He knew he dreamed when the maze appeared around him, the maze that only ever appeared in his dreams, that did not really exist in the gardens at the centre of the royal palace. The maze was a curious construction; the tall, green hedgerows always looked the same and yet he never remembered which way to walk. Panic always gripped him when he first saw the dark leaves rising over his head. He wondered if his legs would work, ghosted shackles always seemed to weigh down his ankles until he took a step, and then the dread would fade and he'd remember he wasn't lying on the floor of a dungeon, he was in a maze. Of course, that made little sense either, but that was the way of dreams.
Seasons were indeterminable in the maze, and he never knew the time of day. The sky remained the same, clear blue above him and though the sun never peeked over the high stone walls of the palace, the shadows were short, as if it shone right over his head. The ground always felt warm beneath his feet, which were bare, and the air felt warm too, comfortable.
Turning, Aedan looked each direction down the long straight path he stood in. He saw no one and nothing but the maze. A light breeze tickled his skin and stirred the leaves beside him and he watched them move as if looking for clues. Finding none, he picked a direction and began walking. He reached the end of the narrow lane and followed the hedgerows around the corner and down the same direction again. There he reached a dead end. Frowning at the leaves in front of him, Aedan turned and went back the way he had come. When he reached the corner again, the maze had changed. This had happened in his dreams before and only a small, lingering sense of unease caught him, not the panic that had him running headlong down the passages on previous visits.
The path met another row of hedge and Aedan reached out to pluck a leaf from the shaped green bush before him. It felt real enough in his fingers and when he bent it, creasing the shiny surface, a familiar scent rose from the bruised leaf. Juniper. The scent Leliana had begun to favour. Dropping the leaf, Aedan turned and walked for a while longer. When he finally thought to call out for Cian, he wondered why he'd not done so earlier, instead of wandering aimlessly through the maze.
The small boy stepped around a corner and stood in the path before him. Aedan stopped and looked at... himself. He always regarded Cian with a sense of uneasy familiarity, seeing so many of his own features and none of Morrigan's. Where Rory seemed to combine two faces and two sets of features, Cian resembled him in every way. He did not speak as he did, however, he spoke like his mother, and his mannerisms were hers too.
"Hello, Aedan." Cian's voice always surprised him a little. The boy sounded older than nearly five. A smile lit his face then, and he looked as he was, a small child. Stepping forward, he offered his hand.
Taking the hand, Aedan fell into step beside him. "Were you following me?"
"I was waiting for you to call."
Odd, he'd never waited in that manner before; he'd always appeared at some point, usually when Aedan began to feel alarm. Cian tugged on his hand, leading him down another narrow path and after turning once at the end, they stepped together into the centre of the maze. The boy sat and Aedan sat with him. Time did not matter in the hedgerows. The world might change outside the realm of his dream, battles might be fought and children might be born and Aedan would not know it. He never felt anxious to leave, he always seemed aware that he when he did leave, the time would be right. So the warrior relaxed, stretched out his legs and leaned against the back of the stone bench.
Looking at his son, he did not think to ask the purpose of his visit, instead he asked, "Are you well?"
Cian smiled brightly, obviously very pleased by the enquiry. "I am!" A small hand touched at his shirt, right where a new scar threaded the skin over his ribs. "Are you well?" The hand moved to his shoulder, his left shoulder, which no longer pained him except in his memory.
"I am," Aedan replied solemnly. Then he remembered his other dream. "Thank you, Cian, for your warning."
The boy's smile warmed and he dropped his hands to the bench were he picked at the stone along the edge. His smile waned a little then, and he said somewhat seriously, "I will not always see it; I do not always understand what I see."
"I am happy you trusted me, Aedan."
Aedan thought about this. It had been an almost split second decision to trust the words of his first born, delivered in a dream. He did not like to think what might have happened to Grace had he not. Luke probably would have lived regardless, unless by not chasing after his daughter Aedan had somehow irrevocably changed the course of fate. A shudder tried to pass through his shoulders and he lifted them in a sort of shrug instead.
Why did Cian come to him in his dreams? Why had Cian worked so hard to protect him, both in the fade and in Thedas? Was it simply because they were father and son? Did Cian care for him? Or did the boy seek to bind him in a less subtle way, through a series of favors. Did he mean to guarantee that when the time came, when, if Flemeth returned, Aedan would lend his sword? Thinking on this last one, Aedan pondered yet more questions. What aid did an Old God think he, as a man, could give? "I am just a man," he'd told Luke at Fort Drakon.
