In which Raven wrestles with the big picture and finds her real focus. (Also, fluffiness.)
Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 25: In Glass Houses)
Monday, 26 Harvestmere, 9:30 Dragon
Other than being raked over the figurative coals by the strange knight, Raven had enjoyed the Gauntlet. First, they’d entered a large chamber with eight waiting spirits, all major figures from the life of Andraste. Rae was glad she’d deviated from game events to bring Brother Genetivi along; when he realized who the spirits were, he was beside himself with awe. Shartan, the elven leader who’d brought his people to join Andraste’s cause… Havard, the warrior who braved death to recover her ashes… even the prophet’s husband Maferath, reviled for betraying her into their enemies’ hands, all waited to greet them with a riddle that had to be solved correctly to reach the next room.
But when they came to the spirit representing Archon Hessarian, she was struck by a sudden thought. “I met your mother,” she blurted, and both the spirit and her companions looked at her like she’d gone mad.
“You… what?” Naturally, Genetivi was the one who broke the silence to learn more.
“Hessarian’s mother,” she blushed. “She was a seer named Eleni Zinovia. After she made a prophecy the previous Archon didn’t like, he had her bound into a statue as punishment. She’s in the basement at Kinloch now, and I got to talk to her when I was there.”
Hessarian wavered, as if thinking stole his focus from remaining visible, but then his visage firmed. “My mother is still trapped after all these years?” The echoing spectral voice was rich with sorrow.
“Yes, but it’s not as bad as you’d think. She’s protected and safe, and the mages there have great respect for her knowledge, asking her about ancient magics and such. And… she really helped me, personally.” Rae glanced up to meet the spirit’s piercing gaze. “She’s proud of you, by the way. For what you did. For who you became.”
This time Hessarian’s form wavered so violently she feared he would disappear altogether, and she prayed she hadn’t interfered with their ability to proceed. But then he stilled. “I thank you, traveler. You have shown me kindness in this.” It was especially poignant, then, when Hessarian spoke his riddle, to which the apt answer was “Mercy.”
“I wish I could’ve spoken to them longer, but they vanish once their question is answered.” Brother Genetivi sighed, then brightened. “But surely this place was built for more than one group of pilgrims. Perhaps the spirits will return once we complete the trials.”
When they entered the next room, Rae expected to see the ghostly visage of Aedan’s father, like in the game. Instead, between one blink and the next, the rest of the party vanished, and Cullen stood before her. “Hello, Raven,” he said.
“Cullen? Why are you here? You’re… you’re all right, aren’t you? Nothing’s happened?”
“Be at ease; my true self is well and settling in with the apprentices in Kirkwall. But my image comes to you here because you fear all you did to help me was not enough. You agonize over all you have done and left undone, and you must not torment yourself this way.”
She shook her head and sighed. “How can I not? I see all these paths, and I try to pick the best ones, but… what if I get it wrong? What if I make a mistake?”
His whiskey-hued eyes held her gaze thoughtfully. “Yes, exactly,” he said.
“What if you make a mistake?”
Her mind flashed to the charred corpses in Lothering, but Cullen shook his head. “People would have died in Lothering no matter what you did; you know that. You are only one person. No one—not you or anyone else—can blame you for failing at the impossible.”
“How can you say that? If I’d been faster, better, just, I don’t know, more… maybe we could’ve saved you sooner!”
“But are you certain that would’ve been for the best?” Cullen chided. “Tell me: what happens when a child first learns to walk?”
She frowned. “They… fall, I suppose?”
“And if a parent carries them everywhere, out of a desire to protect them from harm?”
Raven rolled her eyes with a grimace. “Okay, I get it; you’re saying I should let people be hurt, to help them grow stronger. But that isn’t—I can’t just—”
“No,” Cullen said with a laugh. “I know better than to expect you to sit idle. But there will always be pain in the world, no matter what you do. So when people inevitably are hurt, you must not take it to heart as a failure of your own. If you do what you can to prevent harm, and then do what you can to heal what harm yet comes, that is all anyone could ask.”
Her short huff of laughter echoed in the stone-walled chamber. “I feel like everyone keeps telling me that.”
“That is because they do. Perhaps if you actually listen, they’ll stop.” With a smile, Cullen faded, and Raven found herself surrounded again by her friends, every one of them looking as if they’d been hit upside the head with a board.
“Well,” Brother Genetivi said, “that was interesting.”
