Chapter 34


'No,' Núria said simply. She threw her arms into the air, nearly hitting Anders in the process, who took a careful step backwards.

'Remember not to punish the messenger for the message,' he muttered. Núria glared at him.

'This isn't the time,' she said angrily. 'Is there anything else?'

'Well, there is, but I wonder if the courtyard is the right place for this,' Aisling said, heading towards the keep. 'Darya is … devastated,' she explained when they were in a small room behind a closed door. 'If you don't mind, I think we need Jowan here.' Núria nodded, stepped outside the room and talked to a guard to send for him. Her eyes fell on Anders, who was for once at a complete loss for words. The past few years had shown that the taint did have an effect on him and Velanna, if only a slight physical one. What that meant for Velanna was anyone's guess, but if Núria was any judge, she would never know: Velanna was gathering her possessions that were placed around the castle, very inconspicuously, but all the same. She would leave, most likely to find her sister, and Núria wasn't going to stop her. She shook the thought off.

'So … what happens now?' Núria asked. 'Who knows?'

'Anora, obviously, but not the details,' she said. 'Only that he chose to kill himself in the Tower, no reasons, not what he … said. She didn't seem overly surprised. If only Wynne had still been there … But there you are, things change. With her and Irving gone, two of the greatest mages of the circle have left the world. Leorah's a tough one, though. And she's got a more rebellious spirit than Irving. She asked me to tell you she wants you to visit, Anders. To deliver some sort of lecture about the Architect. Graegoir isn't happy, but he grudgingly agreed. He does that a lot lately.' A soft knock on the door wiped the dumbstruck look from Anders's face. Núria opened the door to Jowan, Leliana and Zevran.

'So much for small rooms are better to talk in,' she said.

'We thought it might be best if we were there to help,' Zevran said lightly. 'Just in case, you never know.'

'I'm not here to arrest anyone,' Aisling told them reassuringly. 'Very well, in that case, I start over. But remember that this is not supposed to be told to others as long as it's not public. Yeah, right, I know it's absurd. That being said … We had an … er … visit at the tower. A call from King Alistair, no less, demanding to see the child of the apostate-warden, as he put it. Of course we let him, but Graegoir insisted there be guards, and for once, I am glad he did. The guards were sworn to secrecy by King Alistair about what was the topic of the conversation, and Darya won't talk. Alistair … left the room and found it was time to fall upon his blade. Right outside the door.'

'What did the guards do?' Zevran asked.

'Wear stupid expressions before they started running for help,' Aisling said darkly. 'They were supposed to keep Darya safe, no one thought he'd do something so dumb. Any ideas why? Because Darya seems to think she's responsible.'

'In a way she is,' Anders replied.

'How dare you?' Leliana flared up. 'You cannot really think that!'

'I think, she caused this,' Anders said cautiously. 'Not willingly or knowingly, that's not what I'm saying. And lying to her about this won't help her, she won't buy it. She's been learning magic for eight years, don't forget that.'

'The problem is,' Aisling interrupted loudly, 'That Alistair didn't go quietly. Those guards won't tell what was said officially, but there are whispers. Whispers that the girl isn't just a mage. Some think she's an abomination. Some say she's Dumat. Honestly, I don't know which is more threatening.'

'Is she safe?' Jowan asked.

'Yet,' Aisling said. 'She's very young to brave the Harrowing, but Graegoir wants it done as soon as she feels ready.'

'She's still almost a child,' Anders said softly. 'That's a horrible experience for someone so young.'

'To tell the truth, I doubt if two more years of emotional development make that particular test easier,' Aisling told him calmly. 'Once she is harrowed she's a lot safer. At least the pressure of people clamoring she's dangerous and must be made tranquil will be taken away.'

'Since when has it become custom to make a harrowed mage tranquil?' Anders asked. Aisling offered a crooked grin.

'Answer that question yourself,' she said, gesturing to Jowan. 'Normally they just get killed if they turn from the circle.'

'So the solution is to put Darya through the Harrowing while she's still … well, harrowed from what happened,' Zevran said. 'Great plan, when better try and resist a demon.'

'Sadly, it's not this simple,' Aisling said. She offered Jowan a shy glance. 'As I said, Darya is in shock. She approached Leorah and Graegoir and asked to undergo the Rite of Tranquility. Leorah tried to talk her out of it and Graegoir refused because he won't let her haste such a decision out of despair. In fact, that's why I'm here.' Her gaze turned to Leliana. 'He asked me to tell you that he thinks you should come and see her.'

'Just me, is it?' Leliana asked.

'No, both of you,' Aisling said. 'There will be a meeting at the inn by docks. Just tell her that this isn't the solution.'

'Gladly,' Jowan muttered. Núria frowned.

'Well, what is the solution, if this is not it?' she asked. 'She's not safe at the circle, tranquility is a horror, and she cannot leave either. Maker, I'm glad I don't meddle with politics any more.'

'Let me quote Graegoir here,' Aisling said with another wry grin. 'We need to find someone who would harbour any sort of danger. Some manic Teyrn or something who wants a courtmage. Yes, he said something, not someone.'

'I am currently out of manic teyrns,' Núria told her drily.

'And, what's more important, if Velanna does leave, one mage short,' Anders said with a smirk. 'The Maker alone knows how long I still have, so perhaps that will be two. I even understand Alistair to a degree.' Núria blinked.

'You can't,' she said stricken. 'Ever. Anders!' The mage shook his head.

'I won't kill myself, trust me,' he said calmly. 'And unlike some of us, I'm not planning to sneak off and spend what time I have alone, chasing shadows. Perhaps I won't even die that soon. Remember the Architect's dwarf? She didn't look exactly young, but she was alive, and she was certainly not a broodmother. Ugly, yes, but otherwise perfectly fine. I can handle ugly.'

