AUTHOR'S NOTE: The first fanfic I ever wrote. It's horribly outdated now, and I'm decently embarrassed by the writing, but I can't bring myself to take it down. Maybe it will get an overhaul someday when I've got more time on my hands. Until then, here remains my submission to the Brosca fandom - not too pretty, a little fat, but nevertheless digging in.
Chapters are usually non-sequential and often written in self-sustaining one-shot form.
Blood on hands, grit under all ten fingernails. Blood soaking through the leather gloves, reeking alongside forest dampness. Blood boiling beneath her face-brand, worthless without a caste to trace it – and all Annie-Lynn Brosca could do was smile.
'Cake!' she thought, grinning ear to wind-red ear whilst driving a skinning knife deep into the rabbit's belly. Organs spilled out, still steaming, onto the orange autumn leaves. 'Cake is what it is. Let's see, now. I'll sign on with these Gray Warden fellows, sure enough – not that there's much choice in the matter. Can't go back now, aye!' Strange as thought it might've looked, what with her tiny fingers digging somewhere in the vicinity of dinner's kidneys, a chuckle barked past Annie's teeth. She shucked off the remaining skin like a farmer would an ear of corn. 'Hah! Already made a topsider outta' me, and all.'
It was a cold Korcari night… black like Annie had never seen, even buried under miles of soot and stone. In Orzammar, there was no change of days – the darkness was a stale, steady constant – only a few snuffed torches away. Though such a prospect depressed and terrified the surface folk, real dwarves more oft found it comforting. Below, there was no sundown to dread; no yawning emptiness overhead to gulp you up. Furthermore, there were no howling, bristling marshlands to raise the fine hairs on one's neck. It would've seemed preposterous to any light-loving human, no doubt… but oddly enough, slavering darkspawn and murderous deshyrs still seemed a smaller threat than what horrors a mind could dredge up when left to wander through a darkening wood.
Annie-Lynn wasn't scared, though… not in the least. She'd been meted out from stronger mortar than most. After all, once one found the stones to look Beraht's pet lieutenant in her painted face and sing out the word "whore," whatever rustled about these wilds paled in comparison.
'Now, what was I just thinkin' about? Ah, right. My master plan,' the girl reminded herself, whistling a dear old tune whilst she worked. One hand thoughtlessly raked a few bothersome bangs out of the way, thickening black locks with rabbit blood. She suspected having to whack it off fair soon. Even with most of her mane wound back and braided, Annie never could manage to keep the stuff out of her face. Rica'd been nagging her little tagalong about combing it proper since they were barely off their mother's milk.
No surprise there, either. Big Sister had always been the beautiful one, and a damn long time before Beraht came along flaunting his fancy dresses with their hundreds of bronze buttons. Gown or not, Rica had three feet of rolling, lava-red tresses and hourglass curves that would've made any sane man weak in the knees. She had plenty of opportunity to be a real bitch about it if the lady had wanted, too. But alas, no – sweet as she was striking, Sissy only smiled and graciously turned away the hordes of lovelorn would-be suitors that came a'calling… while a fist-clenched Annie stood in the doorway, armed with protective glares, punching friends for falling in love with her sibling.
The youngest Brosca, on the other hand, got her looks from their worthless father – a fact which Mother never failed to remind her. She was shorter than Rica, stockier; a bruiser's body with quick muscle and powerful thighs layered underneath the tiniest bit of pudge. Beady, pitch-colored eyes glittered from beneath coarse raven hair; a wide mouth covered grinning teeth; her brand lay crudely smudged into skin unclaimed by any house. It was not a hideous face, Annie thought; complete with round, ruddy cheeks and a dimpled smile. But neither was it particularly gorgeous. Then again, few were compared to Sissy.
That was all right with Annie-Lynn, though. The younger sister might've been destined for a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, but ugly ducklings were a good throw less likely to end up waddling around thick with noble bastard. She'd take a blade in the gullet before becoming some blue-blood's whipping post in a half a heartbeat.
