I Am Not A Tragic Figure
Chapter One: Life Is Good
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age.
Note: I didn't expect this chapter to be this long but I knew where I wanted to end it and it just happened to take eight and a half thousand words to get there.
Princess Aunn Aeducan's dark blue eyes narrowed as she inspected her reflection critically. Her long blonde hair was done up in its customary braided double-bun and she was adorned in her Grandmother Atia Aeducan's armor. It wasn't the nicest armor she had ever seen but it was better than most and one had to make allowances for advances in smithing when dealing with traditional weapons or armor. At least it looked impressive. House Aeducan could always be counted on for that, at least.
Gorim Saelac appeared in the doorway just then, eyeing her approvingly. "Greetings, my lady. You are dressed and ready. Excellent. I couldn't find the armor's matching dagger, but I scrounged up a rather fancy long-sword. Do you wish to wear your shield to the noble's feast?" Gorim was her Second and what that entailed varied greatly from noble to noble. Everyone used their Second to deal with minor details they simply could not attend to themselves and many used them to deal with things they could not be seen involved in or just as a general barrier against the outside world. Aunn was reasonably sure that 'best friend and semi-boyfriend' was not exactly what her father had had in mind when he had brought them together but that was life. It would never last, of course, but so long as it did she may as well enjoy it.
Aunn nodded sharply. "Of course. You never know when you might end up in a fight to the death, after all, and it wouldn't do to be unprepared. Besides, I'll need to dress the part if I want people to see me as a warrior."
"As opposed to the Paragon of Beauty?" Gorim asked innocently.
Aunn rolled her eyes. "You know, you're probably the only person besides my father that could get away with calling me that. Everyone else would get a nice reminder that I'm looking to be seen as a warrior."
"Then it's a good thing I'm the one who said it, isn't it?" Gorim returned.
"It is," Aunn agreed. "Honestly, I may not encounter much in the way of resistance to the idea of me being a fighter – except from Trian but he disapproves of everything these days – but that's because they all know I could have them killed with little effort. Just the same, I'm not blind to the attitudes of many in the upper castes as to women fighting. If I want to change that, I'm going to need to be the best."
"Somehow I'd imagine that you would strive for perfection either way," Gorim mused.
Aunn laughed. "Probably," she admitted, "but this way I can look like I'm doing something noble. And those comments about how 'interesting' it is that a lady is being made commander are really starting to get on my nerves."
"Would you like me to do something about them, my Lady?" Gorim asked dutifully.
Aunn thought about it for a minute before shaking her head. "Tempting but I really can't just go around killing everyone who has issues with female fighters. I mean, I probably could and it would be one way of bringing about change but we have population problems enough as it is and think about what that would do to my reputation…"
"True enough," Gorim concurred. "Now, at some point we're going to need to make an appearance at your feast but I spoke with Lord Harrowmont before coming here and he said that we have a few hours before we need to be there. Permission for merchants to set up their wares in the Diamond Quarter were auctioned off so we could stop by there if you're interested and then there's always the Proving that's being held in your honor. Rumor has it that Harrowmont hopes you'll be swept off your feet if a well-placed young nobleman wins the Provings in your honor."
He sounded a little resentful and Aunn couldn't blame him. It wasn't like she was thrilled by Harrowmont's less-than-subtle matchmaking attempts but at least he seemed to have finally gotten the picture that noble boys did not interest her and was trying to entice her with a nobleman that was also a skilled fighter. Trian had already safely paired up with Jaylia Helmi and Bhelen would get is turn soon enough.
Aunn smiled flirtatiously at him. "Should we tell him I already have all the man I need?"
"Why not?" Gorim responded rhetorically and not a little bitterly. "I'll just wear a sign that says, 'Assassinate me before Lady Aeducan marries beneath her'."
Aunn clapped her hands together in faux-excitement. "Oh, I'll help! Can we put glitter on it? I love glitter!"
"Why did I agree to this?" Gorim wondered aloud.
"Seriously, maybe I should go win the Proving myself," Aunn suggested. "It should be fun and how can I possibly be impressed by any of the nobles if I don't give them a chance to beat me?" Should they manage that, she would be very impressed, of course, but she didn't really see that happening. The last time she had lost a fight was seven years ago when she was sixteen and that was to Trian.
Gorim raised an eyebrow. "Win the Proving in your own honor?" he asked, sounding amused. "That would be most interesting. Shall we, then?"
He really had come a long way in the years since they'd first met. She'd been fighting with Trian at the time because she had never been overly fond of antecedents and was going through a phase where she refused to use them and all the pronouns she'd used instead meant that people had rarely known what she was talking about unless they had brought it up themselves. The incident in question had come about when she was talking about the new servant who had no idea what he was doing and Trian thought she was talking about their father…that had certainly taken awhile to sort out.
