Kingsway, 9:32 Dragon, Kirkwall
It felt very strange, returning to Kirkwall after seven years away. Alaric had been a boy of sixteen when he was sent to Ferelden. Full grown, so at least he didn't have the sensation of the city seeming physically smaller when he returned. But he didn't remember the place being quite so crowded, or with so many run-down buildings and homes. Coming up from the docks, he got the impression that Kirkwall was bursting at the seams.
Ferelden refugees, living crammed into every corner and hovel they can find. Not to mention a whole compound walled off and occupied by the qunari, of all people. I understand the Arishok himself is here, and has been for almost two years. The Sten must have had to come to Kirkwall to make his report. I wonder if he's still here?
For a moment, Alaric considered turning aside, to visit the qunari and inquire. Then he thought better of it. No telling how far the status of basalit-an might stretch.
Alaric glanced at his companion. Bethany Hawke was a pretty young woman, dark of hair and eye. Once she had run to generous curves, but a year of strenuous training and travel as a Grey Warden had refined her form considerably. The blue-and-silver uniform of the Grey Wardens suited her, as did the finely made ash-wood staff she carried. She was currently watching Alaric with an expression of calm patience.
"I'm sorry, Warden. I was woolgathering for a moment. Seeing Kirkwall again brings back memories I thought I had long since buried."
"Hmm." The younger mage glanced up at the looming towers of the nearby Gallows. "I feel the same way. Although in my case, I think I would rather they stayed buried."
"Where might we find your brother?" Alaric asked.
"Honestly, I'm not sure. I could take you to the house in Hightown, but from his letters I get the impression he doesn't spend much time there. He's always shuttling around the city, finding jobs to do or problems to solve. If he has a home base, it's in Lowtown. A tavern called the Hanged Man."
"Cousin, I suddenly feel the need for a pint of ale."
She snorted in amusement. "Maker's breath, you wouldn't say that if you had ever tasted the ale in the Hanged Man. Come on."
They walked through the narrow streets of Lowtown, two Grey Warden mages making absolutely no attempt to conceal who or what they were. As expected, everyone gave them a very wide berth. Even the pickpockets took one look and sidled away. Soon Alaric saw their destination, a set of ancient wooden doors set slightly below the level of the street. He stepped down, opened them, and walked into the dim space beyond, inhaling the rich aromas of the place with appreciation.
Stale beer, vomit, sweat, piss, and desperation. Now this is a real tavern.
Best of all, the noise level in the place fell for a moment . . . and then rose right back to its previous level, as if nothing at all was amiss. Apparently two Grey Wardens were well within the bounds of what the locals considered ordinary.
"Bethany!" A breathtakingly beautiful Rivaini woman came sauntering across the floor, wearing a wide white grin, eyes alight with pleasure. She swept Bethany up into an embrace, and then glanced at Alaric. "Bringing some of your Grey Warden friends to the Hanged Man, too. Scandalous . . ." Suddenly her face took on a startled expression. "Wait a moment."
Alaric smiled slightly. "Hello, Isabela."
"Andraste's tits! I remember you, from Denerim, must have been two years ago. You weren't in uniform then. Alaric, that was the name."
"Well, we Grey Wardens were not exactly popular in Ferelden at the time. A uniform would not have been a good idea, even if I had one to wear. It's good to see you. How have you been?"
"Stranded, that's how I've been. A ship-captain without a ship is a useless creature. Although I do find ways to get through the days."
"Not to mention the nights," Bethany teased her.
"That's me, I'm resourceful!" Isabela slipped a hand under Alaric's arm and began to lead him through the room. "Come on, there are people here you should meet."
At a table by the far wall, two men already sat with mugs of ale by their elbows, playing a two-handed game of Wicked Grace. One was a dwarf, blonde and clean-shaven, wearing unusually fine clothing for the neighborhood. The other . . .
Alaric recognized Garrett Hawke right away, even though he had never met the man before. There seemed to be a strong family resemblance. He and Alaric were both tall men, well-built, with high foreheads, prominent but thin noses, strong chins, and beards. Garrett was darker, with black hair and brown eyes, and he had the strong shoulders and quick grace of a dual-weapon fighter. He looked up at their approach, and his eyes lit up with pleasure at the sight of Bethany. He set his cards down, carefully not revealing them to the dwarf, and rose to greet his sister.
"Commander," said Bethany. "Allow me to introduce Varric Tethras, and my brother Garrett. Gentlemen, this is Alaric Amell. Commander of the Grey of Ferelden."
Give them credit for wits, both men were very quick on the uptake. The dwarf's eyes went wide, and he made a low whistle. "You're the Hero of Ferelden?"
"Also my cousin, it seems," said Garrett, extending his arm for Alaric to grasp. "I'm very pleased to meet you, ser."
"As am I." Alaric looked into his kinsman's eyes, and liked what he saw. "I was at Ostagar. I wish I had known you were there. We might have been able to join forces."
"It seems we did anyway, in a sense." Garrett grinned at Bethany. "I didn't think you were assigned to Ferelden, sister."