Just then – snickering over some stupid thing they'd been bickering about that morning, when Duncan entered her life and changed everything – Annie's sanity gave a little kick. 'Yeesh. Can't you keep focused for five minutes, girl? From here on out, you mull over the plan and nothing else!' Popping her knuckles, Brosca gave a curt nod… then gleefully cracked the rabbit carcass, and ripped two full lines of ribs out of its meat. 'Wardens must earn their riches somewhere. Digging up archdemon lairs, probably. Hah! Swell. Shouldn't be too hard to fill me pockets, anyway – what with all the darkspawn-killing going on. Take me about… a year, maybe, to gather up what I'd need. That's a good estimate,' the girl decided, her deft fingers plucking a few bony stragglers out of the poor bunny's flanks. (A lot like furry nug pups, really… hopefully a wee taste of home?) 'From there it's kiddy work. I'll get in touch with one of the old boys… Kagreth, maybe. See about running Rica and Ma' up to the surface. Set them up somewhere nice and warm… well.' Annie-Lynn snorted out a mean laugh. 'If the bleedin' whiskey tank's still alive, anyway.'
If only Mother could've seen her now, bounding around beneath the sky with a gaggle of human men in tow. She'd have been dumbstruck, that drunk old bat. Rica was the only one who ever believed Annie'd make something of herself beyond a street-sweeper or some carta thumb-breaker. Leske – well, if Leske had any idea, really – he would've eaten his britches.
To tell true, the dwarf would've relished her old boss's face once he heard that good-for-nothing Brosca brat had graduated his pathetic band of thugs and was now running orders for a Gray Warden. Beraht couldn't have a reaction, unfortunately… partially because the yellow-toothed sot was too damn proud for surprise, but mostly because he was dead. Hah-hah! Fat little cave-tick was rubbin' knuckles with his ancestors!
"Annie. Annie? Would you join us, please? We were just about to discuss strategy."
It was Sir Jory's crisp, overly-polite voice that interrupted her moment of humor. Annie-Lynn had quickly decided she didn't particularly care for the dumb-looking ox of a man – not due to any legit reason, really – besides him having this general air of idiocy that provoked her contempt. Those wide, shell-shocked eyes set deeply into an oblong head, bare as the day he was born… they were features that simply riled her. Something about the upright way he went about business smacked of falseness.
Sighing, Annie wiped her stained gloves onto some leaves, and stood with a hunk of meat in each hand. "Uh-huh. I'm coming, all right?"
With that, the coal-eyed little dwarf crunched her way across their campsite, leather boots shuffling up dried leaves, both fists banging together for warmth. Jory flashed her a particularly cool look when she slid around him, making to sit herself down on a short stump opposite the resident Redcliffe knight. "Got ants crawled half-way up your knickers, I swear," Annie groused. She grabbed a couple sturdy sticks with which to spear the waiting meat, trundled merrily towards her makeshift chair, then punched a lazy leather boot off its ridge. "Get your ogre-sized foot out of my seat, Daveth."
Unlike Jory, Annie-Lynn and the Denerim pickpocket had connected immediately and unreservedly in friendship. She wandered up to Daveth whilst he'd been stumbling into the thick of some atrocious pick-up schpeel, took one look at the blonde-haired soldier recipient's glower, and burst into high-pitched hyena cackles. Stone take her, but it was unavoidable! The man was grinning like an alley cat sidling up to a homeward-bound fisherman; all teeth and twitching whiskers. Having only recently been acquainted with humans, the dwarf was a bit nervous he'd react badly – but reliably rogue, Daveth was giggling along with her in a heartbeat. His estranged lady acquaintance scowled righteously at both of them before stomping off, fists in her pockets… leaving behind the two red-faced scoundrels to laugh into their palms and make belittling comments about Miss King's Army's hindquarters. And such was the beginning of a newfound camaraderie.
Preachy Sir Jory was a royal annoyance, Daveth with his sidelong grin was a lighthearted familiar, but that Warden… him, Annie wasn't too sure about. Blonde as a fine pale ale and fidgety, to boot. He was a fellow that at one moment seemed perfectly chipper, eager to crack wise; but at the next, strung his nerves up and started shooting everyone questioning glances. Oh, this Alistair bloke seemed all right, the dwarf supposed. But nevertheless, Annie-Lynn decided he 'tweaks me a bit, that one… 'cuz, well. I figured him pegged as the typical bloomin' moron.' And it hadn't been meanness leading her to such a first impression, either! The boy just seemed simple – not unpleasantly so – but in an easy, comfortable manner common to shepherds or footmen.
