It seems the Blackmarsh, as it is truly named, holds some special fascination for the people of Amaranthine. The village there was mysteriously abandoned years ago and I have found widespread superstition about the place. Nathaniel seems keen to go on this trip and so he, Ohgren, Anders, and I set off in the morning. I would have preferred to stay in the city of Amaranthine one more night rather than trek all of the way back to Vigil’s Keep, well out of our way, but Seneschal Verel sent word of some urgent matters that required my attention.
Along the way I asked Anders something I’d long wanted to know. He’d told me stories about his time hiding from the Templars on each escape and how nasty they were on the way back to the Circle tower each time. But I’d never inquired why he kept escaping in the first place. “I was a child like any other,” he told me. “My parents told me I could do anything and I believed them. Then I got hauled off to the tower.” He made a sour face. “Before my harrowing I understood the watching, the guarding. None of us had proven ourselves and we were a bunch of scared kids taken from home and locked up together. I hated it but I understood.” His eyes narrowed in anger. “But once I’d passed my harrowing and shown that I could resist the demons that the Chantry seems to think pursue us every moment nothing changed. Templars stared and kept their hand on the hilts of their swords as though I would burst into flames and tear out their throats at any second.”
He shook his head. “I spent fourteen years being trusted and encouraged. I was willing to earn the trust of the Chantry, too. But in the end you can’t, if you’re a mage. For years I’d done everything they’d asked and they still didn’t trust me to cross the lake much less visit my family. I couldn’t woo a pretty girl, couldn’t go outside for a walk. I couldn’t even have a door on my little cubicle to get some privacy.” He sounded more sad than angry as he finished. “Maybe it would have been different if I’d gone to the tower as a small child. The ones who had been taken at six and seven seemed to accept the scrutiny as a part of life. But the Chantry stole my life and treated me like a Mabari that might be rabid, no matter how devout or compliant I was.”
I could see no sign of his usual, flippant attitude toward Templar oversight. The frustrations of the mages who had lost control of the demons they’d summoned in the tower the first time I had been there seemed much more understandable to me. I had known that the templars watched them closely for signs of possession or interest in blood magic, though clearly such oversight had massively failed, but I had not thought about how hurtful it might be to those who had the sort of strength and control that Anders clearly did. Eventually that trust must come, as Wynne’s freedom to travel with me had shown, but for how many decades had she been locked up in that tower before earning it?
She was primarily a healer, however, and not a battle mage as my current companion was. Certainly she could protect herself but I’d never seen her drawing energy from the dead on a battlefield to sustain flares of lightning. And what of those who lived their lives in times of peace—had they ever been allowed to travel freely?
I touched his hand. “Thank you for telling me, Anders,” I said quietly. “I hope that the meeting of the Mage’s Council can find some middle ground for those still in the tower. I am glad I could at least free you.” He grinned at me, seeming to recover some of his normal cheer.
“And don’t think I don’t appreciate being forced to keep company with a good-looking woman, Darkspawn or no.” I smiled at him and ignored the flush of feeling that washed over me at that. Thankfully Ohgren wandered over just then to trade barbs with Anders and the moment passed.
We arrived at my own personal fortress to find a band of discontented citizens, farmers mostly but troops as well, having a shouting match with the keep’s guards. I’d no sooner convinced them that a fight would do nothing but deplete our forces and result in their deaths than the disgruntled nobles still loyal to Rendon Howe popped out of hiding with a band of Antivan Crows. They’d apparently hoped to distract me with the rabble, the better to slay me. The fools. The royal decree giving this arling to the Wardens does not depend on my presence. They’d have accomplished nothing but their own executions and the guaranteed fall of Amaranthine to the Darkspawn.
