NOTE: I have no idea how this happened, but there was a chapter missing when I posted. I was fixing the main page today and I realized this chapter was missing. So I am remedying it now. I apologize for those of you who’ve been reading. I’ve been a little scattered lately, and I really don’t know how I missed that this chapter wasn’t posted. I will be going through and fixing the other chapters so they all fall in line. I’m so sorry for the confusion.
“Kristoff?” She was beautiful, doe-eyed and delicate, her golden hair wavering in the rising wind as she started toward their undead companion, hurried steps at first, then slowly tentatively the closer she got to the man who had once been her husband. “Oh, thank the Maker.”
Arabelle was just a few feet away from the well when she heard the Fade Spirit respond, “I… I fear you are mistaken, Mortal.”
Nathaniel picked up his pace, arriving beside her and leaning closer to mutter, “Is that his… wife?”
“I… don’t know,” she shook her head.
“Kristoff, why are you…? What has happened?”
Justice stood unmoving, a troubled expression marring the features of Kristoff’s face. He seemed ready to open his mouth to reply, but several times the lips moved and no sound escaped them.
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Arabelle intervened. “This is not Kristoff. Kristoff was killed by the darkspawn.”
“Killed?” she stammered. “But… he’s standing right here.”
Justice finally found his voice, hands lifting in awkward attempts at placating movements as he explained, “Your husband is gone, and I inhabit this body now. His death will be avenged, I assure you.”
“Avenged? You’ve desecrated his body!” she shouted. “How dare you?”
The others were gathering, Anders moving in slowly, Velanna curiously inching forward. Nathaniel stood so close to her, Arabelle could feel the warmth of his nearness, and though she knew it was the most inappropriate of moments to notice, it was a reassuring comfort that he was so near. Oghren was the only one who watched from a distance, hand still clutching the skin he drank from halfway to his mouth. Belle was flabbergasted, part of her feeling so guilty for having brought Justice back with them from Blackmarsh. She hadn’t thought much about the consequences at all, that Kristoff’s family, his wife would come searching for answers, and how would they explain what happened? That a spirit of the Fade now inhabited the Grey Warden’s body, kept it moving even though it was dead.
“It was not… intentional,” Justice tried, taking a tentative, yet seemingly intentional step toward her. “There was—”
“Get away from me!” the woman shrieked, shoving at him and then fleeing the courtyard.
No one said anything for a long time. The air between them was stiff and stale and there were no words. Several minutes passed before Justice finally said, “This body has memories of this woman. Aura is her name. I… I did not know she would come.”
“I did not know about her either, Justice,” Arabelle assured him. They’d found journals in his room above the tavern, but beyond searching for clues detailing his mission and his whereabouts, she’d barely skimmed the pages. She hadn’t taken time to get to know the man they were searching for, and when all was said and done, she’d turned the journal over to Justice, along with all of Kristoff’s other belongings, because she hadn’t known what else to do with them and throwing them away felt criminal.
She started to take a step forward, instinct urging her to comfort him, but she drew her hand back before she touched him and allowed her arm to fall slack at her side.
“I must rectify this somehow,” he deemed. “Intentionally or not, I have done this woman a great disservice.”
“I don’t know where we’d even begin to look for her.”
Justice lifted a hand to his forehead, fingers stroking along the creased brow, inching into the cropped remainder of another man’s hair. He closed his eyes, thinking and then shook his head. “My memories suggest her home is in Amaranthine. It will prey on me if we do not seek her out. There must be something that can be done to assuage her pain. Something.”
“I will see what I can find out,” she promised. “Tomorrow we will take a trip into Amaranthine and search for her.”
“The darkspawn call our attention, but should we get the chance to seek her out, I would be grateful, Commander.”
“We will find her, Justice. You have my word.”
He nodded once, and then turned away from the courtyard, making his way back into the keep. The four of them stood there, unsure what there was to be said, and from the corner of her eye she watched Oghren take a drink, guzzling down several swills before lowering the skin and belching as if he hadn’t just witnessed a dead man’s confrontation with his wife. Blinking, Belle shook her head and drew in a wary breath through her nose.
“Well,” Anders finally spoke up, “that was certainly awkward. Maybe… Maybe someone should go talk to him. Make sure he’s all right.”
“He’s a spirit of the Fade, Anders,” Nathaniel pointed out. “They don’t endure things in the same way we do.”
“No, Howe, they don’t. They experience things more purely than we could even begin to imagine,” Anders defended. “He is the very embodiment of Justice, and in merging with a human the concept of his own reality has been… distorted. This… It must be very hard for him to understand.”
