Chapter 18- Only Miranda
Mother Giselle looked at the serious faces around the fire and sighed. She truly loathed to be the bearer of such bad news but it had to happen. “Her arm is beyond saving. I have no doubt that it would cause her immense pain if she were awake. If it is left as it is, then there is a high chance it will become septic and even life threatening,” She told them all seriously. There was silence all around the fire as they looked at each other.
“So you’re saying that she’s gonna lose her bloody arm?” Sera demanded disbelieving. Varric looked grave and Cassandra’s face was still. “If we do not remove it then she may die.” Elariel told them sadly. She could see it now, Miranda with only one arm. A fate she had saved Elariel from, unable to wield both her sword and staff.
She felt tears prickle at her eyes and looked over at the others. They all bore looks of shock or sadness. Miranda had wormed her way into the hearts of all, even if all Vivienne felt was dissatisfaction at the maiming of a good opponent.
Solas emerged from the tent and joined them. “Her frostbite has healed and the bleeding has stopped. I believe that the cuts were infected with some kind of poison that prevented her blood from clotting. Only her healing abilities allowed her to produce enough blood to survive the drainage it took to clear the wounds.” He told them all somberly before running his eyes over the group.
“About her arm…” Elariel began again but Leliana cut her off. “You know what must be done. If she is to survive then we must remove it.” She paused and bowed her head for a moment before straightening. “I will tell her why after she wakes,” She promised. There was another stretch of silence before Mother Giselle nodded.
“She is unconscious for now but we may need help holding her down if she comes to during the procedure,” The mother told them sadly. “I will help,” Cassandra offered. “As will I,” Leliana added and took a step forward. “Then we must do it now before she wakes up,” A nearby Healer informed them before turning toward the tent again. Cassandra and Leliana followed him.
A collection of planks was set up in a crude facsimile of a table near her left side and the covers were pulled back. Miranda was dressed only in a black material covering her breasts and a pair of tight, slightly shiny shorts that went to mid-thigh. Both were stained and the shorts were torn in spots. White bandages with tiny spots of red wrapped around her body, applying pressure to the finally healing slashes that she bore.
Her left arm was a mess. The skin was splotched a deep black that faded to red around the edges. The limb appeared to be swelling, the skin stretching painfully as it struggled to contain the constantly pooling blood. “Blood is collecting below her skin, causing the chances of infection to increase,” The healer told them, carefully pulling the limb out and away from her body.
Her wrist did not dangle like it should have, nor did her arm curve in the way it would naturally. The Healer tied a leather tourniquet around the upper most part of her bicep near her shoulder where the discoloration stopped and the bone felt normal. Cassandra went to Miranda’s feet and put pressure on them while Leliana took Miranda’s right arm and shoulder, pressing them down onto the cot.
The healer picked up the only implement they had to remove the limb. A wood saw. He took a deep breath and set the teeth to flesh.
Cassandra stumbled from the tent and emptied her stomach in the snow. She was used to seeing blood and bone. She was a warrior of some experience but to see the limb of someone she considered a friend hacked off before the wound was sealed with magic had been beyond her ability to handle.
Miranda had not screamed in her sleep. She merely whimpered and twitched, her jaws clamped shut to prevent sound from escaping. Leliana’s eyes had been dead as they watched the saw cut through flesh and bone. Magic had barely been needed to close the wound afterward as her wound was already sealing and a thin film of flesh spun itself across the stump.
The healer had sealed the arm before loosely wrapping the already closing stump in bandages they had found in the saddlebags on Aitheria’s back. Cassandra straightened and felt a small hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw Elariel standing next to her, large green eyes sympathetic.
Cassandra accepted the comfort the younger woman offered her gratefully and allowed her to lead the way back to the campfire, sitting and waiting for dawn.
Elariel and Mother Giselle sat in Miranda’s tent as they took their turn watching over her. The Zerg would occasionally twitch and murmur in her sleep, but nothing concrete. Outside the tent, Cassandra, Cullen, Leliana and Josephine were arguing loudly, trying to decide what to do next. Aitheria was in the fracas too, Cole standing next to her and translating what she said. The strings of profanities that were so innocently translated were a little off putting, yet somehow so classically Aitheria. Elariel leaned forward and pressed her fingers into her temples.
“They’ve been at it for hours,” She groaned as a piercing bugle from Aitheria broke through the voices.
“She said that you can take your over caution and shove it sideways up your…” Cole began.
“Thank you, we get the message,” Cullen interrupted angrily.
“They have that luxury after what Miranda did for us.” Giselle told her soothingly, looking down at the twitching Miranda. “I just felt so useless. Standing there and watching her fight my battles for me,” Elariel confessed but Giselle shook her head and lay a warm hand on Elariel’s shoulder.
“She was not fighting your battles for you. She once told me that she sees you as her little sister. I have a feeling that she would tear apart heaven and earth to protect those she sees as friends and family.” Giselle told her firmly. Elariel looked up to meet the mother’s warm brown eyes. “But everyone looks to her for direction!” Elariel said in frustration.
