Chapter 7

"So what is this big thing you have to tell us Hawke?" Varric said as he took a sip of ale as Isabela painted her nails.

"Well you know Anders is tending to Alistair at my place, right?" Jess wrung her hands nervously.

"Yes," Varric scoffed. "Your charity case."

"Should I start calling you Sister Hawke?" Isabela teased. "And Brother Anders?"

"Joke all you want," Jessica sighed. "Just get it out of your system before Elissa Cousland arrives."

"Wait," Varric set his mug down and looked at Jess. "You're not saying what I think you are saying? The Hero of Ferelden is here? In Kirkwall?"

"She doesn't like to be called that," Jess grabbed Isabela's bottle and stole a sip.

"You met her?" Varric's eyes widened. "Does Blondie know she's here?"

"He met her first and she came to my place yesterday. She arrived on that big ship with Bann Teagan Guerrin of Rainesfere."

"She came on the Rowan?" Isabela licked her lips. "Is she as beautiful from what I heard?"

"Isabela! Jess raised a brow. "Please try not to embarrass me…too much… when you meet her. Elissa is very pretty but she's also very gracious and friendly. She's not like that Warden who took Carver away."

"You are no fun," Isabela pouted. "What is she doing here?"

"Isn't it obvious Rivaini? She's here to reunite with her lost love, that charming Warden that's been entertaining us the last three years."

"Alistair is also in the early stages of an olyrum addiction and Elissa witnessed a Templar die from those symptoms before she came to my estate."

"Speaking of Olyrum," Varric motioned for the waitress. "I talked to my Coterie contacts. They are not involved. It isn't even used as an aphrodisiac at the Blooming Rose. A couple of years ago, they used to sell it but then a lot of their members became addicted. A few customers killed some of their…workers at so it was immediately banned."

"Then the only possible explanation is that it's being produced for the templars by an outside source who sold it to Alistair," Jessica surmised.

"Why would the templars resort to this?" Varric scratched his head.

"They're doing this because they want to stockpile their lyrium supplies," Isabela chuckled. "So they violate the chantry's order and produce a lyrium substitute but somebody got greedy."

"And all we have to do is find that person who can lead us to where the stuff is being made," Varric said as he began polishing Bianca.

"And we get a female warden who is going to play with us," Isabela clapped her hands.

"There is just one thing you cannot do when meeting her," Jessica warned. "Please do not mention Justice. Anders plans to tell her on his own. And please tell Fenris when he gets back from that mercenary job."

"Justice? I don't know what you are talking about my lady," Varric said as he continued to work on Bianca.

"Don't worry," Isabela laughed. "I won't say anything about Justice and I can handle Fenris."

"I don't think he will be a problem once he learns she killed those slavers we came across," Jessica said as she watched Varric rub the base of Bianca in a circular motion.

"She killed those slavers?" Isabela's eyes widened. "I think I like her already."

"I thought Wardens had to remain neutral," Varric put the cloth down and grabbed his mug.

"Elissa told me because of her status the Wardens basically leave her alone for the most part and she's currently not working on any official capacity for them. "

"Looks like I'm going to like her too," Varric laughed.

"She…met Carver. Its how she found out about Alistair," Jessica briefly looked away.

"How is your brother?" Varric asked gently.

"She says he's an excellent Warden," Jessica looked down at the floor and stomped on a spider that had scurried towards her.

"It's good to know he's doing well Hawke," Varric said as he exchanged glances with Isabela.

"I'd love to see what he looks like in his Warden armor," Isabela said before taking a gulp from the bottle. "So tell me. Did Anders sleep with Elissa?"

"Isabela!" Jessica glared.

"Come on Hawke," Isabela laughed. "You forget that I saw him at the Pearl before he had that voice in his head."

"If you must know, Anders told me he tried to but she declined his advances. They ended up being close friends though."

"Are you telling me that woman has not been with anyone since that drunk?" Isabela slammed the bottle down. "I get cranky if I go a week without sex."

"Isabela, there is more to life than sex," Jessica said exasperatedly.

"Says the woman who was deflowered by Anders," Isabela retorted.

"Anders did not deflower me," Jessica started to raise her voice but calmed down. "You assume wrong that just because I lived the last ten years in Lothering that I was some delicate flower when I arrived in Kirkwall."

"Says the woman who had tumbles in the hayloft with inexperienced farm boys then," Isabela laughed.

"Hawke is right Rivaini there's more to life than a romp in the sack," Varric laughed. "Although that can be fun too."

