A/N: Thank you to Saga Svanhildr for betaing. I'm sorry that this took so long to update. I HAVE NO ABANDONED THIS. I really do have a wild story in story for you all. Hope you're ready.
Heart on Display
And I've been taking chances,
I've been setting myself up for the fall,
I've been keeping secrets,
From my heart and from and from my soul
-"Lover to Lover" by Florence and the Machine
The breeze of the Waking Sea had been a familiar comfort. Elissa knew that they were close to Ferelden when the silhouette of Amaranthine had come into view. It was still in the rebuilding stage since the Mother had sent her darkspawn followers into the city. She had almost let it burn but she decided to save it instead. It wasn't the city that Robb would remember, if he even remembered it at all.
"I was ungrateful before and I'm sorry." The Warden-Commander turned her head to look at the Young Wolf and nodded. She almost lifted a hand to push an auburn curl away from his forehead, a motion that she had done before when they were close, but she found herself resisting as she nodded and turned back to the city.
"Did you ever think you'd see the city again?" She asked lightly.
"No," came a soft reply. With a tilt of her head, she glanced at him. "I thought Westeros would be my home until my days ended." They almost had, she wanted to tell him, but she left that unspoken. She knew how he felt though, just like she knew that he would need to cope with it on his own terms. "May I ask something?" She had a feeling that he might anyways. "Your second in command…"
Elissa held up a hand. "Is a priceless addition to the Order and whatever he says or does will not be questioned."
"I remember when you dreamt of being in Maric's Shield with him," Robb said. Amusement laced his tone but his lips had been tight. Oh, the hopes of a warrior girl. She wanted to be known in history, to make such an impact much like Andraste herself had.
"I remember when you dreamt of being the better swordsman," she teased.
"And I am." Elissa rolled her eyes but smiled despite herself. It was very much like him to think so. The confidence reminded her of the times their fathers would watch them spar with wooden swords. While ladies in Westeros weren't encouraged to fight, in Ferelden it wasn't unheard of for a woman to be on the battlefield…despite her mother's protests that she would not join their ranks in history. The Maker had a funny way of making things work.
She would have liked to be able to say that it wasn't like time had passed between them, but it was a lie. As the boat docked, she thought about when they were younger and chatter filled the air between them, but now there was nothing but silence. Both were no longer children and carried burdens that most didn't dream of having.
Whenever he looked at her, she gave him her best reassuring nod or smile, anything that she could muster. But keeping the fact that Lady Stark was alive from him weighed heavier on her than she thought it would. Her weight shifted from one foot to the next as her fingers danced nervously over her armor. She would look between Robb and Loghain and when the older man caught her stare, he pulled her aside.
"You look like you wish to speak." She knew it was more of a statement than a question. Loghain had way of stating the obvious, she could give him that. Elissa's tongue ran over her lower lip as she nodded. Robb was away speaking with one of the other Wardens that had accompanied them and she was sure he couldn't hear them.
"What if he doesn't survive?" She asked. The Warden-Commander had planned on asking his opinion about Lady Stark but another concern spoke for itself instead. "He's lost so much, the fact that he could lose his life to this… He would have rather died at the Twins."
Loghain raised an eyebrow at her. "Are you sure of this?" He asked. She opened her mouth to reply that she was but then closed it quickly and the older man chuckled. No, she hadn't been sure. It seemed that there were several things that she was unsure of now. "It was his choice to come," he told her. No. It wasn't. She wanted to ask him about Catelyn but that was a subject better left unspoken. "He could have stayed, atoned for usurping, but he left with you. He's ready to die. Don't underestimate that, my friend."
Elissa nodded. So that was what Robb had wished to speak with her over. The bitterness in the word 'usurper' was not lost on her. She would be an idiot to forget what he fought for to free Ferelden from Orlais. She supposed the War of the Kings or whatever they were calling it across the sea could be the same."I don't think I can be there," she admitted.
"It is your duty," he reminded her. Loghain's voice was cold but assertive. When her dutiful ways faltered, he was there to remind her of them. She nodded to let him know that she knew. She knew it all too well.
"You won't let me forget," she countered with a small smirk playing across her lips.
The words of the ritual were recited by Vigil's Keep Seneschal and Elissa's eyes lowered to the ground so she couldn't bear witness to the chalice lifting to Robb's lips. The bravery he showed on his face was commendable, but Maker help her she had seen nothing that resembled fear. She wondered what Lady Catelyn would think seeing him now. Would she be just as scared as she was? He's ready to die, she remembered Loghain's words. It wouldn't be fair. Not after everything he had gone through.
