Prologue

With the rays of early summer sun streaming in through the window one could be forgiven for ever forgetting the existence of winter. Each skein of glimmering light felt warm on the skin and coaxed every unfortunate passer-by to attempt a nap; something that the mabari had mastered so successfully barely a day went by without somebody tripping over them. Nan was skilled in the art of dog-dodging however so there was no escaping her morning rounds, rousing everyone with the promise of fresh tea or ale, depending on your tastes. Ceylon was curled up in her bed, back soaking up the warmth of a beam when the woman bustled in with her elven aides.

The cook-and-nanny poked her head into the room, rousing the woman from her sleep with that voice of hers. "Best be up now Ser, Fergus is on his way today an' I'm sure you'll want to bid him farewell. Besides, Bryce wants you up too."

Sighing into her pillow, the old Templar waved a hand at the woman. "If Bryce wants me, he can damn well come an' get me himself."

"He'll bring that jug of water if he does, you know," the woman warned as the wash bowl was filled and her tea brought to the small bedside table, "and if he does I'm not going to air your bedding out again."

"Just... augh!" Burying her face into the pillow she grumbles to it to avoid Nan taking umbrage at it. "If he tries it again, Teyrn or no, I will get his head stuck in a pot again, then probably sit on him, too. In fact I think I'll definitely sit on him just for that."

"Regardless of what you're going to do to him, your brother wants you downstairs and not in that armour of yours. It sets tongues wagging about secret apostates or maleficars in the cellar. Now I'm not telling you again Ser, you're an adult, but for the love of Andraste get up." As her elves finish refreshing the room they scurry out to tend the next guest with Nan closing the door rather firmly in their wake.

Blowing strands of pale hair from her eyes the woman grumbled some more and wriggled her nose as her hair settled back atop her nose. Oh that's how it was going to be, was it? Victory came with the aid of her hand, brushing it all back into some semblance of order before rubbing at her eyes. Getting up always sucked once it got to the point of actually having to get up. Oddly enough, the laying in part was always the best. Alas the time of warmth and bedsheets was over and only the sunbeam at her back provided much warmth, as summer had yet to truly set in. Her back and a few other old joints protested as she stretched, some even popping quietly. Itches and her sore shoulder were scratched and rubbed as she swung her feet to the edge of the bed and planted them firmly on the cold stone floor.

Said cold stone was met with a hiss, "Maker's soddin' balls!" She really did hate the cold.

It only took a stride and a half to reach the safety of the rug, its fibers not as obviously cold as the stone. Now in front of her dresser she leaned on the worn wooden surface and peered into the mirror. As she peered into the glass she couldn't ignore the small pendants hanging from her neck, gently clinking against one another. One loop of leather bore an engraved silver locket that had tarnished and worn with years of contact where her thumb had gently rubbed at the surface. It's companion was a small glass phial securely fastened to a much sturdier chain. This was something no Templar could afford to lose. Within the glass there danced a milky blue liquid that turned and glistened as she moved, glowing so softly it was barely perceivable unless held to her skin. Lyrium; the very lifeblood of a Templar but also the means by which the Chantry kept them bound. Instead of relying on one large dose, Ceylon used many, far smaller ones that gave her a small leeway in how long she could go before another was needed. Her record currently stood at three and a half days, but that was an experience she did not want to repeat. Whilst her experience and age were written in on her face, she felt as young as her nephew and niece and eh, looked decent enough.

Whilst the bowl of water was still warm she used it to wash herself down before drying off and pulling on her clothes. Though she didn't wear her armour as requested she did pull on her more presentable set of clothes, still in the rich purple and gold Templar livery. Not nearly so imposing as a full encasement of steel but recognisable enough to garner some respect. Sparing only a few moments to neaten her hair she pulled on her boots and made her way to the banquet hall for breakfast. If Bryce wanted her he could come and bloody well find her there for she never, ever missed breakfast.

"Just a few more minutes, Maa," Elissa groaned as something cold and wet prodded her awake. A very persistent something at that, it didn't stop even when she rolled over. Then it was followed by something very warm and slobbery and a gush of what could only have been dog breath. "Colbark! What've I told you about waking me up. I don't want to get up yet, daft hound!"

Colbark however thought right now was a perfect moment to wake up. It was breakfast time and if there's one thing a Mabari loves only a little less than his mistress, it's his breakfast. So, instead of getting off the bed he does the next best thing and flops heavily onto her, whining and pulling his puppy-face.

"Oh fine! But you'd better not bolt off down the halls like last time. Nan didn't like it one bit and you almost broke her leg." Her stern face was only met with more kisses before he hopped off the bed and sat there, stubby tail wiggling.

Throwing her covers aside she rolled out of bed with the grace of a seal rolling off a rock on the beach. Or perhaps half the grace, as seals can get away with being cute. Which left her with a small reminder to ask Aldous about them sometime; were they fish or funny looking dogs? They seemed to have a doggy sort of face.

Nan had yet to arrive so she opted to avoid the wash and just neaten her hair after dressing into her well-worn leathers. Even though father was sending Fergus and the rest of the men off to Ostagar, she had to get in her hours of practice down in the yard. So far she'd put months of effort into her training and it was already showing in her matches against the guards, who were having to try harder and harder to keep her at bay.

Colbark was already at the door when she crept to it, opening it just a crack to peer out and check for signs of Nan and her elves in case they tried to catch her up. With the coast clear the door creaked and the second-youngest Cousland slipped out, Mabari in tow. Her steps were quick and quiet as she heard the old woman in one of the rooms rousing a guest. Maker's teeth she was quick, thought the girl as they snuck by the room and then broke for the door outside. Victory was hers! Or it would have been, had she not barreled headlong into a large figure stepping out from their room.

"Easy there lass!" came the familiar voice of her aunt, whom she'd just bounced off of like an apple off some one's head, "you could knock somebody flying if you hare around like that."

Elissa rubbed her head and then her backside as she got back to her feet, grumbling as the woman fussed over her dog. "Sorry aunt Lonnie, I just have to get out befo-"

"Elissa Cousland!" Nan barked, causing all three of them to jump out of their skins, "what do you think you're doing runnin' off without your morning scrub?"

"Nan I was just going to practice in the yard and there's no point in me having a wash if I'm just going to get dirty again!" huffed the young woman, arms folded across her chest. "I'll get one in the afternoon before dinner, Dad won't mind."

Sighing with exasperation the old nanny rubbed at a temple, "your father has company, Elissa, so you need to be presentable."

Elissa was in no mood to be corralled today and simply turned to the door. "I will be presentable Nan, I promise. Anyway, it's not like anybody expects a soldier to be pristine."

Nan threw her arms up in defeat and turned back to continue waking everyone up, mumbling to herself about finding a better job somewhere else, perhaps with more co-operative charges. Colbark woofed and trotted after his mistress and left Ceylon shaking her head as she makes her way out as well.