What rises in the hour of deepening twilight.
Rating: M. Violence and sex.
Summary: AU. When presented with the immense task of gathering the army to face the coming horde, the Grey Warden says no.
A/N: The italicized words at the beginning of each chapter are usually from song lyrics, and I will compile a list of credits for them at the end of the fic.
Chapter 1: How It Began
We were drawn from the weeds
We were brave like soldiers
Falling down under the pale moonlight
Spring at Highever smelled of dirt and things growing. Terrell once told me that if I put my ear to the ground I could hear the sound of grass popping up from the earth as they grew. The warm soil tickled my skin when I willingly pressed half of my face against it, eager for the evidence of this new knowledge. I waited, because he said it took some time for the grass to grow and for your ears to become accustomed to such a tiny, insignificant noise. Straining to catch the slightest sound, I heard nothing but the shuffles of people moving in the courtyard in the distance. There were knights with their swords ringing when they brought them against each other. The door that led into the kitchen swung open and closed as the morning deliveries were made.
I felt the boot at my backside and realized that Terrell, who had crouched at my side when he told me of this discovery, had scrambled up and kicked my rump swiftly. Already off balance by half of my body sticking up in the air, I swiftly toppled over face first into Nan's vegetable patch.
I spat out mouthfuls of dirt as I scrambled up, yelling. "That is a nasty trick, Terrell Winder!" My hands were already grasping at whatever I could, a stone or a branch. I threw a clump of dirt at his back, but he was already halfway down the path, laughing, as he sang some made up song about Elika being a twit and a girl at that.
I chased after him the best I could, at five years old and frustratingly short for my age. The taller Terrell quickly outpaced me to run into the kennels, where Father had strictly forbidden me from entering and where the page was one of the kennel-master's young helpers.
I was Elika Cousland, daughter of the Teyrn of Highever, descendent of the warrior Haelia who removed the werewolf threat from Ferelden. I was also furious as I spun around, running to tell Nan or even better yet, the kennel-master who thought that his young charge was cleaning out the dog beds. Nan was already there, scolding me and telling that I had scuffed up the orderly rows of her vegetable garden better than any rabbit. I couldn't get a word in as she lectured me on the behavior of young ladies and my awful appearance of loose braids and a dirty dress, when there were guests at the castle and how the teyrna was going to be displeased.
That was how I looked, with my hair mussed and scowling, when I first met Roddy.
"I heard rumors, my lady, that you are to be betrothed next summer." He stood there in full armor at the doorway into the atrium, with his helm under his arm and his hair tousled so that one strand of it fell over his eyes. I put aside the book on a brief record of the Exalted Marches and rose to greet him. The ladies that were sitting beside me, embroidering quietly, were sent off with a nod.
"And I understand," I said, "That congratulations are in order."
That morning I had stood in the back of the crowd in the great hall, having slipped in through a side door. My father stood on the dais in his ceremonial armor, with his trusted advisors, knights and the banners of the arls and bannorns loyal to the Couslands behind him. There was another row of knights below them, on one knee with heads down, silent prayers moving their lips.
The Revered Mother walked down the centre of the hall, clad in the robes that were symbols of her noble duty. Behind her, a chantry sister followed. She carried a bowl of scented water with rose petals floating on the surface. That water was sprinkled over the heads of the would-be knights while the Revered Mother bestowed the blessing. The teyrn of Highever was next and he used the flat edge of a blade to initiate the new members of the order. Do you so swear allegiance to Highever…
Roddy was one of those knights, easily distinguished by the others due to the color of his hair. It was his hair that stood out so clearly to me that day of our first meeting.
He came to the castle as a page like Terrell and made an impression like any page accepted at Highever every other spring. They were lined up and shaking in their shoes as the knights inspected them as they were informed of who they were to serve under for the next ten years. I had to stand there beside mother, represent the Couslands, as she smiled and nodded at each young boy in turn, while Gemma passed them the folded clothes that would be their page uniforms. Fergus was made a squire this last winter, and he stood beside his knight, Ser Aubrey, as they spoke to a boy with a shining mop of red hair and fairer skin than most girls.
