Embracing Destiny

Chapter 9

Isabela nearly fell on her face when she tripped over an unconscious Alistair’s legs the following morning. Evidenced by the empty bottles scattered around him, he fell against the wall opposite Emily’s door and continued drinking until he passed out. The pirate had to kick his thigh several times to wake him, increasing her force with every jolt. When he finally came to, he peered up at her through constricted lids and blanched at her disapproving frown.

“And what, may I ask, are you doing out here?” she inquired.

He shrugged. “I guess I must have passed out.”

“Well, I already knew that much. But why are you in the hall?”

With his face twisted in a grimace, he reached for a half empty bottle sitting near his hand and took a swig. “Seemed as good a place as any. And would you mind keeping it down? There’s no need to shout at me, after all.”

The pirate heaved an exasperated sigh, then stooped down and snatched the rum from his hand. “Isn’t it a little early in the morning to start drinking again?”

The prince pressed the back of his head against the wall and closed his eyes. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I’ve got nothing better to do.”

She plopped down on the floor and regarded him with a pitying expression. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Alistair said with a bitter chuckle. “Absolutely nothing.”

Isabela rolled her eyes. “Did you even talk to Hawke?”

“No. Never even got the chance. I knocked on her door, and, when she didn’t answer, I opened it just in time to see her kiss Fenris. So, I figured I’d just sit here and drink myself into a stupor for the rest of the night.”

Isabela’s face contorted into a confused expression. “That can’t be right. There has to be more to it than that.”

“I know what I saw, Captain. Apparently they decided to make up. And then make out.”

The pirate chewed her bottom lip in thought for a moment. “Before you give up completely, let me talk to Hawke. I’m sure there’s…”

“No,” interrupted the prince. “It’s probably better this way, anyhow. She deserves better than me. I just wish it would’ve been somebody besides him.” He glowered down the corridor at Fenris’s door before retrieving the bottle from Isabela’s hand. “I think I’ll go back to my room now. Wake me up when the ship’s ready to leave.”

Isabela didn’t argue with Alistair. She just nodded her head and watched him struggle to his feet then stagger back to his room. There had to be some other explanation for Hawke’s behavior. Didn’t there? After all, Fenris and the mage traveled alone together for several months, and, in all that time, they hadn’t reconciled any romantic relationship. Besides, Hawke made it very clear she was still angry with the elf for never apologizing over what happened between them. Unless…Was it possible that idiot elf actually grew an emotional backbone? Did having Alistair around finally push him into confessing his feelings for Hawke?

The pirate hoisted herself to her feet. She wasn’t certain a reconciliation with Fenris was the best thing for her friend, but she had to know. Personally, Isabela was rooting for the prince. If someone could manage to tear the bottle from his hand, he’d be a good man. The captain could feel it in her bones, and if anyone could convince him to give up drinking, it would be Hawke. She had a knack for influencing people to do the right thing, to want to be better. She could do the same thing for Alistair, if he’d pull his head out of his ass.

Isabela stood at Hawke’s door, contemplating the best way to ask her about Fenris. For most things, the mage typically preferred a direct approach, but it was a delicate subject. After a long moment and a deep breath, the captain raised her foot and aimed for the center of the door.

No sense beating around the bush.

Emily was jolted awake by the sound of her door crashing open. She called a small ball of flame to her palm, anticipating trouble, but quickly doused it when Isabela plunked down on the bed beside her.

“Good morning sunshine,” beamed the pirate.

“Isabela?” the mage yawned. “Is there a reason you kicked in my door, or are you just trying to make a statement? There are easier ways to wake me up. You almost got a face full of fire.”

The pirate waved away her friend’s concerns. “Never mind that. So are you going to tell me what happened last night, or do I need to tie you down and beat it out of you?”

Emily’s face screwed up in a perturbed scowl. “Speaking of last night, what happened to you? I waited over two hours for you to come back.” She pointed to the door. “I’m not paying for that, just so you know.”

The pirate shrugged. “I decided to send someone else in my place, but that’s not important. What did he say? Did he finally apologize? Did he stay the night?” She made a quick scan of the room before returning her attention to the mage with an angry scowl. “Don’t tell me he walked out on you again. If he did, I’ll gut him myself, lyrium fists or not.”

