I apologize for the lateness of this update. The High Holidays put me two weeks behind on everything. I promise to catch up an go back to the one/week post.

Thank you to those who are following this story and to those have taken the time to review, especially EasternViolet and xseikax.

Special thanks to my incredible Beta, Shakespira, and for her continued advice and support.

~Kira

**Spoiler for Dragon Age: Asunder. Dialogue taken from book

~oOOo~

Chapter 16. The Road to Starkhaven

Cassandra rolled up the parchment. Her brown eyes narrowed as she looked at Renna, and in her typically dictatorial tone demanded, "You must know the identity of the contact. Tell me who it is!"

Renna and Cullen had rehearsed a story for just this sort of occasion. Renna put enough sorrow into her voice and expression to be believable. "Cullen refused to tell me. He was afraid that knowing would put me in danger. I argued, but…" she sighed, "he refused."

Cassandra let out her breath slowly, trying to let go of some of her frustration and aggression. Resigned she replied, "I was hoping that wasn't the case…but from what I know of your husband it makes sense."

For Leliana, dealing with Cassandra when she was in one of these moods was trying and it showed in the weariness of her voice. "I hope that when the Divine actually meets Val and Maric she will stop trying to coerce information from them."

Cassandra's frustration rose again; she glared at Leliana, "Once again you disagree with the Divine. Is this going to become a habit?"

Leliana frowned. "I just think she needs to meet them first."

Cassandra snorted inelegantly. "I hope her first meeting goes better than ours."

Leliana smiled slyly. "Humor? Cassandra, I learn something new about you every day."

Stunned by Leliana's remark, Cassandra tried to speak. She opened her mouth but closed it again without a sound. Renna, holding back a laugh, quickly walked towards the exit.

They reached the campsite; Cassandra had not uttered one word since leaving the Chantry. Leliana smiled to herself. I know Cassandra is going to give me the rough edge of her tongue, but her stunned expression was more than worth it.

Renna felt the tension between the two women; it hadn't changed since they'd left Kirkwall. It was beginning to get on her nerves, but she was determined to try and coax Cassandra out of her typically foul mood, not just for Leliana's sake but for hers as well.

Before they left Kirkwall, Cassandra had made no secret about not liking the local tea, and Renna couldn't agree more. Free Marches' tea was beyond bland, as Renna had found out when she was with the guard. Being a bit of a connoisseur, she had acquired a large stash of imported tea, and while most of it was left in Revas, she had brought a selection of her favorites. She had tea from Antiva, Orlais, Navarra, and Ferelden. She found that what they called tea in the Anderfels tasted more like the ale at the Hanged Man.

Pulling out a satchel, she looked at Cassandra and Leliana conspiratorially. "Would either of you like some real tea?"

Both Leliana and Cassandra perked up. Cassandra was the first to ask, "What kind do you have?"

Renna riddled off what was in her cache. Cassandra smiled. "I haven't had Nevarran Blush in so long. I would love some. Thank you."

Leliana asked for one of the Orlesian blends. Renna was back quickly, as there was already hot water on the fire, and handed out the steaming mugs.

Cassandra closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the floral scent wafting up from her mug. "This makes me think of home. The palace grew this tea, but we only had it on special occasions. Thank you Renna, this is wonderful."

Leliana also looked pleased. "Yes, Renna, thank you. I have never found this tea outside of Orlais, how did you find some?"

"One of our guardsmen was from Orlais and would get a box of it every month. He knew how much I liked it and would share. The other teas I purchased through an importer. It is one of my only real extravagances, but a good mug of tea always makes things look better."

Cassandra nodded. "I do not understand the Free Marches. How can they call that tasteless liquid tea?"

Renna chuckled. "They call the stuff at the Hanged Man ale, so I'm not surprised."

The women sat and enjoyed their tea. After they finished, Cassandra smiled at Renna. "Thank you. That was a real treat."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have more."

