A/N: Hi there! As you can probably tell, this is going to be more than a little AU. King Cailan was the first character to truly strike me in the game, and I was all but smitten the first time I saw him (Alistair wasn't made for the fangirls; King Cailan was! Not that that makes me love you less, Alistair darling.). His death was way too early, and this is going to be my little attempt to give him more time. And a story! Hurray!
Remember to read and review. I'd love to hear what you all think of what I've done here. :)
Also, I'd like to point out that I haven't played the very beginning in quite some time, so some of the dialogue is probably off. I'll be back to fix it once I begin again!
The title is taken from a song by A Fine Frenzy - "The Beacon." It's my self-appointed theme for Isobel and Cailan: Let me stand by you. The honor is mine.
She was bred for this.
Shouldering the weight of the shield slung across her back, Isobel Cousland lengthened her strides to keep up with Duncan, each footfall in the dirt kicking up tiny clouds. There was nothing delicate about the girl, despite her fine stock. She'd spent most of her childhood fighting with her brother, learning the ins and outs of battle from her mother. Visiting noblewomen often voiced confusion at Teyrna Eleanor's relationship with her daughter, but their husbands and sons expressed their often differing opinions louder and with prettier words.
The very thought of her mother curled an invisible fist around her heart. Without time enough to grieve and being unsure how to do so, it left her in an awkward situation with her own feelings. Nights before while camped around a fire, Duncan sat next to her and offered an ear, hoping that it would ease the tension that seemed to be wired into the young woman's frame.
She hadn't known what to say. After assuring him that any familial tragedy would not muddy her concentration, Isobel excused herself and made her way back to her tent. She dusted away a confused tear and slept without dreaming.
Tilting her head backwards, her eyes ran up the front gates of Ostagar. While Castle Cousland was a large structure, some of the buildings within the ruined city were monolithic, even after all these years. She was so taken by her surroundings that she didn't notice the approaching group of guards. Only the sun hitting the golden armor of the man who led them tore her attention away from the architecture.
"King Cailan…," came Duncan's voice from her side as he moved out in front of her and extended a hand. While the grasped each others wrists in greeting, he continued, "I didn't expect a -"
The King grinned, a boyish smile on an otherwise manly face. "A royal welcome?" He chuckled, and his merriment wove his words with a tremulous excitement that made him appear even younger than he was. "I was beginning to worry you'd miss all the fun."
Isobel felt her cheek twitch in a small smile as Duncan visibly repressed rolling his eyes. After spending so much time with the King, having seen him grow up, he was well aware of his nature. Ever amused and hardly a dour bone in his body. "Not if I could help it, Your Majesty."
Bumping Duncan's arm playfully with his fist, King Cailan looked to Isobel and then to the guards following him. Pride seeped into his voice, but it did not cause the smile on his mouth to falter. "Then I'll have the mighty Duncan at my side in battle after all. Glorious." After a moment, he turned to Duncan. "The other Wardens told me you'd found a promising recruit." His eyes went to Isobel, who shifted on her feet, hands clasped behind her back. "I take it this is she?"
"Allow me to introduce you, Your Majesty -"
Cailan interrupted the older man by stepping forward to stand right before Isobel, thin blonde eyebrow arched and the same impish grin returning to his face. Maker, he was so much larger than she'd expected. He was nearly a foot taller than she was, and twice as wide. Somehow, despite his side, he wasn't nearly as intimidating as she'd imagined. "There's no need to be so formal, Duncan," the King admonished, "We'll be shedding blood together, after all." Taking a deep breath, he brought his shoulders back and released it in a cleansing sigh. "Hello there, friend. Might I know your name?"
"I am Isobel, your Majesty," she replied, trying her very best to fill her voice with a confidence that had all but disappeared of late.
