Author: simison PM
*Sequel to The Mage, The Thief, The Princess* Proving to be far more successful than he hoped, Duncan recruits three talented individuals in West Ferelden. While Duncan continues his recruitment campaign, these three are sent to Ostagar to become Wardens.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Surana & Aeducan - Chapters: 7 - Words: 23,013 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 07-11-12 - Published: 05-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8102709
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 1: "Join Us...
Aellie could not stop the cry of joy from erupting out of her when the ruins of Ostagar finally came into sight. When she joined the Wardens on their trip to Orzammar, she thought the distance between Kinloch Hold and Orzammar was large. The trip from the Dwarven capital to this ancient fortress was longer. Much, much longer. It took them over a week to get here. A whole week of walking and camping. And, unlike the first trip where Duncan encouraged Wardens to help her out, Daylen and Solon believed it was time for Aellie's feet to get used to the slow method of travel. It would be a lie to say she didn't glare at them for it from time to time, but she didn't complain about it.
After a while, she thought she was making progress. Her feet weren't whining constantly about the trip. The sun no longer wore her down with its heat. And she didn't have to work extra hard to keep up with the other Wardens. Then the Imperial Highway began to routinely break down. That's when Aellie met a new type of terrain: uneven terrain. Now, she knew there were things like forests and mountains. How they weren't like cities or towers. She knew that. But she didn't really know that.
For starters, rocks. Aellie was no stranger to rocks. The Dwarven city of Orzammar could be described as one giant, hollow rock. But then she met a new brand of rock once they left the Imperial Highway. These rocks were usually small and liked to hide. Worse, they had this bad habit of tripping her when she wasn't paying attention. Several times, she spilled and landed on her face. Each time, she scrambled to her feet and tried to cover her bright red face. And it wasn't rogue rocks that plagued her. Twigs, holes, mud, there were whole new aspects of simple travel that one simply didn't meet in a comfy tower or on the highway. After earning her seventh bruise, Aellie resolved to never complain about the tower's floors. Cold, hard stone they might be, they were nice and flat.
What was worse, Faren and Sereda didn't have any trouble with those pesky pebbles. Indeed, after the first week of travel, they had even managed to adapt to the sky so that they barely reacted to it. Thus, Aellie was the only one having trouble with the small she knew that they were as new to traveling outside as she was, it quickly became apparent that they were in much better physical shape. But, it was odd in how they differed in their prowess. Despite being a woman, if Aellie had to describe Sereda's movement it was sharp and harsh. If anything tried to trip her, she stepped on it or brushed past it. Faren, though he was a man, was agile and deft. He would always see that evil little pebble and sidestep it or dodge whatever tried to trip him.
As such, she took every opportunity she could to distract herself from the hardships of the road...or the lack of said road. Of course, her primary way to keep herself entertained was to hassle the party's practical mage, Daylen Amell. As resistant as he was to her prying attempts at conversation, she knew she could win him over eventually. And, she was making progress. She started the first few days endlessly trying to wear him down with any topic she could find. That didn't work. So, she switched tactics. She'd let him think he was free from her for a day...before she launched another campaign the very next day.
Slowly, she wore him down and was able to learn a few things. One, he came from a family of nobility in the Free March city of Kirkwall. Two, he too was from the Ferelden Circle, brought there so far away from Kirkwall to make sure his family didn't interfere with his upbringing. And three, he volunteered to join the Wardens when given the opportunity. Nothing much, but she had to start somewhere.
But Daylen didn't absorb all of her attention. She spoke more with Faren, now that he wasn't consumed by fear of the Sky. She learned about his small family, his drunk of a mother and his bright sister. He still wouldn't talk about what it was like to be a Casteless. However, before it seemed to be because he didn't know her that well. Now? If she didn't know better, it was because of Sereda. The former princess never tried to stop Faren from explaining. But out of the few times Aellie tried to broach the subject, once she saw him try to secretly glimpse at ex-Lady Aeducan before he asked her to change the subject. It was the same thing when she tried to ask what he did before he became a Warden. Despite being there at his Proving, she didn't know what he was like other than an incredible fighter.
It must be his crush on her. He doesn't want to say anything that might tarnish his image in front of her, Surana guessed. Which the snow-haired elf wasn't sure about. She tried chatting with the dwarven woman a few times. She was very polite. But she was also very private. They hadn't talked about anything important. Although family wasn't the best subject for herself, being taken away from her family as a child because she was a mage had that effect on her, it worked well with Faren. Then she tried to bring it up with Sereda.
The red-haired dwarf eyes had flashed with something powerful before she merely said icily and forcefully, "I don't think my past is of any importance to yourself, Warden Surana."
Unlike Daylen, who was only pestered by her attempts to learn his personal life, hostile severity colored Sereda's reply. Aellie had yet to try again since. She had no doubt it had something to do with Sereda's exile. Then again, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know more about the former royal. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something about the way Sereda presented herself at the feast that put the elf off.
That said, she stayed away from bringing Faren's crush up with either of them. While a part of her wanted to discourage Faren, the truth was she really didn't know Sereda well enough to say if she was good or bad. She hoped she was good. Faren, for all of his embarrassment about what must be a colorful past, seemed like a genuinely nice dwarf.