They passed through the second and third trials easily enough, but when they filed into the final room, they discovered a dusty stone altar sitting alone before a roaring wall of flame. While the others exclaimed in awe about the Urn of Sacred Ashes clearly visible on the other side, Raven blushed hotly. She’d been so lost in thought, she’d forgotten about the last hurdle.
“Let me guess,” Rob said, at her elbow, “this is the ‘leap from the lion’s head’ portion of the film.”
“Uh… sort of.”
Wynne, Aedan, and Genetivi had all crowded around the altar to read the inscription carved into it. “‘Cast off the trappings of worldly life and cloak yourself in the goodness of spirit. King and slave, lord and beggar; be born anew in the Maker’s sight,'” Aedan recited. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Who knows?” said Zevran. “It is rather late for us to be born, is it not? And I fear I have left my ‘Goodness of Spirit’ cloak at home.”
The Chantry scholar cleared his throat, a hint of color creeping up his face. “Remember what I said before, about hyperbole and metaphor?” Aedan nodded. “Yes, well I… I believe the ‘trappings of worldly life’ here are our, ah, clothing.”
“It does sound like that,” Wynne said with resignation. Aedan looked to Raven, and she gave a small nod.
“Well I’ll be a nug’s uncle! That’s the first good thing that’s happened in this miserable place!” Oghren crowed. “If this Andraste of yours is in favor of folks walking around in the buff, I may change my mind about your crazy surfacer religion yet!”
“I will not walk through fire to retrieve a pot of holy dirt,” Sten said flatly.
After much discussion, it was decided—though not without objection—that those who wished to approach the ashes would disrobe and cross the flames together, while the others waited in the previous chamber.
The more Andrastian members of the group—Genetivi, Leliana, Wynne, and Alistair—had immediately agreed to proceed, and Aedan felt it was his responsibility to join them. After a bit of waffling, Raven decided her curiosity outweighed her embarrassment.
Oghren hesitated, until Morrigan noted tartly that leering at one’s fellow pilgrims was likely not the ‘goodness of spirit’ the trial required. They both left, and Sten followed with a disgusted snort. Zevran threw them a lewd wink on his way out, and Rob brought up the rear, promising he’d make sure no one peeked.
Once the door closed, the awkward pause was broken by Leliana nonchalantly beginning to remove her armor. When she noticed Raven’s hesitance, she gave her an encouraging smile. “We are all perfect in the Maker’s sight, my friend. Do not be afraid.”
With a decisive nod, Raven began to undress, and the others followed suit. Soon enough, they all stood before the wall of fire, avoiding eye contact and trying not to notice the heat of the flames on their skin.
Aedan took a deep breath. “On three,” he said.
“Wait, so is that, one-two-go? Or one-two-three then go?” Alistair asked nervously, as Raven clutched his hand for support. Aedan just shook his head and counted, and the group stepped into the fire.
The sensation was bizarre. The fire was definitely real; she felt it licking hotly against her skin. And yet, a sense of calm washed over her, and she knew without a doubt she would be safe. She emerged beside the others, all wearing identical expressions of awe, and found her embarrassment had melted away. “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed,” she quoted softly in wonder.
“What?” Alistair asked.
“Oh! Nothing,” she said, realizing she’d spoken aloud. “Just thinking of something I read.” Odd to think she was in a holy place with others of faith, and yet none of them would recognize the Bible verses she’d heard all her life. But in that moment, it didn’t matter.
The ethereal voice of the Guardian called out behind them. “You have been through the trials of the Gauntlet,” he said. “You have walked the path of Andraste, and like Her, you have been cleansed. You have proven yourself worthy, pilgrims.” And, instructing them to take a pinch of the ashes, he disappeared in a brilliant flash of light.
Slowly, they climbed the stone staircase up to the statue of Andraste, bathed in golden rays from windows high above. The sense of holiness was a near-physical presence. Alistair spoke in a hush. “I didn’t think anyone could succeed in finding Andraste’s final resting place… but here… here She is.”
Leliana nodded. “I never dreamed I would ever lay my eyes on the Urn of Sacred Ashes… I… I have no words to express…” She trailed off, overcome.
“I could not have asked for a greater honor than to be here,” said Wynne. “I will never forget this feeling.”
Brother Genetivi simply stared raptly at the scene, no doubt trying to memorize every detail of the moment.