Why can these people not understand that we face a threat much greater than their petty political squabbles? I suppose it does not matter now that they lie in the basement of the keep. When this all ends I will need to reevaluate who holds which lands. The last thing we need is an uprising when their families realize no one will return from this attempt. For now it’s enough to hope that the worst of the traitors have been killed, much like that grasping scamp capitalizing on my reputation as the Dark Wolf. I’d attempted to deal fairly with him, too, but he refused to be taken into custody. You’d think people would understand that I surround myself with deadly companions yet I am perpetually forced to slaughter idiots who could have continued drawing breath.
Once the hall had been cleared we held court, something I’d not anticipated. I drafted a petty thief, negated papers that Rendon Howe had signed in bad faith, and imprisoned a suspect who had slain Ser Tamara to prevent her bringing me the names of the conspirators I’d only just killed. There was scant evidence against that self-satisfied idiot, else I’d have simply had him executed, but there was enough for me to excuse having him jailed while the guards “investigated” most thoroughly.
That done, I grabbed some people and headed down to clear the caved-in section in the basement from which it is believed the Darkspawn attacked. Had finding the entrance been a coincidence or had The Architect somehow found and exploited a weakness? Whatever the cause, we solved the problem by following the tunnel into the Deep Roads and sealing things tightly at a junction past which no existing caves extended. While we explored the crypts and side paths I happened upon a lovely bow that Nathaniel tells me belonged to his grandfather.
He was darling about it, shyly telling me the story of a man his father had reviled for leaving to join the Wardens and never returning. After his own Joining, at which another recruit had died, Nathaniel realized the probable fate of his grandfather. He has since repaired the bow and seems to regard it as a talisman. As long as it proves effective in battle I don’t care if he chooses to string his great-uncle’s spine but I’m pleased to have been able to give Nathaniel something that means so much. Despite our rocky beginning he has proven to be one of the most companionable of these new Wardens and a welcome distraction from my fascination with Anders.
Ohgren has much on his mind. It seems that he and Felsi made a go of it after all and settled down for a time, long enough to have a child at least. She threw him out not long before I arrived in Amaranthine and he decided to become a Warden. I don’t really follow the train of thought. I respect his skills, though, and was happy enough to have him at the time. But Felsi showed up at the keep yesterday and the pair had a rousing argument that I don’t care to see repeated much less be drawn into again. Ohgren does seem to make dreadful choices when women are involved. I’d had to kill his wife and now his girlfriend was making a fuss. I could hardly fault her for her anger but she and the baby were distractions we did not need.
Sigrun, on the other hand, has settled in beautifully. She’s reading her way through the keep’s library and keeps asking me to help her interpret various passages. The other day she happened upon a raunchy tale that kept her blushing madly but through which she doggedly plowed. I’m only glad that volume was not illustrated. I find her to be a refreshing presence. She joined the Legion at such a young age that her perspective on life both in Orzammar and on the surface is delightfully skewed. She has taken to heart the idea that she’s already dead and so can fling herself into danger without reservation. Indeed, she seems to delight in battling Darkspawn, not just in revenge for her fallen comrades but as a sort of fitness program. I don’t believe I ever had that sort of enthusiasm for my Warden tasks.
Anders, of course, remains a tortuous presence. I remind myself over and over that he has shown no intention of pursuing more than friendship but he continues to flirt and, as he grows more confident and comfortable here, has taken to dispensing hugs and casual touches that may well drive me mad. Though he simply enjoys physical contact and means nothing more I have had to discourage him from wrapping his arms around me. Every encounter creates more tension and I cannot endure such closeness, kitten or no. The smell of him haunts my dreams, mixed with Alistair’s and underlain by the murmur of the Darkspawn. It is a disconcerting combination, to be sure.
We head off to Blackmarsh in the hope of finding Kristoff. He’s a married man and writes fondly of his wife in the journal we found so even if we do find him alive I see no hope for relief. How is it that Amaranthine has nothing like The Pearl in Denerim where I could spend a sovereign and be done with this? Why do the inns have no such services? I thought these things were essentially universal but with each passing day I hold out less and less hope of finding someone to help me with this difficulty. I begin to fear that I will sleepwalk to Anders’s side one of these nights.