Bloomingtide, 9:33 Dragon, Korcari Wilds
Garm barked eagerly, sensing something up ahead.
Alaric trudged up the last long slope, then looked down into a hollow in the land. There, next to a ruined Tevinter tower, stood Flemeth's hut. Two and a half years of abandonment had not been kind to it, although the roof seemed more or less intact. Whatever was inside, it probably still had shelter from wind and rain.
The mabari barked again, doing his little dance-in-a-circle maneuver that meant come on, hurry up, we haven't got all day.
"I'm coming, boy." Alaric came to stand next to the mabari, one hand idly roughing up the fur around the big hound's neck and ears, and listened. He heard nothing but the wind, hissing in the grass all around him. "You remember this place, don't you? It's been a long time."
Garm barked happily in agreement.
"Don't worry. If Morrigan is here, we'll find her."
The dog approved.
"Hmm." Alaric put on a tone of mock distress. "You always did like her best."
A plaintive whine, then another cheerful bark.
"Liar. All right, let's have a look."
Inside, the hut was in remarkably good condition. Much of Flemeth's library even remained in good shape, books free of water damage, mildew, or burrowing insects. Alaric seriously considered helping himself to some of the tomes, rare titles he had never seen before.
Garm laid his ears back and growled, staring at a dark corner.
"All right, not another step!" came a woman's voice. Someone moved out into the dim light. An elf-woman, Dalish by the vallaslin on her face, wearing combat gear and holding a sword at the ready. "What are you doing here?"
Garm crouched down, clearly about ready to leap.
"Call off your hound, shem!"
"All right," said Alaric soothingly. "No need for a fight. Easy, boy."
Garm backed away, his body language clearly communicating okay, but only because you asked nicely.
"Thank you," said the elf, sheathing her weapon. "My name is Ariane. I am of the Dalish people."
"Andaran atish'an, da'len," Alaric said smoothly, enjoying the moment of startlement he saw in the woman's eyes. "I am Alaric, a Grey Warden. Why are you here?"
"My Keeper . . ." Ariane hesitated, then obviously decided not to bother explaining Dalish culture to a shem who spoke at least a little of the elvhen. "My Keeper sent me to seek out Asha'bellanar."
"Asha'bellanar left this place a long time ago. I think I may have been the last person to see her here."
"You?" Ariane took on a skeptical look. "Then where did she go?"
He snorted in amusement. "Who can say where she might choose to go? As far as I know, no one in Ferelden has seen her since the Blight. Why are the People searching for her?"
"It's not Asha'bellanar I'm actually searching for. My Keeper thought she might be able to help us find her daughter. Morrigan. The young witch has caused trouble for my clan."
"Where does your clan normally roam?" Alaric asked, unable to conceal his sudden interest.
"To the west, across the mountains you . . ." A brief hesitation, while she edited the word shemlen out of her vocabulary. "You humans call the Frostback range. In the valleys and open plains that were once our homeland." Ariane gave him a skeptical look. "Why would such a thing matter to you?"
"Because I am also looking for Morrigan," he said. "I have reason to believe that she has spent a great deal of time in Orlais. If your clan roams there, and you have had dealings with her . . ."
"I see." Ariane nodded. "Has the witch earned your ire as well?"
"Not precisely. Morrigan and I were very close, once, and I would like to see her again. When my agents told me that she had been seen in these Wilds once more, I had to come and investigate for myself."
"Your agents? You are no simple Grey Warden, then."
"No. I am the Commander of the Grey in Ferelden. Although currently on an extended leave of absence."
Finally, the facts seemed to snap together in the elf-woman's mind. "You are the one who ended the Blight. Even in Orlais, the People speak of you. They say you are a friend to the Dalish."
"I try to be. How did Morrigan offend your clan?"
Ariane frowned, considering whether to trust a human with Dalish secrets. After a moment, she said, "One month ago, Morrigan visited my clan, as she has done before. When she left, we discovered that she had stolen an ancient book that belonged to our Keeper. Our clan had kept that book safe since the days of Arlathan. We were the only ones to preserve that piece of our history."
"Do you? All that we once had, every scrap of magical heritage we once possessed, it was all stripped from us. First by the magisters of Tevinter, then by the wretched Circle. Morrigan stole what little was left." Ariane bared her teeth in rage. "She knew exactly what she was looking for. Our Keeper allowed her to see the book. Two nights later, it was gone, and so was she."
"That . . . doesn't actually surprise me," said Alaric. "Morrigan would not normally stoop to casual theft, but if you had something she needed for some specific purpose of her own, she would not hesitate to take it. What was so special about this book?"
"Solan, our Keeper, told me that it was a treatise on something the ancients called eluvian."
Alaric narrowed his eyes, one hand coming up to stroke his beard thoughtfully. "I've heard that word before."
"Do you know its meaning?" she asked, eagerly.
Slowly, he shook his head. "I feel as if I ought to, but it escapes me."
"Our Keeper said much the same thing. The word is ancient, as ancient as the book itself, and its meaning is obscure. Save, perhaps, to Morrigan."
