A/N: This is a direct continuation of my previous story featuring Maggie Amell and Anders, Never Boring. It picks up right where the last one ends off, after the events of Awakening.
The Maker smiles on those who review!
Forgot to add, Bioware owns the universe, I just visit on occasion.
Someone was knocking on the door. I could see light streaming past the curtains from outside. It was midafternoon, but I fought against the idea of getting up. Maybe if I ignore them they'll go away.
The Mother was dead, the Architect was dead, and the city saved, hadn't I earned the right to sleep in a bit? Unfortunately my near-perfect record of everyone returning home at the end of the day had been destroyed. I had one warden dead (although technically he was never really alive, I had to remind myself) and, another presumed missing in action. Nathaniel, my second in command, was in all likelihood pacing the floors somewhere finding new and exciting ways to blame himself for both of those things even though I'd told him the fault was mine for helping the city instead of rushing back to aid him. Everyone needed a hobby, though, and his seemed to be brooding, no matter what I told him.
The knocking continued. I pulled the blankets over my head, snuggling closer to Anders who mumbled something in his sleep, tossing an arm over me. I just saved the world. Again. Let me REST! I thought, grumpily.
Vigil's Keep, the first place I'd actually been able to think of as home, was in ruins. Thanks to the quick thinking of Nathaniel, the darkspawn never made it upstairs. However, the first floor, once full of large exposed wood beams, questionable art featuring the former occupants with mabari dogs, and bookshelves, had undergone a darkspawn-style renovation. I must admit, even though I'd wanted to redecorate, I'm not a big fan of the "charred apocalypse" theme they went with. Sure, the new open floor plan was nice, and I could see how it would lend itself well to entertaining, but I would have preferred something a bit more traditional, maybe with griffins. Instead I just worried the upper levels of the building would collapse onto everything and we'd roll out of bed to find ourselves in the remains of the kitchen. Or completely crushed under the weight of the third and fourth floors. That was a less fun possibility.
The knocking could now be described as a banging, and it was accompanied by someone calling my name, loudly. No, not just my name, my full name and title, as well as calling for Anders. I tossed aside the blankets and climbed out from under his arm. Whoever it was, they clearly didn't plan to let me sleep. Anders shifted beside me, making no move to get up. Instead he pulled the blankets over his head while grumbling. "Thanks," I muttered at him, swinging my legs out of bed.
Calling for them to give me a moment, I tossed on the nearest clean robe I could find, nearly tripping over Ser Pounce-a-lot in the process.
"Varel!" I exclaimed after finding the seneschal on the opposite side of my door. "I'd heard you were in the infirmary!"
"I was, they finally let me out, after a week of me complaining I had work to do."
"A week? Didn't I just see you four days ago?"
He looked at me. "Maggie, do you know what day it is?" I shook my head. He walked into my office, gesturing to the small desk calendar. "You were gone for almost a week, and you've been asleep for two days." Maker's breath, we must have fought nonstop for days. No wonder I'd slept so long.
"Huh," I said, not having a proper response. "So, what's going on, then?" I became suddenly nervous. "Not more darkspawn already, is it?"
"You have visitors," he answered vaguely. I raised an eyebrow and Varel lifted his hands in a gesture of apology. "The nobles, I'm sorry. They want to meet with you. Some others as well."
"Maker's breath, I think I would have preferred the darkspawn." He laughed at that. "Go get the others, if I have to suffer I'm not doing it alone." I once again thought about writing to Alistair begging him to pick a new Arl and just let us have the Keep. After sending Varel to make sure Nathaniel, Sigrun, and Oghren were up and ready, I went to drag Anders out of bed.
"I know, I heard," he muttered, already awake and dressing as I walked back into the bedroom from my office. That was what we both called it. 'The' bedroom. Neither of us could bring ourselves to say 'our' bedroom, and since everything he owned was in there calling it 'my' room sounded just as bizarre.
