Wards and Elfroot

Chapter 12 of Daughters of Andraste

“Mythal feck the feckers who did this,” Coll grumbled.

She held out her hands and healing magic radiated from her palms. Before her, a young man lay on a rumpled bedroll on the floor of the apothecary’s hut. He stared at her with wide frightened eyes. Coll wasn’t certain if his expression was directed at the stark tattoos on her face, at the magic on her hands, or at the fury that radiated off of her. Or maybe, she thought, the boy was terrified because he knew the moment his wounds closed, he’d be sent out to fight the demons again.

Well, good luck to the lad and all, but Coll had neither the time nor the inclination to comfort him. He might be dead before the day’s end, he might not. With so much death already, Coll didn’t want to worry about this stranger, not when Kate…

Coll felt a hysterical sob rise in her throat, and she shoved it back down with a fresh blaze of anger. Anger was a much better sensation than hurt or despair. Fury was fuel that could drive a small, slow fire for years. Coll had nearly forgotten that truth during her time in the Circle, but with all this madness going on around her, she remembered it once again. She’d gotten angry, and she’d gotten moving. Coll couldn’t stop and think about how she’d lost Kate. She couldn’t stop and think about how Robert and Lysette had run off in the initial attack. Coll couldn’t worry about their safety when the was so much healing to be done.

No, Coll thought. It was always better to get angry than to fret.

What really stoked Coll’s ire, however, was that she was stuck down here. She would like to vent her fury at the demons, fry ‘em up and stick them with roots and branches. But that dumb maggot of a commander - the blond, stuffy human male - had ordered that all mages stay as far from the breach as possible. Not that there were a lot of mages left in Haven, Coll thought, gritting her teeth. All the really talented ones had been up in the Conclave. The mages like Kate…

She sniffed and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. Anyhow, the good mages - all but Coll, of course - had been in the explosion. The few mages left were all shite at everything. There were a few apprentices, and a couple old fellows. They couldn’t even summon fire from inside a blazing oven. That scary woman in the chain mail hood had tasked a few of the clods with going out to ‘close the rifts’ - whatever the shite that meant. The survivors of that little adventure had come back an hour later, with a wild tale to tell of two possessions, an abomination attack, and how all the other mages pissed themselves and ran away.

Coll rolled her eyes. Circle mages were a strange lot. A few of them were lovely. The rest were soft and stupid. And now, those stupid ones were wandering around the apothecary’s hut, trying to be useful, and mostly just getting in the way of everything.

“No!” Coll snapped as some old, bald fellow picked up a vial of liquid from the nearby table. “Yeh dumb clod, that’s got blood lotus in it, not dawn lotus. You want to poison these people?”

“Uhh…” the fellow started, evidently not used to a Dalish snapping at his distinguished human self.

“Take that bottle and get the feck out of the hut,” Coll said. She turned her attention back to her patient, then placed her hands over his side. The man opened his mouth and flinched, but Coll did not even touch him. Instead, her thin brows furrowed as she held her glowing palms over his wound. The open slice in his skin began to close, as if Coll was stitching it up with invisible thread. A moment later, nothing but a ragged scar remained. The boy looked down at his side with wide eyes.

“Th-thank you,” he stammered. He looked up at Coll with a worshipful expression. Coll cringed in reply. She absolutely hated this part.

“Eh,” she grumbled. “It’s a hack job, sure. Don’t have time to fix yeh up pretty. But” she added, when the boy’s face fell, “the girls all love a man with scars, so there yeh are. Yeh live through this, they’ll all want to see it. There’s something to fight for, yeah?”

“Yeah,” the lad said, sitting up gingerly. He gazed at her reverently, and seemed to consider saying something more. Coll studiously avoided his gaze, hoping he would not speak. She had never known what to do with adulation, especially when it came from humans.

“Get on with yeh,” she said, waving a hand in the direction of the door. “Try not to get killed.”

The boy hesitated, then finally rose and went away. Coll sighed and ran a hand over her braids. At the same moment, someone in the back of the cabin started chuckling.

“Not used to this, are you?”

Coll looked up to see the local potions master, Adan, was chopping up some elfroot at the table. Over the course of the previous night, Coll had decided that Adan was the ugliest, grouchiest son-of-a-bitch that she had ever met. Naturally, Coll respected him already.

