Eight: He Who Made the Lamb
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile his work to see?
Did He who made the Lamb, make thee?
--William Blake, "The Tyger"
"Bann Alfstana. Or—it is Arlessa Alfstana now, yes?" Kathil inclined her head towards the noblewoman.
With both of them in the same room, it was obvious that Alfstana and Kathil were sisters. Their coloring was wildly different—Kathil pale, with hair so blonde it was nearly white, and Alfstana with golden skin and mahogany hair. Alfstana was tall, Kathil…not so much.
But the mouths and the jaws were the same, and though their dark eyes were different shapes the intensity of their gazes was neatly matched. "King Alistair has restored Seahold's former title, yes. Since it was a technicality that removed it in the first place." Alfastana's tone only held a little frost. It was an improvement.
"Try 'offending King Maric' in place of technicality," he said. "Less paperwork, more figuring out what he'd done to get my father's panties in a bunch." Alfastana paled, and Kathil bit her lip, trying not to laugh. "We finally did get it sorted, and this meeting's the last thing that has to be done to make it official. So." He took a breath. "Arlessa Alfstana Nasmyth of Waking Sea, I present to you your sister, Second Enchanter Kathil Amell of the Circle of Magi, Grey Warden. Try to get along, all right?"
"Amell was my father's first wife's name," Alfstana said. She studied Kathil's face briefly. "She was from the far south. You look much like the painting that he kept of her."
"Can you tell me what happened to her?" Kathil asked.
"It was an accident." Alfstana looked out the window. "We'd had a bad winter, and Amell ran up and down the stairs at quite the pace, Father always said. There was ice on the outside steps leading to the courtyard. She came running down them, slipped, and fell. She broke her neck in front of him—and you, because he was holding you at the time. You were two." She shook her head slowly. "Then two years later, you showed signs of the mage taint. He was about to marry my mother, and he…told everyone you had been carried off by a bad bout of the winter fever. He told me the truth only just before he died."
Kathil was watching her sister carefully, and he could almost see her thinking. "I'm not after public acknowledgment, Alfstana," she said, and her voice was quiet. "I just wanted to know what happened to my parents, our father. Whether they loved me."
Alfstana turned towards Kathil. "His heart broke when your mother died. My mother said that without her influence, he was raising you like he would have a son. You had all the toy swords and bows you could carry, and not a doll among them. He told my mother that he was going to raise you with a fierce heart and a fierce eye, and you were going to go serve Maric when you were old enough."
"That…explains much." She drew a breath. "And our father? What happened to him?"
"He died when I was seven." Alfstana crossed her arms. "Right after he and Maric quarreled, he came home ill. There was some sort of sickness in him that nobody could treat. He died two weeks later. My mother served as regent until I was of age. She lived long enough to see me married, but died soon after."
"I'm sorry, Alfstana," Kathil said. "And thank you."
"What are your plans now?" the Arlessa asked, obviously hoping that leaving was among them.
"Don't worry, we won't impose on your hospitality much longer." Kathil smiled, and Alistair could see that smile was just a little sharp. "We're just about ready to travel. We'll head back to Denerim, and from there I will go back to the Tower. If I'm ever in the area again, I will drop by to visit." At Alfstana's sharp look, she said, "Stranger things have happened. Thank you, Alfstana." She nodded to the Arlessa, turned, and walked out. Alistair did the same and followed.
He caught up with her down the hall. "Thank you," Kathil said to him as he drew even with her. "It means a lot that you went to all that trouble for me."
Alistair shrugged. "It was going to need to get sorted sooner rather than later. Might as well do it sooner and use it to benefit my favorite mage."
She looked sidelong at him. "Am I? Still your favorite mage, that is."
And it was so odd, that the question was just a question, and didn't come with any swirling undercurrents or the feeling that there wasn't anything he could say without it being the wrong thing. With Cullen having taken up a watchful guard on the mage (and looking absolutely overjoyed by that), Alistair thought that he'd been supplanted rather neatly.
That, too, was an odd thought.
"You are," he told her. "And my friend. And, I will add, completely terrifying." He grinned at her.
She wrinkled her nose at him. "And you're kind of a big dumb lout sometimes. Not as dumb as you look, though." She hit him on the shoulder. "You're a good king, Alistair. I did all right, putting you on the throne. And it looks like you finally forgave me for it."