Cassandra's eyes lit up. "Ah, something to look forward to as we travel through this Maker-forsaken area." She took out the second message and held it so Leliana and Renna could also read. The writer first apologized for not putting the message in Nevarran.

Seeker Pentaghast and Sister Nightingale ~

Lo siento, paraestar en común, yo sé poco Nevarran.

We have procured a divine location for the concert. They were charging a princely sum but, thank the Maker, we had enough in the coffers to pay.

Even in all of this unrest, it will be wonderful to gather and hear the Chant as it was meant to be.

Andraste's grace shine upon you,

~Sister Faucon

Leliana laughed. "Sister Hawke has spoken."

Even Cassandra's lips turned up in a smile. "The Champion certainly knows how to write an entertaining encoded missive, quite clever. I have to admit, it is better than anything I can do. Well, it seems we need to turn back and go to Starkhaven. If all goes well, we should be there a week ahead of the Divine." Cassandra went to her captain and issued the change in orders.

Leliana leaned over to Renna. "The tea was a brilliant idea. I don't believe I've ever seen Cassandra look so…pleased."

~oOOo~

Cullen was sitting in his office looking over the list of the recent recruits:

Guilelmes Maillard
Louis Cailteux
Lillianne Fébre
Jean-René Gatien
Jacques Poulet
Amaldric Amiot

Cullen frowned as he read the names. They're all Orlesian. Now that the Knight-Vigilant is working with Lambert are they abandoning the White Spire? Cullen sat back and stroked his chin recalling his meeting with Masurian. Creators, they're going to run the Inquisition out of the Gallows!

Cullen felt a sense of dread quickly spread through his body; he stood up and began to pace as his stomach roiled. He recalled his lessons about the Inquisition. Learning the history of the Order, and the importance of the Nevarran Accord was required when he was a Templar initiate. We read all about the horrible atrocities carried out by the Inquisition. Cullen felt a shiver go through him as he thought about the same brutalities happening again, here in the Gallows, where he served as Knight-Captain.

When he was working with Meredith, he patrolled the Gallows courtyard everyday after their morning meeting. He decided to resume that patrol schedule so he could pass the occasional message to Sol. Cullen took a few minutes to pen a short note.

~oOOo~

Maric told Zevran and Varric what had happened with Val and suggested leaving at noon. He knew they wouldn't get very far by doing so, but Val needed some time. A very tired Zevran, while concerned about Val, was happy to be getting extra sleep. Varric decided to use the time to write.

After Maric and Zevran went to their rooms, it was peacefully quiet in his suite. Varric took out a recently sharpened quill and a new piece of parchment. He wanted to give a title to what would be his second epic, the first being The Tale of the Champion. He had a sense of how he was going to approach the new story, but he needed a title. Titles always kept him focused on the framework, and usually one quickly sprang to mind. This morning, however, his mind had drawn a complete blank. After fifteen fruitless and frustrating minutes he decided that for the next ten minutes he would write down anything that came into his mind.

After furious scribbling, the time was up and he looked at the first three titles:

The Return of the King
The Two Legends
The Fellowship of the Champion

"Bahh! Those are too close to the titles of Professor Reuels' books and there is no way I'm going steal from him." Sighing, he looked at the remainder of the list, the rest were simply boring. The last one made him throw down the parchment and snort in disgust. "What part of my brain did that come from? Wait...I don't want to know."

Well, I came up with title Hard in Hightown while I wrote the book. I guess I'll try that. He chuckled as he said to himself, "Marigold was sure pissed-off about that series. No one ever figured out who I used as the model for the guardsman." Varric laughed aloud, which made him feel much better. He dipped his quill in the ink and just as the tip touched the parchment he heard a knock at his door. He was tempted to ignore it; if it were Val, Maric, or Zevran, they would've simply knocked once and entered. Varric decided to play nice and opened the door. An elven servant stood waiting.

"Are you Messere Tethras? Solivitus tells me that you know about potion making."

Varric said quietly, "Is this about Sol's arm?"

"Yes, Messere. His arm is somewhat better, he used a potion called Pearl of the Divine."

