Epilogue- The Arrival of Birds
"…It was then that Ilineass, who was called Maen'fallah, broke seven sprigs of Ironbark over the Undying Fire. When the sacred wood touched those blue flames it produced such heat as to make the assembled Keepers cry out in fear. Terrible winds snatched at the boughs of the Old Forest, and animals both large and small fled from their home for the first time in an age. Madereras, oldest of the Keepers, stumbled and fell from the circle as the strain of his vigil grew too wearisome. The other would surely have fallen down beside had mighty Erolise not held firm and true. She lifted Madereras back to his feet with the strength of her song, and collectively, the Keepers wove the threads of their spell. All seven were arcanists of great wisdom and power, but even they found this magic illusive. It bucked against their guiding fingers and rested heavily on their tongues as they gave it structure through word and will.
Seven times they repeated their chant, and seven times they went unanswered. With Madereras weakened and the Undying Fire burning ever more fiercely, the Seven Keepers feared they would be forced to abandon their attempt. Then, with a sound like rushing water, the embers of the fire turned purple and the flames soon followed suit. From the blaze now rose a column of black, oily smoke that did not fade or flee in the gusting wind. It was a thing brought forth from the darkest reaches of the nether, and its great power pulsed through the glade like an ill-favored heartbeat.
"Who dares? Who dares call me?" The visitation rumbled in a voice made from drumbeats and cloven stone. The Seven Keepers trembled as their courage failed. Only Zathrian, weakest and most clever among them, stood unbowed by their terrible guest. His voice rang out clear against the din.
"We of the First People do dare. Though now diminished, we remember the ancient pacts. In great need we have called for you."
His words provoked amusement from the thing before him. "Called me? You have called Formoire for help! What help would you demand from the One Who Waits in Shadow?"
Zathrian responded. "We shall take aid where aid can be found, Old One. A great threat plagues our kin and in desperation we turn—"
Kallian paused in her reading and looked up from the sheaf of papers she was holding. The early morning sunlight was warm against the skin of her face as she gazed out across the manicured lawns of the royal gardens. Although the granite bench she was sitting on caused her hip to ache something terrible, she endured the mild discomfort because of her surroundings.
Spring had brought life back to Ferelden, and the royal gardeners made the most of the opportunity. A great, four-tiered fountain sat in the dead center of the sprawling space, and a collection of flowerbeds radiated outwards from this locus in an intricate pattern. Leliana had told her that hyacinth arrangements were in fashion this year, and the sweet aroma of the flower was nearly overwhelming. Kallian felt the flowers were all a bit gaudy, and she preferred to linger on the edges of the gardens where a variety of fruit trees and low bushes were planted. It was quiet there and people did not often stop by, especially this early in the morning.
Her bench of choice sat between a pair of lemon trees that seasoned the air with the lively bite of their fruit. A crisp breeze tugged at her hair, but in her long shirt of fine wool and warm leather trousers, Kallian was perfectly cozy. It was as nice a day as she could hope for. After months of bed rest, she took every excuse to be outside. Reading had become the only way for her to past time during her recovery, and she much preferred to do it out here now that the weather was agreeable. Of course, it sometimes proved difficult to concentrate when all she wanted to do was take in the peaceful atmosphere.
But, that was not the reason she had stopped reading just now. She paused because Alistair was going to be here soon. She could not explain why or how she knew this, but the certainty of it was unavoidable in her mind. It was as if she were aware of him in spite of the fact that she could neither see, nor smell, nor hear him. And it was not just Alistair. Ever since her extreme brush with death, Kallian had felt a bit more aware of everything. It had not been very dramatic at first, but in the last few weeks, she had started to notice things she had no business noticing.
By way of instance, she had been sharing supper with Zevran a few days ago and abruptly noticed that there were precisely fifty-seven peas on her dinner plate. There was nothing to precede this revelation and Zevran was quite confused when Kallian had abruptly stopped in midsentence to count her vegetables, but there had been fifty-seven peas on that plate.
As an isolated incident, it was by no means an earth-shattering, but Kallian had experienced a lot of these strange little occurrences lately. She could not think of an explanation for them and was too embarrassed by their oddity to actually mention them to anyone. Besides, the last thing she needed was for Alistair or Leliana to take that as a sign she was not sufficiently recovered.
A few moments later, she saw Alistair and Zevran step around a large hedge that was positioned a good forty strides from where she sat. Kallian smiled and lifted a hand to wave them over. This was going to save her the trouble of seeking them out before she left. Immediately, they turned to head in her direction. Alistair was dressed in a simple outfit consisting of blue breeches with white leggings and a cotton shirt. A blue-trimmed surcoat of pale, treated leather completed the look.
In the first weeks following the Battle of Denerim, he had dressed much more elaborately. Arl Eamon had insisted that a king look the part, but as it quickly became clear that Ferelden had much more important things to worry about, Alistair had abandoned his gold-embroidered coats and adopted a plainer wardrobe. It caused a stir among the nobility, but the rest of Ferelden seemed to approve of his practical outlook. Of course, Alistair was so popular right now that he could have gone naked and people would have admired his minimalist style. He looked better than he had on their journey. Being the king was a stressful job, but he no longer seemed beaten down by responsibility. He had a gained a few pounds of muscle, and a scattering of dark-blond stubble now gave his jaw some extra character.
Kallian returned his smile with a small one of her own as she looked from him to Zevran. "Hey guys, how are things?"
"I've been up since dawn and have already had to resolve two land disputes, a three-generation old blood feud, and deal with an Orlesian diplomat who apparently just wanted to complain about the quality of the food served in the castle." Alistair said this in a rueful tone that was offset by the wink of humor in his eye. "I guess you could say it has been a good day so far."