“I can heal,” Coll told him, “Just not used to the rest of it.”

“What, the demons?” Adan asked.

“I was in a Circle,” Coll said, giving him a withering glare. “I did my share of patching up templars what got mauled at Harrowings.”

“Huh,” Adan said, slanting a glance at her. “Guess you would.”

“It’s just that this won’t end,” Coll said, rubbing her fingers over her eyes.

“Yeah,” Adan said. “I’m not used to that either. You’ve got a break for now, though. Get some sleep.”

“Each time one of us sleeps, a pack of half-dead soldiers show up,” Coll returned. She sat back against the wall of the cabin, and stretched her legs out before her. “Not goin’ to tempt fate again.”

She leaned her head back against the wall, and briefly closed her eyes. No sooner had Coll done that when she heard footsteps crunching the snow. Coll turned just in time to see the bar owner, Flissa, come dashing up to the door. Her cheeks were flushed, her red hair bouncing about her shoulders.

It was surely a testament to how exhausted Coll was that she simply couldn’t care. Or, Coll reflected, it was like that human saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Last night, Coll had admired this barmaid’s curves. Then the Conclave had exploded, and in response, Flissa had done nothing but panic, worry, and yammer on with unwelcome gossip. And if there was one thing Coll could not abide, it was flighty behavior. Actually, there were many things Coll could not abide in people. It was a curse, surely. Coll found plenty of men and women mightily attractive when she didn’t actually know them. But the moment she spoke to them, she generally lost any inclination to bed them. Flissa would be another such case.

Not that any of this mattered right now, Coll thought. Judging by the expression on Flissa’s face, they surely had another disaster on their hands.

“You’ll never guess what happened!” Flissa shouted into the hut. Coll winced at the volume. Adan, for his part, did not even turn around, but continued to chop up elfroot and dump it into a nearby bowl.

“Ah, the sky ripped open and demons poured out?” Coll asked, sarcastically. Flissa just blinked.

“Well, yes…” she said. “But I meant just now…”

“We’ve got a bunch of wounded soldiers on their way down here and we’re to fix ‘em up?” Adan suggested with a sigh.

“No!” Flissa nearly shouted in her excitement. “They found the one who did it!”

This announcement was met with silence. Adan turned around, a dirty clump of elfroot still in hand. Coll just stared up at the barmaid.

“What do you mean, the one what did it?” Coll asked.

“The one who put the hole in the sky!” Flissa shouted. “It’s a woman, they said, and…” She looked over her shoulder, then, in the loudest fake-whisper Coll had ever heard, added:

“She’s a mage.”

“Ah feck me,” Coll groaned, laying her head back against the cabin wall. “Isn’t it always a mage?”

“So says the mage.” Adan quipped.

“You’re a mage?” Flissa stared at Coll with wide eyes.

“Yer just now figurin’ this out?” Coll asked the woman. To Adan, Coll added:

“Yeah, I’m a mage. But I ain’t the kind that goes off lookin’ to blow shite up. Just want a nice warm chair and some books to read. But do I get that? Oh no. Feckin’ humans with their feckin’ wars. I’m up to me feckin’ elbows in humans.”

“Well, whoever she is, she won’t last long,” Adan grumbled. He finished chopping up the elfroot and dunked it into a nearby pot of water. “If she killed the Divine, she’ll be hung by nightfall, mark my words.”

“But they’re not going to kill her,” Flissa said, shaking her head. “Not right away. They have to question her first.”

So it was to be torture then, Coll thought. She approved of that. If this woman was the one responsible for killing Kate, well, Coll would be happy to give the interrogator some suggestions even.

“So who is this murderous mage?” Coll asked. “Some crazy First Enchanter what had a pole up her arse?”

“No one knows who she is!” Flissa said, breathlessly. “Took her straight to the Chantry, they did. Her face was hidden, but I heard…”

Just then, a shadow descended behind the barmaid. Coll heard the sound of someone clearing their throat. Flissa glanced over her shoulder, then skittered to one side of the doorway. A tall, dark-haired woman strode into the room. It was the Seeker that Robert had gone all starry-eyed over, Coll realized. For a moment, Coll had half a mind to ask the Seeker if she’d seen Robert out there on the mountain. But it then occurred to Coll that the woman probably didn’t have the time to keep track of every rash hothead in Haven. So Coll said nothing. Adan, for his part, turned and addressed the Seeker with something approaching respect.

