Shadow and Rose

by Lady Norbert

A/N: Happy New Year! I know it's been a while; I have several other projects happening right now, plus my actual job. I'm taking things in a slightly unplanned direction starting in this chapter, because we're already seventeen chapters in and we've only delivered one treaty, and my plan is to have this go all the way through Awakening so I need to start taking more shortcuts. ;) I hope no one minds this one.

The existence of the Wintersend holiday comes from the Warden's Keep DLC. It gets a brief mention in a letter that was sent to Warden-Commander Dryden.

Chapter Seventeen: Commoner Clothing

The practical Fereldans are partial to plain garments such as these. They are constructed of sturdy fabric and are trimmed with only the simplest of embellishments.

It has been several days since last I wrote. There are a few reasons for this. One is that a short time after my last post, the heaviest snow of the season fell on Soldier's Keep, and I've been helping with things here. We needed to clear paths from the main entrance to the exterior residences, so that the Drydens and the others living out there could get inside as needed, and also out to the stable so they could continue to take care of the animals. Food's at something of a premium right now too, unfortunately. I'm sure Bann Teagan was as generous with us as he could afford to be, but there's been no meat at all for days. In fact, if we didn't have milk from the cow and eggs from the chickens, we'd be a lot worse off than we are. At least the fortress has a nice supply of flour, since one of the refugees was a miller, so there's been plenty of bread.

Naturally, none of this is particularly interesting and worth recording, so I haven't seen much reason to note it down. It's been a struggle to keep the fires going too, since we don't dare send anyone out to add to our current supply of firewood. Our company is conserving as best we can; until things warm up, we're all spending almost all of our time here in the great hall, including for sleeping, so that we only need to have the fire lit in here and in the kitchen.

This is not, as you might expect, giving anyone any real sort of privacy. I've barely had any time alone with Elissa since we declared ourselves. That's the other reason I haven't written - I don't feel comfortable pulling this little manuscript out in front of most of our party. Elissa, of course, I wouldn't mind; I don't think Wynne would presume to ask questions either. But the others, I think I would feel a bit uneasy at best, and at worst (if it was Morrigan) like I'd just signed my own death warrant.

We have to find ways to keep ourselves amused, which is becoming more difficult by the day. There are only so many books in the library; some of us play backgammon, or chess, or cards. Wynne's just about done knitting that cape for Sten. Leliana is apparently writing about our adventures, according to what I overheard her saying to Toby about describing him as a lover of fine foods. Morrigan spends most of her time brooding in a corner and talking as little as possible; if she didn't occasionally have conversations with Elissa, I don't think she'd speak at all.

Snow. Yay. I used to like the stuff, too.

Finally, we've had enough of a break in the storms that we can venture out. Bodahn Feddic and his son have gone out into the world to refresh their supplies, something Levi seems equally itchy to do. Some of the refugees have made forays into the woodland again; one brought back a wild turkey, so we've got meat again for a time. They've also gathered more firewood, which means we can start sleeping in our own rooms again. Among other things.

She sleeps very deeply, my Elissa. I'm not really surprised. She's constantly on the go. Training, studying, meeting with Levi Dryden or one of the refugees, planning... once I even found her in the kitchens helping with the stew. She's certainly never bored; she never has the time. So when she goes to sleep, she goes to sleep.

Our secret, meanwhile, has been blown wide open. To be fair, I'm not sure how much of it was a secret in the first place; I know most of our companions have had their suspicions to some extent. But our fraternization, to use Morrigan's word, is known to everyone now. It's my own fault, to be honest. I left Elissa's room this morning, thinking it was plenty early for me to go use the bath and then get back to my own quarters undetected.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, I had slept longer than I thought. When I opened the door, there was Leliana about to knock. She took a step backward in surprise. "Oh! I - oh. Sorry! I came to find out why Elissa wasn't at breakfast - we've already started eating."