Had a nice arse behind him, though. 'Specially since Annie just spent a full afternoon tromping through the Wilds after the man, roundabout eyelevel with it.
"Oi, stumpy. Your dinner's drooping into the embers."
Annie-Lynn quite audibly hissed at Daveth. Despite the dwarf's defensiveness, however, she still flipped over her roasting meal. True to his warning, an edge had dipped too low and been blackened by ash. Ah, well. It'd brush away or cook off, and no self-respecting duster would pitch out a good slice of meat on account of a little burn. In fact, Annie rather liked that subtle singe taste. Helped to distract her from how soured the Brosca family's usual fare was by the time it hit her belly.
"Quit jawin' at me, mate," she grumbled anyway. Daveth's faux-hurt expression would have been more at place on a street actor. "Can't you see I'm thinkin' over here?"
"Me? Yeah, I can see that easy. Thinkin' about the good warden's bailiffs, from the look of it."
Annie startled up, realized she'd been absently staring through their fire (and roughly in the direction of Alistair's codpiece), and promptly hucked a stone for the rogue's head.
Daveth ducked the projectile and came up guffawing into his bracer. The dwarf stuck her tongue out at him. "Ah, get a gander of that. He's lying like a day in court," she snorted, rolling her eyes pointedly towards their senior warden. Alistair's uneasy smile conveyed that he probably wasn't apt to trust either one of the vagrants. Never mind if the scruffy human bandit hadn't exactly been telling an untruth – but it was a thrice-damned accident, anyway, and Annie'd swear by that on her deathbed.
Jory gave a short, disapproving sigh.
At any rate, the dwarven rogue was ultimately pleased when a sudden shrill howl in the dark stopped Daveth's laughter sharp. His back racked straight as a Chantry flagpole, brown eyes widened to expose their whites, and an amused Annie didn't miss how the cutpurse scooted imperceptibly closer to her.
"Oooh, hear that?" she teased, voice quaking theatrically. "Sounds like Chasind hounds to me. Led by a barbarian witch-king!" Daveth only glared at her, sniffing disdainfully, but Annie-Lynn sensed his disquiet. The rogue prodded. "What say you, Alistair? Sense any darkspawn hordes about?"
A look of brief confusion followed by sly concern crossed the Warden's face. He made a tension-filled show of contemplating her suggestion. "Hmm. Now that you mention it," Alistair mused, tapping his chin. "No, not exactly. It's probably just a werewolf. They're common around these parts, you know."
Daveth's stubbled, sun-dark face suddenly bleached the color of Antivan sand. His sharp look flickered from Annie to Alistair and back once or twice. "Aw, come off it. You're leading me on!" the thief announced, more to himself than anyone else in their coterie. When Annie-Lynn let out her own whooping cry, however, Daveth spooked so quickly that all three of his fellows teetered into laughter. Another well-placed yowl, and the dwarf thought she might send that poor boy right up a tree.
"All right, all right. Let's leave 'im well enough alone before the young man soils his small clothes," was her merciful order. Annie couldn't resist one last snort, though – not when Daveth shot her such a scathing, victimized glare. She patted the rogue's knee. "Sorry, laddy. My most honest apologies."
He damn near knocked her meal straight in the pyre as payback, but Brosca's stick withdrew faster than her nemesis could strike. The meat was just beginning to look bronzed enough to eat – unseasoned, of course, but Annie-Lynn could never complain when she had a full belly. Too often, she and Rica were left to split a stale slab of flatbread that made both sicker than it did well-nourished.
She twirled the poker about, judged her steak done, and strong teeth tore off a bite. It was tough, gamey fare, but reasonably palatable. Besides, the group was already repulsed enough – after cutting down darkspawn and squeezing out three vials of their brackish blood – that closely examining dwarven cooking skills seemed like foolishness.
