Serra Andras breathes in deep. The sea air was the same everywhere, but it always reminded her of something fresh, something new. Riordan would have chuckled, that rich sound that spread through the recruits and warmed them all on some base level. She misses him already.

Turning away from the bow of the boat, she considers her position. Commander of the Grey Wardens. It sounds ludicrous, even now. And in Ferelden... Maker, she had never thought she would ever see any pastures other than those of Orlais! And on top of that, she was to be– No, she could not even think it. She was an elf; things like nobility simply did not happen to people like her.

She can still picture Riordan's glare and stern words. You are not an elf, you are a Grey Warden. You are no more and no less than anyone else here, do you understand that? And it was true. The men and women who had arrived the week before her would not see her ears or her tattoos, but the griffon on her armour and the steel at her back. They would see a commander. The people of Amaranthine, however...

Yes, she thinks as the breeze ruffles her pale locks, it will be difficult with the native souls. The people of Ferelden had memories as long as the elves – they did not forgive the occupation easily, and she could not fault them that. And on top of that, she was to be in a position of power, appointed by their new king – Alistair, himself a Grey Warden! She would have to suffer gossip, unsavoury comments, maybe even hostile attacks. But, she reasons with a smile, they're probably still nicer than our citizens.

The woman who meets her at the docks smiles brightly. "Warden-Commander!"

"Oui, that is me." She returns the smile. "I was not expecting an escort."

"I was sent as a guide more than anything. My name is Mhairi, and can I say it's a real honour to meet you." She bows, far lower than Serra expects.

"Ah, please... no need for formalities with me, Mhairi. We are to be travelling together, I would not have you stand on ceremony. My name is Serra." She turns to grab the few belongings that had not already been sent, but the woman stoops to pick them up. "Is this what you feel is expected of you, Mademoiselle Mhairi? I am... unused to such help."

"But you're the Commander. And you've come such a long way, and we've still got a day's travel ahead of us!" She insists, that bright smile still in place. Serra opens her mouth to argue the point, but something occurs to her. She is not treating you like an elf. Isn't that the point? She shakes her head slightly and gestures for her to lead the way.

"Tell me of the Keep. Is it a grand building?"

It is chaos.

They fight their way into the Keep – a building that on any other day would have her fascinated – but right now, they struggle just to stay alive. Mhairi proves herself to be far more than just a guide, a fact for which Serra is grateful, as they blaze a path through to the shelter of the courtyard. They manage to best an ogre, no mean feat for two warriors unaccustomed to each other's styles, and urge the few survivors they find to get out. Serra sees no familiar faces, and worries.

They press forward and stumble upon a man commanding fire with his fingertips. Alarm bells begin to sound in Serra's head. Mage. Magic. Unfamiliar. Run.

He turns, catching their eyes, and looks decidedly sheepish for a moment. "Uh... I didn't do it."

She balks, skidding back across the room. "Stay back," she orders, and there is a strange look in his eyes before he sighs, shoulders slumping.

"I get it. Raaargh, scary apostate, down with the evil ones. I'm really not that terrifying, am I?" This is directed at Mhairi, who draws her sword. "Okay. Apparently I am." He puts his hands up, smiling nervously. "I really, really don't mean you any harm. Promise."

"Commander?" Mhairi spares her a brief glance. "Are you alright?"

The Warden stares at the mage for a long time, remaining silent as her heartbeat starts to slow down. Her eyes meet his. The familiar drum of panic begins again. Run. Run and hide. Magic. But there is no mother to run screaming to, no Riordan to hide behind now – never again. She must face her demons alone. "Mes apologies," she says after a long moment. "I am fine." She does not look it, still far too pale and wide-eyed, but she takes a few steps forward. "I am... nervous, around men of magic," she adds. "It is a long story. Perhaps one for another time."

The man blinks, before smiling genially. "I might just hold you to that, if you don't throw me to the Templars. My name is Anders, dear lady." He offers a short bow. "And if it's quite alright with you, I'd like to stick by your side. You seem to be quite capable of killing these monsters, and I've no intention of dying any time soon."

She nods assent, though she is still trembling slightly as Mhairi rests a a hand on her shoulder. "Very well. Stay where I can see you, s'il vous plaît."

The dwarf considers her for a moment before grunting. "Your hair looks funny."

The mage makes a quip about drunken dwarves, and for a moment the banter passes between her companions and the red-headed fighter – enough time for her to pull herself up to her full height. "What exactly are you doing here?"

"Fightin' darkspawn, same as you I reckon. You the new commander?"

"Oui. And who are you?"

"Orlesian, huh? Hope you're better than the last one they sent. He wasn't too good at staying alive," he snickers, and Serra feels a fire start in the pit of her stomach. "Name's Oghren the Magnificent. Thought I'd try my hand at being a bona fide Grey Warden." She scowls, but her resources right now are few and she could use his axe.

