Her mother is angry. Her mother is often angry. She is raging at Keili's brother, Jakob. Jakob is three years old, Keili is five. Her mother begins to beat her brother. Her mother often beats the boy. Keili cannot stand to hear his cries. Keili is a soft-hearted girl. Keili throws herself on her brother, covers him, protects him with her own body, braces for impact. She has done this before. The blows fall, but they do not hurt. Keili has willed her flesh hard as stone, and her mother breaks her hand on her back.
"Maker's breath, I hate coming here," Ser Edmund grumbles, stepping over a half-frozen puddle of slush while trying to keep his robes from dragging.
Ser Frederik looks around and sniffs appreciatively. "Oh, I don't know, the scenery is lovely."
Edmund shakes his head. "It's not the scenery. It's the people."
"What do you mean?" Frederik asks as they crest the rise in the hill. The tiny village comes into view below them.
"Look, you know as well as I do what arseholes mages can be." Edmund turns to look at Frederik and walks straight into an ankle-deep puddle. He chokes back a curse. "It's just that the local Chantry seems to hold that belief more... zealously than most."
"How so?" Frederik carefully smooths his expression, calling on his templar discipline to help him not sneer at the shacks and hovels around him. The settlement at the foot of the Frostbacks has an unpaved main road, which had turned into a giant mud bog following the early spring thaw.
Edmund sighs. "You'll see."
It is not long before they reach the center of the village. The tiny clapboard chantry is like any other Chantry in any other tiny hamlet that Frederik and Edmund have been to on their missions; collecting children who have demonstrated arcane abilities.
Except for one glaring addition.
Jutting out from the second floor of the Chantry is a thick beam of wood. Hanging off that beam of wood, like some obscene ornament, is a cage.
Inside the cage is the girl they were sent to fetch.
"Maker have mercy."
He makes her knees tremble. Because he's dangerous, she tells herself. An apostate. He sits down next to her, looking around warily. This must be a test, she thinks. The Maker is testing me. I shall not fail.
By the second time Anders is dragged back to the Tower, he is aware that mealtime is always the most awkward part. The ever-shifting social landscape makes every move a potentially treacherous misstep.
"Mind if I sit here?" he asks the pretty girl sitting off by herself. It's a gamble, he knows. He generally has better luck with the girls, but sometimes there are very good reasons why nobody else wants to sit near them. Especially if they're pretty.
And she is very pretty.
She looks up at him and smiles brightly. "Not at all! Please do."
Andraste's frilly stockings, she is very pretty. He sits down and picks at his bowl of stew. The food hasn't gotten any better. Or any worse, for that matter.
Not being hungry all the time is a nice change of pace.
"So, they found you again?" the girl says, sounding curious but staring down at her own bowl. He realizes that she's trembling slightly. This could be a good thing...
He sighs and leans back nonchalantly. "Well, you know. It's a game we play. They catch me, I escape, they track me down using poorly-disguised blood magic, and so on. Do you think they'll grow bored of it eventually?" He lets his hand brush against hers as he reaches for the salt.
Her trembling increases and she turns a delightful shade of pink. "Why not do something they wouldn't expect?"
"Hm?" he asks, leaning closer as he takes a drink from his beaker..
She turns her bright eyes on him, utterly guileless. "Turn to the Maker, accept your fate and beg for forgiveness!"
Of course, the real loser in this conversation was Niall, who had the bad luck to sit down directly across from them just as Anders spits his drink out.
He pulls her into the dark alcove, and she can feel her pulse pounding in her ears, her limbs, between her legs.
The apostate is right about one thing; the robes make for remarkably easy access. Within minutes he has her propped against the pillar, reaching under her skirts for her smallclothes.
"The Maker wants us to do this," she whispered to herself as he touches her and she shudders.
"Yes, absolutely," he responds, working his fingers deeper into her.
She bites her lip and stifles a cry as he unceremoniously breaks her maidenhead. This is what the Maker wants them to do. This is why He gave them the gifts of pleasure and parts that fit together. This is why He so loved Andraste.
The stone is cold and rough against her back and he lifts her higher on his forearms and then he is inside her and his breath is panting hot against her ears. She feels the soft fuzz of his early whiskers on her cheek, his muscles rolling under his robes, and him thrusting inside her, painful and welcomed all at once. There are tears in her eyes.
She chokes back her sounds as much as she can, but the occasional whimper emerges. He kisses her to stifle her. At first, his mouth is simply on hers to block the sound. But then his lips soften and she tightens her arms around his neck and her thighs around his hips and one of his hands are freed and he touches her hair and she begins to sob.
By morning he is gone. The glowering Templars and the blood in her smallclothes the only evidence he was ever there.
She has failed, that much is certain. The Maker tested her time and again and time and again she has failed. She cannot convince the apostate to stay and repent.
It is not simply the sin of failure. It is also the sin of pride, believing that she could ever accomplish such a task. And the sin of... desire.
She begins to spend much more time in the chapel, praying for forgiveness. Her mentor notices, and restricts her time there. If she had not done so, Keili would have gladly spent hours in the chapel, kneeling on the bare stone, reciting the Chant over and over from start to finish, desperately attempting to prove the sincerity of her words.
The Maker will not forgive the other wicked mages in this Tower have turned away from Him. He will take pity on her and release her from this torment, as soon as her penance is done.
She notices a young Templar, newly assigned to the Tower. He has the luxury of spending as much time as he pleases here in the chapel. She notices his bright red hair, his firm jaw, and his strong hands clasped in fervent prayer.
She quickly turns her focus to the statue of the Maker's Holy Bride, chastising herself for impure thoughts.
Amell stumbles around the chapel, blinking owlishly, eyes unaccustomed to the dim light. "Oh, sorry," she says to Keili, interrupting her prayers.
"Have you come to pray for forgiveness?" Keili asks, hopeful. Amell was in grave danger of falling into the same trap of sin as she had, she knows. She had seen the glances exchanged between her and Ser Cullen.
"Er, no. Not precisely. Excuse me." With that, Amell leaves her alone in the pew.
Keili adds an extra prayer to the list she recites, praying for Amell to find the Maker as she had done.
Later that day she finds out how thoroughly she has failed in that intention, as well.