Varric nodded. "Tell him that he should try the one named Nipples and Nethers."

The elf nodded and handed Varric a note. "Thank you, Messere, I will pass that along."

He knew this wasn't going to be good news. He closed the door and read the note:

Storyteller (interesting and appropriate nickname my friend)~

In two weeks our lovely home will host he who shall not be named. He plans to resurrect something that according to lore was killed long ago.

~Sore Arm

It took Varric a moment to understand what Sol was saying. Then he blanched. "Holy Shit, Lambert's coming here, and those bastards are going to bring back the Inquisition!" He was about to go tell Maric and Val, when Zevran walked in.

One look and Zevran knew that something was very wrong. He put down his pack. "Amico, what has happened?"

"Cullen sent a message through Sol. In two weeks, the Lord Seeker and his band of thugs are coming to Kirkwall. They plan to nullify the Nevarran Accord and bring back the Inquisition, using the Gallows as its headquarters. I was just going to tell Hawke."

As Zevran listened to Varric he began to feel uncertain about telling Val. "Not so fast. I am not sure we should tell her."

"Elf, that's crazy. First off, she'll kill us for hiding it, and second, no one will ever find our bodies."

The more Zevran thought about it the more he was sure that this was the right decision. "No my friend, we cannot tell her now. If we do, she will refuse to leave. We must wait until we are in Starkhaven. Val needs a chance to start working through the horrors trapped in her soul."

Varric sighed. "You're right, but that's going to be a hard secret to keep."

"Remember we are trying to save her sanity as much as we are trying to save her life."

Varric folded the note and tucked into his belt pouch. "That does put it into perspective."

~oOOo~

As the Chantry's list of allies began to thin, the continued well being of Fereldan's Chantry had suddenly become more important to the Divine. Naturally, this had the effect of making Fereldan's Grand Cleric more important, and more powerful. The Divine began to make sure that Grand Cleric Clodovea was kept abreast of the events unfolding in Orlais.

Clodovea was in her office pacing after reading the latest missive from Justinia V. Although she kept it to herself, the Grand Cleric never really accepted Revered Mother Dorothea's elevation to the Divine. As she paced, crushing the parchment in her meaty hands, Grand Cleric Clodovea's blood was stirred with self-righteousness and anger.

That the Divine argued for more sympathy toward the mages was bad enough, but finding a way to reverse the Rite of Tranquility? That was sheer madness. These are not the acts of a Divine. These are the acts of a woman with an unholy past. Maker save us, the woman was a bard, a thieving harlot! It was wrong for the Chantry to accept her as an initiate, but for her to become a Revered Mother and now the Divine? No. The Grand Consensus had to have been corrupted! Dorothea's fellow bards probably infiltrated it, may they all feel the Maker's burn.

Clodovea ceased her pacing and sat at her desk. Panic began to churn with her anger. If the Consensus was corrupt, then Dorothea isn't really the Divine. The Chant will not continue to spread and we will loose the Maker forever!

Clodovea penned a note to the Queen, urgently requesting an audience; she gave it to one of her most trusted sisters to deliver it directly into the Queen's hands. We still have our Templars, but if I don't act, we will loose them too. Maker preserve us!

~oOOo~

Val felt the knot of fear in her chest loosen with each mile they put between themselves and Kirkwall. By the time they reached the pass through the Vimmark Mountains she felt that, for the first time since they arrived in Kirkwall, she could take a deep breath.

Maric could see her eyes brighten as she looked at him and smiled. Her whole face and body radiated the happiness that was returning to her. He kissed her hand. "I missed that smile."

"I missed giving you that smile."

Maric stopped and gave his wife a kiss.

Then they heard Varric, "Under the cerulean sky, the rakish King stole a kiss from his Lady Fair …"

Val blushed. "Varric."

"…a raven-haired beauty, whose pale skin took on a rosy glow…"

"Varric." Maric smiled good-naturedly.

"…one born of shyness and desire."

