Disclaimer: All character names, locations and plot elements are the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts (EA) Games. 'Dragon Age 2' and all related characters are the sole property of these entities. This is a fan-written fiction.
What is your history? What have you lost? What would you sacrifice to get it all back?
In these moments when I am alone now – and I am often alone, of my own choosing and my own reasons – I hold my bow in my hands and I remember. My memories are not fleeting ghosts, they are vivid, raw images seared into my mind, my family and how they've left me, one by one. My own ghosts linger around me, each one seared into this bow and these hands. My eyes have witnessed events no person in this world should ever see, but my mind is a prison of memory, and I fear, in my darker moments, that I will never escape.
What I have done with this bow and these hands. What things I've done, what things I've lost, and what things I've sacrificed, and this bow and these hands are always there.
My father gave me my first bow when I was five. It was a little toy, something he'd shaped out of twigs and twine, but I loved it because he hadn't used magic to make it, only the magic fathers naturally have. With his own hands, he'd fashioned it, made it just my size.
My mother scolded him, even as she tied my hair back in braids. "Don't encourage this 'little soldier' phase," she told him. "We don't need any attention."
My father laughed at that. "She'll amuse the Templars, not draw them to us, don't you worry. We're perfectly safe."
And amuse them I did, scurrying around our little town in the north, playing at archer. One Templar took a shine to me, taught me to be quiet, sneakier than the rest. For weeks on end, he taught me tricks so I could sneak through the chantry courtyard and 'shoot' – and here he emphasized that I not really do any damage – the Knight-Captain without anyone seeing or stopping me. Needless to say, I did it, stealthy and quiet, and the Knight-Captain was furious for all of five minutes, before he shook his head and said I'd make a hell of Templar if I weren't so mischievous.
My mother raged at me for hours that night after the Knight-Captain took me home. My father sat in the corner of our house, alternating between calming my mother and shaking his head at me, disappointed that I was a child, and not yet beyond childish thoughts.
It brought too much attention, that little game. We left that night, disappearing onto the imperial highway, on our way to the next town, the next little village. Over time, they'd all run together, but that first one hurt the most and the longest. We'd had to abandon our home, our friends, and a place we'd felt safe.
All because of a stupid toy bow and me, thinking I could be a soldier, when I'd nearly brought the Templars to our door.
I was almost six when the twins were born. I didn't know what to think of them, they were so squishy and small, but my father sat me down and introduced us. My mother was sleeping, exhausted, and my father was the proudest I'd ever seen him. He cooed at them, cradling them in his arms, telling me how lucky I was to have two new playmates, and what wonders we'd teach them. "I can see the scraped knees and bruised elbows now," he laughed. "Our family was perfect before, but now it's better." He beamed at me. "You will be the best sister they could ask for. You'll take good care of them, won't you?"
I still had my little toy bow. I mimicked the salute I always saw the Templars giving their superiors. "The best job I can, Andraste be my witness!"
My father's grin grew wider, a sight I'd see so rarely in the years to come. "You," he said, "are going to get them into all kinds of trouble, but you'll get them right back out. That's what elder siblings do."
I was ten; the twins had just turned five. We loved to play hide and seek around the chantry courtyard. We lived in Redcliffe, where my father found work as a carpenter. He had a talent for convincing people that he could do anything; it was some special skill he had, some magic he kept well hidden. I was old enough at that point that I started understanding why things were different. I knew why he and my mother were so afraid. I was a child, but I was learning the ways of the world
I kept a close watch on my siblings. Carver was like me, rough and tumble, always chasing, always running and playing. Bethany was quieter, shy and bursting with intelligence, but she loved to play with us all the same.
One afternoon, a boy my age started to pick on Carver. I stepped between them, even though my little brother was no push over and wasn't happy to be humiliated by a girl standing up for him, even at the tender of age five. Bethany was furious that anybody would try to hurt our family, though, and it must have sparked something, some angry temper that children have.
There was a great puddle of mud behind the bully. The puddle turned to ice so quickly. The boy slipped, cracked his head, and nothing mattered except my siblings.
I snatched Bethany up, grabbed Carver's hand, raced home, hid in a closet with them, convinced that was it. My sister had magic; she had my father's magic. Bethany cried; it was the only time she ever cried. Carver sat in front of me, my heroic baby brother. We cowered in that closet for hours, until our parents found us, cold, hungry, miserable.
Mother took the twins, shushed them with her lullabies and soft words. I heard her talk to my father late that night, her words clear – things like 'apostate' and 'Templars will be coming' and 'you can't keep us hidden forever, Malcolm, not like this.'
I looked at my old toy bow, hanging on the wall. I don't know what I felt for it then. I wondered if I'd failed. My sister had shown sensitivity to magic; she'd frozen that puddle with anger, with a quiet fury I didn't know she had. I lay in my bed, wondering what would become of our family if the Templars caught my sister.
The next morning, my mother's anger was reserved for me. "How could you be so careless?" she raged. "You couldn't watch out for the other children? You had to let it go so far? Do you know what this means if the Templars hear of this? Do you understand? We'll have to leave again! Have you learned nothing! Ten years old and you behave like a child."
Carver shouted right back her, all five-year-old indignation, furious that she would think I wouldn't protect him or Bethany. Five years old and he defended me. Little brothers. They care, even when they say they don't. In the years to come, I'd remember that angry five year old, even as he grew into an even angrier teenager.
Bethany hid behind my skirts, too afraid to say anything, but all too familiar with my mother's fears. When I went to pick her up to carry her outside, away from the shouting and accusations, my mother stormed over and slapped me across the face, bruising my cheekbone and tearing open my skin. She stepped back from me, some uncertain emotion in her eyes. She ran into the room she shared with my father and locked the door, and I didn't see her for the rest of the day.