Sonya grits her teeth. "This is a waste of time," she mutters to Alain. "There's no way that Keili will be interested."
Alain shrugs. "Uldred told us just to feel her out. He has a point, really. She's been involved with that apostate who keeps escaping for, what, three years now? Every time he gets caught she ends up rutting him under the stairs."
"All that proves is she has poor judgment. Not sure that's a great point in her favor," Sonya peeks through the greenhouse window to see if that's where the soft-spoken girl has gotten to.
"She is a very talented healer, though. Which is... useful," Alain scratches absent-mindedly at one of his more recent scars.
Sonya pushes open the door to the greenhouse, where Keili is taking clippings of elfroot and humming a pleasant tune to herself. "Oh, hello," Sonya says, as if she just stumbled across her by accident.
Keili smiles sweetly. "Hello Sonya, Alain. Isn't it a lovely day? I always make sure to thank the Maker when we have such nice weather."
"Er, yes." Sonya clears her throat and makes a face over her head at Alain. "Say, it's been a few months since that apostate of yours got out. Do you think he's gone for good?"
Keili pauses in her labor, the song dying in her throat. "Are you talking about Anders?" she says quietly.
"Know any other apostates you've tried to heal using your Holy Nethers?" Alain grabs a pair of snips and begins helping her.
Keili folds her hands in her lap and sits very still, staring at the ground. "It is a sin to defy the Chantry the way he does."
Sonya drags the basket over to catch the clippings Alain has collected. "Who among us doesn't sin, anyway?"
"I try not to," Keili says quietly, testing the edge of her snips.
Sonya kneels next to Keili and places her hands over hers. "Keili, what would you say if I offered you a way to be with him, always?"
Keili stares at her. "But... that's not possible. They... They said if they catch him again they will send him to Aeonar."
Alain kneels in front of her. "That's not right!" he says, just as quietly as the other two. "He's no criminal!"
Keili's face goes blank. "That's the risk he chose to take. He chose to leave. He chose to accept the consequences."
"But, Keili, what if it didn't have to be that way? What if you could be with him?" Sonya presses.
Keili shakes herself and takes a deep breath, as if emerging from deep water. Her eyes flick to the criss-crossed scars on their wrists that have been exposed in their work. "I am no maleficar," she says matter-of-factly, picking up her snips and returning to her labor. "Good day to you."
There is nothing odd about the morning. She thinks on this often, afterward, turning it over and around in her mind like a puzzle. Every time she comes to the same conclusion: there was no warning.
Of course, there had been warnings that something was going to happen, sometime. Little things. Scraps of paper with mysterious messages found in old books. The sudden disappearance of Jowan, Amell, and Lily. The way Alain and Sonya had approached her in the garden. Enchanter Uldred's radically changed demeanor upon his return from the battle at Ostagar. But on that day, nothing odd happens.
She is in class with Petra and Kinnon. Enchanter Wynne is leading them in healing exercises. Keili's heart goes out to Enchanter Wynne, as this is an advanced class with an emphasis on practical application. The elder mage has to intentionally inflict wounds on them, so they can practice healing each other's cuts and abrasions. No fractures, however, they are not that advanced yet. Maybe by the end of the term.
Enchanter Wynne is clearly troubled as she cuts Kinnon's forearm with a small knife. Keili is about to offer some words of comfort, reminding her of the necessity of such seemingly barbaric deeds, when there is a curious sound from the meeting room above them.
It sounds like thunder, but when Keili looks to the window she sees nothing but bright blue sky and sunshine. Another crash, and Petra and Kinnon start while Wynne turns to the door. Keili looks out the window again, and sees that strange, thick, purple clouds have begun to gather.
"Apprentices! We must go, quickly!" Wynne shouts, and all obey without thinking, running to the door and out into the hall.
It is then she realizes that she's hearing screams coming from above and below and on either side, echoing off the solid stone walls into a howling cacophony that has no top or bottom or beginning or end.
She freezes, feels like she is floating above her body, an outside observer watching from a safe distance as the demon bears down on her. It lurch-slithers like some sort of horrible mixture of a snake and a bear. She realizes she should be afraid, as it is so close she can see down its gaping maw into the horrifying darkness. She should feel fear as she stared at its claws that look like solid shards of flame, but she doesn't. Her brain is so paralyzed that she can't remember how to cast any sort of defense spell. Arcane bolts, shields, lightning, all elude her. All she can think is stone skin, stone skin can save you. She casts the spell even though the demon is so close now she can feel the heat of its fetid breath on her face. Her mind leaves this place entirely, going back to that safe dark place under the stairs with Anders. Even though she should feel shame for her sin, all she feels is longing. If Anders were there he would know what to do. He would tell her to move! Andraste's curly nose-hairs, Keili, what are you waiting for? You think the demon is going to ask you to dance? Run!
She scrambles for the door just as Wynne casts a fireball, narrowly missing her.
The Warden is speaking with the old woman. Zevran half-listens as he paces the perimeter of the room. It is entirely too cavernous and entirely too poorly-lit for his tastes. He knows too well how such shadows could be used, but really, were demons known for their subtly? Doubtful, that. Not entirely certain what he plans to do if he should stumble across a demon, he focuses on scanning obvious hiding places. If he does find one, hopefully he'll have a chance to raise the alarm at least.
Better to do that than to stand out in the open like a swollen thumb. Or Sten.
He holds his dagger at the ready, probing into the dark corners. The girl he finds comes as such a surprise he nearly drops his dagger like a green, untested child.
"Are you with the Templars?" she asks, eerily calm.
Zevran glances down at his armor, a hodge-podge of Dalish and Duster pieces. "Ehm, no. Would I not be dressed more handsomely if I were? Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I was just hoping that they had arrived. Surely they intend to perform the Rite of Annulment," she replies, looking slightly disappointed.
Her words make the tips of Zevran's ears prickle with their wrongness. Perhaps this pretty little thing is unaware of exactly what this Rite entails? "Actually, my sweeting, if I understand the situation correctly, I believe Amell is attempting to avoid that necessity."
"Oh, but she can't," the girl protests, looking distraught and clutching his arm. "This is supposed to happen!"
"I... uh..." Zevran tries to come up with a graceful way to escape this conversation, but the girl's grip is strong and the fevered look in her eye suggests that there will be no easy way out.