He stepped into an alcove with a window in it, and she followed. The window faced out to the Waking Sea, to endless waves turned to silver where sunlight touched them. "I think we've finally forgiven each other, Kathil."
"Took us long enough." She looked out the window, and the reflected light of the sea played over her face, turning the scar to silver like one of the waves. "Strange. This, I almost remember." She turned away from the window, and she was grinning at him, and it was as if the extra twist at the corner of her mouth from the scar had always been there, had always been a part of her. "Come on. If we're going to leave tomorrow morning, we both need to pack, and I think Lorn's been stealing your socks. Again."
They were walking toward the stairs, and both of them were laughing.
At first, he didn't know quite how to act.
It took two weeks for them to be ready to get back on the road. Kathil was spending most of her time lying in bed healing, and even when she was up and around she wasn't going to be casting much magic. He made himself useful with Alistair's guards, slipped Lorn bits of meat and cookie halves, and tried to get used to the idea that he was alive and that there was an undeniable rightness about all of this.
There were still a lot of things that were awkward, moments of strained silence, places where his edges and Kathil's rubbed against each other. In fact, the mage seemed to be altogether made of sharp edges and prickly things. It was going to take some time for both of them to get used to this, it seemed.
Then they were on the road, and the second night Kathil came over to him where he sat, trying to do a makeshift repair on one of his armor straps. She was carrying a small flask and two cups. "I picked this up at the hold," she said as she sat down on the log next to him. "I thought I'd share it with you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Aren't mages not supposed to drink?"
"Believe it or not, it's not alcoholic. It's something…different. It's imported from the far north. The Orlesians call it joie." She poured a little into both cups. "Come on, try it with me. Please?"
And when he did, the liquid was thick and sweet and sharp like honey, and it made warmth spread from his belly out to his limbs. Next to him, Kathil made an odd sound. "Well. That wasn't precisely as advertised. But good anyway." She corked the bottle. "What do you think?"
Then they were talking, about everything, about what had happened during the war and all the time they had missed in each other's lives when the Tower had come between them. And they kept talking, and it was like being fourteen again except for the fact that they didn't have to meet in secret. They'd ride next to each other sometimes during the day, and at night around the campfire they would all talk, and Cullen finally figured out how to treat the King like he was a real person, which he undeniably was.
Sometimes altogether too much like a real person, really.
Cullen watched Kathil and Zevran, how their hands would meet sometimes and their fingers entangle with each other, how they never said anything like I love you but it was there in every glance, the way the elf would appear silently at Kathil's shoulder, the way the mage would raise her head when she heard Zevran speak. Heard them retire together into their tent at night, as well. They tried to be quiet—at least, Cullen imagined that they did.
They still kept him awake at night sometimes.
On one of these nights, he gave up on sleep and crawled out of his tent, heading towards the dying fire. To his surprise, Alistair was already there. He had a knife, and was working on carving something out of a piece of wood. "You couldn't sleep either?" he asked Cullen.
Cullen shook his head. "A bit loud." He glanced at the tent that Kathil and Zevran shared. Lorn was lying across the entrance, one ear cocked, the rest of him asleep.
Alistair chuckled. "It is, at that." He held the misshapen thing in his hands up to the firelight and frowned. "Just free the form trapped in the wood, Leliana says. She makes this look so easy. I think what was trapped in this piece of wood is a…hm. What do you think this is?"
He looked at the carving Alistair held out to him. "A rabbit?"
"I was going for a griffon, but I'll take rabbit. It does look a little bit like a rabbit, doesn't it?"
"A little." Cullen hesitated. "Do you mind if I ask a question?"
"Maybe if I trim down the wings some…ask away."
"Does…that…bother you?" He motioned vaguely at the source of the noise, which had mostly fallen into silence.
"A bit, but not for the reason you think." Alistair applied knife to wood again. "It makes me miss Rima. My wife," he added when Cullen looked quizzical. "The Princess Consort. It's been six weeks since I've seen her, or Duncan. As for Kathil..." He lowered his hands and stared into the embers of the fire. "You get to a place where you stop torturing yourself over the past. And sometimes, you even get to forgive yourself."
Cullen thought he understood.
"Are you ever going to tell me about Marjolaine?"
