She sat legs bent, knees against her chest and her back against a log that turned out to be quite comfortable.  There was a chill in the air that desperately wanted to be warm–spring would not be long, now.  It was a beautiful evening, not yet dusk, and they’d done their day’s worth of walking and then some.

Lynne’s eyes were closed, an extremely slight smile on her face caused by a scene most rare–Pup, who had taken the meat of Morrigan’s supper whilst her back was turned, now cowered in fear behind Sten, who stood protectively against the Witch.  Their banter, although heated, was hilarious.

“Step away and let me at that dog, Qunari, before I set you both alight!"  She roared, completely livid.  It didn’t matter that Lynne had offered hers, it was the crime. 

"Parshara, witch,"  Sten spat.  "I am done of this!”

This was turning out to be the best night she’d had in a long, long while. 

The armor Alistair often wore nowadays was large and cumbersome. Eamon had given him a grand set of heavy plate, pure white steel - rumored to have been a favorite of the Arl’s predecessor. Sure - Alistair loved flashy armor that were as good as they could get - but handling the weight of it was like dragging around a litter of overgrown mabari on his back everyday.

The weight, however, was nothing compared to the King’s corpse on his shoulder, as Alistair hauled it to his funeral pyre.

They had found him erected like a sacrifice, darkspawn arrows pinning his rotting limbs against a pair of bestial, ornamental fangs crossed together in the middle of the bridge. It took four of them to lower the structure, carefully so that the frame was angled onto its front with Cailan dangling from the top. It was Alistair who was made responsible for catching him. Alistair had to wait with his arms extended forward - in case the arrows could no longer bear the brunt of Cailan’s weight and the former king came toppling down towards the floor.

Cailan’s golden hair brushed against the nape of Alistair’s neck, smearing blood against his skin like a fine paint brush. The putrid smell of decay and death permeated from Cailan’s pale, jaundiced skin, and Alistair was confident that he would have to expend through their party’s entire soap supply in an attempt to get off what had rubbed onto himself. What bothered Alistair the most at that particular point was that holding Cailan felt awkward - the bones in the King’s abdomen were twisted and made his lower half flail about like a marionette’s, but that was beyond the point - because that was the only time Alistair had ever held anyone like this of his kin.

Lynne must have noticed the horrid grimace on his face, because she was staring at him with somber, quiet interest while the others safely moved the frame the rest of the way down.

“The King and I were close, you see,” Alistair had said, explaining the strange image of him then, with Cailan in his arms, that must have been in Lynne’s eyes.

The air of the cellar that they, admittedly, snuck into was damp and dark, like most wine cellars.  Arl Eamon had bid them stay and rest, giving their companions each a room and a nice bed to sleep in for the next two days.  Lynne had found Alistair in a grand hallway after midnight looking out a window, and knew that something was on his mind.  Knowing that most castles of Ferelden where of a similar construct, she convinced him to sneak past the guards with her for a quick drink. 

As Lynne and Alistair ducked their heads to avoid the low beams, she spotted a barrel with two stools next to it in the fashion of a table. 

She grabbed the closest two bottles she could find, handing one to Alistair then moving to sweep the dust off of one of the stools.  He offered her a match, which she struck to the bottom of her boot, small light sparking into the room.  Lighting a small candle and setting it atop the barrel, she felt she was finally able to relax.  She sat then, ankles sorely thanking her, and squeezed the lid of her bottle off with a pop.  Drinking deeply, the sweet alcohol slipped down her throat with a hot ache.  Wincing, she admitted to him that wine wasn’t really her thing—whiskey was much preferred. 

Alistair had laughed, although it rang a bit hollow, leading her to ask “What’s wrong?”

Alistair couldn’t have ever imagined that he could have taken it this far.

He had taken her to the bathing pool when the others had begun retreating to their tents. It was the only place remote enough to give them some privacy but not so far in that they couldn’t safely run back should a darkspawn ambush fall upon them.

