Rose Cousland trudged alongside Duncan, it would be a long route to Ostagar from Highever. Long enough to think how she could explain the whole messed up situation to her brother. How do you tell someone their family died and you don't even know why? How do you explain it was 'Uncle' Rendon who twisted a dagger in your own fathers gut and left him to bleed out?
She shook her head to remove the growing lump in her throat. By her ankles, Aegis was rubbing his patchy fur to her leg as they moved, desperately trying to comfort his mistress. She tickled briefly on his ears and gave him a weak smile. The road ahead was going to be horrid. Nan told her stories of the darkspawn when she was little and from the frantic conversation in the pantry - she was going to be a Grey Warden and fight them for a living.
"Lady Cousland... I -" The mention of her surname made Rose cough and Duncan stopped on his train of thought.
"Don't call me that... I'm... I'm just Rose now." She breathed heavily. The weight of it all was crushing into her ribs and her stomach squirmed at the thought. Duncan stayed by her as she leant into her knees.
"I'm terribly sorry for what has happened. If there's anything I can do to make your time more pleasant..." She put her hand up to silence him this time.
"I'm fine. As long as I can expose Howe for the traitor and murderer he is; I'll be fine." She huffed, her eyes watering thinking of everything she'd lost. "Let's keep moving or I'll stay in this spot." She pushed off her knees and carried on ahead. She needed to live. Her father had only approved her conscription so she could live. She was full of fire and it had been dying within her but at that moment, Duncan had seen the fire re-kindling in her eyes. She was going to live her life just to spite Rendon Howe. Duncan stayed back as she walked with her mabari. In any other circumstance he would have been happy to have this young woman as a Grey Warden. But a Warden does as they must.
They'd spent the next week walking in relative silence. Rose returned to the small camp site, wringing out the water in her hair and tying it back up. The small group had found a fairly clean looking stream and anxious to remove the dirt, vomit and blood still caked to her, she'd decided to have a wash. Duncan passed her a mug of tea and she sat next to the fire. It had shocked her to see the state her body was in. Despite hardly eating because she couldn't keep the food down, she had hardly lost weight, perhaps being slightly more defined in the abdominal region. The stab wound she'd received on the side, just under her ribs had scabbed and bruised. The cool water felt wonderful on the aching skin.
"We should arrive in Ostagar soon Rose." Duncan took a sip from his own tea, biting his tongue as it burnt him.
"Will this be the last night of travelling then?" She stared into the flames as they fluttered on the spit.
"Yes. If we set off early; we'll get there in the morning." He joined her in staring at the fire and the charring rabbit. He'd learnt early on in the journey that cooking fish caused her to vomit more and he'd worried about her health for a while. She couldn't be sick any more. He needed her healthy if she was going to fight darkspawn. She'd caught the rabbit in a trap early this night. He chuckled inwardly that this noble girl knew how to make traps.
"If you bend the lure back like this Rosie... It'll get your prey to venture into the trap more effectively. That way it will die without too much pain." Rory watched on as she attempted to copy the technique on her own trap, laughing when the lure pinged back and caught her on the nose. She rubbed the reddening skin and scowled at him.
"You did that on purpose!" She stuck her tongue out at him.
"You're twisting the wire wrong my dear." He reached over and twisted the wire correctly and bent it so the lure was in the right place. "Like that. Don't worry - you'll learn."
"How many things would you teach me good Ser?" she batted her eyelashes at him, giving him the wrinkled nose smile because he was so close to her right now. He smiled back, catching the double meaning.
"If you're a good girl, many things." He feigned the innocence in the words but they both knew to read more into it. She brushed the small traps from their laps and leap into his, wrapping her legs around his waist, kissing him with an urgency and passion that took both by surprise. He responded with a tug at the elastic holding her hair up and let it come undone.
"But what if I'm not a good girl hmm?" She broke the silence in the study and he looked up to her face, haloed by her light red hair fanning out of it's constraints. He answered the question by bringing her face back to his and reached behind her, flicking her chest bindings open through her leathers. She gasped and moved her hands to his scale armour, unbuckling the side straps. "I think I'll be very bad then." She nuzzled into his neck and he fiddled with her straps, finally letting the cuirass slip from between them. Her chest bindings fell with the leather top and he stopped a moment, regaining a small piece of restraint as his skin touched to hers.
"Are you sure Rosie?" His breath was hot on her naked skin and she pulled back from him, standing just out of reach. "If we stopped here I would not be upset." He gave her the daft smile he always used when he was lying and she smiled back. She undid her belt and threw both her boots and trousers off.
