Standard disclaimers apply: All things related to or contained in Dragon Age: Origins, recognizable or no, belong to EA, Bioware, and the genius of one Mr. Gaider.
Story title comes from a largely unrelated song by recording artist Jennifer Knapp.
A/N: I think the events leading to this situation are fairly clear, but my mind can be a murky place at times so I could be mistaken. If you are confused feel free to message me, ask in a review, or just wait for more to be revealed. =) Thank you for reading!
A PLACE IN THE DARKNESS
The heavy pounding on her door wakes her, and the vestiges of a mildly unsettling dream slip away like water between her fingers, leaving only faint, uneasy traces behind. There is only a hint of light flickering through the small window, with the wavering dimness of a torch. Not yet morning, then. She groans and shoves herself out of bed, her footsteps matching the urgent staccato knocking.
She lifts the latches with fingers slowed by sleep and tugs the banded oaken door open. Simeon's heavy, mailed fist is still suspended in the air, mid-knock. "An attack? I didn't hear the alarm," she rasps, squinting at him.
"No, Lady, not an attack." He seems to struggle with the proper word for a moment. "A – a visitor?"
Elissa crosses her arms, trying to shake the sleep out of and the commander into her head. "A visitor? At... whatever forsaken hour it might be?" She exhales, trying to hide her annoyance. "Just - put him in a room and in the morning I'll-"
"If I may, Lady," the young Warden interrupts with a pained expression, "Edgard has thrown him in the dungeon and sent me to request your presence. I think he wants your leave to... dispose of the man immediately."
Elissa rubs a palm over her face vigorously, biting back a curse. "What? Who is - and why did Edgard - oh, damn the man, I don't care. We aren't the sodding Chantry or some Korcari edgeland sheriffs!" She glances down at the loose roughspun clothes she threw on for bed, and at her bare toes wriggling a greeting up at her. She sighs. "Let me find my boots. I will be down straight away."
"Yes ma'am." Simeon darts away, mail jingling and scabbard clanking noisily against his leg.
"Don't let Edgard kill him!" Elissa calls after him before ducking back into her room.
She sticks her head out again. "Tell him there is to be no thumb-hanging or poking holes in non-vital bits, either!"
"Right," he shouts back before rounding the far corner.
Elissa splashes her face with frigid water from her basin with a hiss and after a moment opts for putting on more than her boots.
Minutes later she stomps down the narrow stone steps beneath the castle's main hall, cold fingers straightening the hastily fastened straps of her leather jerkin before returning to rest habitually on the hilt of the blade at her waist. Two of the guards stand at the bottom of the stair; each moves quickly aside to allow her to pass.
"Lady," Edgard exclaims, striding forward as she descends. "He is come, here to us, daring to walk, head high, up to these very gates!" The grizzled Orlesian is as agitated as she has ever seen him, his strange speech patterns more prevalent than usual as the scant torchlight cuts harsh shadows across his deeply lined face and sets his dark eyes ablaze. Simeon stands behind him and lifts his hands in a helpless shrug.
"Edgard," she chides, "Calm yourself! What is going on here? Who have you-"
"The deserter! Coward! Absconder! Apostate Warden!" Edgard's voice rises with each word until he bellows the last, turning to point at the line of barred cells along the far wall of the dank room. Elissa wonders, not for the first time, if her father ever housed his own prisoners in these cells. She turns her thoughts away before they can linger too long on the chains and manacles set too high in the stone walls, or the old stains, seeping darkness in unpleasant patterns, all draining downwards.
"Redundancy," she mutters, irritated, and pushes past Edgard to see for herself what manner of poor sot saw fit to infiltrate her keep in the dead of night and rouse Edgard in such a way. "I'm sure there's a... reasonable... explanation...."
Her voice trails off.
The prisoner's wide shoulders are hunched over, bones protruding sharply, and he leans against the bars of his cells as though for support. The rust from the bars has smudged his fingers a rich sienna, reminiscent of dried blood, and the eyes that he raises to look into hers are deep set in an almost unrecognizably gaunt face.
But she would know those eyes anywhere.
"Elissa." He speaks the word and it is strangely familiar to her, but she can't quite connect the disjoint sounds with their meaning. The blood is roaring in her ears and every frenzied survival instinct she has ever experienced is activating as one in a heady rush. Her body is cold, ice settling in her stomach and lodged in her throat, but her face is burning, burning.
"Or perhaps not," she whispers.
"Do not speak her name, whelp!" Edgard growls, hulking over to Elissa's side menacingly.
"Edgard," she says firmly, a reprimand. She does not look away from the prisoner.
"Is it not the one, Lady?" Edgard asks at her elbow, like an overeager barn cat presenting her with a lovingly mauled rat as a prize. "He admitted his treachery upon introductions. 'I am Alistair,' he boasted, 'And I am a Grey Warden.' He dared – dared to claim the brotherhood and cheapen our ranks by association! 'You know who I am?' he asked me, as though I could forget that name. We do not forget. We must hold this deserter up as an example of how the Grey Wardens punish those who abandon their duty!"
The echo of the words, dropping like hard stones from his lips, shakes her even now.
Name him a Warden and you cheapen us all... I will not stand beside him and neither should you... This man abandoned our brothers... How can you simply forget that... I'm leaving... I don't want anything to do with this place or any of you people. Ever.
"Edgard," she says, her tone unchanged. "Return to your post."
"Return - but, Lady?" he protests, bewildered, his belligerence wilting almost instantly beneath her words.
"Your – post." she grits out between clenched teeth, and he leaves without further protest, more hurt and worried than truly indignant. But she will deal with him later.
"Simeon," she says sharply, and he jumps to attention in an instant. "Move this man to one of the empty bunks on the first floor. Put some water in the basin, a change of clothes if you can find some, and for the love of Andraste, see that he gets some food."
"Of course," Simeon replies, already moving to unfasten the heavy lock holding the thick latches of the cell in place.
"Erik," she barks to one of the guards at the steps, her gaze still never breaking from her prisoner's eyes, "You are on second watch, are you not?" Without waiting for a response, she continues, "Go with them and post yourself outside the door. I will send someone to relieve you at the end of your shift. See that he does not leave the room, and that no one other than Simeon enters it without my express permission. Especially Edgard," she tacks on as a weary afterthought before finally turning away.
"As you say, Lady," Erik affirms, and they bustle around her to do as she commands.
Simeon guides the man she once knew out of the cell and turns to Elissa before slamming the cell door closed once more. "If we have need of you...?" he asks leadingly.
"I'll be in my rooms," she says flatly. She turns on the large heel of her combat boots and trudges back up the stairs.