They had sent the boys (as Kathil insisted on calling them) off to hunt for an hour or two, after having stopped early to camp. Zevran had objected, but Kathil had spoken a few quiet words to him, and he'd looked amused and had gone willingly. Lorn had gone with them, of course. They had taken most of the guards with them, and those few left were keeping their distance from the two women. Leliana was tuning her rebec, the small viol-like instrument that was one of the few she carried with her. The mage had come to sit at her feet, for all the world like a child asking for a story.
Only this story was no child's tale. Leliana put the rebec aside. "This is why you have sent everyone away, no?"
"It's been my first chance to really talk to you since Seahold." Kathil tipped her face upward, half-closing her eyes. "Besides, Cullen's presence was rather forced on you. I figured, if you didn't want him to know whatever it is, that it would be better if he wasn't here."
"It isn't that I do not want him to hear, dearest. It is just that there would be so very many questions from him. Few of which he would come out and ask."
"He's a Templar by training. He's used to just watching and drawing his own conclusions." The mage smiled and set her head against Leliana's knee. "Really, Lei, please. Tell me?"
She laughed and ran her hand through Kathil's hair, ruffling it. "Only because you ask so very prettily. So I went back to Orlais, and spent a year tracking Marjolaine. I came very close a few times, but always missed her by about this much. It was very frustrating. So I stopped pursuing her. Instead, I worked my way into the Orlesian court, and some day I will tell you a few of those stories, but not today. As I thought she might, Marjolaine came looking for me. I led her a merry chase, first here, then there. It was a lovely little romp, for old times' sake. But eventually, it came to an end. There was, you see, a party arranged. A very exclusive party. The sort of party where one wears a mask and little else."
Kathil blinked up at her. "They have those in Orlais?"
"Only in certain circles, dearest." She combed her hand through Kathil's hair again. "They are difficult to get invitations to."
"Mmm. You have exactly a thousand years to stop doing that. And pity, otherwise I was going to suggest that we visit Orlais at our earliest opportunity."
Leiliana chuckled. "And this from the magelet who was scandalized when I suggested that her fellow Grey Warden might have designs upon her? Zevran is a terrible influence on you. I should take you from him and teach him a lesson."
"Tch. You know, that offer of mine is still open. Anyway, so. Naked party."
"Ah, yes, the party. Well, Marjolaine knew I was going to be there. I knew Marjolaine was going to be there. She couldn't not be there, because there were…certain people going to be there who, should I say the wrong thing to them, had the potential to make her life difficult."
Kathil shifted so that her chin was on Leliana's knee. "I understand. I think, at least."
She smiled. "I am simplifying things a bit. But we were both there, there was a bit of wine involved, and the two of us ended up alone, in a corner of the garden. She claimed to have missed me. Then, when I kissed her, she tried to strangle me. I was rather expecting that. What she did not suspect was that the glass of wine she had been handed earlier by a fetching serving boy was poisoned. It was a closer call than I would have liked, but I survived, and that night I had a dream."
The mage's mouth pressed closed in a firm line. "One of those dreams?"
"I think so. I had a dream of a knight made of dust. And a mouse." Leliana wrinkled her nose. "Really, it made much less sense than the vision that guided me to you originally. But I woke with the feeling that it was time I came back to Ferelden, and I decided to trust that feeling. And here I am."
"And glad we are. Thank you, Leliana. For telling me, for coming to find me, for everything." She wriggled around and put an arm across Leliana's lap. "I think Denerim is going to be interesting."
"A question, dearest." The sun was warm on her, and Kathil's body was relaxed where it leaned against her. This was as good a time as any to ask. "What are you planning to do with Cullen?"
A shiver of tension passed through the mage's shoulders. "Ah. Cullen. Yes." Her expression went distant. "Leliana…I don't think I've ever claimed to be a good person. A good person wouldn't have convinced Alistair to sleep with Morrigan just because she was afraid to sacrifice herself like she was supposed to. And a good person would have told the Grey Wardens about it, if she did, just so they could be prepared for the next catastrophe that tries to destroy the world. A good person wouldn't have done many of the things I've done—or that I'm going to do. I'm not even a very good Grey Warden. Or a good Circle mage, if it comes down to it. I am selfish."
