"Excuse me, Arlessa?"
Mahariel looked up from her desk, scattered with papers.
"I'm sorry to bother you…" a young woman spoke from her doorway. It had been open; Mahariel had a literal open-door policy when it came to any conflicts in Amaranthine that would need resolving. The young woman herself was a citizen of the arling; her parents had owned a farm that was burned by darkspawn. Mahariel couldn't offer compensation for the farm land; so instead, she gave the daughter a job as an assistant for the Keep and its staff, paying her a fair salary that would help her to support her parents. The papers strewn on the little table were probably more of the same; though Mahariel hadn't really been looking at them; she hadn't really looked at anything since about noon today. Something inside her mind was welling up, and when the Warden Commander had no painfully pressing issues, she sat quietly and shut everything out. It was the only way she could focus some days, to focus on nothing and shut out Ferelden, shut out The Blight, shut out Kirkwall, and most of all shut out that subtle bubbling force inside her, telling her to go, telling her to come, telling her to find depth…
"No bother at all," the Warden Commander said quietly. "What can I help you with, Anissa?"
"Nothing, indeed," the woman said politely, her hands clasped behind her back. "It's just, there's someone here to see you."
Mahariel's heart leapt.
It had been nearly a year. She knew he would encounter some difficulties leaving Kirkwall, leaving the whole of the Free Marches, and that was if they even let him live. It didn't matter who 'they' were, it only mattered what he had done, but they both knew the risks, both knew the risks for both of their actions. She wasn't even sure he was alive, but Maker, if he had made it here, year or no, she would welcome him with open arms, she would keep him safe she would -
She would what, Mahariel reprimanded herself. She would harbor a fugitive? What she had done, she had done in secret, tampered with old magics that would get her locked up, despite having no power of her own. Or maybe they would just hang her. Aiding an apostate, that was a hanging offense, alright, or was, which had been the problem. But that was not the issue now.
Putting her head in her hands, elbows on the table, Mahariel allowed, "Show him in. Keep him away from the guards." She didn't think that they would harm him directly, especially not as a guest in her house, but they were good men, and indeed, they were men, and men would talk, and rumors would spread, and she did not need that right now.
"Yes, Arlessa," Anissa now said, sounding less sure that she had done the right thing.
"And - just a moment, I'm sorry," Mahariel picked up her head. "What time is it? Can a meal be brought up?" A meal could be brought up at whatever damned moment the Warden-Commander Hero of Ferelden Arlessa of Amaranthine pleased, but after everything she had seen and done, she still hated to be a bother.
"It's just a little past eight, Warden Commander. No doubt the kitchen is still well-staffed."
Ah, yes. That was why she'd given that girl this job. She lied gently.
"Good, yes. Whatever's on hand. And wine. I think we'll need plenty of wine."
"Of course, Warden-Commander."
"Have yourself a glass, if you like. You deserve it," she almost added, "child," but thought at last that it might sound patronizing. Besides, Mahariel was not that old. Ah, but she was getting there. And she felt it every day.
Anissa left with a smile and Mahariel quickly tidied up the outer chamber of her room, before realizing that she herself probably looked a damned sight. Well, it was too late to have a bath drawn now, even with the pump system she'd had installed that would bring hot water up straight from the depths of the Keep where ancient hot springs had steamed for centuries, millennia. She could wash her face, though, and put on something that wasn't so… What even was she wearing? Well, she could put on something that didn't look so much like a paper sack. She did this, and unwound the plaits of her braid, and was satisfied she looked something like presentable, and slapped her cheeks gently to get a little color in them. It wasn't because she was particularly vain, but only that lately she'd looked particularly wan, and, contrary to the wrinkles she once feared, and then when they'd appeared around her eyes and mouth, embraced, her skin seemed tight on her skull. She stretched her wrists and back, sore from having sat all day, and then perched on the edge of her chair anxiously, listening for footsteps in the hall.
It was not who she was expecting.
"Arlessa, is it?" came his voice, gravelly and subtle.