I was sitting in my bed in the afternoon and Wynne had left to work on more potions and do whatever it was she was doing. Namely, healing anyone who needed it, since the city was still recovering from the Battle of Denerim.
From outside my window I could hear people going about their daily lives. I was proud of the fact that we’d saved so many people within the city. I could hear lumber being sawed and nailed. Workers calling to each other. Orders being issued. Troops training. Castle staff rushing to do their work. The city was coming back to life slow but sure. Soon all of Denerim would celebrate the crowning of their new king. Which would be in a few days time and I still didn’t have a gown to wear.
I was so tired and had just awoken from a nap. I was still working on learning the Grey Warden cipher and making lists for supplies we’d likely need for our journey to Highever. We’d need to hire more troops. Maker only knew what we will find once there. I guess it was a good thing I had tents with my supplies from our time of fighting the blight. We’d need more of them. We’d need dry goods such as: flour, salt, sugar or honey if we could find any. Tea, cheese, apples and ale from here will have to go with us. Maker only knew what had happened to the cattle at Highever and the massive grain stores. With luck much of it would still be there. I could help my brother to some degree with gold, but I’d have to keep a fair amount to supply the Vigil when I got there. I had no idea what type of supplies Kristoff and the others had with them.
I knew my brother and what remaining men we had would hunt on our journey north. Thus we’d have meat to preserve. There were plenty of streams and lakes we could fish in. We also have fishing boats off the piers below the cliffs. I didn’t see Howe doing away with those fishing boats. If he did he would have been a fool. Highever was a main port in Ferelden. So, we’d send fishermen out and hopefully with their help we’d refill our food stores. We’d need to get started right away on salting fish. The orchards would also need tending. The trees pruned, fields plowed for spring planting which would soon be upon us. Grain seed would need to be purchased. The food/herb gardens tended. We’d have to take the largest portion of the staff here to begin the task of putting Highever back to rights. We’d need to find our families bodies and see their bones buried once we arrived home. I remembered looking back and seeing Highever on fire, so I knew there was damage to the massive castle. How much…well we wouldn’t know until we got there.
I hope my war-horse Luna was safe. I had yet to talk with Fergus if he had any news of Highever at all. Our family horses were just a handful of horses within all of Ferelden. He had been a gift from father and as deeply loved as Thor was to me. I hope he was well and safe. I hoped he had turned up and the darkspawn had not harmed him or the other animals at Highever. Duncan had been dragging me along and I had no idea what might have happened to him. I knew the castle had been on fire and I had no idea if the large stables and barns on the property proper had also been burned. There was no way of knowing unless we had some kind of news before our trip North.
I had just discussed with Wynne on what medical supplies she would need and she was working on getting those together for us when we left. She had told me her and my brother were working on getting the ingredients that she needed. I’m sure people all over Ferelden were starving. I had no idea what supplies might still be left at Highever, this worried me. I knew Fergus and me would do what our father and mother had always taught us and that was to prepare and make as many preparations as one could before hand. Our buried gold reserves were buried all over Ferelden. I knew that Fergus had already tapped into those and I was wondering if he had been to Rainesfere himself?
A pain sheared my heart. I’d be able to help Fergus for only a short while at Highever. I hope I could make him understand my need to go to Rainesfere and get ready to take my command of the Vigil. Nobody could go with me when I left Highever. Not a soul could know of my plans and where I needed to go and what I had to do. Soon, I would be on my own. The Warden Commander of Ferelden. I would need to be fearless. In reality I was scared to death.
I threw the covers off of me, I was very warm all of a sudden and a twinge of weakness came over me. My body had been through so much. I think fighting the blight had finally caught up with me. I would get a twinge of nightmares here and there since the blight ended. This didn’t make any sense to me. So there had to be more darkspawn still on the surface. Hopefully stragglers and I would have to deal with them in the not to distant future. I adjusted my nightgown and got my covers straightened out.
A knock sounded on my door.
My door opened and in walked Kristoff. He looked well if a little haggard.
“How goes it Kristoff?”
“Well enough Commander. We’ve had the chance to go through the entire Denerim Compound, and with His Highnesses help we have been able to go through Loghain’s things at the palace, and it appears the Maker is on our side. We’ve been able to locate the vials of darkspawn blood that Loghain took and what his Highness saved from Urthemiel. We’ll be ready to get started on recruitment and the joining when we get to the Vigil. I’m crating up the rest of the blood from the Arch Demon to be shipped off to Montsimmard and Wesisshaupt for them to distribute.”