"Says the dwarf who fondles a crossbow," Isabela scoffed.

"Isabela, whether you believe this or not but sometimes two people can love each other so much and share something so profound with one another that it goes beyond sex. And that's all I'm going to say on the subject. I also suggest you not make any remarks because Anders and I have the ability to make you not miss sex," Jessica folded her arms.

"You were much more fun before you got together with Anders," Isabela grumbled. "I promise I'll try to be good."

"What about Aveline?"

"Aveline won't say anything," Jessica laughed. "She's Captain of the Guard and would never dare to jeopardize her status by talking about something like that."

"That's true," Isabela agreed. "Miss Prim and Proper always goes by the book."

"Elissa will be here in a little while and Anders will be here later after he tends to Alistair," Jessica said as she stood up to pace around the room.

…..

Anders sat by Alistair's bed and watched as the man reluctantly finished his soup and then throw the bowl against the wall.

"I've finished my soup," Alistair folded his arms and leaned against the pillows. "Are you going to un paralyze my legs?"

"No," Anders picked up the bowl. "And you can't deplete my mana so I would suggest saving your energy."

"What will it take for you to let me go?" Alistair slammed an arm against the headboard. "Point me to the nearest Deeproads entrance so I can serve my penance for failing everyone that mattered to me."

"Alistair the only person you failed is yourself," Anders sat on the foot of his bed. "The Wardens don't even know about you and if they did, they wouldn't care. If they don't care about me they certainly don't care about you."

"I abandoned everyone at the end. I failed Elissa. I failed Duncan."

"Duncan is gone Alistair," Anders sighed. "You need to move forward and be the man he saw in you.

"I don't know how to be that person anymore," Alistair reached for the goblet of water but set it down.

"Yes you do," Anders insisted. "I saw that man the night of the storm when you helped those children. I finally witnessed the man Elissa described."

"Elissa is dead!" Alistair knocked the goblet down.

"She's not dead!" Anders grabbed Alistair by the neck. "She survived Alistair."

"And how in the Maker's name do you know that?"

"Because I served in the Wardens with her after the Blight," Anders said as he picked up the goblet.

"Ellie is alive?"

Anders watched as the tears welled up in Alistair's eyes.

"Elissa became Warden Commander after the Blight. She conscripted me but we eventually became friends and I proudly served under her."

"What happened to Loghain?"

Anders was amazed by the venom in Alistair's voice. Elissa mentioned his hatred toward Loghain but never expected him to still have it after all this time.

"He's dead Alistair and don't you dare say anything about him not deserving the glory or some other nonsense. You of all people know the Wardens do not do this for glory."

"I knew I was wrong as soon as I left the Landsmeet," Alistair looked away. "It was too late… to go back. I was already exiled and on a ship waiting to depart. I can still hear her voice…pleading for me to not leave her."

Anders sighed as he looked at Alistair. Relief and regret emanated from him and it was obvious that he never stopped loving Elissa.

"Did she mention me?" Alistair looked up at Anders. "Did she tell you how I turned my back on our group and everything we had fought for?"

"Elissa said you disagreed with the choice she made and left."

"Oh come on," Alistair laughed. "You forget I traveled with her. I've seen her angry."

"Alistair," Anders folded his arms. "Elissa was so focused on the rebuilding the Wardens, ruling Amaranthine and dealing with the remnants of the Blight that she didn't mention you until a couple of months after she conscripted me."

"What are you talking about? Ruling Amaranthine? And as for these so called remnants of the Blight, I always assumed the darkspawn go back underground after the archdemon is slain."

"Oh that's right you don't know…you ran away," Anders laughed. "Queen Anora along granted the Amaranthine to the Wardens and Elissa's brother approved. It was assumed with Fergus being alive; Amaranthine would be absorbed into his teyrnir."

"Elissa's brother is alive?" Alistair gasped and struggled to sit up.

"He never made the battle at Ostagar," Anders explained. "His scouting group was attacked by darkspawn and his men were killed. He was severely wounded but some Chasind took him in."

"Ellie must have been overjoyed to be reunited with him."

"She was and they had a few months to mourn and rebuild Highever until she was made Commander of the Wardens and given the task to rebuild the order and rule the arling."

"But what was going on with the darkspawn?"

"I was just getting to that. The darkspawn did not retreat after the Blight. They fled Ferelden but there were still bands of them along the coast and close to Amaranthine and it was our job to get to the bottom of it."

"And what was going on?"

Anders shuddered at the memory as he got up from where he was sitting and started to pace around the room.