“And she in turn looks to you. She is your champion,” Giselle replied. “Everyone sees this and knows that she would do anything to protect you. Do you know what they call her among the people?” She asked and Elariel frowned before shaking her head. “In the beginning, they called her the Maker’s demon. Now after witnessing her battle and her return there are whispers that she is the Maker’s champion, sent to protect His bride’s chosen. She seeks no glory and desires no leadership. She turns to you for direction and the people notice,” The mother added.
Elariel blinked and looked down at her friend, looking at the empty place under the blankets where her left arm should have been. “Why?” She asked. “I’m not anything special. I’m not chosen by any god. I am an accident, a fluke,” She replied before standing and leaving the tent.
Outside was silent. Cassandra was pacing a rut into the snow, her face still bearing the thunderous expression. Cullen stood stock still at the edge of the firelight, hand on his sword hilt and staring back toward the now buried Haven. Josephine sat disconsolately on a small bench by the fire and Leliana sat on the ground. Aitheria had lay down behind the spymistress and had her head shoved into Leliana’s lap, the woman’s gloved hand stroked the soft fur gently and her eyes stared into the fire quietly.
Elariel looked around and saw despair, sadness and uncertainty. If this was her clan then she was doing a piss poor job of caring for them. She closed her eyes and felt a tear build behind her eyes. It was all too much. This night had been too much. “Shadows fall, and hope has fled. Steel your heart, the dawn will come,” A soothing voice sang from the entry of the tent. Heads turned and looked to where mother Giselle stood, her hands clasp in front of her.
Her deep mocha eyes filled with compassion as she looked out over the disconsolate crowds. Leliana looked up, a flicker of hope reigniting in her gaze. She glanced toward the still tent that held Miranda before she let a small smile touch her lips. With the new hope, she joined the song, her high soprano soaring up on the wings of the simple tune.
Others began to walk toward their fire, their voices joining in. Elariel looked around in shock as people began to crowd their fire. Their eyes filling with hope once more as they looked at Elariel, the only visible sign of their god’s favor. Elariel turned her eyes to the left and saw Varric standing there an expression between sadness and compassion in his brandy colored eyes, he knew what was happening even though she had no clue. Solas stood to the back of the crowd looking at them with an unreadable expression, leaning on his staff.
Elariel looked around at the faces that stared at her with such desperate hope and felt her heart give a jolt. They were her clan, she was their keeper. She had a duty to protect them. She had sat back too long, let Miranda’s light hide her, but now it was time to shine on her own. She threw her shoulders back and stood proudly before their eyes and let a comforting smile slide over her face. The people smiled back, renewed courage and purpose in their eyes.
They would stand tall again, they would not live in fear of the next attack. They would take the fight to their foe. As the song finished and the crowd dispersed back to their fires, Solas walked over to join her. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Leliana stand and walk into Miranda’s tent. “A word,” The elf requested, gesturing towards a more private place beyond the camp. She followed him warily, if there was one thing she knew about the elf, it was that Solas was not all he appeared to be.
“It seems that you have gained their faith Lethallan,” The elf mused though she felt that there was a faint ring of condescension in the elven term. “They were looking for a symbol. With Miranda unconscious, they turned to me,” She replied but Solas shook his head.
“No, they see you as their symbol because you sealed the breach. A strong warrior Miranda may be but she is not the one with the mark. The people know this and see her deference to you as a sign.” He continued to walk and she followed him up an incline to where an iron torch was stuck firmly into the snow. The wind had abated somewhat and the snowflakes thinned.
Snakes made of blowing snow swirled softly around their ankles. From where she stood she could see the soft, starlit slopes of the Frostback mountains. “The trust is well earned, if hard won but now the inquisition cannot grow in the wilds as it has done until now. You shall need a place to settle and grow.” He informed her coolly, twitching his fingers and igniting the iron torch.
Elariel disliked the color of veil fire, its ice blue light leached away the softness and beauty in the mountains. She sometimes wondered at the other elf’s desire to constantly light such sources. It seemed like he longed for the cold fire as much as she longed for her clan. She would much rather have remained under the starlight.
“I take it that you know of one such place Solas,” She answered him in a neutral tone continuing to gaze out over the valleys and peaks, answering cool civility with cool civility.
The elf stood next to her and folded his hands behind his back. “Indeed.” He replied. “Follow this valley to the north, cross those three passes before the snow thickens and you will find a place that waits for a force to occupy it. Send out scouts or do it yourself. Either way you shall find it and claim it,” He responded gesturing out over the valley they were staring at.
She turned to look at him and concealed a frown. She was suspicious of his knowledge but to quote Miranda: Don’t turn away the butter knife if you have nothing. “Very well,” She replied, turning to look out over the mountains. “Could you give me a region on the map or will simply walking north from here find it? We don’t have time to waste with winter already here,” She told him.
For a moment, she saw a flash of annoyance in his dark eyes before he drew out a rough sketch with his staff in the snow. “There,” He replied, making a quick dot with the end and walking away. Elariel rubbed the bridge of her nose before pulling out her map and trying to pinpoint the place from the crude pictograph he had given her.