“That is good news.”
“So how badly did it go with the King when I left?”
“I managed well enough, there wasn’t much he could do except yell.”
I laughed. Once I got over my giggle I asked further.
“What about supplies in the compound?”
“You left a lot of weapons, those will come in handy. We also opened the lids of barrels and crates and have discovered numerous supplies. So far we have: flour, tea, salt, sugar. Dried fish. Casks of ale and wine. So we’re good on supplies.”
“Yes, well I was loaded down with weapons and didn’t have the time during the battle to check on the compound when I fought my way through the market district.”
Kristoff nodded and continued.
“It appears we’ll need to purchase a few bed rolls, campfire equipment, cooking pots…that sort of thing. We’re going through what me might be able to sell to vendors for coin to purchase more supplies.
“We’ll need wagons to get this stuff loaded up for the journey to Highever and the rest of the journey on to the Vigil.”
” The men and I are looking to purchase a few wagons, the market district is open once again and it is just a matter of finding a craftsman to make a couple of wagons or carts for us. There is plenty of lumber to be had and people are making use of it, or at least what is left after all the fires to burn the dead. We’ll also need oxen or have to push the bloody things ourselves. I doubt we’ll find to many oxen, people are killing them for food.”
“My brother can direct you to a few craftsmen. I’m sure he knows of a few. If you find some oxen steal them if you have to.”
“I’ll check with him.”
“His Highness wishes for us to escort you and your brother to Highever and make sure you are secured there so you can heal and see to your personal affairs.”
“With your permission, once we get your family home secured, I’d like to propose the rest of us Wardens go to the Vigil and start the process of hiring staff. The First Warden has already sent word he is in the process of interviewing a Seneschal to help you run the Vigil. We’ll need all manner of servants to help clean, cook, grounds keepers, field hands, and of course new soldiers to rebuild the Vigil’s garrison. I’d like to get started on this right away, with your permission.”
“You have it. How much gold did the First Warden send you with?”
“Well we’ve not had to pay for lodging here so that has helped, being housed in Fort Drakon with you and now here at your family’s estate. The First Warden sent me with 200 gold, of which we did have to use some for lodging on our way from Orlais. So we’ve a grand total of 170 gold left after we paid for lodging and bought more supplies when we could find them to purchase. Food is in short supply all over the country. While on the road to get here the north is doing better than the southern portion of Ferelden. The ports are open so trade is starting to flow.”
Is that all I thought. We’d need much more gold than this. I didn’t say anything.
“Anything else Kristoff?”
“Yes, myself and the rest of the Wardens would like to be excused from the crowning ceremony with the king and ball afterwards.”
“Well commander, we’re not exactly Fereldens are we, and we thought since the majority of us are Orlaisan it was best not to attend.”
“It is with me if this is your wishes and I’m sure my brother won’t object.”
“Very good Commander.”
“You know Kristoff, I’ve yet to meet the rest of the Wardens from Orlais.”
“Yes, Commander, I realize this and I was thinking the night before we leave for Highever would be a good time for you to meet the rest of them. They are very curious about you…surviving an Arch Demon.”
“I’m sure they are and does this mean we are going to rehash all of that?”
“No Commander, I’ve already sent my report to the First Warden. It’s in his hands now.”
“As you say.”
“Just be aware they will ask you questions?”
“Alright Kristoff, on to other matters, what else do we need to discuss?”
“Have you completed your task of your security and the threat to your family?”
“In part yes, soon, when Zevran and Leliana return. Soon, it will be just a matter of getting the information into Alistair’s hands and it can’t be sent from me.”
“So you were able to secure what you needed too?”
“Yes, I retrieved what I needed to. There will always be the threat from Anora’s followers. For now the safety of my person stands in good stead it seems. The King, my brother, and I will always have to look over our shoulders, but for now it will take them time to regroup and I have no idea what Arl Eamon’s plans are to secure the kingdom from them. I imagine something is in the works. I’m also sure once the information is reviewed that Anora will hang from the gallows and soon.”
“For your sake Commander I hope this is true. You must be aware they will likely try to get at you when you take your command at the Vigil.”