A few hours later, I put the twins to bed for an afternoon nap, and sat outside our house. Ten years old and she thought I was a child? She certainly thought I was something, especially if I was worthy of a slap. I started to wonder what I'd done wrong, then tried to convince myself that it was her, not me. She was the one who was so afraid. I'd been trying to protect my brother from another boy. That was all.
When my father returned from his work, he saw me sulking on the front porch. "Why so glum?" he asked.
"Ask Mother," I told him, ten-year-old rage boiling inside of me. "I'm sure she's dying to tell you."
He crouched in front of me, lifted my face, saw the cut across my cheek. I saw an overwhelming sadness cross his face, an expression I didn't know he could make. I only ever saw a happy man, a man who hoped for the best, no matter what. I wonder, to this day, what memories invaded his mind when he saw what my mother had done.
I heard raised voices late into the evening, long after I was supposed to be asleep. Frightened, my siblings crawled into my bed, and I sat at the end of it, toy bow in hand, not sure what I'd do if my mother came into my room. I listened to the twins sleeping, promised myself that they were children, only five, but I was ten, almost an adult, and I'd protect them, no matter what. I'd keep them safe.
What kind of ten year old makes that sort of promise?
A few days later, my mother and I were not speaking. I did my chores, took care of my siblings, handled the little shopping that was necessary, and avoided her at all costs. The cut on my cheek was fading, but it would leave a scar. I think she knew it too.
It was early in the evening, a week after the incident, when my father found me enjoying the sunset. The door to the house was one more barrier between my mother and me.
"Your mother and I talked," he said, sitting beside me on the Redcliffe docks. "We're afraid of the Templars because you three are our children. Your mother is sorry; she wanted me to tell you. She's a proud lady, you know. Her pride got the better of her the other day."
"That doesn't excuse her," I told him.
He shook his head. "No. No, it doesn't. Maker, you're ten, but you might as well be thirty. I look in your eyes, girl, and I don't see a child anymore." He reached out his hand, snapped his fingers, conjured a small wheel of fire, a trick he'd done when I was a child, something to entertain me. It didn't work.
Father lowered his hands. "Your mother's fear is making things difficult, and, I confess, it's not safe here. The Templars are not forgiving of mage-blood children." He touched my shoulder. "Even the normal ones," he added sadly.
"So what happens?"
"We leave," he said, shrugging hiss houlder. "We have no choice. I'm not happy about it, but we need to put distance between Redcliffe and our family. We need to go." He bowed his head. "Bloody hell," he grumbled, "every time I think it's over, something goes awry."
"Mother says it's my fault," I told him.
My father glared. "Do not ever say that," he ordered me. "You have one job: to be their protector, to safeguard your family. You did nothing wrong. Your mother is afraid and it makes her say and do things that she doesn't mean. Though if she ever touches you again… Come here. Let me see your face," he said. "I can heal that, and no one will be the wiser."
"It's been a week. Everyone's seen it. You can make it go away, but I'll still know."
He smiled, shaking his head. "You're growing up too fast."
"One of us has to."
He looked at me, sadder and older than I'd ever seen him. My father had a spark in him, a light that gave him hope even at his worst, and he looked at me with such grief that I, all of ten years old, wanted to run away and hide. I wanted to curl into a ball and lock myself away from the world. I never wanted to see him sad, never wanted to see that look on his face again. I started to stand, ready to walk away, to go find somewhere to hide.
He stopped me by saying my name, almost choking on it. "I was hoping to save this for your birthday," he said, reaching to his opposite side, and handing me a package – a leather cloak wrapped around a lightweight object. "Seems to me, though, that we understand each other a bit more than I thought. And you're right; we do need to grow up, to learn our place. If that means we leave again, we leave, but we will make a home for ourselves, and do it right this time. Agreed?"
I unwrapped the package. It was a new bow, honed from steel and wood, light but flexible, a bit too big for me, but meant for someone trained in the art. I looked at him, unsure what this meant or even how to thank him, because gifts like that were not cheap, nor were they for mischief. This was no toy. This was a weapon.
"You," he told me, "are done playing at soldier. You're going to learn to use this properly, the way it's meant to be used, and when you're older and stronger, you'll protect people like your sister and me. I will not lie to you about that," he said sternly. "I expect a great deal from you."
I held the bow in my hands. "I won't let you down," I promised him.
Three years later, we lived in Lothering. The twins were eight and thriving. Carver always had skinned knees and ripped clothes. While I was good at mending them, I left that work to mother, because it meant I could watch her hands. I rarely allowed her to hug me, and when I did, there was an understanding between us.
I carried a longbow with me everywhere. My father's gift remained tucked away in a trunk, where I admired it, polishing it and cleaning it when I couldn't sleep during the hot summer nights.
My father grew warier in the time since our flight from Redcliffe; he watched everyone, considered few people friends. When he went out to find work, it was outside of Lothering. He wanted no attention drawn to his family.
Bethany spent most of her time with the sisters in the chantry, hearing stories, singing, learning her lessons, and hiding any possible sign of her growing gifts. Carver spent his time harassing the Templars for training, and became quiet adept with the sword. I envied him his grace with the heavier weapons, but he clearly envied me my skill with the bow, when he sat quietly along the practice field, watching me strike target after target. A few of the Templars liked to watch, and even at that age, I sensed my brother's resentment.
Younger brothers. They protect you one moment and turn on you the next.
Not like sisters. Bethany liked to sit behind me when I was cleaning my bow and braid my hair into elaborate knots. I told her, when I was serving in the king's army, those braids wouldn't do me much good. She told me that was fine, so long as she could keep my braids when I cut them off. "It's good to have a memento of your best friend," she told me, and I believed her. Sisters recognize kindred spirits, even when they are at opposite sides of the spiritual plane. Sisters do this.
Father trained her to hide her magic, taught her spells, manipulation of the elements. The night he taught her to make a fire wheel in the air and gently trace it with her hands, he said I had the biggest smile on my face, like I was a child again. I told him to stop teasing me, but the truth was I felt like a child again. I was happy. It was a good life.