Zevran rolled his eye at Kallian from behind Alistair's back. He was dressed in a leaf-green tunic emblazoned with the royal seal. A fine coat of chainmail was barely visible beneath his collar. His new role as the king's personal attended meant that he was part advisor and part bodyguard. "And he has been complaining through all of it. How about you? Is the leg feeling any better?"
Kallian grimaced and dropped a hand to protectively rest on her right thigh. She did not like to discuss her injury, but people often insisted on bringing it up. "Still hurts like you wouldn't believe. It gets a bit better every day, though."
"Ah, well be sure to let me know if there is anything I can do to ease the discomfort." Zevran slid down to sit beside Kallian, and after a small hesitation, Alistair sank down on her other side. Zevran leaned in close to Kallian and lightly tapped his eye patch with one finger. "Perhaps a friendly massage would help? We cripples do have to stick together, after all."
Kallian shook her head with an exasperated smile. It was funny, but several months ago, being this close to the two of them would have made her extremely uneasy. Now though, she actually found herself relaxing in their presence. It was good to be around friends, and after everything they had gone through together, they might as well have been family. That didn't mean that she would ever consider indulging Zevran's lurid fantasies, but then she was all but certain that there was no serious offer behind them.
As she was trying to think of a clever response, Alistair bent forward and glanced around as though searching for something. Turning to Kallian, he gave her a knowing look. "I see your cane has mysteriously wandered off again."
Widening her eyes in a pantomime of innocence, Kallian shrugged helplessly. "It has a mind of its own."
"Kallian, you need to be using it." Alistair reprimanded her gently. "The healer said that you really should not be walking anywhere without it."
"This would be the same healer that told me that I was going to lose the leg?" Kallian shifted slightly and managed to avoid wincing as the movement prompted a hot burst of pain in her knee. "And then a month later told me that I would never walk again? That same healer?"
Alistair sighed theatrically. "Yes, that same healer."
"Forgive me if I don't take him at his word."
"He's the best healer the Circle has to offer now that Wynne has passed on, and it is his professional opinion that you shouldn't risk reinjuring yourself." He shot her a significant look. "He also thinks that you should not be travelling."
"Tough titties for him." Kallian set her jaw into a stubborn line. "I heal quickly and Leliana has already made all the arrangements."
Zevran responded before Alistair could. "They don't deny you are healing well. In fact, the word they are using is 'miraculous'."
Alistair turned his eyes up to the sky. "And really, the last thing we need is more people using your name and 'miracle' in the same sentence. That nutty cult you've inspired has been causing a ruckus in the markets again."
"It isn't a cult and I didn't inspire it." Kallian frowned at him. "It's just a couple of whackadoos who are blowing things out of proportion. I never asked to be worshipped or whatever."
"Then you should never have come back from the dead after slaying a cursed dragon. That type of thing brings out the piety in people."
"Yeah, no kidding. Between that and all this 'Hero of Ferelden' business, I'm looking forward to getting away for a while."
That prompted a soft exclamation from Zevran. "The two of you are still planning on leaving this afternoon?"
"Yep. We want to slip away without any fuss." The thought made Kallian smile. She could not remember being this excited about anything. When Leliana had suggested it a few weeks back, it had sounded like the single greatest idea in the world. "She's taken care of everything. I just packed a bag and she's doing all the rest."
Alistair sighed again. "I'll be sorry to see you go. It feels like we are splitting up all of sudden."
His words held a note of sadness that Kallian understood all too well. Wynne's death had been hard on all of them, and their small group of companions had gotten much smaller recently. Oghren had trundled off nearly a month ago to settle some old business in Orzammar, and just last week, Sten had set sail to return to his own people. Kallian felt bad for leaving Alistair alone to govern a country, but at least he had Arl Eamon and Zevran around to give him some help.
She gave his shoulder a friendly shove in the hopes of lightening the mood. "It's not like it is going to be forever. Maybe a year at most."
"A year?" Zevran repeated her words like he did not quite understand the meaning. "Where are you going?"
"You are leaving the country, and you don't know where you are going?"
"Nah, we haven't decided." That may have been Kallian's favorite part of this trip. She liked not having a plan to follow or any restrictions to abide by. It was liberating more than anything else. "We are just going to pick a place at random."
"That might be for the best, actually." Alistair's expression went abruptly serious. "You should choose a place and not mention where you are going to anyone."
Kallian blinked at him. "Why do you say that?"
He started to speak, but then hesitated. "Hey, Zevran?"
"Could you give us a minute? It's Grey Warden secret time."
The assassin nodded without looking in the least bit offended. Rising smoothly to his feet, he shot Kallian a charming smile. "Will I have a chance to see you again before you depart?"
She shook her head. "I'm meeting Leliana in two hours and then we are off."
"In that case, let me wish you the best on your travels." He dropped to a knee and took Kallian's hand in both of his own. His voice dropped into a low whisper as he continued. "You gave me a new life. A better one. Don't act modest or play it off. Just know that whenever you have need of anything, you have but to ask it of me."
Kallian clapped him on the shoulder warmly. "Same goes for you. And take care of Alistair, he tries hard, but he's only a human."
Zevran ignored Alistair's outburst. "One elf can hardly hold a county together. Take care, bella, and make sure you both come back safely."
"I will. See you soon, Zevran."
With an exaggerated bow in Alistair's direction, Zevran turned on his heel and strolled off along one of the garden paths. Kallian smiled after him before turning her attention to Alistair. "Should I be afraid?"
"What do you mean?"
"Grey Warden secret time has historically been a bad time."
