The Village

Chapter Four

Part One

Kathryn felt Wynne’s hand on her shoulder and opened her eyes. “Are you alright, dear?”

Kathryn looked around. Some time had passed and the rain had stopped. She looked up to see Wynne looking at her with concern.

“Yes, I’m fine, but Alistair is hurt.” Kathryn said.

“I’m alright, really.” He said and with effort raised his head from her shoulder.

“No, you’re not.” Kathryn said and turned to Wynne “He is having trouble breathing and his head...” Wynne looked to the wound on the side of his head.

“That’s nasty.” Wynne said and took out a salve and gently applied it.

“At least, I didn’t damage anything important.” He said.

“Least of all your self-deprecating sense of humor.” Wynne said. She put a hand on his chest. “Lungs are fine and will clear.”

She took out a potion from her bag and handed it to him. “Drink this.” Alistair looked at it suspiciously.

“You know what happened the last time someone told me that.” He said.

Wynne smiled and then turned to Kathryn.“And you?”

“I’m fine.” Kathryn said more concerned with Alistair.

“That’s my job to determine. How’s the knee?” Wynne didn’t wait for a reply but put a hand on the side of Kathryn’s leg. Wynne held it there for a moment and then again on her shin. “It’s healed but wrap it up for a while. And you both need ‘rest’ tonight.” Kathryn noted the emphasis on the word ‘rest.’

“Are the others alright?” Kathryn asked.

“Sten is exhausted but fine. Leliana has a sprain and a couple pulled muscles but will be fine. Morrigan is bruised and sore but nothing is broken. Oghren is fine, he just needs some rest. Zevran... will.. be fine but it will take a bit of time.” Wynne said.

“And you?” Kathryn asked. Wynne smiled and looked at her hands. They were no longer shaking but there was still a faint blue cast to her skin.

“I will be.” She said with a sigh.

“Thank you, Wynne.” Wynne smiled and put a hand on Kathryn’s shoulder and one on Alistair’s as she left to check on the others.

Alistair downed the potion. “You think they could make these things taste better.” He put the bottle down, closed his eyes and let the medicine work. When he opened them, they were clear and alert.

He looked around and then suddenly noticed that his hand was resting suggestively on the top of Kathryn’s thigh. “Oh! I... didn’t... I’m sorry.” He said as he pulled his hand back as though touching a hot stove, oblivious to the fact that it had been like that since the end of the battle.

“It’s all right.” She assured him. “It isn’t like ‘WE’ are a big secret.”

“I know but... I don’t want to... paw at you like you’re some...” He stopped not really knowing how to finish the sentence and then thought better of trying. “At least not in public.” He said with head and voice low. “I... I don’t want you... or anyone to think I don’t... you know... just because we are...”

“I don’t. They don’t.” At least, she didn’t think they did. They still followed orders and didn’t treat her any differently and honestly she wasn’t concern with what they thought. “But... no doubt my mother would be completely scandalized by the unladylike and compromising situation I am currently in. I mean nearly rolling around on the ground with some commoner... warden... templar... man... in front of people! What will all the noble ladies say?! No way to get me married off now!” She said with fake horror and with a wide smile.

“Well, I do have royal blood... wait... does that make it better or worse?” He asked unsure.

“Both, actually. So very much more scandalous and damaging to my reputation but the better to gossip about.” She said.

“Oh. Great.” He said rolling his eyes.

She didn’t talk about her family or her life before and as much as he didn’t want to push or pry, he was curious and asked gently.“Would she really disapprove of... us?” He asked.

Kathryn slightly winced. She didn’t like thinking about her family and her life before the Blight. It was too painful and there was too much to do. But he deserved an answer and she had brought the subject up. She considered the question carefully and then her answer and said.

“Not of you. She’d have loved you and Father would have too and if... you ever get to meet Fergus, you’ll understand and see I speak the truth about that.” She smiled. “They both just wanted me to be happy. They had made such a good match and were so happy together...” She thought back and with more than a touch of bitterness. “...they wanted that for both me and Fergus.”

“Father knew I’d never be happy with just anyone, no matter how much property they had or how powerful they were. He never insisted.” She said with no little amount of gratitude. “He wanted me to make my own choice, find the right person for me. Someone of worth and character that I could love and respect and who do the same for me.”

“Mother was more practical and wanted me to make a good match, which for a noble includes considerations of rank and property. You want someone who can support a family and support them well.” She said matter of fact. “She tried to match me up with every suitable noble in Thedas. But so many of them just wanted to marry me because of my family, not because of... me. I know that she only wanted me to be taken care of and have a life and family of my own and not just hang around the castle.” She smiled.

