This one sits between "Scars That Silence Carved" and shortly after "Like A Burning City." Come full circle, or something roughly circle-like. Full ovoid? Full wobbly hypersphere, maybe.
18. "An Old and Waning Moon"
Title from Richard Thompson, "King of Bohemia."
Your eyes seem from a different face
They've seen that much that soon
Your cheek too cold, too pale to shine
Like an old and waning moon.
And there is no peace, no true release
No secret place to crawl
And there is no rest for the ones god blessed
And he blessed you best of all.
The Frostback Mountains, near the village of Haven.
The air is cold in the Frostbacks. At dawn the scrubby grass is glassy-sheened with ice, and in the black rock-toothed passes the north wind blows sharp enough to slice sensation from their cheeks. At night they pitch tents close together for shelter and the sound of hoarse, wracking coughs follows them into chilly dreams. Warm-blooded Zevran complains lyrically for the first few days, giving long encomiums on the warmth and beauty of Antiva that make Leliana think longingly of strangling him in his sleep, before he subsides into a grim and determined silence.
It's not yet winter, and it's cold.
But for the first time in years, Leliana is happy.
The long journey from Denerim has let her come to terms with many things. Her past. Marjolaine's death, and her part in it. Perhaps even her future. The Chantry felt like it could be home, for a time, but now -
Now there is Aud, marching tirelessly into the teeth of the wind: fearlessly into the heart of the coming storm. Neither tireless nor fearless, in the end, but resolved to do her duty to the very bittermost limit of mortal endurance, and beyond.
Leliana has shared her tent since the first time they made love, under the haunted late-summer eaves of the Brescilian Forest, their armour still stained with sap and werewolf blood, the Dalish mourning Zathrian and the humans free of his curse. Just this once, Aud said, fierce and laughing. Just this once, we made peace, not war, and for the first time, the other woman's kiss led to something more.
But hardly the last.
By now she knows the dwarf as well as she has ever known another. Aud's curiosity, so often carefully restrained lest it be seen as weakness; the ruthless and penetrating intelligence she brings to bear on each new problem side by side with the ferocious urgency that frequently tempts her to take the shortest route through every obstacle, and damn the corpses; a self-deprecating humour and a quiet, patient kindness hidden beneath her hard, hawkish features. What she feels for the dwarf is different to what she felt for Marjolaine. To Aud she is an equal, an ally, a peer: someone of whom much will be asked, but never more than Aud herself is prepared to give.
If it is love, it is a love grown up with the knowledge that at any time either of them might have to die. That knowledge has intertwined sorrow with the roots of their affection, and so there are no promises between them. None, save the one Leliana has made in the silence of her heart.
I will love you, dear Warden. For as long as you will let me.
Andraste's holy ashes. For a heartbeat the Guardian makes her doubt herself, makes her doubt the Maker that has led her to Aud's company, led this company here. But it is a test. Of course it is a test, and she will choose to trust the speaking certainty of the rose and the still, quiet murmur in her soul she can yet sometimes feel, when she tries. She will choose to trust the miracle and the hope of light and life and beauty. She will choose, because it is that choice she clings to in the dark watches of the night when sleep evades her and she finds herself too close akin to Marjolaine for her comfort.
There are still miracles in the world. This is the proof of them.
From the moment they enter the Gauntlet a silent grace surrounds them. Time has hallowed the stones. Time, and loneliness: theirs might be the first feet to tread the dust since Tevinter's fall. Morrigan is inclined to mutter, and Sten is his usual taciturn self, but even Zevran's high humours seem to have been subdued to something approaching decorum.
Aud's methodical caution seems as out of place in the hush of ancient secrets, long-kept as their jarring steel and bloodstained leather. But when she removes her armour before the burning fire - heat that crackles on the skin, a searing, burning heat - when she disrobes, and lays aside her weapons, and walks brutally lean and scarred and teeth-grittingly resolute through the wall of flame -
The air is full of mysteries and holy ashes and light, and Leliana feels the hand of grace like a feather inside her chest.
The road before them is long and full of burdens. It is not possible to walk through a war and come out unscathed: the worst days will be bitter and filled with blood and sacrifice and grief; the choice of evils and bad compromises. And they will have to pick up their packs and kept walking into the teeth of the wind, into the face of the Blight.
It should not be possible for Leliana to be this content.
In the darkness of their chill tent, thin furs between them and the hard ground, Leliana curls her body against Aud's beneath their shared blankets and watches her lover's sleeping face. Warmth radiates from Aud's muscled flesh, hot with the pulse of tainted blood. Her mouth twitches in her sleep, the tension of nightmares always most evident there and in the tightness of her jaw. But for now all those muscles are loose and relaxed in true, restful slumber, and in the dimness Leliana can look her fill.
The warmth rooted in her belly is a tender pain. She will choose to trust it, as she chose in Lothering to trust the Maker's gift, in the hope of better days to come.
"Love Is Not All"
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay.
(grammaticus non me fecit)
And "Like A Burning City" has come to its close. Thanks to you guys who read and reviewed and added to favourites - especially Snafu1000 and
Ledilettant, whose reviews provided much-needed encouragement to finish this thing.
I hope you enjoyed reading. I know I enjoyed writing.