"I borrowed her from Ansburg," said Alaric, "when I knew I would be coming to see you."
Slowly, Garrett nodded in understanding. "This is about Corypheus, isn't it?"
"I have several errands to take care of in Kirkwall, on behalf of the Wardens and my king and queen. But yes, an investigation into what you know of Corypheus is one of those errands. If you will permit, I want to spend some time over the next few days interviewing those of you who were involved."
"Well, that's three of us right here," said Varric. "You'll want to talk to Aveline and Merrill too. Although we already spilled our guts to the Wardens from Ansburg. Why are the Ferelden Wardens taking an interest?"
"Some of that, I'm not at liberty to discuss." At a gesture of invitation, Alaric sat down at the table with the others, and lowered his voice. "Let's just say that my command has encountered another, frighteningly similar creature. King Alistair and I would very much like to learn more."
"Another of the old Tevinter magisters that tried to break into the Maker's palace?" Varric shook his head ruefully. "I swear, you people come across the creepiest shit."
"It's possible," Alaric agreed. "We can't be sure, and I want to collect your testimony at first-hand. I'm not comfortable relying on the other Warden commanderies to get the details right."
"I can certainly understand that," said Garrett. "With all due respect, ser, I haven't always been impressed with Grey Warden decision-making."
"No offense taken. I quite agree." Alaric leaned back, and favored his cousin with a small smile. "I have two other reasons for coming to Kirkwall that involve you. One is that I would like to see Anders."
Garrett's face took on a cautious expression. "Who?"
"Don't bother trying to dissemble, cousin. I have no intention of arresting him, or brow-beating him into returning to my command, or anything so foolish. I just want to talk to him." Alaric glanced down at the smooth wood of the table-top, knowing the subject was likely to be painful. "If it helps, you should be aware that I've known for months that he is in Kirkwall. I got a report from Ansburg about your Deep Roads expedition. Including how one of your companions was a mysterious Grey Warden, who could get help for Bethany when she contracted the taint. It wasn't hard to deduce that it was Anders. Yet I haven't done anything to disturb him here."
Garrett glared at his sister, who looked back at him without flinching. "I'm . . . not sure that it will be possible."
"Will you at least take a message to him? I've known Anders for a long time, cousin. We were in the Ferelden Circle together, years before the Blight. I just want to make sure he's safe, and offer any help I can."
"All right. I can do that, and if he's willing to talk to you, I can arrange a meeting on neutral ground."
"What's the third reason?" Garrett asked.
"During the Blight, one of my companions was an acquaintance of yours, from Lothering. Sister Leliana."
"The bard?" Varric interjected. "The one who wrote the Tale of the Grey Wardens?"
The dwarf grinned. "Andraste's knickers, I would give three of my teeth to meet that one. She's on my list of People I Wish I Could Write As Well As. It's a very short list."
"I'll see what I can do." Turning back to the Hawkes, Alaric continued, "She happened to mention that you had been living in Lothering, so while we were traveling across Ferelden on the way to another mission, we stopped back there. Not much left of the place, but we did find your home. Including your father's grave."
Garrett said nothing, looking solemn.
"You must understand, cousin, at the time I thought I had no family left in all the world. My parents were gone. One sister mage was killed in the Blight. Another was sent away from Kirkwall, and the Chantry has never seen fit to tell me where she might be. Finding that you had been there, but that you had more than likely managed to escape . . . it meant a great deal to me. I swore then and there that I would find you one day, and that I would be a friend to you." Alaric rested his hand in the middle of the table, palm down. "So, this is my word: if ever the Warden-Commander of Ferelden can perform a service for you, you have only to ask. We Amells have to stick together."
Without hesitation, Bethany reached out and placed her hand atop Alaric's. More slowly, Garrett added his own hand to the pile. He held Alaric's gaze, and nodded.
Two days later, Alaric began work on his final purpose for visiting the city of his birth. The one that didn't involve his family.
He presented himself at the Kirkwall Chantry, and as a Warden-Commander he soon obtained an audience with Grand Cleric Elthina. To her, he presented a letter. A royal writ from Alistair and Anora, asking that he be granted access to the Chantry's extensive archives.
Elthina was that rare individual, someone who was clearly not overwhelmed by Alaric's titles or personal history. That did not prevent her from agreeing to the royal request. She welcomed Alaric with grave courtesy, expressed interest in further conversation as time permitted, and turned him over to Brother Archivist with an order for complete cooperation. For his part, the Archivist watched Alaric with skepticism for about an hour, then granted him unsupervised run of the stacks once it was clear the Warden was a competent scholar.
Alaric had a very specific question to answer. One that involved the origins of the Grey Wardens, and the ancient history of the First Blight. It had first come to him in Denerim, soon after his disastrous audience with Alistair and Anora on Wintersend. He had gone back to the royals to open the question, and quickly convinced them both that it desperately needed an answer.
How did Morrigan know her ritual would work?