As the years went on, Lothering was a good home to us. We had friends, our family was happy. There were difficulties, as there always are in this life, but we had a life, for the first time in a very long time. Lothering was good to us; in turn, we grew up and tried to be good to it.
The year I turned fifteen was when things started to change.
Father started to come and go. He would disappear for weeks at a time, leaving Mother worried that some horror had befallen him. I'd watch the roads, perched on the rooftop of our little home, waiting. Sometimes he would try to sneak by the house, and I would drop from the roof, surprising him, forcing him inside. One night, in anger, he told me that the Templar from my childhood had corrupted me by teaching me his secrets. "If you join them," he thundered at me, "you're done. I will have no part of you."
For the first time in my life, Mother defended me. "You started this little game, Malcolm," she told him. "You gave her a role; I'd say she's done everything you ever wanted. If those Templars want us, they'll have to go through her. Isn't that what you've been preparing her for all these years?"
Father stared at her for a very long time, before he said, "Fine. Train with those bastards all you want, but I'll see no Hawke blood spilled for Templar glory."
I trained with them. It was better to know my perceived enemies than to fear them from a distance.
Carver and Bethany were ten. Bethany's magic was growing more powerful; she was becoming more careful. Carver was a reckless boy, charging about with sword and shield at the chantry, begging the Templars to teach him tricks. Afraid of them, careful to know all their faces, Bethany stayed with me most of the time, especially when I went to the practice range. A Dalish group had passed through the village, and I'd traded the longbow and a set of leather cuffs for a Dalish-made oak bow. It was my prized possession, made for my height and strength, and I practiced almost every day.
My sister was never far from my sight.
Father apologized for his threats, but we started to watch each other warily, doing the same dance I'd done with my mother years before. I continued my duties: protecting my siblings, watching the Templars, taking care of the house. This was my purpose, I told myself, and I'd do it better than before, even if Father and I were becoming strangers.
Unable to sleep during another unusually warm summer, I left home late, hoping for some relief from the stuffy house. I ended up at the range, practicing, shooting at the targets until I could barely move my arms.
I was surprised to find my father watching me.
He held out a familiar leather cloak for me.
"I still have the other bow you gave me," I told him.
"Not anymore you don't," he said. "This one is far superior."
Again, I was troubled by his gifts. They did not make any sense; nor did he.
He unwrapped the cloak, presenting a shaped weapon of skill I'd never seen. The bow curved in an S shape, with horns jutting from the outward curve, perfect for striking enemies who got too close. Steel reinforced the bow's joints, and when I picked it up, its weight was perfect. That weapon was a master craftsman's high art; there were no others like it in the world.
"Where did you get this?" I asked him. "And why?"
"I need to leave again," he told me, with no other explanation. "Your mother will worry. Your brother is up to no good. Your sister needs you to watch out for her. I'll be back, but I need to know that you will keep them safe."
"Where are you going?" I demanded. "And why won't you trust me? Why do you want me to stay here? I could come with you. Help you. What are you doing out there?"
"I'm safeguarding your future," he said. "I'm doing the job I've entrusted to you for our family, but I'm doing it for you."
"You come and go as you please," I argued. "You frighten the twins; Mother's worried sick about where you go, and when you come back, you're a stranger. I'm fifteen. Trust me enough that you'll tell me what you're doing and why."
He shook his head. "I trust you, daughter," he said, "and that should be enough."
"It isn't. I protect this family, and all I get from you is 'trust me?'"
"Trust me," he pleaded. "That is all I ask from you. Someday, someday, you'll understand."
It was the only lie he ever told me.
Over the years, my father became someone I barely recognized. At eighteen, my mother started suggesting I marry. My father lost his temper, screamed at her about what lunacy that was. "Who do you trust to take care of this family if she's gone?" he raged. "Who do you trust so much that you would ensure my daughter's life to him? Who is good enough?"
They argued for days until he left again on one of his adventures. Mother asked me if I knew where he went. I told her the truth, I didn't, but I don't think she ever really believed me.
Bethany grew more afraid of the Templars. Carver grew more enamored with them.
They grew so fast, the twins.
Another thing you never learn to appreciate until it's gone: youth.
I was practicing on the range, Bethany nearby, reading aloud from a book of dwarven poems. For some reason, the rhyme and meter of dwarven poetry kept me focused when I practiced. I used the elaborate bow my father had given me, made each shot count. I had a routine, a pattern. Life was finally coming together.
I was twenty that year; the twins were fifteen. Bethany and I were the best of friends, sisters the way sisters should be. When she wasn't with me, she was in the chantry, protected by one of the lay sisters, a beautiful Orlesian woman whom my brother was quite keen on. Carver spent his time training with the village militia; he wanted to impress any girl he could.
I wanted out.
I was tired of fighting with my parents, tired of bowing to my father's whims. I wanted freedom, the chance to choose a life for myself. Instead, I played the dutiful eldest daughter, and protected the family from the invisible monsters in my father's imagination. His paranoia grew stronger, more unhinged as the months went on
It was early winter; the first snows hadn't yet fallen on Lothering. Bethany and I were walking home from the market, supper fixings in hand. We found Father sitting outside the house, his skin nearly white, cold to the touch, his eyes unable to focus. Bethany risked everything right there, tried to use a healing spell, but he barely moved.
We got beneath his arms, I kicked the front door open, and he dragged him into his bedroom. Mother screamed when we barged past her. We got him into his bed, tried to speak to him, get him to answer. He did not open his eyes. His breathing was almost nonexistent.
Mother ordered me to find Carver.
Bethany stayed behind, to support Mother and do her best to heal Father. We shared a look before I departed, and I think even then she knew that whatever had happened to him was beyond our understanding and her ability to heal. We said our good-byes silently, already knowing we'd never see him again.
