Will You Help Us
Kirkwall was typically a stale and humid place, but tonight, a pale wind washed in from the ocean that bordered the city-state and cooled it down, turned the muddy streets sandy, the stone ones chill. They walked from Lowtown to Hightown, where the light from the foundries died away, and made great lazy circles along the many paths and alleyways, for a very long while letting no words come between them.
Anders studied the elf he to whom he owed his freedom. He knew her better in battle regalia; here, in a simple shift and leggings, her feet as bare as the day she left the forest, she seemed unassuming, not at all a hero, an arlessa, a Warden-Commander. Her hair was loosed from the tight bun she once wore, which kept the dark locks out of her face and made slipping a heavy helm on and off all the more easier, more comfortable. They streamed down now, around her shoulders, nearly to her waist, long wavy shadows that laid on her body. She seemed like someone he could have known in another life, regardless that he knew her in this one.
"How is the Keep?" It was the only thing he could think of to ask; though their initial embrace had nearly been intimate, he didn't dare begin with personal questions. She seemed quieter than she had, as though seven years had turned down her volume.
"Good. Sigrun keeps things under control. Oghren keeps things out of control. It's a good balance, and occasionally, they're useful," she said with a playful smile, more the Mahariel he had once known, never afraid to speak her mind and somehow never making enemies either. "Nathaniel left not long after you. I didn't expect he'd stick around. After what happened to his family..." she sighed. "But Amaranthine is quiet. The city is nearly itself again. I'm settling land disputes and dowries, not commanding armies and slaying darkspawn." She looked up at him, and they paused. "It's not where I saw myself when I left my clan. Not that I even expected to live this long. But it is calm, if tedious, now. And Thedas is free of the Blight," she looked away. "For now."
When she mentioned Nathaniel he was grateful she said nothing of Justice. He could only assume she didn't know; this was probably not the best time to bring up the spirit he now harbored within.
"How are you, Anders?"
It was a loaded question, even if she asked it honestly, and he had no reason to think that she didn't. But how was he? Well, Knight-Commander Meredith was threatening the lives of mages all around him, and he had ideas about stopping her ricocheting around his head that he could not reveal to anyone, not even to Hawke, the only person he fully trusted. But he knew Mahariel, knew her better even than his Fereldan comrade, knew parts of her she'd never entrusted to anyone but Anders himself. Could he...
No. Now was not the time. Now was the time to be glad one of the few people he'd ever called a friend was still alive.
"A lot better, having seen your face, Lyna." He called her by her familiar name. Once upon a time, she'd asked him to call her by it. He hoped that hadn't changed.
She smiled, but it was sad, even as she reached out and took his hand by her fingertips. "I never thought to see you again, Anders. When you left..." she breathed in, choosing her words, "left the Wardens, I thought that you either would come back to us in time or that you would be lost to me forever. I had hoped..." she let the thought die. "But this is unexpected. Pleasantly so," and the lilt came back in to her voice, a lilt that time and seriousness had almost washed away completely. After it all, she was still Dalish.
The resumed walking, a sort of tension broken between them. "Honestly, I had thought to come back. But I ended up here, where mages needed me more than... well, more." He walked with his hands behind his back, standing as tall as he'd dared to in a long time. Years of hiding had made him slouch, to try to be small and out of sight. While he stood up for his cause, he had no desire to end up with his permanent residence in the Gallows.
Mahariel nodded sympathetically. She'd always understood, and for that, Anders was endlessly thankful. Never once had she questioned his magic - she'd questioned him, and how rightly so - but the fact that he was a mage was always moot, and helpful at its best. Maybe it was due to her Dalish heritage: she hadn't known a Circle, hadn't made pariahs of apostates as part of her upbringing. It wasn't in her. What was was a nearly endless capacity for empathy. Kirkwall needed someone like her.
And, it dawned on him, here she was.
"Will you help us, Mahariel?" He made sure he asked gently. There was one person whose position he wouldn't force, and she walked quietly alongside him.
She bit her small lip, "I have had my fill of politics, Anders."
"But people's lives -"
Mahariel touched his arm. "I know, Anders. Believe me." She didn't bring up the fact that she'd given him ample opportunity to speak out against injustice with his position in the Wardens. "I will not hurt your cause, that much is certain, and you know I'll stand up for you. But I am not here to topple empires. I have had enough of that for lifetimes."
The mage nodded. Wardens were not at all supposed to intervene in politics, or anything that was not immediately related to the Blight. But Mahariel had always done things a little differently. And now that she was an arlessa, she was intrinsically involved in the fate of a nation, while retaining the Warden Commander title. She was probably the first, a destiny which could have just as easily fallen upon the shoulders of Alistair, the man who would have been king.
Anders knew that Alistair had loved Mahariel, and she had loved him in return. He didn't doubt that she loved the dead man still. Among the many things she had confessed to him was that she had all along planned to take that fall, to slay the Archdemon and allow Alistair to take his rightful place on Ferelden's throne. But the bastard son of Maric had committed one final act of devotion to his lover, pressing her out of the way and ramming his own blade through the Archdemon, ending the Blight and his own life in a single blow. Mahariel blamed herself for that, blamed herself for turning down the witch Morrigan's deal, blamed herself for Queen Anora taking the throne after Alistair's demise. Perhaps it was the only reason she pressed on in the Wardens; she felt the need to right the wrongs she laid on her own shoulders. She hadn't confessed that part, but Anders had speculated. Why else would she linger in service after a Blight?
Even still, Mahariel had found comfort and safety in Anders' presence. Now, as they passed the Chantry once more, she dared walk a little closer to him, their elbows bumping at moments when their steps fell out of rhythm. She had thought on the words long before she asked them. "Have you... found anyone, Anders?"
He took a long, slow breath and thought back to his first days in Kirkwall. "There was a man... a mage." He looked up at the Chantry with contempt and hurried his pace as though he could walk away from the horrors he had seen within. He wished the building were wiped from the landscape. Maybe he would sleep a little easier if it were. "Karl. The Circle got to him before I could save him. He was made Tranquil..." Not wanting to get into specifics that would invariably lead to more questions, he summarized. "His last thought - thought of his own - was that he'd rather die than live as one of those... those shells." Anders closed his eyes, and remembered the look on Karl's face in his last moment, just before he slipped into Tranquil nothingness. "I granted that request." Anders swallowed hard and turned his face away quickly before turning back. "But that was years ago."
Mahariel took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Anders, I - I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have -"
"Asked?" He shook his head. "No, it's alright. I hadn't thought about him in a long time," he confessed, returning the firm grip around her fingers, running his thumb over the back of her hand tenderly, thoughtlessly.
Mahariel kept up with his long strides easily, and soon they were turning back toward Lowtown, where Mahariel was staying, lodging in a room at the Hanged Man. She could have called on the nobles of the city to put her up in some Hightown mansion, she supposed, but with the recent demise of the viscount and the trouble brewing between Knight-Commander Meredith and First Enchanter Orsino, she thought it best not to insert herself, with her own slew of titles and experience, however innocently into the struggle happening in Hightown. Besides, she was more suited to Lowtown dives than Hightown bickering.
"Can I interest you in a drink?" Anders offered. He had next to no coin of his own but he'd put it on Varric's tab. He was certain the dwarf wouldn't mind, and didn't care much if he did.
Mahariel declined. "I've just gotten into town. Let me rest tonight. Tomorrow you can ply me with all the liquor you see fit," she promised. It was the kind of thing she would have said to him ages ago, and he was not at all sorry to bid her goodnight. She was good for her word. She was good for a lot of things.
Anders was warm head-to-toe as he took the long stairs back to Darktown.