"Well, it's not so much bad as it is important." Alistair's eyes shifted nervously over toward a nearby bush that had blossomed with tiny yellow flowers. "Look, I didn't want to burden you with all this while you were recovering, but I've got about twenty letters sitting on my desk that concern you."
"Oh yes. The fact that you survived killing the Archdemon has not gone unnoticed. Almost no one outside of the Grey Wardens realizes the full implication of what that means, but there are about fifty people in Thedas who do."
Kallian nodded, remembering how it had come as a surprise to both her and Alistair in spite of them being Wardens. "And why is that a problem?"
"Those people are either mages of the Circle, high-ranking members of the Chantry, or else belonging to some private organization with a great deal of power." Alistair said this grimly. "And now, they are all very interested in learning how you managed to do something that was assumed impossible."
Kallian straightened up in her seat as she realized where he was going with this. She had found that it was never a good thing when powerful people took an interest in her. "What do they want?"
"Every Circle Tower in Thedas wants permission to examine you, and the Templars have asked for the opportunity to 'evaluate' your condition. I am sure you can guess what that means." Alistair gave a slight shake of his head as he glowered at his bush. "Worst of all, the Chantry is interested in you. Yesterday, I was handed a letter from the Divine asking that you appear in Orlais."
"The Divine?" Kallian sputtered the word out of shock. To receive a letter from the Divine was a bit like being summoned by the Maker himself. She was the effective head of the Chantry and wielded more power than any monarch could hope to. "Why the hell does she care?"
"Probably because several Ferelden Chantries have started discussing you in the same terms as Andraste. The Chantry gets a bit nervous when people start creating saviors all on their lonesome."
Kallian shivered. "So what? Are they going to kill me out of spite?"
"I doubt that. You've got Grey Warden neutrality and an entire country that thinks of you as a hero. Besides, my guess is they want to use you. I mean, just think of about how the Chantry might enjoy having a living martyr on their hands. It would be like having a walking seal of approval from the Maker that they could parade about whenever they wanted to garner support."
"Oh." The thought had not even occurred to her. "Damn, that is not good."
He nodded gravely. "Which is why you need to be very careful once you leave Ferelden. I've been able to stall by saying you are too ill to appear anywhere, but it won't be long before the letters start to get unfriendly. If I were you, I would make it a practice to use different names and avoid staying in any one place for too long. A lot of dangerous people are interested in meeting with you and I suspect they don't care about your feelings on the subject."
Kallian pinched the bridge of her nose, silently wondering when the world was going to stop fucking with her. "What about the Wardens? I'd imagine they want to see me as well."
"They're being a bit more subtle about it." He drew a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his coat and passed it over. Kallian took it, but did nothing other than let it rest on her lap. "They've made you Warden Commander of Ferelden."
A long silence stretched between them. Slowly, Kallian unfolded the paper and stared at the griffin seal emblazoned on the top right corner. "You're kidding."
"They pointed out that because I am the leader of a sovereign country, I am ineligible for the position." He chuckled, somewhat harshly. "Actually, what they said was that I might not be qualified to remain a Warden at all. You're the only other Warden in Ferelden, so they have appointed you. Of course, this means you would have to travel to the Order headquarters in Orlais to accept the position."
"And probably get interrogated to no end." The idea held little appeal. Kallian glanced at the official document and decided to wait to read it until later. She was still an embarrassingly slow reader, and she did not want to stall this conversation. Instead, she pointed out the obvious. "The only problem I see is that I'm no longer a Warden. "
"Don't say that."
"It's true though." She folded the letter and looked up at him. "The healer said I don't have a drop of tainted blood left in me. That's what made me a Warden, and now it's gone."
Alistair turned to her with a serious expression. "You're always going to be a Warden, blood notwithstanding. The way I see it, you are the best Warden alive if we are going by sheer number of Archdemons slain."
Kallian gave him a toothy grin. "Do you think the Order will buy that?"
"No, sadly." His voice became grim once more. "And I would prefer you don't let them find out. If the Wardens say that you are out of the club, you lose neutrality."
"And then I'm fair game. What am I supposed to do about this?"
"Leave with Leliana. Spend a year having fun and getting some rest. Come back when you are done, and hopefully this will have largely blown over. If not, we'll figure it out."
It sounded like a good plan to Kallian, but she had a nasty feeling that this was going to cause more trouble for him. "I'm sorry. Do you think they will really revoke your status as a Warden?"
He grinned. "If they do, I'll have to settle for being a king."
"C'mon, Alistair. It's alright if you aren't happy with how this turned out."
"I'm not unhappy, I swear." He held up a hand to stop her. "Sure, I wasn't thrilled about it at first, but these past few months have worked out well. I honestly think I can do some good here. At least, that's assuming I don't royally mess something up."
"I wouldn't worry about it." She settled back against the bench. "You've got the whole hero thing going for you. Plus, no matter what you do, you're still a better ruler than I could ever be."
Alistair rolled his eyes. "Because that's saying a lot."
Kallian barked out a surprised laugh. "Well, I guess you can go fuck yourself."
"Hey, no offense intended, but your family is not really well-suited for politics. Did you hear what your cousin said to the Bann of West Hills?"
Kallian smirked appreciatively. As one of his first official acts as king, Alistair had given the elves a seat on the City Council. The Alienage had elected Shianni as their representative, and by all accounts, she was doing a fine job of shaking up the established order. "I heard it rhymed with 'runt'."
"Yeah, which is exactly what I needed. I was praying that the nobles would get another reason to complain about the elves."
"You're just mad that you aren't allowed to say it."
"There's truth to that." He smiled along with her. "What about your family? Are you going to say good-bye to them before you go?"