"We have all sinned and this is the Maker's holy retribution for our transgressions!" Tears well in her eyes as she drops to her knees. "May the Maker and His Holy Bride have mercy on us all."
Zevran kneels next to her, thinking quickly. "But if we are successful in preventing the Rite, does that not mean that the Maker has approved of our actions and has shown mercy on the mages?"
The girl does not respond, just continued to weep silently, hands over her face. "I have hoped and prayed for this for so long," she chokes.
"Zevran!" Amell calls from the other side. "Let's go."
"By all means," he replies, grateful for the excuse to escape.
He is going to let himself get caught. The time he'd spent playing this game means he can recognize them anywhere, even when they are not in their ridiculous "Hey, look at me! I'm a holy warrior of the Maker!" garb.
If anybody were to ever ask him (not that anybody ever does) he would tell them that it's the shoes. The shoes give them away every time. The combination of military precision and religious fastidiousness results in shoes much too clean and well-fitting for the simple pilgrims they are attempting to disguise themselves as.
It would be very easy for him to slip out the back door before their eyes adjust to the light. It would be very easy for him to go up the stairs with one of the local girls and use her as a distraction if they came snooping around. It would be very easy for him to simply walk out the front door while they stood at the bar, trying to figure out how to order a drink without looking like they have poles jammed up their arses. (They fail. They always, always fail.)
But this time, he stays right where he is, clenching his tankard with a white-knuckled grip.
The seconds tick by and his resolve begins to waver. This is stupid. This is the dumbest thing he has ever done, which is impressive since if he's feeling honest he'll admit that he's done quite a few dumb things in his time.
His heartbeat is so loud he half-expects them to hear it and arrest him based on that alone. He realizes he's gone mad, utterly mad. They were very clear with him the last time. The penalty for escaping again would be a one-way passage to Aeonar. Which isn't wholly true, since it wasn't escaping that he would be punished for, it was getting caught. Which is what he is attempting to do right now.
Genius move, Anders, just brilliant, he thinks. Getting sent to Aeonar because you can't live with not knowing what happened at that stupid place.
No, not the Tower. That place could burn to a crisp and Anders would only wish to fan the flames. No, what he can't live without knowing is what happened to her. And, Maker's Balls, nobody cares but him. Nobody cares so long as the abominations don't come boiling out of the Tower to rampage across the countryside. Nobody cares how they were contained. All they care about is that they were contained, and the Fade take all the actual people who live there. Fade take the mages, Fade take the templars, Fade take the kind, quiet, pensive, troubled, apprentice girl who had somehow wormed her way into his thoughts and wouldn't leave.
Fade take her. Part of him hopes she is dead. Then he could cut ties with that place completely and never feel that odd tug in the back of his mind, late at night, usually when he's with some other woman and thinking about how her hair isn't quite the right shade of auburn or how her nose doesn't slope in quite the right way or how her body doesn't fit quite right in his hands. That restlessness that has infected him might finally be quieted.
These damned fools aren't helping any. He begins spinning a fireball in his palm, hoping they'll notice. He looks over and sees that they are still trying to order a pint. Just get it over with, he thinks to himself.
There are too many thoughts to think. The aftermath of The Event, which they're now referring to as "Uldred's Uprising", is too quiet, the work too monotonous. The other survivors, even the unflappable Tranquil, are pale, wan, and withdrawn. Mage, templar, and Tranquil alike spend their days dragging mangled, misshapen corpses to vast pyres on the open courtyard.
It takes days to burn the bodies. It takes weeks to scrub the stains left by blood and smoke from the floors, the walls, the ceilings. It will be months before the Tower is entirely put at rights; all the books and the components and the artifacts and surviving potions cleaned, repaired, and put back where they belong.
It will take years until the wounds are healed.
Keili does what she is told, and tries her best to not think about anything. It occurs to her that if she were to submit to the Rite of Tranquility, she wouldn't have to tryany longer.
It was too easy, Rylock concludes. She has heard tales of the apostate's exploits everywhere from Highever to Denerim and back, and yet he is taken by herself and another templar newly-assigned to the Tower with hardly any trouble.
He's planning something, she's sure of it. Even though he makes no move to escape, she double-checks his wrist and ankle shackles every morning, endures his disgusting jests, and refuses to let him out of her sight.
They sit at the fire, eating hard tack and salt pork for the third night in a row when he begins to laugh. A horrible thing, that laugh, which crawls into her ears and rakes down her spine. She looks at him. "Something amuses you, apostate?"
"No, nothing. It's just that you look like somebody I know." He grins sickeningly at her and she clenches her teeth. "Tell me, Rylock," he says, stretching out his legs and leaning back with his hands behind his head. "Where are you from originally? It wouldn't happen to be a small village at the southern foot of the Frostbacks?"
Rylock glares so hard she's almost surprised he doesn't burst into flame. "If you are insinuating that I am somehow related to one of those... abominations in the Tower, you are mistaken. There has never been a mage born in Roadstead."
"Really?" He mocks her by pretending to be surprised. "You don't say. We'll have to ask my friend Keili when we get back to the Tower, then. Because she seems to recall your village and the charming addition the lot of you made to the Chantry extremely well."
It is all she can to do not run him through where he sits.
The other six times they dragged him to the Tower, it felt like a prison. This time, it feels like a tomb. The acrid smell of pyre smoke still hangs thick on the island. They quickly march him through the halls, and he notices odd stains on the walls and room after room that look like something horrible and messy exploded all over everything.
Probably because something horrible and messy did explode all over everything.
His mind wanders to breakfast, and how he'll wait for her at the spot by the window where she always sits. One way or another, he's going to finally get some answers. If the answers are good, maybe he'll get a chance at a reunion later that day, or if not then in the evening before lights-out in that spot under the stairs that has somehow became theirs. He won't even have to say anything, he'll find her there waiting for him and their bodies will meet, like they have so many times before. He wishes his magic were strong enough to affect time because his desire for her has sharpened and is now a physical ache of need.
He is already imagining her fingernails on his back and her breath on his ear when they turn down a hallway he's never seen before and keep leading him on. "Oh, the apprentice quarters aren't fit for habitation yet?" he asks, curious. "Where did they move everybody?"