Before I could think of anything to say, Zevran came into view. "I can't find Alistair - he didn't answer his door, and I'm not sure - oho." He came to a halt, taking in the scene, and this crazy smirk curled onto his lips. "Well. That, I think, answers every question. Leliana, we should return to the great hall and let the others know that... how shall we put it? Our Grey Wardens have already breakfasted?"

"Zevran!" she scolded, but she was clearly trying not to giggle. I glanced over my shoulder to see Elissa covering her eyes with one hand. Our morning visitors said nothing else, only walked away rather quickly. I'm not sure how much they actually told the others, but nobody was quite ready to look me in the eye when I arrived a short time later.

It's been another several days since my last update, but it does seem as though the worst of the winter is behind us. The Feddics returned, and Levi made a quick trip out to do his own merchant stuff; I wonder how he'll manage that when we're not in residence. I mean, Morrigan's going to be leaving with us, so I don't see how the barrier is going to remain in place without creating problems for those who remain behind. Maybe Elissa will work something out with Avernus, though, I hadn't considered that.

Speaking of my lady, she's up to something. I'm not quite sure why, but I'm almost positive I've seen her sneaking about with something under her cloak more than once. I asked her about it, and she told me not to worry about it. Her eyes were twinkling when she said it; I don't think I've ever seen her look mischievous before.

Mm, and I believe that's her at my door, so I'll leave this here.

The weather continues to improve, which is both good and not good. It's good, because it lets us resume what we need to do while we're here - training and all that - but it's not good because, and we all know it, it means that the time to leave is approaching. I don't want to leave; I don't think anyone else does either.

On the bright side, once this infernal Blight is defeated, Elissa and I get to come back. I'm really looking forward to that future we've got planned.

It's decided, then. We talked it all over at dinner tonight. Once we'd finished the majority of our eating, Elissa called everyone to order. Shale wasn't eating, of course, just sort of looming in the background, but it moved closer to the table so it could be part of the discussion.

"I want to thank you all," she began, "for your help in making Soldier's Peak what it is. It's so much closer to its former glory than it's been in a long time, and you each have had a hand in that. To be perfectly honest, this is the most at home I've felt since I left Highever." She glanced at me and gave me a tiny smile, and I remembered our conversation about home.

"But sadly, the Blight is still out there," she continued, "and with spring approaching, we need to get back to fighting it."

Sten gave her an approving sort of look. Wynne only nodded. "How shall we begin?"

"Unless we get another storm before then, I'd like to leave the mountain in ten days," she replied. "Our first objective will be to return to Denerim; I want to question Brother Genitivi's assistant as to why he sent us to that ambush at Lake Calenhad. From there, we'll do one of two things, depending on the answers he gives us."

"Meaning what exactly?" asked Morrigan.

"Well, if we can get proper information out of him, it might be in our best interest to head for Haven - assuming that Brother Genitivi did manage to locate it," she said. "I don't understand how the ashes can be hidden in a village that virtually no one has ever heard of and doesn't get put on maps, but on the other hand, it might be the safest possible place." She shrugged. "If things in Denerim don't go well, then my other plan is to head south to the Brecilian forest, to enlist the aid of the Dalish against the Archdemon."

"Here is a thought," said Sten. "You obviously insist that both of these objectives be completed before we confront the enemy. And I understand that it is necessary for a Grey Warden to oversee the delivery of the treaties. But we have two Grey Wardens in our party, so why do we not divide our energies? One of you could lead the expedition to Denerim and Haven, while the other leads the effort to rally the elves."

"You know, this is not a bad idea," said Zevran. "Divide and conquer is an ancient and widely respected war technique, after all. The Crows have made use of it many times. And would it not be an excellent way to throw your enemies off your scent?"

"I don't know," said Leliana. "It seems like a good plan on the surface. We could split up easily enough, two groups of four, and meet back in Redcliffe once we finish. But who would go where?"

