Alistair found himself standing in front of the ruined heavy wooden doors of a ruined hall of a great castle. There had been destruction here on a grand scale. Where was he exactly? The heavy wooden doors had been breached. The wood splintered, with large chunks of the wood and boards lying on the stones within the great hall. He stepped further into the dark dismal hall.
He knew from the greenish light that he was somewhere in the fade, why would he come here? He didn’t recognize this place. This wasn’t Weisshaupt Fortress, of that he was certain. Weisshaupt was embedded inside of the very rock and cliffs it was constructed from. It was said that the fortress was impossible to breach. This place isn’t any of Eamon’s estates. He was fairly certain this wasn’t the royal palace either.
Alistair pulled his sword and shield and prepared to defend himself if the need arose from: desire demons, fade beasts, abominations or whatever else he might encounter. The veil was thin here, he could feel it. He was dressed as he had been at Ostagar, in his grey iron armor and his Templar shield on his arm, with his standard issue warden’s sword in his hand.
There were corpses all around. There had been a great slaughter here. There was a young man who had once had very light brown hair, dead at his feet, no skin left on his bones. The man’s hair the only part left of his former self, hanging off of his dead skeleton in a stringy mass. It was obvious this man had given his life to defend this castle. There were other guards lying with him.
He could smell the remnants of smoke from a battle, the smell coming from the burnt stone all around him. There was broken furniture all over the place. Overturned tables and chairs, broken pieces of the furniture scattered about. At the far end of the great hall was a massive fire-place which was part of a raised dais. He slowly made his way to the raised dais, stepping over the dead as he went. He could tell it had been very grand at some period in time. It was similar to the fire pit at Redcliffe, this was larger though. It looked like whoever had once owned this castle their family would gather around this fire pit, there were several tables and chairs sitting on the dais. The chairs of the Lord and Lady were still sitting upright and waiting for the Lord or Lady of the castle to spend their evening by the fire to indulge in a card game, or read a book, or just enjoy their mead or wine before heading off to bed. It would have been a grand place to entertain visitors to the castle.
He could see there had been many paintings hung on the walls at one time. Swords and shields on display along with suits of armor. The color of the stone walls was slightly lighter from where they had once hung. It was obvious they had been looted and probably sold for profit by whoever had razed this castle. There were great rugs covering the great hall and it looked as if their color had been a green, with gold trim along the edges of the rugs. Splatters of dried blood now marred their beauty.
He stepped down off of the dais and turned to his right. Going toward the door that he had noticed when walking to the dais just a moment ago; he tried to open the door and found it was blocked by debris. He was able to get the door open enough to barely see through. The walls of the castle on this side had collapsed. Heavy charred beams blocked the door from opening all of the way. He could also see more of the dead under those beams. Their skeletons charred and twisted in death. Spider webs were starting to form along the walls. There was a light mist surrounding everything. It lifted and swirled as he walked, it parted for him as he walked through the fine mist.
He turned around and walked the width of the great hall to the opposite door. He tried this door and it opened. He cautiously looked out in the hallway, once again more dead bodies. As lightly as he could he eased himself out into the hallway. Just to his left was a division of walkways. Heading off into the various areas they were likely to take the one time inhabitants within the castle to their destination.
Just like in life the fade could appear close to reality in the waking world. It was obvious that this castle was very old…older than Redcliffe. It had open walkways which were open to the elements. Eamon’s castle was entirely enclosed. He could make out the distant sounds of waves crashing against rock. This castle was near the sea. The tang of salt from the sea filled his nose.
He decided to turn right and see what was down this hallway. The echoes of his footsteps against the flagstones were the only sound within the structure. The scraps of his greaves and the clink and clack of this armor were the only sounds. He came to another door, he opened this and looked inside, and this had been a room of the castle guardsmen. Two of their bodies could be seen inside the room. They had been taken unaware and had not even the time to arms themselves before they were slaughtered. The room had bunks, tables and chairs, and broken chests, along with a bookcase. He continued on down the hall. He finally came to another intersection; he could see another room which the hallway ended into. He continued on and came to the door at the end of the hall; he opened the door and stepped inside.
He realized this room had been the castle’s chantry. The statue of Andraste was now chipped and marred in places where swords had struck it, and the lecture that the castle’s priestess would have stood conducting the morning prayers was lying on its side. The room had been torn apart and another battle had taken place inside this room. The benches that the faithful would have been seated at when called to morning prayers were utterly destroyed.
A book of the Chant of Light ripped and torn with the pages lying all about and they had been stepped on during the battle. The defenders of the castle had fought to the death here in the castle’s chantry. There were bodies everywhere, their skeletons anyway. He stooped down to look at their shields to view their heraldry. He noticed a bear on one shield. He stepped over to the dead man’s opponent to get a look at his shield. The shield had two white laurels on it. Maker’s Breath! This had to be Highever. This was Teyrn Cousland’s heraldry. Why was he here?
