"How far are the Wardens?" I asked Catherine.
"Two days, at least," she said. I sighed, it would have been nice to have the extra blades.
"Go back," I told her. Stay with the king."
She glared at me. "What?"
"You heard me," I said. "Maker save us, if we fail he'll need someone to help protect him. Someone who can get him to Denerim fast. Someone I can trust."
Her eyes widened. "General," she said, saluting me. "I won't fail."
"I feel like I could jump from my skin," Anders whispered. "The waiting is killing me. Is it always this bad?"
I looked over at him, his face looked nervous but his eyes revealed how excited he was. "I have no idea," I admitted. "I always seem to get to the battle after it started without me."
"Poor Maggie, always late to the party," he said, the edges of his mouth turning up slightly. "How long now?"
"Not much longer," I said. I could see the Templars in the distance, their torches glinting off their armor. They were silver dots on the horizon.
Reaching over, Anders took my hand. "It was worth it," he said after a moment.
I turned, standing on my toes to kiss him. "It was," I agreed. "Not over yet, though."
"No," he agreed. "But it still needed saying."
The templars were moving faster now. They must have realized the vulnerable position they were in, being fenced in on two sides by the mountains. I could see the priests walking across our front lines, censers swinging in their hands. I could understand a little as she came closer. "A great hymn rose over Valarian Fields," The Grand Cleric intoned. I could see Revered Mother Moira of Amaranthine City and several other priests who had been pleased with the reforms walking behind her, offering blessings on kneeling soldiers. "Gladly proclaiming: Those who had been slaves were now free." The Grand Cleric had apparently taken it upon herself to reinstate the Canticle of Shartan. I wasn't opposed to the idea, since it was stricken from the Chant for political reasons, not theological. Still, I was surprised she would do that. I looked at Anders to see if he had noticed and he gestured me closer.
"You know what they're call her now?" Anders whispered.
"Grand Cleric?" I asked.
He chuckled, shaking his head. "The Grey Divine. Not to her face, of course… but I've heard a few say it."
"Seems apt," I said after a moment of shock. She was nearing us, though, and we both fell silent, dropping to our knees.
Pausing, she put a hand on my head. "Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. In their blood the Maker's will is written."
"Thank you," I replied before standing up. "You'd best get back to camp quickly," I warned her. "We don't have much time."
"Any moment," I said. "If I don't get the signal soon I'll have no choice but to attack early- they're getting too close."
Nodding, she raised her hand, gesturing to the priests who had been working their way through the lines. Finishing quickly, the women all walked back to camp in single fine, singing the Canticle of Trials as they went, two of our Templars on their heels joining them in song.
"Come on," I mumbled. We were cutting it too close, but the signal was so we would know our men were clear of the tunnel. If the mages went into action too soon there was a risk of trapping, or worse, crushing them underground.
"General," someone said, sounding nervous. I held a hand up.
"Hold!" I shouted. "I want archers only!"
The archers were less than effective against the templars in heavy plate.
Watching the horizon, I wanted to laugh, or cry. Here I was, back where I started… but this time I was the impatient general waiting for a late signal. I silently prayed that our men hadn't been ambushed by darkspawn as Alistair and I were all those years ago.
The first templars were starting to clear the pass. I screamed for everyone to hold their ground. I was readying a fire spell, planning to signal our mages on the top of the pass myself, since something had happened to the men underground.
"Forgive me," I said more to myself than anyone else, hoping no one would be caught underground. Waving my sword in the air, I screamed "charge!" as loud as I could. Running forward, I could already see snow tumbling down into the pass, setting off enormous white clouds.
Chaos had broken out among the Chantry ranks. The men in the center were pressing forward, and the men at the front were pressing back as we ran at them. A moment later I saw another fireball rise, this time from the Orlesian side of the boarder, and all but collapsed in relief. It was late, but at least I knew we hadn't killed our own people by setting off the avalanche.
The Templars had decided to take their chances with us over the avalanche. Some were trying to outrun the snow, even going so far as to trample anyone that fell. "Maker's breath," Anders gasped, looking out over the commotion.
We cast storms around their group. All were quickly dispelled, but each one managed to thin their numbers by a few. As they were on us I could do nothing but hope none would risk standing still long enough to conjure a proper smite. It wasn't a fast process, and anyone who attempted it was equally likely to be run through before it could be done.