“What in the bloody void are you going on about? It’s too early in the morning, and I’m too hung over for your babbling to make any sense. Honestly, you’re worse than Merrill sometimes, especially lately.”

Isabela heaved an aggravated sigh. “I’m talking about you and Fenris, of course.”

The mage’s scowl altered to a befuddled expression. “What about Fenris?”

“Alright, here’s the deal. I wanted to give his Highness a push in the right direction last night, so I gave him the rum to take to your room. I thought you could spend some quality time together.” She paused to chew on her lower lip. “He may have seen you and Fenris kissing.”

The mage closed her eyes with a groan. The last thing she wanted was for Alistair to think she and Fenris were romantically involved. Although pursuing that sort of relationship with the prince was most likely a lost cause, she wasn’t ready to give up all hope completely. If he thought she was with the elf, he would probably back off entirely.

“Sweet Maker’s mercy, Isabela. Why did you have to meddle?”

“Look Hawke,” Isabela posed, “I know you like Alistair, and I know you don’t want to hurt his feelings because he’s been through so much already, but isn’t it better that he find out now? Before he gets in over his head too far? You know, a little bit of pain now to save him from more later?”

Emily batted her lashes in an effort to stop the tears threatening to spill onto her cheeks. Her stomach clenched, forcing bile into the back of her throat. Why in the Maker’s name was she getting so emotional over this?

Because I love him. Wait. Is that even possible this soon?

The mage shook her head, her brows pleated from a burgeoning headache. “There’s nothing to find out, Isabela. I gave Fenris a short kiss to thank him for finally telling me the truth, for getting everything out in the open. Right before I told him that there wasn’t a chance for us anymore.”

“I knew it,” the pirate sighed, covering her face with both hands. “I fucking knew it.” She slid her fingers down to cover her mouth. “It was as plain as a Chantry Sister.” Her mouth fell open and her rich brown eyes widened. “Oh honey, you’ve got to go see Alistair. You have to tell him it was all a stupid misunderstanding before he drinks himself into a coma.”

Emily lifted a doubtful brow. “Do you really think he’s going to believe me? You know how jaded he is.”

“I know. I already tried, and he wouldn’t listen to me,” the pirate confessed before her mouth twisted in a frown of concentration. “Maybe we should go together. He might be more apt to listen that way.”

The mage scowled. “I doubt it. On the other hand, things couldn’t get much worse.”

Her friend chuckled. “It’s a good thing Varric isn’t here. That ranks right up there with ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ on his ‘list of shit Hawke should never say’.”

Emily bobbed her head back and forth with a sardonic sneer then threw on her skirt and top. After running a brush through her mane and tying it back, she headed down the hallway to Alistair’s room.

“Forget something, Hawke?” Isabela questioned with a smirk.

When she pointed to the mage’s bare feet, Emily realized she was in such a hurry she forgot her boots and stockings. She glanced down the corridor to her room and considered going back for them, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Perhaps the prince had a foot fetish.

She drew a deep breath to strengthen her resolve then knocked on his door. As Emily stood there next to Isabela waiting for an answer, she began to rethink the entire thing. Maybe it was better for both of them if Alistair believed she was with Fenris. After all, he wasn’t interested in any type of romantic relationship, only sex. Sooner or later, she would probably get it in her head that it was more, share his bed then get her heart broken.

“Well, it looks like he’s not in there,” she surmised, hoping it was true but hating that it likely wasn’t.

Isabela scrunched her face into a perturbed scowl. “He’s in there. Most likely passed out again considering how much as he drank last night.”

“It’s alright,” the mage offered. “We probably shouldn’t disturb him.”

The pirate stepped up to the door and banged the side of her fist against the wood three times. “Oh, we should definitely disturb him.” She raised her voice and continued, “But if that doesn’t get his attention, I’ll just knock the damn thing down.”

“Fuck off, Isabela!” a muffled voice demanded from the other side of the door.

Emily took another deep breath and slowly exhaled it. “Alistair, can we talk for a few minutes?”

“It’s not a good time Hawke,” the prince yelled back, eliciting a stabbing pain in her gut upon hearing her surname.

