Shadow and Rose
by Lady Norbert
A/N: Having completed Dragon Age: Origins, and having become 1) unfairly addicted and 2) besotted with the character of Alistair, I found myself wanting to explore his backstory more in depth. I have remained as true to the game as I can, but you'll find bits of my headcanon in here too, so please forgive me for having taken liberties at certain points.
My initial and favorite playthrough of the game was with the female human noble, and so that's what the Warden is in this story. Rather than try to come up with a new name for her, I went with the default name of Elissa.
I'm really unsure of how dates work in the DA universe, to be perfectly honest, so I'm not using any. Many thanks to everyone who helps to maintain the official Dragon Age wiki, which was of infinite use to me in settling many details, and also to my friends Naomi and Darby, who helped me select the title. The chapter titles are all the names of items acquired in the course of the game, with their official descriptions as shown on the wiki, because I have a thing about titling chapters based on a theme.
This is dedicated with mingled affection and annoyance (mostly affection) to all of the people who at any time guilted, bribed, coerced, and/or cajoled me into first playing the game and then writing fic about it. You know who you are and this is all your fault.
Chapter One: Warden Recruit Shield
This was made from wood hewn in the Anderfels near Weisshaupt.
It's been some time since I was forced or, indeed, able to keep any sort of journal. At the Chantry, I was ordered to do something of the sort as a handwriting exercise, though in truth I suspect it was more to provide a written record of my activities so that the Grand Cleric might criticize anything she considered inappropriate. Considering how much I hated doing it back then, I'm really quite surprised at how much I've missed it in the past...I'm not even sure how long it's been.
A great deal has happened, of course, which probably deserves to be written down, and maybe that's the reason I want to write about it. Not that I'm a great scholar or anything. It's unlikely that anyone's ever going to use this journal as any sort of historical record. But still, it's my own book, and these are my own thoughts, and I like the idea of having someplace to put them. I'm hoping that if somebody ever does read it, it's not until after I'm dead. It's not as if they'll have to wait an eternity for that.
Let's see, where to begin...
Well, on the off chance that this does somehow become a useful document to somebody - whoever you are, hello - I guess I should start by explaining who I am that's doing the writing. My name is Alistair, and I'm... hm. Suppose I should just go for the jugular straight away, and tell you honestly that I'm the bastard half-brother of Cailan, King of Ferelden.
I don't remember how old I was when I first found this out. I was raised by Arl Eamon Guerrin, who is a good man for the most part. Considering that his sister was Queen Rowan, Cailan's mother and the wife of my father King Maric, he was a lot kinder to me than he really had to be. I grew up in his household, and a lot of people thought - probably still think - that I'm his bastard, not the great Maric's. The Arl and his brother, Bann Teagan, are my sort-of-uncles. I mean, Cailan's my brother and they really are his uncles, but they're not really mine. They're the closest things I've got to uncles, though, so we'll leave it at that.
Anyway, for the first few years the question of my parentage was steadfastly avoided. Somewhere along the way I became aware that my mother was a servant girl who died giving birth to me, and it was hinted that my father belonged to the nobility but nobody ever said straight out, "Alistair, you're a bastard, but at least you're a royal bastard."
I think it was around Maric's death that I finally figured it out. By that point I was already in the Chantry - when I was ten, Arl Eamon got married to an Orlesian woman. Arlessa Isolde arrived in Redcliffe determined about a number of things, one of which was that she didn't like me. Most likely she was familiar with the rumors that I was her husband's get, and I don't know if she believed them but in her position, I probably wouldn't have been comfortable either. They were married scarcely a month before he gave her what she wanted and packed me off to the Chantry.
How I found out, I'm not sure. Someone must have said something, let something slip. Arl Eamon kept trying to visit me and I wouldn't talk to him, so it can't have been him, but I must have overheard just enough to put two and two together. I do know that at some point, Arl Eamon gave up trying to visit, but he did send Bann Teagan once, and he was the one I confronted with the truth. I do give him a lot of credit for not lying to me. He saw that I knew, and he didn't deny it.
It explained a lot, anyway. I mean, why would an Arl just take a servant girl's orphan? Sure, he didn't exactly treat me like a son, unless one makes one's son sleep in the stables as a way of toughening him up or something, but he was good to me in a way. But a bastard prince - yes, I guess those have to be kept safe. You never know when some dastardly plague might wipe out the royal family. And then they sent me to the Chantry to learn to be a Templar, because hunting down apostate mages is a good honest profession for the king's bastard brother.
Only that's not what happened, after all.