"There's nothing wrong with the apprentice quarters, apostate," snarls Rylock.
"Oh, I see," he says, thinking quickly. "So, what is this? Are you taking me to my Harrowing?"
She laughs a laugh of bitter triumph. "You could call it that," she says before unlocking a door and throwing him in the cell. "Somebody will be by in the morning with your breakfast. Enjoy your new quarters."
Greagoir sighs and refers to his notes. He's taken to bringing a list of issues to address to his meetings with the First Enchanter. There is so much to do, and age and tragedy have been bearing down on him more than he'd like to admit. The mountain of tasks never diminishes, each goal he manages to reach only spawns two more.
So he keeps a list. He crosses off Double-check locks on phylactery chamber door and moves to the next item, which reads simply: Rylock. He grimaces. "Rylock wants to take the apostate to Aeonar."
Irving strokes his beard, expression impenetrable. Greagoir grits his teeth. He's scheming, the bastard. Finally, he speaks. "What are your thoughts on the matter?"
Damn him. Scheming, evasive bastard. Greagoir wants to fight about it but simply doesn't have the will. "It seems like a waste of time, to be perfectly honest. Seeing as there's no evidence, not even a rumor, that he ever dabbled in blood magic I don't see the point."
Irving nods thoughtfully. "Circumstances have changed since the last time he was here. It's possible he could be reformed."
He has a point. "We'll let him cool his heels in solitary for a while." He leafs through his interminable list and adds a new item to the bottom. Decide what to do with the apostate.
Her duties are in the library. The worst of the gore has been cleaned (though occasionally she will find a clump of hair or a finger in the most unexpected places) and now she is focused on repairing the damaged books.
There are rumors swirling around the Tower like flood waters. They say the apostate is back, that he was captured not far from Redcliffe but hasn't been sent to Aeonar. That he is in the Tower these past two months, locked in solitary confinement.
The thought that this could all be true, and what it could mean, releases emotions that Keili does not want to feel. And she carefully erects walls within her mind to keep them out.
The wall is weakening a bit as she is examining a thesis on the original purpose of the fortress now known as Aeonar when Irving interrupts her.
"Apprentice," he says gently. "Please come with me."
She obeys, as she always does. She does not wonder at where they are going as they turn down a hallway she has never seen before. She does not ask why they are joined by a pair of armed Templars. She is not afraid as she approaches the cell. She is not happy or sad or angry, either. She feels nothing. It is comfortable.
The cell is small, dark, and dank. A small patch of light filters in from a high slit of a window to reveal a pile of straw, a bucket, and him.
He sits, his arms resting on his knees, head bowed, clothes filthy, body bruised, feet bare. His jaw is set stubbornly. The wall around her heart crumbles a bit. He looks up at her, suspicious and confused. "They weren't lying?"
"No," Irving replies sternly. "As you can see, she is quite alive."
His demeanor changes, becomes submissive. "Please, could we just... have a moment?"
Irving nods to the Templars, who leave the cell and shut the door. Keili folds her hands in front of her. "Hello, Anders. How are you?"
He struggles to his feet and only then does she notice the shackles at his wrists and ankles, carved with large runes. The wall crumbles a bit more. "I don't know what to say," he says thickly and swallows. She notices how his lips are dry and cracked. "I'm just... it's so good to see that you're alive, Keili. What happened here?"
The memory of Uldred's Uprising opens in her mind, a yawning pit she can't bear to face. "I don't want to talk about it," she says firmly.
"Oh, that's fine," he says, shuffling forward a few steps. She stands her ground as chunks of the wall come crashing down. "What would you like to talk about?"
She stares at him, confused. She wants to know what he's doing here, back in the Tower. She wants to know if he knew it was going to happen, if they had approached him the way they approached her. She wants to know why he thought she was dead. She wants to know why he cared. She wants to know if she'll ever be able to think about the Uprising without wanting to scream and tear out her hair. If she'll ever be able to eat a meal in the dining hall without seeing the faces of the dead at all the empty seats. If the Tower will ever fill with that happy, familiar hum and bustle that was such a comfort to her.
He takes another step forward and touches her hair. "You can tell me," he says, quietly.
"I want to be made Tranquil," she blurts, the words tumbling out like water.
"What?" he backs away as if burned. "Why?"
"I can't..." is all she can say. So she repeats it. "I can't. I can't." The wall crumbles to dust and all the tears and anguish she had carefully kept locked away hit her at full force. "I can't." She sinks to her knees and hugs herself. "I can't!"
"Don't do this to yourself, Keili," he says, voice rising. "Don't let them do this to you. Look at me!" he shouts, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. "Don't let them do this!"
The door bursts open and the Templars rush in, weapons ready. Somebody drags Keili out of the cell, and she thinks she hears the sound of armored fists hitting bare flesh behind her.
Irving mentally prepares himself as Greagoir enters the room. They still have not completed repairs to the Tower after the Uprising, but life must go on. So Irving has made his own list, to complement the one Greagoir has been keeping. A list of normal things they have to do, such as class listings and mentor assignments and Harrowings and all the other tasks that go along with educating the mages. Irving straightens his posture as Greagoir stiffly eases himself into the other chair.
"We'll start with my list today, if you don't mind," Irving starts.
Greagoir grunts his agreement. Irving wonders if Greagoir could possibly be more simian if he consciously tried.
"First order of business, the mentor list. At this moment, there are more apprentices than there are enchanters. I propose that some of the more experienced enchanters be assigned two apprentices to mentor."
Greagoir rubs his nose and nods. "Seems sensible enough. At least until the proportions even out."
"Yes, of course," Irving replies, hiding his irritability.
"Oh, that reminds me," Greagoir shuffles through his stack of papers, holding them at arm's length and squinting.
The fool needs reading glasses, Irving thinks.
"Apprentice Keili," Greagoir continues. "She wants to submit to the Rite of Tranquility."
Irving kept his expression neutral. "That seems rash. She is an exceptionally talented healer."
Greagoir nods. "I will inform her that we cannot honor her request at this time."
"Coincidentally," Irving continues. "I would like to talk about Harrowings. I feel we should proceed with all due haste on the older apprentices, in order to even out the proportions more quickly..."