We gathered in the main hall so the nobles could parade around, trying to one up each other with their extravagant and unnecessary gifts of thanks. What am I ever going to do with twenty yards of blue silk, I wondered, thanking the giver and passing it to Varel. It was joined by a large wooden statue of a mabari, a small golden statue of a mabari, a painting of a mabari, and then several very old leather bound books which were, thankfully, about local history and not mabari. This, I thought, looking over the items, is why Orlais makes fun of our dogs. I managed to smile and thank everyone profusely, wishing they could have passed along some weapons and armor instead. Or a real mabari, for that matter. I suspect my idea of starting a small kennel would have to be put off while everything was fixed.
Even the Revered Mother came to grunt a perfunctory thank you at me before talking the ear off some Bann or another who looked like she wanted nothing more than to run away. At least I'm not the only one who hates her, I thought, watching the nobles all take turns squirming out of conversation. I also caught her arm waving in my direction more than once, it was clear that our saving the city didn't make up for my audacity at having been born a mage. Hopefully she hadn't discovered what Anders and I did in her bed when we spent the night in the Chantry waiting for the darkspawn forces to make their appearance.
Next came messengers from the closest neighboring Arlings pledging their assistance in rebuilding our home. Most handed me bags of gold sovereigns, but Teyrn Couseland had one-upped them all, sending a small army of workmen as well, fresh from having repaired his own castle. Varel immediately sent them to work on shoring up the ceiling so it didn't collapse because of the damage below. No actual repairs yet, but this would at least make sure the Keep was livable while they went on.
Once everyone had left the six of us went upstairs to the makeshift dining room, in desperate need of food. Sitting on boxes and crates around an enormous ancient table, we caught each other up on the previous week over a meal of bread, cheese, and dried meat. After we described the siege on Amaranthine I realized something. "Where was Bann Esmerelle today? Her guards knew about the tunnels under the city and ignored it, even after I told them to seal them up. That was how the darkspawn surprised everyone. She needs to know."
Varel cleared his throat. "Esmerelle was found dead yesterday, by her own hand." I gasped, and he went on. "We suspected she was involved in the conspiracy against you, I think she was worried we were close to finding the truth."
"Well, good riddance in that case" I replied. Nathaniel looked slightly shocked but Oghren roared with laughter.
I then told Varel and Nathaniel of the Architect's offer. Varel was horrified by it, and glad we killed the monster, but Nathaniel seemed more conflicted. "You don't think a little blood would be worth it to end the blights?" he asked.
"I don't think it would end the blights. We'd just have a lot of smaller, more frequent blights to cope with. He made the Mother and all her followers, too." I shrugged. "I just didn't trust him. I'm a Grey Warden, how could I trust the word of a darkspawn?"
After we described the fight with the Mother, Nathaniel told us about the attack on the Keep. I winced again for leaving him to deal with it alone. I should have left Sigrun or Oghren with him as well, giving us each two trusted Wardens. I justified that Anders would always go with me since the Keep had an infirmary and I needed a healer when we traveled. In all honesty, I wouldn't have made it to the Architect if I'd needed to rely on health poultices alone. The ogre that threw me against a wall in the tunnels under the city caused too much damage. It was sound reasoning, and had absolutely nothing to do with anything else. Or so I told myself.
Once lunch was finished, Nathaniel rose to his feet. "I'm going to go check up on my sister," he announced.
"You need to write me a report, Nathaniel," I prodded him. He groaned.
"You can't be serious."
"I wasn't here; I have to let the First Warden know what happened."
"Maker's breath, fine."
"Didn't you once have Oghren kill someone because he caused too much paperwork?"
"I had Oghren kill him because he was a bandit. That bandits also happened to cause far too much paperwork for me was incidental." Anders and Oghren both laughed at that, I ignored them. "Besides, do you think Weisshaupt will return it once they're done? A copy for them, and a copy for Ferelden. Come on, I have to do the same thing." He sighed and left.
Varel turned on me next, I could recognize his 'boring business' face from a mile away. "Maggie, we need to discuss the repairs."
"I think we should make them," I said. "Why wouldn't I?" What was to discuss, after all? Anders snorted.
He sighed. "We don't have enough money to fix everything. You need to decide what comes first, and we need to find more money."