"Already did. Last night in fact."
"Are they okay with it?"
"Dad told me not to drink the water. I guess that is his way of approving."
Alistair chuckled before falling silent. The two of the sat quietly like that for a while; the only sound was the faint commotion of the distant fountain. There was one last thing that Kallian wanted to ask Alistair before leaving, but she knew it would be an awkward subject. Turning her head so that she was facing him, she spoke up. "Any word of Morrigan?"
Beside her, Alistair went tense. A shadow fell over his face with the swiftness of a changing breeze. "None at all."
It was a sore subject for them both. Morrigan had disappeared not two days after the Archdemon had fallen. Kallian had not even been conscious. The witch had left without saying a word to anyone about where she was going or why. The only thing she left behind was a note on Alistair's bedside that had simply read: "You won't find me."
"Sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up." Kallian scuffed at the ground with the toe of her boot. "I guess I was just hoping that someone might have seen her or something…"
She petered off awkwardly, but Alistair mercifully picked up the conversation. "I have some of the border garrisons keeping an eye out for a woman of her description, but I'm not expecting much. I just hope that she doesn't run afoul of Templars or Darkspawn stragglers."
"I'd be more worried about them in that instance."
"True." His lips twisted into a pained attempt at a smile. "I just wish…" There was a pause before he began again. "I just wish she could have said something. I know she's allowed to go where she wants, but I think we deserved a good-bye."
Kallian covered his hand with one of her own. "She'll be back, Alistair."
"You sound sure of that."
"I am sure."
"Why? It's not as though she's given us much reason to think she would."
"Because," Kallian drew out the word with a long intake of breath. "Do you really think there is a chance in hell that we've seen the last of Morrigan?"
Alistair stared over at her for a long moment. Then, he shook his head. "No, I guess not."
"Trust me, she'll be back to complicate things at some point. Probably right around the time Arl Eamon starts trying to get you married."
"Starts? He's already well on his way. I can't tell you how many boring dinners I've shared with the noble daughters of Ferelden." He huffed out a laugh and stood up from the bench. Lifting his arms, he stretched out his shoulders before dropping them heavily to his sides. "But enough about my problems. What I wanted to say was have a good time and make sure the two of you stay safe."
"I'm sure Leliana knows how to keep us from being noticed, but I'll keep the advice in mind." Kallian started to rise on her own, but then thought better of it. She extended an arm up toward Alistair. "Would you mind giving me a hand?"
He took it and easily pulled Kallian to her feet. Pain flared up along her leg and she barely managed to avoid flinching. Instead, she shifted her weight onto her left leg and fixed Alistair with a wide smile. "So, I guess this is it, huh?"
"Guess so." His arms twitched as though he were about to lift them for a hug and then had thought better of it. "I'd better get a whole bunch of souvenirs when you get back."
Kallian took a step closer and threw her arms around Alistair's chest. And even though a part of her instinctively tensed when his arms came up to rest around her shoulders, she did not pull away. Kallian did not have many close friends in the world and she did not want to part with a lukewarm farewell. Stepping back after a long moment, she turned back to the bench and leaned down to pluck up the papers she had been reading earlier and offered them to Alistair.
"Here. This is most of what Wynne translated for me. Would you mind keeping it safe until I get back?"
He took them. "Sure, but why not take them?"
"I already read it all, and they would just get messy on the trip."
"Anything useful in them?"
"There are a few interesting parts." Kallian tapped the papers with her finger. "And I really would like to speak with Zathrian again. I think there's a long conversation that needs to happen between us."
Alistair carefully folded the pages and placed them in his coat. He held out his hand. "Let's hope you get the chance soon enough. Good-bye, Kallian. Safe travels."
"Hey," She shook his hand firmly and smirked. "We did alright, didn't we?"
"In spite of the odds and our own best efforts."
They shared a smile, and then Alistair released her hand. Kallian ducked her head in a final farewell before turning to walk back to the castle. Even though she tried to disguise it, there was no way for her to avoid falling into the slow, limping gait that had become her norm. Her right leg had locked up tight while she had been sitting down, and a fresh flash of pain lanced through her knee every time she put weight on it. This predictable discomfort no longer made Kallian wince or curse. Like everything else, pain grew tolerable with long familiarity.
That said, she did have to grit her teeth when she reached the short flight of stairs leading up to the castle's rear entrance. There were only seven steps, but each one presented a real difficulty for her. She managed by turning sideways and taking every movement with care. It was hard to feel bitter about her circumstances when she knew that she was incredibly lucky to be climbing steps at all. Still, in some of her darker moments, she would confess to feeling very helpless at times. She had spent years looking after herself by being just a bit luckier and more savage than most, and now she couldn't climb a staircase without worry. Hell, she had not yet turned twenty and people were already asking her to use a cane.
Once past the stairs it was smooth sailing. Kallian stopped by her rooms just long enough to pick up a few things she would need for her trip. It was a short list: a warm cloak of grey wool, her coin purse, two knives, and her set of lockpicks. It wasn't as though she had much use for knives or picks as of late, but she felt underdressed without them. Leliana had already arranged to do something with her luggage, so Kallian took a moment to make sure she wasn't forgetting anything before leaving the room behind.
And then, she was off.
It had come as no surprise to anyone that the markets were the first thing to be rebuilt in the wake of the Blight. This was the heart of Denerim, and too many citizens relied on it to get by. Today, the usual merchants and traders were joined by small crews of workmen who were selling their labor alongside the more traditional goods. The reconstruction efforts had changed Ferelden in subtle ways, the demand for skilled workmen being one of the more apparent. This meant that the ordinarily busy plaza was now veritable circus filled with shouted offers and a churning herd of humans.
