating the odors of spilled ale and vomit. A few late revelers had failed to take their holiday home, and were sprawled under eaves or propped against walls, snoring.
The walk seemed long, almost unending. Bronwyn took her preferred route over the East Gate Bridge and then to Gate Street, walking past Highever House. She gave it a salute, and felt a boost of confidence and self-assurance. Fergus was there, still sleeping. He seemed to have had a very good time at the ball, and had not had too much to drink, which was always a good thing. No doubt he had wanted the Queen to think well of him.
Her head was still spinning from all the new ideas of the day before. Cousin Leonas would marry. That young freeholder would likely become Arl of Denerim. Charade Amell might marry the heir to the Arling of West Hills. The ant hill had been kicked apart, and was putting itself together in an entirely new way.
Her own impression of Aron Kendalls was better than Loghain's. Compared to Vaughan, he was a breath of fresh air: serious, willing to put his hand to the task, not mired in tradition. His demeanor toward Bronwyn was respectful, and she got the impression that he, too, was not perfectly satisfied with Denerim as it was. Of course, who knew what would come of that? For that matter, who knew what would come of his marriage to Habren? They seemed an ill-assorted pair to Bronwyn, but she agreed with Loghain's view that this young man would brook no nonsense.
The Grand Cleric Muirin took her place in her chair of state in her council chamber. She tugged her fur cloak closer about her shoulders, despite the roaring fire. Somehow, she had never felt well and warm since Gertrude had dosed her with that horrible potion.
Perhaps she was cold because she was afraid. Oh, yes: very much afraid. Afraid that today's test would fail; more afraid that it would succeed. Afraid for herself, too, as shameful as it was to acknowledge. It was entirely possible that Val Royeaux had judged her an inadequate tool and had marked her for disposal.
Before her were a dozen reliable members of the clergy. Not all were close friends. Not all were Fereldan patriots. That was her intention, since she wanted the most objective, reasoned analysis of what they would see today.
Mother Perpetua was present, of course, now her deputy here in Denerim, since the demotion and incarceration of Gertrude. Rosamund, now confirmed in her priesthood, had replaced Heloise, who, alone in cell in Fort Drakon, was no longer smug and superior. Mother Boann, her sweet face concerned, was here as well.
Sister Justine, their curator, was essential to the investigation, of course. Her clerk, Sister Rose, was here to transcribe the conclave's proceedings. Revered Mother Damaris had come from South Reach, and Revered Mother Eudoxia from Lothering. Revered Mother Juliana, tiny and withered, had sailed all the way from Gwaren to attend. Revered Mother Hannah of Redcliffe had been invited, but had not come. It was possible that the summons had not reached her in time, or that events in the south made her presence impossible. Hannah would regret missing this.
The Revered Mothers of Highever and Amaranthine, currently under scrutiny for their collaboration with Arl Howe and his Tevinter blood mages, were not present. It was possible that within the year both would be demoted and relegated to a cloister.
Templars were also in attendance. Tavish had been imprisoned, too, for his reckless disregard for the guests at Arl Urien's wedding. It did not seem that he was a partisan of Orlais, but Gertude and Heloise had found it too easy to use him for their purposes. Muirin was considering elevating Ser Bryant of the Lothering Chantry to the rank of Knight-Commander. He was admired not only for his devotion and skill at arms, but for his compassion and good sense. She had asked him to accompany Mother Eudoxia, and to attend the session.
No one could reasonably accuse Ser Rylock of compassion, but neither could anyone question her devotion to the Chantry and her high-minded rejection of political intrigue. Muirin had a specific role for her in mind. Ser Irminric and Ser Otto were also present, worthy knights both, and deeply devout. Their role in the release of the Queen would make them particularly acceptable to the Warden-Commander.
Knight-Commander Harrith, of course, was also in attendance. Muirin sighed inwardly, looking at the man. Well-born and well-connected, certainly, and because of that, this rather sleazy fellow had been promoted over the heads of better holy warriors. There was talk that he was involved in unauthorized lyrium dealing. That he had been recommended for his promotion by the Revered Mother of Amaranthine did not speak well for the woman.
"I have called you together for a high purpose. It is entirely possible that here, today, in this place, we will witness a true miracle."
Hope, excitement, skepticism were before her in the persons of the priests and Templars she had chosen. Everyone had heard the rumors, and some more or less garbled version of the truth. Muirin snuggled down into her furs, wishing that this had not come in her time: not the Blight, not the young King's death, not the upcoming struggle for the throne, not the frightening possibility of an Exalted March. She thought with rueful resentment of dear Wealtheow, her predecessor and mentor, who had managed to rule over the Fereldan Chantry from the fourth year of Maric's reign to the year before his disappearance: an enviable, uncomplicated period of peace and stability.
More especially, she had no desire to deal with what she must face today: the very difficult and challenging claim of a miraculous event. Muirin knew that miracles were inconsistent with the modern world as ordered by the Maker. Andraste, indeed, had performed wonders a thousand years ago, but she was the Bride of the Maker and His Prophet. After her death, the Maker had once again turned his back on his erring children. If they, by exercise of their free will, diligently pursued their duty, and spread the Chant of Light to every corner of the world, he would forgive. Until then, they were on their own, in the cold and the dark.
Nonetheless, she must face the challenge, and for that purpose, had yesterday been forced to make the ugliest choice of her priestly career. She was not at all sure, when she stood before the Maker someday, he would be very impressed with her.
But here was Bronwyn, whom she had known as an adorable little girl, the daughter of her dear friend Eleanor Cousland, claiming to have found the Prophet's remains, and to have healed the Queen with them. What would Eleanor say, if she knew what Bronwyn was up to? And arrogating the holy powers of the Prophet to herself was far from the whole story. The girl had essentially declared herself Commander of the Grey...in the absence of any superior in the order. Now, if rumor was true— and Muirin's own analysis of the political situation was correct—Bronwyn was reaching for the crown itself.
Wardens were not supposed to hold worldly titles. That was a basic tenet of the order, but Muirin knew her history, and knew that there had been exceptions over the order's long and storied past. Duncan—with whom she had never got on well, especially after his conscription of Maric's bastard son Alistair—had been very wrong to conscript a Cousland. Technically, he had had the right, but Couslands liked to make their own rules; and while Bronwyn, from all accounts, had performed splendidly in her role as leader of the Wardens, it was clear that she still thought and acted as a high noble of Ferelden. So much for Duncan, and his penchant for collecting his betters' children.
