Hello! :-D

A quick note - this story is currently undergoing revisions, with the amazing help of my dear friend Wintryone, who is acting as editor and beta all in one. If you have not read her fics about Mari and Fenris (not to mention her collection of one-shots and other awesomes!) I highly recommend you do so! But in the meantime, know that I am very blessed and grateful to have her stellar help in this monster of a project. :-D

I am replacing the old chapters with the new as they are completed, and if this is your first read-thru, you may notice some discontinuities, like chapter numbers going wonky. Please disregard them, all will be cleaned up eventually. If you enjoy the story, please 'follow' to find out when all is complete. I will release one final chapter at that time. :-)

Enjoy, and don't forget to review! *hugs*


PROLOGUE

Duty...

A Cousland always does her duty.

The early spring wind blew through the darkening sky, whipping the skeletal branches of the few trees that dotted the landscape. Somewhere in the Ferelden Bannorn, south of Highever but north of Ostagar, Lyra Cousland huddled before a crackling fire, unseeing eyes staring into the flames.

Bone weary and aching with grief, she shivered as the night's chill seeped through her worn leather armor. The headache she'd borne for days raged on as her mind continually drifted back to Highever; to the life that had been ripped from her, to the people she'd loved. Visions of their violent deaths prowled through her mind, promising nightmares that would jolt her awake, shaking with fear.

The memory of little Oren skulked through her thoughts, and she clamped her eyes shut, a whimper choking past her tight guard. Grisly pictures danced through her mind; her father, run through and left to die in the larder, her mother nocking an arrow, fierce determination coloring every movement, the sharp thud of the trap door closing her away from her doomed parents.

Guilt washed over her in shivering waves. She'd run. Left her mother to her blood-soaked fate, left her father to sink into oblivion. She could have stayed, could have fought...

and died with them? a traitorous voice whispered.

It was my place, she shot back.

"You may find your brother at Ostagar." Apparently, Duncan had been speaking the whole time. His voice was dry and gentle, but how it grated.

Gritting her teeth, Lyra focused her concentration inward, praying for the control not to jam her hands over her ears and start screaming.

"Your parents may be gone, but we will make a full report to King Cailan, and justice will be served. In the meantime, your duty as a Grey Warden awaits."

His eyes were kind but stern, and she dropped her gaze to the ground, swallowing the anger that churned the pit of her stomach. Simple enough to say kindly, comforting things. Easy to promise vengeance, to advise patience, to spout meaningless platitudes.

He knew nothing of her pain.

Duncan offered her a plate, but she shook her head, stomach roiling in protest. Food would only make her ill.

"You should eat. We have far to go-"

"I cannot, Duncan. Please..." Her voice was rough, a dark shadow of itself. Little wonder, she'd barely spoken in days.

Something must have told him exactly how little she wanted food, for a moment later the bread and jerky was rolled into a leather sack.

Kestrel whined beneath her hand. His bulk was warm and inviting, and she let the tears fall as her arms stole around him. The dog was all she had left of her old life; everything else was burning, miles away in the north. Shared anguish drew them close, heartache the common thread that bound them tighter than ever. A rough tongue lapped at her cheek, and she screwed her eyes shut as she dug fingers deep into his russet fur.

A week ago, life had been normal, beautiful. She'd been the younger daughter of a teyrn, an aunt, a friend. Tonight she was an orphan. The world had gone gray, every drop of color leached away by tragedy. Oddly appropriate, her rebellious mind snarked. What better color for a future Grey Warden?

This was an eventuality she never could have envisioned; traveling with Ferelden's senior Grey Warden, on her way to Ostagar to be initiated into the infamous order of protectors. Her parents would never have allowed it, but they had been taken from her, murdered by Arl Rendon Howe. She was the last surviving Cousland. Or, nearly the last.

She swallowed her tears, thoughts of her older brother lifting her heart. Fergus...

Her brother had gone with the army, and thus escaped Howe's dastardly plan. There was a chance he was still breathing.

A chance, but not a great one, she thought.

Howe must have sent assassins after Fergus. There could have been one slipped in with the soldiers, for Maker's sake. What good would it do the traitorous arl to leave the eldest male heir alive? Not much, she thought, anger steeling her spine. Fergus was almost certainly dead, and it was unrealistic to chase hope. If he was at Ostagar, as Duncan said... but her sharp mind denied the possibility, leaping ahead to embrace the bleakest possible outcome.

Kestrel whined and cuddled into her, and a new freshet of tears coursed down her cheeks. A mourning howl keened from his throat, and it was only the choking feeling in her airway that prevented her from wailing her grief along with him.