Casidhe brought wood to feed one of the fires, and found Segonal there. “Don’t mind me,” the older man said. “Just getting some warmth on my bones before it gets dark.”
“Sounds good.” Casidhe took a seat close by and rubbed his hands together near the flames.
“What happened to your eye, anyway?”
Segonal was the first to ask Casidhe about it. “I ran into a tree,” he said. “A sharp, angry little tree.” When the Grey Warden shook his head, Casidhe added “Father never did bless me with much sense.”
“How is Brandeouf, anyway? This is the first chance I’ve had to really talk to you since I got my wits back.”
Casidhe did the math; Segonal must have disappeared from Denerim before Sim’s coup. “He’s dead, Segonal. I’m sorry.” He could have sugar-coated it, but Segonal and Brandeouf had been like brothers, and the Warden was no stranger to ugly truths.
“Dead?” Segonal gasped, as though the very idea was unthinkable. “How?”
“Tricked. Betrayed… they poisoned him.”
“Black Torin’s men.”
“The pirate lord?” Segonal frowned. “How did Brandeouf run afoul of him?”
“It was Sim. MacDaer’s son. Torin convinced him to turn on his father, and to do that, they needed Father out of the way. So they murdered him, and they would’ve killed me, too, if I’d been there.” He didn’t say anything about his own role in what happened; Casidhe was done blaming himself, and had simply vowed not to be fooled again, especially after Lothering.
“I’m sorry, Cas,” Segonal eventually said. “You must miss him terribly.”
“You’d think I would, but I don’t, really. I see him in my dreams all the time.”
“But you don’t miss him?” the Warden asked, perturbed.
“No. He was a hard man to love, Segonal.”
“Brandeouf was a good man.” Steel laced Segonal’s words, and a scowl crossed his face. “A very good man. One of the best I’ve ever known.”
“That’s as may be.” Casidhe swallowed his temper, found it bitter. “But he wasn’t much of a father, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
Segonal’s scowl deepened. “Is that so? How many young boys have you had to raise alone after your wife abandoned you?”
Casidhe was struck by an image of Teresa dying in his arms… how could he possibly raise the baby she left behind? Brandeouf had grown up with no father, and ended up a taskmaster; with a taskmaster for a father, Casidhe had ended up a “lecherous, drunken little shit.” This child was doomed.
The duelist sputtered, locked in his hypothetical life, until Segonal sighed. “Listen,” the Warden said, “it’s not my place to lecture you, but you could stand to be a bit more charitable to the man. His life was full of heartbreaks he’d done nothing to deserve.”
“I know. It’s just that… the only way he knew how to raise me was in his image, and we were just too different.”
“Too true. You’re more like your mother.”
Now they’d come to what Casidhe really wanted to hear. “Tell me about her.”
Segonal turned his cold side to the fire. “What do you want to know?”
“Anything. Everything. I grew up knowing three things about her, and the fourth thing you told me made one of those a lie.”
“I see. What are those, then?”
“One: her name was Islene.” When Segonal nodded, Casidhe went on. “Two: she died of fever when I was very young.”
“Not from fever, no. But that’s otherwise true.”
“Three: she saw something to love in my father that I never saw.” Segonal had no response to that. “And now, four: she was a Grey Warden.”
“That’s right. Islene Pentaghast was a woman, and a warrior, and a Grey Warden. She was from Nevarra originally, from a long line of dragon-hunters who now have no dragons to hunt. She was also my cousin; my father married a Nevarran woman.”
A question danced around Casidhe’s mind, but he couldn’t close the gap, so he steepled his fingers and tried to memorize everything Segonal said.
“She was a bit older than me, and she joined the Wardens before I did. The Warden-Commander in Weisshaupt had a couple of Warden spies hiding in Ferelden after the disaster at Soldier’s Peak. When they vanished – probably caught and killed by the usurper Meghren – Islene and I were sent to investigate and re-establish a watch on the country. Since we were related, the thought was that we’d blend in more easily, as it were. So we took the cover of merchants, and I hired Brandeouf to guard us as part of that cover.”
“Did he know you were Grey Wardens?”
“No. Never. I felt it was too risky to tell him. I regret that deception now… It might have spared him some grief when Islene had to leave.”
“And why did she?”