Annie-Lynn chewed on the gristly cheekful, rendered temporarily incapable of any further teasing. Instead, she sat quietly, an idle finger flicking at her left ear. There was a scar wrapped around its lobe, just there – a token leftover from years ago, back when she and Leske had been running as kids. They'd had a smooth routine worked out: Annie would mosey over to an unsuspecting trading tent, all chubby cheeks and grubby fingers, with the sole purpose of pestering its owner mindless. Meanwhile, her partner-in-crime snuck around back and bagged as much merchandise as could fit in his pockets. Of course, this plan failed often as it succeeded… but they were usually fleet enough to escape before anyone called the guards.
Save that one time, though – that one time when Yursen, the potter, uncovered their act. Rather than bother with laws that did not pertain to residents of Dust Town, he simply snatched up a tack in one hand and Annie's ear in the other, crashing her cheekbone into his wooden counter and driving the rusty old thing straight through. She let out a scream to wake the whole damn Aeducan line from their precious Stone.
The girl had felt more terror than pain, truly – even to this day, she didn't want to guess at what sort of punishment a wronged trader might've dreamed up for some rubbish brand urchin who tried to rob him. As it was, though, Leske had come dashing back at her cries for help, hopped onto the stand, and punched that withering craftsman so hard to the face he spit teeth.
Probably sold them for silver afterwards, too, the money-grubbing bastard.
"Should we not be discussing something more productive – such as our battle tactics?" Jory suggested, a smidgen put-off by their antics. Before the knight could elaborate, however, there sounded a sodden, bony crack; he grimaced at the wolfish way Annie was tearing into her food. Dust Town's ruling carta hadn't considered etiquette training one of their top priorities… but then again, apparently neither had the Chantry. After all, the way Alistair was currently gnawing on a femur reminded him of a beaver. A large, relatively hairless, sword-toting beaver carrying the archdemon's taint. Poor rabbits never stood a chance.
The pickpocket snorted, eager to save face after serving as their group's last victim. Daveth's mocking grin bared his own canines in the lapsing firelight. "And precisely what 'battle tactics' are these, ser knight? The ones where you start tremblin' in your wee little boots every time someone says the word' darkspawn'… or perhaps you meant that special talent you've got for throwing your bulky mass in front of a spear, then stumblin' about with that confused look on yer' mug – wondering why you're bleeding all over the place?" (Annie-Lynn tittered her amusement; but the Gray Warden, at least, looked a little sympathetic towards a besieged Jory's plight.)
"Lay off him, Daveth. Else I'll call the Chasind back," Alistair threatened, gesturing at both of them with his half-mutilated leg of meat. The rogue wrinkled his nose in protest, but nevertheless quieted down immediately.
Annie could have flung out one hell of a coup de grâce jab, but stalled at a minute tug on her heartstrings. She, too, had recently come to experience such foolish terror – when first stepping past Orzammar's gates and into the naked surface. Of course, the girl had been prepared by at least a rudimentary knowledge of what should be expected when venturing above ground; she wasn't some slack-jawed fluff who feared "tumbling up," as it were. Once those heavily gilded doors swung open, though… once cold air hit her lungs, the ceiling stretched wide, and walls plunged to openness in every direction… well, Annie-Lynn simply reacted. She had frozen stiff as a paragon statue lining the halls behind her, gaped, then quite literally hurled herself at Duncan and grappled onto his shin for a good fifteen minutes. The old Gray Warden had laughed, bless that human's scraggly beard – and it took him countless words of encouragement to pry the chattering dwarf off and back onto her own feet.
When her attentions returned to their fireside strategizing, Annie-Lynn saw that Alistair had humored Jory's request and was explaining where he expected to find these supposed documents Duncan sent them after. "There's not really all that much to it, beyond that," the Gray Warden was sighing, rolling up a well-creased and grease-stained map. "I don't guess we'll encounter heavy resistance – to my knowledge, no one really knows about this cache – especially not the darkspawn. Can't imagine they're much for reading, anyway. Really, the hard part of this whole test is already over. I'm expecting tomorrow to be…"
"Cake," Annie capped for him, happily bouncing on her tree stump. Alistair hesitated, then smiled.
"Cake," he agreed.
With that omen, they buried any remaining scraps, drowned the fire, and bunked down.
Annie-Lynn Brosca slept like a baby.