“Lady Cassandra,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

The Seeker leveled a glare at Flissa before addressing the apothecary.

“As you no doubt just heard,” Cassandra said, dryly, “we have recovered a survivor. Unfortunately for us, she is unconscious.”

“And let me guess,” Adan said, folding his arms over his chest. “You need me to patch her up so you can knock her around a little as you ask her questions.”

Cassandra did not deny it. “We need answers from her,” the Seeker said. “But I fear we may lose her before that happens.”

“Ugh,” Adan groaned. “I can only imagine what a survivor of that blast must look like.” In the doorway, Flissa went a bit pale. Coll just made a face, thinking of it.

“It is not like that,” Cassandra told them. “She is…whole. Sort of. She has a strange wound on her hand. We think it might be killing her.”

“A wound on her hand?” Adan repeated. “Unlikely. You sure she ain’t concussed? Bleeding internally?”

“She fell out of the breach,” Cassandra said, coldly. “Anything might have happened to her in there.”

“She was in the breach?” Coll gaped, unable to keep silent at that bit of information. “Yeh sure she ain’t possessed? That might be what’s killin’ her.”

“She might be,” Cassandra replied, glancing at Coll warily. “But we do not know for certain. We do not know what’s wrong. Or how to fix it.”

The Seeker looked very annoyed by this fact, Coll thought. Typical soldier. They thought they could command everything, but injuries rarely complied. Neither did Fade magic, come to that.

“I don’t have anything to treat possession,” Adan grumbled. He waved a hand at his rows of potions and tonics in annoyance. “That’s a mage’s problem, not mine.”

“She’s dying and we need her alive,” Cassandra said in clipped tones. “That’s the relevant point. As we sit here talking, her time grows short.”

“So bring her in already,” Adan said.

“I cannot,” Cassandra explained. “She has already caused a stir. We put her in the Chantry for her own protection.”

“Much good it’ll do her when she comes to,” Adan muttered. “Fine,” he said, reaching for a few potions and tucking them into a basket. “Just don’t expect a miracle, Seeker. Given what’s happened here, the Maker clearly isn’t in the mood for dispensing them.”

“I’m coming, too,” Coll said, rising to her feet.

When Cassandra seemed to hesitate, Coll quickly said: “I’m a mage and a healer. Just ask Adan. I can keep a body alive.”

“She can,” Adan said, noncommittally. “Might as well bring her along.”

Cassandra made a snorting sort of noise, then threw up her hands. “Fine,” she said. “Hurry though. We haven’t much time.”

Coll hurried to Adan’s side, grabbing a second basket and shoving handfuls of herbs into it. The two of them picked up their baskets, then followed Cassandra out of the cabin and into the bright light of day. The sunlight reflecting off the snow hurt Coll’s eyes. She shivered in the cold as they walked the short distance to the Chantry. Already there was a small knot of people outside the Chantry doors, shouting at the lone guard on duty.

“Let us through!” one of the villagers yelled at him. “We know she’s in here!”

“So she is,” the young man replied, evenly. “But until we have a chance to question her and determine her guilt, we ask that everyone remain calm.”

“Calm!” someone else cried. “The Divine’s dead and you want calm?”

“Maker save us,” Cassandra grumbled as they neared. She shoved a path for them through the people, striding right up to the guard.

“Let the healers through, Keran,” she told the guard. “Go on,” she said to Coll and Adan. “She’s in the crypt.”

Well, Coll thought wryly. That sounded ominous. And efficient, really. Coll highly approved of this Seeker’s way of thinking. As Coll followed Adan out of the sun and into the mercifully darkened Chantry, Coll heard the Seeker turn to the crowd and say:

“Go away, all of you. You have no business here.”

Coll highly doubted those words would get the crowd to disperse, but that was the Seeker’s problem, not hers. She hurried to follow Adan’s long strides up the Chantry nave, then through a door to the left and down the stairs into the gloomy underbelly of the building.