It was not as if anyone had enjoyed the opportunity to perform experiments on dying Old Gods. There had only been four Blights before, and for three of them it was known which Grey Warden had slain the Archdemon and died as a result. Clearly, the ritual had rarely – if ever – been tried before. So how had Morrigan known, in detail, how to carry out the ritual, and known that it would work?
Morrigan presumably got her knowledge from Flemeth. But where did Flemeth get it?
In that context, Alaric remembered that in the First Blight alone, there was no record of which Grey Warden had died slaying the Archdemon. Which suggested that the records had been lost in the chaos of Andraste's war against Tevinter. Or perhaps that more than one Grey Warden had been killed in the final battle and none of their names had survived.
Or, possibly, that the final slayer of Dumat had not been killed in the process.
Alaric had spent months working in the Ferelden libraries, and sending cautious queries to Orlais for information from the Chantry's central archives. To no avail. There were no references anywhere to a ritual resembling the one Morrigan and Alaric had carried out. Yet there were tantalizing hints that the Kirkwall archive held records that could not be found anywhere else. Records referring to the First Blight, and the events that had followed its end.
Alaric also realized that he had one more piece of information, something Morrigan had let slip. A name, associated with the ritual.
So now he searched through the Kirkwall archives, poring through ancient parchments, some of them so old he could barely make out the script. Others were in old dialects that strained his abilities as a scholar and linguist. Others were copies of copies of copies, probably terribly distorted across the centuries. Again, he found no reference to Morrigan's, or Macha's, ritual.
Then, after he had finished with all his other business in Kirkwall, just as he was on the point of giving up, he came across a single reference that made the whole search worthwhile.
Macha, hetaera to the chieftain Eldarath.
It was only one line, but he stopped and stared at it for a long time, thinking.
Eldarath: a barbarian warlord, one of the Alamarri tribesmen of the Ancient Age, who held sway over extensive lands in what later became northern Ferelden.
The father of Andraste.
Alaric turned to Chantry histories, which told of Andraste's birth and early life. Her father's primary wife, Andraste's birth-mother, had been a woman named Brona. Alaric recalled encountering a spirit-image of Brona in the Temple of Sacred Ashes, and shivered a little at the memory.
Yet the early Alamarri had practiced concubinage. Eldarath was known to have kept at least one concubine – a hetaera, in ancient Tevene. This concubine had been a "witch" and an expert in alchemy. Just the sort of magical practitioner who might invent a ritual like Morrigan's. She had given birth to Andraste's half-sister, a woman named Haliserre. The future prophet and the witch's daughter were the same age, and were raised together in the same household.
Was Macha the same concubine of Eldarath who was Haliserre's mother? Andraste – and Haliserre – were born close to the same year that Dumat was slain, at least as far as anyone can tell. That cannot be a coincidence.
He spent another day, digging further. Once again, his patience was rewarded. He found another obscure reference to the alchemist concubine, and the death of Haliserre as a very young woman.
Andraste came to consider her sister's death a matter of heresy. Haliserre's mother had whispered of the Old Gods.
Everything was beginning to fall into place. Yet there were gaps in the story, and try as he might, Alaric could find no way to close them. He could find no record of Eldarath being a Grey Warden. No record of his concubine being present at the Battle of the Silent Plains. No way to guess how Macha had invented the ritual that Morrigan had used. No way to prove how the knowledge had been transmitted from Macha to Flemeth. Without those links in the chain, the idea would never be more than a theory.
Still. The parallels are too close for comfort.
He could see it, all laid out before him, as if in the treatise that he knew he would never dare to write.
Macha had been some manner of predecessor to Flemeth. Perhaps she had been the same creature as Flemeth, some prior host to whatever powerful being stood behind the Witches of the Wilds.
Macha had gone to the Silent Plains. Had enacted a ritual of her own devising with Eldarath, or with some nameless Grey Warden, just before the final battle. Had "rescued" the essence of the Old God Dumat, and later given birth to a child who carried Dumat's soul. Just as Morrigan, over a thousand years later, had given birth to a child who bore the soul of Urthemiel.
Then Macha's child had grown up in the same household as a woman who later brought down the Tevinter Imperium and transformed all Thedas. Haliserre had died young, but Andraste had been present at her death, and only after that incident had the future prophet showed any sign of an uncanny destiny.
Did some portion of the soul of Dumat . . . transfer itself to Andraste? Was Dumat's presence within Andraste the truth behind all her experiences of the Maker?
Maker's breath. What game is Flemeth playing here? What is my son meant to be?
Alaric left Kirkwall a few days later. He was the poorer by five gold sovereigns, having made the mistake of sitting in on a game of Wicked Grace with Varric Tethras. On the other hand, he was the richer by several valuable friendships, including with the remnants of his family. He had many pages of notes regarding the creature known as Corypheus. Finally, he had evidence that would convince even the skeptical rulers of Ferelden that finding Morrigan was of the utmost importance.
My year and a day will be over soon, and when it is, all of Alistair and Anora's objections can be dealt with. Morrigan, if you still live, I will come to find you.
Nothing is going to stop me now.