"To me, you are more," Cian said.
Aedan looked up. Had he spoken those words out loud?
"What am I?" he asked, lifting his hands to examine them, wondering if perhaps, in this dream, he was not a man at all.
"You are my father."
"Nothing more?" His hands looked human and just like his. He recognised the shape of his knuckles and the small scars here and there.
"I need nothing more."
Conversations in dreams could mean more or less. Aedan looked into the cool blue eyes studying him and saw that this conversation meant only as much as the words themselves. Cian looked at him as Rory did or Luke might.
Did the boy just want... a father? As the thought occurred, he saw an answering quest in the solemn blue eyes. Aedan considered Leliana's acceptance of both Cian and Morrigan into their family. If she could do it...
Reaching out, he touched the soft cheek. "I am here," he said.
Cian's answering smile lit his face in a way that could only be described as radiant. He looked like Rory then, that beam of sunshine transferring his serious demeanor into something that resembled that of a five year old boy. While Aedan did not doubt Morrigan was a good mother and that she cared deeply for her son, he wondered if she showed the boy the same affection he and Leliana gave to their children. He put a hand on Cian's shoulder and the boy moved forward and Aedan gave him a gentle hug. He took to it so naturally that he knew then that he'd been hugged before and often. That fact pleased him more than he could express and he hugged the small boy a little tighter.
As he let his son go, Aedan gestured the maze around him. "Did you ask me here just to talk?"
The solemn look returned to Cian's face and the boy shook his head carefully. "I saw her," he said.
"The one who hunts me."
Aedan stiffened. Not now, his mind yelled at him. Not now! He would go, he knew he would. He had given his word. But the thought of going now, when he had finally chosen to do something for himself and for his family, pained him.
Taking the boy's hand in his, Aedan drew in a deep breath. "Tell me where I must go."
"Not now," Cian answered, echoing his earlier thought. "We have five years. I am not yet sure where." A fleeting uncertainty crossed the small features. "I will try to learn more."
Cian looked up at him, curious.
"Do not put yourself at risk by trying to..." he searched for the relative term and finally settled on what he'd been going to say, "see her. Wait until she shows herself to you." He tapped the boy's temple gently. "In here." Sweeping that hand out, he gestured the maze. "Or here."
"She cannot come here, this is my place."
He had sounded just like a child and Aedan smiled, unable to help himself. "Good," he said. "Every boy should have a place that is his."
"Did you have a secret place?"
"Would you... show it to me?"
Aedan closed his eyes. A part of him knew he needn't bother, he already dreamed, but it helped him conjure the images for Cian, of the secret places he and his brother had shared and of the one that had been his very own. He did not question that Cian would 'see' them.
"I have seen the cave before," the boy said. "You dream about it sometimes."
Nodding, Aedan drew the conversation back to Flemeth. "Cian, do you often try to see, or do things just come to you?"
"I am getting better at trying."
"Is that how you saw her before?"
He shook his head. "No. The big things, the important things, I do not have to try for those."
"Will you make me a promise?"
The boy shifted uncomfortably and twisted his small mouth briefly before finally nodding his head once in assent.
"Do not try to look for her."
After hesitating for just a moment, Aedan said, "I am afraid for you. She is... I do not know what she is. I am afraid she will find you more quickly if she... feels or sees you?"
This would probably qualify as the strangest conversation he'd ever engaged in.
Cian seemed to understand him, however, and he nodded carefully before giving his promise. "Alright."
"So, we have five years."
"I think so."
"I will be ready."
The smile again, the joyous one. "Thank you, Aedan."
Sensing their time together was drawing to a close, Aedan stood. Cian stood beside him and took his hand. The boy led him back towards the entrance to the maze.
The familiar blue eyes glanced upwards, catching his gaze.
"You can..." Aedan hesitated then. Did he have the right to tell this boy what he could not do? Probably not. But he could invite him to do something. "Will you visit me again?"
"Of course. If I see anything I will let you know."
Cian took a step forward and Aedan tugged the small hand, bring the boy to a stop.
"You can visit otherwise, Cian. If you'd just like to... talk."
The smile blossomed again, more cautious this time, and Cian nodded. "I will."
Aedan woke up.