Leliana's hand slipped down to Kathil's neck, tracing a line under her hair. "It reminds me of a little story. A rabbit went to the Maker and asked, 'Why did you make wolves? Our lives would be so much easier if there were no wolves. We could live and die in peace and quiet, not in fear.' And the Maker replied, 'I made wolves so you would never have to know tigers.'"
"And I'm a wolf?" Kathil asked.
"Ah, the story doesn't quite end there. So the rabbit asked, 'Then why did you make tigers?' Rabbits ask those sorts of questions. And the Maker said, 'I made tigers because there must be things that even wolves fear.' I think it is difficult, to be made something that wolves fear. And you have not answered my question."
"No. I haven't." It was strange, how this woman could stand in front of an assembly and speak without hesitation…but get her alone and she was so very different. "A good person would let him do what he was sworn to do and no more, Lei. Avoid confusing his duty and any other feelings he might have. But I'm not really a very good person. "
"And that is enough answer for me," she said quietly. She bent forward and laid a soft kiss on the mage's brow, a small ache in her chest, easily ignored. "We will stop at the Chantry in Woodson, won't we? That's the last one in Waking Sea, and the next one is in Highever."
Kathil turned her gaze upward once more, and there was a twist to her mouth that Leliana recognized. "I think we will. Do you know where in a chantry they keep records of those who are brought to them? And do you feel like helping me get my hands on some?"
And this was yet another reason she had come back to Ferelden. The surprises. "There should be a locked cabinet in the revered mother's office. And I could, but why?"
"Just a feeling that there's something I need to see in there. " Leliana rapped her friend's skull gently with the tips of her fingers. "Oh, fine. That's the chantry Cullen grew up in. I want to see what sort of records they might have on him. And I don't want to let him know I'm looking. It might be nothing."
She smiled. "I looked through the revered mother's cabinet in Lothering a time or three. They write down whatever they know about their foundlings, but it's usually not much. I'm sure we could find our way into the office, and if the cabinet just happens to be unlocked, we could take a look."
Kathil always had the loveliest smile when she'd just gotten her way.
It was ten days from Seahold to Highever, including the half of a day they spent in Woodson. It was strange, to be in Woodson—there was the wall he'd helped rebuild, over there was the old apple tree that he would always sit in when he wanted to feel a little closer to the sky. It was home, but not quite home, and the revered mother looked at him so oddly. They stayed for a service and to resupply (Kathil and Leiliana slipping off to the tailor's shop, telling him no, you can't come with us, Cullen) and moved on in the morning.
Then they reached Highever. Though they'd been traveling quickly, it would have been deadly rude of Alistair to pass by Highever twice without making a royal visit of it. "I think Fergus will let me go after a week," Alistair told them. "And he does have a point—it's a chance for the two of us to talk without being overheard by the same crowd of listeners that are in the palace. At least the source of the rumors will be different this time."
And there were stacks and stacks of letters for Alistair to read, and high dinners thrown in his honor, and after only a few days Alistair was looking like he was just about dying to get back on the road. The rest of them were largely left to their own devices, except for those dinners (come and look ceremonial with me? Alistair had asked). Kathil discovered that Highever's well-stocked library had been partially spared from Rendon Howe's sack of the castle four years ago, so Cullen spent a lot of time in the library with her. He had thought he would just stand and look watchful, but the mage recruited him to help her make notes on the books.
"You have nice writing," she said, picking up a page of notes he'd just finished. "Somehow, I didn't expect that."
"Thank Sister Gisela for that one." He blew on a line and returned his pen to the inkwell's stand. "She wanted me to be a copyist. I didn't really like the idea, but practicing writing was a lot more pleasant than mucking out the pigsty and cleaning chicken coops, which was my other option."
They were alone in the library; the archivist was in her study with the door firmly closed and the man who taught history had taken his students away for a tour of the Cousland family graveyard. Afternoon light slipped in through the narrow windows set high in the walls. They had been looking at a set of six books on Kordillius Drakon, comparing details on his first set of campaigns to spread the Chant of Light through Thedas. So far, all of the histories disagreed on nearly every detail—but they disagreed in consistent directions, at least. "This was before you were chosen for Templar training, obviously," she said.