"There may be somewhere we can go to learn more," Alaric suggested. "Before I became a Grey Warden, I was a mage of the wretched Circle."
Ariane had the grace to look apologetic for a moment.
"I still have considerable influence and prestige there, as the one who defeated the Blight. Their library is extensive, and contains many works discussing the mysteries of ancient elven magic."
"You could get access?" Ariane's eyes shone with eagerness. "Take me with you. We both seek Morrigan. We could help one another."
Garm barked in enthusiastic agreement.
"Well," said Alaric. "I can tell when I've been outvoted."
"Ma serannas," said Ariane. She had a nice smile, when she chose to use it. "I look forward to working with you, Ser Alaric."
Later, they made camp in the wilderness, sitting together by a pleasant fire. They shared their rations, including a nip from a flask of Antivan brandy that Alaric had kept in his pack. They exchanged stories and looked up at the stars. For Alaric, it carried an odd freight of nostalgia.
Of course, Ariane was not much like any of his friends from the time of the Blight. She was Dalish, but had none of Velanna's prickly arrogance. She vaguely resembled Leliana, but lacked the bard's artistic bent or her gentle faith. She resembled Morrigan not at all. Still, now that she regarded the Warden as an ally, she was an easy and pleasant companion to travel with. Best of all, she was curious about Alaric, but was neither under his command nor affected by his reputation. He couldn't remember the last time he had traveled with someone like that.
"You said that Morrigan had visited your clan before," Alaric said at last, after they had eaten and he had set wards around their campsite.
"Yes. Six months ago, just before the first heavy snow-fall of the season. She and her companions arrived, and spent two weeks with us before they moved on." Ariane shook her head, scowling in anger. "That was a good visit. She was still pretending to be an honorable friend to the People then."
"Companions?" Alaric perked up, intrigued. "Who was she traveling with?"
"Three elves," she remembered. "Two from one of the cities, Halamshiral by their accent, a young married couple. The third was a Dalish hunter, from the Taranae clan."
Alaric hesitated, then asked, "Did she have a child with her?"
"Yes, she did. A human child, a little boy. We all speculated about who he was and why Morrigan had him. One hears the most horrible stories about Asha'bellanar and her daughters! From all I could see, though, she doted on the little thing. I think the child was hers, and the city elves were there to help her care for him."
Alaric smiled, and watched the campfire. "Tell me about him."
"A fine child," Ariane said at once. "Already stumping around on his feet and saying a few words. Black hair, like Morrigan's. Bright blue eyes. Strange, though. He smiled a great deal, but somehow he seemed to have old eyes. As if he had seen things that no small child should have seen."
"What was his name?"
"Morrigan called him Kieran."
It felt like a stab in the heart, a sharp pang of memory and loss.
The child will be raised to know who you are, and to respect you. Beyond that, you need know nothing else.
Ariane spoke again, her voice suddenly gentle. "This child . . . he is yours as well, isn't he?"
"Yes." The Warden looked up across the fire, and saw the elf's face, full of compassion. "My full name is Alaric Kieran Amell. It's strange. Morrigan is normally a very unsentimental woman."
"She never spoke of the time of the Blight," said Ariane. "Not even to our Keeper, although Solan knew she had been involved. We all wondered why. Did she betray you as well?"
"No. Quite the contrary. She saved all our lives, more than once. Then, once we had our victory, she left without ever looking back." Alaric shook his head. "I suppose the truth of Morrigan is that she always has purposes of her own, that no one else is likely to understand. She may be more alone than anyone I've ever known."
The elf looked thoughtful.
"Well," said Alaric briskly, deliberately breaking the mood. "Now you know why I want to find Morrigan. It's late. We should get some rest."
"I will watch," she offered.
"No need. I'm a mage, after all, and I've spent a lot of nights on the road. My wards will wake us if anything more dangerous than a squirrel comes close."
She looked dubious, but she was a veteran warrior. She knew better than to pass up a chance for sleep.
Bloomingtide, 9:33 Dragon, Kinloch Hold
"Alaric!" Wynne hurried to embrace the Warden, giving him a fond smile. "It's so good to see you. You don't visit the Circle nearly as often as you should."
"I do have other responsibilities, you know." Greatly daring, Alaric ducked in to plant a kiss on the older mage's cheek. "You're looking very well. So is the Tower, in fact."
Wynne nodded, tucking a hand under Alaric's arm to walk with him through the foyer. "The Circle is still not what it was, but we have made great strides. It has helped us to have such a capable advocate at the royal court. Who is your friend?"
"This is Ariane, a warrior of the Virannen clan of the Dalish people. Ariane, this is Senior Enchanter Wynne, one of my mentors, also a companion during the Blight."
"Andaran atish'an, Ariane," said Wynne, with considerable fluency. "Please be welcome in the Circle."
Ariane made a small bow, disarmed by Wynne's courtesy. "Thank you, Senior Enchanter."
"I didn't know you spoke any elvhen," Alaric teased the older mage.
"I decided it would be wise to learn. After all, I had a good example to follow."