Opening his eyes, he blinked into the grey light of dawn before rolling his head to the side. Leliana still slept beside him and he watched her for a moment before closing his eyes again, thinking to doze until she awoke. When he opened his eyes sometime later she was awake and watching him. He smiled.
"It is so quiet here," he noted. The city of Denerim never lay completely still and in Highever he could often hear the ocean or the wind against the cliffs. In Gwaren he heard only birdsong and sometimes the wind across the tree tops which could sound like the ocean if he closed his eyes and imagined it.
"I had a dream," he said.
Leliana nodded. Whenever he uttered those words, she knew what he meant. They talked of other dreams sometimes, but usually prefaced it with, 'I dreamt of you last night', or 'I had a funny dream'.
He told her a little of what he had talked about with Cian, that he'd sensed the boy had simply wanted to visit with him more than communicate, than he'd invited him to do so again. Leliana smiled briefly at that and touched his cheek, murmuring, "I can imagine he liked that." He told her about the hunt for Flemeth and felt relief when she agreed with his advice. "Do you think he will heed his promise?"
"For a while, at least."
"Five years." Reaching down, she took his hand. "We will be ready."
They were the first to arrive downstairs for breakfast, each of them with a child in hand. Then, as if the presence of one Warden in the dining room invited another, they came, one by one, Luke wandering in at the last, yawning and rubbing his eyes and combing sleep tussled hair with his fingers. Aedan chuckled at the sight.
Only Zevran and Kayley were missing and no one asked after them. They did not have to. Luke's announcement confirmed everyone's suspicions.
"I want to move to a room that is not next to Zevran's," the young Warden announced before turning to add, "or yours, Aedan."
Aedan winked at Leliana and they chuckled.
During breakfast he studied each of the Wardens. He'd seen them last night, but had been so overjoyed to be reunited with friends, to be home, that he'd not looked at them as Wardens. Now he moved his attention from one to the other, looking for what they'd seen beneath the ground. He told himself simple curiosity motivated his interest and for the most part that was true. Aedan felt no desire to go underground or even to take up arms again, not soon. He'd held his own during the ambush, he'd not hesitated as he had on the Northern Highway, and he'd managed not to lose control, he'd not given into the rage, he'd used it, effectively, but it had been a near thing. He needed more time. This thought did not frustrate him, he accepted it as necessary and thanked the Maker he now had it, that time.
On the road south he'd spoken to Leliana about his fear of losing control. Alistair's letter from Denerim had hit him hard. He'd known someone wanted him dead, but to see it spelled out took his breath away, particularly on the heels of his ordeal in Val Royeaux. A part of him wanted to sit in the road and wait for the Maker to take him, there and then, rather than wait for the next plot to unravel itself. A part of him wanted to put his fist through the wall of the tavern, in rage and frustration, at the unfairness of it all. The phrase, 'why me?' echoed about his mind. He'd clashed with Esmerelle on and off throughout the years, but this he had not expected. And, beneath it all, Esmerelle's plot highlighted his own struggle, that of separating himself from the Wardens.
He waited for Leliana outside the tavern that night, sure she would come. If she hadn't, he might have stood there all night, held still by the mix of fear and frustration, by the overwhelming responsibilities he had carried and still faced and by the choice he had made but still sometimes doubted. She had come, of course she had. Just having her at his side helped. He extracted a promise from her first, in regards to his obsessive tendencies, and then they walked. As always, the movement calmed and soothed him.
"I had hoped," he told her, "that I had left my anger behind, that it would not return with everything else."
"You have more control now, I can see it."
"Only just," he admitted. "Why could I not have left it behind?" he whispered, half to himself.
"Night follows day, Aedan. Without the darkness how would you know the light?"
"I would still love you without carrying this burden," he said, interpreting her words.
"But maybe not as passionately. You do everything in a big way, Aedan. It is you." She took his hand and squeezed it. "You are finding balance now."
"I couldn't do it without you." He hugged her close and kissed her forehead. Just having her close helped him feel that balance she spoke of.
Gazing at the Wardens now, in the light of morning, he saw that they were tired, and not just because they'd stayed up late the night before. They looked pale and weary, their faces edged with hard planes and fine lines he'd not noticed before. They looked worn and he recognised their fatigue. He'd felt the pull of it in his bones and his soul.
After breakfast he stepped to Philippe's side and asked him to meet with him.
"Of course," the older man said, his tone, as always, warm.