"I'm sure." She moved back to him and undid his belt. "I'm sure." She mounted his lap again and tangled her fingers in the dark red hair. Wordlessly, he lifted them both to the desk, knocking the papers alongside the abandoned traps. He shuffled the scale trousers down and put her down to the desk and they made love for their first times.
The morning air whipped the blankets from Rose and she blinked into the light. Aegis nuzzled up to his mistress, his wet nose cold to her warm skin. "Get off me Aegis!" She pushed the mabari off and re-tightened the leathers she'd been wearing non-stop since Highever.
"Ah good, you're awake. I was going to wake you soon anyway." Duncan was putting the remnants of the fire he'd restarted to make up breakfast and passed the sleepy eyed girl a bowl of scrambled eggs. "Eat. We leave soon." He returned to his task and Rose looked at the mount of egg he'd piled for her. He'd been giving her more and more food because of her inability to keep it in her stomach and she sniffed the offering. The steam drifted into her nose and she lifted the spoon from the food to her mouth. It tasted amazing and hungrily she finished the entire amount, surprised at the calm in her abdomen. Normally after eating she would feel sick immediately.
They packed up the blankets and put the bowls in the pack that Duncan carried. As they started to move again, he passed her a flask of tea and unscrewed the top a bit for her. They walked in relative silence again. But Rose was getting used to the man; he felt like family, even after the short time and meagre words they had between them.
After an hour of being out of the forest and back on stone, the Imperial Highway to be exact, Duncan squinted up to the ruined fortress. He could make out the group of men walking towards them vaguely except for one. The golden armour was glinting in the harsh light and he muttered under his breath to his companion. They both stood taller as the two groups neared each other.
"Ho there Duncan!" The man clad in gold waved to the small group and his face creased in the smile. Rose pondered how it was unbecoming for her to crease her face while smiling but not for the king. The King? Holy Maker! She dropped to a knee as Duncan already had and bowed her head. "Oh get up! How are you... I almost thought you'd be missing out on the fun." Duncan and Rose stood up and greeted King Calian properly.
"Not if I could help it your majesty." Duncan turned his head down as he spoke and Rose was twisting her signet ring. The King might not recognise her - she hadn't been to many Landsmeets in Denerim but when they were both much younger, King Maric, Queen Rowan and Prince Calian had all come for the Satinalia celebrations, spending Harvestmere in Gwaren. It had been that way until Maric died and Calian took the throne. Technically they hadn't met for over five years.
"And I take it that this is the recruit you sent word about? I thought you were going to be recruiting..." Calian cast an eye over to Rose, stopping his sentence when he noticed the haunted look in her eyes and the large purple bruise on her neck. Rose knew that Calian was speaking of Rory. It had been no secret that the original plan had been to recruit him. "Rose! I haven't seen you in five years!"
"Nor I you, your majesty." Remembering her manners she bowed her head slightly as she spoke. This wasn't the prince who danced atop the Cliffs of Conobar with his mother during the celebrations. This was the King.
"Your brother arrived with the Highever men not two days ago. But neither your father or Rendon and his men have arrived. Fergus said there had been delays?" Rose stalled slightly hearing Calian bring up the topic of her family but was relieved to hear that her brother was alive. Someone else had survived.
"Your majesty, if I may?" Duncan looked to Rose and she nodded. She didn't wish to utter the words herself lest she fall further into her depression. "Arl Howe has proven himself a traitor and turned on the Couslands. I recruited Rose as a means of her survival when Highever was sacked." He spoke quickly, checking the expression of his recruit every few seconds.
"Tell me this isn't true!" His face dropped when they noticed Rose had bitten into her bottom lip and it had started to bleed. "Howe will not profit from his deeds. As soon as we've broken the darkspawn horde here; I will turn my armies north and we will make him pay. Until then, I suggest you vent any anger you have on the darkspawn. My mother used to say that there is nothing more deadly than an angry Cousland." Rose wiped the dripping blood from her face, smiling weakly at the mentioning of that. During the Rebellion, Queen Rowan had fought alongside both her mother and father. When her father was made to believe that her mother had been captured by the Orlesians - there had apparently been no Chevalier that could stand in his way.
"Thank you, if I may find my brother and tell him?" She looked at the stone floor, unable to process much more information. But Howe was going to pay. He was going to pay for what he'd done to her family, what he'd done to her life.
"I'm sorry to say but Fergus is out scouting the Korcari Wilds with his men. They won't return until three days time at the earliest." She chewed the inside of her mouth. She hadn't planned on the event that she couldn't tell Fergus the news straight away.