He had refused to speak until they let him see her. After that ends up a bigger disaster than he ever imagined, they seem to forget about him. Days pass into weeks, and nobody will say a word to him. No matter how hard he tries to get the Templars who deliver his meals to crack a smile. No matter how many questions he asks about what in the Maker's name is going on in the rest of the Tower and the world outside his cell.
Bereft of things to distract him from his thoughts, coupled with the constant empty ache of being unable to access his will, he begins to invent fantasies to pass the time. At first, they are lush, elaborate concoctions of riches and fame and silken robes and beautiful women, more food than any person could ever eat, and magic spilling and rushing from his fingers in a constant display of arcane prowess.
More trays of food pass under his door, and weeks pass into months. Still nobody speaks to him. His fantasies grow dull and lifeless as they remain just as unattainable. He narrows it down to a simple list of requirements: a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning bolts at fools.
At the top of the list of fools were those who had left him here to rot. Especially the fool who convinced him it was a good idea to let himself get caught again, all on account of some girl. (Because that most certainly could not have been his own idea. The whole thing stank of blood magic.) A girl who was clearly even more mad than he was, and now that he thinks about it, probably had been since he met her.
He decides he'd rather not think about it. Or her.
His sanity is saved by the sudden appearance of a cat who one day decided to stick his nose through the food tray slot. He promptly names the cat "Mr. Wiggums" and becomes more interested in the cat and its adventures than any man should be about such things. Whatever he can do to avoid thinking about her and the fool who convinced him that finding out her fate was worth this torture.
He had spent so many days in the cell that he has long lost count. So he begins to mark the days by how many he can go without thinking about her. He realizes that allowing himself to think about certain things inevitably lead back to the very thing he is trying to avoid, so certain topics are not allowed. These topics include, but are not limited to: red hair, soft voices, pretty smiles, sex whilst standing up, sex in the dark, sex in general, and the Chantry. (Some of these topics are easier to avoid thinking about than others.)
He is just celebrating a personal best of four days gone without allowing himself to think about her when the door to his cell opens unexpectedly.
"Who's there?" he says, clutching Mr. Wiggums a bit tighter and shrinking to the back of the cell as the light burns his eyes. "What do you want?"
The person advances, and he squints against the lantern shining directly into his eyes, obscuring the person holding it. "The cat is innocent," he protests. "Please don't hurt him."
The person puts down the lantern and he realizes that he has finally lost his mind completely.
"I don't care about your cat," Keili says softly as she kneels in front of him and all his carefully-avoided thoughts come roaring back at the sight of her in her diaphanous nightshift. "Give me your hands."
"After all this time and all you want is my hands?" he jokes, feeling near hysterical.
She grabs his wrists and sets to work on the manacles with a lockpick. "You can't be in any condition to..." A ghost of a smile dances on her lips as she looks up at him through her lashes. He decides that even if this is a delusion, it's a better one than anything else he's managed to come up with. The manacles fall to the ground with a clatter as sweet as the song she's always humming when she thinks nobody's paying attention. As she starts working on the shackles on his ankles, already he can feel that constant, empty ache dissipating and his will ebbing back.
He wants to touch her, but is afraid that if he does, it will shatter the illusion. She'll disappear, and he'll be left alone with his hunger and frustration again. So he clenches his fists and resists that and all the other impulses that are pounding in his veins.
"Here," she says, handing him the most luscious vial of lyrium potion he's ever seen. He struggles to his feet and gulps it greedily, power thrumming through him like a river rushing through a broken dam. She bends to take something else her pack, and he wraps his arms around her waist and presses her against him. "What are you doing?" she asks, irritable. "There isn't time..."
He runs his hands along the curve of her hips, the swell of her breasts, and back down her soft body to press in between her legs. "You're probably right," he murmurs in her ear as she melts against him. He releases her suddenly and she has to catch herself, "We couldn't possibly have enough time."
To his satisfaction, she turns back, trying to control herself despite her flushed cheeks and eyes dark with lust. Frustrated, she throws a robe at him. "It's the best I could do. Get dressed and we'll get out of here."
He strips, pretending to not care whether or not she watches. It pleases him when she does, though. The light from the lantern is hitting her in precisely the right way, revealing every curve of her body in silhouette. He pulls on the absurd robe she has brought for him, something utterly barbaric. "Where did you get this? A wayward Chasind?" he asks as he tightens the buckles across his chest.
She crosses her arms across her chest. "I told you, it was the best I could do. Nobody will notice it missing. Come on!" She grabs his hand and leads him out of the cell. He tries to talk to her several times before they reach their final destination, but she hushes him each time and eventually he gives up.
To his surprise, they slip out through a crack in the rocks and find themselves on a tiny strip of sand, right on the water. Tethered to a small outcropping of rock is, wonders of Thedas, a boat. "I thought about making you swim." She turned to him, that ghost of a smile curving her lips again, "But, well, that just seemed mean-spirited."
He presses her up against the outside wall of the tower, unwilling to let her just slip out of his grasp. "You've planned this very well, did you include extra time in case of... unexpected delays?"
She shivers, and he wonders how much of that is from him and how much is from the soft breeze that swirls her shift around her thighs. His head starts to spin. "Do you want to know why I'm helping you?" she asks.
"Uh, I guess so..." Or course he doesn't. But she seems to want to tell him, so he decides to go along with it.
"It's because of Amell," she declares, and at this point he is so confused that he begins imaging all sorts of scenarios based around that idea. Before he can get too far she continues. "It wasn't Templars who saved us from Uldred, it was Amell. And it wasn't a King who saved us from the Blight, it was Amell. A mage. And I started thinking. What if they're wrong? What if they're wrong about everything? About keeping us in the Tower and forcing us to choose between Harrowing, Tranquility, or death? And what if they were wrong about you? Whatever it is they decide to do with you, I'm sure you don't deserve it. So I'm letting you go." She lifts her chin defiantly, and he is sure he has never seen anything so lovely. He kisses her deeply, and is surprised when she struggles against him. "No," she gasps.
"You don't..." he chokes on his frustration, and runs his fingers through her silky hair, which is just the right color. "Are you sure?"
She pulls back primly. "I'm done trying to save you from yourself. Maybe I've decided that I like nice men."