“I’ve already thought of this and this is something I’ll discuss with Zevran and Leliana, they have contacts here that might be able to give me an idea on who my enemies are in Amaranthine before I get there.”
“Very good Commander, at least you’re preparing for the inevitable.”
“I really don’t have much choice after what Howe did to my family.”
“I understand Commander at least you’re getting your personal affairs in order.”
“Your followers just arrived back in the Dalish camp outside the city. I imagine they will be here before eventide.”
“I’m eager to see them and to know they are alright.”
“Alright Kristoff, there is something else.”
“Yes, Commander, what is on your mind?”
“Well it occurred to me that there has to be various tunnels around Ferelden where the darkspawn came up and many of these have to be down near the Kocari Wilds where the blight started. We need to do research of old chantry records and any records the Shaperete might have in Orzammar to find these tunnels. They will have to be sealed off. I’d also like to station a few Wardens at Ostagar once we get settled at the Vigil. I know I need to start on recruitment as soon-as-possible. I”d like to shoot for at least a dozen new wardens in Ferelden to start.”
“I like this idea and this is something we can work on in the future once we get established at the Vigil and moved in. We can start on research here in Denerim at the Chantry if you’d like and interview many of the dwarves that remain here in the city if you wish?”
“Yes, and I’m sure Leliana and Oghren both will be able to direct us in this and will most likely help once the coronation is over; but, their first obligation will be to Alistair, and whatever work he has for them will need to come first.”
“Commander it might also be a good idea to venture near the Kocari Wilds once everything is settled at the Vigil. It might be a good idea if we investigate the area ourselves and interview the locals in that area on what they saw or what was happening in the area when the blight started. I still haven’t found Duncan’s journal to give us any clues. The First Warden does wish for us to investigate this area and to learn what we can. This might give us more information on the other two remaining old gods.”
“I’m sure his journal will turn up, it’s just a matter of finding it. It could be at Ostagar. He could have hidden it there. I know that Riordan found many of his records. Has his body been found?” Kristoff didn’t need to know that I had Duncan’s personal journal. I was still reading it.
If it has they have not informed me of it, this is something I should check on, if his body hasn’t been burnt already, it needs to be shrouded and shipped to Weisshaupt and any records he had on him. I have no idea if he sent those records on to Weisshaupt and we need to find out if they are still on his body or what has happened to them. They are encrypted so only a Warden can read them.”
“Why Weisshaupt, to verify my story?”
“I’m not sure Commander, if his body will survive the trip is what I’ve been instructed to do.”
“Very well then and finding his body soon is for the best and the papers he had on him. His body has to be in the area of the towers in the front of Fort Drakon.”
“Yes, the sooner we find his body the better.”
I handed Kristoff a velum paper. He took it from my hands. He looked down and read it.
“Commander you’re doing well in learning the cipher. I can read this. You’ve almost got it down, another day and you’ll have it, soon you’ll be able to communicate with the First Warden and I’ll be able to teach you what to do next.”
“Sounds good Kristoff, I guess in a few days time we’ll be on our way.”
“Indeed Commander, I’ll go and find your brother, he is on the docks and is recruiting for new men to join the Highever garrison. Preparations are going forward for our journey north and I’ll let you get some rest.”
“If you don’t mind, would you tell my brother to join me when Zevran and Leliana arrive?”
“Not at all Commander.”
He bowed to me and took his leave.
I laid the papers I was working on aside and once again felt the rush of heat through my body. I was so warm. I knew soon, my chamber would be filled with visitors. Zevran had the papers on him about me I had retrieved from Gwaren. Fergus was still reading through the ones I had on Anora and I knew he was busy; we’d have to decide how to get them to Alistair. When Zevran returned the letters on me, I’d read them then burn them.
I also knew I had preparations to make for my gown and I had been told that Leliana already had a head start on that project and that a new set of armor was being made for me. This I would wear for the official acknowledgement from the King for defending Ferelden against the blight. Then the ball for later where I’d wear the gown. I had also been practicing my fealty speech I’d have to make to Alistair as the Teyrna of Highever and Arlessa of Amaranthine.
Wynne didn’t have to worry about me getting out of bed. I was so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was exhausted. I soon drifted off to sleep.