"There are darkspawn that have the ability… to communicate. And they had broken off into two warring factions. The ones who communicated controlled the ones who didn't."

"Talking darkspawn?"

"Yes Alistair and each side were ruled over by a monstrosity of epic proportions."

"Oh Maker," Alistair laid against the pillows. "Everything is alright now though?"

"Yes Alistair, its over with, Elissa made the decision to save Amaranthine but Vigil's Keep, where the Wardens were stationed was nearly destroyed."

"Is Ellie alright?" Alistair winced as he tried to sit up but laid back against the pillows.

"Elissa is fine. She left Amaranthine six months later and a Warden from Weisshaupt Fortress took command."

Alistair closed his eyes and remained silent for the longest time. It was obvious he was realizing how much of the last few years he had wasted.

"Elissa saved my life when she conscripted me," Anders continued. "She looked beyond the apostate that I was and saw things in me that I didn't see…until recently."

"And what exactly did she say about me?"

"Your abandonment hurt her deeply but Elissa forgave you because she knew you would never be able to forgive yourself."

Alistair sighed and covered his eyes with his arm.

"Please. Leave me alone."

Anders took one last look at Alistair before leaving the room and locking the door.

While he was glad to see Alistair was recovering, it was painful to see the man come to terms with his past. He barely covered some of the horrors Elissa experienced and to see the guilt on Alistair's face was too much for him.

Hopefully Jessica would be able to talk to him as well as get the name of the person who sold him the olyrum.

…..

"You know Elissa," Varric said as he poured her a drink that came from his private reserve. "The Merchant's Guild would drop on their knees if they knew you were here. When you made Bhelen king, you gave surfacers the legitimacy they didn't have before."

"Varric, the Dwarven nobility are so mired in tradition they fail to see that they are destroying themselves. Surfacers are slowly beginning to outnumber them and if they want to survive they need to completely destroy that wretched caste system."

"So what does dwarven ale taste like?" Jessica asked as she shuffled some cards.

"I wouldn't know," Elissa chuckled. "I couldn't get past the smell."

"I've heard it described as green piss," Varric chuckled. "Which makes me glad I was born a surfacer."

Elissa turned and looked at the woman getting a bottle at the bar and glanced back at Varric and Jessica.

"Does Isabela realize she's not wearing any pants?" Elissa took a sip of her drink.

Varric and Jessica looked at each other and laughed.

"She's looked this way since we've met her," Varric set his mug down.

"Even after all things I've experienced in my life, I don't think I have it in me to prance around like that. More power to her."

"That's because you still have your nobility in you sweet thing," Isabela laughed as she sat down. "And I must say I am impressed as well. I always assumed that Ferelden Battlemaidens were warriors."

"I always found that boring, so my father got some of the best retired rogues from to train me when I was growing up."

"That's a beautiful sword and dagger," Isabela said as she set her mug down.

"Thank you," Elissa smiled. "The sword is a replica of the Cousland family sword. My brother had it made for me. And the dagger once belonged to Duncan, the Warden Commander who saved my life."

"Well it will certainly nice…playing with a fellow rogue for a change," Isabela smiled. "And especially one that has the most extraordinary green eyes I have ever seen."

"Isabela," Jessica folded her arms and glared. "You promised me."

"I'm sorry Hawke it's just like Varric's chest; I'm just drawn to certain things."

"It's alright," Elissa laughed. "Thank you Isabela. Green eyes are a Cousland family trait.

Jessica sighed and turned in time to see Anders enter the tavern.

"Anders," Jessica got up from her chair and threw her arms around him. "You're here."

"You know if you two want to have a quick tumble, my room is available," Isabela offered.

"I see Izzy is her typical charming self," Anders said as he kissed Jessica.

Anders looked at Elissa and saw her smiling at them.

"You two are just so….sweet," Elissa said before taking a sip of her drink. "How's Alistair?"

"He ate some soup," Anders sighed. "And then threw the empty bowl against the wall."

"Well that's definitely progress," Jessica laughed.

"I am so sorry about this," Elissa said apologetically. "He's always been stubborn."

"It's alright," Jessica patted her hand. "As long as he's getting better that's all that matters."

"Jess is right Ellie," Anders squeezed her hand. "I've talked to him a great deal and clarity is slowly returning to him. He's still very weak though but he's definitely on the road to recovery."

"That's good to know," Elissa looked at Anders. "But what do you mean about his clarity returning?"

"Rivaini lets leave these three to talk," Varric got up. "Let's go over the contacts we have not talked with yet up in my suite."