She wanted to run. The tears welling up behind her eyes announced it was time to abandon such a useless pursuit and go back to her room where no one could see her cry. He wanted her to leave. He made that clear when he addressed her by her last name. At the same time, it pissed her off that he thought he could dismiss her so easily, that he made assumptions about her without getting all the facts.

“Come on, Alistair. It’s important.” She rapped on the door. “I’m not going away. If I have to, I’ll just stand here until you decide you’re sick of that room. Then we’ll both be in a shite mood.”

Alistair’s indistinct grumbling grew louder before he jerked open the door. He was a complete mess with puffy, bloodshot eyes and disheveled hair and clothes. Had he been crying? Or was it just the aftermath of so much alcohol?

“Come in.” he muttered then immediately turned toward the bed and the half empty bottle lying next to it.

“Alistair,” Emily began, but, before she was afforded the chance to give her explanation, she was interrupted by a tall red-haired man knocking on the wall outside the open door.

Isabela rounded on the man with a glare. “What is it Lucas? Can’t this wait?”

He shook his head. “Sorry, Captain, but there was a man on the docks with a pouch full of coin asking about hiring the ship to take him and his men to the Free Marches. He said to tell you that Flemeth sent him.”

“Flemeth?” the three companions said in unison.

“Where is he now?” Isabela asked.

“Here,” a voice rang out behind Lucas’s back.

The mysterious stranger skirted around the larger man with ease and when he pulled back his hood to reveal his face, Alistair’s jaw dropped. “Teagan? What in the bloody void are you doing here?”

The nobleman threw his arms around the prince. “Maker’s breath, it’s good to see you, but what are you doing back in Ferelden?”

“It’s a long story, but the short version is, when we heard what was happening in Ferelden, we decided to go to Orlais to speak to the Divine. On our way, we ran into a storm that damaged the ship, so we ended up here.”

Teagan sighed. “Well it’s probably a good thing for that storm because going to see Her Holiness is a lost cause.”

Alistair’s brow furrowed with confusion. “Why do you say that? The Divine would never let this stand if she knew.”

“She does know. She just doesn’t care. I presented her with irrefutable evidence proving Anora’s betrayal. The Chantry’s official position is that it has enough to deal with just getting the mages back under control. If Ferelden’s ruler sold her country to Tevinter, then it’s Ferelden’s problem to deal with.”

Alistair sank back onto the bed. “I can’t believe it. The Chantry has abandoned Ferelden? How is that even possible?”

I don’t know,” said the nobleman with a shrug. “But apparently the Chantry considers rebel mages more of a threat than a bunch of Tevinter magisters.”

Emily jumped when Fenris’s angry voice bellowed from behind her. “Does the Chantry have any inkling of what lengths the magisters will go to? Doesn’t the Divine realize this is just the beginning?”

“Apparently not,” replied Teagan.

The nobleman scanned the room, taking note of all the strangers in Alistair’s presence. When he spotted Emily among them, he gasped, but his shock quickly reverted to anger.

“What are you doing here Warden?” He turned his attention to Alistair. “Why is she traveling with you? Don’t you know that she is involved in all of this?”

The prince stood then grabbed his uncle by the shoulders. “Teagan, it’s not what you think. This isn’t Erin.” The arl’s brow creased with confusion. “Look closer,” the younger man directed.

The nobleman tilted his head and stared at the mage for a long moments. “Well, I suppose you would know that better than I, but if this isn’t the Warden, who is she?”

Alistair gestured to Emily. “Teagan, may I present the Champion of Kirkwall, Emily Hawke.”

“Hawke? You mean the Hawke? The one who started the mage rebellion?”

“I didn’t start that, My Lord,” Emily explained. “The mage responsible for the events leading up to that rebellion died shortly after the battle. I only defended the mages of the city to keep them from being slaughtered by a possessed lunatic.”

Relief filled the arl’s eyes while his lips curled into a broad smile. “Please do not misunderstand me, milady. I hold no animosity toward you whatsoever. As a matter of fact, finding out that you’re on our side in this gives me hope. Your talent and leadership abilities are just what we need if we are to have any chance of victory against the Imperium”

Emily was taken aback by the nobleman’s confidence in her. “I’m just one woman, My Lord. I don’t see how I could be that much help.”