Leliana sat by Miranda as the sounds of people bustling around the camp and packing it up emanated from outside. The Zerg had stilled and was now lying on her back. Her face appeared gaunt now, like a person who had been starved for months. The healers were worried but there was nothing they could do except trickle small amounts of blood and broth down her throat.
Leliana had picked up Miranda’s sword and was now cleaning it, scrubbing the familiar sticky black ichor that was Darkspawn blood from the gleaming silver. As she worked, she admired the craftsmanship of the blade, taking extra care to clean the blood from the gold inlays of the decorative lines that swept down the blade.
They looked like vines that also bore an inscription but the letters were so fanciful that she was uncertain as to their origin or meaning. Yet, when she looked at them she could almost pretend that she could. They seemed almost familiar like a song she had heard long ago. She closed her eyes for a moment, her fingers stilling as the scene of the avalanche played again on the inside of her lids.
She couldn’t deny it anymore. She cared for Miranda. She loved how the Zerg’s eyes would sparkle when she spoke, how she practically skipped through life. How her grin seemed to always be just a second from breaking out and filling the room with her mirth. Leliana breathed in deeply through her nose and let her head hang for a moment. Now that she knew of her feelings, what was she going to do about them? Leliana was no stranger to the art of seduction but she didn’t want that.
She wanted what she had seen between Aaron and Morrigan, Maker help her but it was true. She had seen the looks those two gave each other, had seen the thorny, cold and cruel witch slowly warm under the warden’s attention. For a long time, she had been jealous of the witch, longing for the handsome mage’s affections. The more she watched the two of them, the more she had seen the love in his eyes when he looked at the raven-haired woman.
She had let him go the day she had seen Morrigan give him a small smile that was not her usual condescending smirk. When she had released that jealousy she had found herself developing a strange friendship with the wild woman. It had made the sting of her vanishing hurt even more, but she tried not too think of the witch too often.
But now? Now she wanted to find someone who looked at her with the same love. She had buried that desire when she had begun working for the Divine. As the Left Hand, she had no time for romance, those dalliances that she did have had been strictly business.
She sighed again and returned her attention to the sword, cleaning the dried crimson of Miranda’s own blood from the hilt. Scrubbing the deep mahogany colored wood so the golden vines and leaves that twined around the curved handle gleamed. The slanted golden pommel reflected her face back at her and showed her haggard and exhausted expression.
She turned away from the blade and placed it gently across her knees as she turned her attention to the scabbard. There were spatters of blood across the smooth reddish brown leather, staining the golden embellishments that twined like leaves down the scabbard. A single glyph sat at the mouth of the scabbard and she wondered at its meaning. The only sound in the tent was that of Miranda’s labored breathing and of the cloth on the sheath. Dawn’s faint glow could be seen through the thinning clouds.
The blizzard had stopped about half an hour ago and there was a thin layer of clouds now over the sky. A hesitant chickadee began to sing with a questioning tone. As if unsure to the extent it’s song would be accepted. Miranda’s breath hitched and a deeper inhale signaled a slow return to consciousness. Leliana quickly put down her work and focused her entire attention to the swaddled woman in the bed. “Miranda,” She greeted, happy that the Zerg was alive.
Icy blue eyes flickered into the waking world. Lids still shuttering like the wings of a butterfly. Her head twisted a little and looked towards her. “Le…Leliana?” A hoarse and weak voice questioned. Leliana smiled at the downed woman, sneaking the Zerg’s remaining hand out of the blankets and holding it firmly in her bare hands.
“Yes Miranda, it’s me. You’re safe,” She promised. Miranda blinked, “How’d I get here?” She asked and Leliana gripped her hand a little tighter. “We found you in the snow, Aitheria heard you and took me to where you were lying,” She replied. Miranda blinked slowly and exhaled. “Any dead?” She asked and Leliana shook her head.
“A few injuries but you were very nearly the only casualty of the attack,” She answered and Miranda gave a faint huffing laugh. “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Though I will say that the last time I took on a dragon single handed I did a little better.” She said with an amused expression on her face.
“Just promise me you won’t do something that stupid again,” Leliana begged, looking into Miranda’s eyes.
A look of recognition, remembrance, sadness and then hope swam through Miranda’s gaze at those words. She opened her mouth and her left shoulder shifted as if she was trying to lift her other arm and she froze. Her shoulder twitched and her face smoothed out. “Why can’t I feel my left arm?” She asked, her voice a little stronger but not by much.
Leliana’s heart stopped. She had hoped that Miranda wouldn’t ask that so soon. “Miranda… your arm,” She tried to say the words but they wouldn’t come. Groggily Miranda pulled at her blankets, tugging away the fur and wool to reveal her left shoulder. Leliana closed her eyes and waited for the sounds of horror, fear and blame that would follow.
“Huh,” Was all that came. She opened her eyes to see Miranda peering at her stump as if it were a slightly interesting bug that had revealed itself.
“I’m sorry. It would have gone septic and killed you if we had left it on,” She tried to explain. She watched in horrified fascination as Miranda reached up and poked the stump, wiggling the top remaining part of the arm as if checking its range of motion. Curiosity satiated, she settled back on the bed with a sigh. Leliana was waiting for a reaction. Something other than the apathy to which Miranda seemed to be struck with. “Finally off thirteen,” She said with a slightly pleased expression.