Gorim had come in and been introduced and she could still remember that the first thing she had said to him when they were alone was that sooner or later he would end up calling her by her name – and it had only taken three months and nine days and only when they were alone – and that she wanted to know his opinion on minor scandal. He had looked a little started at the first point and confused at the second but he had dutifully replied that scandals were something to be avoided whenever possible.
She had just smirked and replied, "Is that so? Too bad; I intend to become one."
Aunn nodded and moved towards the door. Today was her day and what fun would it be not to scandalize her fellow nobles a little? Ancestors knew some of the more conservative families were already opposed to her being a warrior and receiving her first commission but why stop there? The day had barely begun, after all.
As she and Gorim made their way down the hall towards the more public section of the palace, Bhelen's door opened and a redhead peeked out. "My Lord Bhelen?" Her eyes widened when she saw that it wasn't who she was looking for. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry…" With that, she fled back into the room, shutting the door behind her.
Aunn stopped as her curiosity once again got the best of her. "I know that this is really none of my business," she said slowly. "But since when has that ever stopped me? And it's not like he shouldn't expect this, anyway. That's why Trian started locking his door…" With that, she pulled open the door to her brother's room and stepped inside.
When the redhead – a pretty casteless girl around Aunn's own age now that she was close enough to see her properly – realized she'd been followed, she looked horrified. "I am so sorry, your Highness."
Aunn cocked her head to the side. "Who are you and why are you in my brother's room?"
Gorim spared the poor girl the trouble of explaining herself. "I believe that she's your brother Bhelen's newest…playmate," he said delicately.
Aunn didn't think she had ever even seen as a casteless in the palace before but maybe if Bhelen kept her more-or-less confined to his room that would explain it. After all, Aunn was nosy, not obsessive. "My brother is supposed to be at my feast today," she informed the girl. She really had no idea how to speak to the casteless (as if her father would let her near one) but it would be a shame for the girl to wait here all day for a lover that was never going to come.
"Yes, of... of course. It was presumptuous of me to think that he would return to-I am sorry," the girl apologized, looking by turns both sheepish and disappointed. "If you allow me to take my leave of you, I will get out of here."
Aunn shrugged. "Stay or go, I really don't care. This isn't my room, after all, and if Bhelen lets you be here then who am I to say otherwise?"
The girl nodded gratefully. "Thank you, my Lady." With that, she all but ran from the room.
"Well, that was weird," Aunn declared as she also left the room. "We should hurry before someone sees us and makes us go do responsible things like attend the feast held in my honor."
"Because the idea of attending a feast in your honor is enough to bore me already," Gorim told her.
"You know, I can't quite tell if you meant that or not," Aunn remarked.
Gorim grinned. "That was the idea."
Aunn and Gorim were almost at the door when they ran into Lady Helmi's son Denek. His mother insisted he was a disappointment but Aunn had always liked him. His ideas about castes and politics were mildly scandalous – which was always a plus – although his defeatist attitude was a bit off-putting.
"Isn't your feast that way, Lady Aeducan?" he asked, frowning.
"It might be," Aunn conceded. "And I just might be avoiding it until after the Proving. You won't tell on me, will you?"
"I wouldn't dream of it," Denek promised. "I should have been here an hour ago myself but the merchants were very distracting."
"I won't tell if you won't," Aunn offered. "And remember: you never saw me…"
With that, she hurried out the door before she came across someone else more inclined to tattle. It wasn't that she didn't want to go to the feast, it was just that she was quite determined to go win her Proving first and once she put in an appearance then she knew she'd never get away in time.
"Freedom!" Aunn cheered as she looked around at the spectacle. The normally dignified Diamond Quarter had been transformed into almost a replica of the Commons although with a great deal more nobles and no beggars in sight.
"Most people wouldn't think a princess needed to escape from their palace," Gorim noted. "Well, not without some dire circumstances at least."
"Heading off would-be suitors is dire circumstances," Aunn insisted. She really didn't want to get married. It wasn't like she feared any potential husband would try to control her – and as she was a princess he would join her House – but the minute a girl got married everyone expected them to have children and that was not something that she wanted. In addition to the fact it would put her out of commission for at least a year on the fighting front – if not completely ruin her ability to do so and put her horribly out of shape – children were sticky and loud and she wanted little to do with them. She might consent to it if love were involved but the only man she'd ever loved was Gorim and his status as a warrior ensured that that just wasn't an option. Never let it be said that she couldn't find a silver lining.
To her left she noticed a man in the robes of a Shaper pleading with a noble she vaguely recognized as one of the Vollney. Vollney wasn't an important House by any stretch of the imagination but as nobles they could still cause problems for a lesser caste.