She wondered briefly about what his wife would say. Did she think him dead? Elissa was sure that the Frey's would rather spread rumor of death than let the fact of their defeat by a woman be known.
"Commander," Loghain whispered behind her.
Duty called. She didn't want to look. Maker help her, that must have made her a horrible person, and an even worse friend. She was the reason Robb was there and she couldn't even give him a glance before he could have possibly lost his life. Her courage was failing. Too much had been lost. The word 'stop' hung at the tip of her tongue, waiting to be spoken, to command the ceremony's end, but where else would he go? He had to be made a Warden, didn't he? Otherwise the Rite of Conscription would be tossed out the window.
Elissa looked up to see that her old friend had waited until she looked to take his drink of the darkspawn blood. She winced slightly as he wiped the residue from his lips with the back of his hand. Defiant and wanting to prove himself, she watched as Robb stood there until his eyes turned white and he fell. The rogue moved quick enough to catch her head from hitting the ground. She rested his head against her lap as her hand ran through his auburn curls. Maker have mercy. Her vision blurred, fading the sight of his body against the ground.
There was only one thing to do in that moment. He didn't seem cool against her touch. That was always a good sign. Her fingers found his wrist and she felt his pulse. Silently, she thanked the Maker and even gave silent gratitude to Robb's nameless gods.
"He lives," she announced with a sigh of relief.
She looked down at the spittle leaking from a corner of his lips. Her hand cradled his face as her thumb wiped the rest away. Elissa smiled to herself and summoned Nathaniel into the room to help her take their old friend to the Warden barracks. They laid him on an unoccupied bed and she glanced at Howe. "You did your best to avoid him on his arrival," she said to him. "He expected you to greet him."
Nathaniel said nothing but left the room and she followed. When they were out of ear shot of Robb and his potential of awakening, Nate turned to face her. "I couldn't face him," he replied. "After everything my father's done, it's stained my family name. Losing another friend…" He didn't have to say anymore. Of those who had known Anders best, he had been affected the most by the loss.
She raised a hand and clasped Nate's shoulder. "You can't ignore him forever," she chided him softly. If their positions had been reversed, Elissa wondered if she would have done the same thing. Maker, some could consider that she had when she ignored some of his ravens. She could feel her stomach twist with a pang of guilt.
The dark haired man rolled his eyes. "Yes, mother." A small smile graced his features before he moved past her. Elissa glanced back to see the faint line of the doorway of the room Robb was in. Temptation would lead her back but it was better if they would have space until he sought her out. There was going to be a lot of Ferelden that she was going to have to explain to him.
His head was throbbing. A groan escaped him as he tried to sit up. Where…where was he? His eyes focused on the room around him. It was certainly one that he didn't recognize. "You've been out for three days." He couldn't place the voice either.
"Where am I?" He asked, eyes squinting. The last thing that he remembered was… Mother, he thought. Oh Gods be good. They were dead. They were all dead.
"Vigil's Keep," his visitor told him, "don't worry. I wouldn't want to remember this place either if I had the choice." Robb paused. He remembered then. He remembered the feeling as arrows had pierced his flesh. He remembered the helpless feeling on his knees as Roose Bolton whispered, 'Jaime Lannister sends his regards.' The Freys had been traitors and he had left his men to die.
Robb realized who was with him. "Nathaniel?" He asked. His hair was longer than he had remembered but it was the same boy…or rather man now that he had known when he was younger. There was no mistaking that.
"The one and only, Stark," he said with a grin. Nate extended a hand out to him and lifted him to his feet. "You've had the Commander in a worry. I don't think I've seen Ellie fret so much since we were kids."
"Is that what you'd call it?" Both men laughed. Robb's fingers twitched at his side. His old clothes were gone and wore a long gray shirt and fitted black pants. His nails grazed the fabric. "I was changed?" His face twisted in confusion before Nathaniel looked like he wanted to burst into a fit of laughter.
The other man clapped his hand against his shoulder. "Many things happen during the Joining and your old clothes were ruined, my friend," he explained. "I guess we're just lucky you were Thomas's size." Robb felt his cheeks radiating with heat as he looked to the ground. Wonderful. He raised a hand and rubbed the back of his neck. "The armor was made by our smithy, Wade. Ellie had him make it after your Joining."
