Of course Pilar had heard stories of how tall humans were. She just never believed it. Dwarves talk a lot. But there he was, sure as stone, a good two spans taller than the the most impressive of the fighters.
If she was feeling critical, Pilar would have noticed that his shoulders were rather narrow and his beard paltry for a man of that size and stature. But she wasn't feeling critical. At all.
Leske smacked her on the arm. "What's wrong with you, are you addled or something? Let's get moving, we got a job to do."
"Is that the Grey Warden?" she asked, unable to take her eyes away. "Is he really here?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Leske grinned. "Hey, you know what? I dare you to go over there and talk to him."
Pilar never backed down from a dare. Ever. But right now she really wanted to. Her belly felt like it was full of a litter of nuglets, her knees weak as water. "So I will."
She walked over to the human with as much bravado as she could muster. "Um," she cleared her throat and prepared for his scorn. "Hello."
"Stone met," the man said, crossing his arms and bowing to her. "And blessings on your house."
He had to be joking. "Right back at ya," she crossed her arms and sneered.
"Oh, I apologize," he looked genuinely upset. "The last time I was in Orzammar, that was the proper greeting."
"Yeah, well..." she didn't really know what to do. It would have been easier if he cuffed her and sent her on her way. "I don't really... have a house." She rubbed the back of her neck.
"Oh!" Duncan nodded. "That's what the brand means. Forgive me, I did not mean to offend."
She couldn't linger. She had work to do and Leske was waiting and she could tell the crowd had started to notice that she was there and speaking to the honored guest. But she didn't want to leave. He was so kind. She looked to make sure the guards weren't coming yet. "I heard you were recruiting for the Wardens," she said in a conspiratorial tone. He bent down to hear her better. "Is that true?"
His expression grew serious. "If I find suitable candidates, perhaps. I'm hoping the Proving will help in this regard."
The Proving. That sealed it, she would never be able to convince him to take her. It was a stupid idea, anyway. "I'm sure you will. There's a lot of good fighters in the competition."
Pilar forgot who she was. With her face covered by Everd's helmet, her opponents spoke to her with respect. Well, other than Lenka, of course. But even the Silent Sister regarded her as an equal.
And then Pilar realized that with her brand covered, she was not an equal. She was better than them. She dodged so fast, struck so sure, anticipated their moves so well and feinted so masterfully she left her opponents staggered.
It wasn't as easy as usual. Everd favored a much heavier type of armor than she did, and his longsword and shield slowed her down more than she liked. But she found herself having to bite back giggles of glee at the fact that encumbered as she was, there wasn't a single member of the warrior caste who could keep up.
Rica was right. She was good enough! For the first time, she felt like her skin was clean, that the dust had washed off in the sweat of the Proving.
The crowd was roaring in approval, and in the din Pilar began to laugh. They couldn't hear her, and she couldn't resist. She looked up and saw Duncan gazing down at her, stroking his beard thoughtfully. And her heart sank a bit, because he would never know the truth. He'd end up recruiting that drunken idiot Everd.
She could live with that. Because now she could go back to Dust Town and know that she beat the best Orzammar had to offer at their own game.
Tossing her sword in the air and giving one last whoop of triumph, she started coming up with a scheme to get back to Everd's room and dress him in his armor so he could go meet his adoring crowd, when something horrible happened.
Stumbling and waving with the biggest, stupidest smile on his face anybody had ever seen, Everd himself came to greet the crowd.
The roar got louder, meaner, and Pilar wanted to run but there was nowhere to go. Her mouth went dry and her stomach sank to the Deep Roads as everybody went silent.
The Shaper looked at her with eyes as hard as agate. "Who are you?" he demanded, voice ringing off the stone.
She set her jaw and looked directly at Duncan. "Look upon the face of your champion!" she roared, ripping off her helmet and flinging her hair back, to better display her brand.
The noise was so loud that Pilar thought for a moment that the ancestors themselves were so outraged by her actions, and the Proving Grounds had begun to cave in. But it was really just the cacophony of outrage from the spectators. They began flinging garbage at her so Pilar pulled her helmet back on and prepared for the guards.
She'd show Duncan what he was missing out on.
"Do you need a moment?" Duncan asked, genuine concern in his voice.
"Nah," Pilar replied, ignoring the fact that she really could use a minute to get accustomed to the bright sun, the freezing air, and all that sky. "Let's go."
They walked in silence for a time, which Pilar appreciated. What could she say to him? She had met him only a few hours ago, and since then he had helped her defy both the Carta and the Shaperate and saved her life.
She glanced back up at the endless emptiness above her. The sky was terrifying. If she kept thinking about it she would make herself sick. She thought about home, instead. Rica told her she had high hopes for the noble she was seeing, but what if that didn't work out? And now her and Mam didn't even have the pittance Beraht had paid her. "Hey, Duncan," she said.
"Yes, do you need something?" he replied without a hint of irritation.
"Do Wardens get paid?" she asked. It was probably a rude question, but she needed to know.
Duncan turned to her, brow furrowed. Pilar braced herself in case he hit her for her impertinence. "All your needs will be provided for," he answered, sounding confused.
"Oh, good," she looked at the ground, wondering why the soles of her feet were cramping so hard. Maybe it was the uneven ground.
Thoughts Rica and Mam nagged at the back of her head. She had to find some way of getting money back to them. They'd starve without her.
Not long after, Duncan told her that they'd be stopping to rest and eat. They made their camp in a stand of pine trees. She sat on a sun-warmed stone, it's rough surface comforting to her in the sea of oddly springy pine needles. Pulling off her old, worn boots, she rubbed her feet and tried to ease the stiff muscles.
Duncan nodded knowingly. "I've heard about that."
"About what?" Pilar quickly pulled her boot back on.
"When you walk," he said, pulling provisions out of his pack, "are you curling your toes?"
"Yeah," she replied. "That's what you're supposed to do out here. How else to you keep from falling into the sky?"
Duncan laughed, but it wasn't mocking. "I assure you, you will not fall into the sky. Try to relax your feet more while walking, it will make you more comfortable."
Pilar nodded and started tearing into the bread and some kind of dried meat.
"And Pilar, one other thing." Duncan stretched out his weirdly long legs and leaned back against a tree. "I'd like my purse back."
Pilar choked on the bite she was chewing. "Huh?" she said, acting casual.
"The Wardens are granted a stipend each month as our budget allows. What you do with it is your business. Most use it for better arms or entertainment, but it is up to you where the money goes." He took a bite of an apple. "So if you don't mind, I'd like my purse back."
Pilar dug into her chest piece and produced the pilfered coins. "Sorry. I was just... worried about my mam."
Duncan took the purse, paused, and gave her a silver.
And Pilar would swear from that moment to her dying day, he then winked at her.
A/N: So there it is, the beginning of my Brosca stories. This is just going to be a series of vignettes, out of chronological order, updated at random when the mood strikes me. Right now it's striking because of the Swooping is Bad 1500 Fest, celebrating 1500 members! I can't promise that this will be updated with any regularity, and rating may change considerably as we go. I'll try to warn in advance but it's probably best to put it on alerts if you're particularly interested in this story.