“This air won’t help anybody heal,” Adan said as he shivered. Coll just shrugged. The point was to get the prisoner lucid enough to talk, not to make them comfortable. They walked a short distance, past a locked room, and then into a space that might once have been for storage. Now it was a dungeon, with barred cells along each wall and a few torches for light. Beside the cell to the left stood two guards - a woman and a big fellow. They looked exhausted, Coll noticed. Behind them, in the gloom, was what looked like a mass of blankets on a cot.

“Eh, we’re the healers,” Adan announced, holding up his basket of potions as proof.

“Right,” the woman said. She nodded at the big fellow, who turned and unlocked the door. Adan strode into the cell, and Coll followed him. Adan looked down at the body, then called to the guards.

“It’s dark in here. You got a lantern or something?”

“A what?” the woman guard called back.

“A lantern,” Adan said. When they looked a bit confused, he scowled. “Oh, for the Maker’s sake, there’s one right there.”

Adan set down his basket and went to collect the lantern. As he did so, Coll stepped aside. A bar of torchlight then fell across the prisoner’s face, illuminating pale, freckled skin and a mass of bright, red hair.

Coll gasped.

It couldn’t be, she thought, her heart suddenly pounding. But it was. Coll nearly dropped to her knees, she felt so weak with relief.

“Creators love you, lass,” she breathed.

It was Kate. All the gods be praised, it was Kate. Or rather, Coll thought, her relief turning instantly to horror, may all the gods be cursed. Because if the people of Haven thought Kate was the one who broke the sky, then they would kill her for sure. No, Coll thought, her stomach turning. They’d torture her, and then they’d kill her. The thought made Coll feel sick.

Of course, Coll had been fine with a bit of torture for a murderer. But this was Kate. There was no possible way that Kate had destroyed the Conclave. First of all, Kate didn’t have that kind of power. No normal mage did, so far as Coll was aware. And secondly, Coll knew Kate. This was the woman who had puked all over the floor just seconds after her first battle. Coll couldn’t imagine that Kate had gone from tenderhearted scholar to hardened killer since the last time they’d spoken.

But these Chantry shems didn’t know that, Coll thought. They didn’t know Kate at all. And in that moment, as Adan bent to fiddle with the lantern, Coll realized she had a choice to make. She could tell these people that this was Kate Trevelyan, a mage who would never do the things they had accused her of.

Or Coll could keep quiet.

Coll felt her stomach twist into an even tighter knot. In her experience, humans never listened - not to elven mages, anyhow. Besides, if Coll got arrested by association, then she couldn’t heal Kate. And Kate needed healing. The woman had always been a pale thing, but now she was white as snow - all cold and clammy like snow, too. Her lips looked a bit blue, and her breathing was shallow. That Seeker was absolutely right, Coll thought, desperately. Kate was dying.

Well then, Coll thought, that settled it. Kate needed help, and no one would work so hard to fix Kate as Coll would. So Coll would keep her Dalish mouth shut and say nothing. Thank the gods that her name hadn’t shown up alongside Kate’s in the letters from Ostwick, Coll thought. At the time, Coll had bristled at the indignity of being written off as ‘and other companions’. Now, she was grateful that she’d been dismissed in that way.

As for the other companions in that letter, Coll thought, maybe they could help, too. If - when Robert and Lysette showed up, they could help solve this muddle. Or if Kate woke, then surely Lady Trevelyan could talk her own way out of this mess. Kate had a way with words that Coll entirely lacked. But until Coll had those well-connected humans beside her, she would keep her head down and do what she did best. She would heal Kate, and let the rest sort itself out.

“Get that light over here,” she snapped to Adan.

“Hang onto your trousers,” Adan shot back as he fiddled with the flint. A moment later, the lantern flicked to life. Adan hung the lantern from a hook in the center of the cell. That hook was probably meant for shackles, Coll thought, meant to string up prisoners by their hands - or by their necks. What a nasty thought.

Ignoring that, Coll turned her attention to Kate’s hands. They had been bound, she saw, for there were abrasions on Kate’s slim wrists. Now, Kate’s hands lay unbound and limp upon her belly. The right hand was gloved; the left hand had been bandaged with a lumpy length of red cloth.

Who in feck had done that? Coll made a face as she reached for the bandaged hand. It was shite work, for it was already bleeding through. Coll untied the bandage, feeling a strange prickling at the back of her neck.

Something was clearly very wrong here, Coll thought. But that was all the warning she had. For the moment the bandage loosened, Kate’s hand crackled and sparked, and green lightning flared from her palm.