He is so stunned that he just stares at her until she starts trying to wiggle out of his grasp, after all he endured. "But... wait, which 'nice man'?"
She frowns, which somehow makes her seem even lovelier and looks away. "Godwin."
"Godwin?" he sputters. There are many, many things he could say to dispel this notion she's got that Godwin is a nice man, but he decides that the best way to get what he wants is to rise above such things. "Does he know you're doing this?" he asks, dropping his voice and running a hand up her thigh. "Does he know... Maker's breath. Does he know you aren't wearing any smallclothes?"
She bites her lip and he knows he's won. "I never wear them to bed."
"So does he know or doesn't he?" he presses, brushing his fingers against her so gently she shivers and this time he's sure it's because of him.
"No," she admits softly before wrapping her arms around his neck. "But this is the last time, Anders."
"Of course it is," he agrees quickly, slipping his arms under her hips and lifting her against the wall.
I am writing to thank you for all you have done for me. Surely, such actions came at considerable risk. I sincerely hope you have not suffered on my behalf.
I also wanted to tell you that I have not wasted the second chance you afforded me, and have joined the Grey Wardens. Perhaps you have heard of our most recent exploits in Amaranthine?
In fact, that brings me to another, more personal, reason to write you. I have been researching various regulations and as far as I can tell, a Grey Warden may marry, regardless of his mage status. As Vigil's Keep is now quite secure, I was wondering if such an arrangement might be attractive to you.
Most sincerely yours,
~Grey Warden Anders
He stares at the freshly penned letter, knowing what he doesn't say. I cannot go a day without comparing other women to you. And they always come up short. I thought that knowing you were safe would be enough, but it isn't. I think I might be in love with you. To be perfectly honest, the idea of "marriage" turns my stomach but I can't fathom you ever agreeing to join the Wardens or to live in sin and this is the only option left us.
His letter arrives at the Circle Tower about a week later.
Grey Warden Anders,
It was lovely to receive your letter. I must confess, after I heard of the death of Ser Rylock, I did not know what to think. There were rumors, of course, that you had been recruited by the Wardens. But there were also rumors that Warden-Commander Amell had transformed into a second Archdemon. So you can see how it can be difficult to determine what to believe. Thank you for putting my mind at ease.
While your offer certainly is generous, I am afraid that I cannot accept. I have duties and responsibilities here at the Circle Tower. I wish you well in all your endeavors.
Ever Your Friend,
As Keili seals her letter, she tries not to think about what she did not write. Since I came to the Tower, I have never even imagined a life outside. Frankly, the idea scares me. I don't know if you know me well enough to love me. I'm fairly certain I'm not in love with you. After you left, I put you out of my mind entirely. I am happy to hear you are alive and no longer living in fear, though.
Senechal Varel delivers Anders' letter personally. Does the old man suspect something? Anders can't be sure.
I appreciate the fact that you are a treasured member of the Circle of Mages. But please reconsider your refusal. You could be just as helpful, if not more so, with the Grey Wardens. Someone of your exceptional healing and potion-making talents would be most welcome at the Keep.
But lest I appear too formal, may I say that I yearn to see you again. I am no longer satisfied with simply knowing of your continued health and well-being. And, unless you have personal obligations beyond your assigned duties, I see no reason why you should not be able to make yourself a home here. And, if I may be so bold, make that home with me.
Anxiously Awaiting Your Response,
~Grey Warden Anders
As much as it pains him, he knows there is something missing. I am restless and I don't want to stay here, to be quite honest. I think maybe if you were here with me I might be happy. And by Andraste's Antivan piercings, if you are still with Godwin, I will castrate him myself.
His response surprises her when she spots it on her desk one day. It is several days before she dares break the grey gryphon seal.
Grey Warden Anders,
I have no personal reasons to remain at the Tower, merely professional ones. But I must confess, these professional obligations have brought me more pleasure and satisfaction than any personal interactions ever have. Perhaps some other mage could be just as useful to the Wardens as I am. I seem to recall your skills as a healer were quite impressive as well.
I wish you luck in your future endeavors. If your journeys should ever bring you near the Tower, please do not hesitate to come calling.
Until We Meet Again,
When shediscovered Godwin's side business in trafficking lyrium, his dishonesty almost broke her. I have given up on men. Or I had, until you wrote me. Now I am tormented by thoughts of you and I find myself unable to concentrate or sleep or be satisfied with any of the things that I was content with before. Damn you. Do not write me again. (Please come visit, I long to see you. And... other things.)
Warden-Commander Amell puts on her most impressive attire and squares her shoulders, preparing for battle. She makes her way through the keep, mentally rehearsing her answers to the arguments that she is sure Anders will present.
She pauses outside the door to his quarters, smooths her hair and her robes, and knocks.
"Come in," he responds, sounding oddly dejected.
She sweeps into the room in what she hopes is an authoritative manner. "I have something I would discuss with you," she announces.
He is slumped in a chair, head in hand, feet splayed out in front of him. Scattered on the floor are various pieces of paper. He clutches an empty bottle "As you command, Commander."
Amell clears her throat and picks her way to the other side of the room so that she is standing in his line of sight. "I have received correspondence from the Circle Tower."
He stiffens and his hand drops. "What about?" he asks, squinting at her in suspicion.
She unfolds the paper to review. "They want somebody to come and give a lecture about the nature of the Architect. I am sending you." She braces for impact.
He looks into the fire, expression impenetrable. She shifts her weight, uncomfortable in the silence. "Sounds good," he says. "I'll start packing tonight."
"You'll..." She's at a loss. His immediate compliance has thrown her. "D-don't you want to prepare, or..."
"Hm," he strokes his chin thoughtfully "No. That won't be necessary." He staggers to his feet, throwing the bottle on the pile of papers before making his way to his wardrobe.
"But... are you just going to compose it on the road?" she demands, now utterly baffled.
He shrugs and throws a few robes on the bed. "Why not! Don't worry, I'm sure I will stun them with my brilliance, eloquence, and dashing good looks," he says with a wink.
Irritated, she puts her hands on her hips and glares at him. "Just be sure you also include the relevant information, if you don't mind."