Everyone was here and looking at her in suppressed impatience. It was time to tell them all.
"Bronwyn Cousland, Warden-Commander of the Grey will be here soon, and I have arranged a test, hoping that she has put her hands on the true Ashes of the Prophet."
"But it was claimed, Your Grace," Sister Justine said, confused, "That the Ashes were used to heal the Queen."
"I questioned Lady Bronwyn at length. She claims to have found the funerary temple of the Prophet in the Frostback Mountains. One of her party accompanied her to see me. Leliana is her name, and until a few months ago, she served as a lay sister in the Lotherin Chantry. She is also of Orlesian extraction. She let slip that each member of the party, after surviving certain ordeals, was rewarded with a pinch of the Ashes from the Urn."
A murmur of wonder, a brief exchange of significant glances.
Mother Juliana of Gwaren, too old to be afraid to speak her mind, piped up harshly.
"How many in the party? How many pinches of Sacred Ashes will be up for sale by every charlatan from here to Rialto Bay?"
"I do not know the exact number. It was not large: Bronwyn, Sister—now Warden Leliana— an ex-Templar named Cullen." She managed a faint laugh. "Presumably Bronwyn's large, loyal, and formidable mabari, though I find it hard to believe he was given a pinch! Beyond that I do not know. Ser Cullen was killed after securing his pinch of Ashes, in a battle with a dragon."
"The Prophet's Ashes and dragons to boot!" sniffed Mother Damaris. "Quite the adventure!"
"I knew Cullen," Ser Harrith said. "Young and idealistic. A splendid swordsman. I had no idea he'd become a Warden."
Muirin said, "He was conscripted at the Circle Tower when Bronwyn also conscripted a pair of mages, and where she recruited yet more mages for the army. The conscriptions were with the consent of Knight-Commander Greagoir. He knew of Ser Cullen's death, having received a letter of condolence from Bronwyn. She said nothing of Ashes or dragons in it, but said that Cullen died most bravely in the performance of his duty."
"Lady Bronwyn, " Ser Bryant began "—er—the Warden-Commander—came through Lothering several months ago, and did a great deal to calm the people and put them in the way of defending themselves. She did not strike me as one who would invent a story to inflate her own importance."
"I agree," said Mother Eudoxia of Lothering, "though ambition can play tricks on one's wits. Lady Bronwyn would not be the first to sincerely believe a falsehood."
Mother Boann had been brooding in silence, and but then looked up, "We must be careful how we behave to her. Right or wrong, she might well be our queen in a little over a month!"
That was something to consider, certainly, and a brief silence fell over the conclave. The Chantry was already in a bad odor with the Crown, Insulting a claimant would be, at the very least, imprudent.
"Can we not hear the whole story from her own lips," said Mother Juliana. "and judge for ourselves?"
"You shall hear it," the Grand Cleric assented. "You shall hear every word. But before that, we shall have the test. The consequences of that, as I am sure you can see, will very much determine how we shall proceed with our examination of her. I told Bronwyn that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. After suitable search, we found a number of mortally ill individuals whose conditions did not yield to magic. While Lady Bronwyn was patrolling for darkspawn in the north, I sent to the Circle for assistance. With Templar supervision, a powerful mage examined a dozen sick persons brought before him. After his best efforts, three remained uncured. They are even now at the point of death. After due consideration, I had one of them brought here today. Bronwyn will bring forth her Ashes, and we shall see what virtue they possess."
Choosing which one might live had caused Muirin considerable anguish. How to choose between an ailing mother, a young man long a suffering invalid, and a dying little girl? In the end, Muirin had chosen the child, because she thought that if Bronwyn were to be urged to make a sincere test of her supposed cure, her heart might be most softened by the little girl, perhaps seeing herself there. All three were poor commoners, which was unfortunate. It would have been better to have available a subject of more famous name, or someone of greater importance to the nation. These three, however, were what the Maker had put before them.
Another factor inclining Muirin toward the little girl was that she was a child of the Chantry, and could be brought here without raising false hopes in a family or even giving rise to rumors. Prudence and discretion were best.
A soft knock at the door roused them from their whispered gossip.
"Your Grace, the Warden-Commander is here, and with her Wardens Leliana, Anders, and Jowan."
"Admit them at once."
The Grand Cleric was not pleased to hear that Bronwyn had brought that blood mage Jowan, who had participating in the ransacking of the Cathedral and who was obviously a Libertarian of the most radical stripe. On the other hand, she had brought Leliana, who loved the Chantry. Perhaps Bronwyn, too, was trying for balance.
The Wardens were shown to a table in the middle of the room. It put them clearly in view of the priestly council, whose members were arranged in a semicircle in front of it.
"Be seated, Wardens, if you please."
Muirin called the conclave to order and greeted the Wardens formally, apprising them of her purpose today.
"Yes, Your Grace," Bronwyn replied clearly. "It was plain that you meant to make a test of the Ashes today. I brought them. And this." She laid a small, translucent gut packet on the table before her. From a bag slung over her shoulder she removed a footed bowl of pure hammered gold.
"Is that the bowl that was used to administer the Ashes to the Queen?" Muirin asked.
"We will need to examine it for inherent, runic, or applied magics."
"I have no objection."
That was done by Ser Irminric and Ser Otto, who turned the bowl round and round and upside down. Ser Rylock performed a Cleanse, and after some pondering, asked Otto to perform one as well.
"I think there's something here," muttered Irminric, "but it might just be residue."
"Nothing malevolent, certainly," said Otto.
"If there is any trace of magic," said Mother Perpetua, "the bowl cannot be used for the test."
"Very well," Bronwyn shrugged. "I shall simply place the Ashes in the child's mouth with my fingers. Mind you, she might well want a drink of water afterwards."
The Grand Cleric gestured to Sister Justine, who took a plain cup from a cupboard, and filled it with from the silver ewer near the priests.
"Perhaps," suggested Ser Bryant, "the Warden and her people wish to check the water and cups for anything untoward."
"Well thought on," Bronwyn said and immediately took the cup from Sister Justine and drank it down herself. Jowan and Anders winced visibly, which curiously troubled the Grand Cleric. Had it really come to this, that Eleanor Cousland's child would suspect her of using poison?