Leliana blinked in confusion, trying to decipher the statement. “Off thirteen?” She asked cautiously and Miranda nodded.
“That was my thirteenth regrown limb. The bad luck that sucker carried around was awful. I was tempted to remove something myself, if only to get the bad luck to go away.” She said cheerily despite her weak voice before wiggling her stump. “Say hello to limb fourteen!” She added with a smile.
Leliana froze and glared at her. “You mean that…that you…?”
“Can grow my limbs back?” Miranda supplied when Leliana could do more than gape like a fish. Leliana’s eye twitched, she had been terrified that Miranda would hate them for all eternity for removing her arm and here the woman was casually informing her that the limb would grow back?
Miranda peered up at Leliana who had bowed her head and was carefully counting back from a hundred. “Leliana?” She asked cautiously and that was the final straw.
Leliana’s emotions could not take another hit like that, she had reached the end of her tether. “THAT’S IT!” She roared and lunged for Miranda, hands outstretched aiming for the Zerg’s throat. Miranda’s right arm weakly came up to defend and her blue eyes went wide.
“Leliana?” Cassandra’s voice came from the tent and stopped Leliana mid leap. Cassandra looked at the scene before and blinked, uncertain if Miranda deserved the spymistresses’ attempt to throttle her, but knowing Miranda, probably. Speaking of Miranda, her eyes widened at the Zerg’s open eyes and almost skeletal appearance.
“Miranda!” She cried in relief and pushed the homicidal Leliana out of the way. “Hey Cass,” Miranda greeted weakly from her cot. The blanket that had covered her stalks had been knocked askew and the furs pulled down from her shoulder, revealing her stump. “I’m glad to see you’re awake,” Cassandra replied, letting her call her Cass, this once.
“Why are you so thin?” Cassandra asked, pulling back from the quick hug she had bestowed upon her bedridden friend. Miranda shrugged a little. “I lost a lot of blood. The bloody dragon had claws and spikes coated in an anticoagulant. My guess is my body managed to produce enough blood to keep me from bleeding out but the material had to come from somewhere. Its pulling material from my muscles to feed my regeneration. I will need probably a stupid amount of meat and blood to regain it. Preferably shredded for easy consumption.” Miranda answered with a weak smile.
Cassandra returned it but her eyes roamed over to the missing limb and she winced. “I’m… sorry about the arm,” She said awkwardly not knowing how to make this better but Miranda shrugged.
“Tis but a scratch,” She replied in a fake accent that sounded a little like Sera’s.
Cassandra blinked. “A scratch?” She demanded sounding aghast. “Your arm’s gone,” She continued, pointing at the space.
“No, it isn’t,” Miranda replied with a small smile.
“Then where is it?” Cassandra demanded.
Miranda gave a quick glance. “I’ve had worse,” She replied blithely.
Cassandra took a deep calming breath before she answered. “You lie,” Miranda had a large grin on her face as she continued.
“Oh come now, it’s just a flesh wound,” And with that she lost it, laughing as hard as her exhausted frame would let her. “The black knight always triumphs,” She gasped out between her laughs before she said something about biting someone’s legs off.
The laughter stopped quite suddenly and Leliana and Cassandra lunged for the bed, checking her pulse before they saw she was breathing steadily. “She laughed herself into unconsciousness” Cassandra deadpanned and Leliana looked like she was ready to have a seizure.
“Only Miranda,” She growled and sat herself down hard on her stool again, picking up Miranda’s sword and leaning it against the cot. Cassandra sighed and gently wrapped the blankets around Miranda’s head and tucked her remaining arm back under the furs before pulling up a small crate to sit on herself.
She bent over and picked up the pile of knives and blades that had fallen from Miranda’s cloths and took out a cleaning cloth. She handed a large forward curving blade to Leliana and picked up the other for herself. Leliana looked at the blade in curiosity, the same faint signals of recognition fighting to be heard in her mind before she shrugged it off and began to help Cassandra clean and store the weapons as the watched Miranda sleep.
They moved out around midmorning. The sun had broken free of the clouds and the people were now trampling through the deep snow. Elariel had shown her council the map with the location given by Solas and Leliana had sent the scouts out. Aitheria had taken to the slopes as well, plowing through the thick snow to find a trail that would lead to this fortress. The main convoy began their march. The snow was deep and the Warriors went first, doffing their armor and using their strength to begin tamping down a trail for the others to walk.
The horses helped, throwing their heavier bodies at the drifts to break them apart for the heavier brontos that they had managed to save from the avalanche. Mages aided as well, melting the snow to soften it and warming those who began to freeze. Everyone carried something or someone. When she wasn’t taking her turn at the front with the others of the circle, Cassandra walked beside the travois that held Miranda. Astor had been contracted to pull the frame of lashed staffs together with two Templar shields helping act as runners to carry the still bedridden woman.
Hunters had been dispatched almost immediately and Miranda had been fed copious amounts of blood and shredded meat. A little mage girl named Senna who hardly ever spoke had decided to help and carried one of the blood filled skins as she walked next to the travois, sometimes riding with the Zerg when her little legs could not keep up anymore.