'Thanks,' Núria whispered, rubbing her eyes. 'So … whoa, what did you just suggest, Aisling?'

'Now that's the reaction I've been waiting for,' Zevran said with a grin.

'I don't need your answer at once,' Aisling said quickly. 'But we do need it. If you know by the time Anders comes it would be good.'

'I haven't said I'm going,' Anders growled. 'First it is, "We've missed you, come and give a lecture", then comes the part where I'm locked away and await my punishment.'

'Leorah would go ballistic if anyone tried,' Aisling told him. 'And Graegoir isn't what he used to be. Going soft in his old days. Not that I'm complaining.'

'Er,' Anders made with a frown. 'Not that I don't agree that this is a better place for her than the tower … for a few non-biased reasons, too … I do not think she can be a warden. We'd much more likely transform her into an archdemon if we tried to get her through the Joining.' Núria felt how her head started spinning.

'I need air,' she said suddenly and rushed out into the courtyard. There she slumped to the floor beside a tree and stared at a patch of grass before her.

That was where Zevran found her a short time later. 'There you are,' he said, dropping down beside her.

'He's been in such pain, and all they talk about is mage politics,' she said softly. Zevran wrapped an arm around Núria's shoulder.

'They have to,' he said gently. 'But Leliana gave them a talking to for that after you'd left, if that helps.' Núria smiled vaguely.

'A little,' she said. 'This is just so much at once, why did Alistair have to do this now I can't get away from here? For once there are the darkspawn stragglers that seem to develop brains as well as free will. And I don't even know what to make of that entirely dememted moron of an elf we caught three nights back. What's worse, he didn't even do anything save sneak in at night and try to sneak out again. Not even food is stolen, so what am I keeping a screaming … whatever he is in the dungeon for?'

'Because he chooses to yell in a foreign language rather than talk,' Zevran said calmly. 'I had a good look at him, I do not think he's any danger to you. Let him go if you think he meant no harm. Who's going to stop you?' He shook his head. 'But that's not for now. Alisatair's funeral will be in a week. I assume you want to go.'

'Zev, this creature killed five guards before they managed to take him, three of them when he was already disarmed, Maker have mercy,' she growled. 'And I'm not going to the funeral.' Zevran frowned slightly.

'Why?' he asked softly, dropping the matter of the prisoner for now. Núria gave him a long, hard look.

'Because if I go, he'll be gone,' she said finally. Zevran sighed.

'Closure is worth a lot,' he told her. 'I know what it's like not to have it, and at times I would have given … not my right hand, perhaps, but a lot for a chance at that at least. You can say good bye to him.' Slowly, Núria nodded.

'I'll think about it,' she said. 'I failed him, Zev. He was my friend, and I sent him away and didn't help.'

'You cannot save everyone, Núria,' Zevran told her. 'You tried, but for some things there is no cure. If Anders knows non, there is none.'

'But why did he do something so stupid?' Núria continued. 'Why not tell me he cannot take it? I'd have found something I can do at least.'

'All you could have done would be to do the killing in his stead,' Zevran whispered, earning a glare. 'He was losing his mind, Núria, not sick like Anders might get. This is no more his fault than yours or Darya's.' He leaned towards her, kissing her softly. 'I'm going to put myself into danger of getting hit, but I promised I would tell you. Seeing how you placed Ferelden's last king on the throne, the queen asks for insights you might have.'

'Adopt Teagan and put him on the throne,' Núria said lightly. 'I don't care. I don't do politics any more. Alistair would have an heir if he'd had the guts to make it happen.'

'How so?' Zevran asked.

'All he would have had to do is give mages the rights every other person has,' she told him. 'He did it for the alienage, didn't he? Then he would have had a daughter.'

'I'm afraid he was too much templar for that,' Zevran said, chuckling.

'No, he was too afraid of change,' Núria replied angrily. 'He was just more scared of me than of the landsmeet, that's why he made Shianni a bann. And now I'll have her here, hoping to the Maker she isn't going to do the same to all of us when she's angry.'

'I don't think she'll do any such thing,' Zevran informed her. 'And hating Alistair for dying won't make it easier, either,' he added sagely.

'I know,' she whispered.

Her arms snaked around Zevran clutching him firmly to her side.

'I'm here,' he said soothingly. 'And I'll always be here.'

'What if I get sick, too?' Núria inquired. 'What then?'

'What do you think?' Zevran asked in reply. 'Hmm? You should know me well enough.' He took her chin into his left hand and looked at her. 'Don't you?' Núria's lower lip trembled and she nodded. Shaking his head slightly, Zevran pressed his lips to hers in a loving kiss. After half a lifetime, Núria pulled back.

'Stupid question,' she whispered. 'It's just … I'm going to miss that fool.'

(( So … there we are, I'm done and finished. And, so I think, I've kept my promise and didn't end with a cliffhanger. Much. I don't do absolute endings, I'm afraid, for me this is a very closed ending. Trust me.

If you intend to move on to my Inquisition story Masters of War, which follows this one directly, please note one thing: I finished this long before DA:I. For that reason, the time between Darya going to the Circle and Alistair killing himself is a lot longer than it should be. I'll rectify that eventually. I am currently proof re-editing both previous stories and will correct this in the process rather than altering a few lines now, only to miss something else.

If I forgot something, which I probably did, considering how long this has become, especially if you consider By Any Other Name a part of it, please do tell me.

The chapter heading is a song by Lacuna Coil.

My thanks to all of you who followed this through, especially to the reviewers. I'm not going to list them, as I'm actually at work right now, but I love you all! ))