“You seem to know quite a bit about him, Anders,” she observed.
“We’ve talked,” he shrugged, “a few times these last few days. I suppose I’ll go and talk to him now.”
Velanna shook her head, backing away only moments after Anders walked toward the keep, leaving her alone near the well with Nathaniel. The wind had picked up quite a bit since they’d left the practice yard. For the first time in hours she could feel it nipping at her skin, her cheeks burning, the rustling of her hair against her face almost irritating.
“I’m cold,” she finally found her voice.
“Would that I had brought my cloak, I would offer it to you, Lady, but alas, I left it in my quarters.”
Nathaniel only nodded, falling into step beside her as the two of them made their way toward the castle. Her mind was filled with strange questions, things she didn’t know how to give voice to, or who she would even ask.
Did Justice feel the cold? Did he feel anything physical at all? If there’d been a spirit of the Fade present when Alistair died, like the one that saved Wynne, would he have come back from Fort Drakon with her? Different, but still retaining some part of his memories the way Justice clung to threads of Kristoff’s life?
What had Justice felt when he saw Aura? She wanted to ask him, but she was afraid. Her mind entertaining the strangest and most disconcerting array of thoughts she began to think deserved no answers. It was an unnatural thing to wonder. No matter how much Justice looked like Kristoff, he was not Kristoff, and maybe he was right. Maybe it was a cruel thing for him to stand there in front of Kristoff’s grieving wife, in Kristoff’s body with only the barest memories of a life they’d never actually shared.
But there was a spirit of the Fade inside Wynne too, a kind and loving spirit that sustained her, kept her living even when she should have died. Could Arabelle have lived a life with Alistair in that way? His body possessed and maintained by a benevolent spirit? Would he have been the same man she loved? She didn’t think she would have cared, just so long as some part of him was in there…
Maker, what was she saying?
The perverse severity of her thought patterns stunned her. Reeling herself back in from that tangled stream of consciousness, she pushed through the doors and decided the only way to warm the chill from her bones, to wash the feeling of desperation and shame from her skin was in a boiling tub of water.
“Commander,” Nathaniel reached for her forearm, the slip of his grip sliding downward until he was clutching her gloved hand inside his own. “Are you all right? That… that scene was rather disturbing and you seem a bit shaken.”
“I’m fine,” she insisted, her gaze lingering on their clutched hands between them. “Thank you, Nathaniel.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. I just find myself filled with questions there are no answer to, things it’s best not to dwell on.”
“Things akin to what we spoke of a few nights ago? About the Fade?”
“Yes, but they are foolish and childish and yet…”
“Yet you still think about them. You have lost much, my lady. None can dictate how you grieve, what thoughts to entertain. They are only thoughts, however, and no cause for guilt or self-degradation.”
“Yes, well… Even that I cannot control, it seems. In any case, I am cold and hungry. I think I will take my meal and settle into a hot bath before bed.”
“If you ever…” he started, hesitating as he sought internally for the right way to phrase his words. “If ever you… I am here,” he finally managed. “If you need a friend, my lady. I may not have answers to your questions, but I will gladly listen if you want to share them.”
The muscles in her neck tightened, her throat constricting until she could scarcely draw breath. “That is very thoughtful.”
“And I wanted to say,” he went on, “that I hope you know I was only teasing you about your skills when we were in the yard. I meant no offense. I think you are more than competent at what you do. You are a strong leader and you’re not bad with a bow at all.”
“Not bad, huh?” She turned her stare upward, met his eyes without flinching. “Coming from someone of your skill, I will consider that the highest of praises.”
“Good,” he nodded, “that is how it was meant.”
“Thank you for the lesson,” she withdrew her hand from his. “I will put every moment of our time together today to good use.” She tipped her head and then moved past him, toward the opposite end of the reception hall.
Let me begin with an apology for not writing sooner. Things here in Amaranthine have been difficult, from noble conspiracies against yours truly, that resulted in a reception hall full of dead Antivan Crows and a dead noblewoman who refused to let slip her loyalty to Rendon Howe, to the ever-growing strangeness of a plot composed by darkspawn.
Yes. You read that correctly. The darkspawn are plotting now. And talking. Thinking for themselves. Working against u,s as well as each other. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever encountered, and though I’ve not been a Grey Warden for very long compared to some, I daresay the unusual nature of the events here are cause for grave concern. I hesitate to send word to the First Warden until I know more, but I fear it won’t be long before I am forced to involve him in this matter beyond the little slips I make to Mistress Woolsey in conversation.