Squaring his shoulders, Aedan extended a trembling hand to open the shining golden Urn. As his fingers touched the ashes, he gasped. “I can’t describe it,” he said, placing a pinch into a small leather pouch, “but I know this will cure the Arl.”
“Yes,” Raven said. “It will.”
Friday, 30 Harvestmere, 9:30 Dragon
“So tell me, where are you really from?”
Brother Genetivi’s question took Raven completely by surprise, and she stared at him, mouth agape. The two of them sat amid the scattered tomes of the temple’s library, sorting and cataloguing, but he’d paused to watch her closely. His lips quirked upward as he waited patiently for her reply. She’d spent a fair bit of time with the scholar since they finished the Gauntlet, asking him about everything under the sun. Now it seemed he’d decided to get her story in return.
“Wh—what do you mean?” she dissembled.
Genetivi raised an eyebrow. “Come now, dear girl. You’ve been bombarding me with questions for the last four days about all the places I’ve traveled; you know I’ve been to the Free Marches many times. And if you are from Markham, I’ll eat this book.”
She couldn’t help but give him a rebellious glare. “Fiber is good for the digestion, I hear.”
He laughed. “No doubt, but I don’t think—let’s see, what do we have here? ‘Dracones: Pulchra Mortem’—sounds very tasty. I’d rather chew on why the Guardian called you ‘the woman out of place.'”
Raven sighed. “Fine, but you won’t believe me.”
“After all I’ve seen, you’d be surprised at what I’m willing to believe.”
So, after closing the door to prevent eavesdroppers, she began her tale. By the time she’d finished, the scholar’s eyebrows had risen to where his hair would’ve been, if he’d had any. “Marvelous!” he breathed. “And you say that in this other world, Thedas only exists as stories told within this strange sort of game you have played?”
“Not just any stories, either. A lot of events are covered, but one of the major tales specifically talks about what is happening now, with the Blight, the Wardens, all of it. Right down to finding you tied up in the Haven Chantry.”
“Me?” he gaped. “I’m in the story?”
“Oh yes,” she said, taking a tiny bit of malicious enjoyment in his shock, after the way he’d weaseled the truth out of her. “You’re sort of a major figure, really. Most of the history and lore I know is excerpted from your various books.”
He blinked. “To think, my books are known in another dimension! I can’t help but feel my publisher has underpaid me.”
“Possibly, but you might have a difficult time explaining to them why that is,” she laughed.
“True. But I think I understand, now, what the Guardian said to you.”
Raven sobered, her eyes downcast. “Yeah.”
“You knew that Lothering would be destroyed, then?”
“That’s just it,” she exploded with frustration. “There are so many things I don’t know, and even more I know will happen at some point but not when. Like, we’re going to Honnleath soon. By the time we get there, the town will be under attack, and a few of the residents will be hiding in a warded cellar. But I don’t know if that attack will start right before we arrive… or if it won’t start until we arrive… or if it started weeks ago, and those villagers were just lucky enough to have food and water stored away. So how can I send a warning?” She twisted her braid in irritation. “Or even worse, how about this one: soon, our armies will gather at Redcliffe to battle the darkspawn. But the darkspawn are really headed for Denerim. All our soldiers will have to make a forced march to the capital, and the city will be under siege until we reach it. So, logically, I should tell Aedan to assemble the troops in Denerim instead, right? But what if that makes the darkspawn go somewhere else? I wouldn’t have any way of knowing where, and we’d be worse off than before! I just… don’t have the answers!”
Genetivi’s curious eyes were shaded with sympathy as she sighed. “In my Gauntlet vision, a… friend, I guess… told me I just need to do my best, and accept that some bad things can’t be prevented. And I get that, but… in Lothering, I felt like each corpse was accusing me, yelling, “Why didn’t you save me?” Roughly, she brushed away nascent tears. “By the time the army reaches Denerim, the death toll will be huge. How can I look at that and not lose my mind?” Her gaze searched the Chantry brother’s face. “I don’t want to be the Maker; I don’t want to make these decisions. But I don’t have any other choice.”
“I’m sorry, my child; that is truly a terrible dilemma. More so because you don’t really struggle with the answers—you have a good sense of what you need to do, I think—but what troubles you is dealing with the aftermath.” He paused in thought. “I have an idea. Come with me.” And he rose and headed for the door.
Soon enough, Raven realized they were heading out of the temple proper, up a side path that was blocked off when they first came through. “Are we going back to the Gauntlet?” she asked.
