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Chapter 13 Wynne

The old priestess stares at him with pale blue eyes wide open. "We were sent to bring the Chant of Light to the poor suffering souls that have gone astray. The Maker's mercy is endless to those who will listen."

"We have our own priestesses here." Rhodwin refrains from yawning and he can see Dale rolling his eyes.

"Surely our sisters need help with the uneasy task. The sinners are many these days." Now, isn't it a shame that such girls are taken in the Chantry? Rhodwin can surely imagine other uses for this one. Sin, hmmm.

The old crone keeps staring at him expectantly and Rhodwin grins for himself. The Fort has been buzzing with the news that the chief Warden traitor was captured and interrogated. If they allowed one devoted sister rattle his ears off with the Chant of Light, he might plead for mercy soon enough.

Ah, very well. "You may enter."

The dungeon of Fort Drakon is unlike any other Wynne has ever seen, during all her years at the Circle or in the months of travel with young Ned Cousland.

Or maybe is it that my role here is unlike any other before?

Sneaking through the dark corridors, killing all the guards they encounter – much the same as what she has done quite frequently, yet not at all the same.

One more guard in a circle of torchlight, one more time to play a daft Chantry lady, drawing his attention, while Morrigan awaits in the shadows, swift and deadly, and merciless. Together, they drag the body into an empty cell.

"How far yet?" Wynne whispers.

Morrigan concentrates for a moment. "Close," she says. "This way. – Still unconscious," she adds.

Good news, in a way.

One more corridor.

The sound of a door shut and of clinging metal makes them startle; then they hear approaching footsteps.

A man appears from behind the corner but misses the two women crouching in the dark as he opens a door, letting out a stream of light into the corridor. "Still out," he replies to a question. "Shouldn't we get a healer so that we can continue?"

The answer is lost as he enters and closes the door behind him.

Wynne and Morrigan exchange glances, then they speed down the corridor, to the door which clanged a moment ago.

There is a barred window in the door, and a torch placed in the holder just opposite, so that a passing guard may check the inmate.

Morrigan is the first to reach the door. Her shadowed face shows nothing but she slowly raises her hand and grips the bars with such strength that Wynne almost expects to hear the sound of breaking iron. Bracing herself, she makes a final step and stands by Morrigan. Then she touches the young witch's shoulder. "I think we need a key," she states very calmly.

Morrigan turns to her, and her eyes glow. "And I know where to find one," she retorts, and softly runs to the door of the lit torture chamber, and the murmur of voices inside. Wynne follows only a step behind, with death magic concentrating around her fingers.

Ned is dreaming.

The woman of his life is with him; he can feel her touch, smell her scent of herbs and honey and rain. Her warmth seems so real as he is resting on her lap.

He can hear her voice, softly purring in his ear. That's how he knows it's a dream, because she is saying the words she would never say in waking.

But something is amiss: he feels cold, lying on a cold, hard floor.

Then the pain returns, and Ned wakes back into a nightmare.

"He's about to wake – too soon," Wynne observes as she feels the growing tension in the muscles. "It would be good if you could comfort him, so that he doesn't start tossing about."

The look Morrigan gives her as she interrupts dabbing the salve over Ned's battered back is one of sheer horror, and ignorance.

Wynne suppresses a sigh. "Just hold him and speak to him. It does not matter what you say, it's the voice and tone that do the trick." And she returns to casting healing spells over Ned's shins; there is no time to instruct Morrigan even were she willing to listen.

Maker help me, if I can't get him walking on his own convincingly, we'll never make it out of here.

A moment later, though, Wynne sees that her advice is heeded: with Ned's head on her lap, Morrigan bends over him, speaking very, very softly. Wynne might be able to recognize the words if she tried but she does not; she already feels like a voyeur by merely being present.

It's the tone that does the trick.

Rhodwin feigns surprise seeing the two Chantry sisters heading out. "So soon?" he raises an eyebrow.

"Sister Agatha did not wish for our assistance," the pretty one says with a sigh, her disappointment and hurt obvious.

"I could have told you so," Rhodwin exchanges a knowing smirk with Dale and then frowns, seeing a guard carrying a full sack following the two sisters. "What's that?"

"Thanks to the Maker, the captain agreed to provide us excess clothes and other things that we might use as alms for the needy. Maker blesses those who give to the poor, and rejoices in the acts of mercy…"

The old crone prates on and Rhodwin boredly waves them off. The shift is to end soon and he desperately needs to relieve himself. I shouldn't have drunk so much with breakfast.

He forgets all about the Chantry sisters almost before they vanish from sight.

Chapter 14 Alistair

They take too long, Alistair thinks grimly. The guards will be changed soon, and the new set may be more suspicious than the current ones. He takes one more controlled breath, resorting to the mental discipline of his templar training once again. It helps, but barely so: the urge to start pacing, to do something, is persevering.

How can he be so calm, so… unmoved?

It seems that Sten has not changed his position ever since they made the side alley their post. Alistair tilts his head backwards, searching for Leliana perched on the roof behind the chimney: she also remains perfectly still.

Maker, I hate this. No good at waiting, am I.

A soft whistle, at which Sten jerks his head to look upwards, at Leliana quietly signalling: they’re coming.

Alistair's heart quickens its pace. He listens for another signal, for the tumult at the discovery that the valuable prisoner has escaped, for the beginning of pursuit.