Kallian halted just outside the Chantry gates and gazed at the chaos sourly. She suddenly wished that she and Leliana had possessed the foresight to specify a more exact meeting place than "in the markets". It was going to be murder trying to find Leliana in this mess. She decided that her best bet was to circle around the edges of the plaza and avoid the crowd. That would at least cut down on the chance of her getting accidentally knocked over.
Just as she was about to start moving, the wonderful aroma of cooking meat and rich spices drifted over from a nearby stall. It made her mouth water and she could not help but inhale deeply in pleasure. This triggered one of her funny little moments.
It was though someone had thrown a switch and turned on the world. A thousand different odors assailed her in a blur of sensation. It went far beyond her sense of smell. She could taste them on her palate, feel them against her skin, and knew in which direction their source might be found.
She could smell many humans, their individual scents as distinct as differing colors. The plant fibers of their clothing were rank with the salty tang of their sweat, and beneath that powerful odor were countless other. She could smell the leather of their shoes, the faint traces of lye and tallow on their skin, and even their last meals in the wake of their breath. These human smells were joined with the earthy presence of the five dwarves spread around the plaza. Their bodies flush with various metals and fermented hops. The thirteen elves in the district were laden with reek of the Alienage. It clung to them as a mask of dirt and grime that conjured memories of narrow alleyways and ramshackle houses.
A more appetizing aroma rose from the wares on sale. Along with the spiced meat Kallian had originally noticed, she could pick out the fresh breads and the fruits that weren't quite ripe. A stall filled with Rivanni silks gifted her with hints of sand and ocean air, and from an Antivan merchant she drew in the creamy fragrance of oiled leather. A myriad of perfumes on sale at the center of the market released a dizzying combination of alcohol and floral accents that was almost overpowering.
All of this information swept into Kallian's awareness at once. She smelled the markets and everything that went into that scent. It was like looking at a tapestry and being painfully aware of every single thread that composed it.
It lasted an instant and then it was over. The thousand smells simply vanished to leave her with the sooty, rank air of Denerim. She exhaled slowly, her muscles tense from the suddenness of the experience.
Her head turned to look over to the northwest corner of the markets. It was from there that she had noticed one human scent in particular. Jasmine perfume and fresh soap had mingled with a smell that Kallian would have recognized anywhere. It made her think of long nights in bed and the warm arms of someone she loved.
Shaken, Kallian stood in dumbfounded silence as she tried to account for what had just happened. There was not going to be an easy way to dismiss this as mere coincidence or simple oddity. She had been perfectly aware of every single thing in the markets. That degree of hyperawareness had been alien and frightening, but Kallian found herself breathing quickly for an entirely different reason.
She was invigorated. Her body felt like a loosed bowstring as adrenaline trembled though her veins and muscles. In an instant, she had experienced more raw sensation that she knew what to do with. It was as though she had spent her entire life living in a closet, and then suddenly found herself in the middle of a festival. Terrifying on one level, and incomparably exciting on another.
Kallian shook herself to loosen her muscles and began to mechanically walk northeast. She decided not to mention this to Leliana. At best, Leliana might be insulted that Kallian had smelled her from across the market, and at worst, she might decide it was a cause for concern. No, until Kallian was sure that this was actually happening, she would keep it to herself. It wasn't really that extreme when it came down to it. Compared to murderous rampages, this type of crazy was almost pleasant. Besides, it was probably just what happened when you spent a few hours effectively dead. That had to leave a mark of some kind, and this was better than nightmarish dreams or something such.
She forcibly drove the thoughts from her mind and focused on maneuvered her way through the crowd. After stepping around a particularly rotund merchant and found herself looking directly at Leliana. Drawing up short, she took a moment to appreciate the view.
Leliana was dressed in dark blue riding pants and a matching jacket that ended just below her ribs. She wore the jacket unbuttoned over a blouse of light-brown wool with high leather boots completing the outfit. It was a far cry from the dresses that the other women in the marketplace were wearing, but Leliana made it seem like the superior option. The tight clothing worked wonders with her long limbs and slender figure, and where some might appear mannish in the functional clothing, she simply looked athletic and fully capable.
She was leaning with her shoulders against a wooden fence that ran along the northern edge of the markets. Her arms were loosely folded beneath her breasts, and one leg was crossed over the other. Were it anyone else, Kallian might have said she was slouching, but Leliana had probably never slouched in her entire life. Currently, she was staring out over the crowded market not as if she were looking for someone, but rather as if she just enjoyed looking.
There was a time when Kallian would have tried to sneak up on her as a game, but sneaking was no longer something she was much good at. Instead, she squared her shoulders and tried to make her limp less pronounced as she started toward the other woman. It helped a little, but not much.
Leliana did not look away from the crowd as Kallian came up to stand beside her. There was no way she could have missed Kallian's approach, yet she gave every appearance of being unaware. Kallian watched her expectantly for a moment, and when nothing was forthcoming, she made a show of shrugging. If Leliana wanted to play this game, she could play it. Shuffling over to the fence, she leaned against it in perfect mimicry of Leliana's posture. Lifting her chin up, she stared straight-ahead as if that was what she had come to do.
They kept this up for almost a minute before Kallian chanced a look over in Leliana's direction. The bard had not moved an inch, but a thin smile now tugged at her lips. Chuckling, Kallian decided to concede. "That outfit makes me want to do all manner of unseemly things to you."
Leliana rolled her head around to look at Kallian. Her smile grew much wider. "And here I was worried it would inspire seemly thoughts."
