A sound Pilgrim
Temple of Andraste, thirty-eight days after the battle of Ostagar
Playing with one of the vials I had found in the chantry of Haven I thought about this gauntlet we had to run for reaching the urn of Andraste's ashes.
Two days before we had been able to find this village at last; the map had not been of much help in finding our ways in the mountains. The inhabitants were an awful lot of crazy bastards, speaking about some dragon they adored as the newborn Andraste. For a while I had actually been impressed how this family of priests had been able to take hold of the community for some generations. But then it showed that the priest himself had been a believer; he was himself a victim and not a mastermind. I would have done better.
But these notes and vials seemed to be interesting. The dragon cultists had been able to strengthen their abilities with dragon blood. They were stronger, faster and more resilient than normal men. Beyond that some of them had been able to cultivate abilities not unlike blood magic. Certainly there would be some useful information for me to gather from the notes. Until then I would store the vials away. No use in poisoning me with the dragon blood.
Even I had to admit that the temple was nice and impressive to look at. Larger than a cathedral with ice reflecting the sunlight it looked like a vast cavern carved from pure light. Too bad that only these cultists and a number of luckless scavengers had a chance to view it. Leliana spoke about telling the chantry about the temple and how pilgrim could visit the temple, be part of the maker's glory. I fear for a moment my facial features slipped from my control, but this idea had been to amusing. With some luck she would be called blaspheme and burned to honor Andraste. Don't smile, don't smile.
And then started the gauntlet. To my relief most of the tests had been individual. Some of the questions I had been asked by the warden at the entrance and that spirit that resembled Bryce so clearly would have stirred some … objections from my companions. I scolded myself for letting this happen, for starting something which could have been the end of my plans without some luck. Perhaps Andraste smiled on me as Leliana believed; perhaps the maker had a real crude sense of humor to allow me to go on with my schemes.
"You should take the pouch, Deridius. You'll have to administer it anyway." Alistair gave me the small leather pouch. It had been very easy to sway him on the path of thinking it to be his own idea. Nodding solemnly I accepted the pouch and hid my further thoughts. Arl Eamon would be very surprised about the effect of the ashes, at least for a short while.
Frostback Mountains, forty-one days after the battle of Ostagar
I should end my plans with her, I mused looking down at the small frame of Shianni, her skin very pale and the body bandaged more than the average deceased before the burning. Not that my plans had made any progress the last weeks. Apart from 'pass me the tea' there had been no more than ten words per day and her glares had been full of mild wonder instead of friendly feelings as I had hoped before my confession.
Slowly Shianni opened her eyes and bestowed me her first smile, weak as it was. "Hi, little one. Feeling better now?" The elven maiden nodded once, instantly forced to suppress a cry of pain. "Next time you play chewing-bone for a dragon please don plate armor beforehand."
"I'll try to think about it, Deri. It was quiet an impulse that moment, nothing planned. And thank you for saving my ass … anew." Deri, sounds nice. I shook my head. "Nothing to thank. Instead I'm grateful that you pushed Rory out of the way. She's quite healthy now, only a broken arm to look after."
"Good." Shianni watched me intensely. "You like her very much, don't you?" That's an interesting question, why did she ask it? Again I denied her question in a way: "Like … if you mean 'like as a friend', you're right. I trust her completely. She is one of my oldest friends and she knows nothing about falseness and dishonor." It was easy to sound sincere if honesty was so helpful. Yes, Rory was unable to lie. No, I wouldn't really see this as a virtue. And lastly no, I wouldn't explain this little point to Shianni.
"But if you ask 'like her as a woman' then the answer would be no; no more if have to admit. Sometimes we tried to be more than friends, but I didn't work. It was always as if I would kiss my sister, do you understand?" She nodded and the relief in her eyes startled me. This was so … bah, maker's humor. In the moment I decided to go on, the elven girl seemed finally to yield.
Sorry, Morrigan, you have to wait a little bit longer.
Castle Redcliffe, forty-seven days after the battle of Ostagar
We had failed. All this trouble we had been thru, the venturing thru the mountains, battling cold, cultists and dragons only to reach the castle and see the Arl die. Sorrow gripped my heart, really. Apart from Morrigan and Sten all were weeping profusely, giving in to their grief as did Bann Teagan. At least Isolde was already dead and so I was spared to witness her nerve-grinding shrieking.
After reaching the castle I had prepared the potion of Andraste and administered it to the comatose Arl. For a few hours his condition had enhanced, his skin started to show a healthy color, throwing me into doubts if I miscalculated the quantity of herbs which enhanced the blood circulation or that Kolgrim had been false about dragon blood defiling the ashes. Shortly I thought about the small amount of ashes I had stored away. You can never know when such things come in handy. But in the end the small mixture of non-traceable poisons in the concoction had been enough to end the Arl's life.
The Arl is dead, long live the Arl. Bann Teagan would never be a serious threat to my plans and without the Arl it would be easy to suppress the idea of Alistair presenting as an aspirant to the throne, which left Fergus as the most likely candidate. Sheltering my face with my hands – I was so sorry that I couldn't rescue the Arl – I had to work hard not to change from my shuddering into a fit of wild laughter.
Morrigan had asked for the recipe of the anti-taint-potion in exchange for her silence. I agreed. A deal is a deal and until now she seemed able to follow my lead. The only condition she had expressed: "Alistair had to live thru all of this. I need him alive when we face the Archdemon." That was a bit odd and attracted my interest, but I could live with that.