“Yes; I wanted to check on this anyway, and now is as good a time as any.” They made their way to the entrance, and stepping onto the sacred ground soothed her spirit. The Guardian was absent, but the door into the next chamber was open, so she followed the scholar onward.
When they reached the riddle room, Genetivi glanced around pensively. The spots where the spirits had been looked empty, but he approached the place where Maferath, the jealous husband of the prophet, had stood. “Spirit,” he called, “are you here?”
For a long moment, nothing happened, and Raven started to think the brother’s hope for another chance to converse with the legends of history was a vain one. But slowly, light began to coalesce before them, and the outline of Maferath emerged. “Worthy ones,” he said. “You have returned.”
“Yes,” Genetivi replied. “We hoped to speak with you. My companion wrestles with a problem you may be able to advise her on.”
“You seek my advice?” the spirit asked, surprise in his echoing voice. “The one they call the Betrayer is rarely chosen as a font of wise council.”
Genetivi chuckled. “That is doubtless true. However, I take a rather longer view of things than many of my fellows. Humor me, if you would, my lord?”
“Certainly. What is it you wish to learn?”
“I have two questions. First, could you tell us what led to your decision to betray Andraste?”
Maferath sighed. “The hardest question of all, and you place it first. Very well. The heart of my decision was jealousy, as all know. It began as the tiniest worm—drilling into my thoughts when she spoke of being the Maker’s bride rather than mine—and grew until it was all I could see. But that was not the only reason.”
“I thought myself far above such pettiness, so I cannot honestly say how many of my decisions were poisoned with spite. But I also believed Andraste was leading us into a military situation we could not win. I told her this, but she would not relent. She claimed I was lacking in faith, that the Maker would not let her down… as I was doing, she implied. The armies loved her; I knew they would never follow me if I acted against her wishes. I feared she would drive us against the walls of Tevinter over and over until nothing was left; I am still not certain I was wrong on that score. Of course, we never found out, because it was then that my anger and bitterness overwhelmed me. I convinced myself Andraste was no longer in her right mind, and the only way to save thousands of souls who marched with us was to betray my beloved. And thus I did.”
Raven pondered. “So, in an attempt to save as many people as you could, you made a mistake.”
The spirit gave a huff of not-laughter. “A mistake, as if I had miscounted baskets of grain. I made what many consider one of the worst choices in the history of Thedas, girl. It was a bit more than a mistake.”
Genetivi nodded. “So, my second question: What happened after?”
Maferath paused thoughtfully. “You do not seek a mundane account of my return to southern lands, I trust. Perhaps you wish to know the thoughts that haunted me.” The spirit wavered, a sign Raven was coming to recognize as a signal of emotional distress, but he continued. “At the moment of Andraste’s death, I was stricken with remorse. I truly had loved her, and I knew then I let my jealousy drive me down the darkest path. But it was too late.”
“I did all in my power to spread her teachings, and bring peace and prosperity to those she freed. I gave the noble elf Shartan a homeland for his people. But it was not enough. It could never be enough. ”
Raven gasped, as the general’s words echoed her own turmoil, and she nodded. “What did you do?”
“Tried harder and loathed myself, for the most part; the evil I had wrought could never be undone. But then one night, Andraste came to me in a vision. I feared she had come to lay her righteous vengeance upon me, but instead, she laid her hand on my heart. I wept and begged her forgiveness, though I knew I did not deserve it. But she smiled. ‘Despair not,’ she said, ‘for your betrayal was Maker-blessed and returned me to His side.’ And she forgave me.”
“For a long, long time I pondered what that meant, even after Archon Hessarian revealed what I had done and all men turned from me. At last, I determined thus: in a flawed world, good and evil will always come to pass despite our best efforts. So when evil comes, rather than bemoaning our lot, we must trust in the Maker to weave our failures into His design.”
“Would Andraste’s light have spread as it did, if she had lived? If we had crashed against the gates of Tevinter, and lost our war… would her name be naught but a footnote in history now? We cannot know. We can only know what did happen. And because of that, I believe Andraste meant that the Maker took my weakness and found a way to turn it to strength.”
“You may say I delude myself, to escape remorse for my actions. But chaining myself to my betrayal was akin to dying, and choosing to die in my darkest moment would only guarantee I could build no better ones. I do not believe Andraste’s beloved Maker wishes such futile misery on his children. So, I accepted the forgiveness I did not deserve, and I am content.”