Bronwyn then set down the cup, and her challenging gaze swept the room. "I seem to be alive. Pour another cup, if you please, Sister Justine, and let us set it right there," she smiled wolfishly, "where everyone can see it."
"One last thing, Your Grace." It was Ser Rylock, her huge dark eyes gleaming. "Let us consider the possibility that Lady Bronwyn was able to infuse common ashes with some curative powers herself."
Leliana spoke up, bewildered. "But how could she do that?"
Anders and Jowan exchanged a grim look between them. They had foreseen this being raised, even if Bronwyn had not.
"Perhaps," Ser Rylock suggested, her voice deceptively mild, "Lady Bronwyn has sufficient magic to accomplish it? Could it be that she is a secret mage?"
Bronwyn stared back unflinchingly. A disgusted disclaimer from her would be insulting to her Warden mages, who had fought at her side, and were now sitting here, doing their best for her.
"I am no mage," she said clearly.
Anders rudely snorted a laugh. "Secret mage, indeed! Secret from her, too!"
Rylock did not rise to the bait. "That is not an unknown scenario, Warden, despite your ignorant laughter. It has happened that magic manifests in later life. I believe this examination would be incomplete without considering the possibility."
"Bronwyn," the Grand Cleric said gently. "We are not saying this to insult you, but we must consider all possibilities. Ser Rylock will perform a procedure used to suppress magical ability. If you are not a mage, it should not inconvenience you."
"You mean a Smite, Of course I know about them. Cullen did them all the time to disable darkspawn mages. They're very useful. A Smite never knocked me out of a fight. Do your worst, Ser Templar," she said to Rylock.
"Er…" Anders got up and started backing away. "You don't mind if Jowan and I step aside right now, do you? I'd like to be functional for the rest of this party."
"I think a known mage should be within range," Mother Eudoxia suggested, "so we can be absolutely certain it was a full-power, effective smite."
Ser Rylock grimaced, not sure whether to be offended at the idea that she would do less than her best, or to be pleased to have a mage to discipline.
"I'll stand with the Commander," said Jowan, carefully not looking at anybody. "If I'm knocked out, Bronwyn will still have Anders to rely on, who's a better Healer than I am."
Anders burst out in anger. "So Jowan will be struck with a Smite. What will you do to get rid of the rest of us, I wonder? Then you'll all be looking beady-eyed at Bronwyn to judge her. Well, you know what? If she has to stand up to it, I think one of you priests who's so hot to find something wrong with her should be tested too, right with her and Jowan!"
"We are not the ones on trial here!" Rylock railed back at him.
"Oh," Bronwyn said, raising her brows. "I'm on trial? Actually, I think Anders' suggestion has merit. You all speak of a Smite as proof positive of being a mage, but have any of you ever endured one? No? It's a sensible idea. You can see from the priest's reaction what a normal, proper, unmagelike response should be, and judge me the better for it. Sister Justine: you're young enough not to be injured by a Smite. Do you dare face the test with me? If you do not, then I can assure you that you have no chance whatever of passing the tests to which the Guardian of the Urn of the Sacred Ashes would subject you!"
"Who is this Guardian?" Mother Juliana demanded. "Are you saying that there is a secret order protecting the Prophet's remains? Grand Cleric—"
"Grand Cleric!" Ser Rylock said, very angry. "This is a trick to manipulate me into easing back on the Smite. Well, I won't!"
"Nobody expects that," Anders sneered.
Muirin raised her hand for silence. "First the tests! Then the story! Sister Justine, do you, as a gesture of good faith, agree to endure the Smite with the mage and the Warden-Commander?"
The mild-mannered curator stared at them all in dismay. "I suppose...it's not dangerous, is it? I mean, we're told it doesn't really hurt mages, so it couldn't possibly do me any harm..."
Mother Boann spoke up, swiftly and urgently. "Grand Cleric, Sister Justine is frightened. I will endure the test in her place."
"No!" Sister Justine squeaked. "I mean, no thank you, Revered Mother. I'm not afraid...really... I'll think I'd like a drink of water, first..."
They waited while she gulped down the water hastily. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and walked over to Bronwyn, glad that her robes concealed her shaking knees. It was a very intimidating experience. The Warden-Commander was so very tall, and the blood mage was standing within inches of her. Ser Rylock was glaring at them all in a very hostile and unpleasant way. She was reeking of lyrium, too, and Justine, in that adrenalin-charged moment, made instantaneous connections among various facts she knew. Mages needed lyrium. Templars needed lyrium. The Templar in front of her was going to cast a Holy Smite, which was really, really, really like having a spell cast on her. What were spellcasters? Mages were spellcasters. The syllogism was already forming in in her head.
Casting spells makes one a mage.
Templars cast spells.
Templars are mages.
No! That couldn't be right! Ser Rylock drew her sword and raised her left hand on high, while light swirled around her. It brightened unendurably and then burst forth, with a distant boom. Startled, Justine cried out as the the light swept through her bones like a high wind, leaving dizzy, dull nausea in its wake. She put her hand over her mouth.
The mage was slumped on the floor, vomiting; the stink of it sharp above the scent of lyrium. Ser Rylock looked triumphant: enraptured, even. Sister Justine's stomach knotted again. She glanced up at the impassive Warden-Commander, who quietly asked, "Are you all right?"
"Fine. Fine," Justine managed weakly, a little frightened at her own reaction to the Smite. Had it just been the bright light, or was she a mage? It had made her feel a little sick, but the Warden-Commander had not changed color or her stern expression. Justine babbled, "Mind you, it's not a very nice experience. Do mages always get sick like that? Does he need help?"
"Yes," the other mage, Anders, said coldly, shouldering her aside. "He'll be sick and weak for an hour, even with care. Was that entertaining enough for this crowd?"
"Anders..." Leliana pleaded.
"Don't!" Anders snarled. "Don't tell me everything's fine. You can see that we're nothing but animals to them."
"Come on, Anders," Bronwyn said, tugging on his sleeve. "Help me get him over there. He can rest for awhile, and then we'll help him home. Cast a Rejuvenation on him."
Anders preened, his gaze ranging the room in an obnoxiously smug way. He cast the spell instantly, with a show of perfect ease.
