Author's Note: I do not own anything, except a handful of original characters. All the good stuff belongs to Bioware


Salem Cousland

I awoke with a start, looking frantically around the unfamiliar room. It was dark, too dark, and someone stirred beside me in the narrow bed.

What in hell? Nightmares caught in my throat and I reached, trembling, for the flint and candle on the nearby stand. This cannot be…I ended it…I let nothing happen. Why then, am I lying beside another? I do not remember…

Shaking hands struck the flint and the candle wick caught flame. I took the candle in hand and held it over the figure who lay beside me, sighing in relief as memory returned when I saw the spray of red hair on the single pillow.

Leliana, I reached out and smoothed her tangled hair, smiling as I had not smiled in a month. I remember now. The ship in the harbor, the High Seeker and you…my beautiful wife…holding me in your arms and offering your forgiveness, giving my ring back to me in a re-pledged vow…asking me to stay beside you, when I am undeserving.

I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, massaging the ache from my muscles before I stood and went to the window, pulling back the shade. The moon hung in the sky, beautiful and gleaming, casting her kind light on my lover's sleeping face.

My lover, the foreign smile crossed my lips again as I gazed at her face. Even though shadows of exhaustion bruised the skin beneath her eyes, and she was pale from work and worry, I found her radiant, unearthly, transcendent…more than mortal.

Once again I saw the new scar in the center of her lower lip. A small thing, but it troubled me. Her reaction when I had touched it and asked after her health, wondering at the trials she had been through. She had all but collapsed in my arms, speaking in Orlesian…a language of secrets…her language, not mine.

We have time, I promised myself, drawing the curtain across the window once more, lest the light wake her. I will make it so. No matter the conspiracies of men or angels, I will make it so.

I crept from the room and down the halls of the Amaranthine Chantry, basking in the peace that night alone provided. There were no sounds but the skittering of the odd mouse here and there, and the almost imperceptible footballs of the cat following them, intent on feasting.

Life continues, I realized as I moved towards the infirmary that Wynne had helped establish when Vigil's Keep was sacked. It will always continue. Even when the trials of men are done, even when we are lost to the face of Thedas, I believe that life will go on. It is inevitable. Why then, Maker, I wondered, why then do we struggle each day for breath and battle our own hearts and minds? Why is there no peace to be found when all around things continue as they ever have?

I eased open the infirmary doors, seeking out the white-haired senior enchanter. The fire flickered in the hearth, too low. I strode across the room and added logs, watching them catch flame and further illuminate the room.

"She isn't here." a shy, low, Orlesian accent spoke and I turned, perhaps too quickly.

The young woman in a templar's tunic fled three steps backward, light on her feet, like a dancer. Worried, icy green eyes met mine through a tangle of obsidian hair. Her hands were clenched into fists, as though anticipating violence.

"Who is not here?" I kept my voice gentle.

"The…the elderly mage." she stuttered, her posture easing. "Would I be wrong in my assumption that she is who you seek?"

"No." I smiled, pleased by the stranger's cleverness. "Might I have the pleasure of your name?" I asked, thinking it best to make her acquaintance.

"Kestrel Ariyah." she replied, her posture stiffening to the position of attention. "Templar Private."

"At ease." I extended my hand. "I am the arlessa of Amaranthine. Salem Cousland."

Her rigid posture faltered and surprise lit in her eyes as her mouth fell open. "Ancient gods." she breathed, backing away yet another step. "The Salem Cousland? The Hero of Ferelden? Forgive me, milady, I meant no disrespect…I…I've no idea…the proper greeting to give a noblewoman of your country...or a woman of your considerable status."

"I do not stand on formalities." I kept my hand extended and, at last, she grasped it her own, exerting a brief pressure before withdrawing yet again. "You may call me Salem, if you wish. As a templar, you are somewhat beyond having to bow and scrape before nobility, or am I mistaken?"

"I…I do not know." she answered, seeming still awestruck. "I have not been a templar very long, mila…Salem." she shook her head, as though calling me by my name grated against her better judgment. "But here I stand, like a foolish girl, keeping you from your business. The elder mage departed about a candlemark ago; I've no idea where she went, but I can attempt…"

"There is no need." I lifted my hand, forestalling her offer of help. "You look as though you have not slept in days."

Kestrel shook her head. "I am quite well. Seeker Leliana was quite adamant that I rest."

"Seeker Leliana?" I asked, perhaps a bit too fast, too harsh.

What has happened in our time apart?

Kestrel's vivid eyes widened and she covered her mouth with her hand. "Have I spoken amiss?" she asked. "She told me that you were wed…I…I thought you…"

"Communication between us has been little to non-existent." I reflected back on the nights I had spent wondering where Leliana was, if she had been safe, if she had been afraid, if she had been...lonely...so terribly, terribly lonely.

I do not even know if she received the letter I sent. It would not surprise me if that Cassandra bitch intercepted any attempts at communication with Leliana.

"It is all right, Kestrel." I spoke, and her expression eased. "You were not to know."

"Forgive me if I seem overly forward," Kestrel stepped closer, still gazing at me as if she did not believe I existed in the waking world. "But…how is she?"

"Sleeping." I said, touched by the young woman's obvious concern for Leliana. "She was quite exhausted, and I am afraid I did little to ease her fatigue. Tell me, Kestrel, if you are not too tired yourself, what transpired that brought you to Amaranthine?"

Perhaps, in this way, I can ease Leliana's burden. Perhaps I can buy more time for us if I learn as much of what she endured as I can.

"I do not know if I can relay the tale in its entirety," Kestrel answered. "But I can tell you about the mission, and the battle…Leliana saved us all." admiration was clear in her tone and my heart surged with pride.

I have no doubt.

"Regale me." I sat before the fire and gestured to the young templar in invitation.

Kestrel sat and stared into the flames, gathering her thoughts. "Something about the mission was amiss, arlessa." she began, seeming more comfortable with my formal title than my name. "I could sense it from the very beginning…"