Sometime later in the late afternoon…
Alistair stood watching as Zevran and Leliana walked out of the Dalish camp. They had arrived back to Denerim. He motioned for them come to him. His guards standing behind him.
“Well, what have you two to say for yourselves?”
“Why should we have anything to say?” Retorted Zevran.
Alistair’s guards shifted. He waved them off.
“Come on let’s walk back to Eamon’s he wants to talk with you about your recent adventures and I’m eager to hear what you have to say.”
“Alistair, we’re not going to tell you anything, because we don’t know anything.”
Alistair stopped in his tracks and regarded Leliana. He started to say something and then decided against it. He finally keep moving. After a good long walk they came to Eamon’s estate, which they entered. Master Dolan greeted him upon his arrival.
“Refreshments your Highness?”
“Please Master Dolan, some wine, cheese, and crackers if you have it.”
“Yes, right away your Highness, in the Arl’s study.”
“Please, and let the Arl know I’m back with my companions.”
“Of course Your Highness.”
Alistair walked around and seated himself behind Eamon’s desk.
“Before Eamon gets here, just follow my lead, I’ve already spoken to Bell. I’ll give you hints and just agree with everything I say, got it.”
Both of them nodded. They didn’t have to wait long, Arl Eamon soon appeared at his study door. Since His Highness was in his seat Eamon went to stand beside him.
“Well Alistair it appears your spies are back.”
“So it seems Eamon.”
“May I Your Highness?”
Alistair waved his hand for Eamon to proceed.
“Might I ask why you helped the Warden Commander escape from Fort Drakon?”
“Well you see our friend was in need to be somewhere important to her and we didn’t want her going off on her own,” spoke Zevran.
“Just where is it that she went?”
Alistair spoke up. “Well it appears she gave her word to a soldier at Ostagar that she would see gold taken to the lady’s mother, my understanding is that the Warden Commander gave her word.”
Eamon looked at Zevran and Leliana.
“Is this what you did, even knowing His Highness already issued orders she was to remain in Fort Drakon?”
“Si, it is so.”
Leliana nodded in agreement with Zevran.
” We found the woman in a small town just outside of Lothering. She had been a villager in Lothering but fled, and Bell found the woman and gave her condolences on her daughter’s sacrifice at Ostagar and gave the woman the leather pouch of coins. On our return we were surrounded by bandits in the woods and attacked. During the attack the commander slipped in a stream we were fighting through and broke her leg again. Others within the forest came to our rescue that we had met before while fighting the blight.”
“How bad are the blightlands down south?”
“The land is badly scared from the blight, people starving, but they seem to be doing what they can for themselves. The chantry is helping where they can for the people.”
“Your sure this is all there was to this little adventure?”
“Yes, we stayed with Bell all the way, she is the type of person when she gives her word, she does what she says. She comforted the lady as best she could. She wanted to get this done before she went north with her brother.”
“As long as I’ve known the Cousland family…their word is their bond.”
“I’ve received word from Gwaren and Dragon’s Peak that there are bandits out on the roads, Alistair, people are desperate and we need that grain we talked about purchasing.”
“I’m aware Eamon, but let’s wait and see what Fergus finds at Highever before we make the final decision. I really don’t want the other nations to know that we are starving.”
“As you say Alistair.”
“You two didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, it would appear so, it was just rotten luck that Bell fell in the stream.” Leliana shrugged her shoulder as she spoke looking Eamon in the eye and daring him to call her a liar.
“We were fortunate that Morrigan came upon us in the forest when we were on our way back, and, she is one of our former companions. Alistair knows her very well.” Leliana watched as Alistair squirmed in his chair. “She is the apostate mage who traveled with us. She got Bell back to Denerim – to Wynne for healing.”
“As a dragon?” Eamon asked.
“Well it’s news to all of us that she now has this ability. This would have been helpful during the blight, so I’d say this is a recent development. She is an apostate and she practices magic the chantry doesn’t approve of.”
“Then she should be caught and turned over to the Templars.”
“Eamon as much as I like that idea, it remains, that she did help us fight the blight. I’m not going to turn her in. If the Templars come upon her on their own, well good for them then.”
“As you wish Alistair.”
Eamon wasn’t done being nosey.
“It seems both of you made it back here in record time as well. How did you manage this, and why should His Highness trust you in the future to be in his employ if you are not honest with him?”