"Now, sit," Bronwyn growled at him softly. He grimaced, but obeyed.
"So," Bronwyn said, turning to the Grand Cleric, "Is everyone satisfied that I am not a mage? And for that matter, that Sister Justine is not a mage? Though I will point out, Sister, in the interest of scholarly precision, that Holy Smites do actually hurt mages. That's the point."
"It was very disagreeable," Justine declared, feeling uncommonly bold. "Ser Rylock must be a very powerful Templar."
"I find the test conclusive," the Grand Cleric decreed. "Bronwyn Cousland, the Warden-Commander of Ferelden, is not a mage. Does anyone wish to register a dissenting opinion?"
Bronwyn tensely waited for someone to say something, but no one did. In fact, she had found it as unpleasant as Justine had, but had not dared express any discomfort, lest that be pounced on as proof of her magical nature. In the heat of battle, a Smite could be shrugged off; in this uncomfortable cockpit, with every eye on her, it was not so easy to dismiss the nasty sensation.
The Grand Cleric cleared her throat. "Then let us move on. Mother Boann, is the subject ready?"
"Yes, Your Grace. She is in the private chapel next door with her escort."
"Then, Revered Mother, admit the subject, the mage, and the Templar supervising him. While you are doing that, I will explain our preparations to the Warden-Commander."
She turned to Bronwyn. "We sought out cases of illness that did not respond to magic. One individual was chosen. Her illness is not magic-related, to anyone's knowledge. It is not the result of a demon or a curse, but of a natural defect of the body. She will die, and very soon. There is nothing that either loving care or magic can do for her."
Mother Boann returned shortly, followed by two grey-beards whom Bronwyn knew.
"Knight-Commander! First Enchanter!"
Anders smirked, while Jowan shrank away, wishing he was strong enough to crawl away and hide under the table. Sure enough, First Enchanter Irving and Ser Greagoir entered the room, followed by a litter carried by two lay brothers. On the litter lay an unconscious child. dressed only in a white linen shift. The litter was set on the floor and the brothers dismissed.
The child was appallingly thin, her bony arms drawn up around her head. A soft, thin, unending whine issued from her throat.
"She cries even when unconscious," Mother Boann said sadly. "She seems to be in great pain."
"What is your opinion, First Enchanter?" asked the Grand Cleric. "Can the child be healed by magic?"
"I have attempted it repeatedly. I do not believe it to be possible, You Grace," said Irving. "The tumor in her brain is resistant. With a heavier dose of certain potions, I could relieve some of the pain…"
"And very likely kill her!" Ser Rylock erupted. "This innocent child will die in the Maker's good time, and go to him unsullied!"
"So the First Enchanter says it can't be done. Do you mind," Anders asked, with a hint of acid, "if I at least try?"
"Do so," the Grand Cleric. "Do so now. By all means, do your best."
"Warden Anders," Knight-Commander Greagoir declared to the assembled company, "is the finest Healer the Circle has produced in the past ten years."
"Ooo, compliments!" Anders snarked. "Maybe I wouldn't have run off if I'd known you cared!"
He subsided at Bronwyn's grave expression, and when focused on healing, he was, as always, perfectly serious. His face turned intent and watchful; blue fire crackled through his fingers. He laid them on the child with great gentleness, and the magic boiled up and around, in a superb display.
But to no avail. The child continued to moan. Frustrated, Anders tried again. And again. Sweat streamed from his brow and dripped from his nose.
"Anders," Irving urged him firmly. "Stop. Tumors are vile things, and brain tumors the worst of all."
"I can almost get it," the young mage said, face strained. "I can feel it!"
"Enough!" said the Grand Cleric. "I feel this is a sufficient demonstration that the tumor will not yield to spells. Warden-Commander, I wish you to try the Ashes."
Bronwyn rose, and took up the packet of Ashes. She looked at the suffering little girl, her stomach turning again, not from the Smite, but from the horror of such a fate.
"What is this child's name?" she asked.
Mother Eudoxia was puzzled. "What difference can that possibly make?"
Some winced at her insensitivity. The Grand Cleric did not, though she felt it herself, and knew such an answer would rouse Bronwyn's ire again. Eleanor had been hot-tempered, too.
"I think I have a perfect right to know everything about this child," Bronwyn shot back, holding back the tide of anger and contempt. "I am giving my life for her."
The Grand Cleric took a breath, and raised her hand in protest, but Bronwyn pressed on ruthlessly.
"Yes. I am giving my life for her. Because I am using the Ashes to cure her, I will not have them on the day when I am grievously wounded or ill. Therefore...I will die because she lived. I do not begrudge her that life, but I will not let the exchange pass unremarked."
"You can use my Ashes..." Leliana urged softly. Bronwyn glared her into silence.
"Where is this child's mother?" she asked abruptly. "Why is she alone among strangers in her last hours?"
Mother Boann answered, her voice soothing. " Her name is Demelza. She is a child of the Chantry. And she is not alone."
The Revered Mother hesitated, being an honest woman. "No. She was...given to the Chantry by her family."
"Why? Was she crippled or incorrigible?"
Ser Bryant did not much like the truth himself, so he gave Bronwyn a soldier's stare. "She was... accepted to satisfy a debt owed to the Templar grange of East Ryecombe."
Anders muttered to Leliana, "So much for there being no slavery in Ferelden! No wonder they want her healed."
The Grand Cleric interposed, trying to remain in control of the proceedings. "We really must move on to the business at hand, Bronwyn. Will you, or will you not, attempt this test?"
"Yes!" Bronwyn replied. "But first...you ask me to prove my words...to prove my good faith," she said to the priests. ""Very well. I am here, submitting to your tests and your disbelief. On the other hand, you offer me nothing, even begrudging me a few questions about this child. You do not risk the danger that I do in sacrificing these Ashes. You did not earn these Ashes as I did, by fire and sword, yet you claim the right to dispose of them at your convenience in order to satisfy your curiosity."
She looked at them each in turn. "I think an exchange is order. We should receive some benefit for this sacrifice...other," she sneered, "than the privilege of not being called liars."
"What do you want, Bronwyn?" asked the Grand Cleric wearily.