“So to answer your question, as a potential match for her daughter and a provider for her grandchildren, the fact that you are a Grey Warden without a silver in your purse nor property of your own, would not have thrilled her.” She admitted. He looked down in disappointment.

“But... given that I’m also a Grey Warden fight against a Blight and that my life is in your hands on nearly a daily basis and the fact I do love you so very much and that you love me too...,” She lowered her head and eyes till they met his. “...believe me when I say that they both would heartily approve of... us.” He smiled, consoled by her answer and grateful for her honesty.

She stood up and helped him to his feet. She looked around at the bodies covering the ground. “There are too many to just be from the village.”

“True, those are definitely not from around here.” He said indicating several wearing heavy armor. “Uniforms are from Denerim.” He pointed to another group. “Those are probably bandits. I’d bet the mace-wielder is a mercenary. But most look like refugees.”

“So, just passers-by, who wandered into the village for supplies or a drink at the tavern and got caught in this corrupted and tainted death trap.” She looked over the bodies. “But how? There are no signs of any darkspawn.”

Morrigan walked up to them. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news...”

“Oh, you know that isn’t true.” Alistair said. “You love bringing bad news and you know it.”

“Perhaps, in general, but not this time.” She turned back to Kathryn and said lower. “Despite the slaughter, we are not yet alone.”

“What?” Kathryn said louder than she wanted.

“The houses.” Morrigan said. They both turned to look. At first they saw nothing but then the shutters moved slightly. The doors cracked open and through them fearful eyes peaked out at them.

“They aren’t ghouls or they would have attacked... survivors?” Kathryn said.

“No.” Alistair said shaking his head. “They might be alive but they aren’t survivors, not the way you mean it, not like that.”

“What do you mean?” Kathryn said confused. Alistair took a deep breath. He knew her and that she wouldn’t want to accept what he had to say.

“As long as this place has been exposed to the taint. They are corrupted. They have to be.” His face was grim but set. She shook her head.

“You don’t know that for certain. They might not be.” Kathryn said hopeful.

“We... can’t take that risk. If they are and we let them go... it... this all starts over. If they leave, they take it... the taint, with them. Another place becomes this. We can’t let that happen. We can’t leave this place like this. We can’t leave them... like they are.” He said.

“What are we to do?” She asked.

“Burn it to the ground. All of it... everything... every... thing.” He said with emphasis. He didn’t want to have to spell it out for her. She looked back to the eyes in the windows.

“There has to be...” She whispered.

“There isn’t.” He said more forceful and louder than he meant to. She looked to him eyes pleading. His voice softened. “Kathryn... there isn’t.” She looked away.

“As much as I hate to admit he is right...” Morrigan said quietly.

“They might be able to tell us what happened.” Kathryn said not looking back.

“I doubt it. I...” He said but stopped.

“You what?” Kathryn said looking at him.

“There was a woman in the cellar of the tavern. She was tainted but more... sane than the others. She said there were no darkspawn but that ‘he’ brought death to the village. That’s all she could tell me.” He said.

“There was a boy in the chantry. He appeared before the rest. He said that he was sorry and then the others attacked.” She turned back to him. “Wait. You said ‘others’... ‘more sane than the others’.”

“Yes. I did.” He admitted. She looked away again. He walked up to her and said low. “I’ll do it. I can...”

“No.” She said. “We... we do it. But... we don’t just burn them.” She looked him in the eye. “At least we can make it quick. Maker knows they have suffered enough.”

“Yes, we can do that for them.” He said. “Everything is too wet to burn. We will take care of them and then burn it tomorrow.” She nodded her head.

The rest of the group sensing that something had been decided and eager to leave, gathered around. She looked back to the group but did not meet any of their eyes. “We need to check out the rest of the village, make sure... it’s safe. Everyone go and make camp. We will be there soon.”

She turned back to face the houses. They looked at each other, not used to being dismissed nor not being told what exactly what was going on. But none of them had the strength or will to question. They shrugged and started towards the highway.

They waited till the rest were out of the village. “Kathryn,” He said softly. “I’m sorry. I... I wish there was another way.”

“Yeah.” She said handing him one of her daggers. “Me too.”

Part Two

Alistair closed the door to the tent, even with the extra guard it was hard to relax and feel safe. He took off his armor and laid his weapons aside but within arms reach.

Kathryn was nearly undressed but staring at her empty hands. He stepped up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “What is it?” He asked.

As she turned her hands over and over before her.“You know, I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve killed.” She said.

“The ones today didn’t count. You didn’t kill them. They were already dead.” He said matter of fact.

“Why does that feel like an excuse?” She said as he stroked her hair.