"Nope," Kallian cast a pointed look down at Leliana's spectacularly tight pants. "There's nothin' seemly about it."
"Flatterer." The bard giggled softly before giving Kallian a quick look over. "Now, you look both adorable and ready for an adventure. Of course, you are missing something."
Kallian arched a brow. "Oh?"
"Indeed. I think I have just the thing." Leliana turned and plucked a long, thin object that Kallian hadn't noticed leaning against the fence. Handing it over, Leliana smiled broadly. "Not to be forgetting this, yes?"
"Ah." Kallian swallowed her distaste as she accepted her cane. It was crafted from some sort of dark wood and topped with a crown of ivory that had been elaborately carved to resemble a griffin. Two tiny rubies glittered in the griffin's eye sockets, and Kallian was of the opinion that the damn thing looked altogether too smug. "….Good, I thought I had lost it."
Leliana gave her a level stare. "One of the servants gave it to me yesterday. He said that he found it on top of our bed canopy while he was dusting. How did it get up there, I wonder?"
Kallian kept her eyes wide and innocent. "One of life's higher mysteries?"
Her wit did not seem to impress Leliana overly much. Indeed, Leliana chose to ignore it entirely in favor of pointing at the cane with one finger. "Arl Eamon had that made special for you, the healer says that you must use it to prevent further damage, and walking without it is unquestionably harder. So, I must ask: why on Earth do you insist on not using it?"
Kallian pursed her lips and said nothing. How was she supposed to respond to that? She could try to convince Leliana that she didn't need it, but that had never worked in their previous visits to this conversation. She could lie and say that using it was somehow uncomfortable, but lying to Leliana was no longer an option she entertained. Kallian could tell her the truth and say that it made her feel weak and like a shadow of herself, but that type of honesty still did not come easily to her.
In lieu of a proper response, she eventually grumbled out a reluctant agreement. "I'll use the cane."
"Oh, come now, Kallian. I don't want to feel like I'm bullying you into doing something." Leliana pushed off the fence and moved to stand in front of her. Her expression was kind as she stared down at Kallian with twinkling blue eyes. "Do you really hate it so much?"
"I thought hiding it on top of the canopy was a pretty strong indication of my feelings toward it."
"Understand that I just don't want to see you hurt anymore. Neither one of us deserves that." Leliana lifted a hand to brush some of Kallian's hair away from her face. As she did, the pads of her fingers danced along the shell of Kallian's earlobe to send tingling contractions down the length of her spine. Kallian leaned into the touch, her eyes drifting closed as Leliana's voice became softer and more intimate. "I nearly lost you a few months ago. You'll have to forgive me if I worry sometimes."
Kallian nodded stupidly. Her thoughts were drifting away from the issue of the cane and toward Leliana's close proximity. "Uh, right. I can understand that."
"Then I hope you know that I only want what is best for you." Leliana leaned in closer until their eyes were locked together. "Wouldn't you do the same in my position?"
"Err…Well, I suppose I would—"
She had to stop speaking because she was suddenly being kissed. It was a damn good kiss, too; one that had her pressing her body against Leliana's and forgetting that they were in a very public place. The pain in her leg forgotten, she almost wanted to purr from sheer happiness. This was why she was so lucky to be alive. She could put up with anything if it meant more moments like this.
It was over all too quickly, and by then Kallian could barely remember what they had been discussing. She hugged Leliana tightly, burying her face against the bard's neck and inhaling as deeply as she could. Smirking, she murmured quietly. "You don't fight fair anymore."
"I never fought fair." Leliana corrected easily as her hand ran along Kallian's lower back in small circles. "You have simply become a softie and now it works on you."
"Softie? Need I remind you that I have killed a whole bunch of scary shit?"
There was a gentle nip of teeth at her ear, and Kallian's mind went momentarily blank. She sagged against Leliana like some weak-kneed damsel in distress. Mischievous laughter greeted her when she recovered her presence of mind. "Sofffffttieee."
Kallian let go of Leliana and stepped back to give her a mock scowl. "Dirty trick."
"I'm well aware."
"I get your point, though. I'll use the cane." Kallian grimaced before gesturing at the griffin-headed monstrosity in her hand. "But, does it have to be this cane? This thing is scary ugly."
Leliana glanced down at it ruefully. "It does make you look rather like a mad wizard."
"Right? I feel like I should be ordering minions to do something whenever I hold it." Kallian gave it a shake to emphasize her point. "I'd be fine with a regular stick, or maybe one of those canes that have a sword in it. I could think of a thousand ways to use a cane like that."
"Truly? I feel like the only use would be stabbing people." Leliana smiled and motioned for Kallian to walk with her. Together, they started moving in the direction of the docks. Kallian hated to admit it, but the going was a lot easier when she could distribute some of her weight through the cane. She was able to straighten up her posture and her limp became more of stumble. Leliana kept talking as Kallian fell in alongside her. "However, in the interest of finding compromise, I promise that we will find you the most needlessly dangerous cane imaginable once we get to Antiva."
Kallian grinned. "We're going to Antiva first?"
"Not quite. The ship I secured passage on will drop us off on the Cardomen Isles."
The name held no significance to Kallian. "Where's that?"
"Technically, they are part of Orlais, but they have been self-governed for decades. I chose it because it is a big port and we will have no trouble finding a ship to take us anywhere. Likewise, people will not be likely to remember two travelers or where they might have left for."
Kallian looked over at her. "I take it Alistair gave you the 'use different names' talk?"
"He did indeed. I rather like the idea. It adds an element of danger to this trip, no?"
That drew a laugh from Kallian. "Yeah, 'cause we have a real shortage of that in our lives."