I didn't need to hunt long to find Carver, since he lingered in one of his favorite places, near the Lothering pub. I told him that something had happened to Father and he was needed. If my brother knew fear, he might have shown me a glimpse of it that day. Without a word of argument, he followed me home.
Our father died late that night, cold as glass, dead by some unknown occurrence. Mother mourned, and left me to take care of Father's body.
The next few days were a blur, dedicated to finding a chantry priest to pray over my father, and a few strong men to dig his grave. The priest said her words and left the four of us to mourn.
Mother didn't have the strength to be there; Bethany and I both knew that I couldn't be the shoulder my mother needed.
Carver, fifteen and filled with anger and frustration at my father, looked to me for guidance, much as it must have harmed his pride. "What now?"
I didn't know. I would do my best, but I didn't know what the future held. My father had held such a place in my life, in all of our lives, and now he was gone, without a word or a reason.
"Maybe we should make for Denerim," my brother suggested. "We could find employment easily enough. Mother and Bethany could be protected. It wouldn't be hard for us to find safety. Shouldn't we think about it?"
I couldn't think about it. I was too busy watching my chances of escape fleeing from my grasp. With Father dead, I was doomed to this life, protecting my family, with nothing but a bow and my mischievous skills. He'd asked so much of me, and without a reason, he'd died, and I had no idea how to move forward.
"Sister?" Carver asked again. "What do you think?"
"We don't know anyone in Denerim. We wouldn't be any safer there."
"It's not us," he told me, able to speak freely when we were alone. "Isn't it just Bethany? We're protecting her. Maybe we could find someone who sympathizes, someone she knows, and leave—"
"Leave her alone with a Templar?"
"Wouldn't it be better that way? No more running. We'd find honest employment, honest lives. No more of this foolishness. Father would—"
"Father would kill us both for even having this conversation."
Carver scowled at me. "Your whole life you did what he asked of you," he told me. "What does your life mean without him? With him gone, don't you have a chance for once? Shouldn't you take it?"
I told him to shut up, to never speak of this again. We'd make our own lives in time, but for now, we were stuck. With Father gone, I had a duty to fulfill, and no amount of arguing with change that it was my job, not Carver's.
Damn my brother, but he was right. I'd face that eventually, I knew, but at that time, I had an obligation. I'd see it through, despite all the pieces of my spirit crying out for me to abandon this life, because living for someone else is no life at all.
Instead, I stayed, because family is worth the sacrifice of your spirit and your soul. After all, without them, what are you?
Three years later, I found out.
We'd heard rumblings of the Blight for weeks. The Templars were already on the move to Ostagar, and asked for any able-bodied soldiers to accompany them. King Cailan needed every man and woman to fight at his side, along with the noble Grey Wardens, for Darkspawn do not know fear, they only know pain and blood. The only way to kill 'spawn is to drive arrows and blades into their flesh and make them taste fear, pain, and blood. Let them know what we know for a few seconds before you move onto the next one.
Carver and I knew our duty. Mother objected; Bethany worried.
We packed our few things, retrieved sword and bow, and marched for Ostagar with the rest.
We barely made it to the fortress with enough time to spare. The stench of blood and death was heavy in the air, and I didn't know what we could do. I watched the Grey Wardens and their recruits, practicing drills, sometimes going out into the Korcari Wilds to hunt errant Darkspawn back to their holes.
Carver and I took our places, he with the infantry, me with the archers. We fit well with our fellows.
Another archer admired my weapon, the bow my father had gifted me with in his apology years before. We traded advice and ideas for proper technique; the other archer had come from Highever, fleeing the terrible destruction of the fortress there, owned by the Cousland family. I didn't know who they were and hadn't heard about what happened to them. It didn't matter, the other archer told me. All that mattered was killing Darkspawn.
When the rain started to fall, we knew the battle had begun. Looking down into the field, watching the Wardens battle, we saw fewer and fewer soldiers. My fellow archers and I rained arrows upon the field, killing those we could. My new friend, confused, asked me, "Where is the Teyrn? Where are his men? What's going on?"
A massive boulder, flung from a catapult, killed him a moment later, and nearly crushed me.
I scrambled back, a gap in the stone fortress, ready to swallow me whole at any moment.
I was afraid. I didn't have the training for war, and my brother was down there in that field, soaked with blood and human souls. I saw other archers fleeing.
I had to find my brother.
I stepped into the hole, followed the angle down to the ground, to the battlefield. I saw Darkspawn fleeing, dead Wardens everywhere, pain and death heavy around me. I screamed Carver's name, hoping to find him somewhere, praying to the Maker that he wasn't dead, despite my lack of faith, my utter disgust with anyone who said the Maker watched over His children. He hadn't watched over my father, and He'd cursed my sister with magic, leaving me to care for my family, for a mother who resented me on the worst of days, and a brother who was his own worst enemy.
When I found Carver, he was killing a genlock, a small, disfigured creature, stinking of smoke and tar. My brother was a stranger to me then, and I imagined I looked the same to him, covered in the blood of my fellows, stone and shrapnel scratches kissing my skin.
We heard the retreat horns sounding.
We ran for Lothering, and we did not look back.
It took us days to get back. We arrived just ahead of the horde. Mother and Bethany were hiding in the chantry with other villagers; the chantry priests and Templars were all gone. I hated them in that moment, abandoning those who needed them for their precious Maker and His bloody Bride.
Mother was horrified at the sight of us, but there was no time. We had to run. We took her hands, begged her to listen to us, to put aside her fear, to follow us, because we had no more time. Bethany joined in, and perhaps the three of us together convinced her to run, to abandon her home and her memories.
Run we did.
We made it outside of Lothering in time to avoid the worst of the horde, but Mother was not prepared for the journey. Bethany had one of Father's old staves, though what she intended to do with it, I didn't know. I had my bow; Carver had his blade. Between the three of us, we could get to safety.