The large boulders nearby were damp and moldy with moss, and they had both agreed that sitting on the dusty ground was much better than having green stains streaked over their bottoms. They sat beside each other in tense silence; he could tell that she desperately wanted him to get to the point of their secret meeting immediately before watching the moonlight ripple across the water’s surface lost its magic.

“So… ummm…” Alistair’s mouth hung dry for a moment. “Are you.. are you enjoying yourself?”

Cold air and bitter memories–a plot she was only now coming to understand, circumstances that had once halted her sleep and filled her thoughts with a curious skepticism, a confused hurt.  The night her castle burned, she knew–an Arling for a Teyrnir, a ring for surrender of land.

A ring she’d worn for over seven years, its mate far across the sea and voiced in tense, forced letters with a small shard of affectionate sincerity.  A sham of a marriage, forced by mothers and fathers desperate for powerful grandchildren that had no chance of birth–a distance in flesh had secured a barren womb.  Her mother never blamed her; after all, it wasn’t her fault.

It was her name that troubled her the most–she’d sacrificed her name in favor of the one who’d betrayed her.  And now, perhaps, the option to take another might not be possible. 

That’s what terrified her the most–now that she’d found love, it might not last but for a moment.  Honestly there was nothing she could do about it–being a Warden stripped her of title and right, and being a Howe had stripped her of home.

Her hands knotted into one another, intertwining with discomfort as Eamon speaks to them of duty, blood, and country.  His voice is that of a school master, as if scolding two young children and instructing them to proper behavior.  Every fiber of her being dreads the topic he discusses, as her quiet tongue and secrecy have no doubt backed her into a corner only promising conflict.

One that she doesn’t want.

“The Couslands are powerful, and have been wronged–the public will easily sway beneath them, and the heir born of you could very well unanimously band Ferelden together.  It is a powerful match, Alistair, and you will need her counsel when it comes to the affairs of the court,” Eamon’s voice at such a level would have otherwise put her to sleep–now, however, he tread dangerous waters.

The aged man’s face turned to hers, a look of knowing that kicked her in the stomach with guilt and dread.  “As for the marriage, Elissa, the Landsmeet will most assuredly allow annulment.  As I said before, the Couslands were wronged and everyone in that room will know it.”

Alistair’s confusion radiated from him, and she gave Eamon a sharp glare to stop the older man from causing further damage.

She and Alistair had to discuss this–now.

To say that I look suspicious is a bit of an understatement.  Haven’t been in the camp for a half of an hour yet, and already I find myself conversing with a deserter.  It’s hard to hear what he says–he’s obviously exhausted and the damned priest shouting the Chant behind me doesn’t make this easier.

“I don’t suppose you have a bit of kindness in you?” the man’s hands rest on the iron bars of his prison, and the circles around his eyes are dark and deep.  "I’m so hungry I could faint dead away.“

"Why haven’t they fed you?”  This is not honor, and this is not how a man formerly in the King’s army should be treated.  I can hear the steely edge to my voice–were this Highever, I would give his Commander a proper scolding.  

“I guess nobody thought of it,” he replies with a tired sigh.  "At least, not with the battle and such.“

"Hang tight, my good man, I’ll see what I can do.”  

As a young girl she’d spent many nights by the sea, slipping away from the hawk eyes of her Nan to hide within the fragrant boughs just along the shore, small ears filling with the sounds of waves.  Crash.  Swell.

The salt, the brine and the spray, all-interweaving into the being itself that was the ocean; the grounding force that dwarfed her body and reminded her that there were things, in fact, larger than herself.

It was a hot sunset.

The kind that threw facets of warm orange into flat blue, reflecting dully off of the steel bracer on her wrist.  Her hair was back but dark strands slipped out at every corner to dance around her face, boots in hand and toes dug deeply within the wet sand.  They would stay here for the night, protected at their back by the sea and to the front by the narrow shoreline thick with trees of the eastern Brecillian.

It was just as she’d remembered—safe.  Safer, at least, then the Veil-torn forest for which they had wandered for days.

She felt lighter than she had in months, as if the horizon itself embodied contentment and ease.  Tilting her head back to smell the salt, she called for Alistair.  He was the only one she’d wish to share this feeling with.