“Feck me!” Coll cried, dropping back onto her rear end.

“What in the Void?” Adan said, drawing back with his arm up to shield him. “What did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Coll snapped at him. “It’s that weird thing the Seeker was talkin’ about.”

It was, too, Coll thought. Kate’s hand was bleeding underneath the wound, but the wound itself was like an electric storm in Kate’s fist. More than that, though, Coll thought, the air felt a bit wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, exactly.

“Fascinating,” someone murmured.

Coll turned at once. Directly behind her, staring through the bars, stood an elf. He was like no elf Coll had ever seen. He was dressed like a vagabond, but he carried himself with more confidence than the First Enchanter ever had. He clearly wasn’t a Dalish, for he had no vallaslin on his face, but he didn’t seem like a Circle mage or a city elf. At the moment, his eyes were narrowed on Kate’s face in a very cunning way. Coll disliked him at once.

“So this has fallen to a human then,” the elf went on, so softly that Coll almost missed his words. “I wonder how that happened.”

His accent was strange to Coll’s ears. She know of no tribe that spoke in that way, not even the really traditional ones.

“Oi,” Coll snapped, scrambling up off of the floor. “Who in feck are you?”

“I am a mage who comes to offer aid,” the elf told her. He said this with a calm, ‘I’m above all this’ tone that set Coll’s teeth on edge.

“What Circle are yeh from?” Coll snapped. The question came out harsh, her suspicion plain.

“None,” the elf replied. “I believe the term most commonly applied is - what was it? Ah yes. A hedge mage.” He smiled as if this were some private joke. Coll didn’t find it funny in the slightest.

“Oh, feck me,” she groaned. “Ain’t that the last thing we need.”

The few hedge mages Coll had ever met were weird, half-crazy gobshites. Their only real skills were shape shifting themselves into weasels or whatever to avoid getting caught by templars.

The elf’s eyes narrowed slightly at Coll’s reaction.

“I am surprised that you would show disdain for magics learned outside the Chantry’s laws,” he said. “You are a Dalish, are you not? You must…”

“Yeah, I left the feckin’ Dalish,” Coll interrupted him. “I’m a Circle mage now, and their magic suits me just fine.”

“Ah,” the elf said. “I might have guessed. The Veil around you is all rigidity. Whether that is from your tower or from your clan, I cannot say. But it limits your skill.”

“Oh?” Coll said, folding her arms over her chest. “It limits my skill, does it? And where did you study, boyo? In a cave somewhere? I’m guessin’ by the smell…”

“Shut it, Coll,” Adan snapped. “I’m not about to loose a patient to some elven pissing match.”

“That’s enough,” another voice added. Cassandra had returned, and she strode into the dungeon with a furious expression on her face. Coll was willing to bet that the crowd outside the Chantry had proven more difficult to send away than the Seeker had expected.

“We’ve got this…” Coll began, but Cassandra cut her off.

“Solas here says he has knowledge of the Veil, and Leliana vouches for him.” As she spoke, the Seeker held up a letter in her hand, then folded it neatly and stuffed it into her pocket.

“If you cannot work with Solas,” Cassandra went on, “then you will be the one to leave, Dalish.”

Ah feck, Coll thought, biting her tongue. Now she’d have to put up with the bugger if she wanted to stay near Kate. The elf gave Coll a mild, slightly smug glance. Coll resisted the urge to flip a rude gesture in his direction.

“As you can see, Solas,” Cassandra went on, waving a hand at the cell, “I already enlisted the aid of two healers. But if you can help, you are welcome to try.”

“Thank you,” the elf replied.

“Another elf mage?” Adan grumbled. “Fine. Sure. Put ‘em all in the cell here. It’ll be real cozy like.”

Solas inclined his head as if the man had been serious, then stepped into the cell. Coll backed away, drawing close to Kate. She resisted the urge to bar the elf’s approach. That would give away her interest in Kate for sure. Instead, Coll just shrugged and said with forced nonchalance:

“Fine. I’ll work with the bare-face if I have to. Let’s get to it then.”

She waved a hand at Kate, and walked to the far side of the cot, away from Solas. Cassandra looked through the bars with a frown.