I thought it was deathly unfair that Fergus got to be a page and a squire and eventually Father's second, while I was not allowed to run around and wave swords at my age or go into the kennels. This pale and thin looking boy was going to be Ser Aubrey's page and allowed to do all the things that I wasn't allowed to do. When my father was talking with some knight and mother was smiling at the lady beside him and Fergus was trying to look older and well-behaved, I went up to Roderick Gilmore and kicked him as hard as I could in the shin. Before he could react, I charged him by ducking down and curling my hand into fists. It was easy when he was down to leap on top of him then and start to pummel away at his body.
He sported a lovely dark bruise at his right eye and a fat lip when they finally pulled me off of him. "See," I announced triumphantly in mother's arms, challenging the boy who looked a bit stunned. "He lost to a girl. So I should be able to take his spot."
He never really had a chance, after that.
"I looked for you," he said, tight-lipped. If it were anyone else, it would have sounded petulant. But Squire, no Ser Gilmore was known for his seriousness and devotion. He prayed in the Chantry for a full two days previous to undertaking his vows.
"Did you think I would miss it?" I laughed. I couldn't help myself. I had always laughed at his serious nature and his imperviousness to jokes made it all the funnier.
But there were furrows between his brows, and I knew it caused him great worry that my presence was not at one of the most significant events that would mark his life. It was all that he worked towards, being a knight. He would not admit his worry aloud, and would instead pretend his irritation was due to another factor – that of my impending betrothal.
"You-" He let out a breath, furious and annoyed and relieved.
"I hid in the back, behind a tapestry," I told him. "And yes, I paid attention."
"Good." He sighed. "Did I look at all…nervous?"
"Of course you did, nervous and fretting and ridiculous as always."
Father had found that particular episode of mine against the poor young page greatly amusing and finally gave me permission to become a page myself. Mother said since I was so upset at being born a girl that I should keep my braids as a reminder that the Maker made each of us with a special purpose, even when I complained that the boys tugged at them and why couldn't I just have them chopped off already.
Roddy and I spent a lot of time together during those long childhoods playing at knights and training to be them. I was made one of the Ser Aubrey's charges, much to Fergus' fury. He didn't want his little sister underfoot and I only wanted to please him so that he wouldn't tattle on me to Father. I was on my best behavior, whatever that meant to a young willful girl who had nannies to braid her hair and servants to cater to her whims since birth.
Roddy was weary of me for months after, not that I could blame him. The other pages poked fun at his red hair and fair skin. The squires told him to put on a dress and dance for the teyrna since he was her daughter's favorite toy. They teased him cruelly and the only companion he really had was a girl who could finally receive the page training that she so coveted, and knew that it was due to his misfortune so that she was in debt to him in a way. After weeks of mumbled one word replies or even silence, he relented and finally began to speak to me.
He was the second eldest son of a farm just south of Highever. He told me it was a great honor that he was chosen to be a page of one of the knights loyal to the Cousland arms. At first he looked at everything wide-eyed and mouth agape, and I would nudge him to shut it when one of the knights walked by, lest someone notice that he was a fool. Eventually the grandeur of the castle became a customary sight and the jests of the pages turned to other targets, for Roddy was a devout believer in the Maker and the Chantry even at that young age, and had better things to do with his time than react to the taunts of other boys. It was easier to pick on smaller prey who fought back and screamed like myself.
"No, don't go." I placed a hand on his shoulder as he turned to leave. "You looked very…handsome."
"Handsome," he repeated, eyes flashing. "You jest, lady."
"What did you want me to say?" I said coyly. "That you stood like the grandest knight of all in your polished armor, ready for adventures and rescues of beautiful maidens, who would swoon, their dresses torn, throwing themselves at you with their heaving bosoms…"
"Maker's breath, Elika. Stop it." Two bright spots of red that could be called a blush appeared on his cheeks.
His pale complexion was a great burden to him. For his face, only the tips of his ears burned, but whenever he had to disrobe for sparring lessons, the harsh sun would light his skin on fire and he would be wretchedly burnt for days. I was the one who had to put the ointment from the healer on his back while he twitched and groaned from the pain. It was too embarrassing for a knight-in-training to be seen sunburnt and complaining, so this was done in secret. Even for Roddy, who was usually oblivious to appearances, was adamant in keeping this to only the two of us. There were places to hide even close to the busy castle. We would be alone in the kennel lofts, where I had set up an agreement with Master Hastings for a corner of my own.
