Author: Jade Sabre
Notes: This was originally going to be my entry for the "legendary" lightning round at the dao_challenge LJ community, but I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to do it in fifteen minutes. Try two hours and fifteen minutes. Anyway, I have to acknowledge a few influences on this piece:
1) The fic "But A Sword," by tjadis, which can be found here on , which has been lingering in the back of my head in its own beautiful way,
2) The novel The King's Rose, by Alisa Libby, which is an absolutely fantastic character study of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, and
3) The fic "Deathsong," by LoquaciousQuark, which is an excellent Bleach fic (I'm not in the fandom, but there's nothing a little wiki-ing can't help you with), as well as some of her other fic, as well as her general outlook on life.
The quotes from the Chant I obtained from the Dragon Age wiki. Fanfiction dot net has stripped the original spacing and my solution is inelegant, to say the least. So you can also view this fic, original formatting preserved, on my Livejournal, at jade-sabre-301 . livejournal . com / 214653 . html.
A little piece of my heart went into this; I'd love to read your reviews.
Disclaimer: Dragon Age belongs to the brilliant people at Bioware.
Leliana calls the Warden a sunflower, and it is not far from the truth.
She knows dawn in her bones, the grey-pink sky turning blue-gold as the sun's rays fill the cold bite of the morning dew with promise and unspoken hope. It is the color of her girlhood, of mornings spent with her nose pressed to window glass, of stumbling over words the Revered Mother says with such ease.
There was no word
For heaven or for earth, for sea or sky.
All that existed was silence.
Then the Voice of the Maker rang out,
The first Word,
And His Word became all that might be:
Dream and idea, hope and fear,
She loves to break the silence of the morning with the Chant, her tremulous voice soft but soaring with the sun as it rises above the horizon. Sometimes Leliana joins her, twining a gentle harmony around the thin steel thread of her song, strengthening and supportive without overwhelming her words. They are songbirds, Alistair says, his eyes soft, as delicate and beautiful as a lady's lark or linnet bird.
More beautiful, Zevran counters, because they are free.
The Light shall lead her safely
Through the paths of this world, and into the next.
For she who trusts in the Maker, fire is her water.
As the moth sees light and goes toward flame,
She should see fire and go towards Light.
The purples of sunset are her friend, now, the promise of a day survived and of sleep to come, the sun burning red in the sky and dusting the clouds with pink. Less glorious than the dawn, perhaps, but pulsing with power, the sun's last reminder before the night: his flame is eternal. Though he travels beyond their sight, they know that he still burns, and they are not forgotten.
Sunset is a time of chatter, when each member of her circle reminds the others that they are alive, that they are breathing thinking feeling creatures, and are allowed to act accordingly. She listens to the words of her friends and reflects on the word of her heart, and for a moment rests content.
Then the Maker said:
To you, my second-born, I grant this gift:
In your heart shall burn
An unquenchable flame
All-consuming, and never satisfied.
She believes in the Chant, despite Morrigan's sneers and Sten's confusion and Oghren's bitter atheism, because Andraste's songs are the songs of her own heart, fueled by the Maker-flame that burns in her even now, though she fears the taint has turned the flame into an evil thing. Where once she burned for the Maker, for love of the world, now she burns from blood that is not hers tainted by a sin she did not commit. Those who had once been mage-lords, the brightest of their age, were no longer men, but monsters; did that apply to souls as well? She worries she has willingly chosen damnation, and clings to her song as a promise.
The one who repents, who has faith,
Unshaken by the darkness of the world,
She shall know true peace.
She sings this during the dogwatch, over and over, following the rhythm of the crackling fire, wondering which song first caught the Maker's ear. She cannot think of Andraste and avoid the flame before her eyes; she resists the comparisons her mind wishes to make, from humility, and perhaps from fear (and she will know no fear of death, for the Maker shall be her beacon and her shield, her foundation and her sword).
When she was a child, first learning to sing, they often told her that her voice would not summon the Maker as Andraste's did; her mother saw her tears, and turned them to comfort. "You wouldn't want to be a Prophet, my darling," her mother said. "All swords and rebellions and legends crowding your memory, everyone competing for some small share of your glory." She remembers looking up into her mother's sad and distant eyes, though it was many years before she understood her mother's ghosts. "It would be, I imagine, quite lonely."
With a child's empathy she embraced this sad and lonely Andraste, asking the Prophet to take her child-song and turn it into a melody fit for the ears of a god. Though Leliana teaches her that the Maker yet listens to his children, she still sings for the Prophet, though she does not allow herself to think: I am lonely, too.
Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls.
From these emerald waters doth life begin anew.
Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you.
In my arms lies Eternity.