Now both Maric and Val were blushing. Maric shook his head and smiled good-naturedly. "Varric, you do beat all."

Zevran chuckled. "I, for one, would like to hear more of this story, especially the part where the rakish King ravishes his lady on the warm sand…" His voice trailed off replaced by a wicked grin.

Maric winked at Val and said to Zevran, "Don't forget the part where the voyeurs succumb to their own desires, as the golden-haired elven assassin pulls the whiskey-eyed storyteller into his arms."

Val and Varric laughed, but Zevran stroked his chin and looked at the dwarf. "Hm. Would your shapely crossbow consider sharing, my 'whiskey-eyed storyteller?' "

Varric shook his head. "I hate to break your heart elf, but Bianca and I only have eyes for each other."

Zevran sighed. "It seems that Ferelden's unfortunate penchant for monogamy is spreading."

~oOOo~

Sebastian was having lunch by himself when a message was delivered. Pausing from his fish and egg pie, he read:

Choir Boy~

The birds have flown the coop and are on course.

You need to know that the memories of the golden bird's death and the subsequent slaughter of the other flock have painfully ruffled the raven feathers of a certain bird. Her mate is strong and they will find a path out of this together. Still, please handle with care.

~Storyteller

Sebastian hissed in anger, "The abomination continues to hurt Hawke!"

There was a knock at the door, with a face and a voice like thunder, he called out, "Enter!" When he heard the voice of Revered Mother Annis, the one person allowed to see him unannounced, Sebastian tried to tamp down his anger.

She looked at the Prince, and said wryly, "Something troubling you, Sebastian? I trust it isn't the fish and egg pie."

"Your Reverence, I apologize for my nasty greeting. Please have a seat."

The Revered Mother sat across from Sebastian. She saw his anger in the flushed color of his cheeks and the hard set to his jaw. "What has stirred your ire?"

Sebastian showed her the note. She read it then looked pointedly at Sebastian. "I am assuming the golden bird is Anders?"

Sebastian nodded.

The Revered Mother said sorrowfully, "I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to kill someone you love, much less an entire group of innocent people."

"You're right, Your Reverence, it is unimaginable." Sebastian paused, fighting the tears beginning to well up in his eyes. "Yet, I forced her to do just that."

"Why did you?"

Sebastian was quiet as he looked inward. No one had ever asked him that. After a couple of minutes, he said, "I held Hawke partially responsible for what Anders had done and for Elthina's death. Perhaps I still do."

The Revered Mother looked Sebastian, her tone was accusatory. "In essence you thought it was partially her mess so she had to clean it up. Tell me, how was Hawke at fault?"

Sebastian's anger returned. "She helped him gather the ingredients! I was with her when she intentionally distracted the Grand Cleric so the abomination could plant his explosives!"

"So she knew what Anders was doing?"

"No, Your Reverence, she was just as surprised the rest as of our group, but that matters little; she could have prevented it."

The Revered Mother's eyes narrowed. She was clearly displeased with what Sebastian was saying and it reflected in her sarcasm. "Pray tell. How?"

He felt the barb in her words, but pushed them aside. "She should have asked the Circle about the sela petre and drakstone; instead she just did what Anders' asked, without question."

Annis leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. "Tell me Sebastian, how did you find out that he'd gathered sela petre and drakstone?"

"Varric mentioned it during a card game. He was one of the ones who helped the Abomination collect it."

"Yet you don't seem to blame Varric?"

Sebastian looked around the room, trying to avoid her eyes. "No." His brows furrowed. "We all knew about the sele petre and drakestone, and said nothing."

Mother Annis grew impatient. "Sebastian, if all of you knew the names of the ingredients and did nothing, why don't you hold your entire whole group accountable? What is the real reason you blame Hawke?"

Quiet blanketed the room. The Revered Mother simply looked at Sebastian, waiting.

"It was easier to blame Hawke than to believe I failed Elthina. Because she and the abomination were lovers, I laid the blame at her feet and forced her to take out my revenge on Anders, just as she had done to those responsible for my family's murder. But how could she not see what Anders' had become?"