The old woman is shrewd and observant, always poking her nose in when Varel and I are in conversation, so I am fairly certain the First Warden knows plenty about what’s happening here. But he sends no other Wardens to aid us. Either he is testing my mettle, seeing if I am truly deserving of this position, or she’s said far less to him than I imagined. I don’t know why she wouldn’t tell him, why he won’t get involved.
Again, I cannot write in too much detail, for I fear my letter might fall into the wrong hangs and breed unnecessary panic among the masses. Not until it’s over, or at the very least under control, can I explain it in its full depth. Just know that things are dire, but I am doing everything in my power to nip this situation in the bud, and restore peace and order to the arling. I honestly don’t know how Eamon does this. My respect for him, which was already monumental, has reached a whole new level.
Your concern is touching, and in some part, not unfounded. Seeing Wynne was very difficult for me. It brought all these things I thought I’d been doing a grand job of tucking away inside me rushing back to the surface. Every time I think I am ready to start breathing again, I forget how, which leads me to wonder how I ever managed to breathe before Alistair.
That sounds absurd. I know it does. I led a perfectly normal life before I became a Grey Warden. I flirted and danced, daydreamed and planned. I had so many things I wanted from life before my choices were taken from me.
To further complicate my emotional disarray, I have been spending a lot of time with Nathaniel of late. Both in the field and at the keep, we are often in one another’s company. I feel strangely comfortable with him, and have even found myself opening up to him and sharing things I’ve been unable to share with anyone else.
I find myself toeing the edge of things I told myself I would never feel again. I like him. And when I say this, I mean I really like him. As my friend Anders might say, I like him-like him. In that way that makes me feel giddy and strange and just a little bit like jelly whenever he walks into a room. Sometimes I am not sure if it is twelve-year-old Arabelle feeling these unexpected things for him, or if it’s truly me, all grown-up and fully aware of exactly what it is I’ve begun to entertain. I would be lying if I said I didn’t adore him. He’s sharp-tongued and witty, yet so very gentle at times I find myself wanting to peel away the layers on the surface to discover the man beneath them.
We have more in common than I ever would have thought. We’ve both been jerked around by life’s whims, forced into positions we may not have wanted to be in, but have come to not only endure, but enjoy and even take pride in. And we have both lost so much. Our families are all but gone. I have Fergus and he has Delilah, but the very essence of who we thought we were supposed to be is just gone.
Part of me thinks I should hold up my hands and surrender to the things I feel, and then my mind carries me off in a tangent of what ifs and maybes that don’t even make sense. It’s as though I’ve convinced myself in some way that I only need wait and Alistair and I will be together again.
That is insane. He is never coming back, and sometimes I think that is the thing that terrifies me most, the one thing I am so afraid to let go of. As long as I cling to the delusion that we will be together, I feel safe. If I let go, what then?
It’s been almost a year. The longest and most harrowing year of my life. Longer than that Blighted year, which in my memory feels as if it flew by so quickly because of Alistair. Now time moves slow, the minutes ticking into hours, but feeling like years on the best of days, but it doesn’t feel like that at all when I am with Nathaniel. I find myself looking forward to his company, and then lamenting its absence when the moment’s passed and I am alone again.
I do not even know if he is of a mind on the matter, or if I’ve simply allowed twelve-year-old me to fall into some comfortable pattern in which the answer to all life’s little problems was solved by thoughts of maybe one day being adored by an arrogant but insecure archer named Nathaniel Howe. I only know that sometimes when I’m with him, the pain recedes a little bit and I can almost breathe again.
Have I regressed back to childhood, where life was simpler and my greatest worry was finding a way to cover the unsightly blemish that sprouted on my forehead the day before attending the Landsmeet with my father? Or am I finally starting to realize Alistair is never coming back.
I’m so confused, and really there is not time for such matters. There are darkspawn to kill, plots to unravel, a city and a keep in need of saving. So I will focus my time and my attentions on those matters and try not to think about the inconsequential and mundane trappings of my heart.
That being said, for the first time in a long time I feel confident in saying you should not worry about me, Teagan. I will get through this, and a great many other things, I’ve no doubt. I don’t know how, but I am nothing, if not resourceful and determined.
I am a survivor, after all, and though it may be a painful thing to do, I will do just that: survive.
Write soon, and tell me what is happening in Redcliffe. Have you heard from Connor? Are Eamon and Isolde well? Have things in the Bannorn quieted at all?
I miss you, my friend. I hope we see one another again soon.