Segonal shifted again. “I’m not sure I should tell you, but it may lay your mind to rest. Islene was feeling the Calling. It’s… something that happens to Wardens after years of service. We become… corrupted, in a way. Her case was aggressive, and we knew that she’d have to go to Orzammar to… to die honorably. And soon.”
The Grey Wardens were doomed to die? Casidhe hardly expected that they’d try to recruit him, but he decided then and there to have no part of them. He’d seen what happened to those the Wardens left behind. Not that he had anyone to leave behind, really…
“But then she became pregnant,” Segonal said, bringing Casidhe’s attention back where it needed to be. “I was shocked. Even young Wardens rarely conceive, but everyone’s… case… is different. I was half-afraid that the child would be born some sort of monster.”
“Maybe you were right to fear,” Casidhe said, half-joking.
Segonal scoffed. “No, you turned out all right… She stayed as long as she could, but in the end, the Call was too much, and she had to go. She wanted to tell Brandeouf, but I couldn’t let her – things in Ferelden were so chaotic during the war, and I didn’t want to compromise our mission. I’m sorry, Cas. I know Brandeouf took it hard.”
“Don’t worry about it. I understand.” What was done was done. He’d seen more than one person trapped by their own bitterness, after all.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t have sent him with Gialinn if I’d had any other choice. I knew the odds were stacked against him. When the Templars believe they’ve found a maleficar, they’re relentless…” He coughed. “I apologize. I was talking about your mother.”
Casidhe did want to hear about Gialinn, but not yet. “Go on,” he said.
“I’m not sure what else I can tell you. Like many of us, being a Warden was her life. I was always a little surprised that she took up with Brandeouf, though. Truth is, she had a mischievous streak, and she couldn’t resist the temptation to try and get a rise out of him.” As Casidhe viewed his relationship with Gheris in this light, Segonal coughed again and added “In the end, she got quite a rise out of him, of course. I think she wanted a casual affair, but your father was never casual about anything.”
“That’s for sure, and for certain. Were they happy together?”
“They seemed that way to me, right until the end.” Sadness came over his face. “When she told him she was leaving, Brandeouf got down on his knees in the street and begged her to stay. I’ve never seen anything like it. If he could have cut his heart out and put it in her hands, he would have. It was…”
“Horrible.” Casidhe thought about another man he’d once seen, willing to die for love.
“Yes. Horrible. You were too young to remember this now, but Brandeouf was insensible for weeks. I had to hire a woman to come and take care of you. Your father would forget to feed himself for days at at time; he couldn’t be trusted to watch over a child.”
“You’re right; I have no memory of that.”
“You were just a baby. Do you remember playing with Stennar?”
“The name’s familiar, but no, I don’t.”
“Your mother… Islene was truly a great Warden. Not the best fighter, but competent. Not beautiful, but she had this.. this spark to her. She was so alive, so full of cheer and good sense, that you didn’t notice anything else. She got along with anyone. Everyone. Even the dwarves saw her as one of their own.”
“That’s right. Batshiva came to visit Gialinn once. You must have been… three, I think. Batshiva brought Stennar, and you were so utterly offended by the little dwarf girl running around your house. Islene laughed and laughed… I don’t suppose you remember that, though.”
“No, I don’t… I don’t remember that at all.” His earliest memory was of Brandeouf leaning over him, smiling. How old was he, then? He suddenly remembered the name, “Aidan met a dwarf named Stennar, outside the Banncreag.”
“Really?” Segonal scratched his chin. “That’s an odd coincidence. I wonder if it’s a common name among dwarves.”
“I’ll ask him about her.”
They sat together for a silent moment or two, staring into the fire.
“I can’t even remember her face,” Casidhe sighed, “Mother’s, I mean. I wish I’d known her.”
“I wish you could have known her, too.”
“Father only mentioned her to shame me. ‘How Islene would weep to see you in this state.’ That kind of thing.”
“I don’t know about all that,” replied Segonal. “I see her in you, as clearly as I see the moon, there.”
Casidhe considered that. Maybe his father wasn’t the parent he was meant to be just like… and his mind finally closed the gap. “So you and I are related, then,” he said.
Segonal chuckled. “I suppose we are. I hadn’t really thought of it that way – Islene was always more a fellow Warden than my cousin.”