Blocking a sword with my daggers, I kicked out, throwing a templar off balance. He pressed back against me, shoving my arms towards my chest as I tried to hold back his blade. "Putain," he hissed, almost spitting on me.
I didn't need to be fluent in Orlesian to guess what that meant.
Taking a risk, I eased my press on the daggers, giving up a few more inches so I could hold one hand free. The blades were now pressed sideways against my armor, my left hand pinned into place.
My right hand was gesturing quickly, I raised it at the last moment. "Bye bye!" I said, grinning as I finished the spell and sending the templar flying back from me, along with everyone else who had been within two feet of us. From then, it took only a moment to freeze the man on the ground. Another soldier took advantage of the moment, shattering him immediately.
I couldn't afford to look for Anders or anyone else. Another two men were at me within seconds. One fell to my daggers, the second to a fire spell… but not before he managed to slice my face open.
Wincing, I put my hand up. It felt worse than it was, apparently, since everything was still in place… just cut and bleeding. From how it felt I was worried I'd find myself with half a nose.
Shaking off the brief urge to take advantage of that blood, I reminded myself that these weren't my Wardens at my side; the Ferelden army didn't share our 'any means necessary' beliefs.
We fought for what felt like hours, maybe days. I'd narrowly escaped at least two smites that I saw myself, killing the templars with my blades as they raised their hands in that distinctive gesture. Another had caught me on the very edge of the area, leaving me more exhausted but, thankfully, not powerless.
Potion after potion kept me moving, and I realized with a great deal of annoyance that many of the men fighting us were, quite literally, half my age.
That was about when I started chucking the empty glass lyrium bottles at them, too.
Limping and exhausted, I realized no one had stepped up to fight me when my last opponent fell. Glancing around for a new target, I saw many of the troops doing the same. Men had begun returning from the other side of the pass, using the same tunnels, and the remaining Templars were so far outnumbered that it would have been difficult to even reach one of them. Even still, I moved through the field, looking for any still fighting and taking advantage of their distraction. Many found themselves surprised to be stabbed in the back or frozen solid.
I saw a man in remarkably ornate templar armor facing down several mages, a massive red and gold plume on his helm. Moving slowly, most of the mages were holding blades in shaking hands, their circle robes hanging in bloody tatters. Trying to push my own exhaustion aside, I drank my last potion and reached into the fade, drawing back lighting.
The smited mages collapsed against each other with relief as the man turned his attention to me.
"General," he said in a heavy accent.
"Knight Commander," I replied, matching his circling posture.
He struck out finally with a massive greatsword, moving much faster than I thought possible in armor that heavy. I managed to duck and roll, shooting off a quick frost spell as I dodged his blade. He made a sound of rage and tried to bring his blade down on me. I jumped to my feet, hopping just out of range as I shot lighting. Again and again I hit him with spells, most of which he shook off like they were nothing more than water, as he swung at me with that massive blade. I took advantage of my smaller size and better reflexes to dodge his blows, but he was fast enough that I couldn't jump in close enough to get him with my own daggers.
"Why continue this," he said after he had managed to land one blow. I had dodged the worst of it, but was fairly sure my collarbone and shoulder were broken. My entire right side felt dipped in pain and my arm hung uselessly, lower than it should have been. "You know the Maker will never tolerate it. If I don't strike you down now, someone else will soon."
He clearly thought I was done for. I decided to play into his assumption, raising my good arm to the broken shoulder protectively and whimpering. Considering that the world was beginning to swim around me it didn't require much acting.
I looked him over carefully.
Armor joined at the elbow and shoulder, a vulnerable spot. The usual templar skirt, another weakness, this time to fire. Open faced helm, and no neck guard. No neck guard. Yes, there.
He raised his hand, and I shrank back, the perfect terrified mage. I waited until he was too far into the smite to stop and lunged.
Throwing my full weight against his chest, the man shouted in surprise and confusion as he stumbled backwards. I tried to shake off the wave of energy that slammed into me full force. "Tell me something," I said, voice already slurring in exhaustion. I had one knee on each of his arms the tip of my dagger pressed into his bare neck. Crazily, I wondered if this was the first time he ever had a woman on top of him and started giggling. I didn't have much time, and fought to get my exhaustion, pain, and giddiness under control. "If the Maker hates me… why does He keep letting me win?"
The Templar had no response, only narrowing his eyes at me with loathing as he struggled to throw me off.