"I want Mother Clarine and her minion Sister Polycarp recalled from Ostagar. I want them to submit to questioning about the late events of the seventh of Harvestmere. While we welcome the spiritual comfort of the Chantry, we do not appreciate interference in strategic planning. Mother Clarine very nearly cost us our victory in the Bloomingtide Battle. Her trouble-making has cost us countless lives. Out of bigotry and spite, she had murdered an innocent mage, sent here under my orders to serve the Queen. In short, I want her out of this war."
"She will be recalled," the Grand Cleric agreed. "But I wish to make clear that I do not think her an Orlesian sympathizer."
It was true. The Grand Cleric did not think Clarine party to these sinister foreign plots. She did recognize that she was a narrow-minded, dogmatic woman, who tended to see Blood Magic wherever there were mages.
Bronwyn had more to say. "And furthermore, I don't want my mages harassed or second-guessed. They have risked their lives to save this ungrateful country, and they deserve—if you absolutely cannot manage respect—at least a measure of peace."
Rylock drew an angry breath, but was silenced by the Grand Cleric's sharp look. Muirin said, "The Chantry Treaty with the Wardens is quite clear on the issue of immunity."
"For obvious reasons, I require that you do not reveal the existence of other Ashes to anyone who absolutely does not need to know. I would prefer that my people not be pursued like animals by every bounty hunter in Thedas!"
"I think it would suffice to record that there were some Ashes remaining after the Queen was healed," Muirin agreed. "That there were additional doses need not go farther." She looked around the room. "I charge you, on your obedience, to say nothing of additional Ashes."
Bronwyn was not satisfied, but there seemed little she could do about it. "That will have to do, I suppose. Finally, I want you to send this child to me. I am about to buy her life with my own, and therefore I should have some say in her future. She may well be happy with her life as a servant—"
"A lay sister—"
"—of the Chantry. If she is not, I shall see that she lives as she likes. Do you agree to this?"
Grand Cleric Muirin breathed a long mental sigh of relief. She had feared that Bronwyn would storm in, demanding liberty for every mage in Thedas. Her requests were moderate, all things considered.
"If the child is healed, she is yours."
"Very well, then."
Bronwyn kicked a footstool over to the litter on the far side of the child from the examiners. She wanted them to see exactly what she was doing. She opened the packet, and touched the Ashes, feeling once again their curious, magical heat. She took a breath.
"An interesting feature of the Ashes is their inherent warmth, as if they had only now been raked from a fire."
"Really?" Muirin was intrigued. "May I?"
At her gesture, Bronwyn brought them over to her. Muirin touched them very carefully with the tip of a finger and then gasped. Bronwyn's face was a study in grim satisfaction.
"That's…extraordinary…" Muirin said. "Sister Rose, annotate the minutes with the observation that the Grand Cleric touched the Ashes and confirmed that they are indeed very warm."
A pause, and a sudden, almost eerie transformation in the room's atmosphere. The air crackled with anticipation. The priests were silent. Irminric and Otto looked at each other in wild surmise and hope. Ser Bryant swallowed. Ser Rylock was perfectly still. And Ser Harrith was shaken—albeit slightly—out of his customary boredom. The two old men, Irving and Greagoir, exchanged a swift, uneasy glance. Everyone wanted to touch the Ashes, but no one dared to say so.
"Go on, Bronwyn," said the Grand Cleric. "Administer them to the child."
"Demelza," Bronwyn murmured, fixing the name in her mind. The child was not a mere experimental subject, after all, but a person.
She pulled the stool up and sat close to the little girl. Demelza's eyes were squeezed shut, all her muscles rigid from the onslaught of ceaseless pain. Carefully, Bronwyn touched the pale little mouth, and the moans grew louder. Scooping up most of the Ashes with her left fingertip, she managed to work them past the child's lips. The sensation must have been unpleasant. The child squirmed and cried, running her tongue over her teeth. That was enough, evidently.
With a sudden sharp cry, the girl sat up, clapping her hands to her head. Just as suddenly, she collapsed back on the litter, her breath coming in sharp little pants. The she exhaled slowly, and looked up at Bronwyn.
She asked, "Who're you?"
Bronwyn smiled at her, and gave her a wink. "I'm the Girl Warden!"
A gasp ran around the room. Leliana's face lit up in joy, and she lifted her hands up to the Maker. Anders shouted "Ha!" and pounded the table in glee. From his place on the floor, Jowan smiled in rueful relief.
The girl sat up again, and began rebuking Bronwyn in a voice copied from her priestly guardians.
"That's a story! Telling stories is very, very wrong. If I tell a story, I have to sit on a high stool in front of the class wearing the "LIAR" placard all day long!"
"Demelza, dear," Mother Boann asked, "How do you feel? You were so sick!"
The child considered that. "I feel fine," she said, matter-of-factly. "I don't feel sick any more. May I have a drink of water?"
Smiles of wonder were breaking forth. Sister Justine raced to the pitcher and nearly dropped the cup, filling it. Bronwyn took the cup from her and gave it to Demelza.
"Just drink it down." She lowered her voice. "And don't spit, whatever you do. The Grand Cleric is watching. Just drink it all down."
First Enchanter Irving and Anders were both trying to edge forward to examine the girl. The Grand Cleric nodded in permission, and another round of puzzlement and wonder began.
Demelza, it seemed, was well. And not just well. She was in perfect health. She giggled when Anders insisted on looking her mouth and complimented her on her perfect, pearly teeth. She was embarrassed when Mother Boann led her around to all the priests and Templars in turn.
"I don't have anything on but my shimmy!" she objected in a loud whisper.
"No one minds, dear," Mother Boann reassured her. During Demelza's long illness, Boann had forgotten the child's deplorable forthrightness.
Bronwyn bit back a laugh, and gave the Grand Cleric a naughty smirk instead. Muirin sighed inwardly, remembering that look from years gone by.
"Fetch the child some clothing, Sister Justine."
The archivist was not happy to miss any part of the discussion, but actually, nobody was uttering much of anything other than pleased and wondering exclamations and general praise of the Maker and His Prophet. Ser Rylock had fallen to her knees in frantic, ecstatic prayer, and was oblivious to anything else going on around her.
Irminric and Otto smiled at each other, knelt, and joined their soft, deep voices to that of Ser Rylock.
