When news first reached the Royal Palace, Rica set her jaw and held her tongue, gathering strength in her tense shoulders and tightened fists. Later that night, when Bhelen gently placed his hands on her shoulders and asked her if she was alright, she only nodded, for she could not find her voice. She could not remember if he led her to the bed or the other way around, but she did know that it was, for the first time, for her own comfort rather than a casteless woman trying to please a nobleman.
She could scarcely believe it the next evening when Bhelen swooped into the bedroom and told her what the Assembly had discussed at lengths all day long. The morning after that, while her mother was having her breakfast of wine and ale, Rica told her that they might be forming their own house soon. The sound of shattering glass resonated through the palace, and Rica hurriedly cleaned the spilled drink, for they were not of the House Brosca yet.
The next day brought word of the coronation of the new human king and queen and the notice of the funeral... and the cremation. Bhelen was furious, and Rica told him that she would go and take care of it. With his and the Assembly's blessing, she packed her bags and braced herself for the surface and the big open sky.
When her mother told her she was coming along, Rica only nodded and said, "Of course." And when Rica saw that Kalah's bags were light with clothes and modest jewelry and not a single bottle, she could scarcely breathe.
Daughter and mother set out for the surface the very next morning with a small entourage of men from the Warrior Caste, no doubt on Bhelen's orders, and they made their way down the mountain. Rica felt the weight of the empty sky grow heavier the further away they walked from it. She had to force herself to quit looking up, or else she really would fall up and never return to the Stone-bred earth.
A few nights passed, and though the warriors brought enough ale to last two journeys to Redcliffe and back, her mother not once bribed the men with any amount of coin so that they would share. Instead, Kalah was often the first one asleep, and Rica sat close enough to hear choked sobs coming from the bedroll. It was all she could do to bite her lip and pay extra close attention to the song coming from the small fire the warriors huddled around.
They made it to Redcliffe the evening before the cremation was to take place, and a dwarven messenger met them at the gates of the castle, who told her that King Bhelen had sent him ahead of her to make absolute certain that the body would be returned to the Stone. Rica could not hold back a sigh of relief when the messenger assured her that the human king and queen were not unreasonable and that the request would be honored.
The human lord Teagan greeted them when they entered the castle, and he informed them that the king and queen had already retired for the night. He showed Rica and Kalah to their rooms himself, and he expressed his condolences, speaking of her sister's courage and inspiration. Rica only gave him a very polite smile and thanked him, and he took his leave.
As she lay in bed, she thought about how much softer it was than any bed in Orzammar, and how it was big enough to fit the entire Assembly, and then she thought about her sister, and how alone she must have felt on the surface. And still, the tears did not come. Had too much time passed? As Rica fell asleep, she told herself it was for the better. She had to save face in front of the human nobility, after all.
The funeral was held the next morning, and Kalah refused to leave her room. Rica almost expected to see empty bottles of ale littering the floor, but all she found was her mother collapsed over herself and sobbing over the last words she spoke to her youngest child, the last words that her youngest child spat at her, and how she deserved her daughters' hate, and how, if she had been a better mother, she could have prevented all of this from happening.
"She'd 've never left for the surface," Kalah choked. "She'd 've never had to. We'd 've all been livin' in the palace together and she'd be breathin'..."
Rica was dismayed--now, of all times? But she said nothing and only held her mother until the last tears dried.
They made their way to the courtyard, and Rica could not decide if she had been expecting a larger following of mourners or a smaller one. She was surprised, though, at the eclectic collection of human nobles, human commoners, surface dwarves and dwarven warriors, elves, mages, giants, and was that a golem? Rica recognized one of the mages, an elderly woman with kind eyes, and the golden haired elf, and as she made her way to the front of the gathering, she was shocked to realize she'd seen her sister travel with the human king in Orzammar, when he was introduced to her as a fellow Grey Warden.
And now he was king.
Two years ago, Rica would have never believed that either of them would ever be in the company of someone so important without getting spit on.
Then her eyes traveled to the slab of granite in the center, where her sister lay, alarmingly peaceful and gentle, words that Rica never thought she would use to describe her. She was still, so very still, and Rica had to force herself to breathe.
Oh, by the ancestors, she really was...
And then the human king called her to stand before him, and Rica once again found strength in clenched fists and a tight jaw as she took steps closer and closer to him... and to her. Oh, no, no, no. She cannot lose face in front of all these people, in front of these human lords, in front of the human king, in front of the Warrior Caste and in front of the surface dwarves. She was not of the House Brosca yet; she was barely of the House Aeducan.
She could not lose face in front of her sister, who she had always stayed so strong for, because no one else would be strong for her in return.
"You are the Grey Warden's sister, correct?" asked the human king.
Grey Warden. Her little sister, once a casteless nobody, a regular thug for Beraht, a criminal, and a taint upon the Stone-blessed walls of the Proving Hall, was a Grey Warden. Respected by all the humans and all the dwarven castes, and now a hero in the eyes of the human nobility and the Assembly. She was to be a Paragon, and Little Endrin would have his own house thanks to his aunt, and Kalah was sober now, and Rica realized that she was babbling like a fool to the human king in front of everybody. She was also not showing the proper respect to the king by looking at him as she spoke, her eyes locked on the very still face of her beloved little sister instead.
So she painfully cast her gaze to the king, and his sad smile was kind and he did not seem to mind her incessant chatter. Rica realized that he, too, was trying to keep it together, and in so many ways he was not doing as good a job of it as he knew he wanted to.
Her little sister had been loved on the surface, Rica realized. She had not been so alone. Those she had traveled with were more than just her allies. They were her friends, and they had all loved her so very, very much.
Rica returned to her mother and watched as each of her sister's companions paid their final respects one by one. The giant, the golem, the mage, a red-haired human woman, the husband of the Paragon Branka, a dog, which was a curious thing, and the golden-haired elf, who lingered, with the same tight jaw Rica wore, with the same clenched fists. He brought one hand up to gently touch her sister's cheek, and he shut his eyes and forced himself away, his face wrought with pain and grief and Rica knew then that her sister had managed to fall in love again.
Slowly, each of the mourners left, and even Kalah vanished back into the castle, and soon Rica was all alone with her sister. She approached the granite once more, and she studied her sister's features. Back in Dust Town, her face had always been so dirty, hard, and unforgiving. The brand on her face had been so harsh, and even Rica had to admit that her eyes often darted to it first whenever she looked at her sister. Unlike the other dwarves, she did not look upon the brand with contempt or even fear. When Rica looked upon her sister's brand, her heart always broke. Now, the brand looked faded, as though the ancestors came to the surface to wash it away to honor the deeds she accomplished. And now, as Rica looked upon her sister's brand, she felt a swell of pride.
"Oh, my little sister," she murmured as she lightly brushed at her bangs. "You have done us proud."
And, finally, with no one else around, Rica let the tears come.