Memories of my childhood were tangled up with him, with running after Fergus, with Nan who was growing tired of running after me in her old age. Nan was finally retired to the kitchen when I became a squire, but never forgot to remind me that I was put on this earth to punish her. Father was always away on the king's business, but he would always tell the household to take care of his girl, which I translated to getting whatever I wanted. Mother was busy running the household and entertaining the guests that always crowded the dining hall, but she was the first one who gave me the gift of bow and arrow. She resigned herself to the fact that her daughter would not be the soft thing that she thought appropriate for a nobleman's wife, so she made Fergus marry one.
I knew how to recite Ferelden history and learned how to manage household accounts. I was better at scholarly pursuits than Fergus, and I knew I was our tutor's best pupil, which irked my brother to no end when we were younger. As the years went on, we shed our younger skins, our childhoods of ignorance and games with wooden swords. He grew up and married and became responsible for Highever, with father spending most of the year in councils with the new king of Ferelden. His marriage and the responsibilities that he had brought us closer, and he would often knock on the door to my chamber, saying Little sis, two heads are better than one, and come in with his arm filled with scrolls and books. Oriana, his wife, was off in their rooms rocking their newly born babe to sleep, and I would sit with Fergus talking about the squabbles between banns or petitions of the villagers.
"So tell me," I said, after he had retreated out of his prickly annoyance at my remarks meant to tease him. "Which fat arl has asked for my hand this time."
His expression turned cool at the question, and he turned his head to regard an elaborately embroidered circle that contained the scene of a pious Andraste, praying to the maker on her knees while flames burned all around her. "It was a northern Bannorn," he said softly. "I overheard your father talking to Bann Roger, who has a son you must remember."
I felt my eyes open so wide it was a wonder my eyeballs didn't fall out. "You don't mean Terrell." The brat who pulled my braids and was my biggest tormentor while he was housed at the castle, until the knight that was his master was sent off to his native bannorn.
He nodded. We had been through this before. Rendon Howe, the Arl of Amaranthine and Father's good friend called me Bryce's little spitfire, said that I was going to give any man a challenge. There were noble sons who would be banns, their fathers or mothers attempting to arrange matches between them and the daughter of the Teyrn. Father was second only to the king, Fergus said proudly, and his advice carried weight. We would find you a good match, he promised. The last time he mentioned that I only laughed at him and said he needed my help with his figures, see here was one column that he added wrong. Fergus does not disagree.
"I believe that Bann Roger has sent his son in search of you since you were nowhere to be found at the feast," Roddy's voice brought me back to the present, where there was yet another marriage proposal that Mother would want to conclude and I wanted to sever the possibilities.
I had slipped away just as quietly when the knighting ceremonies were wrapped up and the feast was to begin. There would be roasted suckling pig cooked on the spit and plump chickens with their insides stuffed with dates and almond rice. The tables would be almost bowed at the centre with the weight they carried, dishes of boar's leg and steamed trout, twenty pies filled with tart fruit plucked from the bushes. I already snuck into the kitchens to steal a slice of pie and a plate of morsels from Nan, who was as disapproving as always and told me to keep my mabari out of the larder.
I had begged for a mabari for my thirteenth summer, when Fergus was permitted to visit Denerim with father for the first time. Master Hastings, who ran the kennels with a hawk's eye attention to detail, always had a soft spot for me since he said I reminded him of his daughter. Ayla was taken away from him to the Circle Tower at the age of six, and his wife had passed only a year later from a wasting disease that had struck the castle that season. Master Hastings was always slipping me sweets and patting me on the head with his large hands, telling me of the new pups that had just been born and would I like to see them. I gained a mabari of my own that summer, imprinted to follow me as long as he lived. I called him Eirik at Roddy's suggestion, liking the way that sounded. Eirik and Elika, a warhound and a girl who dreamed of being a warrior maiden.