Elissa looked at me again, and I think I understand what she was thinking. Setting aside the fact that I don't think either of us is eager to lose sight of the other, it is a sensible idea. Well, except for the part where I would have to lead one of the parties, and I'm not as good a leader as Elissa is on my best day. "The idea does have merit, Sten, and I thank you for it," she said. "I think Alistair and I should discuss the matter before we make a decision. But it's definitely worth considering."

Elissa and I had a long conversation about Sten's proposal this morning. It was funny in its way; the weather was decent, so we put on regular clothes (no armor) and our heavy cloaks and went outside, walking around the inner and outer baileys arm in arm. Almost like a normal couple. Of course, the conversation was a perfect example of how not normal we really are.

"I can't help thinking that it might be a good idea," she admitted. "The winter did cost us quite a bit of time, really, and even though I know the darkspawn can't have done much because of the weather, I still feel like we're behindhand somehow."

"I understand what you mean," I told her. "But it's just... well, to be honest, I'm worried that I won't be able to do as well in leading the second group as you would. You're the diplomat, you know."

"Oh, you're not that bad."

"Yes, I am, and you know I am. How many times have I put my feet into my mouth just in the time you've known me?" She looked pensive, like she was adding the examples in her head, so I added, "That was a rhetorical question, you know."

"I know." She smiled, briefly. "But I think you're a better leader than you think you are. Here's what I'm suggesting - we all go together to Denerim, and confront Weylon. From there, we split into groups of four. I'll lead the expedition into the forest, to meet with the elves, and you lead the group that goes to Haven."

"If you're sure it's wise." I sighed. "Who should go with whom?"

"Well, let's look at the strengths of our companions," she said. "We have two mages, two rogues - so to speak - and two very powerful warriors. We'll each take one of each."

"Please don't tell me I have to take Morrigan. I'm begging you."

"Of course not." Elissa chuckled. "I'll keep Morrigan with me and send Wynne with you. Actually, I'm thinking that it might be best to split along gender lines; the Dalish might find a party of women to be somewhat less threatening, given their general dislike of humans. Not that it's undeserved, from what I'm given to understand," she added, grimly. "We had a few elves among our kitchen staff in Highever, and it forever frustrated me to see how some of the other staff would treat them."

I thought about that. "So you'll take Morrigan, Leliana, and... what, Shale?"

"Funny, I know. But something about Shale's voice always makes me think of it as being female. I'm not sure why that is. Toby will come with me, too, of course. And you'll take Sten, Zevran, and Wynne. I'll be counting on Wynne to keep all of you in line," she joked.

"If anyone can, I imagine it's Wynne."

"Then we're agreed." She stopped our walk and turned to look at me, her face suddenly serious. "Just promise me, Alistair... promise me you'll be careful. I don't think I could bear it if I lost you now."

"Shh." I put my arms around her and pulled her to my chest; her head fits perfectly under my chin. "I'll promise that if you promise the same, for the same reason."

"That seems entirely fair."

That woman. Well, I was right when I wrote some days ago that I thought she was up to something.

We leave tomorrow, and at dinner tonight, Elissa told the other what we've decided about splitting up for the next phase of our adventures. Everyone seems mostly okay with the idea, with the possible exception of Leliana, who still strikes me as being a little uneasy.

And then she pulled out the presents.

That conniving little beauty was sneaking around getting gifts for everyone.

"Wintersend is still a few weeks off," she said, "and I doubt we'll be able to participate in the festivities when the time comes. But I wanted to get you each a token of my appreciation. You're..." She wavered, and swallowed. "You're my family, now, for all intents and purposes, and I wanted you each to have something. Bodahn Feddic helped me. They aren't large gifts, but I hope you like them."