They thanked the spirit and walked back to the library. “Do you feel any easier in your heart now, my dear?”
“I… I guess so. Though all things considered, I hope I don’t end up with a reputation as bad as Maferath’s.”
Genetivi laughed. “I believe you are safe on that score.”
Saturday, 1 Firstfall, 9:30 Dragon
The morning of Satinalia dawned clear and cold over Haven and its temporary residents. They’d opted for a few days of much-needed rest before setting out for Redcliffe, and for once, they had no shortage of provisions. So later, they’d have a feast… but first, gifts.
Raven had been thinking about Satinalia for a while. As much as she’d come to care for her friends here, a sense of melancholy hit her whenever she thought about spending the holiday without her family and their familiar traditions. She had, at least, dragged Rob along for pseudo-Christmas shopping before they left Orzammar. She’d even helped him find a beautiful golden mirror as a present for Morrigan. “Trust me,” she’d assured him, “she’ll love it.”
But though she missed the decorations and carols—hard to find a Christmas song without Jesus or Santa in it, after all—she was looking forward to giving her gift to Alistair on Satinalia morning.
Gazing at the sleeping man at her side, Rae felt the now-familiar mental whiplash over how vastly her life had changed. It seemed impossible that only seven months ago, she’d been arguing with Rob about how many electronics she could bring on their camping trip. Now she lay in a medieval hut beside her fondest daydream… after fighting unspeakable horrors deep beneath the ground and walking through a wall of fire. Mirrors reflected a strong, competent fighter rather than the anxious nerd she knew herself to be, but she couldn’t deny this world had changed her.
Though she still missed indoor plumbing.
She and her mismatched companions had been to every corner of Ferelden, gathering forces for the war ahead, and she knew the road would only get rougher from here on out. So many pivotal moments loomed before them, and Raven honestly couldn’t say whether she was more afraid for the things within her control, or those beyond it. But after talking with Maferath, she’d finally made at least a little peace with her burden. And of course, Alistair’s love was worth so much more than any nebulous fears.
Though their relationship was still in the starry-eyed phase, it was far from perfect. When stressed, Rae wanted to read alone in silence, and Alistair wanted to glue himself to her elbow and talk nonstop. They were both utterly terrible with emotions; their shared habit was to downplay their own pain and cover with a joke, which led to a lot of “Well why didn’t you say so?” moments. Their idealized views of each other were slowly converting to reality, but it would take time. And of course, she feared for his future.
But she knew, clear to the bedrock of her soul, that Alistair loved her with everything he was. Silently, she vowed she would not let them be torn apart, no matter what it took. And with that, in the bright dawn with her beloved by her side, she was content.
And awake… which meant it was time for presents.
“Wake up!” she chirped, laughing when he pulled the pillow over his head. “None of that, you! It’s Satinalia! Don’t you want to open your presents?”
He peeked out at her with one eye. “To be honest, I never got the habit of expecting any. I didn’t get them as a child, and at the monastery they mainly just droned on about how Satinalia was no excuse for wild and improper behavior. Sort of took the fun out of it. Though I did enjoy the feasts.”
“Well, you’re getting presents now, so get up, get up, get up!” she urged, with childlike excitement.
He pulled her close, lips pressed to her forehead. “I have everything I need.”
“You and your smooth talking,” she said with a smile. “If this is your way of getting out of giving me a gift, it won’t work. Or more accurately, it will work, but Leliana will yell at you when she finds out.”
“Curses, my clever plan is foiled!” he exclaimed. “Now I’ll have to see if Bodahn has any last minute gifts on hand… preferably something not taken off a corpse in the Deep Roads.”
“That would be best,” she laughed. “But first, you have to open mine.” She’d always loved giving presents. Getting stuff was nice, but few things compared to seeing someone’s eyes light up over the perfect gift. And she’d been anticipating this one for a long time.
“All right,” he chuckled, sitting up against the headboard. “I surrender. Shower me with gifts; I shall no longer resist.” She pressed the brightly wrapped package into his hands, watching him expectantly as he opened it, and was not disappointed when his jaw dropped. “Is this…? I can’t… how did you find this?”