Aedan led the way to his study and paused just inside the doorway. In five years he'd done little to the room other than remove the previous occupants personal effects. The former teyrn, and he thought of him that way, the name Loghain MacTir leaving an uneasy feeling at the edges of his thoughts, had collected books and maps and those he had kept. The maps were no longer on display, however, they were now stored in map cases and cubbyholes beneath the bookshelves. Aedan had liked the bare walls, the lack of clutter soothed his mind, but now he looked about and realised just how spartan the room actually was. The window had no curtains which, with the onset of winter, he would need. The chairs before the desk were covered in leather rather than upholstered and though he'd never sat in one, he judged them uncomfortable. The chair behind the desk, the one he called his, looked no better. He had no couch, nowhere to nap.
Looking over at Philippe, Aedan said, "Leliana wants me to do something with this room."
The Orlesian took a quick inventory, one sweep of his blue eyes, and looked back to him with a broad smile. Then he laughed. "I can see why."
Remembering the cozy atmosphere of Philippe's office at Vigil's Keep, Aedan started to ask, "Maybe you could..."
Philippe held up his hands. "You asked me here for this?"
Feeling somewhat chastened, Aedan shook his head and grinned. "Well, no." He gestured one of the chairs and sat in the other, then waited for Philippe to settle himself before continuing. "I wanted to talk to you about the Wardens."
"Are you truly retiring, Aedan?" Philippe's tone held no recrimination, only interest and a measure of his concern.
He had written Philippe letters. In them he had not told of his time in Val Royeaux, he had only mentioned illness and a desire to retire. Now he told Philippe the story he'd not wanted to put on paper. His capture by Marjolaine, his torture, the break – the total loss of control Philippe had always feared – how it had freed him and subsequently nearly left him helpless in the Fade. He told of Leliana's own ordeal and how Cian and Morrigan had rescued them both. The older Warden sat silent until the end, looking in turns stunned and very, very sad.
Finally, he reached forward and grasped Aedan's arm. "I am sorry."
"Don't be, Philippe."
"I sent you there..."
"You could not have known." Rubbing at the scar on his forehead, Aedan let out a soft sigh. "It is hard to say something good came out of such... horror. But I am a stubborn man. I am not sure anything less would ever have changed my course."
"I do not believe that."
Aedan shrugged. "Maybe I just search for reason where there is none."
The older man nodded in understanding. "Are you well, Aedan?"
"I think so," Aedan answered truthfully. "Even if I desired it, however, I am not sure I could return to the Deep Roads. I have the strength of body, but not of mind. If I did not get myself killed, I would lose myself. I can't go back, Philippe. I promised Leliana, and myself."
"I would never ask it. None of us would."
Swallowing, Aedan inclined his head. He'd known that, of course, but just the very thought of it had caused him to panic momentarily. Lifting his head he looked out the window. The window faced east and he knew that beyond the trees that lined the small rise lay the entrance to Gwaren, the dwarven outpost of the same name.
"Turning back to Philippe he asked quietly, "What have you found?"
The Orlesian Warden gave him many of the same details he already knew and then added the news that had only just been sent north to Denerim and Vigil's Keep. "We have mapped to the ruins you found during the Blight, the ones in the Brecilian Forest. They do indeed connect to the Deep Roads. We found no darkspawn presence there, however. They lay in the other direction, west. I have no doubt we will find exits in the Korcari Wilds, Ostagar and perhaps even as far as the Frostback Mountains."
An endless task. Aedan dropped his head forward and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"For starting a task that will never be complete," and then abandoning it...
"Aedan, we all believe in this project. And we do not work alone, the Legion works with us. Humans and dwarves working together, even after the Blight. Your Wardens have a purpose beyond vigilance and they are completing a task that no one else has attempted. They have started to map the Dales, did you hear that? Orlais has followed your lead."
"Do not spend the rest of your life underground, Philippe," Aedan urged. Philippe had been a Warden for nearly twenty years. He only had ten left... Ten years. It hit him then, like the fever, the lack of time they all had. Rationally he knew that even if they had longer lives they'd still not finish the task, but if Philippe had only ten years remaining and he had only twenty four, or maybe less. Nausea roiled in his gut and Aedan gripped the arms of his chair.
Twenty four years. He did not often contemplate his mortality; he'd brushed death too often. Cian would need him in five, after that he'd have only nineteen. Would it be enough? What would Leliana do after he...