"Only just. The Sister was very disappointed, let me tell you." He smiled a little and picked up his pen again, the feather shaft light in his fingers. "She actually shook her finger at the Commander and scolded him for taking away her best apprentice."
"I would have given a lot to see that." Kathil turned the page of the book in front of her. "Maker's Breath, you'd think they could at least attempt to be consistent on the dates within the text. Didn't this one say the third campaign to the Free Marches started in the spring of 2 Divine?"
Cullen checked the note he'd just made, then peered at the line she was pointing to. "It did. But that says the army reached the Free Marches in 4 Divine, it doesn't say when it started. Does it mean it took them two years to get to the Free Marches from Orlais?"
"It has to be a copying error." She glanced over at him. "Did they release you from your Templar vows when they sent you to the Grey Wardens, Cullen?"
His hand jerked slightly, and a drop of ink fell from the pen to splash on the page. "Damnation. Er." He reached for the little bottle of sand rather over-quickly, nearly knocking it over in his haste to get the sand applied to the drop. "They did, actually. There was even a formal ceremony. Why?"
Kathil had returned her attention to the page, bowing her head so her hair fell to obscure her expression from him. "No reason."
He didn't trust that tone of voice. "You're planning something, Kathil."
She kept looking at the page, but her finger under the line of text wasn't moving. "Perhaps. Ah, here we are. Evidently there was some sort of political difficulty and the march didn't actually get underway until a year after Emperor Drakon ordered it."
Just about then, Lorn came bounding in, Zevran on his heels, and it was time to get ready for yet another fancy dinner. Cullen came back to his room late that night; Kathil had pleaded a headache and retired early, but the rest of them had stayed up to talk with the teyrn. Cullen left Alistair and Zevran with Fergus Cousland, since Zevran had brought out his dice. Cullen knew from experience that either the elf's dice were loaded or he had the most preposterous luck the Maker had ever blessed anyone with.
Probably both, he thought.
But when he got into his room, there was a mage sitting cross-legged on his bed, reading.
Cullen glanced around, uneasy. Surely there was an audience lying in wait, waiting to burst out at him? Kathil looked up and closed her book. "Ah, you're back. Good."
He cleared his throat. "You, ah—what are you doing in here, Kathil?"
Kathil rose from the bed and came over to him, putting a hand on his chest. He looked down at her, confused. She was so much shorter than him. He always forgot, until they were standing this close together. For some reason, he always thought of her as his own height.
"What do you think I'm doing in here, Cullen? Really." She tilted her head a little, studying his face. "Though I could go, if you like."
It was getting a bit difficult to think. "But—what about Zevran?" he asked, trying hard to remember that the elf was an assassin and if he took a dislike to Cullen that might be very very bad.
There was a bright light in her eyes. "Zevran is going to challenge the good teyrn to a very particular dice game tonight. Really, Cullen, you knew that he and I have an arrangement."
Though that arrangement hadn't ever been explained to him, at this moment he thought he might understand the terms—or maybe just the important ones, the ones that mattered right now. And there was a frame around this now, this moment with her standing so close to him, something that made it all make sense.
Like it made sense that she was a mage, that mage, and in her every heartbeat there were shadows. Like the darkness behind the bright in her eyes, the Fade always present, the scent of her alien like the lyrium dust in the little pouch that he kept hidden under his shirt. Like that in her hand on his chest were memories, another time and another place, a cage of shimmering violet magic and he was so very far from there, father than he ever imagined he might be. And he could see it on her face, knew she was remembering that, too.
A demon had once come to him, wearing her face, offering this.
They were very still, in that moment.
Something flickered across her face, and she shifted her weight away from him. With only the barest volition, he reached for her, pulled her tight in a hug. He could feel her trembling—or was that him? "Not tonight," he said against her hair.
Not a no for always. A no for right now, because they were still too new to this, and both of them were things made of blades and edges.
Her arms came up around him, a warm pair of hands on his back, and they held each other until they stopped shaking. Then he said something, and she laughed, and everything was back to normal except that everything had once again been rearranged in this tangle between them.
She did spend the night in his room, but in conversation, both of them curled on his bed fully clothed. Sometime in the small hours of the morning, when the lamp on the table was guttering, she asked a question and he gave a stammering, slightly shamefaced answer, because this was her asking and—well, nobody had ever asked before.