"Please, Lord Vollney," the Shaper cried. "Be reasonable! My work is a matter of public record, nothing more."
It was rather pointless to call for rationality in a member of a group who considered 'caring for nothing but the welfare of their House even at the expense of Orzammar itself' to be practical but Aunn was a little curious so she decided to intervene. "Is there a problem?" she asked politely.
"Ah, Lady Aeducan!" a Shaper had never sounded so relieved to see her before. "Maybe you can help sort this out. Your father loved my work on the Paragon Aeducan."
"As did I," Aunn informed him. "I've always been interested in the history of my House." Or mildly obsessed but there was little point dithering over semantics.
"This man is slandering House Vollney," Vollney accused, sneering at the scholar in question.
"That's quite a serious charge," Aunn remarked. "What, exactly, is he saying?"
"Does it matter?" Vollney dodged the question. "It's a direct attack on the honor of my House and as such I will not tolerate it!"
"Considering the seriousness of the charge, I would say that it matters quite a bit," Aunn disagreed. "Shaper?"
"Everything in my work is a matter of public record," the Shaper stressed again. "Not liking history does not make it untrue. What Master Vollney objects to, in particular, is the section which details how the Paragon Vollney achieved that status by only a single vote which was mired in rumors of blackmail and intimidation."
"If it's a matter of public record then it hardly seems slanderous," Aunn reasoned. "All Assembly decisions are recorded by the Shaperate and such a close vote would naturally lead to suspicion even should your Paragon have been completely innocent of such actions. He wasn't noticeably biased, was he?" That was another matter altogether and unless the bias was in a positive direction she could understand his ire.
"No," Vollney conceded reluctantly. "But what if this were your Paragon Aeducan?"
"If I remember the Shaper's work correctly then the Paragon Aeducan was obsessed with protecting Orzammar which, given the dire straits the city was in at the time of the First Blight, isn't the worst flaw to have. The Assembly unanimously declared him a Paragon which doesn't happen often. You could point out that the Assembly did have to hack a would-be dissenter to death to make the vote unanimous as that is also a matter of public record but my family was not yet nobility and so they were not involved," Aunn replied matter-of-factly.
"So what are you saying?" Vollney demanded. "That I just let him go?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying," Aunn confirmed. "Unless you intend to kill all of the Shapers and alter the vote in the records then there is no way you're going to be able to completely make this go away."
"I will do as you say," Vollney agreed reluctantly, glaring at her. As he turned to go he muttered, "For now. If I were you I'd watch my step…"
"That fool has no idea how weak his House is nor how low he sits in it," Gorim fumed. "Shall I have him killed, my Lady?"
Aunn thought about it. It was unlikely that he would ever truly be able to pose a threat to her but he was a noble and so it was better not to take chances. Not to mention that he had just almost openly threatened her and if people thought that she was just going to accept that it would certainly happen again. "Do it," she ordered. "But make it look like an accident." It wouldn't do to ruin her reputation as the nice one by having someone violently killed over a minor insult now would it? Of course, the Shaper was witness to the whole thing but as she had just saved his life he should keep quiet and speaking out against a princess was rarely a good idea.
"You've shown yourself more daring and aggressive today than most believed of you," the Shaper said, sounding rather surprised.
"It had to be done," Aunn said regretfully. "He seemed quite determined to keep his House's history out of the public eye and while I could understand that if it were an unfortunate scandal better left forgotten, Assembly votes are not exactly some great secret. How ever can we hope to preserve our history if any objector can alter the record as he sees fit?"
"It is done, my Lady," Gorim announced as he returned to her side. "He won't live past the hour."
"You have proven House Aeducan to be a friend to the Shapers and remembering tradition," the Shaper declared. "Then again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Heroism and defense of the little people have always been hallmarks of House Aeducan. One day, I hope to chronicle your own exploits, my Lady."
Aunn smiled at him. "Just remember this when you write about me."
"Of course," the Shaper promised.
"Now if you'll excuse me…" Aunn nodded as she took her leave of him and made her way towards the booths.
As she approached one of them the merchant running it – who she had just watched try and fail to convince one of the Daces' that the fact that his wares looked like the kind of thing Bhelen sometimes wore was a good thing and wouldn't make him look like a cheap knockoff – straightened considerably. "Ah, Lady Aeducan. It's such an honor! Would you like to browse my wares?"
"That depends," Aunn replied. "Do you have anything I might be interested in?"
"All ladies are interested in silk, yes?" the merchant asked. "Only the finest from the surface."
"Lady Aeducan is a warrior," Gorim spoke up firmly. "She's bred for steel and battle."
"Oh, I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend," the merchant quickly backtracked.
