By Sam Dogra
Elissa Cousland knows the difficulty of the choices she's made during her journey, but what happens when she can't face her mistakes?
Dialogue and themes are not entirely true to the game and several liberties have been taken.
The chill air of the Frostback Mountains was a welcome change after so long shut in Orzammar, and I took a breath to savour it. Not that it could cleanse the guilt that haunted me. I tried to focus on the snow-capped horizon, but my thoughts wouldn't still. Once again I'd been thrown into a conflict not of my making, forced to pick sides I scarcely understood. And once again I was left with lingering doubts as to whether I'd made the right choice.
My eyes narrowed. Choice. How I'd come to loathe that word. It was ironic; I'd longed for choice when Duncan had dragged me from Highever, desperate to go back for Father and Mother. I'd longed for the choice to fight Howe, instead of being forced to become a Grey Warden. And there were times I still longed to choose to walk away from it all.
Yet now I'd gone from one extreme to the other. For with both the Circle and the Dwarves, I'd had to pick one path and forego another. Templars or mages; the castes or casteless; Harrowmont or Bhelan. Too busy bickering amongst themselves, I'd had to bring order to their chaos. To remind them that as they screamed and yelled and stamped their feet, the Blight swept the lands, ready to engulf Ferelden in darkness. And I was getting sick of…
"Hello, Ferelden to Elissa, is anyone home?"
I blinked, snapping my head up. Alastair was waiting before the mountain path, along with the others. He raised a concerned brow.
"Sorry." I discarded my train of thought. "What is it?"
"We don't mean to be too much trouble," Morrigan drawled, folding her arms, "but we would like to know your intent, Warden. You have yet to declare our next destination."
My face flushed. Guess I'd been too deep in thought to notice.
"Well, we can either try and track the Dalish elves, or go to Redcliffe," I said, regaining composure. "Any preferences?"
"Redcliffe is nearer," Alastair piped up, "and easier to find than the Dalish camp. We could be combing the Brecilian Forest for weeks otherwise."
"I too would prefer a more comfortable exercise," Zevran added, resting his hands behind his head.
"How unsurprising you'd wish for the simpler route," Morrigan scoffed. "I recommend we seek the elves. T'would be a more fruitful venture. For one, we would gain eyes to check the Blight's progress."
"But if Arl Eamon is as ill as the rumours say, should we not go to confirm this?" Leliana asked. "If we are too late…"
"Then it will be futile to try and gain the approval of the Redcliffe army," Morrigan retorted. "No doubt Loghain's influence has taken hold there, and if the Arl cannot counter it, what chance do we have? His men will more than likely attack us on sight. But if we had the backing of another army, they would have to think twice before crossing us."
"Who cares," bellowed Oghren, taking a swig from his flask. "So long as there's ale around I'm game for anything!"
"Indeed," Wynne said quietly. Sten frowned, but remained silent. "The choice is up to you, Elissa."
I clenched my teeth. Of course, it was always down to me.
"We'll go to Redcliffe," I said at last. Morrigan's eyes flashed, but I ignored her. "The Dalish aren't exactly on friendly terms with us, either. I'll take my chances with the Arl's soldiers."
"Good. Seems some of us still have sense," Alastair puffed out his chest. Morrigan rolled her eyes.
"Then let's make a start while it's still light," Wynne said.
Alastair strode ahead, shooting Morrigan a triumphant glare. Morrigan gripped her staff tighter, her lip curled. I shook my head. Yet another tightrope I had to walk delicately. It was a wonder they hadn't torn each other's throats out. But despite Morrigan's constant disdain, she had never betrayed my orders, so I could afford to ruffle her feathers now and then.
Besides, I had good reason to choose Redcliffe. Eamon's knights, as far as Alastair had told me, were loyal and steadfast, and would not simply cow to Loghain's rumour mongering. Nonetheless, many would be searching for the Sacred Ashes, so I had no idea how many remained around the village. I could only pray they would be willing to listen to a Warden.
"Something on your mind?"
I glanced to my left. Leliana was walking alongside me.
"You've been very quiet since we escaped the Deep Roads," she said.
"You know I'm not one for many words," I answered. Leliana smiled.
"Ah, but even for you this is a stretch," she teased. "Besides, you always hold that furrowed look whenever you are troubled." The heat returned to my cheeks. She always watched me so closely. "Has something upset you?"
I sighed. "It's nothing I can change."
"Maybe so, but dwelling on such things will not do you much good," Leliana said. Her tone darkened. "I should know."
"Look, it's nothing, really," I said. "I…I just get frustrated sometimes, that's all."
"With those two?" Leliana nodded towards Alastair and Morrigan, who continued to sling insults. "You wouldn't be alone there."
"No, that's not what I meant."
"So what do you mean?"
I hesitated. Part of me wanted to reveal the truth, yet my wariness held me in check. It felt wrong to share my doubts so openly. But Leliana always had a patient ear, and I'd come to appreciate her counsel. Perhaps it would do no harm.
"I was never meant for this," I said softly, in case the others overheard. "I was the younger Cousland, and a woman. Never meant to take over the family name, or the responsibility of Highever. I was never supposed to…to become a leader, to have others look to me for guidance. I just…" I shook my head. "I don't know if what I'm doing is right."
Leliana's gaze softened.
"It is only natural to feel that way, especially given the burden placed on you," she said at last. "But everything you've done so far has worked out. You restored the Circle and defeated the abominations, you destroyed the Anvil so it would take no more innocent lives, and appointed a ruler to the Dwarves. Where there was unrest, you brought stability, and you did not abuse your power to achieve such." She touched my shoulder. "You're a good person, Elissa, and it shows in the decisions you take."
I nodded slowly.
"It's one of the many reasons I admire you," Leliana went on. "You are not afraid to stand for your convictions. I have seen many falter at much less."
"You give me too much credit," I replied.
"Of course," Leliana smirked. "After all, you chose to bring me along, didn't you?"
"I have yet to see how that proves me a wise decision-maker…hey!"
I barely finished my sentence before having to quickly side-step. The bard was still on target, and her elbow grazed my side. My foot slipped in the ice, and we almost thumped into a nearby tree.
"What in the Maker's name are you two doing back there?" Wynne snapped. She shook her head. "I would expect this kind of behaviour from Alastair or Zevran, but not you, Warden."
I cleared my throat, straightening my sword sheathes. She reminded me so much of Mother when she took that tone.
"My apologies, Wynne," I said. "You are right, we should not tarry. Redcliffe won't come to us any sooner."
Wynne nodded, turning back to the road. Leliana giggled softly.
"I will repay you later, dear Sister," I said, unable to stop my grin. "Do not think the Maker will save you."
"I will accept any punishment, Warden," Leliana conceded. "Anything is worth seeing your smile returned."
The burning returned to my cheeks, and it had nothing to do with the cold.