"How much do we have? Can we do most? Or do everything at least partially?" He shook his head.
"The main hall alone would empty the treasury," he explained.
"Andraste's tits," I cursed.
"Brewery first!" Oghren exclaimed. The fire had wiped out our entire supply of ale.
"No," I said, looking at him. "Anything that might make the Keep unstable or unsafe to live in comes first, even if it's only given a temporary fix, and then the kitchen. We need recruits, recruits will need food. Damn it, I'll need food. I don't want to eat like we're on the road all the time." Everyone seemed to agree with that assessment. "After that Master Wade's workshop, we'll need weapons as well." He nodded. "I'll hit up the king and Weisshaupt for money, maybe they can help."
"If they could that would be most helpful. Messages have been pouring in with promises of aid, but so far none have followed through beyond what you saw this morning." That made sense. Messages could be sent with anyone, a trusted servant had to hand-deliver gold.
"After I hear from Denerim, I'll start making plans for recruitment trips. West, to Orzammar, first. They'll welcome us to the city, and anyone we get there won't need much by way of training." Sigrun and Oghren nodded in agreement.
"What about the Circle, isn't that on the way? Mages are needed, of course, but templars would also make fine warriors." I winced. I didn't want to go back in there, for completely selfish reasons, but I also suspected they wouldn't particularly welcome me. I did save the circle from a crazed blood mage, but deep down I suspect the templars would have been happier calling for the rite of annulment and killing everyone within, guilty and innocent alike. Particularly if I could have been locked up inside before the rite began. Saving the circle didn't quite balance out helping a blood mage escape. Or later becoming one yourself, for that matter- although I don't think they knew about that yet.
"I think sending Nathaniel to recruit there might be wiser, they won't be happy to see me or Anders. And no templars. Ever."
"Maggie," Oghren groaned, "leave your grudges in the past, templars are strong fighters."
"As well as addicted to lyrium, and highly unlikely to take orders from a mage. Plus, they'd turn on me in the middle of battle if I ever resort to some of my less approved magics."
Either they agreed or Oghren and Varel just decided not to push the issue for now. I excused myself to get to work.
I had finished a letter to Alistair first, letting him know I was alive and well, and what had happened. I had no idea what the state of the Ferelden treasury was so soon after the blight, but I did detail the level of damage to the keep and our complete inability to afford the work ourselves, or even throw a proper victory celebration. If he had the money he would get the hint.
My report to the First Warden was far more detailed, involving me occasionally prodding Anders, Sigrun, and Oghren for details I didn't remember exactly. I also made a point of stressing how many lives at the Keep were saved because of Nathaniel, and flat out begged for any assistance they could provide. I have no shame, I thought, adding the line 'I can barely afford to travel and find recruits, much less provide them with proper arms, armor, or robes!' Each nation's Wardens should be supported by tithes from their own nation, but I thought perhaps our situation was a little more extreme. Master Wade couldn't make us so much as a gauntlet or dagger until his workshop was repaired.
Setting it aside to wait for Nathaniel's portion I sighed. It was doubtful the First Warden would even bother replying to me. Whatever Weisshaupt prioritized, I knew Ferelden was far from the top of that list. Normally I wouldn't demand, or even welcome, special treatment, but for once I wished the First Warden would remember which of us actually fought the archdemon. Being treated as a political experiment in a nation they openly thought of as a barbaric backwater wasn't endearing the order's leadership to me.
On the spur of the moment I also wrote to the six other Warden Commanders in Thedas explaining our circumstances and dire need of equipment and supplies for new recruits. It was an act of desperation. The closest neighboring Warden Commander would be in Orlais. If word got out that I went to them for help the phrase "political nightmare" wouldn't begin to describe it. I didn't much care, the occupation was over a couple years before I'd even been born, but most of the nation still carried a grudge.