"I do like pretty things," Aunn admitted. "But silk…it's just not very practical. I mean, what if someone were to stab me when I was wearing it? There'd be no resistance and I'd be seriously injured if not outright killed."
"Well, silk outfits are for when you aren't in danger of getting into a fight," the merchant tried to explain.
Aunn hid a smile. For all that the nobility of Orzammar had a reputation for being ruthless and violent, clearly the common folk had no idea just how pervasive that was. "Maybe you'd have better luck with someone else," she suggested.
"Of course, Lady Aeducan," the merchant nodded.
Maybe she'd have better luck at the next booth. "Good day," she greeted the merchant manning a booth a little ways down from the silk merchant.
"Lady Aeducan!" the merchant exclaimed, sounding awed. "It's an honor! Would you like to see my wares? I know that they aren't as fine as your own armor but-"
"You know very well that the Aeducans have their own source of armor," Gorim cut in.
The merchant winced. "Of course. No offense meant, my Lady."
"It's alright," Aunn told him. "Why don't you tell my about your pieces?"
"You are too kind, my Lady," the merchant told her gratefully before launching into a speech about his work. It wasn't like Aunn really cared but it never hurt to be polite and if the common folk thought that she, unlike pretty much everyone else of her caste except maybe Denek, actually cared about them…well was it any wonder that the people loved her?
As Aunn made her way along the Diamond Quarter scanning the booths for the next place she'd like to visit, she spotted her brothers not far away. Trian's back was to her but she knew that Bhelen could see her as he nodded her way.
"Any bets on whether Trian will leave within five minutes of me showing up?" Aunn asked quietly.
Gorim snorted. "I'm a warrior, not an idiot."
Whenever her father wasn't around to see him do so, Trian often left within minutes of Aunn arriving somewhere he happened to be at, although not without first saying something to remind her that he still didn't like her. That would probably annoy her a great deal if she didn't find it so amusing.
Holding her hand up to signal Gorim to stay back, Aunn slowly and carefully made her way to Trian and tapped him on the shoulder. "Hello!" she greeted brightly.
Trian spun around with a glare, his hand on his weapon. Upon seeing it was only his little sister and they were in a very crowded public place with plenty of witnesses, he rolled his eyes but did let go of his weapon.
Bhelen greeted her instead. "Atrast vala, big sister! How surprising to run into you out among the common folk," he teased.
Aunn groaned. "If walking around the Diamond Quarter is considered being out amongst the common folk then Father will never let me leave the palace, will he?"
"That might not be such a bad thing since duty requires that you attend our king father at the feast today and yet you're out here instead," Trian said bluntly, an accusing edge in his voice. "Have you so little respect for him and for your duty on this one day set aside to honor you?"
The glint in Aunn's eye as she opened her mouth to respond worried Gorim so he quickly interceded with, "Lord Harrowmont told me we wouldn't be needed for hours at least."
Trian's glare switched from his sister to her second. "Silence! If I want the opinion of my sibling's second, I will ask for it."
"Of course, your highness," Gorim apologized, looking appropriately chastened although Aunn knew he didn't mean a word of it. Gorim was actually originally supposed to be Trian's second as his father was their father's but her father had quickly deduced that Gorim and Aunn were a better match-up given his fear that Aunn would snap and stab anyone who tried to follow her around without a sense of humor to death and Trian's obsession with everyone knowing their place and acting accordingly. The sad thing was that her father was probably right about her…
Noting the slightly relieved look on Bhelen's face now that Trian's attention was focused elsewhere, Aunn decided to do the charitable thing and allow her little brother to be part of the fun. "A little help here, Bhelen?"
Her little brother shot her a betrayed look as he laughed nervously. "Sorry, Aunn, but you're on your own. I've been dealing with him all afternoon."
"What exactly is that supposed to mean, little brother?" Trian demanded menacingly.
"Nothing, Trian. I've been having a great time," Bhelen insisted. "The speech you gave to the legless boy about hard work and making something of himself was fantastic…"
The sarcasm was clearly lost on Trian which might explain how her two brothers were able to spend so much time together without attempting fratricide as Bhelen never did have any patience for anyone other than their father presuming to tell him what to do and Trian had an inclination to order everyone around. "As heir to the throne, it is my duty to impart wisdom and judgment upon those who need it…what's wrong with you?"
Aunn, who had started coughing as she desperately tried to cover up her laughter at Trian's antics, blinked innocently at him. "Nothing, nothing… And don't worry, Trian, I'll get right on heading back to the feast." After, of course, she won her Proving but even though there was no way Trian wasn't going to hear about that at some point she would really rather not prolong this discussion on the streets when there were dozens of people milling about and blatantly eavesdropping.
Trian eyed her skeptically. "Hn. Perhaps you were right, Bhelen, when you said our sister wasn't all useless breeding flesh. Come, Bhelen."