Miranda convinced people to let her stay by citing that the extra body heat helped. The extra calories and minerals had also helped and she had regained some of her color and vigor but she still tired easily and speaking was a chore. Her face was still gaunt however and though she tried to help, she was weaker than a day old kitten.
Elariel and Sera had taken to helping the scouts, ranging far into the mountains in search of the fortress, though Sera complained bitterly about nature as she went. Bull was in the front with his chargers and Blackwall, using their strength and endurance to help Cullen and his warriors. Vivienne and Dorian helped where they could, occasionally melting snow or healing sprains and strains.
Leliana managed the scouts as she walked next to Miranda, speaking with both her and Josephine who was swamped in Miranda’s fur cloak, something that the Zerg woman had insisted on when she watched the silk clad woman shiver in the wind. Many had come up to the Zerg woman and thanked her profusely for her aid but Miranda would simply smile weakly and tell them that she had simply done what was necessary to protect the inquisition.
“You know that some will press for your installment as leader right?” Leliana told her as she walked. “Then they will be disappointed. I have no desire whatsoever to lead the Inquisition. Elariel is far better suited than me,” Miranda answered but Josephine shook her head. “Many will not see that. You are older, have more experience and held off a dragon on your own to defend them,” She pushed but Miranda made a weak growling sound.
“I will not take the reins. I am too much of a polarizing figure, an elf is far more suitable than a demon. Besides, as Inquisitor I would be precluded from smacking idiots upside the head. Elariel will need some muscle, that’s where I come in,” She answered with a tired smile before she slumped back on the sled, tired from pushing herself.
Senna picked up a wineskin they had filled with blood for Miranda and helped her drink from it. The little four year old had become a bit of a limpet, clinging to Miranda and shaking her head violently whenever someone tried to take her away. Though the sun shone and the sky was clear, it was cold. They were high in the mountains now, wind poured through the passes like water and snow snakes slithered underfoot. Furs and blankets were handed out and strips had been torn from undergarments to protect ears and hands from the chill.
Miranda remained in a sort of limbo, her body attempting to heal but unable to do more than sustain of its current resources. They made camp in the valley among groves of trees that were stripped for wood for both fires and materials. Miranda’s travois was suspended on a triangle of rocks so she did not touch the ground whilst others set up tarps and tents around them.
The scouts would return in the evening and give their reports but so far there was no sign of the fortress Solas had spoken of. Aitheria spent the night next to Miranda who remained swaddled in fur with little Senna snuggled into her right side.
The two spoke quietly to each other, Miranda replaying to the stag in Greek so as to not alert the others to their conversation. ‘Why did you do that Miri?’ Aitheria asked, her head resting on Miranda’s midsection.
Miranda’s hand rested on the hind’s forehead, weakly stroking the base of her antlers. “You know why ‘Theria, I wasn’t about to let several dozen people die when I could prevent it.” She replied, her eyes looking up at the canvas overhead.
Aitheria gave a weary sigh. ‘One of these days you are going to meet a monster you cannot kill. I don’t want to lose you Miri. We have been together for twenty-seven and a half cycles. I know you better than you know yourself. Almost better than she did,’ Aitheria told her, her voice sad.
Miranda winced slightly and rolled her head down to look at the doe. “I’m sorry ‘Theria. I didn’t want you to worry. It’s just I can’t help but care about these people. Every time I go on tour it happens. You’d think I’d be smarter by now,” She sighed, her eyes closing.
“Longing, sadness. So many years, so many people. How many do I love and lose?” A new voice spoke near her and her eyes snapped open. Aitheria’s head lifted and she found herself looking into the pale, mist coloured eyes of Cole. “Curious, stern. Understanding. You know me… but I don’t know you. You have so many layers. Pieces I can’t see, pieces I don’t understand. Pain, sorrow, acceptance. Love, longing, laughter. Hatred, rage and kindness. How can you hold so many different things in your mind at once?” He asked uncertainly, his brow furrowing.
Miranda lay her head back and so did Aitheria. Miranda’s hand resumed stroking. “The longer you live, the bigger your mind gets, the more things that dwell there. One day you wake up and realize that you have more things in your mind than you know what to do with. So, you prioritize, categorize and sort. Everything must find its place, you must learn to put each thought in its nook and make sure that you have enough room for other thoughts as well.” She answered, her eyes closing as she murmured her answer.
“Look not into my mind Cole, you will find hurts that I do not want to forget. I am not in need of your help, though if that changes I will seek you out. Aitheria and I know the dangers of holding it all in and that is why we have each other.” She answered and smiled a little at the truth of her statement.
“You… you used to do what I do,” The boy mumbled as he tried to make sense of what he saw in her mind. Miranda gently shepherded him from her mind, and slid her shields up.
“Yes, I have been a counselor and a mind healer but here I am a warrior. You will ease their hurts but you must only do so if they let you. You cannot help a person that does not want to be helped,” She told him kindly.
“But you will help me learn?” He asked curiously. Miranda opened her eyes and looked over at him.
