Hi all, this little plot bunny has been biting me for a little while and I've finally caved. I will be writing this concurrently with my other main story, Proud Hearts, so updates will be between the two.
I have had this idea swimming around for my own Origins storyline, and here it is, inspired from the Cousland Origins line, so much of this will not be clarified till much later, but some will be revealed in the early chapters too.
Warning: This story contains mature themes including rape, torture and abuse. If this is not what you aim to read, then turn away now.
Special thanks to Eve Hawke whose work has inspired me to write this!
Disclaimer: I do not own DA:O or any of its characters. I do however own all of my own characters and my own little nation of Nileesa.
Prologue: Broken Dancer
She kept her face down even as the harsh biting wind nipped at her cheek, as if taunting her to her cruel fate; for months, she had not felt sunshine, nor warmth in her dark cell. No, all she caught was the overspill of a rainstorm, the freezing lance of snow escaping through the tiny barred gap in the wall, or the agonising chill of the wind. Everything was cold, so cold.
Still, it wasn't as if she wasn't used to it by now: 8 months of being a prisoner did that to you. It hardened you. 8 months ago she had lost her freedom and all that was left of her tattered life. All that remained was her existence, though even that barely amounted to anything nowadays. Daily tortures and horrors at his hands had suppressed her spirit and destroyed her sense of self.
A fitting end for my failing, she thought every day. This was her punishment: her atonement. It was all she deserved for letting them die. Letting them all die. She didn't let her mind wander home often, but when it did, she thought of the good times. Of sitting around the fire in their command house, of practical jokes on the city walls, riding through the skies of griffons.
Of a land now destroyed. All because they were feared; not for any reason other than what they could do. There was a good reason they had never shared their secrets, none of the other nations had been trustworthy. As had been proven when their neighbours, the Tevinter Imperium, Nevarra and the Free Marches had led co-ordinated attacks against them. Three countries had launched their full armies against their tiny nation, not even big enough to hold 45,000 people, and wiped them all out. She was the last of a slain people. Not that anyone in Ferelden had even heard of her small home, thus no-one knew of her plight.
She was jarred from her musings by her cell door opening, and seeing her usual guard looking as smug as ever. "You've been summoned. Get up." Hauling herself upon tired legs, she walked to the door and allowed her hands to be bound, as they always were. She was led to the usual chamber in the dungeons and bound to the table as she had been for 8 months: her wrists were held be chains while ropes spread her legs wide, leaving her completely vulnerable. He smirked as he left the chamber, bowing to the one who entered in his place before bolting the door shut. Leaving her just with him.
"Hello, my pet." She turned steely eyes towards the one who had shattered her soul and broken her body more times than she could count: Rendon Howe, Arl of Amaranthine. He smiled in that sickening way he always did, and at that she shut her eyes and braced herself for the pain. It did her no good to fight it, this was her life now. To be the…the…pet of this vile man. She wept for the strong warrior she had been before, but now that was gone.
Gone, just like that rest of her.
Thirty minutes later he finally tires of her and she was thrown back to her cell. She slumped against the wall as she did every time he was finished with her, but a conversation caught what little attention she had left.
"I will be leaving for Highever tonight, Thomas, and I leave Amaranthine in your hands while I am gone."
"Do they suspect?"
"Not a thing, and if all goes as planned, in three days the Couslands will trouble us no more. Maker go with you, son."
"And you, father." The two men moved off shortly after that, leaving her to her quiet corner of the dungeon. She barely had a minute to think to herself before she heard the usual trickle of rainwater getting into her cell. A barely audible sigh left her lips as she braced for another night sleeping on a wet floor. Still, at least it'll wash away all the blood.
Two days had passed without her being disturbed, and she blessed the Maker for it. Not since her captivity had begun had she been left one day untouched, let alone two. Whatever business Howe had with the Couslands, it was giving her a much needed relief. That did not stop the guard from taunting her through her cell door, but that she could handle: the man still remembered the early days of her slavery and could still recall nearly having his neck broken. A quick smile of reminder was all that was needed to get him to back off.
This time however, he seemed pensive when he opened the door. "You've got a visitor, Whore." She was puzzled as to who would simply visit her, but she would not turn them away. Not that she could, even if she wanted to.
Her eyes were drawn to a dark-skinned man clad in silver armour who entered. He was well built and appeared initially intimidating, however the sympathetic eyes he gave her made her think he was maybe not another of Howe's "acquaintances" come to claim her body. She backed up slightly against the wall as he crouched down to her level, but tried to make himself as non-threatening as possible. "What is your name, child?"
Her eyes snapped to his at the soft tones, but months of abuse had left her with little pleasantries. "What concern is it of yours?"
An understanding smile eased her a touch. "I am just striking simple conversation my girl, that is all." She scoffed and looked away. "I cannot help you if I do not know your name."
A snarl resounded from her throat. "And why exactly would you help me?"
"Because you are special, my dear."
"Oh yes, I'm so special I've been Howe's sex slave for 8 months."
"'Twas a noble gesture which landed you in this situation, I hear." That got him her full attention, and for the first time in as long as she could remember, she let her eyes shine unguarded. "May I have the honour of your name, little one?"
Smoky azure shimmered with uncertainty, and she fiddled with her matted caramel hair as she debated to let him know even more of her, though he certainly seemed to know enough to know what he was getting into by dealing with her. "Arria. Arria Rivell."