By the time all the priests and Templars had seen the child for themselves, Sister Justine burst into the room, red with running, her arms full of clothing and with a pair of little shoes slipping from her grasp. Bronwyn helped her get the child dressed.
"Arms up," she ordered.
"Are you really the Girl Warden?"
"Yes. Turn around."
"You're all grown up. I thought you'd be a little girl, like me. Or maybe like Luadhin. She's the proctor of my dormitory. She's thirteen."
Bronwyn turned her face away, suddenly realizing that she really was grown up. Somehow, between death and the darkspawn, everything in her that felt like youth had slipped away. It made her sad, somehow.
Demelza whispered, "Why am I here? Why is everybody so excited?"
Mother Boann whispered back, "You were very sick, dear. We thought we were going to lose you, but Our Lady Andraste healed you herself. We're going to have a prayer now and thank her!"
The Grand Cleric's prayer was long and rambling, and needed considerable revision and polishing later on, when the final record of the meeting was composed. Demelza grew restless, and had to be stopped from fidgeting.
Muirin knew she was hardly making any sense at all. Her mind was in distressed confusion. She had read many books, and had always longed to have seen the miracles of the great old days—longed to have seen the Prophet with her own eyes, and to have defied her enemies at her side.
Well, now she had seen a miracle, and she realized that it was just as complicated a matter as it had been in Andraste's day, when the Tevinters denied her and called her witch and demon, and burned her at the stake.
She would send her report to Val Royeaux, detailing the events. Had it happened anywhere but in Ferelden, the Divine might even have lent the story some credence.
Divine Beatrix III, however, would never believe in anything good or marvelous coming out of Ferelden: not with the political situation as it was. The Divine was almost certainly—to some degree, at least—involved in Gertrude and Heloise's plots. She might even have given them their orders. Muirin had known, when the late King Cailan had first approached her about the possibility of dissolving his unfruitful marriage, that there was going to be serious trouble in Ferelden. She had also had hints from abroad that the King was looking westward for a new alliance. If the Empress had decided to conquer Ferelden by marriage, how angry and vengeful she must now be. The peace plan had failed. That she attempted it implied that she still wished to possess this land. And the Divine, Orlesian to the core, still regarded Ferelden as a rude, barbarous, and rebellious province of the Orlesian Empire. Muirin had experienced for herself the patronizing remarks, the little contemptuous snubs on her visits to the Grand Cathedral.
No, she would not believe Bronwyn had found the true Ashes. It was pointless to send Muirin's own favorable report to her, because it would simply make her angry, and probably of yet more a mind to set Murin aside and put one of her own people in the position of Grand Cleric. Would she dare? In the current climate, could she imagine that Ferelden would tolerate it?
Of course she could. She would expect Fereldans to submit, like good little serfs…like the serfs in Orlais. Muirin's report would be denounced as ignorant heresy, and Muirin along with it. She would be disgraced and demoted. Worse things might even befall her. Muirin pictured them all too vividly, and was very, very afraid.
All the same, it had happened. These were the true Ashes. They had been found. They had virtue. The Divine might rule the Chantry, but Andraste was at the Maker's side, judging them all. If Muirin was any kind of priest, she must testify to the truth, and let the consequences take care of themselves.
Boann returned little Demelza to the astonished novice mistress, Sister Fidalma, with the amazing news that Andraste had worked a miracle on the child's behalf. The other girls who had not seen Demelza in several weeks gathered around her, curious and not particularly awed, since this was, after all, Demelza, and they knew she was no better than any one of them.
Upstairs, there was more excitement. Wine was served, and Bronwyn urged to tell every detail of the story of her quest.
There were certain things that were absolutely none of their business. She had previously impressed on Leliana that they would say nothing about the notes obtained in Denerim. They were not even supposed to have been in Denerim at the time, after all. Let the clergy believe that they had obtained the notes in Haven, along with Genetivi's other books and papers. Nonetheless, the story had to begin with one Brother Ferdinand Genetivi.
Sister Justine had known her fellow scholar Brother Genetivi well. She had even known that he was interested in the Urn, and she remembered being quizzed about him on occasion after his departure. Understandably, she was grieved when Bronwyn, not wanted to stretch the matter out, informed them that the good brother was dead.
Bronwyn told them of a chance meeting at the Spoiled Princess Inn, which all of them knew. A new name had been written on the map, and a warning had been given.
Then Bronwyn found it necessary to tell her auditors about the secret poisoning of Queen Anora, which raised considerable disquiet. The guilty party had confessed, and implicated a known Orlesian agent, who was also now dead. Jowan was asked to confirm that the poison had resisted magic. Wynne's name was raised, and some hard looks given. Irving sighed, and put his face in his hands. Greagoir looked nearly as sad.
"Everything I was being told," Bronwyn said, "indicated that magic could not cure the Queen, who was vital to the kingdom's stability. The only possibility that remained was the last, unlikeliest one: to seek out the Ashes. Of my Wardens, Leliana here and Cullen, once a Templar at the Circle, were the first to volunteer for this mission."
She glanced at Knight-Commander Greagoir, and saw the brief, pained, guilty look.
Then she launched on her story, expanding on the bones of the tale she had given the Grand Cleric. As these people were willing to believe her, she found it easier going. They were disgusted, of course, when they heard of the male priests and of the attacks on the party. They were grieved to hear of the books and notes belonging to Brother Genetivi found in the village shop.
Bronwyn said nothing of the other items they found: most particularly not about the fine Antivan boots that Zevran had appropriated. Bronwyn had come to the conclusion that they, too, had been the good brother's. He had been a rather small man. It was not surprising that a fairly tall elf could wear them.
"We looked over the books and notes," Bronwyn went on, "and among them was one entitled Flame and Scale: The Secrets of Dragon Cults. There was a bookmark at the chapter dealing with dragon worship. Among other things, it mentioned that such cultists often raise dragons, and drink their blood, becoming incredibly strong and aggressive, after the manner of dragons."
Murmurs of shock and horror rose, and grew louder.
"We fought our way to the Chantry," she told them, "and had words with Father Eirik. He spoke with reverence of Andraste, but despised us for our ignorance. He mentioned a sacred trust they must protect."
Leliana fidgeted next to her. Bronwyn supposed she was dying to tell them that the priest had also been a mage. Bronwyn gave her a stern look. That complication would only distract the clergy.