"Pleased to meet you," he smiled. She suddenly felt at ease. A warmth emanated from the King that she found herself shocked to notice. He was much beloved in Ferelden. Anyone who came into contact with him hardly ever left with a foul word to say. "The Grey Wardens are desperate to bolster their numbers. And I, for one, am glad to help them." There was a pride in his voice that was wholly unselfish. The man before her was a true paragon, though not in the dwarven sense. He was an ideal, a true picture of kingliness. At least, that was what Isobel saw. She knew nothing of his ineptness in politics, nor did she know that his wife truly ruled Ferelden. Even if she had learned of this, she wouldn't have truly believed it. In her own naïvety, she found herself almost blushing as he watched her face, his blue eyes shining.
King Cailan paused, a look of recognition falling over his features. "You're the daughter of Teyrn Bryce Cousland, are you not? I remember a daughter by the name of Isobel, and your accent surely suits."
At her father's name, she bit down on the tender inside of her bottom lip. "Yes, your Majesty," she replied simply. Her sudden change of demeanor left Cailan looking to Duncan, confused. "It is a long story, not one for this day."
"Very well," was his hesitant response. While his sure smile wavered, it was soon back again as he side-stepped the topic gracefully. When next he spoke, his jovial tone had returned, and he reached out with a steady hand to take Isobel's elbow and clutch her wrist just as he had with Duncan. "Allow me to be the first to welcome you to Ostagar." Isobel gifted him a smile of her own and reached forward to return the gesture. "The Wardens will benefit greatly with you in their ranks."
"You are too kind, your Majesty."
Giving a thankful nod, he continued, releasing her wrist with some noticeable reluctance. "I am sorry to cut this short, but I should return to my tent. Loghain waits eagerly to bore me with his strategies." He chuckled, as if sharing with her some small secret.
No one else seemed to agree with his teasing. Duncan shifted uneasily, eager to change the subject. "Your uncle sends his greetings and reminds you that Redcliffe forces could be here in less than a week."
Cailan gave an amused "hah!" and turned away from the Warden and his new recruit, moving to join his guard. There was a confident swagger in his walk despite his unwieldy armor. "Eamon just wants in on the glory. We've already won three battles against these monsters and tomorrow should be no different."
"I didn't realize things were going so well," Isobel said with more than a little relief in her voice. Cailan's self-assurance was infectious, and she found herself standing straighter and prouder in his presence.
"I'm not even sure this is a true Blight," he sighed, punctuating his mock weary tone with a chuckle. He turned his back to those gathered, glancing up at the ruins. "There are plenty of darkspawn on the field, but alas… we've seen no sign of an archdemon."
Isobel could sense an impression of urgency in the King, as if he wanted to see an archdemon. She'd heard stories of the glory-obsessed Cailan, but she hadn't expected this. Duncan remained calm throughout and kept any condescension from his voice as he interjected, "Disappointed, your Majesty?"
"I'd hoped for a war like in the tales… You know, a King riding with the fabled Grey Wardens against a tainted god." Cailan gave a shrug and turned back around to give Duncan a disillusioned smile. "But I suppose this will have to do." He looked to Isobel and arched his brow again, rolling his eyes skyward. "Now I must go before Loghain sends out a search party. Farewell, Grey Wardens."
Duncan bent at his waist, giving the King a reverent bow despite his own opinions on the foolhardy young man. Isobel mimicked his gesture, but she did not avert her eyes from Cailan as he did. He noticed this and grinned mischievously before turning away. With his guards at his sides, he made his way to his tent where Loghain would no doubt be waiting with a patronizing word or a dozen.
He waved one of the men over. "I have not seen a female Grey Warden in all of my years. I knew they accepted women, but I have never seen one." Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Isobel speaking to Duncan, her red head nodding, hanging on every word the old man said. "She's quite pretty… For a warrior. I suppose."
Before the guard could say anything, Cailan cleared his throat and looked away, signaling the end of their short, one-sided conversation. He ducked into his tent where Loghain was waiting for him, poised to strike with the very thing he expected. Boredom, pessimism, and arrogance.