Chapter Six

Dragon Age, 9:34 – Act II: year six – future

Anders moved about the Clinic preparing a place for me to rest. Wind swelled against the walls outside and filled the cluttered little establishment with sounds of creaking boards, the thin keening of air squeezing through crevices and a thunderous prattle of rain on the roof overhead. The walls were old wood, half rotted, rocking in the harsh tempest, and packed soil floors were covered in a hearty mess of straw that blustered about, or puddled from the drips falling from the ceiling. Other than two or three corpses, Anders and I were the only souls present. Discounting, of course, the rats scuttling in the shadows. We'd left Cullen not long ago, watching him enter the Chantry, and I was beginning to feel not only my exhaustion, an aching pain at my groin, but a bitter taste of regret in my mouth for more than one thing.

Sickness and death were the only things I could smell. I knew Anders must try his best to clean the place up, but there was only so much one could do, and Anders was and will never be much of a cleaner. The scents were embroidered into the very structure of the place; stale blood, cold flesh, festering turned green. Corrupted by the very things that the clinic fought to cure.

Unable to wait for Anders' bustling, I fell into the nearest cot. I sagged in my skin, and closed my eyes. I would have nodded off immediately into sleep if it wasn't for my thoughts that kept my mind racing.

"Caela –" He started to object. "Never mind." Throwing down the blankets he'd been laying out, he passed by me, skimmed a hand over my ankle, and then the sound of Anders busying himself at the fire, cooking, filled the dank hut.

Starving as I was, all I could think was: Why had I done it?

Why had I run from Denerim all those years ago?

Because of the wedding, I told myself dizzily, because Alistair couldn't keep the boundaries.

If that was true how come I couldn't remember the wedding anymore? What had Empress Celene looked like? Alistair... I remembered he'd come to me ("You're my real queen. Always.") but I could not recall what was so painstaking about staying and ignoring him? It all seemed so trivial after the years spent in Kirkwall... and no matter how I tried to blame my running on that, on the wedding, on frivolous weddings, it didn't stick. I nearly deluded myself to believe it, but I couldn't hide from the truth. Not for long anyway.

The truth was that I couldn't stay in Denerim because I was scared. Darkspawn, a crumbling circle, werewolves, warring elves, a dwarf's hierarchy, and an Archdemon.. I could handle all that, but the threat of the Circle of Magi coming for me? I fled like a dog with its tail between its legs.

Eamon's face was nothing more than a wisp of pale skin and gray hair. His words were lost to me, all I recalled were the threat, the fear I felt; I was scared of being locked away. That's why I left. Alistair was an excuse to go, not the reason. The kicker that got me going.

Or had it been? Am I only trying to convince myself that it hadn't? That I hadn't loved him as much as I seemed to before I met Fenris and he threw my on a whole new flight of love? On whole different levels? Bringing me higher than I'd ever been, or ever known, was possible?

Thoughts of Fenris peaked the headache pulsing in my temples. An old anger started to sear through my blood. An unjust, misunderstood rage. So much dimmer to what it had been all those years ago when first arriving to Kirkwall. Back then I didn't know what lay to blame for it, I didn't understand it, nor could I control it. But I knew better then, laying in the Clinic, in the throws of my afterbirth. For years I hadn't and I had falsely accused things to be the cause. Mostly in thanks to Fenris, but to hold that against him would be my undoing. Not until I had the strength to hate him. I was too exhausted to do anything; to even fight with Anders. I ached, my flesh stung with the cold, and I could literally feel the acute weakness in my blood. My lerium levels were low, and had been low since the moment I gave birth. I wondered if my child would be a mage.

I jolted upright, reaching incoherently for my staff. Maker! If my child is a mage they'll send them straight to the Circle. And how can I allow that? "I have to go back!" Unable to locate my weapon of choice I stood, stumbled as a pain gripped my ribcage, but still made to leave. I slipped in a damp pile of straw, and Anders caught me around the wrist before I hit the floor.

"Why? Go back to your Templar or to the caves? Caela, speak sense."

Sense? What matter is sense when my son could be introduced to the horror of the Circle? I fought the hand on my wrist. Anders pressed his knuckles to my forehead and frowned. "You're running a fever. I have a potion –"

"No! I have... I have to.."

I knew they had the Hawke family estate under watchful eyes. I couldn't take the child there, as I'd known the moment labor struck me. Wanted posters with my face on them could be found plastered everywhere, so whatever I did had to be done before sunrise. Aveline, Fenris, and Isabella occupied High Town while Merrill and Varric were likely throughout Low Town. Dark Town? The Clinic? Anders wouldn't keep my son. I couldn't live here with him. Word would travel. Patients coming through wouldn't hold their tongues and I didn't have the gold to assure that. Suddenly, I went slack in Anders' arms. I came to the same realization I had known the whole pregnancy. He is safer without me as his mother. He is better off not being my son. All I bring upon those I love is misfortune.

Mage or not, he is better off as far away from his apostate mother and slave father as he can be.