"You were the one who told me I could never lead the peaceful life of a Chantry Sister. Forgive me if I've decided to agree."
"Fair enough. Any idea where we might go from there?"
They left the markets and turned onto a street leading eastward to the docks. As they walked, Leliana took over the majority of the conversation as she began to sketch out a brief plan for their trip. Kallian nodded along dutifully, but she truly did not care where they were going. It was enough to know that she was going to be with Leliana. Everything else was just so many details.
Her eyes traced over Leliana's profile as they went. She silently marveled at the very fact that she was here. Three months ago, when she had first awoken after killing the Archdemon, this moment would have seemed like an impossibility.
She had returned to the world completely blind and almost incapable of movement. Her muscles were so severely damaged during the fight with the Archdemon that she could not lift her arms off the bedspread for nearly a week. To say that she had been in pain was akin to saying that a drowning man was damp. She had spent those days drifting between feverish dreams and short stretches of unmerciful consciousness. That had been the worst of it. Even recalling those moments of sightless agony still prompted her to feel a cold sensation deep in the pit of her stomach. If Leliana and Alistair hadn't been there to help her though it, Kallian doubted she would have survived her recovery.
But, it had gotten better. One morning she had woken to find that she could see. Granted, it had only been in black and white, but within three days, color had returned to her. From there, it had been a long and typically painful road to recovery. The Circle healer had warned her that some of her injuries would never fully mend, and when she had first seen the state of her right leg, she had believed him. However, her improvement had been remarkably consistent. By small measures, her scars grew fainter and the pain lessened. By this point, her leg no longer looked like a twisted mess of scar tissue. It might have been her imagination, but it also seemed to function better with each passing day.
"Oh! Kallian, look over there!"
Blinking, Kallian raised her head to see what had caught Leliana's eye. While she had been lost in thought, they had evidently arrived at the large stone seawall that overlooked the merchant docks. Built more to defend against naval assault than inclement weather, the seawall rose twenty yards above the docks as a grim expanse of brine-bleached stone. The docks themselves were made from a thick, dark wood that had developed a permanent crust of barnacles. They teemed with the colorful sort of people who frequented major ports. Sailors were in abundance, either loading or unloading various cargo at the behest of their superiors, grubby wharf urchins milled about as they panhandled or otherwise harassed passers-by, and even several prostitutes were present in case someone felt the need to contract a venereal disease. It was a fascinating mix of sight and sound, but she could see nothing worthy of mention. "What is it?"
"There!" Leliana pointed to draw Kallian's attention to a block of stone that had been erected midway along the length of the seawall. A perfectly-sculpted square that measured at least five yards in each dimension, the block was made from a white stone that shown brilliantly in the clear sunlight. Leliana caught Kallian by the elbow and started marching her over toward it. "It's the foundation for your statue!"
"Say that louder, why don't you?" Kallian hissed as she gamely resisted the urge to dig in her heels. It wouldn't stop Leliana, and she really didn't relish the prospect of being dragged about in public. "And it is just a big rock! There's nothing to see!"
Leliana ignored her protests as she pulled Kallian over to stand in front of the large stone. Wrapping an arm around Kallian's shoulders in a tight embrace, she released a happy sigh. "It is going to be just wonderful when it is finished. You've seen the sketches of the final product, haven't you?"
Kallian rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I've seen them. I'm amazed the city council commissioned something that stupid."
"It isn't stupid!"
"Leliana, it's a statue of me riding a horse and carrying a spear. That's stupid and you know it."
Leliana pouted. "I believe that when you are on a horse, you would call that a 'lance' and not a 'spear'."
"Because that's what matters here."
"You are no fun. It's artistic license." Now, it was Leliana's turn to roll her eyes. "How would you have them depict you? Waving a knife and spitting on the cobblestones?"
Kallian glared at the stone foundation and felt a familiar flush of guilt rise up in her cheeks. "I'd prefer it if they didn't depict me at all."
"But they can't do that. You are the Hero of Ferelden and you very nearly died to save the entire country. It would reflect badly upon the city if they did not try to honor that in some way." Leliana shook Kallian's shoulders playfully. "So, you may as well enjoy it. There are some people who would literally kill to have a statue made of them."
"I'm not one of them." Kallian tugged free of Leliana's hold. Her mood had soured in the face of this conversation, and she was now unaccountably angry. "I don't want it, and I sure as hell don't deserve it."
Leliana winced. "Don't say that. Of course, you deserve it. You killed the—"
"I didn't do anything." Kallian cut her off with a curt chop of her hand. "All I did was fight in the battle like everyone else. It was my freakish demon that killed a dragon, and it was Wynne who made the sacrifice. If anything, we should be building a statue of her."
A small silence fell between them as Leliana stared down at her in surprise. Kallian wished she had not made her words sound quite so bitter. Now, she had all but guaranteed that they were going to have a serious talk.
Sure enough, Leliana stepped close and lowered her voice so that they conversation would not carry to the people moving around them. "You are being unfair to yourself."
"Am I?" Kallian motioned toward the stone block. "Because I don't think it is fair that they are calling me a hero for doing something that I didn't do."
"You were ready to give your own life to save others. That alone deserves a statue, and I'm tired of hearing you punish yourself for things you couldn't control."
"But this feels wrong. It's like I'm lying to everyone and they are all buying it." Kallian lifted her eyes to meet Leliana's. "Did you hear that some people are worshipping me? That is serious, Leliana. It isn't right."
"You have to understand that people need heroes, Kallian. A hero is something they can idealize and aspire to be. They didn't see a demon kill the Archdemon, they saw you do it and then come back from the dead. There's a lot of power in something like that. It was bound to draw attention." Leliana's tone grew warm with amusement. "And remember, every hero in history has benefitted from embellishment to some degree. A few worshippers and a statue of you riding a horse is hardly worthy of mention."