"Oh, of course, wouldn't dream of skipping all that... extremely relevant stuff," he answers glibly. "Say, you haven't seen my... oh, there it is." He retrieves a particularly impressive pair of bracers from the bottom of the wardrobe. "Yes, these will do nicely."
There is something that isn't quite right about this, Amell knows, but she's having trouble placing her finger on exactly why she should be looking this gift mabari in the mouth. She decides to leave it be. "Well. I'll make sure to tell the cook to prepare you an early breakfast."
"Thank you, that would be helpful. Oh, and make sure somebody feeds my cat while I'm gone, would you?"
"Of course," she says, feeling out of her element. "Oh, and just in case you're..." she almost says planning something, "wondering? I expect you back in a fortnight."
It takes him a month just to get her into bed. Having sex while lying down is such a revelation that they decide to try it a few more times before they are finally too tired to go on. It's halfway to midday by the time he finally wakes up, and she is still there.
He realizes that he's never seen her like this, naked and vulnerable in the sunlight. She sighs and stretches and he's sure his heart stops beating long enough that he's going to die, right there, and her eyes flutter open and she smiles sleepily at him. "When are they expecting you back, anyway?" she asks, stroking the whiskers on his cheek.
He kisses the palm of her hand. "You want the truth or the real answer?"
She giggles and nuzzles against him. "Those aren't the same?"
He wraps his arms around her and grins. "Well, the truth is I was supposed to be back about two weeks ago. But the real answer is I'm not leaving until you come with me."
She laughs. "I'm not going with you."
"Well, I guess I am going to be staying a bit longer, then." He pulls the sheet away and lowers himself over her. "For convincing."
She has never been so frightened in her life. She keeps her head down and tries to listen as Anders argues with the Warden-Commander. But it's about her and she's so frightened that she's sure she's about to invent apparition on the spot.
The Warden-Commander is furious; her face flushed, fists clenched and trembling with rage. "... Come waltzing back in here after two months with some girl in tow and think that... What were you thinking? We have enough trouble with the Chantry as it is. I don't have the pull to get you this dispensation and you've hardly endeared yourself-"
"I don't see why the Chantry would care to get involved," Anders retorts, standing his ground. "I've looked over the books and it says nothing about-"
"The books say plenty about mages marrying other mages!" she cries, waving her hands in the air in exasperation. "How could you possibly think that they weren't going to notice? Who's going to marry you? Velanna?"
"I don't see why not," he replies, crossing his arms and glancing back at her. "In fact, I think we'd both rather the Chantry be involved as little as possible. Turns out we're not all that fond of them, either."
The Warden-Commander presses her hands against the sides of her head, as if she is trying to hold it in from exploding. "You don't see why not?"
At that moment they are rescued by Loghain, of all people. Keili can barely stand to look at him, and the thought of possibly living in the same building with him is just too much to bear. She grabs Anders' hand. He strides past them and stands directly in front of the Warden-Commander's desk.
"Commander," he says firmly. "A word, if I may."
She glares at him. "Say what you mean to."
Three hours later Loghain emerges, glowering like a thundercloud, to inform them that Velanna will indeed be performing the ceremony.
Nathaniel despises training with dwarves.
Not that he begrudges the presence of Oghren and Sigrun. Quite the opposite, they are invaluable on a mission. He simply despises training with them. It always feels so wrong. Like he is trying to thrash children. Exceptionally strong children. Children who are much better at fighting than he is.
He lies on the ground, staring at the sky, trying to blink the stars out of his eyes after a particularly effective flanking maneuver by Sigrun. At least it's a nice day, with soft spring breezes and pretty, fluffy clouds.
"Get up, you sodding duster," growls Oghren and Nathaniel obeys.
"Actually, mind taking a break for a minute?" Anders asks from outside the practice field fence.
Nathaniel turns to glare at him. He's naked from the waist up, and, unless Nathaniel is mistaken, he is actually glistening with perspiration. Not to mention he has an entirely-too-satisfied grin on his stupid, magey face. "What do you want?"
"Oh, it's about not what I want, my friend," he drawls, and as he climbs over the fence Nathaniel realizes he's not wearing a robe at all, but has wrapped a bed sheet around himself in lieu of actually going through the effort to put on pants. "But my wife. She requires strawberries."
He puts a little edge on the word "wife" like getting married is some amazing thing that nobody in Thedas has ever managed to do before. Nathaniel grips his dagger a little tighter.
"I thought you were supposed to be practicing spells or something," Sigrun points out, brow wrinkled in confusion.
Anders chuckles sickeningly as he picks strawberries, and carefully deposits them in a small basket he brought with him. "Don't worry about that," he winks at her, popping a berry into his mouth. "I'm not neglecting anything."
"Double duty, heh heh," Oghren chuckles knowingly, as if this whole situation isn't absurd.
"How!" Nathaniel bursts out. "How is spending all day in... in bed with your wife practicing spells?"
"It's the funniest thing," Anders says, sauntering back across the practice field. "Turns out, rejuvenation spells work on a variety of forms of exhaustion."
Oghren guffaws. "That's right, show 'er what's for!"
"Honestly?" Anders says, "At this point, I'm just trying to keep up." He hops back over the fence as both Sigrun and Oghren laugh uproariously.
"Hey, Anders," Sigrun calls after him. "I think there's still some cream in the cold storage. You should probably finish it off before it turns."
Anders turns, salutes, and disappears back into the Keep.
"Alright," Oghren twirls his battleax. "Breaktime's over, Fancy Pants."
Nathaniel, cursing the fact that there is no justice in this world, nor has there ever been, crouches in a defensive position as the dwarves advance on him. "At least I wear pants, fancy or otherwise."
Loghain shifts his weight in the uncomfortably overstuffed chair, afraid to move too much. He's never been comfortable in this sort of establishment. Everything seems so breakable. He steals a glance at Oghren and is somewhat pleased to see the dwarf looking just as out-of-sorts as he is.
Keili sips from her cup of tea and clears her throat. "I would like to start by thanking the two of you for meeting me here. ,I feel that this teahouse is the most appropriate venue for what I would speak with you about, for reasons I hope will soon become clear."
"Don't worry about it," Oghren bluffs, trying to pick up a cookie and then trying to cover when it dissolves into flakes and crumbles in his grip. "The tea can't possibly taste worse than cheap mushroom ale."