Aunn could only gape as Trian brushed past her and Bhelen followed, shooting her an apologetic look. She was about to become a commander and he thought she was 'useless breeding flesh'? Honestly. Then again, she had to remember that if it weren't for him she may very well have been just that. Trian had been six or so when he had first begun learning how to defend himself and he'd wanted someone to practice with. As Bhelen was only two while Aunn had been four, she had been Trian's first choice. She'd been a rather slow learner at first and kept grabbing hold of the wrong end of the blunted practice weapons but she had fallen in love with fighting and so two years later she'd insisted on being allowed to start lessons of her own. Her father was a staunch traditionalist and so it simply hadn't occurred to him that his daughter might be interested in such things but he'd quickly caved to her pleas. Even back then, she'd been the favorite. And now…well now fighting was the one thing she knew that she was good at. If Trian had a problem with her new position then he only had himself to blame.
"There was a compliment in there somewhere," Aunn remarked at last. "Still, we'd all better hope I'm good for more than having children as Ancestor's know that I have no intention of ever doing so…"
"That was fun. Nothing like being talked down to by the next king," Gorim said sarcastically once Trian was safely out of earshot.
Aunn sighed. "He means well," she claimed. "And not liking me, as bothersome and unusual as it may be, is hardly a crime."
"You always defend him," Gorim sounded awed. Was it really so strange she could find one non-negative thing to say about her older brother? It looked like he really needed to work on his image. "I wish I had your understanding."
Aunn smiled. "What can I say? I'm just amazing that way. Now come on. Is that a magic booth? I wonder what they have…" Dwarves, of course, were resistant to magic and couldn't become mages themselves so she was rather curious as to what this particular merchant was peddling.
Unfortunately, the moment the merchant spotted her he started hyperventilating and so when she was actually standing in front of him his voice was higher than it should have been. "Lady Aeducan? Here…in my booth…it's…an honor…" he managed to get out before promptly fainting.
"He's fainted," Gorim announced unnecessarily. "You make quite the impression these days."
"Clearly," Aunn replied shortly, staring at the space the merchant had been occupying before passing out in outright disbelief and slight horror.
"Is it hard to be the king's child, never able to just blend in?" Gorim asked softly, noting that Aunn had yet to look away from where the merchant had been standing.
"Normally, no," Aunn replied slowly. "Because I understand that my life at its worst is usually better than most people could get at their best. But at other times…like, I don't know, when someone faints because I come near them…then yes, yes it is."
"If it's any consolation, I can spend hours in your presence without feeling even remotely light-headed," Gorim said warmly.
A slow smile spread across Aunn's face. "You can never overstate the importance of having someone around who you can rely on to stay conscious in a pinch."
"I live to serve, my Lady," Gorim smiled back. "Shall we move on?"
Aunn nodded and as she turned to go she saw a merchant across the way biting his lip nervously and staring intently at her. "Gorim, is it just me or does that merchant really want to talk to me?"
Gorim shrugged. "Well, it's either that or he's trying not to faint."
Aunn groaned. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"I wouldn't say never," Gorim prevaricate. "Just not until it stops being amusing."
"And when would that be?" Aunn countered. "Never?"
"You said it, not me," Gorim pointed out.
Rolling her eyes, Aunn decided to go see what the merchant wanted.
"Ah, Lady Aeducan," the merchant greeted her enthusiastically if a little anxiously. "I'd been hoping to discuss a proposition of sorts with you but I dared not approach you."
"Yet you dare now?" Gorim challenged.
As Aunn was the one who chose to approach him instead of just avoiding the situation, she wasn't particularly annoyed. "If you have something to say I'd advise you to say it quickly. I do have to get to the Proving soon."
The merchant nodded. "Ah, yes, of course. You see, I had a dagger commissioned as a gift for your first command. I had a messenger bring it by the palace but Prince Trian threw him out. I had him beaten severely, of course."
Well that was hardly surprising. "I'm sure Trian had his reasons," Aunn said neutrally. The last thing she needed was to fuel the persistent rumors that she and Trian were constantly at each other's throats. If only Trian would occasionally think of these things before starting in on her in public...
"Won't you at least look at the dagger?" the merchant entreated.
"I suppose that won't do any harm," Aunn agreed readily. "I make no promises, though."
"Of course, my Lady," the merchant nodded as he bent down to retrieve the dagger. "It took some of the best smiths in Orzammar two years to complete."
"It's so pretty…" Aunn gushed, taking the dagger in her hand.
"Most people don't think of lethal weapons as 'pretty'," Gorim commented, looking a little surprised at the skill of the craftsmanship.
"Most people are unbearably close-minded," Aunn replied absently.