It never comes.

Instead, Morrigan and Wynne, still in their disguise and walking at a casual pace, turn into the alley, followed by Ned, dressed in the uniform of Loghain's guards and carrying a sack which seems so heavy that he stumbles under its weight –

Alistair rushes to support him even as Wynne turns and invokes a spell, placing her fingers at Ned's cheek. Ned makes an attempt to raise his hands to his head and Wynne stops him, removing the helm herself; then she continues casting.

Alistair feels his stomach tighten. The drawn expression, the sweat, the distant look– he is instantly reminded of the horrible return from Bownammar, the despair in the dark tunnels as they dragged on, driven by the last remnants of will.

He's on the verge of breaking down.

The spell works: Ned's eyes are less unfocused and he straightens a little.

"We'd better get moving. I'll carry you." Alistair does not recognize his own voice, and cannot quite say himself what kind of emotion is gripping him; if he admitted that it is rage as he has never felt before, he might easily succumb to it.

"I can walk a little further, just lend me a shoulder." Ned also does not sound right; there is a dreamy quality to his voice that makes the lump in Alistair's stomach harden.

"You'd better get rid of the disguises first. Then you two go ahead with Wynne, we'll keep the rearguard."

Morrigan certainly does not wait at Sten's prompt; she has already stripped the robe and throws it in the dust.

Leliana frowns as she slides down from the roof. "Don't leave tracks. What's in that sack?"

"Ned's own things, plus what we gathered to stuff it." Wynne sighs. "Alistair, help him to take off that surcoat – you'd better use your knife on it, he shouldn't be raising his arms."

Alistair obeys, quickly cutting the seams on the shoulders. Ned is not particularly cooperative, anyway: he only watches Morrigan, who never looks up to meet his eyes; not even as they turn to leave.

They manage to set out at a satisfactory pace at the beginning, with Wynne re-casting the stimulating spell at regular intervals. They have barely covered half the distance to Eamon's estate, though, when Alistair realizes that the intervals have shortened, and the effect of the spell is weaker every time. Their progress is painstakingly slow now; Alistair’s nerves are tensed to the point of snapping, expecting the pursuers at their heels every second.

What troubles him most, though, is Ned's condition: supported by both Alistair and Wynne, he's now being led like a puppet, never raising his head. Wynne has to cast the spells almost continuously to keep him walking, until Alistair loses his patience and takes Ned in his arms for the rest of the way.

The absence of protest scares him more than a horde of darkspawn.

Nonetheless, they proceed much faster now since it's over him that Wynne casts supporting spells – even so, Alistair bathes in sweat when they finally make it to the gate.

Alistair ignores the stares and questions; ignores even Eamon who rushes from his chambers. He hears Wynne briefly explaining something and giving orders what is to be prepared, while he carries Ned to his room upstairs.

He closes the door with his shoulder and gently lays Ned on the bed; Ned moans and curls in fetal position, shivering.

Alistair takes off his gauntlets and touches Ned's forehead. "We've made it," he mutters. "We've made it, you're safe. Everything will be alright."

Ned's lids squeeze tight and his tremble grades to shudder. His hand moves and Alistair gently presses his fingers. Ned holds to him with the strength of one drowning. "Alistair." The broken whisper brings Alistair's heart to a stop. "Promise you won't let them ever take me alive again."

The room suddenly lacks air, or so it seems to Alistair who desperately struggles to make his tongue work. Horrified, he sees Ned's eyes well with tears. "I won't," he says, feeling more helpless than any time before. "I won't let them take you, I swear."

He does not realize Wynne's presence until she glides past him and places her hands on Ned's forehead. As she invokes a spell, the tension recedes, the drawn face relaxes.

Maker be blessed for the sleeping spells.

Wynne gently pats Alistair's shoulder. "That was a natural reaction, after what he has been through. Don't worry, he will be alright. Now, go take off your armour and get yourself a fresh shirt, and then come back, I'll need your help here."

So Alistair does, and uncharacteristically quiet, assists Wynne throughout the rest of the day, till the night. It is only when Wynne's work is finished and Ned lies peacefully asleep, healed for the most part, that Alistair finally voices the thought that has been resonating in his head ever since he became fully aware of the extent of the damage inflicted to the one whom he has come to consider his only family in the wide world: "If for nothing else, I will kill Loghain for this."

Wynne turns to him her haggard face. "Should you have any problem carrying it out, you can count on me."

She rises and staggers, and Alistair jumps to her side to secure her. "Thank you, my dear. Now, if you will excuse the old lady, I will retire to my bed and you should do the same." Her features shine with a weary smile. "Meaning your own bed, not mine, you needn't worry."

The return to the usual teasing is reassuring: a proof of things returning back to normal.

Then she staggers again and Alistair snatches her in his arms. Wynne opens her mouth to protest but then sighs and leans her head against his shoulder. "This would be tempting, under different circumstances, but now I'm too tired to tease you anymore. You're such a good boy – both of you, in fact." She yawns. "Be so kind and get Leliana to watch over him and make him drink that brew in the green mug in case he wakes."

Alistair hesitates. "Not Morrigan?"

"No. She definitely needs to take her time. I do not doubt her feelings anymore but I'm afraid that she is capable of remarkable stupidity."

"Alright, Leliana it is." And for Ned's sake,l I hope that the first part of your assessment is no less right than the second.