“Only if you want to learn Cole but be warned, Sentience is a messy business. Nothing is logical and nothing is easy. Those who claim otherwise are uninformed.” She replied, her eyes sliding closed again and her hand stilling.
Next to her Senna stirred and whimpered in a dream. “I want to learn,” Cole told her as Miranda struggled to slide her remaining arm back under the covers. He reached forward and tucked her covers up to her neck again, rearranging the furs that had slid from her left shoulder back up and tucking them in with gentle hands and a small smile.
Miranda returned it and looked down at Senna again with a smile. “She looks like what you imagined your daughter would look like,” He murmured as he caught the stray thought when it slipped past her shields. Miranda smiled and pressed her lips to the little girl’s soft hair. It was a black that brought to mind an ermine. It was black but in the light it revealed warmth that made it almost seem brown, unlike the colder ebony that was Miranda’s stalks. Her eyes, when open were a beautiful mint green and her ears were a little oversized for her head.
Miranda looked up and met Cole’s eyes. “I never saw her except for a few moments after her birth but yes. I believe that she is what our daughter would have looked like,” She replied before she settled back and fell into a sleep.
Cole sat there for a while before he turned to look Aitheria. The doe’s brown eyes met his and he heard her voice. ‘She never forgave them from separating her from them. It wasn’t till she learned what her love did that she left the anger behind.’ The doe told him before she laid her head down next to Miranda and closed her eyes, exhausted from a day of scouting.
They hiked for three days before they found a sign of anything. Elariel had ridden with Aitheria that morning, hoping to cover more ground. At noon, she came pelting back into camp, sliding to a halt at the head of the column. “Found it!” She bellowed waving her arms gleefully. The convoy snaked into the new direction and began to wind up the northeastern slope, heading over the pass that led to the valley with a lone peak overlooking it at the far end. As they crested the top of the ridge they all caught their breath at the sight.
A river tumbled along the bottom of the valley, white rapids and falls showing where debris had clogged the once wide and deep river. A crumbling track lead alongside the river, clearly man made though parts were washed out. To the north on a tall pinnacle of rock a fortress with crumbling walls overlooked the valley like an aging dragon.
An arched causeway spanned the gap between the ridge they now stood on and the fortress, stretching across hundreds of meters to link the two. Scouts returned at the horn call, flocking towards the structure the moment they saw it, examining the causeway to see if it was safe to cross.
A massive lift sat at the edge of the causeway, rotten planks and rusted chains showing how a convoy might gain access to the heights if they didn’t follow the winding and often treacherous rout through the mountains that the Inquisition had taken. If they had approached it from the valley, then they would have had no chance to reach it.
Elariel had changed mounts back to her own gelding and was now standing at the gate house. The wooden portcullis had rotted away to almost nothing, and had the strength of cobwebs. Metal fittings, rusted from disuse and neglect littered the path. She carefully dismounted and began to ease out onto the causeway. She needn’t have feared though. The old stone was strong and the massive blocks held true despite their age. She arrived at the gate to the fortress just as the first feet of the convoy touched the stone at the other end. With a heave of effort, she pushed on the rotting gate.
Inside, the portcullis was up though chunks of decayed wood littered the ground. Uncertain, she pushed further in and came upon the sight of a courtyard. A light layer of snow dusted the ground with the beginnings of drifts forming in leeward corners. A set of stairs rose from the crescent shaped courtyard to the inner keep that rose high above. Footsteps echoed through the gate in the curtain wall and she turned to see the inner circle entering.
Behind them came the other members of the Inquisition. Miranda had been transferred from a travois to a set of staffs tied into a stretcher and slung between Astor and Aitheria. She lifted up her head and looked around at the crumbling keep that still managed to look powerful despite its decaying status. “I like it. Can we keep it?” She asked in a weak version of her usual chipper tones.
Her joke seemed to break the spell and people began to laugh. It had been a stressful week. Now with an end in sight and a new place to call home, they could finally relax a little. Josephine took charge immediately, in her element once more, directing the members of the Inquisition out to begin exploring and cleaning their new home. Miranda was ferried away with the other injured to a space in the lower courtyard where a fire was immediately kindled using the rotting timbers that were a lost cause.
The horses and Aitheria were herded further in to what had once been a stable by Dennet and his crew. The entire keep became filled with the sounds of voices, and work. Rubble was being cleared, wells cleaned, fires kindled as food and drink were metered out to the people. Hunters were sent out. Scout dispatched and ravens nested.
How Leliana managed to save or summon the black birds was a mystery but within three days they were being sent out with messages and orders to their spies and agents, informing them of their survival and needs for equipment. The first priority was finding a place for everyone to sleep, and that was solved by tents and cots set up in the more secure rooms. Miranda was moved to a room just off the inner keep garden while the other wounded were sent to a newly formed infirmary.
The lift to the valley and the road through to the outside world was next, allowing for supplies to begin their journey to the new fortress. Solas informed them of its name and the people took to it with gusto. Skyhold.
It was at the end of the third week that something changed from the frantic efforts to rebuild. Cassandra entered the garden and saw her quarry, Miranda had been transferred from her bed to a chair in the overrun garden.