"So you like it?" the merchant asked hopefully. "I hope that you'll wear it when you become our next Queen."
That drew Aunn's attention – however reluctantly – away from the dagger. "Me become Queen? Trian is the heir, not me." She had yet to decide if she wanted to be Queen as she still hadn't completely abandoned hope of convincing her father to let her run off and join the Grey Wardens – rumor had it that the reason they were currently in Orzammar was to see if a Fifth Blight was starting – and she doubted she could help defeat the possible Blight and return home either before her father died or before either Trian or Bhelen had sufficiently strengthened their claim to the throne. Still, if she wasn't going to get to become a Warden she certainly didn't want Trian to actually have the authority to boss her around for the rest of her life although openly acknowledging that wouldn't end well.
"Ah, but you are the people's choice and rumor has it that the second child of King Endrin will rule when he returns to the Stone," the merchant declared boldly.
"Rumors indeed. It's a princely gift. If Trian recognizes it, though, it may send the wrong message," Gorim cautioned. He paused. "Or the right one, depending on your view."
"I know that I shouldn't risk offending Trian," Aunn mused. "Especially since he's already been involved in the matter…But on the other hand it's a really pretty dagger…fine. I'll take it."
The merchant couldn't hide his elation. "You do me great honor, my Lady."
"What he means is that you'll bring uncountable gold to him if you wear that piece in public," Gorim translated helpfully.
"I thank you for your generous gift," Aunn told the merchant happily, pocketing the dagger.
She was about to head for the gate but out of the corner of her eye she saw two well-dressed girls with brands on their faces watching the nobles milling around. The casteless tended to make her rather uncomfortable but she was pretty sure that that was just a lack of exposure and she rarely got a chance to even see them, let alone interact with them. Hopefully these two wouldn't run away like that red-headed girl this morning had.
"Hello my lady," one of the casteless woman greeted her. "May I say that you look striking today? And is this your paramour?"
"This is my second, Ser Gorim," Aunn revealed, pointedly ignoring the question.
"Warrior caste isn't bad," the woman said hesitantly.
"We didn't pay gold for these permits to settle for warrior caste, Teli," the other woman snapped.
"Sorry, ser," Teli apologized.
"Why's it matter that you're not a noble, Gorim?" Aunn asked curiously. Well, she knew why it mattered in many situations including their own romance but not why these girls cared.
"These are noble-hunters, my Lady," Gorim explained somewhat awkwardly. A quick glance at Aunn showed that she didn't know what that was but wasn't going to ask and reveal her ignorance. "Because a man takes his caste from his father, these women hope to bear a nobleman's son and be raised up to that House to care for the child. It provides new sword arms for the house, and many nobles look favorably on such women."
"I bet they do," Aunn murmured, trying to sort out how she felt about the matter. It wasn't really important since, as a woman, she wouldn't ever make use of a noble hunter herself (for if a noblewoman intended to have children they would find a nobleman or risk wasting nine months of their life on a casteless child they couldn't keep anyway) but she always liked to have an opinion. If noble boys could have children with casteless women – like maybe Bhelen intended to do with that casteless girl from his room – then House Aeducan could continue into the next generation without her needing to feel she was neglecting her duty or letting her House down by not wanting children herself. "House Aeducan could always use more swords…"
"Then maybe you could tell your brothers about us?" Teli asked hopefully. She seemed so eager and excited that she was verging on being impertinent but it was kind of adorable and no one was around to see it so Aunn decided to let it go.
"Teli!" the other woman cried. "Don't be so bold."
"I'll think about it," Aunn said noncommittally. "Good day."
"Are you going to do it?" Gorim asked as they walked away.
"Bhelen, it seems, already has someone and would you really want to have that conversation with Trian?" Aunn asked rhetorically.
"Point," Gorim admitted.
A royal guard stopped her as she made her way towards the entrance to the Commons. "Are you thinking of going to watch the Proving, my Lady?"
"Something like that," Aunn confirmed. "Why?"
"Your father has instructed us not to let you pass through the Commons unaccompanied," the guard explained.
Aunn drew back, offended. "I am perfectly capable of walking to the Provings by myself!"
"Do you remember how I told you that there were only a certain number of permits to sell wares in the Diamond Quarter? The ones that did not manage to obtain one have set up shop in the Commons and your father was concerned that you might be ambushed by overeager merchants," Gorim explained, somewhat apologetically. "I should have mentioned this sooner."
Aunn closed her eyes and sighed. She was more than capable of handling herself and she just bet that Trian and Bhelen hadn't had to have escorts. Still, it wouldn't do to publically defy the King even if he was her father and it would do her reputation no favors either. "This is silly but I will comply."
"Excellent, my Lady. Do you wish to go now?" the guard inquired politely.