Bell had to be here somewhere. Alistair jumped up and walked back out of the castle’s chantry. Where is she? What room did she say she had found her father? Blast it, I don’t remember, no wait; I think she said the castle’s larder is where the servant’s entrance was. This is where her mother and Bell had found her father, dying from a fatal wound to his side. Her father had been run through by Howe’s soldiers. Duncan had gotten him to the larder. The Teyrn had been unable to go any further from what Bell had told him about her father’s death.
Alistair retraced his steps and turned down the hall that he had come from. Checking the various doors and looking into rooms as he went. He was whispering up a prayer to the Maker for the souls here as he walked on. He came to another room which had the look of being the laundry for the castle. Linens were everywhere, now dirty with splattered blood and all manner of things such as creepy crawly things making their nest inside of them now. It was an extremely large room, much larger than the laundry had been at Redcliffe.
He found the kitchen, and inside were the dead bodies of the cook and her staff. He stepped inside a small room off of the kitchen and found what had to be the remains of the Teyrn and his wife. Oh Maker, this was Bell’s parents. Her mother had been surrounded by Howe’s men and probably Howe himself. She had tried to defend herself and had taken down a few of Howe’s men. Her mace and shield in her hands, she’d also had a bow strapped to her back. She had been dressed in armor similar to armor that Bell had worn when she had arrived at Ostagar with Duncan. He bent down and said a pray over their remains. There was a pool of dried blood under each of the bodies, staining the flagstones beneath. Howe or his men had beheaded Lady Cousland. It had been a quick death even though Howe had told Bell otherwise when they had killed him in the dungeon of the Arl of Denerim’s estate. It appeared that she had tried to defend her husband. Did Howe’s men know who she was, since the Teyrna had been dressed in armor? The door leading outside from the larder was slightly off of its hinges. This must have been the door that Duncan and Bell escaped through. He also noticed the remains of dead rats all over the larder. He felt a chill go up his spine. Bellavalia had fought her way through this battle to get to her father. This is where Duncan had conscripted her, right here in this room. Duncan had gained the Teyrn’s permission for her conscription.
Alistair retraced his steps and returned to the intersection of pathways. He looked to his right. He turned and started on the pathway leading left. He could see a room that had been the castle’s dining hall. Part of the walls now collapsed from the fires wouldn’t allow him passage into the great room. He could also see the remains of a great library, the books and papers had been strewn all over, this room as large as the great hall. What a collection of books, it was a massive collection. Few could afford such luxuries and of this magnitude. He just now realized how wealthy her parents had been. He knew being a Teyrn was the highest title in the land, just under the monarch. He had just never stopped to think on the wealth of Teyrn Cousland. Her father had to have been extremely wealthy to maintain a castle of this size. The furnishings that he had seen had been of the best quality. Even Eamon’s estate hadn’t had a library of this size.
He couldn’t make his way down the other side of the castle from the debris. He saw an incline of a walkway going up so he headed in that direction. Why am I here he wondered?
Alistair slowly made his way up the incline, he came to a small sitting area, and it was an arboretum of a sort. There were small trees in pots along with what had been beautiful arrangements of flowers. Their roots and branches burnt and twisted, the only remains of the flowers, the ghosts left of these plants. Their dead roots lying lifeless inside the large pots, with their limbs wilted and dead over the sides. This had obviously been a ladies sitting area. Benches could be seen, which once held cushions for comfort, the cloth now torn and tattered. It would have been a beautiful area to relax in and entertain. Lady Isolde never had anything so grand at Redcliffe.
He continued on up the slope. He found a door at the top of the incline, upon inspection this must have been the room of the captain of Highever. His body was also lying within; at least this man had armed himself and fought for his life. The bodies of several more guards were found here – their skeletons scattered all around as they had fought to defend the Teyrn’s family, and fought against their attackers. These had to be the family’s quarters going up the incline. Bell’s own bedchamber had to be near. He continued through another door at the top of the incline. He stepped through and found himself in a grand hallway. He was sure he would find two bedchambers off of this hallway. He checked each of the rooms, the same destruction as everywhere else within the castle. He found the body of a dead woman in one of the chambers. From the looks of the chest in the room, this had to have been a guest here at the castle. Who had this woman been?
There was another doorway at the end of this hall. He stepped through and found himself inside another grand entry way. There were three large doorways leading off of this hallway. This had to be the families’ bedchambers. He walked to his right and found the bodies of a lady and her child dead within. This had to be Bell’s sister-in-law and her nephew. Once again their deaths had been quick. Tears came to his eyes as he looked down at the remains of the small child as he lay against the side of his mother. Orianna had tried to defend her child. The child and his mother had been playing with the boy’s toys when they were attacked. The child’s toys were scattered and broken on the floor.
Alistair guessed the large doorway at the end of the hall had to be the bedchamber of the Teyrn’s, which meant Bell’s room had to be across the hall.
He went to the door opposite the one he had found the boy and his mother in. This has to be Bell’s bedchamber. He pushed the door open. Just as what had happened to them at Soldiers Peak, he had a vision appear before him.