“It is so strange to think,” the Seeker murmured. “That one small woman could unleash so much horror with blood magic.”

Coll opened her mouth, about to protest that Kate would never stoop to blood magic, but she caught herself just in time. Bollocks, Coll thought. This keeping quiet business was harder than she remembered.

“Your prisoner is no blood mage, Seeker,” Solas said.

Coll blinked in surprise. She wasn’t surprised by the statement, of course. She knew perfectly well that Kate had never done blood magic. But she was surprised that this bald stranger could tell such a thing. Apparently, Coll wasn’t the only one who was surprised by this announcement.

“You cannot know that,” Cassandra sniffed.

“I can,” the elf replied. “For first, she bears no self-inflicted wounds as those that blood mages make upon themselves. And secondly, there is no taint upon the Veil around her. She is no maleficarum.”

Coll nodded her head to one side. That was either the best bullshite she’d ever heard, or the elf actually could read the Veil that well. Huh, Coll thought. Maybe he wasn’t a total loss after all.

“Can you heal her?” Coll asked, cautiously.

Because as much as Coll hated to admit it, she honestly didn’t know what to do with that flickering thing upon Kate’s hand. It wasn’t a normal wound, that could heal itself with a bit of magical help. That thing was a weird, lingering magic that had no business being there at all.

“I do not know,” the elf replied. Coll snorted and turned away. Alright, so her first assessment had been correct. This fellow was a useless eejit.

“You said your soldiers saw this mark close rifts?” Solas asked.

“It did?” Coll blinked.

That was a new one. And by Mythal, wouldn’t that be lucky? Haven had been buzzing with the news of new rifts opening up all night long. If Kate could close them, then surely these shems couldn’t kill her outright.

“We do not know what the mark did,” Cassandra frowned. “It is just a burn from the rift, was it not?”

“No,” the elf replied. “It twists when the Veil twists. It sparks when the breach sparks. But the stress of pain is weakening her body. She’ll not last long without our aid.”

“Damnation,” Adan muttered. Coll said nothing, but she entirely agreed with the sentiment.

“Is there nothing we can do?” Cassandra asked Solas.

“I’ll try whatever magic that I can,” the elf replied.

“Then get to work on her,” Coll said, lifting her chin. “If you’ve got a spell, cast it. If yeh don’t, then let me put some elfroot on it, at least.”

“Elfroot?” Solas asked. He sounded genuinely intrigued by this idea.

“For the bleeding,” Coll replied. “Whatever that mark is, the hand underneath is still a hand. It’ll respond to the usual remedies, I’d expect. That ought to take some of the stress off her system,” she added.

“Good point,” Solas said, his tone approving. “I think perhaps a ward might stop the mark from spreading further on her hand.”

Coll inclined her head. “Worth a try,” she admitted.

“Aw, see now,” Adan said, handing Coll an elfroot potion. “You elves managed to stop fighting after all.”

Coll flipped him a hand gesture that was considered rude in both elven and human circles. Solas did not respond at all, but instead focused his attention upon Kate. Reaching out, he let green light flare in his palms. Coll was not good at Fade-magic of any sort, but the shite looked impressive. A moment later, green, glowing writing flickered over Kate’s palm. The weird runes hung in the air for a moment before soaking into her pale skin.

“That’s a ward now?” Coll asked. She cast Solas a dubious frown. “That don’t look like no ward I’ve ever seen.”

“But it worked,” Adan pointed out. “The sparking stopped.”

And so it had. The electricity had stopped shivering in Kate’s palm, but Coll still frowned.

“The mark didn’t go away,” she pointed out.

“No,” Solas said, frowning. “It did not.” He seemed displeased by this. That worried Coll.

One thing at a time, Coll told herself. First, she needed to apply some elfroot and bind this hand up proper, and then she’d worry about the rest.

“Well that’s something,” Cassandra said behind them. “I’ll leave you to your work. Notify me at once if the prisoner wakes.”

“Of course,” Solas replied.

Not a chance, Coll thought.

Cassandra nodded to all of them, then half to herself, she murmured:

“I swear I saw that face before…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “I must look at the lists of the delegates.”