I was so proud of my siblings in the next few hours as we ran, stopping only to get our bearings, to decide to make for Gwaren, after Mother suggested Kirkwall for refuge. None of us liked the plan, but we had no choice.
We came across two more soldiers, a husband and wife, the man a Templar, the woman a fellow soldier from Ostagar, named Aveline Vallen. Her husband was Ser Wesley. Somehow, he agreed that surviving the horde was preferable to arresting Bethany. We didn't have to like them; allies were allies.
We ran until we couldn't run any longer.
We ran until an enormous Darkspawn, an ogre, stormed us, targeting Mother, and my brother stood in front of her like a heroic fool, and paid the price.
The ogre lifted him from the ground, smashed him into the dirt, bloodied my brother's face and body and left him. I don't remember killing the creature. I remember the aftermath, though, my brother's dead body in Mother's arms, her angry words to me, blaming me for her son's death.
I took the blame. I owned it. I'd let it bleed later.
We ran again, abandoning my brother's body to the horde, something I'd never truly forgive myself for.
What happened next was madness, something out of an insane dream. I didn't understand it, and truth be told, I didn't want to, not then.
A witch saved our lives, after making a deal with me that I would deliver something on her behalf. With no choice, I agreed, but no deal is complete without a sacrifice in advance. Ser Wesley collapsed, ill from the sickness that followed in the Blight's path; he died at his wife's hand.
Blood price paid, the witch took us as far as Gwaren, and we found a ship to Kirkwall. We rarely spoke of the events leading to our escape, and Mother barely spoke to me at all. She focused on Aveline, who perhaps reminded her of the daughter she should've had.
En route to Kirkwall, we sat below decks, waiting, as the sea rocked us to a new life.
Bethany undid my braids, and helped me retie them. We wanted to talk about Carver, but couldn't bring ourselves to do it. He was gone, the wound was deep, and the scars weren't forming yet.
In time, I told myself, in time, I'd be forgiven.
I'd failed the two men of my family. I wouldn't fail the women.
I carried my bow across my shoulders. I'd protect them if it was the last thing I did.
My mother had a brother, Gamlen, a miserly, bitter character, locked into poverty and disgrace, and worse than that, he got us into Kirkwall, by selling my family into servitude. Against the odds, Aveline had become part of our family; I grew to respect her as a soldier, a valiant, brave fighter. In time, we'd be friends, but for that first year in Kirkwall, as Bethany and I worked for a shady smuggler, Aveline worked for the city guard. We were on opposite sides of the law, though we understood one another's motivations; we both had debts to pay.
A year later, we were free from Athenril and her gang. I would be lying if I said I did not miss the excitement and adventure of that year. Athenril, despite her priorities being limited to profit and pain, treated us well, and taught me a few new tricks. We evaded the Templars for a year because of her.
The Templars in Kirkwall weren't like the Templars back in Ferelden. They were ever-vigilant, hawks without feathers, but their swords were claws all the same. I grew to hate them, not because of what they stood for, and not because of what I saw them do to apostate mages, but because conviction without reason is justified cruelty. I hated them because they were free to act as they pleased, to torture and scar, and the chantry turned a blind eye.
The Maker protected His children when they were normal and slavishly followed His bloody Bride.
I distanced myself further from the Maker, from anything to do with their foolish religion. I was made for mischief; I would do what I pleased.
Despite my best efforts, I could not live up to my desires. I had too many obligations to my family. Rumors reached our ears of an expedition into the Deep Roads, something that could benefit us greatly, if only we could convince the dwarf in charge to hire us on. Bartrand Tethras refused, unimpressed with our talents. Afraid and angry, Bethany and I decided to find our own way.
We didn't need to wait long, because Bartrand had a brother, a slippery storyteller I'd seen around the markets and in the Lowtown tavern, the Hanged Man. Varric Tethras was an odd one, and I could not pin him as friend or foe, until he proposed we become partners in the expedition. Contribute fifty sovereigns, he assured me, and we'd be part of it, invested and secure.
It was too good to be true, but we needed to be safe. Wealth was one way to do it. If the expedition paid off, I could protect my sister and my mother, fulfill my duty, and maybe even move on. I could find a way out.
I had my bow and my hands. The expedition, I decided, would pay off. I would see to it.
Weeks went by as we scrambled to make the coin, gaining friends and enemies along the way. We fulfilled the witch's bargain, taking the amulet to a clan of Dalish elves. Delivery showed me a few mysteries of the world, including blood magic – playing in a burning house and still lighting torches, as my father had once described it – handled effortlessly by an elf called Merrill. Her people hated her for her choice, but I saw a glimpse of myself in the elf; she wanted so badly to do something her family, her clan, did not agree with, and she chose her own path regardless. A little rebellion goes a long way.
Aveline proved to be a constant friend, a protector to my mother and sister. She moved up in the city guard ranks, becoming captain; I was proud to know her. She'd earned a reward after all her sacrifices.
Another elf came by our company, an escaped slave, Fenris. Marked by lyrium and a hatred for magic, he earned his way into my good graces by speaking his mind. It had been so long since someone had been honest with me that he was a welcome presence. Even if his hatred for mages put him at odds with my sister, I couldn't help respecting him.
Varric proved useful with his contacts and constant storytelling, and brought a mage to my attention. He was a Grey Warden, a healer named Anders, and I didn't need to be a mage to know there was something wrong with him. He asked for a favor in return for maps to the Deep Roads, and that favor turned into a massacre, wherein another mage ended up tranquil and dead, and a half-dozen Templars also died. Anders confessed in the aftermath to being possessed by a spirit that called itself Justice, but all I saw was the reason the Templars in Kirkwall hated mages so much. I avoided his help and his companionship wherever possible; he frightened me in a way no other living thing did.
Lastly, a pirate captain, or a former one at least, came into our little group. Isabela was fun, feisty, always good for a laugh and a drink. We became fast friends; we recognized the mischief inherent in each other.