His eyes fell on the pale silver armor. It only took a few steps to reach it. His fingers ran gently over the material. He was sure that it was dragon bone. He lifted the plate and felt how light it was and smiled slightly. Of course it was a gift from her…but it was one he didn't feel worthy of. "Thanks," was the only word the Young Wolf could muster.
Nate nodded and turned to leave. He hesitated at the door and turned back to Robb. "I'm sorry," he apologized. Robb wondered for what but then he realized and nodded. Nate's had been the only face that he hadn't seen upon his arrival. "Don't nod, Stark, you'll make it seem like it's okay." His eyebrows furrowed and Robb remained silent to let him finish. "I was ashamed for what my father did to Elissa's family and I know you knew. I've lost many friends and the Commander is forgiving but…"
"Too much time has passed for you to know for sure," Robb replied. If honesty was required, he would confess that he would have placed the blame on Nathaniel for his father's actions. There was always a measure of a man's father in him, whether it made him proud or made him turn away. "Our friendship remains." Selfishly he knew that he would need all the friends he could get in a foreign land.
Nate smiled but it was a sad one. "Thank you," he said. Robb nodded even though there was nothing to thank him for.
"Can I ask you something?"
Howe gave him a questioning look. "Anything."
"Is the death sentence true?" He asked. Robb wondered if it would have been better to die defending his men or in the Deep Roads after becoming nothing more than a shell of his former self.
His friend hesitated and his expression hardened. That had been enough of a response for him. "I think it's better for you to ask Ellie."
A gentle push opened the door to Elissa's office quietly and Robb peaked in. He saw the Warden-Commander leaning against her desk as her head rested against her arms on top of a pile of maps. He smiled despite himself. He wanted to touch her but the threat of crossing the line of appropriateness stopped him. He was still a married man and he didn't know if she was spoken for. His face wrinkled at the thought. It didn't matter. What was done, was done. An awkward cough left him and he watched as Elissa moved herself upwards and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
She looked up at him and smiled. "You're awake."
He nodded. "I've heard you were worried, so I've come," he told her. She tried to straighten up her desk quickly and muttered something inaudible under her breath. "It's alright."
Elissa paused and smiled a bit before she smoothed out the paper mess that she had created on her desk. "How do you feel?" She asked before making a motion for him to sit. He declined, having been asleep for days he would have rather stood where he was.
"Not that different, surprisingly," he replied. "I was expecting…" In all honesty, he hadn't known what to expect. He had never asked her how her Joining was before, and as he stood there he wished he would have.
She pushed her chair back and stood. Her drake skin armor made no sound as she moved next to him. "That is good to hear," she said with a grin. Her head tilted to the side for a moment and he wondered what she was thinking. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she reached up and tightened the neck strings of his shirt. "How'd you like your armor?"
His own hands went up and caught her wrists. "I'm undeserving of such a gift."Her eyebrows furrowed together but then a small laugh escaped him. "Thank you." She seemed surprised by his gratitude but pleased all the same. Good. He let go of her wrists and she stepped back from him. His eyes glanced down to the floor before he heard her whirl around on the tips of her toes.
"Do you think you're ready for a little trip?" Robb looked up to see Elissa raise an eyebrow at him. Was he ready? Well, he felt like he was. While he had been healed from the attack at the Twins, scarring still remained and the disorientation from his Joining had faded…he didn't know a better time of being ready.
"I get the feeling that 'little' is a relative term," he replied.
The Warden-Commander nodded and went back to her desk. "You'll meet your first darkspawn," she told him.
"Is it true that you can sense when they're close?" Robb asked, letting his curiosity get the best of him.
"Want me to spoil it for you?" He shook his head 'no.' He watched her hesitate before she tapped her fingers on the top of her desk. "There's a raven tower past the southern courtyard, it's not hard to miss. I'm sure Edmure and the Blackfish would like to know that you're alive. No doubt that it's been said otherwise."
There was something else behind her voice, something that felt like she was afraid of telling him. His better judgment wanted to push the issue, to call her out on it, but he denied himself that. He owed Elissa much and would not betray that with possible pointless questions. He had been deemed an oath breaker and dishonorable. He would not be known as such in Ferelden. This would be his new start.
"Thank you," he said before he took his leave.
He found the tower without much trouble. The bird master handed him parchment and ink to write his message. There was so much to be said but he couldn't form the words. He wanted news of Riverrun and the North. What happened to the remainder of his men? He closed his eyes, aware that he was being watched and wrote one simple sentence.
Forgive me for everything that's happened.