As it was Anders barely managed to catch her as she fell fainting. He looked absurdly proud of himself, standing there holding an unconscious—but admittedly attractive—woman in his arms and I squelched a ridiculous stab of jealousy. Was I really so badly spoiled that my affections leapt to the nearest available man who happened to remind me of Alistair?
When Aura stirred Anders set her delicately on her feet once more. She thanked him absent-mindedly, her eyes devouring the somewhat dessicated face of Kristoff’s body. The moment she understood the situation she stormed off, seeming to believe, despite the stricken look on all of our faces at the accusation, that we had purposely inflicted Justice on the conveniently-deceased body like some sort of twisted necromancers.
Our triumphant return thus sullied, we made our way into the hall. I traded with the merchants, checked in with Sigrun and Velanna, and generally did some housekeeping. At the very least we could use another trip to the city to provision ourselves. In truth I felt we were rather at a dead end. My troops and fellow Wardens could put down Darkspawn attacks as they occurred but I could not see how to solve the mystery of The Architect and The Mother. From where had they come and what did they want?
I directed my troops to capture those leaders they found capable of speech in the hope that one of them could give me a hint as to the location and aims of either of my quarries. After Renden Howe’s excesses in Denerim the idea of torture repulsed me but I feared it might be our only option, presuming we could get our collective hands on something that could respond coherently to our questions.
Between The Architect and The Mother lay the explanation for our current situation. Something was keeping the Darkspawn from returning to the Deep Roads as they customarily did at the end of a Blight. While as the nominal queen of Orzammar I welcomed any break that my subjects enjoyed from their traditional duty of holding back the horde, as Warden-Commander of Ferelden I had to consider the much-larger population of the surface.
Ignoring the roving bands of infectious creatures slaughtering the populace and tainting the crops flew in the face of all the order stood for and it could be only a matter of time before they started laying claim to land as their own. With its king embattled in the Bannorn Ferelden looked to me to fix this problem. Would that resolving it were so easy as killing a possessed dragon had proven to be in the end.
I have arranged for fortifications around and under Vigil’s Keep, happy to have found some surface dwarves that had been brought in for that task but who had not yet had the funds or materials with which to begin. I commiserated with them on the sorry state of these human attempts at stonecraft. Sadly I was forced to divide my troops around the arling to bring in more-solid granite for their use and to protect the miners bringing ore for smithing as well. Though I regretted spreading my forces so thin I knew that we would need both the stone and the armor should the worst happen.
I could have cried for joy when I saw upon my arrival that Alistair had lured Master Wade from Denerim. What a thoughtful present that had been from my darling king. I have made certain to keep Wade occupied with full-scale production and threw in the occasional challenge to keep him happy.
It’s not dragonbone plate but my troops do look sharp in their new silverite armor. We passed the studded leather sets along to the surrounding farmers, along with whatever weapons we could spare. I hope they will not need such protection but the investments seem worth the chance to me.
These measures seem to have quieted the rabble-rousers as well, the few that remained after we dispatched the nobles causing the worst of the trouble. At least the strange Darkspawn feud keeps them from simply overwhelming our forces while my band of Wardens tours the arling looking for clues.
After a few days’ rest and replenishment, during which we received word of no more than occasional skirmishes and sightings, I declared that a trip to the city was in order. Justice was curious to see Amaranthine, the dream version of which he’d known in the Fade. He’d also discovered that Aura had come from the city and hoped to track her down and make peace with her. I brought him, Nathaniel, and, of course, the delectable and endlessly frustrating Anders for a foray into the merchant quarter and a swing past the job boards to pick up a little more gold for our needs.
Such errands were keeping us in poultices and arms and few were in as good a position to accomplish them as a band of Wardens in a country besieged by Darkspawn, after all. I should have thought that Kristoff’s wife might be at the Chantry in the nearby city where she had been raised. Naturally we ran right into her there when we went to retrieve our pay for some of the tasks we’d claimed from the Chanter’s Board.
It seemed that the time in contemplation had changed Aura’s perspective on her husband’s situation. She told us that she believed our tale of the accidental nature of Justice’s possession of the body. She only required his word that he would avenge Kristoff and complete the man’s quest and then gave her blessing to the spirit’s using her husband’s remains to accomplish it. In my relief I accepted perhaps a lesser reward for some of our tasks than I might have but we still collected more than enough to pick up what we needed to improve our weapons and armor as well as some gifts for my fellow Wardens and tidbits Wade had requested for his more exotic efforts.
All in all it had been our most relaxed trip in weeks. Reports of continued clashes with Darkspawn bands trickled in but none of the newer, talking breed had been captured for our interrogation. That gave me far too much time to contemplate my frustrations and I cursed having brought Anders along in the first place. He and Nathaniel got on well, after some initial friction, and that kitten cheered us all despite Justice’s attempts at pretending indifference.
But being around Anders so much made me feel untrustworthy. I wondered if Alistair were facing such temptations among his soldiers in the Bannorn or if he had, indeed, succumbed to the wiles of some human woman. The guiltiest part of me wished he had so that I could excuse my fascination. The best of me railed at both my desires and my petty rationalizations. Yet I continue my conversations with Anders, leaning close to him in unwary moments of companionship and trying to avoid contact when I come to my senses to find his arm around me as we sit by the fire in the chill of evening.
I truly believe that he has no intention of pressing things further. The greeting—and farewell—that Alistair had given me in full view of Anders and the others back at Vigil’s Keep would have made our relationship clear and the mixed signals I kept sending Anders likely told him that pursuing any sort of relationship would have been a bad idea.
But he was such a physical person that his attempts at friendliness became increasingly painful the longer I endured them. He was as forward and flirty with Sigrun and likely would have been with Valenna had she let him. He even threw the occasional, brotherly arm around Nathaniel. It is nothing personal, no signal that he is interested in me, I tell myself. The combination of his similarities to Alistair and his physical closeness is driving me to drink but I can’t seem to stay away for long.
Nathaniel seems to understand some of this, though he remains strictly in the platonic friend realm. When I flee from a session of kitten romping and banter with Anders to discuss our seemingly-stalled investigation into The Architect and The Mother he gives me sympathetic looks and is patient with my initial vehemence while I beat back my raging libido with talk of the Darkspawn.
But my frustrations with that topic have become less and less effective at countering my personal issues. Things got so bad that I slipped off in my rattiest clothes one evening to see if I could find a seedy tavern in which to find some relief.
To my chagrin the city guards recognized me immediately. If only there were more dwarves in Amaranthine! I pretended that I was undercover, checking to see that more smugglers had not wormed their way into town but I could hardly have picked up a companion for an hour or so under their watchful eyes.
I swallow those maddening difficulties during the day. I have enough to occupy my mind trying to comprehend the machinations of mindless creatures that suddenly speak, plan, and war against one another. We are heading back to Vigil’s Keep, where I can only hope that some news of the Darkspawn or the warring leaders we sought awaits. Failing that, I’d be relieved to find a wandering troupe of Antivan acrobats or Orlesian bards standing ready to entertain in more ways than one. Something has to break soon or I will.