The stranger bowed his head. "Greetings, Arria. I am Duncan of the Grey Wardens."
Arria looked at him quizzically. "A Grey Warden? But what are you doing here? I didn't realise the Grey Wardens had regained their place in Ferelden?"
Duncan sighed quietly. "We have only recently returned, and are in dire need of new Grey Wardens. I am on a journey to recruit new Wardens in preparation for the Blight."
The made Arria's blood turn to ice. "Blight? You mean there is one happening right now?"
"No, but there is one in the making. We are trying to stop it before it gains a foothold in the south of Ferelden, and though our numbers are slowly growing, we need more still if we are to stop the vast hordes of the darkspawn."
Arria shivered at the mention of the vile beasts. "But that still does not explain why you are here?"
He smiled at the broken woman before him. "I heard of a young woman who came to Ferelden just shy of a year ago, and help a girl from a terrible fate before it began. She has suffered for it greatly since then, and I hope to offer her freedom."
Her eyes darkened. "But what could you want from me?"
"Nileesan warriors are among the best, are they not? And your talents with the creatures of the wild may be an invaluable skill."
Arria's breath caught in her throat. How did he…? "How…do you know of my heritage?"
"My child, I am well-travelled, and some Wardens I knew previously were of Nileesan descent. While you may not be well known in this corner of Thedas, you are known across the Waking Sea. I cannot tell you how saddened I was by the genocide of your people." He noticed the glazed look her eyes took on. "You ask why I am here? I am going to bring you with me to Ostagar, and there, you will become a Grey Warden. In truth, I was on my way to visit Teryn Cousland and observe a potential candidate in his young daughter, but when I heard of Arl Howe's absence, I saw fit to steal this chance to meet with you."
"But…how could you get me out of here? I am bound to him now."
"That, my child, is not a problem." Duncan promptly stood, and marched up to the guard who had been standing nearby.
"I am hereby removing this woman from Arl Howe's care."
The guard spluttered for a few seconds before regaining his composure. "This woman has signed her freedom over to the Arl. You cannot remove her without the Arl's express-"
"I am invoking the Right of Conscription: the Arl, and no other person in Ferelden can forbade me from taking her into the Grey Wardens." The guard paled and backed away slowly, well aware of the Right. He soon took off without another word, surely trying to run as far away from Amaranthine before the Arl returned to see his 'pet' gone. Duncan smiled softly at the young woman and held his hand out for her. "Come, child. Your new future awaits you."
Arria looked at him in wonder, and hesitated greatly before taking the offered appendage. She was inwardly relieved when Duncan did not grasp back nor pull her to her feet: it was but a simple support as she took her first steps a newly freed woman. He led her towards the back of the dungeon and then revealed something she thought long lost. "My armour! But how…?"
"I recognised the beautiful craftsmanship of Nileesa. From the shape of your armour, I would guess you are a Dual Dancer, are you not?"
Arria smiled wryly. "Once upon a time, maybe. Now, I am but any other rogue; my art lost with my people."
"Your skills will come back to you in the months ahead, as you forge your new life."
She reached out slowly towards it, but soon her hand began to shake until it finally made contact with the cool metal. The hand was ripped back as if it had been burned, and it was then she realised just how much damage has been done to her. "Duncan, I cannot…I am not worthy to wear this anymore…Do you think, you could find me some new armour?" The Grey Warden gave a short nod and placed a single dagger in her hand before leaving the dungeon.
Arria took a last moment to look around the dungeon, knowing it would be the last time she would have to look upon its walls. It wasn't long before a broken mirror caught her attention, and what she saw shocked her: smoky grey eyes looked back at her with a haunted edge, cuts and scrapes were visible along much of her upper arms while her long caramel hair was matted and dull. She pulled the hair from behind her back and looked at it. Much of it was beyond all hope of repair, and would be a permanent reminder of her time here. As if the memories aren't enough. Looking at the blade in her hand, she looked into the reflection in the steel for many moments before she made her decision. Without another moment's thought she sliced clean through it, reducing it from waist length to just below her shoulder. As the weight tumbled away to lie unmoving on the ground she almost felt like she was casting off the last chain tying her here physically. Mentally would be another story altogether, but now at last she felt she could build her life anew.
Maybe the Grey Wardens would be exactly what she needed.
Duncan returned moments later with a soft leather armour and Arria smiled at the choice, something light to help her regain her lost strength. Months of captivity had taken their toll, and it would take much healing before she could begin to feel like her old self again. A quick change and a stroll outside saw the young woman feel the sun on her face for the first time in nearly a year. She spread her arms out wide and laugh as she soaked in the feeling. Freedom felt so good.
I suddenly hit her that she had free choice again. That meant she could have a bath.
"Erm..Duncan? Can I make one request before we head south?"
The Grey Warden turned to face her. "It must be quick, we do not have time to waste."
"Yes…can I please wash and refresh myself somewhere? I haven't had a bath since…"
A small smile of sympathy came from the older man. "You can have until the early afternoon, my apprentice. But then we must be off. Ostagar cannot wait."
"I understand, thank you." The smile could have split her face for those few moments.
She didn't know what she was signing up for by joining the Wardens, but anything had to be better than rotting in Arl Howe's dungeon. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Maker for sending Howe to the Couslands. Without that critical departure, she would not be free now.
Let me know what you all think! This is my first DA:O fic so hopefully I can make it as good as some of those I have read.