"Thank you Varric," Jessica watched as they got up from their chairs.

Anders glanced at Elissa who was looking at him anxiously, "He's reached the point where he wants to find the nearest Deep Roads entrance and just spend his remaining time killing darkspawn. You weren't exaggerating when you told me about the amount of self loathing he has."

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Elissa sighed.

"Jess, I need you to go back…to talk to him," Anders looked at Jessica. "You are much better at reaching people than I am."

"Of course I'll talk with him," Jessica stood up. "I tried to last night but he shut me out."

"I think he will be more open to it now. We talked for a bit but he closed up again."

"I'll see what I can do," Jessica smiled.

"I know you can do it," Anders kissed her. "Look at all you've done for me."

"Thank you Jess," Elissa took her hand and squeezed it.

"I'm happy to be helping you Ellie," Jessica said. "You and Alistair deserve to be happy."

The minute she left the tavern Elissa looked back at Anders, "What else happened with Alistair?"

Anders took Elissa's hand and flashed back to a moment at the Keep years ago when he came upon her crying in the study.

"You were right Ellie. Alistair told me he regretted leaving the Landsmeet. He said you were right but it was too late for him to go back."

Anders watched as Elissa wiped her eyes and leaned against her.

"All that these years wasted," She sighed. "A part of me wants to scream at him."

"You should scream at him," Anders agreed. "But life is too short Elissa, especially for us."

"I know. Even if he doesn't want...to come back to Ferelden. I need to make sure he's alright."

Anders watched as Elissa got up and walked to the fireplace to warm himself.

….

Jessica found Alistair staring into space as she came in the room.

"Hello Alistair, I heard you ate some soup earlier so I thought you might like this," Jessica held out the plate of cheese to him.

"Orlesian Cheddar," Alistair said as he managed to pull himself up.

"Yes it is," Jessica laughed as she handed him a wedge. "You really know your cheese."

"Its one of the few things I haven't failed at," Alistair said between bites.

"We've all made mistakes Alistair. The best thing you can do is learn from them and move forward."

"Easy to say if your mistakes are not with you every second of the day."

"Alistair, everything I have done is always with me. Remember when I told you my mother was murdered?"

"I do…. have a recollection of that."

"My mother's death is always with me," Jessica set the plate down. "I made a promise to my father on his deathbed that I would look after the family. My sister was killed when we fled Lothering and my brother was forced to become a Grey Warden when he came down with the Blight sickness when we were at the Deeproads. I failed them all."

"How did your sister die?" Alistair reached for the goblet and took a sip.

"Bethany was trying to save our mother from an ogre and it killed her."

"She sounds like she was very brave."

"Bethany was a mage too but she viewed her gifts as a curse. There are times I wonder if she would still be alive had she embraced magic the way I did."

"How…did you avoid the templars?"

"My father taught us to hide our abilities."

"And your brother was a warrior?"

"My brother survived Ostagar," Jessica looked away. "He managed to get back to our farm and we fled within hours."

"We actually stopped by Lothering," Alistair closed his eyes and looked as if he was savoring the memory. "We did a few chantry board jobs; spoke to some people, got supplies and left. I always wished we could have done more there."

"A great many people in Lothering were in denial about the Blight," Jessica sighed. "So don't blame yourself. We were a couple of miles out and my brother took out his spyglass and he was able to see the flames as it horde amassed into the village."

"You were lucky to get out when you did."

"We…had help but never mind that," Jessica shuddered slightly. As you can see, you are not the only who has failed."

"What in the name of the Maker were you doing in the Deep Roads?" Alistair folded his arms and looked at Jessica.

"You obviously didn't notice in your drunken stupor, but Fereldens were not exactly welcomed with open arms here. My brother and I had to work for a mercenary group that paid for our entry to the city the first year we were here. We were living a hovel. When I heard about a Deep Roads Expedition, I knew it would be a way out of Lowtown. The treasure we got paid for this estate."

"But it came at a price…your brother. You were lucky there were Wardens there."

"I know and from what I heard, he's an excellent Warden."

"You've heard?" Alistair asked. "Wardens usually cut ties with their families or has that changed?"

"I received a few letters from Carver," Jessica let out a nervous cough.

"Being a Warden isn't easy," Alistair sat against the pillows.

"I have a friend who had a husband that got the Blight sickness. I watched her…end her husband's suffering. I thank the Maker everyday that Wardens were there."

"You remind me of her," Alistair sighed.

"Is that a bad thing or good thing?"