Working together was a chore. Fenris and Anders hated one another; Isabela practically adopted Merrill as a little sister. Bethany and I talked late into the nights about what we'd do to survive this adventure. We both knew the Deep Roads were our only hope at being free. Wealth would bring us status; status would be our protection. Four walls were our only armor against the city of Kirkwall.
I grew to hate the city as the weeks went on. In every corner, some dastardly deed was going on, someone was hurting someone else for money or power, and no one cared. The city guard was strained to the limit, and I saw the Templars flaunt their power without consequence. The city was cursed, I thought, poisoned by its history of slavery and dark magic.
We had to get out, or at least protect ourselves from it.
The money came to us, little by little, and we bought into the expedition. Bartard was not pleased, but he saw reason in our arguments, and his brother was a great help. Varric could charm anyone out of his last silver; I don't think I ever saw anyone refuse him.
Following our investment, I looked over our remaining coin, and found enough to justify repairs for my bow. They were necessary, in spite of the cost. Hefting my bow after the only blacksmith I could find fixed it, I found that it was lighter, easier to wield, and boasted a mark seared into the wood I'd never seen before. At first, I told the smithy that the bow wasn't mine, that he'd made a mistake.
He smiled and assured me that he hadn't, but he had a friend who thought I needed some extra power behind each shot. I asked him what the brand meant. He smiled, told me it was the dwarven rune for fire.
Varric, I concluded, and decided to thank the dwarf at another time. Perhaps when we were in the Deep Roads themselves, and my bow and I had a chance to show him what we could do.
A week later, we were ready to leave Kirkwall. Bethany agreed to join me, not wanting to remain behind where the Templars could find her. Mother was distraught, angry over our decision. She begged Bethany not to go; my sister stubbornly insisted that she had every right to fight Darkspawn, and running from the Templars was no life she wanted. "Don't do this," my mother said.
"I need Bethany," I told her. "I can't leave her behind."
Mother fixed me with an agonized look, as if I was once again taking everything away from her. She had never truly forgiven me for Carver's death, even if she said otherwise. I could see it in her eyes; she blamed me. She would never stop.
When Mother left, I turned to ask Bethany what she wanted, but my stubborn, brave sister just said, "I'm going with you, sister. You'll need the company."
I agreed with her on that. Varric was part of the expedition, but we needed one more person to go with us. Based upon what kinds of enemies I knew we'd be facing, I asked Fenris to join us. Bethany gave me a withering look, but I told her she didn't have to make conversation with him if she didn't want to. "Just make sure you don't make too much conversation with him," she shot back, but I saw the teasing twinkle in her eyes.
It took another week of travel, entering the Deep Roads, walking ancient pathways, long since claimed by filth and darkness. The expedition members were uneasy, and only Bartrand seemed genuinely enthused by what we were finding, long forgotten, abandoned buildings, old houses, razed by blood and death, and the odd corpse, some poor wretch who hadn't found a way out.
We finally found the ancient dwarven thaig we'd been looking for, a lost city buried deep in the ground. Finally, I saw Bartrand wary; he claimed the thaig was wrong, there were no statues of dwarven paragons, no evidence of dwarven life. It was wrong, he said.
We all agreed that it was wrong, though we couldn't figure out why.
Varric, Bethany, Fenris, and I set out to explore further. There had to be an entrance to the thaig, and beyond that, some kind of reward for all this trouble. Bethany seemed slower as we walked, and I noticed she was paler than usual. She shrugged at me, smiled, and examined an oddly colored lyrium vein with only a hint of trepidation.
My stubborn, brave little sister.
We delved deeper into the thaig, and found a strange alter, where an unpleasant-looking carved idol rested, sparkling in the dim light.
"Is that lyrium?" I already knew the answer, but I wanted to know if the others were seeing it, too.
Varric whistled approvingly. "You don't see that every day."
Fenris sniffed. He confessed that the idol made him uneasy.
Bethany eyed me. She didn't want to touch it.
Varric called to Bartrand as he entered the alter room. "Look at this, Bartrand, an idol made of pure lyrium."
Bartrand echoed his brother's whistle. "Excellent find."
I picked the idol up. My sister stepped toward me, her eyes pleading with me, her lips parted with a warning she never uttered aloud.
I ignored her.
I gave Bartrand the idol.
He gave us our fate: he stepped out of the alter room and closed the door behind him, locking us into the Deep Roads, abandoning us to die.
Rage, vengeance, hatred, all of these things mingled in the air. Varric cursed his brother; Fenris exchanged an uneasy look with my sister, as if they felt something, their bodies however attuned they were to darkness and magic. Whatever they felt, neither felt compelled to share.
I pushed my own feelings aside. I had one job, and that was to get my sister out alive. I intended to see it through.
Despite Varric's anger, he knew we couldn't stay. "Let's hope there's a way out of here," he growled, stomping in the opposite direction of the door. I saw a tunnel, framed with blood-red lyrium, the walls kissed with it. I noticed the absence of smell this far down in the earth.
When I walked by my sister, she reached out, caught my wrist. "I'm not sure—" she started, but decided to swallow whatever doubts she had, and gripped my hand tightly. "I want to see the sun again," she whispered.
I could still feel the lyrium on my fingers, suspected she felt it, too.
"I'll get you that sunlight," I promised her.
She hugged my arm. "I hope so, sister," she said. "I hope so."
"Give me a few days," I told her. "When we get back, we'll go for a long walk on the coast, just you and me. Fresh air, sunlight, maybe we'll pick a few flowers."
She laughed at me. "Just like we used to do?"
"Just like we used to do," I assured her.
As mischief-prone as I am, even I should have recognized the lies on my own lips.
It took us only five days to navigate our way back to where we'd started. We were all filthy, exhausted, and eager to be rid of the underground. "Not bad," Varric told me. "We'll be home free soon."
Bethany's voice called from behind me: "Could we slow down?"