Oh shite, oh shite, Coll thought, watching the Seeker leave the room. If Cassandra did that, then she might figure out who Kate was. And then…

Well, would that be a good thing or a bad thing, Coll wondered? Being a noblewoman - not that Kate ever traded on those connections in the Circle - might mean something to this lot. Or it might not. Once again, Coll was tempted to say something, but once again, she kept her mouth shut. Her lone, Dalish word was more likely to be a condemnation at this point than a help.

Coll then realized that Solas was watching her carefully.

“What?” she snapped at him. Before he could answer, she looked down, and began to daub elfroot upon Kate’s hand. Solas just stood, then reached his hand out into the air above Kate and closed his eyes. It looked as if he was praying. Or maybe he was posing and he didn’t know anything about anything. Could be either with a hedge mage. Maybe he was going to shapeshift into a weasel after all.

What a ballbag, Coll thought.

As she put elfroot on Kate’s hand, Coll silently said a prayer to the elven gods that they do something to help her friend. And for good measure, Coll sent up a prayer to Kate’s Maker and that firey Andraste as well.

And now Coll could only hope that someone was listening.

It took two more days for the prayer to pay off.

Or maybe, Coll thought, it wasn’t an answer to prayer after all, but just the law of averages. It couldn’t be all bad luck all the time. Three days of shite had to lead to something not so bad eventually. In the last forty-eight hours, Coll had scarcely slept. Neither had Solas or Adan, come to that. Solas turned out to be less of an arse than Coll had initially thought, but she still didn’t like him much. Adan just kept notes and patched up the superficial wounds. He couldn’t do much else.

Then, on the morning of the third day, Coll woke from a restless nap to find that Solas was gone. Adan stood nearby, shaking up a vial of some potion or other.

“Oi,” Coll said, groggily. “Where’s the egghead?”

“Took off in the middle of the night,” Adan replied. “Probably gone to look for more elfroot or something. We are running low.”

Coll doubted that very much. For some reason, she had this niggling suspicion that the elf had run out on them. But before she could say this, Adan added:

“Doesn’t much matter though. She’s waking up.”

“She is?” Coll shot up out of her sleeping roll and headed for the cot, but it was empty.

“Where…?” Coll trailed off, her eyes widening in horror.

For there, in the center of the dungeon, was Kate. She was kneeling on the cold floor with her hands shackled before her. Her head lolled to one side, but she was upright. And seeing her like that made Coll’s heart clutch in the worst sort of way.

Oh, Kate, she thought. She almost said something aloud, but just then, Adan scooped up the last of his potions and put them in his basket.

“Cassandra’s on her way, and the Nightingale, too. We’d best clear out.”

“What?” Coll turned to him, then looked back at Kate. “No! But she…”

“Unless you had something to tell them about the prisoner?” Adan said, his eyes narrowing. “You did seem to take a special interest in her.”

“I just want to know what happened,” Coll said, drawing herself up stiffly. “I want to hear what the girl has to say for herself.”

“Well, that’s not our job,” Adan replied. “Come on. There are plenty more patients to be had. We’ll hear what happens to her soon enough.”

Coll didn’t want to hear second hand news. And once again, Coll was struck with the thought that maybe she should just tell the Seeker the truth.

But by now she had been lying for too long, Coll realized. If she told the truth now, Cassandra would suspect Coll of far more than just lies. And Kate would be suspected of worse as well.

Ah bollocks, Coll thought. She’d made a hash of this from the start. In the end, though, it didn’t much matter. A big soldier wandered into the room just then, pointed his meaty finger at Coll and said:

“Hey! What are you doing here?”

“We’re the healers,” Adan said, grabbing Coll by the elbow. “And we were just leaving. If you need us again, we’ll be nearby. Right Coll?”

Adan gave Coll a searching look. And for a moment, Coll wondered if Adan had already guessed that she had more than a casual interest in the prisoner’s survival. But then a group of soldiers came marching into the room, swords at the ready. Adan dragged her out of the way and out into the hallway. Coll looked back over her shoulder, desperate to help in some way, but she knew there was nothing she could do now. Kate looked quite small from here, her fire-red hair like a candle’s flame in the midst of all that gloom.

“Ah, feck it all,” Coll muttered, her brows drawing together. “I should have…”

But what she should have done, she could not say.

Feckin’ coward, yeh are, Coll thought to herself. But it was too late now. So Coll kept her mouth shut and let Adan lead her away.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think. I enjoy your feedback - Sage

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