"Interesting," was all she said, and there was a small, satisfied smile on her face. She kissed his forehead and then the end of his nose. "I should get back to my own room. I'll see you in the morning, Cullen."
Then she was up, and a moment later she was gone.
He thought he would never sleep, but he did, and his dreams were bright, fragile, fluttering things.
(three weeks later)
"He is a most…unexpected man, your Templar."
They could have made it to Denerim tonight, had they decided to push, but instead they had camped early tonight by common, silent consensus. Even Alistair, who could well have gone ahead, had decided to linger with them.
When they reached Denerim, this would be over, this shadow of what had once been. Another ending. Another beginning.
So she had taken the opportunity to steal away from camp with Zevran. Lorn kept watch nearby, and the two of them were sitting in the shade of a willow. Its wind-stirred branches dipped and dragged into the river.
Strange, how small all the trees seemed, after Waking Sea.
"He is, isn't he?" she said. Zevran's arm was draped over her shoulders, and both of them were watching the rippling surface of the water as it whispered by them. "In many ways."
Zevran looked over at her, and gave her that half-smile that never failed to make her heart beat just a shade faster. "You have this habit, my Grey Warden, of collecting oaths. Would that I had known that when we met."
"Would you have done anything else, had you known?" The question was out of her mouth before she realized she was going to ask it.
He made a hmm that she could feel where she leaned against him, where his body heat stole into her and warmed her. "I think not."
The moment felt delicately balanced, everything between them silent and watchful. Kathil shifted so her legs were over his lap, her chin on his shoulder and her mouth by his ear. His arms came up and around her, holding her, neither clutching nor setting her free. She closed her eyes. "Neither would I. I would change nothing, Zevran."
Tomorrow would be Denerim, and all the pomp and noise that place enclosed, and all the gazes on them. And there were worries beyond that, questions of politics and of magic, of nightmares and Wynne, of what she now knew about where Cullen had come from and what he would say when she told him, of the Tower and the Chantry and how both of them were going to react when she showed up to the Tower after half a year's absence with both Zevran and Cullen in tow.
And always, always, the question of when the payment for her and Alistair's lives was going to come due.
Right now, there was Zevran and the way his skin smelled and the way his body felt against hers. There was Lorn a little way away, guarding. Cullen back at camp, oathbound, ready to defend her from herself if the need came. Leliana, always dear, their friendship slipping and sliding over all sorts of borders that they never spoke of. Alistair, who in the last few weeks had gone from a torn place in her soul to a scarred place, a friendship reclaimed from a pair of mended hearts.
Right now, poised in the place between what had been and what would be, she felt herself—
do you know they call it arson
setting fires without permission
in my heart for sure and maybe elsewhere too
though your lack of inhibition
captures my imagination
I end up a wiser person thanks to you
then there is your flair for murder
there's a dagger in the border
of your cloak and I suspect a captain's gun
as you put to death suspicions
kindly kill my fears as well
exorcise and slay the demons one by one
though I'm usually pacifistic
you are mercifully sadistic
and I didn't know that murder could be good
but the roses came crimson
springing from the prison
of the floorboards where there once were stains of blood
--Over the Rhine, "Within Without"
Thank you, everyone, for sticking with me through this one. Reviews and comments are always loved! There will likely be one more story in this series, but I have another project I need to get back to writing, so it might be a bit. And props to those sharp-eyed folks who spot the reference to a certian book series in this chapter.
To answer a couple of questions that have come up along the way: yes, I have taken some serious liberties with the source material. (I'm afraid I can never help myself…) In this version of post-game, because Alistair is King and the PC took off for parts unknown for a few years, the Orlesian Grey Wardens have been brought in to re-establish the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. It was supposed to be temporary, but they're beginning to overstay their welcome at this point, something the next story will address.
And usually the Grey Wardens don't care about maleficars, but between the personal prejudices of the Warden-General, the fact that they really thought that the world would be safer if Kathil were dead, and the fact that it's really easy in Thedas to explain away the deaths of mages by saying they used magic that wasn't supposed to exist, the maleficar route was the most expedient one to take.
Anyway, thank you all for reading and your kind comments!
The next story in this series is called "Unstrung Harmonies", and it takes place during a summer spent in Denerim, where there are all kinds of surprises in store. That story can be found on my profile.