I studied to be a Templar, for several years, but I never ended up taking my vows. What happened was that some of the Grey Wardens came to the Chantry. Grey Wardens are... I'm not sure how you describe them. They're an order of knights, but it might be better to say that they're the order of knights. They fight the darkspawn, the scourge of the earth, and their allegiance is sought by kings and princes across Thedas because, so it's said, they have powers that no one can truly understand. In generations past, they flew into battle on the backs of giant griffons, which I wish could still happen but the griffons are extinct now.
Anyway, they came. Somebody got the bright idea to stage a tournament in their honor, and have a bunch of us Templars and future Templars fight each other for the Wardens' entertainment. I have to admit that by the time of this tournament, I was miserable, and everyone knew it. I'm not cut out for a religious life. I want to do more in this world than finding runaway magisters and dragging them back to the Circle of Magi by their heels. But even though I'll never be king, I still wasn't given any sort of choice about my own destiny. At least the tournament would give me some relief.
I didn't do very well. I tried, Andraste knows, but Ser Eryhn had me flat on my back in under five minutes, and Ser Kalvin managed to strip me of my weapon by the time our match was over. Thank the Maker the tourney was only to first blood.
But even though I did so badly, it turned out to be the best thing I could have imagined.
One of the people - maybe even the most important person - attending the tourney was Duncan, the Commander of the Grey. Talk about impressive titles. It's even fun to say, really. 'Commander of the Grey.' And Duncan, for some reason, saw something in my performance. Even though I lost every match, he seemed to think that... I don't know exactly what he thought. Just that there was something there that he wanted to encourage. So after the tournament, he came to talk to me alone. I'll never forget that conversation.
"Have you taken your vows as a Templar yet, Ser Alistair?"
"No, ser, I haven't."
"Good. That makes this easier. I would like to invite you to join the ranks of the Grey Wardens."
"Me? Me, a Grey Warden?!"
I'd grown up hearing about the Grey Wardens, of course, and not just for the reasons I listed above. A couple hundred years ago, the Wardens were exiled from Ferelden by my ancestor King Arland. Arland was a tyrant, and he hated the Wardens because their leader, who was a cousin of some sort and a rival for his throne, whipped up her forces against him. He starved them out at Soldier's Peak, the old fortress which belonged to the Wardens back then, and the survivors were forced to leave and seek refuge abroad. My father finally welcomed them back into the country a little while before Cailan was born. Most of them are quartered at the main Grey Warden stronghold in Weisshaupt. There are only a couple dozen here in Ferelden even now, so it didn't surprise me that Duncan would be scouting for recruits.
That he would be scouting me, however? Now that was a great surprise.
"What I saw in the tournament left a strong impression on me," he said. "You're very brave, and you have a good heart. There were a few times, particularly when you were facing off with Ser Talrew, when you had the opportunity for victory - but you didn't take them. And I don't believe it was because you failed to see them for yourself."
"His shield wasn't buckled quite right," I mumbled. "It wouldn't have been fair."
"That's just it. You have a strong sense of justice. You're exactly the sort of warrior we need in the Grey Wardens."
"Well...what would I have to do?"
We talked for a long time, Duncan and I. I felt like he really wanted to know me. He asked me about my childhood in Redcliffe, although he already seemed to know quite a bit about it - he's apparently acquainted with both Arl Eamon and Bann Teagan.
He was very honest with me about the down sides to being a Grey Warden, and there are quite a few. My lifespan would be reduced to only about thirty years, because in order to join the order I would have to drink darkspawn blood. The process is called the Joining, and he was pretty blunt in telling me that not everyone survives the ceremony. This is how Wardens submit themselves to the taint, which allows them to sense the presence of darkspawn, but after a few decades it also tries to turn them into darkspawn. At that point, if a Warden lives that long, he or she (mostly he - there are no female Wardens in Ferelden just now, Duncan says) usually goes to the Deep Roads. It's known as the Calling; the Warden goes out fighting and takes as many darkspawn with him as possible.
It's pretty complex, on the whole. And scary, I'll admit. The blood thing is a little creepy too. But then Duncan asked me the one thing no one else in my entire life has ever asked me.
"What do you want to do?"
And I thought about it. I know what I don't want to do, at least. I don't want to be a Templar. I think mages are fascinating, and when they use their powers for good they're worthy of admiration - I'm not really crazy about the idea of locking them up. And I don't want to be... well, whatever living at Arl Eamon's estate would make me. I don't even know what that is, to be honest. Backup prince? Spare to the throne? I'm really not sure. And that's if Arlessa Isolde would ever allow me to come back, which I don't think is likely.
Then I thought about what I do want. I want to make a difference for Ferelden. I want to protect the innocent, and help people in need, and be a real hero. And maybe being a Grey Warden will let me do that. So I looked at Duncan and I nodded, and said, "If you can get the Grand Cleric to release me, I'll go with you. I think being a Grey Warden... I think it could be the best choice."