So she told of the fight in the Chantry, and how they took a prisoner. She told of the secret room that she believed to have been Brother Genetivi's sad prison. Then how they had taken a strange key from their prisoner and found a vast and magnificent complex within the neighboring mountain.
"It was immense and awe-inspiring!" Leliana seconded her. "And I have seen the Grand Cathedral!"
There were quite a few questions about this temple, and if it was there that they found the Urn. The brief answer, of course, was 'No,' and Bronwyn tried to keep things in the their proper order. They had fought cultists, but also demons, and finally…
"You were attacked by dragons—" old Mother Damaris repeated, now a bit skeptical again. "How big?"
"In the caverns, we found no mature dragons," Bronwyn said firmly. "However, a swarm of dragonlings is easily as dangerous as a pack of wolves. We were attacked by such swarms several times. The cultists were indeed breeding dragons. We also were attacked by mature drakes, and killed four of them in all. They are much bigger than a warhorse, and while they cannot fly, they can certainly flame."
"The remains would be valuable," Ser Harrith spoke up. "Very valuable. Were you able to retrieve them?"
"No. The bones still lie there, for all I know. We traveled by horseback, and one of our horses was killed. We took some gold, and some of their sacramental objects—" she nodded at the golden bowl, gleaming innocently at her left hand—"but our situation was never one that would permit us the time or leisure to dress out any dragonkind!"
Her throat was dry from talking, so she took a long swallow of wine.
"The caverns led all the way through the mountain. There's no need to describe all the adventures we had or all the dangers we faced. Near the end of the caverns however, we came up a large party of the cultists; and their leader, Father Kolgrim, rather than attacking us instantly, actually spoke to us."
"Ranted at us, you mean," muttered Leliana.
"He did, in fact, use a manner of speaking that could only be described as 'ranting,'" Bronwyn agreed. "I'm sure he had been drinking dragon's blood for years. He claimed to be a priest, but was clad in armor and carried a huge doubled-bladed axe. His tone was loud and hectoring, but he was attempting to communicate. He said he wanted to give us a chance to redeem our sins. Since we'd done so brilliantly fighting our way through to him, we might be just the people he was looking for."
"He spoke only to you," Leliana corrected her. "You were the only one who interested him. He recognized you as a hero. And a hero was exactly what he needed."
Bronwyn glared at the faint smiles around her. "Be that as it may, he had a proposal for me. It was then that we learned that the Urn was not far at all: in fact, only across the valley floor to the nearby peak. The funerary shrine was there, but the cultists could not access it. He raved on about the glory of a 'Risen Andraste,' and that she could not ascend to her full glory without the destruction of her earlier incarnation. He wished me to defile the Ashes by pouring a vial of dragon's blood on them, after which she would rise in her new form 'in fiery splendor' and rule the world."
"It's always about ruling the world with that sort," said Anders to Jowan.
"You refused, of course!" cried Ser Irminric.
Bronwyn shook her head. "Not in so many words. There were only a few of us and a great many of them, and it was not a good place to be trapped. I thought I'd have a better chance in the open. I told them I wanted to see this 'Risen Andraste,' and that I needed a pinch of the Ashes for healing. Kolgrim told me that I could have the pinch and then defile the rest, and then join them as an honored sister. And I asked him why he hadn't done all this himself. His story astonished me."
Her audience leaned closer.
"He told me that they had tried to enter the shrine, but that it was protected by an immortal Guardian who would not listen to their new revelation. This being drove off or killed any cultists to set foot in the shrine, but that I, whom he did not know, he would take for a pilgrim. It seemed the wisest thing to play along with this madman, and in the open, I believed we could make a break for the shrine. After all, we really were pilgrims, and this immortal Guardian could certainly be no worse than dragon worshipers! And so, this Father Kolgrim led us out to meet Andraste, so he could explain to her to let us pass and pave the way for Her Glory. Cullen thought we were being taken to see some sort of ridiculous idol. How wrong he was."
"It was a dragon," croaked Knight-Commander Greagoir. "Their Andraste was a dragon."
The priests could not find words to express their horror.
"A vast, terrifying, and very healthy High Dragon," Bronwyn confirmed. "It was fully as large as the one killed near Ostagar. It seemed to enjoy Kolgim's groveling flattery. The man even wore a special horn to summon it. This horn," she said, unslinging her trophy and laying it on the table in front of her for their inspection. "It is, in fact, the only dragon relic we retrieved."
The dragon horn was passed around and wondered over. Harrith's fingers lingered over the gold fittings.
"After sufficient cringing from the cultists, the dragon flapped up to a high cliff overlooking the valley and we were sent past it to a distant portal. That was the entrance to the actual shrine of the Prophet, and the location of the Urn of the Sacred Ashes."
Bronwyn noticed that Ser Harrith was scribbling his own notes. Perhaps he thought that if he could put bits and pieces of description together, he could find the place for himself. She wished him luck.
Now she came to the part of the story that made her particularly uncomfortable. Yes, she met the Guardian. He knew their names and all sorts of things about them. Yes, he seemed to be an immortal man, rather than an insubstantial spirit. No, they had not learned his name, only that he said he had followed Andraste when she had lived in the world. Everyone wanted to know every word he had said about the Prophet. Bronwyn indulged them, and then went on with her narrative.
"The Guardian told us quite a bit about the village and the temple. According to him, the founders of Haven were among the Prophet's most faithful disciples, who spirited away her Ashes to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Tevinters. For many ages they lived isolated but worthy lives. However, a few generations ago, a dragon made its appearance, and an ancestor of Father Kolgrim's used the opportunity to stage a coup, claiming that the dragon was the true Andraste, and killing all who dared speak against him."
The interest and scandal this aroused so distracted them that she was able to avoid mentioning the intrusive questions that had hurt each of them. She said only that he had warned them of the Gauntlet, which was a series of tests to judge their worthiness.
"And the first test consisted of riddles, asked by phantoms of the past."
"Riddles?" asked Sister Justine. "What kind of riddles? Who asked them?"
They wanted to know everything about those silly riddles, down to the exact wording. Sister Rose wrote it all down industriously. They were intrigued by the appearance of Archon Hessarian, but most of them were not pleased to hear that Thane Shartan had been among the questioners. Bronwyn was unsympathetic. Just because the Divine had excised Andraste's elven friend Shartan from the Chant of Light, it did not follow that Andraste herself had forgotten him.