“Do not worry my friend, I’m sure if his Highness didn’t trust us, we’d be in Fort Drakon at this very moment and as for fast travel, we Dalish have our ways, that you Shems know nothing of,” snapped Zevran.
“Really Alistair is this truly necessary?” Leliana asked.
“Enough Eamon, I’m satisfied with their and Bell’s answer. I know Bell well and if this is something she gave her word on then she would follow through and I’m sure you knowing her as Bryce Cousland’s daughter, then you also know she is a woman of her word. I see no issue here and I’m glad they went with her, even if she did defy my orders. At least whatever she had to do is done and over. I think it is time to focus on the future and soon the Warden Commander will be out your hair Eamon.”
“That is not what I meant Alistair and you know it.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but we’d like to talk with Bell and see how she is.”
“She is at her home here in Denerim, both of you can see her there and it’s my understanding you can also be housed there if you wish to spend a few more days with her before she leaves with her brother for Highever. Wynne has seen that your personal belongings have been sent over there. I saw Bell this morning and Wynne has patched her up and she is resting comfortably. You’ve got the issue with her gown in hand?”
“I do Alistair, she will be a vision when you see her.”
” I’ll catch up with you later, and we’ll discuss your duties in my employ after the coronation.”
Zevran and Leliana bowed and left the room and walked their way out of the estate.
“I’d love nothing more than to stick a dagger in the good ol Arl’s eye socket.”
“Si, so would I; but, alas, Alistair would suspect and I don’t think he will take to kindly to us killing his chancellor. ”
Leliana sighed, “I know, but it sure would feel good.”
“Eamon is jealous of her influence with Alistair.”
“He should be since she would make a good chancellor herself, and I’m thinking she would do a better job of it.”
“Come the walk to her estate is a ways away, it will be eventide before we get there and I’m starved.”
“Right behind you, lead the way.” Both of them headed north within the city to get to Cousland Court. They stopped and chatted and checked out a few merchants along the way to see if anything new of interest was important enough to buy.
“I’ll miss her when she is gone.”
“Aye, me too, she is the only true friend I’ve ever had, hard to have friends being a member of the Crows. I used to think of Talisan as my friend, when in reality he never was.”
“The same with me and Marjoline, and I’ll miss Bell ever so very much.”
“We can visit her at the Vigil if our travels for Alistair take us up north.”
Both of them walked the rest of the way in silence lost in their own thoughts on what the future actually held for them all.
Soon they came within sight of Cousland Court. “Impressive isn’t it.”
“Si, this was their families city residence can you imagine what Highever was like?”
“I’ve heard of her family home, so many ancient tales of the castle, it is said it used to be the home of Flemeth.”
“Yes, much death happened there long ago when Flemeth killed all the people there and the steward of Highever at the time was an ancestor of Bell’s and this is how their family got their start. They are one of the oldest families in Ferelden.”
“It appears they did well for themselves.”
“Yes, and greed by Howe is what brought them to their current state. You know if it wasn’t for Wynne I don’t think any of us would have ever known Bell was born a noble. She never talked about herself.”
“True, she had a knack for getting all of us to talk about ourselves and I don’t think even Alistair even took the time to get to really know her and in fact none of us did. She knows about all of us; and yet we only know she is a high-born lady with a past, she saved Ferelden from the Blight and she is a true friend; other than this we really don’t know much about her.”
Leliana laughed. “Rogue training.”
“You didn’t open the sealed parchment she gave you?”
“Uh, no, I tried, but there is no way past the tainted blood of her’s to get it open. You know, darkspawn blood and all.”
“I’d sure love to know what Loghain and Anora had on her?”
“Si, so would I. It’s been my experience that these things always come to light after a time.”
“Yes, I’ve seen this happen time and time again in Orlais.”
“Well if we’re around long enough here in Ferelden, we might find out.”
Leliana giggled. “Yes, we just might.”
“Intriguing isn’t it, our Hero of Ferelden has a past.”
“Come on my beautiful Orlaisan Bard, I’m starving and the sooner we make it to Cousland Court the sooner we fill our bellies.”
“I’m right behind you.”
“No stopping to look at shoes.”
Leliana laughed, well I’ll try to control myself.
“See that you do my beauty.”
Zevran laughed and took off running before Leliana could land a sucker punch.