Philippe had a hold of his arm again and Aedan looked up to meet his gaze. He let out the breath he'd been holding and forced himself to relax. Philippe moved to get him some water and he accepted it gratefully. After he put the glass aside, he looked at his, no, Ferelden's Senior Warden, the leader of the Northern Patrol and the man he'd hoped would be Warden Commander in his stead. He could not ask...
Philippe broached the subject. "In your letter you asked me command the Wardens."
Aedan shook his head. "No." At Philippe's confused look, he continued. "I cannot ask it, not anymore."
The older man looked relieved. He'd have accepted, Aedan knew that, but he'd never wanted the title or the responsibility. Philippe could do the job, and he'd do it well. But he knew, as Aedan now did, that it would only be a matter of time. But then, wasn't it that way for all of them?
"Philippe, I want you to go home."
"Ferelden is my home."
"Just to visit. Go see your family, don't go underground again. None of you should, until you've had a sufficient break."
"As you command."
A chuckle found its way to the back of Aedan's throat and he loosed it. "I am not the Commander anymore."
"And yet here you are giving me orders."
Aedan laughed and Philippe joined him.
When they had sobered, Philippe asked, "How does Garrett fare?"
"Well. He is a good commander. The Wardens respect him and Alistair trusts him."
"It is a good appointment then."
"Yes." And just like that, the weight rolled off his shoulders. He'd hoped to give the Wardens to Philippe. He'd thought he'd be honoring the older Warden with the title. Now he realised that the Wardens would move on without him and they'd do it well. He could let go.
One last thing remained to be said. "Tonight we will say the words for Wyman and the men who lost their lives beneath Denerim."
They stood and embraced.
"Thank you, Philippe," Aedan said quietly. At the older man's quizzical expression, he offered a small smile. "You are my rock. I don't know if I ever told you that."
Philippe shook his head and smiled. "I am honored?"
Aedan laughed and clapped his shoulder. "Now, what do you think I should hang on my walls?"
"I am not decorating your office for you Aedan."
"You are colluding with Leliana, aren't you?"
That evening Aedan and Leliana sat outside in the garden and watched the sunset. Six weeks and several hundred miles separated him from Highever, but the sun set in the same direction. Instead of dropping beneath the cliffs it touched the treetops, lighting the leaves with gold fire, no natter the season, and casting long, deep shadows across the lawn. Leliana shivered and he wrapped his arms about her and she leaned back against his chest. Hooking his chin over her shoulder, he kissed her cheek.
"It's not quite the same, you know," he whispered.
Leliana smiled and he kissed her rounded cheek again.
"What is different about it?" she asked.
"It's colder down here."
"Then you will just have to cold me closer."
"You are already in my lap, any closer would be indecent," he said softly before caressing her ear with his lips.
"It is the same sun, Aedan. And we are the same man and woman..."
"We are different. Every journey changes us, you have told me that many times."
"Yes, I have," Leliana said quietly. "Do you feel so very different, Aedan?"
She turned to face him. "In what way?"
In so many ways. He had learned much about himself, his children and his wife and he had done it while walking and fighting. By talking and at times not talking. By yelling and crying. Instead of hiding and waiting to recover, he'd been living.
Instead of saying all of that though, suspecting she already knew it, he simply said, "I am happy."
Thank you to Bioware, as always, for letting me play in their sandbox.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my story and to those who left comments and reviews. I appreciate you taking the time to follow my Aedan's continuing adventures and letting me know your thoughts.
This story is dedicated to Aedan. He whispered to me throughout the month of August until I started to write it and he carried me through it, directing me when I deviated from my outline. By the end, as he says, he felt properly happy again and that makes me happy too, of course!
This story went a lot deeper than I expected it to. Aedan and Leliana both had a lot more healing to do as a result of the events in Orlais. Luke and Alistair had a little more thinking to do, Zevran had some decisions to make and Fergus obviously needed to find love.
I dropped a lot of hints throughout this story about what I plan to do next; I hope they served to pique sufficient interest! I will not be writing the Flemeth story until after I play DA2. Though my world has deviated somewhat from the epilogues doled out by Origins and Awakening, I'd still like to see what Bioware has in store before I continue in that direction. In the meantime I have more shorts planned – the birth of Sarah, Alistair's daughter, and the departure of Zevran for Antiva. I also have a couple of sweet shorts in mind for Aedan and Leliana and a story for Aedan and Fergus as children.