Aunn nodded. "Yes, take me to the Proving Ground."
All things considered, the merchants weren't overly unruly although Aunn did have to admit that the presence of her royal escort probably helped on that front.
"Lady Aeducan!" the Proving Master exclaimed when he saw her. "Are you here to watch these brave young men do battle in your honor?"
Aunn resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Clearly he was in on Harrowmont's plan to get her interested in a noble boy. "No, I'm here to fight," she announced.
The Proving Master's eyes widened. "But this Proving is in your honor," he said as if she weren't already well aware.
"Then honor her by doing as she asks," Gorim prompted. "Lady Aeducan will fight in this Proving."
"I will honor these fighters by testing their skill personally," Aunn claimed. Really, she just wanted to head off another round of would-be suitors and she always loved a good fight.
"Of course. It is well within your rights…" the Proving Master agreed before turning to face the crowd and inform them of Aunn's participation. "Men and Women of Orzammar, we have a late entry in today's Provings. I give you…the Lady Aeducan herself!"
At the inevitable cheering – if only because commoners were always worried that nobles would react badly to the slightest insult, and with good reason – Aunn dipped her head in acknowledgement.
She made her way down to the floor of the Proving Arena to face off against her first opponent. He looked vaguely familiar so she supposed he was a noble although his name escaped her at the moment.
"This is a glory Proving fought under the watchful eyes of the Paragons of Orzammar for the honor of House Aeducan," the Proving Master recited. "Lady Aeducan's first opponent is Aller Bemot, youngest son of Lord Bemot."
"You honor me with this fight," Aller told her.
"The honor is mine," Aunn responded automatically.
Aller seemed a skilled enough opponent although she had little difficulty defeating him. That was one potential suitor down, at least.
Her next opponent she had heard of and was quite impressed by. On her way to the Proving Master, she'd heard grumblings that her new opponent had even been allowed to compete at all and some vain hopes about her being 'put in her place.' If the decisive victory the girl had won just as Aunn had walked in was any indication, she was already there.
"This is a glory Proving fought under the watchful eyes of the Paragons of Orzammar for the honor of House Aeducan," the Proving Master announced. "Lady Aeducan next fights Adal Helmi, eldest daughter of Lady Helmi."
Adal stared at her as though she were a Paragon. "You are my inspiration," she said reverently. "And an inspiration to all those who follow your example and live by the sword."
"Thank you," Aunn said honestly. Acknowledgement was always nice and Adal was no mere recreational fighter herself. She would certainly be a help in getting the bronto of Orzammar to come around on their ridiculous and outdated belief that women had no place wielding a sword. "Be proud of getting this far."
This fight was certainly unusual because there were seldom enough non-Silent Sister female fighters to pit against each other and she and Adal were both very good. Aunn wasn't entirely sure how she felt about the Silent Sisters. On the one hand, they were the single most prestigious order women fighters could join. On the other hand, their unfortunate practice of cutting out their tongue to emulate of the Paragon Astyth the Grey rendered them nice and neutralized as a threat to the status quo. Silent Sisters never married as their lack of an ability to speak meant they could not function without an interpreter and thus could not raise daughters to also seek to fight. As it was a struggle for most female fighters to gain the acknowledgement and respect that the Silent Sisters commanded so easily, many of the best joined their ranks and rendered themselves unable to vocally support their cause or really influence anything.
Once Aunn had defeated Adal she was faced with an opponent significantly older than herself.
"This is a glory Proving fought under the watchful eyes of the Paragons of Orzammar for the honor of House Aeducan," the Proving Master said again. Aunn knew that tradition demanded that he recite that before each of the matches but by the Stone it was kind of getting annoying. Best not to mention that, however, lest she be labeled anti-tradition in the eyes of the people. "Next, Lady Aeducan will face Ser Blackstone, Deep Roads squad leader of the warrior caste."
"Consider this your education, child," Blackstone said patronizingly. "Try to learn as you bleed."
"I will," Aunn said diplomatically, resolving to make him eat those words.
The battle was not actually as difficult as she'd expected given his experience and it was clear that he'd underestimated her. As the next fight was the championship round, there was a slight break and she made her way back up to the Proving Master and Gorim to see what they'd thought of her victories.
"I had the whole left half of the crowd cheering for you," Gorim informed her the minute she got near him. "You're quite popular with the people."
"I'm glad," Aunn declared. "Especially as I know some will see this as me grandstanding despite the fact that this is my Proving so a lot of attention is going to be focused on me anyway."
"And by 'some' do you mean 'Trian'?" Gorim asked quietly.
"Who else?" Aunn asked rhetorically.