"Sebastian, she loved him. When you love someone you tend to overlook the unpleasant things about them."

The realization of what he had done shocked him as the guilt nearly crushed him. Looking at the Revered Mother's eyes Sebastian felt as if he were being carried on the tide, roiled in a wave of guilt and self-recrimination. "I never thought about her love for Anders and what that meant. Maker forgive me."

"Sebastian, you must first seek forgiveness from the one you wronged."

"I will talk to Hawke when they arrive." Sebastian gave the Revered Mother a small smile. "I doubt seeing me wallow in my own arrogance was the reason for your visit, Your Reverence."

Annis sighed. "I received two missives, one is from a contact of mine informing me that the mages have gathered at Andoral's Reach, where they should be safe…for now."

"Shouldn't we tell the Divine where they are?"

"Sebastian, she already knows and isn't planning on attacking them. The danger Thedas faces is far worse than the mages at Andoral's Reach."

"How so?"

"The second missive was from the Divine. She fears that the Inquisition will rise again –"

"Maker, no!" Sebastian was horrified. "The Inquisition was an atrocity, a sin against everything for which the Chantry stands. What will the Divine do?"

Revered Mother Annis smiled slyly. "You can ask her yourself; she will be joining us here in two weeks time."

~oOOo~

For Val's safety, as they traveled to Starkhaven they stayed out of towns and villages. If they needed supplies, Zevran took care of it. Consequently, the trip had been uneventful, for which all four travelers were very grateful.

None of them had seen the lands on the north side of the Vimmark Mountains and it made the their trip seem like a nature walk. Beyond the mountains and north through Wintervale, the land was flat and the air was quite warm and very dry.

As they walked through the scrubland, Maric wiped his brow. "I am making a command decision—neither Val nor I are going to travel through this area during high Summerday."

Val nodded. "I am completely okay with your decision."

Zevran laughed. "You are Fereldans' alright. You cannot handle even a little a bit of warm air."

"Not fair, Zev. I spent over a decade in Kirkwall. This," Val waved her arms at the sky. "is far warmer than anything Kirkwall can cook up."

Varric shook his head. "Try living underground. The word breeze doesn't even exist in our language."

When they crossed over a small tributary of the Minanter, the air became cooler and moister, and the land was no longer flat; they were slowly beginning to walk uphill. The scrubland gave way to low-lying green plants and what looked like herbs. Val wondered what kinds of herbs grew here. Merrill would know. She knows just about every plant in the Free Marches. Just that small thought of Merrill was enough to make Val's stomach clench. She took a deep breath and pushed the fear down and away from her consciousness. Instead, she focused on the land that lay ahead of them as they approached the outskirts of Starkhaven.

As they neared Starkhaven, the air grew quite cool and moist. The land swelled with hillocks cloaked in lush grass that was so green it looked blue as it waved in the breeze. The cerulean sky was dotted with small fluffy looking clouds. It was a clear day so they could see a smaller mountainous area in the distance beyond Starkhaven. The city itself was near the shore of the Minanter, nestled in the small foothills around which the river curved.

The outskirts of the city were farmland, fallow for now. Unlike the soil in Lothering, this soil was dark and rich. Gradually farmland gave way to Starkhaven's version of Lowtown. While clearly inhabited by those less fortunate, the area was clean and in fairly good repair.

Maric stopped the group and looked around. "Varric, does the Coterie or any of their ilk operate in Starkhaven?"

"Blue-eyes, the Coterie is everywhere. Fortunately, they're far less numerous here then they were in Kirkwall."

Maric looked at the buildings and allies around them. "Zevran, could you scout ahead? I don't want to be ambushed by the Coterie or any of Starkhaven's thugs."

"I was about to suggest just that, my Rakish King."

Maric shook his head. "That nickname is going to stick isn't it Zevran?"

"Oh yes, it is far too good not to be used!" With that Zevran walked ahead and disappeared into the shadows.

"The elf's good. I think he could give Rivaini a run for her money."