" And then," she forced herself to say, wincing, knowing that if she did not mention this Leliana would, "Then each of us met someone important in our lives, spoke to them, and was given an amulet."
"Who did you speak to, Lady Bronwyn?" asked Mother Perpetua.
"My father, the late Bryce Cousland, Teyrn of Highever."
"What did he say?"
Bronwyn was not going to tell them that. The remembered voice filled her whole consciousness, drowning out the whispers around her.
"… I must warn you, my child: you reach for an earthly crown, but the kingdom you must conquer is the kingdom within. That is the one realm that will be yours in eternity."
Leliana saw her face, and said hastily. "I saw my old bardmaster, and she mocked me for risking myself as a Grey Warden. We do not know with whom Cullen spoke, but he had an amulet like ours." She pulled off the curious token and passed it around. "And then we had to fight our phantom doubles. That was a strange challenge, and harder than you might think!"
Bronwyn let Leliana babble cheerfully of the chasm, and dither on in praise of Bronwyn's resourcefulness. The priests wanted every detail of the chasm and its curious runestones. They seemed convinced that there was another, more appropriate solution than Bronwyn's.
"And finally," Leliana went on, "we had to remove our clothes and walk through a wall of fire. Afterward the fire died down and the Guardian said we had walked the path of Andraste, and like her, we had been cleansed. It was the most wonderful sensation!"
"Not everyone who got that far survived," Bronwyn said quietly. "We found charred human bones there, and later disposed of them decently."
She let Leliana do the talking about the Urn as well. Leliana, of course,described it in minute detail, rhapsodizing over the glory of the event, the beauty of the inner shrine, the divine heat of the Ashes between her fingers. Bronwyn felt not the least desire to speak of it at all. Being here was becoming odious…insupportable…to her.
"And then, Lady Bronwyn…what happened afterward?"
They had come to it at last, and Bronwyn told them briefly of the hot, furious confrontation with the outraged Kolgrim, the brutal fight that had ensued, the brief celebration at their safety and triumph afterward, and then the horror as the dragon swooped down on them. She reported the battle as objectively as possible—as dispassionately as possible— her voice breaking a little only when she told of Cullen distracting the dragon and paying the ultimate price.
"…and he was dead before he struck the ground..."
There was the rest. The bomb lodged in the wing joint, the dragon's soaring flight and the fireball that ignited it; a terrible, driving fall to earth, and then how they had slain the injured beast.
"And that's the end. We held a funeral for Cullen and mourned him. He died, you must see, a worthy Warden and a very gallant gentleman. We also found where we think Brother Genetivi was...given to the dragon."
Sister Justine gasped, hand to her mouth.
"Then we went back to the Chantry to rest. The villagers did not dare attack us. The next morning we rode down from the Chantry, and I told them their false god was dead, and that they must never murder travelers again. And then we left."
She was so tired. She felt she could sleep forever. She felt that she would like to sleep forever. In a dull haze, she answered what questions she could. Anders broke in, and told the priests that he was going to cast a rejuvenation spell on her. Ser Rylock did not like it, but was repressed. Bronwyn felt a great deal better afterwards.
The clergy continued to ask questions, and would never have let them go, but the Grand Cleric, at least, could see that Bronwyn had had enough for them for one day. Bronwyn and Leliana were praised and thanked, and another prayer was offered. Then Leliana rose, and taking her own little packet of Ashes from an inner pocket, laid it before the Grand Cleric.
"If Bronwyn cannot have her Ashes, then I do not want mine either. Besides, I find that I think about them all the time, and how to have them at hand if I am in danger. I am sure you will find a good use for them. So I give them to the Chantry freely, and of my own will."
"Don't be a fool, Leliana!' Bronwyn hissed.
"No," Leliana insisted. She curtseyed to the Grand Cleric. "Take them, Your Grace. They are too great a burden."
They left, helping Jowan along. It was quite clear that the clergy wanted possession of the golden bowl as well, since they believed it had absorbed some of the power of the Ashes, but Brownyn was too upset to be generous. The bowl was packed away in her bag, and the Wardens said nothing until they were well out of the Cathedral and in the open air of the Market District.
"Leliana! How could you let them have your Ashes?"
"It was for the best," Leliana insisted. "I feel better already. I don't know if I could ever have used them anyway. It is so morbid...so indecent...to consume part of the Prophet. "
There was something in that, Bronwyn granted. If it had been anyone but the Prophet, the priests would have been horrified at the idea of devouring human remains.
"What do you suppose they'll do now?" Jowan wondered. Anders give him a sip from a flask and he stood straighter.
"Talk a lot," Anders snarked. "Then talk some more."
"I hope they talk for a very long time," Bronwyn said darkly. "I hope they talk until it's quite impossible to do anything until spring. The Grand Cleric will feel obliged to report this to the Divine. Even with a swift ship, the Divine will not receive her report for at least fourteen days—much longer, if the weather is bad. With any luck, by the time the Divine reads it, there will be heavy snow in the Frostbacks, and an expedition this year will be impossible."
"What if the Divine doesn't believe the Grand Cleric?" Leliana worried.
Bronwyn had thought about that. "The Divine will never admit to believing the Grand Cleric. However, she'll still want to investigate. After all, it would be a splendid excuse to send an army of Templars over the Ferelden border!"
Thanks to my reviewers: EpitomyofShyness, Patchworker, KnightOfHolyLight, Kira Kyuu, hakkai, Phygmalion, Rexiselic, Zute, Anon, Bigg McLaughlin, Mike3207, Chandagnac, Jyggilag, Blinded in a bolthole, amanda weber, Anime-StarWars-fan-zach, Psyche Sinclair, MsBarrows, RakeeshJ4, darksky01, JackOfBladesX, Have Socks. Will Travel, Shakespira, snccrockz, Josie Lange, Enaid Aderyn, and to all my "Guests."
Some of the Guests asked questions:
I made up the antivanel. It resembles the morisco, but I wanted to give it a Thedosian name.
Don't cry. Adam will not rule the known world. Just a little corner of it.
I have been asked to lay out all the various Wardens and their units. I decided not to do this in chapter notes, since readers would have to remember which chapter it was. I'll try to post it on my author page sometime next week.