Many thanks to Brekah for being an incredibly devoted beta through computer troubles and all the rest, and for holding my hand as I gradually slide back into writing. Thanks also to GreyingWardens, whose art ( post/105568004548/my-warden-is-a-tabris-id-like-to-imagine-sera) prompted this entire mad exercise.
She didn't like talking about it, but Sera knew the Hero of Ferelden. Actually knew her – not that "saw her across a crowded tavern" bullshit people say to feel important, but real, honest-to-Andraste grew up with her.
Of course, back then she was just Tabris (the Hero, not Sera) and she was just another grimy kid (Sera, not the Hero). Tabris was maybe eight, nine years older than Sera, bigger and older enough that the two of them would have existed in whole separate worlds if everyone in the alienage wasn't all jammed together.
When Sera was really little (old enough that she was pretty sure the memory was hers, and not some second-hand story about her) she would kill afternoons following Tabris and her mouthy cousin Shianni into the city. They were all thieves, no better or worse at it than any other piss-poor urchins, and hungry enough that the grown ups didn't bother trying to moralize to them. Tabris and Shianni mostly went after sweet shops, where one of them could do her hair in braids and distract the owner asking dumb little-kid questions while the other stuffed her pockets with whatever was laying out. Sera was a liability, so they left her outdoors where she could watch through the window if she was careful (and found a tall enough box to stand on).
The best were the really big hauls, which made Shianni turn nice, for once. Tabris was always nice – well, she was kind of mean, but in the nice way that let you know she didn't mean it, not really – and Sera liked her best.
They always gave up some of the goods, once Sera prattled at them enough. Tiny bodies could run until sunset on a handful of packed sugar, and Sera wasn't much more than runty and hungry. Sure, Shianni would rip Tabris a new arsehold for giving away their shit, and Tabris would call them both names, but she was always funny about it. Sera never caught a fist from either of them no matter how much she pissed around, which made them better than most of the bigger kids – kind of like her big sisters, if she had to guess what having sisters was actually like.
Sera was even there, ten years old and still covered in shit up to her knees, when Everything Started. She was racing circles 'round the vhenandahl, ripping through the crowd and screaming after the other urchins in the way that only children without any adults to slap them could scream. She knew it was the day was a big deal because no matter how many knees she crashed into, not a single hand came down to box her ears. It seemed like every damn pair of legs in the alienage had come out to party, and not a one of them cared that a dozen small kids were shrieking like maniacs up and down the alleys.
What she hadn't seen was the exact moment that, looking back, started everything. Sure, she'd heard it – Shianni barking like a mad mabari at some drunken shem, then a loud crack and the sweet sound of a shem wanker dropping to the ground. By the time she'd wiggled her way through the forest of grownups, the action was long over, though the red splatter on the ground (could've been blood or wine, thinking back on it) and the cluster of elders bitching in low voices pretty clearly marked where it'd gone down. One of the other children smacked her across the back to get her attention, and she was happy to forget about the diversion and start running again.
It took a while, but the badness eventually landed. The ceremony was about to start when old man Cyrion (Tabris' dad, an old spitfire of a flat-ear) snatched Sera up by the arm and yanked her behind him. Sera opened her mouth to cuss up a storm until she saw them; big and swagger-y, puffed-up little shem lordlings with a group of men dressed up like city guardsmen. They said things Sera couldn't hear from where she stood-mean things, by the sound of their vicious laughter. One of them grabbed Shianni by the arm-and oh, Sera's temper flared hot and stupid and fast, because she liked Shianni and Tabris, who were both smart and funny in a way that was sort of mean, but never really.
But before she could do anything-even shout an appropriately vicious insult about the shem's mother-steel flashed in the sunlight, and a choked scream cut through the crowd, and everyone went mad.
Time stopped acting like it should.
The fight was hazy, but when it settled, Sera was huddled in the doorway of Cyrion's house, watching the shems wipe elven blood off their blades. The leader and his puffy lackies were ambling out of the alienage with a half-dozen women – Shianni, Tabris, Valora, the Maker-blessed brides – knocked cold and thrown over their shoulders like bled lambs.
A handful of the men who had survived the fight grabbed what they could and stormed off for a grand rescue. Everyone knew they wouldn't come back, but nobody said a word.
Every door in the alienage bolted shut that night.
By the time the sun had cracked (nobody slept, not after being reminded that their homes were no safer than the streets), Tabris – or something like her – was back. The elf with the bearded shem in dented armor trailing behind her looked like Tabris, but the eyes were all wrong. Sera knew the look, but it didn't belong on Tabris – it belonged on the geezers who you knew fought the Orlesians but wouldn't talk about it no matter how many times you asked, or the ones who begged for coin outside the gate. Tabris had that look like she'd seen some shit, something so bad that one night managed to outstrip the horrors of an entire life spent in the alienage.