She had been able to walk there with assistance with her staff which now leaned against the arm of her chair and a blanket sat across her knees. She wore a soft robe made of dark green materiel that fastened up the front with silver clasps, long flowing sleeves covered her arm and shoulders while a wide copper colored sash wound around her midsection. It was easy to pull on and off and allowed for her healing wounds to not be pressed by the material.
Soft fur lined shoes sat on her feet and her stalks sat free about her face. Several of them were looking grey but apparently, that was because some of them shedding their damaged casings, nothing to worry about. The Zerg had regained much of her strength but was still tired easily. Her gaunt frame had begun to fill out somewhat, with a now steady diet and no longer needing to fight against the elements.
Miranda had laid claim to the garden and was currently levitating small pieces of debris and rocks out of the soil. Her right hand outstretched and directing the stones whilst the wide sleeves hid her left stump. Several piles of stones separated by size sat around her, evidence of her work while she enjoyed the weak sunshine.
Frost clung to the stones around her and ice broke as she worked. The Zerg looked up at the sounds of footsteps approaching her lonely sanctuary and a smile lit up her eyes. “Hey Cass!” She greeted with a smile. Her voice had lost the weak tinge that had been so worrying and her eyes had regained their sparkle.
A few rocks drifted over and were set into a small pile that could be used as a seat. Miranda leaned back a little and smiled as the warrior took her seat. Cassandra allowed the nickname as she knew nothing short of violence of a lobotomy would change Miranda’s use of the nickname now. “What are you doing?” She asked curiously and Miranda gave a small smile. “Gardening,” She answered happily, flicking her hand and pulling a stone the size of Elariel from the ground.
It floated up out of the soil, dust and smaller rocks falling from it as it was wrenched from its home. Cassandra watched as the stone drifted towards her, pebbles swirling around it like planets orbiting their star. The large rock fell to its side with other rocks of similar size while the gravel joined its pile. “How are you feeling?” She asked and Miranda smiled at her, lowering her arm and taking a break.
“Quite well all things considered” she replied, “And you?” She questioned, turning her full attention to the seeker. “I am doing well. These past few weeks have been busy,” Cassandra answered picking at the rock she sat on. Miranda watched her with curious eyes, waiting for the Seeker to tell her the things that were on her mind.
Cassandra sighed and tilted her head back, letting the last vestiges of warm sunshine strike her face. Winter had finished with its entrance now and the air was cold. The weak sunshine did little but Miranda didn’t seem to mind. Small clouds of steam formed from their breath and Cassandra watched as hers disappeared into the pale blue sky.
“Why don’t you want to be Inquisitor?” She finally demanded, the question had been weighing on her for the three weeks since Miranda had threatened to jump off the causeway if they tried to make her Inquisitor. Between Miranda’s refusal and the amount of work that was needed to get Skyhold ready to withstand winter, they had not had time to place an inquisitor.
Miranda sighed, a long and gusty action that released a billowing cloud of steam as she leaned her head back against the headrest on her chair. “Because many of the people joined the Inquisition to fight for Andraste’s Herald. They came for Elariel, hell even I fight for Elariel. Doesn’t that tell you something?” She replied, her eyes closing.
“But you have more experience, more ability,” Cassandra began but Miranda cut her off. “I got that experience somehow, I am more use as an agent, advisor and warrior. As I told Josephine and Leliana. I’m too much of a polarizing figure. Elariel is the true unifier. Give her a chance and you will not be disappointed,” Miranda finished, her eyes still closed.
Cassandra gave a deep sigh but Miranda’s words made sense, she could hear the dissent if Miranda was named Inquisitor. “So you nominate Elariel as Inquisitor?” She asked curiously. Miranda nodded as she sat up and reached for another stone, prying it from the frozen ground. Cassandra watched her with uncertain eyes before Miranda lowered her newest acquisition onto a pile and turned her attention to the Seeker once more.
“How go the repairs? I’m stuck here because this is as far as I can walk. Leliana has all but forbidden me from moving any further,” Her lips quirked up in a smirk and Cassandra found herself smiling back.
“She’s still hovering?” She asked with a smile and Miranda scowled. Leliana had begun to exhibit a whole new side of herself now that Miranda was out of immediate danger. The poor maid who had been assigned to keep Miranda’s hearth stoked and the Zerg woman fed had been interrogated for three hours before Josephine had found out and rescued the poor woman from the Spymistress’ clutches. Leliana had been given the rather frightening title of Seneschal of Skyhold.
This gave her power over their staffing. Excellent for the spymistress, except it meant that she practically had unfettered control over the servants, the result was a rather traumatized staff. Miranda rolled her eyes and sighed, sinking a little deeper into her chair.
“At least she is finally letting me have solid food,” She grumbled and Cassandra laughed. “What, you were stuck on ground up mush for the last three weeks?” She asked with a smile and Miranda glowered.
“Yup, I have been this close to melting a hole in my wall and sneaking out the back way,” She sighed as she slumped, idly picking at a splinter in her rough chair. “She’s just worried is all,” Cassandra told her soothingly but Miranda looked up sharply.