“Then I’m related to Geoffrey, too! I thought I was all that’s left of my family.”
“That’s… hmm. I’m worried about this situation with Geoffrey and this sister of his. Half-sister. It’s more volatile than I can deal with at the moment.”
“I’m working on Gheris.”
“Now I’m really worried,” Segonal said with a sigh. “Next time she might not stop at your face.”
“I’ve had worse. I think I can help her, if she’ll just let me.”
Segonal shrugged. “If anyone could, Islene’s son could. Still, I’m not sure if I’ve ever met anyone as angry as Gheris before.”
Casidhe nodded. “You’re a big part of the reason why, too. You and her mother. Tell me, did you love Gialinn?”
Nodding, Segonal grabbed a stick to poke at the fire. “I did, yes. I let her seduce me.” Seeing Casidhe’s confusion, he continued, saying “She thought I’d be useful to her, and that it’d be the best way to make me loyal. And I… went along because I knew she wouldn’t trust me unless she thought she had a hold on me. I felt sorry for her, really. She was cold because of all the pressure she was under…”
“Did you know about her family with the Iar?” Yes. that was the clan’s name. Casidhe congratulated himself for remembering one bit of information from the elven deluge he’d been exposed to in the last few days.
“Not until you found me, no. That woman was an ocean of secrets… every woman is, but not like she was.”
Segonal’s words brought new light to the image of Teresa floating before Casidhe’s mind. “Right. I ask because I… well, there’s this woman, and I feel like I’ve made a mistake with her. I could really use the perspective of someone who’s already been there…”
He told Segonal about Teresa, trying not to leave anything out. Just saying it aloud made him feel better. He got the impression that the Warden was listening carefully, glad to be done talking for now. When Casidhe was done, Segonal said “That’s a sad situation, Cas, but I don’t know what to tell you. Romances are something that everyone has to figure out for themselves.”
“You don’t have any advice?”
Segonal sat back. “You really want to know what I think?”
“It sounds to me like you’re crazy about her, and you already know that leaving because of a wooden leg was a mistake. You’re just denying it because you know you hurt her. Apologizing is going to take everything you’ve got, and she still might never forgive you.”
“Oh,” the duelist said. “Is that what you think.”
“It is. And you aren’t through with her until you try, either. Maybe you’ll find another love, someday, but what you might have had with Teresa will live behind your eyelids till the day you die.”
Casidhe nodded, stood up, thanked Segonal, and went to find another fire to sit at for awhile.
- – - – -
That night, after Lothaire swore his oath of fealty to Naessa, Casidhe decided to ask the Orlesian for his advice. They moved away from the group, but not so far that Lothaire couldn’t keep an eye on Naessa.
“I just need to talk to somebody who has the slightest idea what love’s about,” said Casidhe.
Lothaire chuckled, causing Casidhe to wonder: had he ever heard this man laugh before? The effect was odd. “I do not think I am well suited to provide you with that kind of advice,” Lothaire said.
He could feel the chevalier’s gaze on his black eye. Please, Maker, don’t let him think I’m talking about Gheris. “Don’t be so sure,” he said. “You love your wife, don’t you? I mean, I know it’s none of my business, but…” His was probably an arranged marriage, after all, and those were business deals first and foremost. Any romance that came from them was secondary, at best.
“Very much so, yes.” Lothaire’s proclamation had a serious passion to it; Casidhe had to admit, he liked the chevalier more this way.
“All right,” the duelist said, more than a bit relieved. “Well, if you’ll hear me out, anyway.”
He told Teresa’s story again; in light of what Segonal had said, the details seemed more in focus this time. When Casidhe was done, he said “So what I’m trying to figure out is… how do I know if I was really in love with her?”
Lothaire didn’t hesitate to answer. “Do you feel like some part of you is missing at this moment?”
“Yes, I do.” Casidhe looked down at his chest, half-expecting to find a hole. “Like there’s a thread leading off in that direction.”
“Then I would say you love her. And whatever happened between you two, its a shame that you were separated.”
Casidhe blinked. His path was clear, now. “You’re right. I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. Thank you, Lothaire,” he sighed. “You’ve been very helpful.”
The chevalier nodded. “I hope you find her again, Casidhe. I truly do.” He walked back slowly to the camp, leaving Casidhe alone and adrift in thought.