They Said I Shouldn't Come
The moment she heard the voice she knew it was him.
Mahariel tread the rough hewn floor slowly; since giving up her armor, she'd gone back to her Dalish roots and she trod about barefoot. On the soft dirt floor of the inn, carved out of the very cliff-face that Kirkwall rested upon, she was almost silent.
She came to a large room, the largest of the inn's quarters save the bar. In it was a long, smooth table surrounded by chairs, three of which were occupied. The room's forth occupant was standing, facing away from her. She could see his back, his tall frame, short strawberry blond coiffure tightly tied on his head.
"They told me Kirkwall was in the middle of a revolution; they said I shouldn't come," she said factually, her soft voice floating across the room. "I should have known you would be here, Anders."
The tall man spun around, and for a moment his face showed fear and uncertainty, but when he met her ocean-blue eyes, the doubt was rung from him like water from a rag.
"It can't be," his words were dismayed but his feet were certain and he crossed the threshold between the room and the hall, and she was locked in his embrace before she could respond. Her chin barely came to his chest and she pressed her nose against fabric of his robes, soft grey-blue things covered by a thick coat, and heavy, feathery pauldrons. Her fingers reached for his back. She could smell his skin through the cloth, the scent of ozone and warmth. It occurred to her that this was the closest she'd ever physically been to him. A rush of near-forgotten emotion jostled her to put space between their bodies, but he kept his wide hands on her small arms, his sienna-brown eyes fixed on hers. A smile came to his lips, a wily smile she would have known anywhere if she knew nothing else of him. "What in Andraste's name are you doing here?"
"Taking some time away before I go mad," Mahariel breathed honestly. Being the Warden-Commander had been hard enough; for seven years now as the arlessa she'd also watched over the lands and overseen the rebuilding of not only the keep but the ravaged city of Amaranthine. For the first time in as many years she'd finally found time enough to get away, leaving the arling in the hands of her Wardens - those that chose to remain, at any rate.
"You lasted a good deal longer than I," Anders confessed.
"And I'm going back," a small spring of animosity leaked through into her speech. She wasn't sure she'd yet forgiven the mage for what he'd done, small though it seemed to the others.
Anders licked his lips. "Lyna... I'm sorry. You know that. I mi -"
A blonde dwarf who sat at the head of the long table cleared his throat, and Mahariel blinked, realizing, though she'd known it all along, that she and Anders were not alone.
"Well look at me, forgetting myself," Anders said, keeping one hand on the arm of the Warden Commander.
"As though this were unusual," a tall, intimidating woman with flaming red hair butted in. She looked almost familiar to Mahariel, but the elf could not place the befreckled woman.
"Aveline," cautioned a young man with a beard, who again struck Mahariel with unreasonable familiarity. "Let's all be nice, won't we? Anders, care to introduce your friend here?"
"She's much more than that," Anders lead off, and Mahariel squeezed shut her eyes at the thought of what the mage was about to say, but her fear was unfounded, "This is the Warden who forced the Circle of Magi to finally give me my freedom," and he stood a little taller for all his rebelliousness. "Aveline, Varric, Hawke, this is Warden-Commander Mahariel, Arlessa of Amaranthine. You might know her as the Hero of Ferelden."
A bit of color threatened to rise to Mahariel's cheeks, but she recalled that there had once been a time when she'd wielded her Warden-ship as an even more powerful weapon than her sword, a time when she had been proud and accepting of the title. But that was a time before she'd had years to reflect on the situation. Now, despite all that she'd done, despite the thanks she still received and the help she insisted on giving to her people, her new people, righteousness and titles just made her feel ridiculous and impotent. But she put her negativity aside long enough to give a small bow and mutter, "It is a pleasure." And it was, but expectations weighed heavily on her nevertheless.
"You," the red-headed woman stood and took several long strides toward Mahariel and Anders. "You lit the beacon at the Battle of Ostagar when Loghain quit the field." She stood proudly, her right arm clamped across her chest. "I am Aveline Vallen. I fought alongside King Cailan in the Ferelden army. All on the field saw what you did. We never doubted your loyalty to the king, for what it's worth."
Mahariel bowed her head to Aveline, "Thank you. It's worth a lot, even now. Know that Teyrn Loghain got what he deserved, Aveline Vallen," and if there was one thing Mahariel remained certain of, it was that. When she met the woman's spring-green eyes, Mahariel saw confidence there, strength.
It came through even though her next three words were barely a whisper. "No. Thank you."
"Hero of Ferelden, huh," said the dwarf, and Aveline turned to face him. "You're the one who backed Harrowmont?"
Mahariel nodded. "Is he doing well?"
The dwarf, whom Anders had called Varric, shrugged in his chair. "Damned if I know. I stay out of all that business. Drives a man to drink."
"As if you needed a reason," the bearded man, Hawke, joshed.
"I've got plenty of reasons, Hawke."
"Haven't we all," and the young man raised his drink to Mahariel. "It was too late for Lothering, and I don't hold that against you. You saved a lot of good people. Ferelden's still a place and not just a memory and that means more to us Fereldans than you can know," and he drank deeply.
Mahariel shook her head, "Ferelden was my home too. Maybe one day I'll return."
"We all say that, don't we," Hawke observed. He didn't mean anything by it and Mahariel knew that, but at the same time, he'd called her bluff. She'd never go back to Ferelden. Too much of Alistair still lingered there, too many towns, too many names. Of all she'd survived, it was the one thing she thought would destroy her. Far away, in Amaranthine, she'd moved on, but to return to the lands where they had met and lived out their entire story... A great pain burned in her chest and she quickly turned her eyes to the floor, swallowing the guilt she felt every time anyone said the once-king's name.
"You should have let me..." she said to herself, and Aveline, who still stood nearby, inclined her head.
Mahariel smiled and dismissed herself. "Sorry. Thinking out loud."
But Anders, who knew her better than that, moved his hand from her arm to her back in an effort to whisk her away. "Excuse us, then. I think we have a lot of catching up to do," and as he said the words, her eyes found his again and pleaded yes.