Beyond those three, she spent little time with the other Wardens. It wasn't that she was ignoring them, per se. Truth be told, she wasn't really interested in making new friends. The others provided a distraction from the long road. If a light friendship developed along the way, then that was fine. But she wasn't up for having another close friend. Especially after what happened... last time.
She immediately pushed those memories to the side as their group entered the ruins of Ostagar.
Faren couldn't tell if he was having the time of his life or if he was no better off than when he was still a Brand in Orzammar. As they passed by an ancient yet still standing watchtower, he felt another rush of excitement flow through him. He was actually here! He was free of Orzammar and the Castes! He was going to become a Grey Warden! These last dozen days were filled with constant surprises and discoveries.
As terrible as those first two days were, that sodding-evil Sky and the freezing temperatures, they passed as they left the mountains behind. And that's when the fun began. It started with a squirrel. If he had to describe it, he would say it was a hairy, smaller nug. He wondered how it tasted. It was the rare, and luxurious, meal in Dust Town when you could actually get a whole nug to yourself.
But the squirrel was just the first. There were all kinds of animals he hadn't ever heard about it while he was under Berhat. Alistair and Aellie were very helpful pointing them out. Deers, dogs, and bunnies were just the tip of the gem vein. But what really surprised Faren after a while was how hairy these creatures were. Deep Stalkers and nugs had no hair. But it felt like that not a single surface creature lived without some kind of fur. Must be because they don't have lava. He guessed. And...what did Solon call it? Win...fur? Winfur? Unlike Orzammar, where there was no such thing as weather, not only did it change from day-to-day but there were these things called see-suns.Supposedly, the weather would get warm for a while during some months before it would become colder for other months. To be honest, Faren wasn't looking forward to his first Winfur. The mountains were cold enough as it.
That reminded him of the first time he felt rain. It had so confused him that Daylen and Aellie had to calm him down to explain. It turned out that the...Sky...would sometimes drop water on the world. This was why all of these green things...pl-an-ts, would grow on the Surface. The pla-nts would drink the water and use it to grow. After his initial fear was over, Faren thought it was one of the most wonderful features of the Surface. Water! Free water for the taking! In Dust Town, they had to resort to drinking from the dirty well so many times, that just the few drops he got on his tongue had left him begging for more. And that wasn't the only place to find water, too! There were these places called lakes in which it was a big hole in the ground filled with water. The first time he saw Lake Calenhad, he had so much trouble believing that it was made of water just because how big it was! He actually dunked his head in it just to make sure and drank more fresh water than he ever had before.
And those were just a few of the many new things he experienced. As wonderful and fascinating as they were, they simply didn't compare to how he was treated. No matter who he spoke with in the Warden party, he was treated like he was worth something. Even Daylen, who was often blunt in his speech, never said a cruel word to him. And it wasn't just the Wardens. Random travelers they passed by also treated him well. Not one of them gave his tattoo a second look. It felt so good to be treated like he was respec-worthy. It also made him feel rather guilty when his fingers wouldn't keep to themselves.
It wasn't that he stole from anyone they passed by. It's just his fingers would feel a powerful urge to jump out when he saw a particularly easy mark. So far, he'd managed to keep it under control. But it was a lot harder than he would like to admit.
As they neared the bridge to the rest of the army camp, he couldn't help but once again glance when he saw that mane of flaming, red hair. He jerked his eyes away before anyone noticed it. And tried to tell his heart to calm down. It did it every time he noticed Sereda...which was almost constant since they left Orzammar. It couldn't be helped after all. They were a small party. And she would often try to stay in the front, even if it was harder to keep up with the humans and their long legs. He wondered how much it would cost to buy a pony. They were supposed to be smaller versions of horses, which were apparently animals that humans could use to travel. They were supposed to be very expensive too. She could really use one though, trying so hard to stay up there with Solon and Daylen. She keeps talking to them too. I wonder what about. I wonder if its anything we might be able to talk about. I'd be happy if we..
He mentally slapped himself as he tried to think about something, anything else. It wasn't his business who she spoke with. Even if it'd be nice to know what they were talking about. It's not like he was jealous that she chose to spend so much of her time with two humans instead of the only other dwarf in the - STOP THAT!
He quietly sighed to himself. What would Rica and Leske say about all of this? Leske would laugh his backside off before telling me to 'tap the midnight swill' with her. I still don't even know where he even picked up that line. Rica. She'd probably tell me to swallow my fear and go for it. And to treat her like the lady she is. Brilliant. Only, I have no sodding idea how to do it.
The number of romantic relationships he'd been in happened to be set at zero. When you're doing everything you can just to keep your family alive one more day in Dust Town, there's precious little left for yourself. Leske was good evidence of that. They were friends because Beraht threw them together and they managed to find a way to work well together. In fact, that's all his relationships were up 'till now. He was born with his family, his best friend was thrown at him by his boss. ...the thought dampered his bright mood.