Dispirited, I allowed Anders to put me back into a cot, tuck me under a blanket and force a potion down my throat. The fire he'd started began to warm my toes, but my heart remained cold and hard in my chest. I stared into the flames. I thought of a girl named Tera Amell.

I thought of children with goofy grins, freckles, and sandy-red hair. My heart pf stone managed to clench in adoration. Alistair and I would have had a castle-full of little ones. He would have been a wonderful father. They would love him, would learn from him as I had. I wanted them. Wanted, I thought. Tera Amell wanted them.

Caela Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, had a son with rich brown curls and clipped ears. "Don't be a mage," I murmured. "Don't be a mage. Don't be a mage." I prayed aloud, and after a moment, slipped onto the floor and took up a position I had not taken for near ten years. Anders objected at first, until he saw that I lowered myself into a bowed position, fingers curling into my hair. Don't be a mage. Don't be an eleven mage. Don't become a dreamer. Don't let his father hate him. Don't let him think I hate him. Let him know I loved him. Don't let him be a mage, oh Andraste. Anything, but a mage.

It felt as though a fist clenched around my throat, yet tears wouldn't come. No matter how much I urged them to come now instead of later, and my chest shook with my breath, no sobs would wretch themselves free. My prayers were reverent and useless and I wished... I wished..

"Anders?" I whispered.

"Caela?"

The name was right and wrong. I wanted to correct him. To be honest to him. After everything he saw today, all of me, at my weakest.. it seemed appropriate. But I couldn't even be honest with Fenris, or Varric, let alone Anders and I allowed that piece of me to float away, to be forgotten. As it always was.

"Do you think I've made a mistake?" The words shook.

There was a pause before he answered. I raised myself off the floor and leaned heavily into the cot for support. Anders was staring off behind my head. I stared at his face. It was hard to imagine him in the confinements of the Circle as I had once known it.

I didn't give him a chance to answer my first question. I was afraid of his answer.

"Do you remember it? The circle, I mean."

"Yes. It's not something you forget."

"How.. do you recall it?"

"I can't say I know what you mean."

I sighed, moving a hand to brush hair from my eyes. "You know."

"I don't." Anders sat on a stool before the fire, knees spread apart, poking the logs with a medal rob. Though the flames were small, shadows were cast about the Clinic, licked up the sides of his face. His eyes fell to meet my gaze, brows dramatically outlined, broadened in the apparitions. He seemed something entirely else; darker, brooding. "How do you recall it?"

I was dizzy with loss, fever, and exhaustion. I wasn't myself that night, or the past nine months. I should have known instantly that question was off. Caela would have known. She would have instantly realized Anders was playing a dangerous game. Tera was ever more naïve than Caela. It was Tera who had lived in the Circle. And so, I had answered him as Tera would, "Tall. I recall it being very tall. I remember sitting at the windows that looked out on the lake, and some nights looking straight down and it was.. so high up.. the world so far below. All the water down there, spreading in every directions and the land and mountains distant and small in comparison. I used to think leaving would be impossible. That no matter how far I went I would never reach somewhere, anywhere in time." I raised my eyes to the ceiling. "I also recall it as.. very suffocating. Templars loomed around you day and night, in armor that suggested we could someone murder them in the blink of an eye. And when they weren't really there those armored statues about the halls made you think someone was watching you. But, the good thing about that is that I never felt alone."

He hummed in reply, and stared intensely at me. His eyes gave away nothing. I was waiting for him to laugh at me, but he never did. (I had not known my mistake, then.) "I remember it differently," was all he said.

Sleepiness came over me after that. The effects of the potion. I was glad. Without the induced potent sleep I would probably not have been able to force it naturally. I lay listening to Anders stirring a pot of stew, and the pitter patter of rain. I waited for him to decide the food was ready. Scents of crushed clove, boiled wine, potatoes, and pickled vegetables kept me tethered to consciousness. Food, then sleep. And in the morning I would reemerge into the world. Hopefully refreshed.

I imagined what it would be like if Fenris were with me. I expect he would be sitting closer, or laying beside me, rubbing my arms, trying to warm me up from my chill. Or I could be wrong. He could be just as done with me as he was when I left all those months ago. When he called us off. Perhaps if he were here his hands would be curled into fists, he would be standing in the far corner, as tense as a board, unable to look away from my eyes. Forcing me to face the glare of all he was feeling; frustration, irritation, annoyance. I would laugh nervously, trying to wave away my stupidity, my thoughtlessness of making him worry. For months. I would pretend that I hadn't just given birth to our son. I would look out at the storm and say, "So, nice weather we're having."

And Fenris would fight the twitch of his lip, while yelling, "How can you talk of the weather right now!"

The shudder that coursed through my body like mountain wind was not because of the harshness I imagined in his tone, but the fear that crept into it. He would be scared for me, as all of my companions were. Poor lost Caela, they would think. Gone for months, no where to be found. Poor lost Tera.

I wished I could deny it.