As the walked through what Varric now called 'Lowhaven,' Val noticed that the Chantry had a large presence there. Aside from the Chantry itself, there was a Chantry-run school and a clinic. A building annexed to the Chantry was handing out food, and there was a roped off area where Templars and guardsmen looked like they were training some of the younger adult residents.

Varric looked about. "Impressive."

"Well, well. They seemed to have learned after all." Val's sarcasm and bitterness colored ever syllable she spoke.

Maric put his arm around her. "It's a good thing that the Starkhaven Chantry actually believes in helping those less fortunate."

Val reluctantly nodded.

Zevran rejoined them as they passed the site where the Starkhaven Circle used to be. The area was now a memorial to those killed in the fire.

Varric shook his head. "Hawke, do you remember Decimus and Grace?"

Val rolled her eyes. "You mean the Maleficar who attacked us and his lover, the ungrateful, conniving bloodmage who held my sister hostage? Can't say that I do." Val chuckled. "At least I got to send her to the Void."

Varric nodded. "As I recall the kill was clean and quick."

"Not quick enough for her to hide her look of surprise. That was actually kind of gratifying."

"Hawke, I have to admit, I actually felt a bit sorry for her. You way outmatched her and she didn't realize it until it was too late."

Zevran grinned. "I have seen our Lady Fair fight, I doubt the outcome would have been different, even if this woman had known."

"I have to agree, my love, you are a holy terror in a fight."

Looking at Zevran and Varric, she grinned. "Must be that hearty Fereldan upbringing."

The Royal Palace came into view, looking more like a castle, but without a moat. The walls and battlements were made of white marble, as was the keep. Val knew from Sebastian that it was built well over century ago. It looks…well-loved, if you can describe a castle that way.

"Choir boy has certainly moved up in the world."

Val sighed. "I hope he hasn't moved too far beyond us."

The outer guard saw them approach and word was quickly sent to Sebastian. The Revered Mother was with him at the time, so they were both in the courtyard when the travelers passed through the main gate.

Val looked at Sebastian—his auburn hair gleamed in the sun and instead of armor he wore a black doublet and pants, making his blue eyes seem even more vibrant. Next to him, Val assumed, was the Revered Mother of Starkhaven. She had the same soft gray hair and care-worn face as Elthina, but the similarities ended there. This woman had eyes as sharp as a blade, and there seemed to be a strength in her that Elthina had always lacked.

When they were close enough, Sebastian pulled Hawke into his arms and hugged her. After a moment, Val pulled away. "Sebastian, it's good to see you."

"As it is you, Hawke."

"Hey Choir Boy, what am I? Yesterday's leftovers?" Varric grinned.

Sebastian scratched the back of his neck and chuckled. "I could hug you too, if you want. It's good to see you as well, Varric."

"No, no. That's okay, you know how jealous Bianca can get."

Zevran looked at the Prince. "I however, have no such ties, feel free to hug me whenever you like, Your Highness."

Sebastian looked at the Revered Mother, "He's just joking, Your Reverence. Zevran is a law unto himself."

Annis laughed. "Well, there should be more laws like him. Welcome, Zevran Arainai."

Four pairs of eyes looked at the Revered Mother in shock. The fifth twinkled with humor. "Ah Mother Annis, it has been a long time."

Sebastian regained his powers of speech. "You know each other?"

Annis grinned. "Even assassins need spiritual guidance."

"Indeed. When I was growing up in Antiva, Mother Annis managed to convince the Crows that there should be someone who could provide succor to those who seek it."

Sebastian, stunned once again, managed to eke out, "How did you manage to do that?"

"I promised the Guild Master never to reveal what was said. Zevran was one of the ones that sought me out." She looked back at Zevran with an almost motherly pride. "I know of all you did during and after the Blight, Zevran. I'm glad that you realized you were more than someone's tool."

Val cleared her throat. "I think that we have been a bit backward in our introductions. Sebastian, may I introduce my husband, Maric. Love, this is Sebastian Vael, Prince of Starkhaven.