“I don’t know.” He said. “Because it isn’t. It’s true.” He said with as much conviction as he could muster. But he knew that to her, it wasn’t true. She blamed herself for not being able to save them even though she knew there was nothing she could have done.

He also knew that while part of it was looking into the corrupted and empty eyes of the villagers and doing what she knew she had to. Part of it was what had happened to her parents, what had happened at the castle and how she blamed herself for that too.

After Ostagar, he had been allowed to grieve, to deal with the pain, the grief and the guilt that he carried from that battle while she had stood. He had thought that she was just stronger, that she had somehow been able to deal with the loss of her family in a way that he couldn’t. But now he could see that she simply hadn’t dealt with it at all. Now he could see the cracks, no... that wasn’t exactly true. Now he was being allowed to see the cracks, see the strain all this had taken on her, the pain and anguish she hid from the others.

He felt honored that she trusted and confided this in him, that she could be weak and vulnerable in his presence and that perhaps in some small way she could take strength and comfort from him. But it was also scary, for no one had every relied on him like that before. No one had ever wanted or needed his support, or friendship, his caring and his love. He had never been responsible to another person like that.

She had encouraged him and given him confidence and a belief in himself he had never had before. And now he wanted so desperately to be there for her, to help her through whatever she had to face, in whatever way he could. He just didn’t know how.

She let her hands fall to her sides and turned towards him but kept her eyes to the ground. She said “I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t think about it, right now. I...” He took her head in his hands and kissed her, fast, hard and passionately. She didn’t react and he kissed her again. Then she put up her hands and turned her face away but did not move from him. He stopped but didn’t back away.

He hoped he had done the right thing. He had been forced to rely on his own instincts before because he had so little experiences in such things and because asking for advice had proved useless. Long moments passed and he was about to let go and apologize when she turned her head back to him and kissed him tenderly at first and then more passionately. He sat down on the bedroll and gently pulled her to him.

Part Four

“You know...” Zevran mused whimsically as they stood in the middle of the market square. “I would have sworn upon a copy of the chant itself and upon every holy finger bone of Andraste being sold in Denerim’s market district that we fought a terrible battle. Here! In this very village! With dozens upon dozens of corrupted flesh-eating ghouls!”

“Yeah.” Kathryn said. “Me too.” But as she looked around the market square there was no sign of any of them. There were no bodies or signed of a fight. They were all gone.

“But it did happen!” Leliana said. “We didn’t all just dream it, did we?” She said less sure than when she started.

“Something happened.” Oghren said as he walked back into the square. “The tavern is burnt and the chantry window is out.”

“But, that is damage that we did, not them.” Kathryn said.

“All the bodies are gone.” Alistair said as he entered the square. “Cellar, houses, everyone, everywhere... gone.”

“But how is that even possible?” Wynne said. “There wasn’t time to move them, you’d need many people and carts and there would be ruts in the mud... and...” She looked around the square as though the answer was to be found just laying around.

“Is there any proof that they were... real?” Kathryn said really hoping someone had an answer.

“No, no, don’t tell me this is some sodding Fade thing!” Oghren said. “Oh, sod it!” He said as he sat down on the ground.

“Wait, I have it!” Zevran shouted and ran off. In a moment he came back with a lit candle nearly burnt out. “Here!” He said as he presented the candle to Kathryn. “This proves they were real.”

“The fireball could have lit them.” Morrigan said.

“No, it won’t.” Wynne said. “It doesn’t burn long enough. It would knock them over, scorch maybe, but not light them.”

“Doesn’t mean ghouls or even the boy lit them.” Morrigan said.

“But my dear, that does not matter. All that matters is that something real and not any of us, lit these candles. That... is something.” Zevran said.

“Okay.” Kathryn said with some relief. “At least we know something happened and someone was here.”

“Has anyone considered that perhaps the best plan would be to leave this place quickly? There is little, I can see, to be gained by solving the mystery.” Morrigan said.

“Right.” Alistair said. “Let’s just leave an army’s worth of corrupted and tainted bodies missing and a village that is nothing more than a death trap for the next unsuspecting traveler to walk into, so that the entire nightmare can start over again. Trust me... no one except ‘YOU’ would consider that!”

“I am simply saying that with the importance of the mission we are on, it might be prudent to let someone else handle this particular problem.” Morrigan said.

“There ‘IS’ no someone else! We ‘ARE’ the someone else!” He said.

“I... I just meant…” Morrigan began.

“Morrigan. Enough.” Kathryn said. “We have to find the bodies, find out how and why they disappeared.”

She looked around again and then suddenly looked up and turned back to the group. “And... I think I know where to start.”

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