"With me. Come, all of you." The three fall in line behind her as they work their way towards the battlements, and mercifully there is no more frivolous talk, their energies poured into blasting the darkspawn from the world.

Mhairi is the first to spot the injured man, and is close to tears as he warns them of the terrors that lie ahead. Serra's blood runs cold at the mention of a talking darkspawn, and though the mage and the dwarf both suggest drink for the pain, she is not blind to his suffering. Kneeling down and whispering a soft prayer to the Maker, as she puts him out of his misery. Mhairi almost objects, but one glance at the commander and she is silent, mouthing her own prayer. They press on.

As the cold night air hits them, there is a voice in the air, one that has not known human speech in a long time. It grates like a rusty wheel on an axle, a constant dirge of rough words and growls, and they hang back, observing the user for a moment. The man at the mercy of the talking darkspawn is not a face she recognises, but beside her Mhairi tenses up. Clearly a man of importance. And as he glances at her, her title uttered under such duress, she hopes to bring him out of this alive just to find out who he is.

The darkspawn lunges for her companions, but she intercepts, and the three make light work of his lackeys. He is a different breed, however, and it is only with the help of the mage and the dwarf that he is felled.

Mhairi rushes to the man's side, hauling him up to his feet.

"Varel, are you hurt?" Ah, the seneschal. No wonder he knew of her. He smiles, shaking his head, before turning to Serra.

"Commander, I owe you my life." He begins to bow, but she grabs his shoulders.

"I think formalities can wait, non?"

Behind her, Oghren grunts, and they turn to look out towards the road, following his gaze.

"Looks like more company's on the way," he mutters.

"Oh, Maker, it's the sodding king." Anders looks like he wants to melt into the ground.

Oghren chuckles. "He ain't so bad, once you get to know him."

Serra takes a deep breath. Five minutes in this country and already meeting the king! He smiles as he approaches, though she does not miss the unnerved look in his eyes as he examines the scene.

"Looks like we're a little late. Shame... I rather miss the whole darkspawn-killing thing."

"Your majesty," she murmurs, bowing low. The rest of her companions follow suit – except the dwarf, who struts up to the man and huffs.

"Evenin', pike-twirler."

"Oh, so there's no beer left then?" he laughs, shaking his hand, and Oghren chuckles before stepping back. "And you must be the new Commander from Orlais. Seems you have quite the task ahead of you." There is no mirth in his voice at that. "What exactly happened here?"

Varel steps forward. "Your majesty, the attack was sudden and bloody. There are a few survivors, thanks to the commander, but the Grey Wardens we could find are all dead."

"The ones you could find?" Serra interrupts, confused.

"All I know is that we cannot account for all of them," he replies, looking troubled.

Anders looks slightly sick. "Why would they take prisoners?"

Suddenly, a harsh voice cracks across them like a whip. "You!"

The female Templar steps forward and snaps at Anders, and the king looks at her askance. Serra ducks her eyes – Chantry business is, after all, sacred and not to be interfered with. Still, he did save your life and he could have just run...

"I'll see you hanged for what you did here, murderer!"

"You cannot!" Serra is more surprised than anyone to hear her own voice. "I invoke the Right of Conscription." Alistair's eyebrows quirk up, and Anders looks like her head is about to fall off. The Templar looks like she wants to kill her.

"You can't just -"

"I believe the Commander can," notes the king in a tone that means business. "Ser Rylock, I think it is time we left. Inform the men." She glares once more at the mage before turning and heading back to the rest of the soldiers. Alistair smiles slightly. "You know, I almost became a Templar, before the Wardens saved me. I think that's why I love winding them up."

Anders reaches to touch her shoulder, looking thoroughly boggled. "You saved me. You're terrified of me and yet you still saved my life. Why?"

"Monsieur, I am scared of your power. That does not mean that you should have to die, non?" She brushes off his hand and gestures for Varel and her companions to leave. The king looks at her with worried eyes.

"I am sorry for your losses, and the troubles that are still to come. I think we're going to be relying a little heavily on you in the upcoming weeks, especially for the security of this arling. Whatever's going on here... you need to stop it. And I wish I could help, I really do, but I'm royalty first, it seems, and a Grey Warden second."

She inclines her head slightly. "I understand, your majesty."

"Oh, please don't call me that. I'm getting sick of hearing it, to tell you the truth. Just Alistair will do."

"Very well. Then I would have you call me Serra, brother," she smiles, and he grins.

"Nice to meet you, Serra. Do keep me up-to-date, won't you? I'm sure it'll be a lovely break from all that ruling I have to do." He bows to her, a gesture of equals, and she mirrors him, before watching as he heads back to his retinue.

He is right, she realises. There is so much to do.

A:N: With much love and thanks to valiasedai, my wonderful beta, and Crisium, my brilliant cheerleader and sounding board.