Donations had continued to pour in from throughout Ferelden over the next few days and weeks, but I hadn't heard a peep out of Alistair or the First Warden. The latter was understandable, a letter to the Anderfels could take a month or more to arrive. The former, however, made no sense. He would have had my letter within days. His silence was disturbing. Even if I wasn't his friend, I was still the nominal ruler of the Arling. It seemed as though the king would at least acknowledge when a substantial chunk of his kingdom came under attack. Was he brushing it off because we were friends, and he knew I wouldn't cause a fuss if he didn't fawn over me like some other noble? Although that made me less unhappy, I was still annoyed. The donations had been enough to start repairs on Master Wade's workshop and our kitchen but not much else.
To my surprise Orlais was the first to respond; less than a month had passed before a wagon arrived at the Keep. It was heavily burdened with anything a newly recruited Warden would require, all bearing the griffin insignia, I had to resist the urge to dance around and unpack every item. Our armory had been destroyed in the attack, along with almost everything in it. With this I could actually start looking for recruits. I all but bounced into the Keep, one less worry on my mind.
Anders was curled up on the rug by the fire in my office, reading a book. "You wouldn't believe how much stuff just arrived from Orlais. Warden inscribed armor, weapons, mage's robes, tents, everything. It's amazing!"
"So are we the poor country cousins begging our rich relations for aid?" He chuckled at this, but I winced, stopping halfway through pulling off my boots. The tale was an old one, but it felt rather accurate from where I stood. "Don't take it so seriously, I was only kidding," Anders protested, seeing my reaction. "We're Ferelden, obviously we're the poor country cousins." I kicked off my boots with a sigh and walked barefoot across the carpet, punching Anders lightly in the shoulder as I climbed into the chair he leaned against.
Folding my feet beneath me I pulled the letter from Orlais' commander out from the book I had tucked it into, a rather scandalous tome recommended by Sigrun, and one of the few to survive the attack since it had been upstairs at the time. "I didn't know what else to do. Our entire armory was gutted by the fires, and Master Wade's forge won't be repaired for months. He's not even here anymore; I guess they went back to Denerim until the repairs are done." I shifted in the chair and grumbled to myself. "It bothers me. I shouldn't have to go begging to Orlais for help, Ferelden should provide for us. I don't know why Alistair hasn't answered my letter."
Unfolding the letter sent with the wagon, I scanned it before reading out loud.
Tales of your most recent victories had already reached our ears when your letter arrived. I fear you will leave none of the darkspawn for the rest of us to kill! Even as I grieve with you for your losses it brings me happiness to see you understand that we share a bond which knows no border, despite the old hostility between our nations. The Wardens of Orlais are happy to assist our brothers and sisters in Ferelden. We have a saying here-"
I cut off at that point, stumbling over the Orlesian phrase. Anders reached up and pulled the letter from me. "Give me that, your pronunciation is awful." He continued reading.
"We have a saying here: C'est dans le besoin qu'on reconnaît ses vrais amis.
Your brother in vigilance,
Alain, Commander of the Grey in Orlais"
"What does that mean?" I asked.
Anders stared at it for a moment. "'It is when in need that one renounces his friends.'"
I blinked, trying to parse the sentence. "Are you sure about that?"
"Yes I'm sure!" He paused, looking over the sentence again. "Ohh… no, recognizes, not renounces. I suppose that changes things quite a bit."
"That makes a lot more sense," I said. "Very poetic. When did you learn Orlesian?"
"Taught myself, back in the tower. Figured it would be good to know in case I ever made it that far." I laughed at that image. Sometimes I wondered how he could cast a single spell, it seemed like every moment he was in the tower was spent finding ways to get out again.
We fell into a comfortable silence, both engrossed in our books. At one point Anders pulled my leg over his shoulder, apparently so he could absentmindedly run his fingers across my ankle as he read. I paused in my reading, wondering what possessed Sigrun to grab this book from the library in the first place. It seemed strange that the filthiest thing I'd ever read would end up the sole survivor of the Keep's once impressive collection. I think parts would have made even Zevran blush. Or not, I thought, double checking to make sure he wasn't the author. I shook my head at a passage, I doubt a noblewoman would really thank someone that thoroughly just for filling her bath.