When Alistair was young, the only memento he was given as a token of his mother was a silver amulet with Andraste’s Flame on the back. He’d treasured it, but in an argument with Arl Eamon before he was sent away, he’d thrown it at the wall and shattered it. What he hadn’t known is that Eamon had carefully glued it back together. Raven had found it in the arl’s study at Redcliffe Castle, right where she knew it would be, and had carried it since, waiting for the perfect moment.
“It was in Eamon’s study. He fixed it, but I guess he never got around to giving it to you. I thought you should have it.”
“Love, this is… I don’t even know what to say. Thank you. I mean it. I… thought I’d lost this to my own stupidity. You’ve given me something irreplaceable.” He stared at the amulet with shining eyes before turning back to her.
He gave her a certain look sometimes that warmed her to her toes at the same time it made her blush and duck her head. It was long and intense, and it said he saw someone he found beautiful, beloved, precious. It was the look he wore then, as he added, “Of course, nothing else could match what you’ve already given me… the kind of love I never dared hope for.”
She slid onto his lap, melting against his chest with a sigh. “Alistair?”
“How could you ever think you were awkward? You say so many perfect things I can hardly take it.”
“Is that so? We-e-ell, Maker forbid I should cause my lady distress…” He smirked, his eyes filling with familiar mischief. “Let’s see; how about this?” He screwed his features into a ridiculous leer. “Listen here, wench,” he said in a rough growl, “in my bed, I’m in charge, and I’ll grab your luscious arse if I please! And as for your—” He stalled out while attempting to ogle her chest, dissolving into laughter. “I can’t do it! I tried to imagine what Oghren would say, but it’s no use. I’m terribly sorry, my dear, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to learn to live with my irresistible charm.”
“Alas, however shall I go on?” Her giggle turned into a squeak when he dumped her unceremoniously on the bed, padding naked across the room to his belongings. “You’re lucky I’m too distracted by your glorious ass to complain about getting tossed around like a sack of potatoes, ser.”
“All a part of my master plan.” He dug in his pack for a moment, before uttering a triumphant “Aha!” When he turned, he had a small parcel and a half-anxious, half-eager expression. “I may have been fibbing when I said I hadn’t thought about Satinalia.”
Alistair climbed back under the blanket and snuggled close, handing her the gift. Eyes alight with curiosity, she untied the ribbon, and her mouth opened in a soundless O of delight.
The small box was made of silver, and the intricate metalwork gave away its dwarven origin. The top was inlaid with obsidian, and affixed to the center was a delicate wooden emblem in a familiar design…
“A griffon! It’s beautiful! But I didn’t think Orzammar dwarves crafted with wood! ”
He gave her a bashful smile. “They don’t. I… well, when I was younger, I had a hard time being still for lessons. One of the Chantry sisters got tired of me fidgeting and dropping things, so she handed me a bit of wood and a knife and told me to carve the Sword of Mercy.” He snorted. “Probably hoped I’d take my hand off and be out of her hair, the cranky old bat. She was not impressed that I made a duck. But I did it quietly, so she let me keep it up.” He shrugged. “It’s something I can do anywhere with whatever’s on hand, and it’s something nice and simple, when nothing else is. So… I made the griffon for you, and then in Orzammar I found the box and had them attach it. Go on, open it!”
Raven lifted the hinged lid, and gasped. The inside was lined with dark velvet, and had straps securing its contents: an inkwell with a clasping stopper, and two exquisite obsidian pens. Blinking rapidly didn’t help; wayward emotion escaped her eyes.
“I know you hate quills; anytime you have to sharpen them or cut new ones, you say how much you miss real pens from your world. The merchant said these will never dull, so I thought…”
She clutched the box to her chest. “Alistair, it’s perfect. The pens are perfect, the fact that you knew I’d want them is perfect, and the beautiful griffon you made with your own hands is so far beyond perfect I can’t even describe it. I love it.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, snuggling her close with a sigh of contentment. “I’m so glad you like it. All this time we’ve spent together… you know; the tragedy, the brushes with death, the constant battles with the whole Blight looming over us… none of it’s been easy, least of all for you.” She opened her mouth to protest, but he stopped her with a smile, and quipped, “You know I’m right, and that happens so rarely that you should let me enjoy it.” She shook her head, chuckling, and he continued. “My point is, no matter how crazy things get, I will do whatever I can to make you happy, because you are more important to me than I can say. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said, and tilted her face up for a slow, sweet kiss. “Happy Satinalia, Alistair.”
“For the first time in my life, it is, love.”
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 27) – Coming Soon!