He saw Bell lying in her bed; she had been asleep when the battle started. Thor was lying on a fur next to her bed. He saw Thor jump up and perk his ears up to listen. Then he started to growl. Off in the distance Alistair could hear the sounds of battle begin as the castle and its inhabitants came to the realization that they were under attack from within. Shouts, and profanities were being yelled, smoke and fire filling the hallways. Women and children crying, the clink and clang of sword and shield as people tried to defend themselves as they engaged in battle. Servants were running for their lives. Thor started to bark and growl, which awoke Bell.
He saw her raise up in bed, rubbing her knuckles over her eyes to wipe the sleep out of them. She had her small-clothes on. At this point, she hadn’t realized the castle was under attack.
“Thor, what is it? Is something going on out in the hall, boy?”
Her war hound continued to bark and growl, charging her bedchamber door. He saw her slip her hands under her pillows and come up with two daggers. Just at that moment a servant busted through the door. “My lady, the castle is under attack.” The twang of an arrow could be heard as it was released from a bow; the arrow finding its mark straight through the servant’s heart. He died instantly. This servant had just saved Bell’s life. She was now alerted to the battle. She came up off her bed just as two attackers entered her chamber. Thor charged one and Bell took the other. Arrows were whizzing into the room. One just narrowly missing her as it went whizzing past her, a split second later it was embedded into her canopied bed. Another grazing her shoulder as it flew past. She finally took down one of her attackers as Thor continued to charge the second one; Bell finally dispatched this one with Thor’s help. He saw her run to a chest in her room, reaching inside she lifted her armor out and quickly slipped into the leather. He saw her jerk her boots on hopping on her feet as she struggled to put them on. She was locking buckles and straps as fast as she could. Another attacker entered her room. Thor charged and Bell was right behind, she made short work of this attacker. Fury marring her face as she fought.
She stopped to listen to the sounds of battle, gauging the nearness of the next attack. She ran back to her chest. She dug deep for something within. She lifted out a piece of oilcloth, with her daggers in her hands she ran to the far side of her room. With a bit of effort she moved the bookcase out from the wall. With her dagger she was trying to loosen a stone block behind it. She slide her dagger along the edge of the stone to loosen it from the mortar, her fingers were getting scraped raw from her effort, and they started to bleed as she worked the stone block loose from the mortar. She kept looking back over her shoulder.
“Thor, guard the door.” Alistair heard her whisper.
Alistair watched as Thor took up guard just inside her bedchamber door, waiting for another attacker. The attacker wouldn’t see Thor since he was standing behind the door and would pounce once an attacker would walk or run inside. Thor’s stance was posed to strike waiting for the next attacker to harm his mistress.
The sounds and cries of a woman and her child being attacked could be heard from the hallway. Bell looked stricken if she should leave off whatever she was trying to do to go aid them. She squeezed her eyes shut and with effort was finally able to wiggle the stone from the wall; she threw the stone block down on the floor, it shattered into chunks when it landed on the stones of her bedchamber. She reached inside the small hole and took a scroll and something else with it out of the wall and placed this within the oil cloth. Wrapping the items up, she shoved the oilcloth and the contents within between her breasts inside her armor.
The child was no longer crying. Nor any sounds coming from his mother as Bell moved the bookcase back into place grunting with the effort. She kicked the pieces of loosen stone under her bed and fled out the door of her chamber. Thor was following close behind her, running right at her heels. Alistair could hear shouts of men asking Bell where the Teyrna was and a new battle was under way in the hallway. The vision disappeared.
Whatever she had taken the time to retrieve had probably cost the life of her sister-in-law and her nephew. If she hadn’t stopped to get whatever had been hidden within the stone of the wall; Alistair was confident she would have been able to defend her brother’s wife and child. Possibly saving their lives or at least one of them, if she would have left her room immediately after putting her armor on and engage in battle.
Whatever she had taken had to be vitally important to her and something she didn’t want Howe or his men to find. He knew Bell would have defended her nephew to the death. She just hadn’t been able to reach them in time and retrieve the hidden items from her room at the same time. She had to have known her nephew and sister-in-law were already dead when she left her room to find her mother. She had heard their screams as their lives were taken from them.
He now understood why she had been so hard on herself when addressing the guardian at the Urn of Scared Ashes. This is what the guardian had actually been asking Bellavalia. Was this scroll worth the life of your family? Even though the guardian had only asked about her parents. Bellavalia had understood exactly what the guardian had meant. He remembered her response to the guardian. She had replied: no they made me go, and they wanted me to live so King Cailan would know what happened to her family and for her brother to know the truth. I should have defended them with my life she had also responded. Bell had not just meant her mother and father but her sister-in-law and her nephew. She had extreme guilt over their deaths and she had not rushed to defend her nephew. Then they had come upon the spirit of her father where he told her to stop blaming herself and to put the past in the past and move forward with her tasks and the hardships that she would have to endure, to focus on those things instead.
“Your Highness, it’s time to awaken, as you asked.”
Alistair could feel someone shaking him awake. He awoke, and realized it was Allen, the captain of his royal guard; it was the start of a new day.