It took me a moment to realize my leg was now leaning against the back of the chair. I looked up from a passage involving a nobleman and his entire kitchen staff doing things I hoped no one in the Keep did anywhere near our food to see Anders was kneeling so we were at eye level. He stared at me above my book with a grin. "What are you reading? Your cheeks are all red!"
"Nothing," I swore, slamming the cover shut. "What are you reading?"
"One of yours… The Fifth School: Ethical Applications of Blood Magic. Surprisingly interesting."
I leapt on the change of subject. "I like that one, there's a whole section on Warden mages in it. It was tough to find a copy: even the Tevinter Chantry banned it. I might have, um, borrowed that from Irving when I was cleaning up Uldred's mess in the tower."
"I saw, you bookmarked it. And underlined every other sentence. Your margin notes in the spell section were particularly interesting, though."
He laughed. "You bothered to catalogue which spells work best against what monsters, and you separated out eight different kinds of undead. Really necessary?"
I shrugged, shoving my book between my hip and the chair's arm. "We'll recruit more mages eventually. Some of them may find the information useful."
"You'd teach some new hypothetical recruits blood magic? You never even offered to teach me!"
"And I never will. I don't want someone to feel obligated to learn it, or worry they're insulting me or something if they refuse, so I decided I would only teach Wardens who actually asked." I couldn't tell if Anders was hinting that he wanted to learn blood magic, or just insulted I never offered. "Why the sudden interest?"
"Curiosity, really. And I figured if I read more about it maybe we wouldn't argue quite so much. Plus, your books are the only ones left that I haven't read yet." Well, if he wanted to get technical, our last 'argument' was because one of the solders made a comment about apostates and the Maker's wrath, and he replied with 'it's not as though we're all maleficar!' while I stood two feet away. The thought was sweet, though, so I leaned forward to kiss him. Anders put a hand on my hip and I shifted in the chair as he yanked my book away.
He was already paging through it, grinning. "Why Maggie… and to think, I'm the one Oghren calls 'the dirty little mage.'" I felt my ears heat up and tried to grab the book back, but Anders just jumped to his feet, holding it from my reach. "Come now, don't be like that. The books belong to everyone." Anders giggled, paging through it rapidly. "done that, done that, done that," he muttered as he skimmed over the text, "done that, oooh, never done that, done that, I don't think that is actually physically possible but then I'm not an expert on dwarven anatomy." Huh, I thought, I must not have read that chapter yet. "What is an 'Antivan milk sandwich'? I've never even heard of that."
"I'm a little disturbed that you're the second person to assume I would know."
"Who else asked?"
"Sigrun. She's the one who gave me the book."
"Why must I always miss the good conversations?" Anders continued to page through the book, offering occasional commentary. His eyes widened as he read, muttering "oh…"
"Nothing!" he said quickly, a flush creeping across his face. I could see Anders chewing on his bottom lip, deep in thought. Taking advantage of his distraction I jumped up and grabbed the book, eager to discover what had captured his attention so fully.
"Oh indeed…" I muttered, looking at the passage. He ran a fingertip along the back of my neck, already toying with the laces of my robe.
"You… you could say that…." I found I was acutely aware of his fingers on my skin.
"I'll fetch some rope," Anders replied quickly, locking the door before starting to dig through my pack I'd shoved into the corner. We were interrupted by someone frantically banging on the door, shouting for me.
Anders groaned, "Commander, I must insist we continue with our meeting as soon as the interruption is dealt with." This had better be good, I thought, opening the door.
"Are we under attack?" I barked, far more harshly than I intended. The maid on the opposite side scurried backwards. "Sorry, sorry," I insisted, softening my voice. "I was in the middle of... a meeting."
"No, Commander. Seneschal Varel sent me for you." She didn't say anything else, instead looking like she was torn between fainting and running to hide.
"Um, all right. Did he happen to say why?"
The maid brightened. "Yes, thank you. He said to tell you…" she drifted off again, looking faint. Maker's breath, I didn't want to be rude, but this fawning over me thing had to end.
"Please let me know what he said."
She finally spit it out. "The king is here."