“You are not just any woman, milady,” the arl corrected her with a chuckle. “You defeated the Arishok in single combat, driving the Qunari out of the city. You convinced the templars of Kirkwall to turn against their own Knight-Commander and fight at your side. Your name alone strikes fear into the hearts of your enemies while inspiring the downtrodden.”

How could anyone consider her a hero? She wasn’t anyone special, just the daughter of a poor apostate who never had more than a few coppers to rub together. As far as the Qunari and the trouble with the mages was concerned, she only did what she felt was right. That certainly didn’t make her better than anyone else.

“Your words humble me, My Lord. I don’t know what to say.”

“So you will help us then?”

She bowed with a slight tilt of her head. “Of course, My Lord. However I can.”

“Teagan,” Alistair interrupted. “What happened to the nobles? Why didn’t they band together to fight this? Eamon would never stand for this treachery.”

The space between the arl’s brows disappeared in a forlorn expression. “My brother is dead. Along with his family. Anora had them executed as traitors to the crown.”

“Holy Maker,” breathed the prince. “Eamon? A traitor?”

“He had been suspicious of the queen for quite some time,” Teagan began. “It all started about two years ago. The first thing Anora did was make a foreigner Teyrn of Gwaren. Something about fresh ideas for that hold. Next came the Arling of Amaranthine.”

Emily folded her arms over her chest. “But wasn’t that given to the Grey Wardens?” Emily broke in and she saw Alistair giving her a puzzled expression out of the corner of her eye.

“Yes,” the nobleman replied. “But the Warden Commander was arlessa of Amaranthine and she relinquished that rule to another foreigner. Soon after, most nobles and their families either died, disappeared, or simply resigned. In every instance, Anora assigned an outsider to those vacant seats.

“Eamon knew the queen was up to something, but had no concrete proof of her misdeeds. Then, about five months ago, he hired an elven spy to pose as a servant to uncover the evidence he was looking for. This is what the spy found.”

The arl pulled a yellowed scroll out of a pouch at his belt and handed it to Alistair. The prince unrolled the parchment and skimmed over it then shook his head with a disgusted frown before passing it to Emily. Her guts turned to jelly when she read the decree.

Anora promised to relinquish complete control of every province in Ferelden within three years. In exchange, the Tevinter Imperium would supply all the coin and manpower the country required for rebuilding and repairing the damage from the Blight. Anora was to retain her title, but she was only allowed an equal vote at the Landsmeet and she was to surrender her right of veto. Before handing the scroll to Isabela, she noticed one of the names of the treaty’s two witnesses. Erin Amell.

“But why would Anora do this?” questioned a bewildered Alistair. “She had me exiled because I threatened her rule. There’s no way she’d just give up power like that.”

Teagan waggled his head. “I don’t know Alistair. No one does. Some people believe she’s under the influence of blood mages, but I don’t think it’s that simple.”

“So how did you end up with the treaty?” the prince inquired.

“Eamon sent it to me by special courier, along with a note instructing me to take the matter before the Divine while he confronted Anora about his discovery. She immediately called for his and Isolde’s arrest. She even sent soldiers after Connor at Kinloch Hold and return him to Denerim to stand trial.

The crease in Alistair’s brow deepened. “Trial?”

“That’s what Anora called it, anyway.” the arl spat with a bitter scowl. “It was a farce. Only the newly appointed foreign nobles were invited to attend that particular Landsmeet to serve as jury in the proceedings. It lasted only fifteen minutes, and Eamon wasn’t even allowed to speak on his own behalf. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. His execution was carried out immediately following the trial. Then, to add insult to injury, Connor and Isolde were found guilty of aiding and abetting a traitor the next afternoon. They faced the executioner’s axe together.”

Alistair’s jaw tightened as his throat constricted with a hard gulp. Eamon’s death obviously hit him hard. In an effort to ease his burden, she eased up next to him, took his hand, and gave it a gentle squeezed. She half expected him to pull away. Instead, he gripped her fingers and extended a half-smile of gratitude.

“I was already on my way to Orlais when I learned what happened to my brother,” Teagan continued. “By the time I returned to Redcliffe, I discovered I had been replaced and had a sizeable bounty on my head. I was able to retain a few of my best soldiers after vowing to lead a rebellion, and we managed to enlist others in our travels, but there are still too few of us, I’m afraid.”