"My Lady, you're doing phenomenally," the Proving Master announced. "Your match against Lady Helmi was a crowd-pleaser. It's been some time since we've had two female fighters of such skill and what's more neither of you were Silent Sisters. And then there was your bout against Ser Blackstone…I guess this just goes to show that even the best of the warrior caste cannot stand against a member of House Aeducan."
Or it could just show that she was the best fighter here. What Aunn really wanted was to see how she compared to her cousin Piotin but he was far too busy preparing for tomorrow's expedition to have time to enter a Proving. "Who else made it to the final round?" she inquired.
"Frandlin Ivo," the Proving Master responded. "And fortunately neither of you wears a helm so I can be reasonably sure to avoid all that unpleasantness of last week's Proving that was supposed to honor the Grey Warden Duncan."
This was the first Aunn had heard about this. Then again, she had been rather busy as of late so perhaps it wasn't surprising. "What happened? How does a Proving fail to honor the person it is held in honor of? Did he enter and lose or something?"
The Proving Master shook his head ruefully. "If only. I actually think being defeated would have impressed Duncan and provided him with a recruit. No, instead we had Everd win. He was seen as a talented fighter although his skill in that particular Proving took us all by surprise as it was far better than we'd come to expect from him."
"That doesn't exactly sound scandalous," Aunn pointed out.
"That's because we hadn't realized that it was. Mere moments after Everd won the Proving…he stumbled out into the Arena, dead drunk," the Proving Master explained.
Aunn frowned. "Wasn't he already in the Arena?"
"That's what we thought," the Proving Master continued. "But clearly that wasn't so. We bid him to take off his helm and reveal who he really was and he did…but not before she told us quite clearly to remember that she had bested everyone there."
"Wait…" Aunn held up a hand to halt the story. "All Proving matches begin with the fighters saying something about how they hope the other finds honor – unless they're really unpleasant or have a personal issue with you and then insults you instead. To not do so would mean that they were either a Silent Sister or horribly rude. If faux-Everd was actually a woman fighter then how did none of her opponents notice?"
The Proving Master shrugged. "That, I do not know. You would have to ask them. Perhaps she was skilled with imitating voices?"
"Maybe. So who was it really?" Aunn asked impatiently, wishing she'd been there to see it. If the Proving Master's hesitation to reveal the identity was any indication then it would have been quite a sight.
"It was a…a casteless," the Proving Master shuddered like speaking of the event was dishonoring him. "We had her arrested, of course. Duncan wanted to recruit her and when he'd heard that she'd escaped prison and killed Beraht he tried to find her. Fortunately, we arrived before he did and so he's still looking for someone to recruit."
"That sounds like quite a scandal," Aunn said diplomatically, now really wishing she'd shown up at the Proving. She had wanted to go but her father, ever mindful of her desire to run off and join the Grey Wardens, hadn't allowed it. Sometimes being the favorite was really stifling, as spoiled as that might sound. She highly doubted her father would even notice if Bhelen wanted to go off and join the Wardens, after all.
"That it was," the Proving Master agreed. "And legally it never happened. Are you ready for your final match?"
Aunn nodded. "Indeed." With that, she quickly made her way back down to the Proving Arena where her final opponent was waiting for her.
"This is a glory Proving fought under the watchful eyes of the Paragons of Orzammar for the honor of House Aeducan," the Proving Master said for the final time. "Many fine warriors have fought and fell today and at last only two remain. Frandlin Ivo, second son of Lord Ivo will take on the Lady Aeducan, in whose honor this Proving is being held."
"You fight well. I wish you glory today and glory tomorrow," Ivo told her. He had a rather strange way of speaking, Aunn noted, and it seemed almost as if he were hiding something. She had never met him before and so had no idea if he were actually hiding something or if he just sounded naturally suspicious. It was an unfortunate trait to have either way.
"I wish you glory as well," Aunn replied. Like the others, Ivo was skilled but not exactly in her league. Once she'd won, she returned to Gorim so they could leave.
"Congratulations, my Lady," the Proving Master told her, pleased. "Clearly the Ancestors favor you and House Aeducan greatly. Your father had a ceremonial helm commissioned for the winner of the Proving and, as such, it is yours."
Aunn didn't really do helms because, practical or not, she thought they looked ridiculous and made it difficult to hear. Still, she couldn't exactly come right out and say that but perhaps… "Send it to Frandlin Ivo," she said magnanimously. "He was a worthy opponent."
The Proving Master not. "Of course, Lady Aeducan. Your honor and generosity will not be forgotten anytime soon." It was always easy to be generous if you didn't want what you were giving away in the first place.
"That was fun and should serve as a nice deterrent to your suitors," Gorim said quietly. "Are you ready to get back to the feast, my Lady?"
Aunn nodded. "I am. Now that that's taken care of we can deal with the politics. Let's try to keep the body count to a minimum, shall we?"