Sera caught hold of those eyes, briefly, and the something that flicked across Tabris' face made a weird lump rise in her throat.
It didn't take long for people to talk, and word got around that Tabris wasn't Tabris anymore; she was a Warden, the Blight festering in her belly.
Sera thought the Blight was still better than some lordling's seed, but she kept her mouth shut.
Sera trailed Tabris – the Warden – at an uncertain distance as all she handed out her goodbyes. She saw the Warden's eyes dampen and search the ground at the sight of Shianni, who the cloud of whispers said hadn't completely escaped intact, whatever that meant (and here Sera wanted to curl in on herself and try to remember how she could have ever been that innocent). Sera saw the crowds part around the Warden like she carried the plague, and felt a clench of confused anger grip her chest. She shoved to the front of the crowd, and felt the Warden's hand give her hair a weak rumple as she passed by. A tiny flash of light, and Sera looked up to see the gold ring on the Warden's hand. Even an idiot would have known it was the same ring poor Nelaros had been worrying between his fingers as he stood waiting under the vhenendahl.
The entire alienage slid apart as the Warden walked through it, before disappearing through the gates behind the bearded shem in dented armor. Someone in the back sang the first few bars of a mourning keening, so quiet you could barely hear it from the front. No one joined, but everyone heard it.
That filthy, entitled, shitstain-on-the-pants of the Maker prick had turned a wedding into a funeral.
Things only got worse after that. It wasn't until months later, when the alienage was sealed tight and threatening to burst open like a rotten carcass, that Sera saw her again. This time, the Warden was not alone; there were others with her, all of whom seemed to be taking orders from her. (No surprise there; Tabris could get even Shianni to shut up and listen. Andraste's tits, Sera wouldn't have been surprised if Tabris bossed her way into being the fucking Divine.)
What caught Sera's interest was the golden-haired shem who hung close by the Warden's side. He kept suffocatingly close to her, and kept touching her with his stupid shiny gauntlets, and why didn't she just run him through? Sera nearly kicked him in his princely-looking codpiece when she caught him pressing a kiss to the crown of the Warden's head on their way out of the alienage. She only stopped because the Warden's smirk melted for just a second into something that, if Sera hadn't known better, looked like an honest smile, and Sera was so confused that by the time she got her head to stop crunching in on itself, they had disappeared around a corner and into the city.
And then, on the day of the coronation of King Alistair Theirin of Ferelden (Maker-preserve-his-royal-prick, yadda-yadda-yadda), Sera saw the Warden again. The Warden was alone this time, standing at the gates of the alienage and looking like she hadn't slept (or bathed) in weeks. Sera dropped her basket of wash and had to remind herself to breathe. Before she could move, someone behind her spotted the Warden as well, and yelled her name - "Tabris!," they all parrotted, but Sera wanted to yell, to scream that's not her name any more – and the entire alienage exploded. Cheers erupted, kegs of ale appeared from absolutely bloody nowhere, and the musicians all dropped the stuffy dink-dink-dink of the Ferelden anthem and raised into a careening reel.
The Warden – now the Hero of Ferelden – was lifted above the crowd and carried through the streets on a wave of cheers. She was laughing, and Sera didn't know if it was joy or exhaustion or to force back tears, though it might have been all three.
Sera saw the Warden as she bobbed by on a sea of narrow shoulders, swaying to find her balance. She passed close, and Sera saw, from her spot atop a merchant's table, that the little gold band was gone; so was the yellow-haired shem, whose Big Lordly Celebrations were supposed to have them all prancing around like happy monkeys.
And why should they celebrate? Because King Alistair Theirin was the right fancy-knickers, and Anora was the wrong fancy-knickers? Because the same stupid accident of birth that had led to each and every little person being stuck that way for the rest of their lives had made one of those pricks a bastard prince, and the other one a princess in everything but law?
It was simple, wasn't it? They were supposed to be celebrating because his shiny golden ass now occupied the throne that the Hero of all Ferelden - their laughing, fiery, red-eyed, would-be bride Tabris - had bought for him with her own blood.
The kind of debt those noble bastards carried could never be repaid, not in hundred Ages. But they had condescended to let themselves be saved by some scrubby bitch spat out by an alienage, and they were tired of bending, and now things would go back to The Way They Should Be.
Tabris, the same Tabris who was having cake shoved into her face by her mouthy cousin as the entire alienage cheered, was nothing. She was less than that; she was a bad decision, an indiscretion.No matter how many boots she kept out of the muck, she was still Little People. And as Little People, she wasn't worth shit.
And no matter how much she paid, no crown would ever rest on a knife-eared head.