Isabela’s face contorted in a thoughtful expression. “Lucas mentioned Flemeth before. What does she have to do with any of this?”

“Yes,” Teagan replied, rubbing the length of his beard between his fingers. “That was rather odd. After making the discovery at Redcliffe, my men and I went underground in the Frostbacks. We’ve tried to keep our base of operations moving so we’re never in one place for very long, and, a few weeks ago, we settled into a system of caves in the northwestern part of the range.

“We were only there three days when a drawn-up old woman entered the camp in the middle of the night and asked to speak to me. My men searched her for weapons, but didn’t find anything, and, since she carried no mage’s staff, they assumed she was harmless. It wasn’t until she reached me that she revealed her true form. My men attacked her right away, and she swatted them away like they were no more than buzzing flies. Thankfully, she didn’t kill them. She just paralyzed them until our conversation was at an end.

“She told me there would be a ship named the Siren’s Call docked in Wesburn today, and advised me to take my best men and seek passage on that ship. She didn’t mention anything about a destination. Just that I needed to secure passage.”

“Wait,” Emily observed. “Did she tell you to secure passage or to seek passage? Her exact words.”

The arl’s face drew up in a pensive frown. After a few moments of silence, he finally answered, “Seek. She definitely said seek.”

“I get it,” Isabela said with a sly grin at the mage. “You’re thinking he wasn’t supposed to board the ship at all. Just find us.”

“Exactly,” Emily replied with a self-satisfied nod.

“Is there anything else you can tell us Teagan?” Alistair asked.

The arl shook his head. “No. Not that I can think of.”

“So what do we do now?” Isabela questioned. “If we aren’t going to Orlais and Teagan isn’t planning to hire the ship, what’s next?”

Emily didn’t have a clue, and, judging by the expressions of the others in the room, she wasn’t alone. For all intents and purposes, it seemed they’d reached a dead end. Why would Flemeth lead them all there just to stand around with their thumbs up their asses?

Damned witches.

She was just about to excuse herself to return to her room, when a harried young man burst through the door. “My Lord! You must come quickly. Someone’s set fire to the forest outside of town.”

“Maker’s breath!” Teagan exclaimed. “My men are in that forest.”

Emily bolted to her room, shoved her bare feet into her boots, and grabbed her staff then ran out the door behind Teagan and Isabela with Alistair and her other two companions trailing close behind. They raced to the woods outside of the village only to discover there was no fire. Just a familiar old woman dressed in red and black leather.

The witch brandished a mischievous smirk. “Aah, and so we meet again. The young man who took my life and the young woman who saved it.”

You look a lot different than I remember you,” Alistair observed with an unimpressed scowl.

“As do you, dear boy,” Flemeth acknowledged. “It seems the white king’s heart was turned to black by the queen who was sworn to protect him, and now they find themselves on opposite sides of the board. Or, perhaps, he was simply unaware they were always on opposing sides”

“So what are you saying?” questioned Emily. “We’re all just pawns on a giant chessboard?”

“It is a game that has been played time and again for many ages,” the ancient woman replied. “But you, dear girl, are much more than a simple pawn.”

The lyrium lines in Fenris’s skin took on a faint glow. “What do you want from us witch?”

She turned her gaze to the elf. “Yes, I remember you. The slave who traded one master for another. You were bound to your first master by chains forged from fear. You traded one for another, but the shackles that bind you are of your own making, fashioned from something even more powerful.”

The sage woman returned her attention to Alistair. “Once again, you find yourself in need of an army to defeat a seemingly impossible enemy, but, this time, the solution is not so simple. There are no treaties to aid you in your endeavors.” Her eyes moved from the prince to Emily then back again. “You must both rely on the alliances you have formed in the past and gather those forces throughout not only this land, but others as well. Those bonds are the only hope you have to defeat your enemy.”

“What are you talking about?” Emily questioned in an impatient tone. She was growing tired of the witch’s riddles. “What alliances?”