"Before you make that choice, there is one more thing I should tell you," Duncan said gravely. "The darkspawn are massing. It seems almost certain that we are in the earliest stages of a Blight - one which, if our conjectures are correct, will endanger the whole of Ferelden. The southern lands are already beginning to feel the threat."
I felt my flesh crawl. A Blight... the uniting of darkspawn under the control of an Old God whose essence has bound itself into the body of a dragon. They call such a creature an Archdemon. When a Blight sweeps over the land, all living things in its path - people, animals, even plants - are devastated beyond recovery. "There aren't nearly enough Grey Wardens to turn back a full Blight," I said.
"No. Orlais has pledged to send a contingent of Wardens to join with us, should we send for them," he replied, "but it would take them time to cross the mountains and march to our side. It might be more time than we have to prepare. The Blight is still young, but the Archdemon is awake. It's hard to say how much time we really have."
I had to stop writing for a while because of a hand cramp. Really, with how the words are pouring from my quill, I'm lucky to have so much free time at this moment. I have to enjoy it while it lasts.
Anyway, after my conversation with Duncan, he went to have an audience with the Grand Cleric. I wasn't allowed to come along, but from what he told me afterward, she was not pleased. His initial request to have me leave the Chantry with him was denied, and after they argued for some time, he finally had to invoke the Right of Conscription. That's a special privilege of the Grey Wardens which allows them to force any person, regardless of their race or background or position, to join the order. Even the Grand Cleric can't supercede the Right of Conscription, and so she had no choice but to let me go. Her farewell to me was rather on the chilly side. Maybe she thinks I'm ungrateful - after all, the Chantry did feed and educate me for the last ten years.
It's not that I don't appreciate what they did give me; it's just that I need to be free to be whoever it is the Maker wants me to become. I'm pretty sure He has other ideas than Chantry service.
As I was packing, I realized that while I was going with Duncan, I didn't actually know where we were going. Soldier's Peak has long since fallen into disuse, and it's rumored to be haunted besides. (I don't know if I believe that, but I've heard stranger things so it's certainly possible.) Once I had all my things together, and had written a short letter to Arl Eamon informing him of the change, I decided to ask Duncan about our destination.
"We head for Ostagar," he replied. "It's presently serving as the home of the Grey Wardens."
Ostagar is, or rather was, a fortress erected by the Tevinter Imperium back when they ruled over Ferelden. There are many such ruins scattered across the country, relics of a day from centuries past when our lands were not our own. In the case of Ostagar, it's a particularly impressive example - the fortress straddles a narrow and extremely deep chasm, and provided an excellent defense of the Imperium from the Chasind Wilders who still live in the lands south of Ferelden. Ostagar marks the southernmost point to which the Imperium extended its conquest. After the First Blight, which broke the Imperium's control of the country that eventually became Ferelden, Ostagar was abandoned; the Chasinds ransacked it, but they also abandoned it in time.
According to Duncan, when the Grey Wardens first returned to Ferelden during Maric's kingship, they were so few in number that a base of operations was practically unnecessary. They settled in Denerim, operating out of a hidden warehouse which still belongs to the order, and began to restock their numbers. With the threat of the new Blight coming from the south, it was decided to relocate the order to Ostagar. The position of the ruins is, like I said, very defensible, and it gives a good vantage point to watch for the approach of darkspawn.
I'm bringing this journal up to date from my quarters here in Ostagar, which we reached just yesterday to a late dinner. I've spent a lot of time exploring the old ruins, which are honestly quite beautiful; those Tevinters know (knew?) a thing or two about architecture. It's a very appealing mixture of stone structure and natural forestation, and there really isn't much of a point where one ends and the other begins. It all sort of weaves into each other. Most of the roofing has deteriorated, so what used to be inside is largely outside, but the Tower of Ishal is almost completely intact and that's where the majority of us sleep. Various groups go patrolling out into the Korcari Wilds, finding and destroying darkspawn and trying to avoid the notice of some creature they call the Witch of the Wilds. I don't know if she really exists and I think I'd just as soon not find out.
Duncan, and a few others, don't stay in the tower. They've erected tents in the central exterior, and spend their nights keeping watch for the rest of us. My turn will come, he says, and in fact tomorrow I'm to join one of the parties exploring the Wilds. There are four of us who will undergo the Joining tomorrow evening, so as our first task, we are to enter the Wilds and kill the darkspawn we find in order to obtain phials of their blood. Until then, he's permitted us to do as we please, and shortly before dinner this evening I found this leather-bound book of blank pages among the offerings of our excellent quartermaster. He gave me a very good price on it.
I am suddenly very tired, and I don't think I can hold this pen up any longer. But I think I've done a pretty good job of laying the groundwork for my journal, and now I can record things as they happen.