Her voice was wrong, weak. She sounded sick.
We prepared to make camp; a few hours of rest would do us all good.
My sister collapsed.
I raced to her side, helped her sit up, but she looked at me, her eyes empty, blue and tainted orbs where her brown gaze had once flashed with curiosity and intelligence.
"It's the Blight, isn't it?" she whispered. "I'll end up just like that Templar, like Wesley."
I started to move my arm, to lift her up. "We'll get out. Come on, just a bit longer. You'll be all right, we can—"
"No," she said, shaking her head. "It's getting worse. I can feel it. I'm not going anywhere."
I heard Varric's voice. "We're in the middle of nowhere. We can't help her. Oh, Sunshine, I'm so sorry…"
I tuned him out. If Fenris said anything, I didn't hear it.
My sister was my world in that moment.
She looked at me, and I felt all my broken promises crushing my heart. We both knew what had to be done.
We asked the dwarf and the elf to leave us alone.
"You'll do it, won't you, sis?" Bethany should never have had to ask me that question.
My pride led us to that moment, my desire to see her safe and myself free, and it got us nowhere.
She touched my face; her fingertips brushed my braids. She smiled at me, a weak, exhausted twist of her lips, the last smile she'd ever give me. I'd promised her, when I joined the king's army, she could keep a memento. I reached behind my head, unknotted my braids from the elaborate knot, dropped them behind my shoulders. I gave her my knife for a moment, felt the blade whisper against my skin as she cut my braids free from my head, and I felt the weight disappear, my hair as short as a boy's.
She gave me my knife; I gave her my braids.
"Take care of Mother," she told me. She rested her forehead against mine for a brief moment.
I wrapped one arm around her shoulders, hugged her tightly to me, and buried my knife in her heart, as I broke my own in half.
She breathed her last against my chest, and I laid my sister down on the stone ground of the Deep Roads, my braids pressed against her chest, her fingers wrapped in my hair. I left her there, and cursed my father for his gift, the Maker for giving the world magic, and His bloody Bride for deciding the fate of all mages.
I rejoined Varric and Fenris, leading the march out of the Deep Roads. I refused to look at either one of them, and I wouldn't hear their sympathies. I couldn't hear them.
All I could hear was loss.
My stubborn, brave little sister. I failed her.
This bow, these hands, they failed her.
My mother wept when I returned alone. To say that she wept doesn't quite describe it. She mourned; she wailed a grief so deep to the sky that my presence alone was reason for her to hate me.
I let her. I'd hated myself enough on the journey back to Kirkwall. I would wall up my grief, bury it behind stone and spirit, and let her hate me all she wanted. I'd cost her a husband and two children. What higher price could she pay than that?
The expedition had paid off for us, and Varric made good on his brother's broken promises; we were wealthy beyond imagination. I bought a mansion in Hightown, my mother's old home, out of some misguided sense that it would make her not resent me.
Over the next few years it worked; she no longer cried when I walked into a room, and, eventually, she stopped trying to marry me off to some posh noble's bratling boy. I had no interest in her ideas of marriage and domesticity, and I tried to let her down gently, even if I had no spirit left in me to lie to her or lead her on. She knew, I think, that there was no sense in fighting me. Sometimes, she called me by my sister's name, and once or twice in a nightmare, I thought I heard her call out for my father and my brother.
I began leaving her alone, more and more. She had friends among the noble ladies of Kirkwall. I hoped they could be the companionship she needed.
As for me, I kept my friends and made new enemies. Everyone wanted a piece of us, Varric and me, wanted a part of what we'd gained in the Deep Roads. He wanted to tell stories, earn his coin through his particular flavor of bullshit and charm. I wanted to be left alone. I'd left a part of my own soul down there, and it wouldn't do for others to see what I truly thought of them.
The only person who had any inkling of how I felt was Fenris, as awkward as our coupling was. He was at least honest with me; our emotions were initially twisted by his rage, and only after many days of dancing around the issue did it lead to the bedroom. It seemed that was our solitary safe place in the city, and even there, we were both haunted by nightmares. We slept in the same bed, even if we did not touch after that first time. Somehow, it was better that way.
The slavers and mages who hunted him in reality were never far from his dreams. I never reached for him when the nightmares came, because it wasn't my place. Instead, I waited, knowing he'd eventually wake and talk to me if he could not banish the anger alone. We sat in the dark during those sessions, wondering where we were going with this experiment in emotion and relying on another person. We'd warned one another, we'd both let people down on numerous occasions; best, perhaps, in this case, that we were so unreliable for others. Together, we could at least be trusted not to betray, not to lose.
There was no name for such a friendship, a partnership. No word in the Tevinter tongue, or in the common. I never looked.
What we were, had I tried to focus more on us and what we could do, perhaps that might have changed what happened next. Maybe, had I paid closer attention to the world, to the environment crumbling around me, the nightmares and the horrors of my past and the serpents lingering in my present, maybe then, maybe then I could have stopped what came into my life.
Magic had tainted my family from the first. I might not have been a mage, but I had seen magic consume my sister and father's waking hours, turning reasonable individuals into paranoid, frightened people who could not fathom safety, even if it sat directly in front of them.
The mages in my company – Merrill and Anders – each embraced their powers in radically different ways. Merrill, a blood mage, verbally sparred with her clan, and the Dalish returned her feelings by banishing her from their thoughts and words; had she given up her pursuit of some ancient magic she could not explain, maybe they would have allowed her to stay. As it was, she was more interested in fixing a broken mirror and salvaging some kind of mystery from the ruin. I suppose, having lost most everything to the Blight and my own Maker-damned mistakes, I understood what she wanted. I didn't stop her.
