I knelt on the ground, naked. The ends of my hair curled around my waist and hips. I looked around and saw nothing; my hair tickling my skin where it touched. The sky was a flat greyish brown color and seemed endless. The ground was neither soft nor hard; it was just there.

There was no sound, no warning but the itch in my blood. I sprang to my feet as a wave of darkspawn crashed around me, on me, through me. I had no weapons, no armor: nothing to fight them with but my fists. I kicked and punched and bit until they pulled me down, tearing me to pieces.

I awoke with a start. I was in my bedroom, safe and warm. No darkspawn here, just Nathaniel sleeping beside me. The taint in my blood was quiet, but that didn't stop my heart from pounding in fear.

Suddenly I felt hemmed in. The need to escape was overwhelming. I grabbed my good cloak, fur-lined leather with a hood. Yanking on my boots, I fled my rooms for the high walls of the Keep.

There is a silence about snow that is deeper and more profound than the mere absence of sound. It was a clear night and the Keep exterior was deserted. I leaned against the parapet and stared into the expanse of the night sky. The air was bitter cold and it seared into my lungs and brain.

I found myself walking the parapet more often in the last few weeks. I'd been at the Keep for twenty-six years now. On nights that sleep eluded me, I'd throw a cloak over my nightgown and walk. Sometimes I'd even talk to the stars.

The deep purple of the sky never made me feel small. Far from it. I'd named the stars after people or events in my life. Those two stars, just above the horizon, huddling together? That was Oriana and Oren. The bright star that shone early in the evening but went out long before morning? That was King Cailan. The stars all had meaning and connections for me.

I shifted, the only sound came from the snow crunching under my boots. I pulled my cloak tighter, burying my nose into the fur lining. Maker, I am so tired. Please, let me sleep peacefully tonight.

The nightmares of darkspawn had returned.

It wasn't every night, maybe one night in twenty. A few months ago it had been one night in thirty. I had always held onto the thirty year time frame, but I suppose it's different for those that join during a Blight. At least, that's what I had heard from Weisshaupt.

Since I was the so-called Hero of Ferelden, I had near autonomy over my Wardens. They numbered near two dozen now, with at least that many still in training. There was no manual or book of instructions, so I did things my way.

Alistair would laugh. I'd always done things my way.

I'd made it official that the seneschal of the Keep would administer the Joining. Seneschal Varel had overseen most of those two dozen joinings until old age had claimed him. Now, his chosen successor, Bevin, was the new seneschal.

All warden recruits were told of the infertility and the shortened life span. It was only fair. The Wardens make a big deal of "Warden secrets" but in my travels I'd found that most people knew. Some nodded at the information and continued with the training. Some left.

Ferelden had done well under King Alistair. He was a fair ruler, kind and strong. His son, Duncan, was twenty now, and the spitting image of his father. His daughter also looked just like him. At age fifteen, Calla was already turning heads. Queen Amandina had died in childbirth some thirteen years ago; the child hadn't survived either.

Alistair and I had made our peace. It was nice to have him in my life again. He'd asked Zevran to accompany him years ago. There was a period where Orlais was making noises about their "lost territory", but it came to nothing. Zevran's help had stopped a few assassination attempts against Alistair. The last I heard, he'd reconnected with Isabela. I'm sure that Zevran made a dashing pirate.

I looked up at the stars that were my parents. I didn't know how long I had, but I felt them watching over me, waiting at the Maker's side for my return. It would be good to lay down my burdens and be in their loving company again.

Of course, I wasn't ready to go into that long night just yet. Once, I was so desperately busy. Juggling so many plates, trying to do it all. Being with Nathaniel had taught me to just let some things go. He was my joy, my stoic archer.

Life has it's own pace, he'd once said. You can neither hurry it up or slow it down.

I decided to go back inside when the wind picked up. It was just as silent inside as it was outside. I made my way to my bedroom, passing a few guards.

I tried to be quiet as I hung up my cloak and removed my boots. I didn't want to wake Nathaniel. It didn't matter. He propped himself up on his elbow as I stirred the fire.

When the fire roared back to life, I stood and headed toward the bed. He held his arms open for me. I slid under the blankets and furs and into his arms. I buried my face into his neck and he held me tight.

"Maker, Eth," he mumbled into my hair. "How long were you out there? Your nose is like ice."

"Long enough. It's a beautiful night." I nestled closer.

"Cold you mean." He kissed my head. "Are you ok?"

"Mhm. Dreams again." He rolled onto his side, put an arm around my waist, and pulled me against him. "They are coming more frequently."

"Is there anything I can do? Eth?"

I had begun to doze, wrapped in his warmth. "Hm? Oh, nothing." I could feel him hardening against my hip.

His voice was low and gravely in my ear. "Nothing?" He began to grind against my hip. "Are you sure?" He pulled my nightgown over my head.

He slept naked, so there wasn't clothing to hinder me. I wrapped my hand around his length. I stroked him with feather touches. He rocked into my hand and peppered my neck with kisses. I could feel the vibration of his moans through my skin.

He slid a hand down between my legs. He dipped his fingers into my wetness. He slid his hand up, hitting that magic bud that removed all thoughts from my head. Over and over again, he fingered me to the brink, only to withdraw.

It was only when I began to beg that he pulled me on top of him. He slid into my body until out hips met. I rolled my hips until I reached climax. He flipped me over, sheathed himself to the hilt, and rocked his hips. I locked my heels behind his back as he moved faster and harder. He arched his back, shuddering with his orgasm.

We curled up together, limbs heavy with pleasure. He brushed my hair back from my sweaty face.

"Better, love?" I nodded as he combed his fingers through my hair, knowing it relaxed me. He took a deep breath. "So do you think this is the beginning of your Calling?"

I thought about it before I answered. Why I had to think, I don't know. I hadn't had darkspawn nightmares in almost thirty years. There was no doubt. "Yes. I'm sure of it."

"You know what needs to be done then."

"I know, Nathaniel."

He kissed my forehead. "You need to write to Alistair."


A/N: As always, thanks to my beta, Valsedai!