A knowing smirk curled the corners of Flemeth’s mouth, her golden eyes replete with truth and insight she alone possessed. “My, but that is an enigma isn’t it?” A heavy mist rose from the ground to settle at their feet before expanding upward. “You have all the information you need to secure victory in this endeavor. By the end, you will find there is more at stake here than you could possibly realize.” As the fog ascended, the world around Emily disappeared in a cloud of dense white smoke. The witch’s voice echoed from all around when she spoke her final words. “Know this, autumn’s dying breath will determine your triumph or your annihilation. You may hear of me as a whisper in the shadows, but you shall not see me again. The rest is up to you.”

When the fog lifted just moments later, Alistair rolled his eyes and harrumphed. “Well that was certainly helpful.”

“Autumn’s dying breath?” queried Isabela. “What in the void does that mean?”

“I believe Asha’ belannar was referring to eve of Satinalia, which marks the beginning of winter.” Anion offered.

Emily heaved a protracted sigh. “That only gives us six months to gather all the forces we can, and I don’t have a bloody clue where to start.”

“Whatever you and Alistair decide, milady,” Teagan offered. “Know that my men and I are at your disposal.”

The mage donned an appreciative smile. “Thank you, my lord. We appreciate any aid you are willing to give. In fact, I think you should be in charge of the rebel forces here in Ferelden. What do you think Alistair?”

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” the prince agreed.

“It would be my honor,” the arl said with a respectful bow. “And what are your orders, milady?”

Emily took a moment to weigh her options before answering the newly appointed general. “The first thing you should do is recruit more soldiers. I’m sure most Fereldans don’t want to live under Imperial rule. Get as many seasoned men and women as you can, of course, but don’t hesitate to take on green recruits. The experienced soldiers can train those who wish to fight. Just be careful about it.”

“Yes, milady,” Teagan agreed with a nod. “Is there anything else you wish of me?”

“Yes. First of all, you can stop with the milady bit. It’s just Hawke. I’m still a poor Fereldan girl at heart, so you addressing me like I’m some kind of noble makes me nervous. Other than that, you need to make sure you and your men are ready by Satinalia. Unless you hear from Alistair or I otherwise, be prepared to march on Denerim the last day of autumn. I’ll leave your troop movements to your discretion.

The arl clapped a fist to his heart. “As you wish, my…Hawke. And please, call me Teagan. Now, if I may be so bold, there is a desolated area of the Northern Hills outside Denerim that I believe would be an ideal place to assemble our army on the eve of battle.”

“Unless Hawke disagrees, I think we should trust your judgment, Teagan,” Alistair concurred.

Once again, Emily was stung by the prince’s use of her surname. She needed to get him alone, to explain the situation. Maybe she would corner him when they returned to the inn. Unfortunately, their personal issues would have to wait. There were more pressing matters to attend to right then.

Alistair turned to Emily. “So any ideas where we go from here?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Kinloch Hold, maybe? Since we’ll be fighting Imperial soldiers and mages, it couldn’t hurt to have more mages on our side.”

Teagan shook his head, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Kinloch Hold was destroyed over two months ago. All the templars at the tower were either killed or went into hiding while the mages were granted autonomy in exchange for their allegiance to the Imperium.”

Emily massaged her temples with her fingertips to alleviate the ever-increasing pounding in her head. “So the Tevinters have every mage in Ferelden on their side?”

“Not every mage, no. Some refused to join the Imperium. Several were executed for it, but there were a few who managed to escape. It’s my understanding that they’ve gone underground somewhere in Ferelden, but I don’t know where.”

Isabela’s face twisted into a perturbed scowl. “Isn’t that a bit like trying to find one sovereign in the bottom of the sea?”

“Possibly,” replied the nobleman before turning to the prince. “But I believe you are familiar with their leader, Alistair. Perhaps you know where she could be found.”

“Who is it Teagan?” the other man asked.

“Senior Enchanter Wynne,” the arl answered.

Alistair chuckled. “I should’ve known.”

“So, any clue where she went?” Emily questioned.

The prince’s brows knitted together as he concentrated on the solution. Mumbling to himself, he began to pace. After several passes back and forth, he halted and presented Emily with a wide grin.

“Haven. It has to be.”

“Where?” Emily questioned. She and her family had traveled all over Ferelden when she was a child. She’d never heard of any village or city by that name.