Worse, he knew the feeling wasn't mutual. She was never anything less than polite to him. But that was it. And, a part of him wondered if he really did see disgust in her eyes when she looked at him. It was never longer than a quick flash whenever he greeted her but he definitely saw something. The thought did nothing to improve his mood.
To think, a human empire once resided here. Sereda thought to herself as she gazed upon the ruins of the fortress. Time was eroding what must have been one magnificent outpost. Grass sprout between stone tiles and completely reclaimed other spots. Trees grew up besides leftover walls threatening to push them over. The green was new. But the reminder was the same. Orzammar wasn't the only empire to shrink. Once she was accustomed to the Surface, she immediately sought to learn as much as she could about the important aspects of the land: what was the names she needed to know, who was in charge, and how were the webs of influences made.
She spent hours in quiet conversation with the older Wardens, learning all she could. She knew that this fortress, Ostagar it was called, was built by the Tevinter Empire which was now but a mere fraction of itself. She knew that King Cailan of the nation of Ferelden was the Commander of the army. And that Loghain Mac Tir, Teyrn of Gwaren, was the King's closest advisor. And so on, she learned a great deal of things. She was warned that as a Grey Warden, they were ultimately neutral when it came to the politics of the realm. She always assured them that she understood it. But, privately, she knew that the Grey Wardens weren't completely neutral. The Grey Wardens were a powerful military force. Anyone could see that. And their martial prowess gave them a say in politics. Especially when a Blight occurred. She understood that unless there was a Blight, they were never to overtly rule over anyone. She was fine with that. It merely gave her encouragement to hone her subtle manipulations.
She twitched as she felt someone's eyes bore into the back of her neck. For the hundredth time, she forced back her anger and her dismay. Only one man in this group of Wardens could be responsible for a gaze that intense. Damn that Brand! What does he even want? Does he think I can give him riches or fame even after all of that has been stripped of me? It irritated her to no end that the ugly dwarf behind her never told her why he would keep staring at her. They'd traveled for days now and still he had yet to approach her with anything more than a casual greeting.
She suspected it was because the man was cursed with a stutter. Even a simple 'good morning' was beyond his reach without throwing in an extra letter in somewhere. Then he'd mumble something and shuffle away from her. It was maddening. In all her years, she'd never seen anything like it. Was he in awe of her lineage? Was he trying to make fun of her? If the last one were true, she would wring his neck for it. Exiled she may be, she was still an Aeducan!
She took a deep breath to still her aggravation. Never again would she act without trying to collect all the facts. Her impetuousness costed her her rightful throne. She would not let it exact another cost of her. Which reminded her of another unpleasant discovery. Despite being an initiate, the Grey Wardens were keeping secrets from her and the other recruits. Specifically, what was necessary for them to become full Grey Wardens. Not even that chatty man of a Warden, Alistair, would tell her what she wanted to know. Needless to say, she was suspicious. But what could she do? If she left now, she would have nothing. She could probably become a merchant and try to make herself a fortune. No. I'm meant for greater things than simple commerce. I will find a way to leave my mark on Orzammar. If I cannot have the throne, than I must become a Warden.
As they strode over the great stone bridge, they passed by sentries, ballistae, and messengers. It made her heart ache. She knew, that if she preserved and worked hard, she may earn the title of Ferelden's Warden-Commander. But it would never be the same as commanding her own people. As glorious as it was to fight against the Blights, she so wanted to be down in the Deep Roads, leading her forces against the Darkspawn there to reclaim the lost Thaigs. Was that so wrong of a goal, Ancestors? Is that reason enough to favor Bhelen over me? She shook her head. Listen to myself. Now I've become as superstitious as the commoners. It wasn't that she was against the Paragons. She knew very well that they existed, or had existed. But as to how much influence they had once they returned to the Stone? Sereda was willing to bet several sovereigns that it was much less than what Lord Harrowmont believed. ...or her father.
As she stepped off the bridge, she couldn't resist shooting a look toward the Frostback Mountains. Does Father live? Or has he returned to the Stone, I wonder? Does Bhelen have his ill-gotten throne? Or have they found another to resist him? She hadn't forgotten her promise that she would return to the Dwarven capital one day... she just prayed that it would be sooner rather than later.
She felt another pair of eyes staring at her and immediately whirled around, ready to unleash something on that fool of a Brand. But to her surprise, it wasn't him looking at her this time. It was the strange, tattooed elf: Aellerain Surana. She wasn't sure what to make of her. Magic and dwarves were polar opposites to each other. She was tempted to label her as shallow after hearing her asinine attempts to pry into Daylen's past. Not that Sereda wasn't interested as well, but she doubted that the short elf was interested in such things for the sake of knowing how to influence the near-silent man. But then she succeeded. And it wasn't because of simple tenacity. She showed planning and a little insight when she changed tactics.
That alone made her worthy of attention. Throw in her magic and the mystery of her own past, and she was someone to keep an eye on. Oh yes, Sereda noticed that for all of her tries to elicit Daylen's past from him, not once did she offer any of her own, even as a possible bargaining chip. As much as she knew, she knew very little of the mages and their abilities and mannerisms. Sereda had every intention of correcting this deficiency, but she hadn't had the time yet. It was merely one of a long list of things-to-do.