"Both," Alistair admitted. "And seeing Bhodan and Sandal here brought everything back. You have a good heart…just as she did and you have her stubbornness. I also expect a Mabari to come bounding in here at any moment."

"I…actually have a Mabari," Jessica let out a nervous chuckle. "He's being borrowed by a friend at the moment."

"I knew it," Alistair shook his head.

"Sorry," Jessica laughed.

"So when are you going to let me go?" Alistair looked at her. "Look, I appreciate what you've done for me and I promise to stay sober. I just want to find the nearest Deep Roads entrance and do what I'm meant to do."

"You're still very weak from all that drinking and your dependence on olyrum," Jessica reached over and cast a glowing orb over his body. "You need rest and you need to put on a few pounds."

"I should have never taken that stuff," Alistair groaned. "That man at the docks selling it said it would help me get sober when I worked. It made me numb and gave me dreams at night."

"A templar nearly killed someone while under the influence of olyrum."

"What happened?" Alistair grimaced as he tried to move.

"The person is alright but the templar collapsed and died. Were you even aware that it was once used as a substitute before being banned?"

"I never heard of it until the man at the docks mentioned it to me."

"You were in the early stages of addiction Alistair," Jessica arranged his pillows. "It's known to kill people or render them insane once they reach the late stages."

"Since I don't enjoy puking my innards out, I promise I will never take it again," Alistair looked at her. "And that goes for drinking too."

"Alistair, do you remember who sold you the Olyrum?" Jessica said as she in the chair next to the bed. "We need to put this person out of business before he hurts more people."

"Maker's Breath! Do you think I can actually remember that?"

"You have to try. Anything you can recall would be a great help."

"I don't even think he said his name. He once gave me the job roster to sign one morning, the rest of the time my dealings with him were at night."

"Roster?" Jessica looked at Alistair. "I got you that job through Aden, the harbor master's assistant. I know he handles the work schedule as well as the hiring."

"That's the one who pulled me aside and said my work would improve if I took it."
"Thank you Alistair. You saved a great many lives now all we have to do is find out where he's getting it from."

"I'm glad to have done something right for a change."

Jessica looked at Alistair. He was slowly becoming the man he used to be but the despair on his face showed he still had a long way to go.

"If you had the chance to see her again, what would you say?"

Alistair brushed the hair out his face and looked up at her, "I would tell Elissa that I was a fool for leaving her when I did and whether she wanted me back or not, she would always be the love of my life."

Sensing that Alistair needed time to himself, Jessica got up to find Bhodan so he could deliver a message.

Anders and Varric looked at each other and laughed at the sight of Isabela on the floor as Elissa stood over her.

"That was an excellent challenge," Elissa said as she helped Isabela up. "And it was a pleasure dueling with a woman for a change."

"Your welcome…I guess." Isabela huffed as she sat down.

"So tell me Ellie," Varric replenished Isabela's goblet and handed it to her. "Just how many female Wardens are there?"

"During all my travels, I've only met three," Elissa took a sip from goblet and set it down. "A mage and two warriors."

"Women tend to be…catty with one another," Isabela set her drink down and looked at Elissa. "Is it the same with Wardens?"

"Yes," Elissa laughed. "I got along wonderfully with the mage but let's just say the two warriors did not care for me but I think one of the reasons is that they forgot how to laugh after they became Wardens."

"Most of the ones I dealt with after you left Amaranthine seemed to lack of sense of humor," Anders remembered bitterly."

"There you are."

"Bhodan!" Elissa exclaimed.

"What is it Bhodan?" Anders stood up. "Is it Alistair?"

"Alistair is fine Master Anders," Bhodan panted as he handed a piece of folded parchment. "Mistress Hawke wanted me to give you this."

"Jess did it," Anders smiled as he read the note. "Alistair told her who sold him the olyrum."

"So who is the lucky bastard that Bianca will be meeting?" Varric got up from his chair.

"It was Aden," Anders handed the note to Varric who read it and gave it to Isabela.

"Liam's assistant at the docks," Isabela laughed. "I should have known."

"The last I heard he lives in a room in Liam's warehouse," Varric got out of his chair. "Let's pay him a visit."

"This will be fun," Isabela grinned as she followed Varric towards the entrance.

"Who is Aden and are we going to be meeting Bianca on the way?" Elissa asked as she walked with Anders."

"Aden is an arrogant blowhard," Anders explained. "And Bianca is Varric's crossbow."

"What?"

"I'll explain it on the way," Anders said hastily as they left the tavern.

...