“It’s a small village in the Frostbacks, south of Orzammar,” the prince explained. “We discovered it while hunting for the Urn of Sacred Ashes. The villagers had kidnapped the scholar who was researching the Urn and killed all the soldiers who traveled to the village looking for him. When we got there and found out what was going on, the villagers attacked us. We ended up killing everyone in the village to defend ourselves, so it was left completely abandoned.”

“Then it stands to reason that the Warden Commander knows how to find the village as well,” Fenris deduced.

Alistair’s grin widened. “That’s the thing. She doesn’t. As far as I know, there are only two maps in existence that point to Haven’s location. Erin gave them both to Wynne for safekeeping after we found them in Brother Genitivi’s house. Wynne kept one, but she gave the other to Leliana.”

Emily’s rising hope sank to her stomach. “Leliana? You mean the Seeker? You have some grand scheme for getting it from her? Or do you plan to just walk into the grand cathedral and ask nicely?”

The prince folded his arms over his chest with a smug expression. “We don’t need to because Leliana doesn’t have it.”

“I don’t understand,” confessed the mage. “If the Seeker doesn’t have it, who does?”

He held out his palm. “Slow down. I’m getting there. You see, Wynne gave the map to Leliana in secret so Leliana could give it to the Chantry. She thought everyone in Thedas should be allowed to make pilgrimages to the temple. Erin disagreed with that sentiment. She actually killed Brother Genitivi when he told her he intended to let the rest of the world in on his discovery.

“While we were on our way to find the Dalish in the Brecilian Forest, we camped outside the ruins of Lothering. That’s when Erin found out Leliana had the second map. She knew what Leli wanted to do with it and demanded she throw it in the fire. Erin watched the map burn, but, what she didn’t know was that Leliana used her bard skills to switch Genitivi’s map for a different one.”

“So how did you find out?” asked Teagan.

“I caught Leli sneaking out of camp in the middle of the night, so I followed her to what was left of Lothering. She caught me, of course.” He shrugged. “Knowing Leli, she probably knew I was there the entire time. Anyway, she told me she was afraid Erin would find out she still had the map, so she decided to bury it to be retrieved later.”

Isabela tilted her head with a questioning expression. “Wasn’t she afraid you’d tell the warden?”

“That was before Erin and I became close. Leliana swore me to secrecy, of course. I actually helped her bury the map.”

Fenris’s face twisted into a doubtful grimace. “And what makes you think it is still there. It stands to reason that the Seeker returned to Lothering and retrieved the map at the end of the Blight.”

“Possibly,” Alistair admitted. “But I haven’t heard anything about any pilgrimages to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Have you? In fact, I haven’t heard another word about the Urn since. I imagine, if she’d given the map to anyone, at very least, someone would’ve heard something about an investigation into her claims.”

Teagan nodded his agreement. “I must admit, since my brother’s recovery, I have heard nothing of the Urn either.”

“I have a question,” Isabela interrupted. “If the warden made Leliana get rid of her map, why was the mage allowed to keep the other?”

“Wynne told Erin that she wanted the map to put in Kinloch’s repository for safe-keeping, just in case the information was ever needed again. Erin agreed.”

After several moments of silence, Teagan cleared his throat. “I apologize, Alistair, but I must be going. I’ll send a map marking the location I spoke of earlier by messenger. If I may, I would caution you against leaving your ship in any Ferelden port. The magisters have given all guards the authority to search and seize anything they want, whenever they want. You would be better off docking in Jader. It will add more time to your journey, but Jader is Orlesian territory, so the magisters have no authority there.”

“Thanks, Teagan,” said Alistair, offering a hand to his uncle.

The older man clutched the prince’s wrist and gave it a hearty shake before addressing both Alistair and Emily. “We will meet again soon. May the Maker watch over you, my friends.”

Emily waited for the nobleman and his men to depart before turning her attention to Alistair. “So, I guess this means we’re going to Lothering?”

“Kind of seems that way, doesn’t it?” he answered.

Emily hadn’t seen her former home in over eight years. She always heard that any place destroyed by the Blight could take decades to recover, and some never did. With her entire family gone, how would she endure the memories of her past with them so readily staring her in the face?

“Is something wrong?” Alistair asked when he noticed the mage’s pained expression.

The space between her brows disappeared as she stared off in the distance with haunted emerald eyes. “It’s been a long time since I was home. I wonder if my father’s grave marker is still standing.”

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