She smiles at him, clearly aware that he is patronizing her. "Please, I realize this is not easy for any of us. I simply do not know where else to turn. You see-" She sets her teacup on the table and smooths her skirts. "I have come to the conclusion that Anders and myself... we cannot remain married."
Loghain is silent as he thinks about this. She is deadly serious, that much is certain. If she has turned for advice to himself and Oghren, of all people, she must truly be desperate. But she is asking for advice, so perhaps she has not completely given up all hope.
Oghren once again pretends to be engrossed in the various plates of pastries, so it is left to Loghain to speak. "What makes you say so?"
She folds her hands in her lap and looks down. "I am afraid that neither of us really knows how to be married. And... our affection for each other simply is not enough to maintain that kind of commitment."
Loghain nods. "So you still have affection for him, then?"
She bites her lip and nods, and he can see tears trembling behind her lashes. Poor thing. "I am... no longer certain of his feelings for me. I do not wish to remain where I am no longer wanted."
Oghren finally speaks up. "What are you talking about, the kid's crazy about you!"
She shakes her head sadly. "He goes out drinking nearly every night with Nathaniel and Sigrun. He never even asks if I would like to go. He is so wrapped up in his work training the other mages that we barely even have time for evening meal together. And..." she takes a deep breath. "I have noticed that nearly every barmaid and shopgirl in town seems to know him. Very well."
"Have you mentioned these complaints to him?" Loghain asks as gently as he can, as the girl seems to be on the verge of a breakdown and despite the great deal of sympathy he feels for her in her plight, he's not certain he's equipped to deal with such a display.
Thankfully, she just shakes her head. It was that moment that her hand moves to press against her belly, a subconscious protective gesture that Loghain recognizes instantly. He looks over at Oghren, who meets his gaze and he knows he saw it as well.
And then, to Loghain's great surprise, Oghren says something helpful. "No rugrat should be raised in an unhappy home. If you really think that's what's best for the nuglet, I'll help you get to wherever you think is best."
She is silent a long time, and Loghain wonders if perhaps he and Oghren have gravely misjudged the situation, but then she speaks. "My parents were not happy people. I am not certain they would have been much happier apart, but I do know that together, our home was a nightmare. I could not bear to..."
Loghain hands her a handkerchief. "How long do you think it would take you to pack?" he asks.
She dabs her eyes. "Three days."
Again he and Oghren exchange glances. "We will make the necessary arrangements," he promises.
On the first day, she is consumed with trying to conceal her efforts. When he doesn't notice, she is relieved.
On the second day, she is sure he is going to see the sudden disappearance of her robes in the wardrobe, of her underthings in the drawer, of her keepsakes and books from the shelves. But again he doesn't notice, and somehow confirming his indifference is so much worse than any confrontation could have been.
On the third day she finds it difficult to pack with the constant tears in her eyes.
She had just sent for the porter on the evening of the third day when he returns from the pub, and she braces herself for the usual bleary eyes, swaying gait, and too-loud voice that usually accompanies such things.
But he stands before her, clear-eyed and sober. "I haven't been very good to you," he announces.
And she sits on the bed and dissolves into tears, both relieved that he's finally talking to her and terrified of what he will say. "No, no, you could not have known. I was too weak to say anything," she confesses, feeling disgusted at herself.
He kneels in front of her. "Please, just... let's just try." He takes her hands in his and kisses her fingers and she can feel her desire for him flare but it's not enough. It's not enough to just base all of her decisions on how much she wants to feel his body on hers. There's more to it than that.
She pulls her hands away. "We can try, but I can't go on like we have been."
"We won't," he promises. "I understand that I have not been living up to my responsibilities as a man that I took on when I married you, and I will work to adjust my behavior accordingly."
It is then that Keili realizes that Oghren and Loghain had not been helping her exactly in the way she had asked them to. She sighs and looks down at Anders, still kneeling in front of her, his expression both hopeful and scared and she decides maybe they're right. Maybe it's worth working at it a little bit harder. "I'm sure I have some adjusting to do as well," she says sheepishly.
He grins and she's sure the room gets a bit brighter. He rises to his feet and pulls her into his arms and she feels so safe that the knot of tension that had been tightening in her chest loosens for the first time in weeks . "You're the best thing in my life," he declares, kissing her hair. "You're the best person I ever met, maybe the only truly good person I've ever known and I love you. Please don't go. I promise I'll make it better."
She clutches his shirt and breathes deeply, trying to settle her stomach, acutely conscious of the tiny life fluttering inside her . "You are so strong and brave and kind and I just thought I couldn't possibly keep your interest forever. But you are the father of my child so we should probably-"
"What!" he cries, stunned.
Damn them, she thinks. It would have been much easier if they told him that, as well.
The autumn air is crisp and sweet as an apple as he watches Jakob run to catch up with Nathaniel and Sigrun. As young as he is, he's as gangly and awkward as a foal. Anders can't help but feel proud. His son is like a perfect melding of Keili and himself, all enthusiasm and thoughtfulness and strawberry-blond hair.
And his nose slopes in just the right way.
He walks out on the balcony behind his wife and wraps his arms around her waist and rests his chin on her head. "The mighty hunter," she chuckles.
"He's getting very good with that shortbow," he points out. "Do you think he'll end up joining the Wardens, too?"
She laughs, a full, throaty sound and his heart is fit to burst with happiness. "I think five is a little young to plan out his whole life, my love."
"Hey now," he says, defending himself. "We need to decide these things sooner than later, you know."
"What, before this one is born?" she asks, craning her neck to kiss him on the chin. "Don't worry about this one."
"And why should I stop now?" he replies, stroking her slightly rounded belly.
"Because this one is going to be a mage," she says proudly. "Just like us."
This an excerpt from the note I included on Swooping is Bad:
Cris, this story is not just a Secret Swooper gift. It is a thank you, a tribute, and a love letter for all you have done to help me through the past year, and some of the hardest times of my life. I really hope you enjoy it.
Special extra thanks to Lothering Rose for her invaluable help both in extensive brainstorming and also being the best sodding beta in this whole sodding world, and all the ladies and gents in the SiB IRC who have been patiently enduring my moaning, groaning, and neurotic spam about this for the past week.