Life never turns out how you think it will. After the deaths of my parents I often thought about what my future should have been. There had been offers for arranged marriages made to my parents. I was always grateful that they never pushed me into anything. Now, there isn't anything I wouldn't give to have Father ruffle my hair and call me Pup, or Mother nag me over my appearance.
You can drown in "should have beens". The past is what it is. There is no going back, no changing it. My father told me to make my mark on the world. I hoped he would be proud of me. I could neither go back and fix past mistakes, nor rely on the glory from the things I did right.
How will history remember the fifth Blight? Will Loghain's betrayal make it into the history books? Or the near annihilation of the Cousland family? I wanted those who will come after me to know. Sophia Dryden's story was lost. I wouldn't let mine be.
I knew now that I had led a charmed childhood. I was the doted upon daughter of one of two Teyrns in Ferelden. Indulged, I had been left to roam free. I never knew how lucky I was until that charmed life was stripped away. But I would survive.
The Howe family lands and titles were stripped after the end of the Blight. All of those titles and all of that land that Rendon Howe stole were given away. The Wardens were awarded Amaranthine, with it's mighty fortress, Vigil's Keep.
New stages in life often come with complications. As I arrived at the Keep, I found it under attack by darkspawn. As the Grey Warden Commander in Ferelden, it was my responsibility to not only deal with the darkspawn, but to rebuild the order at the same time. It made me keenly aware that my old companions had scattered to the wind. I missed them.
Especially Alistair. He had ended our relationship when he agreed to take the crown. I had been so angry at him. Hurt and humiliated, I didn't care if I ever saw him again. That wasn't true, though. He had been by my side for a year, defeating the Blight and Loghain.
When I was honest with myself, in those dark nights when I couldn't sleep, I could admit that I still loved him. After our relationship ended, I leapt into Zevran's arms. He was wonderful in his own right, but he was no Alistair.
Still, I felt unspeakably lonely. My Blight companions had scattered to the winds. I only knew where a few of them were. Oghren, of course, was still here. Ran off, leaving a wife and baby, to join the Wardens. I hadn't been especially close with him. If nothing else, he was a familiar face.
My new Wardens surrounded me. We were sitting on the floor of the throne room amid maps and scouting reports. Tracking the Mother to her lair was the last thing we needed to do. Maker's breath, I hated the darkspawn. Their resurgence ruined my life. Howe and Loghain wouldn't have had the opportunity for betrayal. Of course, I never would have met Alistair. Would I trade a year of the most wonderful love affair for the bliss of ignorance? That would mean that I wouldn't be here now, Warden Commander, lonely and miserable.
Oghren interrupted my thoughts, stabbing a map with a thick, grubby finger. "That's, what, a two day march?"
Before I could reply, Anders chimed in. "It could be a day and a half march, if you don't pass out in a ditch somewhere."
Growling, Oghren replied, "Who asked you, sparkle fingers. I just wanted to know how much ale to bring with me. Heh."
I looked up at the dragon skull that hung over the throne. Maker help me, with Wardens like this, I would go mad long before my Calling. I wondered how Duncan felt, especially since one of his Wardens was Alistair. Alistair...
I became aware that someone had spoken my name. I looked back down and they were all looking at me, expectantly. To cover my embarrassment, I snapped at them. "Well? What?"
Velanna snorted. "We were just wondering who you're going to take with you. That is, if you are done contemplating that disgusting thing hanging up there."
I sighed and rubbed the tight spot between my eyes. "Oghren, Anders, and Nathaniel. They are the least injured. That is, if you approve, Mistress Velanna." I glared at her and she glared back. "If that's all for the inane questions, dismissed."
They began to disburse. I should have known that Velanna would have a parting shot. "If you wish to trust the would be thief and assassin..."
Maker's breath. "Nathaniel, we need to talk. See me before you turn in." With that, I rose and stomped out of the throne room.
As I headed to my rooms, I berated myself. Why in all of Thedas did this burden have to fall on me? And why did I accept it? Blast it all, was this the legacy of my parents? If so, I would accept it gladly. They were good people. I would try to honor their memory.
I sat in my study, going through correspondence and requisition orders. I liked the room, formally a salon adjoining my new bedroom. The fire burned brightly and the light of the lamps danced. I wondered why I felt so cold.
I had left the door open. Nathaniel crossed the thresh hold and paused. "Commander Eth?"
"Yes, come in. As I said earlier, we need to talk." I gestured to a chair opposite the desk and he sat. "I guess this is a chat we've needed to have. I need to know your loyalties. I know you've said you no longer intend to kill me, but you don't need to kill me to do me great harm."
"I understand. You said I wouldn't be the first friend to want you dead. Who was that?", he asked in his quiet voice.
"Your father procured an Antivan Crow, who Loghain then hired to kill me. He failed. Badly." He was happy to have failed. Oddly, he turned out to be the most loyal person I had ever met. Another person on my list of people I missed.
"Are you saying that I might smile to your face and hire an assassin behind your back?"
"No, of course not. I don't know what I need to know. Just... something." I propped my elbows on the desk and rested my chin on my hands. "We've known each other a long time, Nathaniel. But do we really know who the other person is?"
"You have a good point. I haven't seen you in eight years, almost nine. Before I left for the Free Marshes, yes? You were twelve and gangly. All knees and elbows."
Twelve. Yes, it was that long. My father had let me learn to shoot a bow a few years before and was finally letting me train with a dagger. My heart constricted in my chest. Father. "I don't want to talk about that," I snapped, sitting back in my chair. Maker, this was so hard. "Do you have my back?"
He looked at me for what felt like forever, his gray eyes unreadable. "Yes," he said finally. "Always." He leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk. "For what it's worth, I am truly sorry about your family."
"Thank you, Nathaniel. Until tomorrow?"
He rose and bowed. "Until tomorrow, my lady."
I left one lamp burning in the study. Changing into a nightgown, I crawled into bed. The bed felt too big. In an attempt to not dwell on Alistair, I thought of Zevran. I wondered how he was finding Antiva and what business he had there. I hoped it would be concluded soon. I was tired of sleeping alone and bloody weary of missing people. I fell asleep wondering if there was a fatal limit to crying oneself to sleep.