"As a matter of fact, a scrap of Elvish lore is what brought us here," said Alaric, becoming serious. "You will remember Morrigan, of course."
Wynne frowned. "Yes."
"She apparently stole an ancient book from Ariane's clan. We want to determine the book's subject, on the chance that it will help us find Morrigan."
"I see. Well, of course you have full scholar's privileges here. Please call on me, or on the First Enchanter, if you need any assistance."
Alaric found the library much as he remembered it, a small miracle given the utter shambles it had been reduced to during Uldred's revolt. He had to stop for a moment, glancing at the place where his sister had died. Now, of course, there was no sign that anything untoward had ever happened there.
He sighed deeply, and began searching for certain titles. Once he had what he needed, he made his way to one of the work tables and sat down. Ariane followed, looking uncertain and out of place. Garm waited patiently for a moment, then dropped to the floor with a great flump at Alaric's feet.
For a while, Alaric lost track of time, immersing himself in the pleasures of scholarly research. Then he was interrupted by a new voice.
"What? Who let a dog in here? What are you doing? Be careful with those books!"
Alaric glanced over his shoulder, one eyebrow cocked, and saw a mage hurrying toward them. He was a young man, though he wore the robes of a full mage. His face was rather ordinary, clean-shaven, with russet hair and deep brown eyes. At the moment, he had a rather horrified expression.
"You're bending that book too much. You'll crack the spine and cause the pages to fall out! Just thinking about it is making me dizzy."
Alaric couldn't help himself. He chuckled, shaking his head, and said, "Hello, Finn."
He fought at the top of Fort Drakon. An Archdemon and a horde of darkspawn didn't make him flinch. Threaten one of his precious tomes, though . . .
"Oh. It's you." Finn relaxed somewhat, as he realized the intruder in his library wasn't an utter barbarian. "Still. You, of all people, should know to treat the books with more respect. Did you wash your hands before you came in here?"
"Yes, Finn. Also, the dog only ate three or four volumes before his appetite was sated."
Finn's eyes went wide with horror for a moment, until he realized Alaric wasn't serious. "Ha, ha," he gasped. Then his eye fell on Alaric's current book, and he seemed to recover his aplomb. "Browsing the chapter on the eluvians? No one's ever actually found one, you know."
Alaric cocked his head, intrigued. "You know what an eluvian is?"
"The word is old Elvish for seeing glass," Finn said at once, pulling out a chair at their table for himself. "Mirror, basically."
Alaric clapped a palm to his forehead. "Of course! I knew I had seen the word before."
"I should write this down," said Finn, rather smugly. "The day I beat the Archmage over a piece of elvhen vocabulary."
Alaric shot Ariane a wry glance. "Your Keeper couldn't translate the word for mirror?"
"It's a two-thousand-year-old dialect," she said defensively. "We couldn't read most of the book at all. I don't know how Morrigan managed it."
"She's right," said Finn. "The word is from the old high dialect of Arlathan, lost over the millennia. I only know a few dozen words of it, and I'm the best linguist in the Circle."
"What did your Keeper think the eluvian was, Ariane?"
"Solan wasn't sure. He thought eluvian was a place."
Finn shook its head. "No, it's definitely a mirror, but not just any mirror. It's a special kind, one the ancient elves could use to travel across Thedas in the blink of an eye. When the Tevinter Imperium sacked Arlathan, they took these mirrors and tried to unlock their power. But all they could ever use them for was communication over long distances."
Ariane looked thoughtful. "Hmm. While my people were traveling north of the Waking Sea, about two years ago, we crossed paths with another Dalish clan."
"The Sabrae?" Alaric asked.
"You know of them?"
"Yes. I met their First, briefly, last year in Kirkwall."
"Ah, if you know Merrill, you may have heard this story already. She was part of it." Ariane turned to Finn. "The Sabrae told us about two of their young hunters, who encountered a strange mirror in some ruins in the Brecilian Forest. One disappeared, and they never saw him again. The other grew deathly ill, and died before long. The clan left Ferelden during the Blight, traveling north across the sea to forget their sorrows."
"No, Merrill never mentioned any of this," Alaric mused. "I wonder why?"
"What about the mirror?" Finn asked eagerly.
The mage gasped. "Why?"
"It had been corrupted by the Blight. Beyond hope of recovery. They destroyed it to protect others."
"How can a mirror spread the taint?" Alaric wondered.
Ariane only shrugged.
Finn was off on another tangent. "Even broken," he muttered, "it could be used to find the others. No, wait, don't get ahead of yourself."
"What?" demanded Ariane. "What do you know?"
"We have to get to the repository! This is so exciting!"
"Slow down, Finn," Alaric commanded. "What's in the repository?"
"An expert in Tevinter magic, who probably knows something about the eluvians. She might have even used them in ancient times."
Alaric cocked an eyebrow. "You want to consult with Eleni Zinovia?"
"You keep one of your experts in storage?" demanded Ariane.
"This is no ordinary expert," Alaric told her. "It's not a bad idea, actually. Assuming we can get a straight answer out of her. Let's go."