Anders on the other hand, he pursued, he pushed, he howled, raged, and cursed the Templars with every waking breath. I disagreed with him because I could see it in the Templars themselves: some of them believed they were doing the right thing; others were consumed by power. They were good and bad, just as the mages I saw in Kirkwall. Anders would not hear of it; he called me a coward, accused me of ignoring the plight of all mages. The bastard attempted to use Bethany against me, to say that my own sister had been a mage, and therefore my loyalties were clear.
I refused to hear him after that.
I could not listen to a fool preach against more fools, but nor would I allow someone who had not been there, had not held the knife, to judge me for my sister's death.
I judged myself plenty.
And eventually, I was fully judged.
Sad, the things that remain when we've lost all hope, all connection to the lives we had before. In the end, we're just flesh, blood, bone, and sinew, tied together by vessels, organs, and skin. And by that time, what remains is what we leave behind, and that matters only so much as those who care enough to life the wreckage from the ground.
All else is just rubbish in a bin.
It was a night in late summer when my mother disappeared.
She and my uncle had weekly visits, cordial family affairs that kept them both upbeat and socialized. I ignored my uncle for the most part, because I had nothing in common with him, and I could not fathom how he had become such a selfish, angry man. I chose not to pursue that matter; it wasn't my place.
When he reported my mother missing, and mentioned some white lilies left in the house, I knew something was wrong. Lilies had been my father's favorite flower; Mother hated them because they made her grief rise to the surface. She never kept them in the house.
Everything was wrong.
I pursued her, never praying to any god, never hoping that the Maker would save her, relying only upon my own willpower, my own desire. I would save her; I would bring this one member of my family back.
I had some help. Varric, Fenris, and Aveline joined me, following a bloody trial to a foundry in Lowtown. Stepping deep into a magic-tainted pit of blood, death, and violence, we followed my mother last, long walk.
I promised myself, as I ran, that I would not be too late, that I would salvage something.
Instead, I found a mage, a Maker-damned madman, and the abomination of body parts he had butchered from dead women to create something else, a corpse that walked and spoke. A corpse with my mother's severed head stitched onto its neck, bloody thread keeping her familiar face attached, hidden behind a white veil, a mockery of the joyful bride I was still uncertain she had ever been.
The mage died in the sewers. I silenced with him an arrow, and had I been given the opportunity, I would have used my hands. I wanted to drive my knife into his throat, sever his head from his body, defile him as he'd defiled others, make him feel some small spark of the pain he'd caused.
Instead, I turned to catch my what remained of my mother. I held her, her familiar face upon a stranger's body, her empty eyes and blue-tainted skin. I felt rage, pain, a soul-sick agony that I could not put into words or cries.
I held her, felt her life fading. I didn't need to touch the Veil or the Fade to know she was dying, already dead, finally going to the rest she should've earned years before. I didn't need to know magic to know that magic had done this, and no amount of magic could fix it.
When she looked at me, the unbidden memory of Redcliffe and her hand striking me nearly obscured my vision. The tears were bottled up years of agony, grief, years we'd spent furious with one another over the little things we could not have prevented. The little things were all I could think of, a hundred sins over a lifetime, and I battled my way past the memories so I could see her as she had been, not as she was.
"This is my fault," I told her, because it was all I could say. I hugged her. She stank of death and rot, but her voice and her face were my mother's. I could not abandon her. I remained. I was alone, but I remained.
"You've always made me proud," she said. It was a pleasant lie, her last gift. Her head fell back, the life bled out of her already, this second death the only blessing I'd ever given her.
Aveline, Varric, and Fenris waited for me. None of them spoke.
I remained. I was alone.
My bow and my hands, and, once again, I was not strong enough. I was not fast enough.
First, I'd failed the men of my family; then, I'd failed the women.
Father. Carver. Bethany. Mother.
Everyone. I'd lost them all.
When I let her go, I stood up, took my bow and walked.
"Where are you going?" Aveline called after me.
Nowhere, I wanted to tell her. I've nothing left to sacrifice, so I suppose I'm going nowhere.
I sit here, alone, bow in my hands, watching the world pass by.
I am a small stone. I am dirt upon the heel. I am the sole survivor of a curse bloodline, of a damned city. I have no family, few friends, no one who sees me as I am.
This bow and these hands define me. With them, I have done terrible things, and I now see that my role was not to make it this far in life.
I was meant to die at Ostagar. Perhaps my brother was meant to perish there as well. Mother and Bethany were meant to die in Lothering, to at least share the soil with Father, even if they would not share a grave.
None of us were meant to make it this far.
And, ultimately, I see that I was not meant to.
I could end it here, right here and now.
But there are those in this city who would still use me, even if I chose to go. They would use and abuse, hurt and twist, manipulate and violate, all in the name of magic and presentation.
Magic gave me life, but I did not touch it as others do. Magic gave me purpose, but I learned to hate it. Magic took all I had from me, whether magic of this plane of existence or some other realm, magic has cursed my life.
And there are those in this city who would use magic to make my death matter to them, since I cannot, and will not, offer my life.
Damn them all. Let them fight their little wars.
I have my bow and my hands.
I am not afraid of them.
Let them come for me.
I have nothing else to lose.
I have my bow and my hands.
I have nothing else.
I have lost everything in this world that I care for and love.
I am all that remains.
And, if the Maker is out there, if He listens to one who professes nothing but hate for Him, and denounces the purity and purpose of His bloody Bride, I have one thing to say to Him:
This bow and these hands are all I have. This bow is my life. It is all that is keeping me here on this plane.
And I would break it in half, shatter it into splinters, burn the pieces, scatter the ash to the wind, and vow that I will never take another life for any purpose, if I could have my family back.
This bow is my life.
I would give it up gladly if my parents and siblings could live again. To let them live free of magic, free of fear, with no pain or suffering, to live and die in a country where no one judges them based upon their birth or their blood. Let them have that. Just let them have that little thing.
Let them be all that remains of our family name. Let them have this life.
I would gladly become a memory to give them life again.
But the Maker does not hear me.
Make me a memory. Let them remain.