"That's what I figured," I muttered, laying my weight into my dagger and not stopping until the hilt was flush with his skin.
That's where I was found, although I don't know how much later it was. Half asleep, half unconscious, hand still pressed against my dagger.
"She's over here!" someone shouted over the sound of a barking dog. I felt hands grab me under the arms and lift me to my feet and couldn't stop myself from screaming in agony. First Enchanter Torrin's face swam in and out of focus in front of me. "Shoulder?" he asked. I nodded and sighed with relief as healing magic began to knit me back together. As clarity returned to the world I gasped in horror, seeing the field of bodies around me. So many, I thought in horror. I could hear the injured screaming in pain, lying among the dead as they waited for someone to help them. It wasn't lost on me that I didn't see Anders among the healers walking the field. I was afraid to ask.
"Lyrium?" I asked him, afraid to say anything else. He handed me several large bottles.
"Anders said you would need them," Torrin confided, and I almost fainted in relief. "He just knew we'd find you out here."
"Back at the main camp, working on the injured with the other Spirit Healers. Us creation school oafs are out here looking for survivors." As I chugged one potion after another I felt more like myself, and listened to the deadpan First Enchanter tell me how Anders had struggled not to come out hunting for me himself, but was adamant that I would be fine. "I don't know how, but I think your dog talked him out of it." I could only laugh, reaching down to rub Isolde's head. It was no surprise my mabari was able to find me in a field full of bodies.
Torrin gently took hold of my chin after healing several other injuries. "Maker, stand still," he said, healing the cut across my face. I could tell he wasn't satisfied with the job. "No wonder you go everywhere with your own personal Spirit Healer," he said, "if this is what you do to yourself in battle."
"I'm just amazed my head's still on my shoulders!" I said, laughing slightly now that I wasn't numb with fear. Bending over, I retrieved my dagger, holding the body down with a foot to release it, and took the man's massive sword. It would be something impressive I could give to Alistair as a token of our victory. After a moment I reached back down and grabbed his ornate helmet, popping it on my head with a laugh. "I'd better get back to camp," I said.
Torrin nodded. "General!" he called as I started hiking away, joining the throng walking up the hill. I turned back and he saluted. "Thank you." Not knowing what to say, I only returned the gesture.
Camp was chaos, but the relief in the air could be felt. Even the injured were smiling as healers worked on them. Alistair walked between their cots, talking to people, shaking hands, even sitting briefly to listen to them, a hand on their shoulder and sympathy on his face.
People had been following me since I returned, cheering and shouting in my wake. I could even see Wynne there, her face tight with concentration as magic poured from her hands into an injured knight. Finished, she looked up and nodded in my direction before moving on to another patient, saying something to a young page not far from her.
Entering the massive tent, I saw the page race over to Anders, who was at my side seconds later. "I knew you were alive," he whispered after kissing me, to the hoots and hollers of the soldiers around us.
He shrugged. "Because I was still breathing." I smiled and Anders reached over, knocking on my head. "Where did you get that?"
"Off the dead Knight Commander," I said. "Now I have one last thing to do." Anders nodded, falling into step behind me. Several of the captains had rushed over when they heard the chaos and did likewise.
Alistair looked up, catching sight of our group. Relief washed across his face and he began walking over. "General," he called, keeping up the performance for everyone around us. "Anything to report?"
Dropping to my knee, I took the helmet off and set it on the ground. Anders did a double take, seeing the new scar snaking its way across my nose and cheek. Holding the sword up in offering with both hands I grinned, probably revealing how lyrium addled I was in the process to anyone who knew what to look for. Alistair looked like he wanted to laugh, but kept his façade. We had talked about this weeks ago, over a bottle… well, several bottles of wine. "If we win," he had said, "we'd better make it look good. You know, all serious. Like we know what we're doing. That's the sort of moment people remember for centuries."
"Your Majesty," I said, speaking as loud as I could without actually shouting. "We are victorious!"
Taking the sword from me, Alistair held it in the air for everyone to see. As the camp cheered I finally let myself sag with exhaustion. Only Anders, who was holding on to my waist like he thought someone would snatch me away, kept me upright.
So I guess there was some football game or something today? I spent the afternoon writing this and watching Terry Jones' series on the Crusades, and consider it time well spent. Although I probably should have studied for the GRE...
Thanks so much to all my readers and reviewers!