“I understand over protective, but this is simply ridiculous! I haven’t had this much trouble from a red head since my first wife!” Cassandra laughed out loud. Full belly laughs that shook her so hard that she fell off her rock and lay on the ground. Every time she thought that she was close to stopping she would look up and catch a glimpse of Miranda’s put out expression and that would set her off again.
Speak of the red head and she shall appear, Cassandra thought as said redhead walked around the corner and caught sight of them. The look of sheer panic on Miranda’s face caused her to laugh harder, literally rolling on the ground.
“What are you doing out here?” Leliana demanded and Miranda’s eyes darted to the left and the right, as if looking for an escape. “Don’t just roll there, help me!” She demanded at the laughing Cassandra.
The Seeker sat up and wiped tears from her face. “Oh no, you’re on your own with this one,” She replied with a smile as she scrambled out of the way of the crusading Leliana.
“You aren’t fully healed yet, and you’re out here using up strength that should be directed towards healing into gardening?!” The spymistress demanded. Miranda’s eyes flashed longingly to her staff, as if wishing she could use it to defend herself. “Maybe?” She answered though it came out as a question.
“No. We’ve had this conversation Miranda. Back to your room,” Leliana commanded reaching for Miranda’s staff and taking it and the blanket over Miranda’s knees away. Miranda looked panicked and turned pleading eyes to Cassandra.
“But I’m bored!” She protested. “I don’t care if you’re bored. You are going back to bed this instant,” Leliana replied and tucked her free arm under Miranda’s right arm, levering her out of her chair. Cassandra watched in amusement as Leliana deftly maneuvered the weakly struggling Miranda out of the garden and back into her room.
There were three high windows allowing in the winter sunshine a table, chair and a roughhewn bed that looked to have been recently vacated.
Miranda’s outer robe and sash were deftly removed, leaving her in a thin dark blue short sleeved shirt with the slogan “Calibrate this!” and a pair of loose grey pants with a picture of an arrow at the knee on the right pant leg. She forced Miranda back onto the bed and tucked her in with a few swift gestures before going and putting another two logs on the fire, warming the room up.
Miranda gave a final impassioned look to Cassandra who simply laughed and shook her head. “Sorry, but you’re on your own here,” She told the Zerg who pouted in her bed. “Traitor,” she responded before reaching under her pillow and pulling out a stuffed Dragon made of plush purple fabric. Portions of it were getting threadbare but it was clearly well loved, she looked up and met Cassandra’s eyes with an expression that practically dared her to comment. Cassandra wisely chose not to.
“I want to be there when you make the announcement of Elariel’s ascension to Iquisitordom,” She informed them before rolling over and closing her eyes, clearly ignoring the pair. Leliana gave a small smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you out then,” She replied and shepherded Cassandra out of the room and into the garden.
“She does that often?” The Seeker asked and Leliana closed her eyes, it looked like she was praying for patience.
“Yes, she feels useless. It is hard for her to be so weak but she’s getting better. Other than the arm she should be able to walk around unaided and be cleared for light work in three days if she doesn’t stress herself,” The spymistress informed her as they passed through the great hall. They were only now making it towards this area of the castle, the main places like the cistern, kitchen and cellars taking first priority.
It wouldn’t do for them to fix the walls only for the foundation to give out. They walked out into the room they had designated as their war room and entered. Cullen and Josephine looked up from where they were standing around the only feature of the room. It was a massive table carved from a single, gargantuan tree trunk. The base held remnants of the roots it had come from and the surface was irregularly shaped. It was one of the few intact things left over from the castle’s previous occupants. The maps sat on them already and surprisingly enough, Miranda’s knife sat holding down the top left corner of the Orlais map.
“Glad you made it,” Josephine greeted them and Cullen looked up from the map. “What did she say?” Cullen asked Cassandra and the Seeker shrugged as she joined them. “She nominates Elariel, like the rest of them,” She answered as she picked up a marker from a box and began to fiddle with it.
“Her reasons are good and I for one agree with her,” Josephine told them as she made another note on her clip board.
“Then we are in agreement and the votes have been tallied?” Leliana asked. Josephine nodded and with a final flourish of her pen looked up. “Yes, and the answer was overwhelmingly in favor of Elariel. The only other contender, Miranda, declined the very idea. Even with Miranda in the running, Elariel would have won,” She finished and looked around at her fellows.
“So it must be done, I personally think we should wait until the rest day before making it official,” She told them and there were nods. “Miranda wanted to see the ceremony and she will be up and walking in a few days, that gives us time,” Leliana told them and the others smiled.
“Knowing her, she has some grand prank planned” Cullen muttered with a slight frown.
“Those pranks are good for moral Cullen, as you very well know,” Leliana chastised him quietly. “Then it is decided,” Cassandra told them and looked around the crumbling room. She had no doubt that once the castle was fully repaired it would be a marvel. Even in its decrepit state it held a timeless grandeur about it that shone through the layers of dirt and rubble that covered everything like a mantle.
“Then we have little business left to conduct until she is declared Inquisitor,” Leliana told them and they drifted apart, each heading to complete the various duties that were needed for the fledgling inquisition to take flight.
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