The men shook hands, each sizing up the other. Val had told Maric all about Sebastian, both the good and the bad. Maric knew that this was the man who had pushed Val into killing Anders, and he didn't quite know how to feel about that. Looking at the Prince, he saw a man of strength and great heart, but still young and untested. Maric remembered how green he had been when he assumed the throne.

Sebastian knew from Varric, that this was Maric Theirin, former King of Ferelden. He looked at the man before him. This was a man who had freed his country from its Orlesian yoke and built a strong kingdom. Maric had a presence that Sebastian had only seen in one other person...his grandfather. That Maric looked so young, was inexplicable, but Sebastian knew that it was the former King of Ferelden that stood before him.

Maric's smile was warm, but Sebastian could tell that he knew exactly what had happened that horrific night. He knew it was something the two of them would have to talk about.

He formally introduced the Revered Mother, who took in the people before her. She could sense the powerful connection Val had with Maric and it warmed her. Through his many stories, she felt like she already knew Varric. "Messere Tethras, Sebastian has told me that you are a story teller. I hope you'll share some of your stories with us."

Varric grinned. "You can just call me Varric. I would be honored share some tales, Your Reverence."

"Varric…" The Prince warned.

"What? It's not like I'm going to tell her Hard in Hightown."

Sebastian was about to apologize to the Revered Mother, when she began to laugh. "I look forward to whichever story you wish to tell. Shall we go inside?"

As they walked towards the Keep, Varric looked pleased. Sebastian was beet red and Val and Maric were laughing.

Val whispered to Maric. "I think she'll be a good ally."

Maric chuckled. "I can't wait to see her take on Cassandra."

~oOOo~

His eyelids couldn't prevent the stabbing pain of the bright light of dawn. Sighing, Knight-Commander Tobin sat up and opened his sleep-crusted eyes. Barely awake, he rose quickly, threw on his tunic and trousers, and went to wake up the Knight-Vigilant. As they traveled to Kirkwall, the Knight-Vigilant and the Knight-Commanders stayed at inns, guarded by several of their Templars. Knight-Vigilant Erik had ordered Tobin to be the one to wake him up each morning. Tobin could not question the order, but he felt that this duty was beneath him. There are servants perfectly capable of doing this, but he was insistent that I 'perform this important duty.'

Tobin shook his head. "Just what I need to see first thing every morning – The Knight Vigilant in his night dress."

The routine was to knock three times, wait a full minute, and then enter. Typically the Knight-Vigilant was already awake, and reaching for his robe. Occasionally, he had to nudge him awake. He hated that because Ser Erik startled and tried to punch whoever tried to wake him. Tobin learned how to nudge the man then quickly jump back.

When he opened the door, Tobin sighed; Ser Erik was still lying in bed, on his back. Tobin groaned. It's going to be one of those mornings. He walked to the side of the bed and, almost simultaneously nudged the sleeping man's shoulder and jumped backwards. Tobin waited. Odd, he always wakes up the first time. Tobin tried again. When the Knight-Vigilant didn't even stir, Tobin felt his stomach drop. He looked at the man's chest and saw no movement. When he looked closer and touched the cold skin on the Knight-Vigilant's face he ran out of the room and called to the guard who was stationed at the main entrance to the sleeping rooms. "Sound the alarm, the Knight-Vigilant is dead!"

~oOOo~

Lord Seeker Lambert felt the knife press harder against his throat. "What do you want from me?"

The young man smiled coldly. "I want you to look into my eyes."**

~oOOo~

Masurian sat at his desk. He had been given two missives – one was from the White Spire; the other was from a Templar outpost near the Free Marches. He'd received a special communication from Lambert a few days earlier and smiled after reading the message from the outpost. As he opened the missive from the White Spire he noticed that the writing was not in Lambert's hand. He paled as he read it, and had to read it twice. For the next half hour he simply sat there.

Then color returned to Knight Commander Adrian Masurian's face, along with the hint of a smile