Kallian begrudgingly smiled. "You think so?"
"Oh yes, quite so." Leliana stepped back with a smile. "Compared to what I have written about you in my story, it's downright accurate."
That got Kallian's attention. "Hold up, you're writing a story about me?"
"It's really more of a balladic epic. I have several songs penned down, but some of the narrative is giving me trouble. My guess is that your frightfully boring life is to blame." Leliana placed her hand on the small of Kallian's back and gently steered her away from the statue's foundation. It was a casual gesture, but Kallian suspected that it was very intentional. "If anything, you really could use some more embellishment. You weren't born during a thunderstorm by any chance, were you?"
Kallian chuckled. "Afraid not."
"Hmm…well, I suppose I'll have to make you taller. More polite too. I'm running out of words that rhyme with 'diminutive' and 'uncouth'."
The teasing made Kallian feel better. It was strange to think that being insulted made her love Leliana even more, but there it was. "Uh-huh, and who said you could write this? I don't remember giving you permission."
"I thought that permission was implied." Leliana adopted a wounded expression. "Considering how close we are, I always thought of myself as your official biographer."
"Odd, I always thought you were just my consort."
"Consort?" Leliana laughed aloud as they reached the staircase leading down to the docks. "Don't think I won't push you into the ocean just because you have a cane."
"You won't." Kallian descended the staircase carefully, keeping to the edge to avoid being jostled by the crowd. "Because you love me."
"Correct on both accounts, although it would arguably be hilarious." Leliana helped her down the last step and then led her out onto the docks. They walked some twenty yards along the wooden planks before Leliana motioned her down one of the outcropping piers. A single vessel waited for them at the end of the dock. Three-masted and resting low in the water, it looked more like a military vessel than any merchant ship Kallian had ever seen.
She gazed at it uncertainly. "This is it?"
"Yes, that's the one." Leliana stood on her tip-toes to scan the crowd of sailors that were massed near the boarding plank of the ship. After a moment, she let out a satisfied exclamation. "And there is our future captain."
Kallian craned her head to look in the general direction that Leliana was facing. At first, she was unsure of what she was looking for, but then, she was all to certain. Standing amidst the sailors was a tall woman with dark skin and clothing that could kindly be called provocative. Even from a distance, Kallian recognized her immediately.
Slowly, Kallian turned her gaze on Leliana. "You're kidding."
"Her rates are very competitive."
"She's a pirate."
"Former pirate. I've been assured that she is very much a smuggler now." Leliana carefully studied the nails on one hand. "Did I mention that competitive price is for a respectably-sized cabin?"
Kallian sighed. "You realize, of course, that she will spend the entire trip trying to lure us into some sort of rum-fueled pirate orgy?"
Leliana cocked a brow. "And?"
"And, that is…" Kallian paused and carefully considered what she had just said. "…not as convincing as I'd thought. Still, you see where I'm coming from, right?"
"I think we will be able to contain ourselves." Leliana bared her teeth in a smile that was all suggestion and promise. "But, I would not worry in any case. I don't plan to let you out of the aforementioned cabin long enough to be ensnared by any wicked pirates."
Kallian could not help but like the sound of that. "Then I guess I don't have an argument."
"I am so very glad you agree." Leliana started down the boardwalk toward where Isabela was waiting. "Now, let's go see if our luggage is safe and sound."
"No worries, I'm sure the smuggler-pirates took great care of it."
"I am going to pointedly ignore your sarcasm." Leliana called back over her shoulder. "Hurry up or I will tell them to leave without you."
Kallian smiled, but did not follow. She spent a worthwhile moment just staring after Leliana and marveling at her own luck. There was probably a lot that should be said about being in love with the most wonderful person on the planet, but Kallian was never much good with words. She would have to settle for taking action, preferably hot, intimate action that left everyone sweaty and out of breath. That was as good a way as any to express one's innermost feelings.
A short breath of laughter escaped her as she finally started walking after Leliana. She felt a wondrous, carefree sense of anticipation. At no point did she look back at Denerim and marvel at how far she had come, or else dwell on what getting here had cost her. She did not feel anger at Morrigan's absence, or guilt at Wynne's. She did not worry about the Chantry and its intentions toward her, or about the strange occurrences that she could not explain. Nor did she give thought to her race, or her past, or the innumerable small worries that could have plagued her mind if she had let them. Kallian did not even notice that she took five steps without limping or needing to use her cane. There was no jolt of pain to remind her, no awkward stumble to make her notice. She took five perfect strides until force of habit made her body remember itself and resume her limping gait.
All of that had no place in her mind. Not right now. The troubles and tribulations of the world would just have to wait awhile if they wanted her attention.
Because, for perhaps the first time in her life, Kallian was looking to the future and liking what she saw there.
And it is done.
I want to thank my beta Gorg for her tremendous time commitment and for being so very helpful. Additionally, I would like to thank everyone who has been reading. You guys made this a really fun experience for me, and I appreciate that very much.
I don't have much else to say about this other than you may have noticed the dangling sequel bait spread liberally through this epilogue. I will probably wait until the third Dragonage comes out before writing the sequel, but I do have one planned. In the mean time, if any of you are Mass Effect fans, look for my new story to be popping up in the next several weeks. Title is not determined at this point, but I'm very excited about it.
Oh! and leave a review if it pleases you. I know there are a few of you out there who have been waiting for the perfect moment to leave one, and this is almost certainly it. I love hearing any kind of response, so don't hesitate!