She did really well, I think, judging by the reactions. For Wynne, who loves to read, she had found some slightly tawdry novel called The Rose of Orlais. Morrigan, the magpie, received a gold rope-style necklace, and Bodahn had somehow dug up a bottle of Antivan brandy for our favorite would-be assassin. Sten is an art lover, so she gave him a small painting in a silver frame. Leliana, who adores pretty things, outright squealed at the blue satin shoes she received; apparently they were similar to a pair she had wanted back in Orlais, and Elissa had remembered her mentioning this. Even Shale got a gift, a piece of polished malachite. "I'm to keep this, am I?" it asked, but it seemed pleased all the same. And Toby lost no time settling down to gnaw on the big bone his mistress had bought him.

As for me, she knows I like weird little carvings and figures of creatures, so I wasn't too surprised by my gift. It was a runestone, white inlaid with gold, small enough for me to carry in my pouch. "I'm not sure what practical use it might have," she told me later when we were alone. "But you in particular I wanted to have something you could hold and think of me, like I have your rose."

"That rose is enchanted, did I ever tell you that? Wynne put a spell of some kind on it so it won't ever wilt."

"I suspected something like that, considering that it still looks the same as it ever did."

"I don't like being away from you."

"You haven't been away from me since we met, how do you know?" she teased.

"Call it a hunch."

Today we bade farewell to the Drydens and the others who have come to stay at Soldier's Peak. I was right; Elissa did work out some sort of arrangement with Avernus to protect the fortress in our absence. "Nothing painful," she assured us. "If anyone comes near the mountain who doesn't belong here, the woods will rearrange the paths to make them find their way out again. But anyone from our party, or a genuine ally such as Bann Teagan, would have no difficulty at all making their way here. I admit I don't understand how the magic can tell one from the other, but I'm no mage."

"It sounds much like the enchantments my mother used to disorient travelers in the Wilds," Morrigan commented. "Your beloved keep should be well protected until you return to it."

Mikhael has officially been made Levi's second, meaning that when our merchant friend goes traveling, someone will still be on hand to oversee the continued improvements. Bodahn and Sandal will continue to follow us as often as not, but Elissa promised to occasionally send supplies back to the keep on their wagon. I'm not entirely sure Bodahn is thrilled with this arrangement; on the other hand, he knows he gets the majority of his business from us, so I don't think he's eager to lose his best customers.

I truthfully expected it to take longer to get to Denerim than it did. But here we are.

We entered Brother Genitivi's house, opposite the Gnawed Noble Tavern, and as soon as we saw Weylon, Elissa came directly to the point. "You sent us into an ambush."

He tried to deny it for a few minutes, but something in her face really got to him. "If you're here, then my companions have failed. I can read their deaths in your eyes," he said. "Andraste forgive me! I do this in Your name!" And the idiot attacked us. Okay, so it turned out he was a mage with some decently powerful lightning spells, but we outnumbered him eight to one. You'd think he would have known better. Then again, maybe he wanted us to kill him; if he was, as he said, doing everything for Andraste, he might have thought he'd be rewarded.

In any case, I really shouldn't call him Weylon, since we pretty quickly determined that he wasn't. Once he was dead, Elissa opened the door to the second room, in order to search for Genitivi's research, and she found it - on the floor, next to the dead body of the real Weylon. Poor man. By the look of things, he'd been dead for some weeks. "They probably killed him right after Brother Genitivi left," said Wynne. "What I wonder now is whether he left on his own or if he was taken."

"Well, he definitely never made it to the inn at Lake Calenhad," said Elissa. "The innkeeper would have told me if he had. He might have started the journey under his own power, but he definitely didn't finish it that way. I just hope he's all right, wherever he is."

We couldn't leave Weylon there, of course, but there was no good way to bring him out the front door without attracting a lot of unwelcome attention. Luckily, Genitivi's house has a back door; we shrouded him in a sheet of linen we found in a cupboard, and smuggled him out that way. It wasn't easy to get him out of the market district to Bodahn Feddic's wagon, but having two mages in the party definitely helped. We found a suitable place, and Leliana performed the rites of the dead while I dug a hole, and we marked the spot with stones. If we ever find Genitivi, we can at least tell him where his assistant is at rest.