She longs for this embrace, the holy touch no mortal man may provide; she wonders if she burns because she knows she is alone or if she has always burned because she was set upon this path before birth, from the moment her soul left the well and came into her mother's womb. If this is so, it would mean she is perhaps not damned, but it robs her sacrifices of meaning. She wants to believe she had a choice, though when and where she does not know and cannot look to see for the flames gathering at her feet.
She dares not look down, and cannot look back; if her path is already trod, then at least she trusts in its maker's protection.
O Creator, see me kneel:
For I walk only where You would bid me
Stand only in places You have blessed
Sing only the words You place in my throat
Ferelden is cursed, the Deep Roads most of all, and so she seeks to cleanse profaned ground with her song, as though mere words may stem the unending tide of darkspawn. Andraste sang, and field and forest burned and lightning rained down from the sky; the Warden sings, and for a moment fresh air lightens the stifled oppression of their surroundings. It is little; it is enough.
Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.
In their blood the Maker's will is written.
Can tainted blood yet be righteous?
Sometimes, looking at the destruction in her wake—all necessary, all unwarranted (those who bring harm without provocation to the least of His children are hated and accursed by the Maker)—she wonders. She wonders, too, of the unwritten death in the Prophet's song; she sees, now, that no rebellion comes without terrible, terrible cost, that no march led by sunlight and sword can hope to see the day end without bloodshed. It is a victory, she tells herself, if the blood belongs to those able to defend themselves; it is too much to dare to hope that it belongs to those responsible.
All men are the Work of our Maker's Hands, from the lowest slaves to the highest kings; all men share in the same sins; all men share death. Andraste, too, once died. The Warden has touched the Sacred Ashes, felt the Prophet's death on her hands as surely as she feels that of her parents, hot blood burning away at her flesh, demanding atonement (vengeance, murmurs the hissing voices in her mind, a constant litany of blasphemy she can only counter with song).
O Maker, hear my cry:
Guide me through the blackest nights
Steel my heart against the temptations of the wicked
Make me to rest in the warmest places.
Redcliffe Castle is warm, and safe, and more importantly Riordan is there. For a few brief blessed (blaspheming?) moments, she allows herself to think that perhaps this will end as mortals meant it to end, back when the Blight was little more than laughter on Cailan's lips. Her path is not stone-paved before her; she may lean on Leliana's shoulder and laugh at Zevran's jokes and pretend that come next morning she will be here, and the next, and the next.
Night falls; Riordan speaks, and something clenches in her heart.
Let the blade pass through the flesh,
Let my blood touch the ground
She faces the solemnity of the men around her but it is only Morrigan who voices her thoughts: No. The witch offers a chance to escape her fate, to trade the insistence of one god for the life of another (a pretender-god, a false god, their god, their betrayer), and in the midst of her thoughts, careening from blasphemy to faith with little care for abstracts or reality, she wonders if the Prophet faced a similar temptation. If there was a moment when Andraste thought of rejecting the Maker's hand.
If Andraste had had a friend who offered to burn in her place.
Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.
She refuses the offer, and Morrigan flees. She tries to stand tall but falls to her knees, begging for release.
My Maker, know my heart
Take from me a life of sorrow
Lift me from a world of pain
Judge me worthy of Your endless pride
The irony in the Chant is as hard as the stones upon which she kneels, praying, sobbing. There is a certain arrogance in her tears, if she is so sure of her fate; she assumes Riordan's death, has killed him with her belief, and she cries for him as well. She cries for family dead and brothers lost and friends whose paths she cannot see; she cries for a lonely prophet, and a girl-child who loved nothing more than the sun and the sound of her voice.
She sings, her voice broken, throat clogged and dry, nose swollen and dripping; she thirsts, cannot breathe, rasps the words; she wonders if this is death, if sorrow can kill.
Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,
I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.
I shall endure.
She does not want to endure; she wants to live.
Let my cries touch their hearts. Let mine be the last sacrifice.
Her companions gather round and look to her for guidance. They would follow her, she knows, have already followed her past the brink of destruction until they have circled back to this moment: the end of all things, and perhaps a beginning. Their tired eyes rest upon her face (as if her body has meaning now, in this moment of all moments, and yet her blood rushes through her ears and she feels the rise and fall of her chest and tastes blood and she will miss this), and for one last brief desperate moment she wishes they could come. It is not a prayer; is it not the prophet's promise, to go where her people cannot, to atone for the sins of many with the sacrifice of one? Whose sin, she can no longer say; it is enough that this be done.
She has no words of her own, and so she sings Andraste's; her king (and would-be lover, and at least she has avoided Andraste's trap, has ascended her pyre with open eyes if not a steady heart) protests, but she no longer hears. Instead she steps, slowly at first, and then she is running, running towards destiny, towards the blasphemous hiss in her mind and the deeper call in her soul.
The world goes up in flames. Of course it does. She smiles as the fire consumes her in song, into the Light.
Draw your last breath, my friends,
Cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky.
Rest at the Maker's right hand,
And be Forgiven.