"I do not wish to tell him the fates of our families. I will have to... but I am not in a hurry to tell him." She looked to Duncan then shook her head. She couldn't allow this man to do what had to be done. He'd already helped save her life and had brought her to speak to the king of the events at Highever. No. She'd have to tell Fergus herself.
"I'm sorry to cut this short. But if I stay any longer Loghain will have my guts for garters!" Calian suddenly remembered what had happened to Rose and added. "Figuratively of course. He's been pestering me about strategies all the while I've been here."
"If Lord Loghain is interested in strategies, could you remind him that the Redcliffe forces should be here in a few days? The extra manpower-"
"Ha! Eamon just wants in on the glory. But I'm doubting that this is truly a Blight. We've yet to see the Archdemon in battle." Calian turned from Duncan and Rose to look over the Ostagar fortress.
"I can assure you that the Archdemon is behind the horde. This is a Blight." Duncan shook his head, Rose noted that he looked tired. More tired that it was to be expected with how little he slept.
"I was hoping for a battle that the bards would sing for decades. A King fighting alongside the fabled Grey Wardens against a Tainted God..." Calian noted that Loghain was leaving his tent and shouting at a soldier. He counted his blessings that he could see the area clearly from this position and that it wasn't himself being shouted at for the moment. "But I should really go. I wish you luck in battle Duncan. And also to you Rose." Then King Calian left with his men across the bridge into the fortress. Rose looked up to Duncan, unsure of what had just happened during that conversation. Surely the Redcliffe forces would have arrived if the Highever ones had? Unless they had been 'delayed' as the Amarantine forces.
Duncan caught the puzzled look on the young woman's face and sighed. "The King spoke true when he said that they've been in battle many times here."
"So I would assume more military forces would be needed?" She quirked an eyebrow, trying to think on the situation at hand. Had more noble families been in the conspiracy against her family?
"One would assume so." They started walking down the bridge into the fortress. "But I shouldn't worry you with the state of the forces gathered or the Blight too much. Within the fortress you should find my two other recruits and another Grey Warden by the name of Alistair. He's only a Junior Warden so I've tasked him to look over you whilst I deal with other matters. You should also speak with the Quartermaster and replenish your stock of arrows." He gestured over the encampment within.
"Where will I find everyone?" She looked over the area. It was a very large encampment and there would be hundred of soldiers within.
"The Quartermaster was set up by the remnants of a old temple last I knew. As for the recruits and Alistair? I can't say. But if you ask around for Daveth, Ser Jory and Alistair... someone may know of their locations." He pointed to a guard standing near the entranceway and noted how she responded when he'd mentioned the name of Ser Jory. He'd been recruited in Highever. Maybe she knew him? "I shall be by a large fire in the Grey Warden enclosure. Seek me out once you are ready and I'll give you some tasks for your joining ritual." He walked off into the fortress, thinking on how he hadn't heard Rose speak as much as she had this day as she had their entire journey. Perhaps she would take the advice of the King and turn her emotions to the darkspawn. If she had survived the sacking of Highever without that fury she might just last against them. He hoped that she would live as she'd been told to by her father. He hoped he hadn't saved her just to kill her later himself.
Rose sniffed, she wasn't sure whether to be angry or upset. Ser Jory had passed on condolences on her family once he recognised her but he'd called her the 'Teryna of Highever'. As if Fergus hadn't survived himself. She pushed down the steps from the infirmary to the Quartermaster. She explained that she was the third Grey Warden recruit and he nodded knowingly. He gave her a large quiver of arrows that had been set aside for the Grey Wardens and changed her ordinary daggers for a light sword and dagger enchanted with silverite runes. She thanked him and went to set away when a rather short, tanned man stopped her.
"Did I hear correct that you're our third recruit?" She glanced quickly at the man and made note that he carried the same weapons that she'd just received.
"I am. Rose er... just Rose." She looked down to her signet ring and sighed, the twisting she'd done earlier had made the front of it face inward to her palm rather than face the world. Not that he was looking at her hands.
"Name's Daveth. Didn't expect a woman... we was told this knight was going to be coming along." She gave him a weak smile. So she'd somehow bumped into the other recruit. At least that was another thing ticked off her list of things to do.
"He was going to be... there was..." She bit down on her now very damaged bottom lip. "I'm here. Have you a problem with that?" She took her teeth from her lip and stared defiantly at him.
"Oh not at all. Not at all." The way he stared back at her made her skin crawl. Just great! "So has anyone told you what this joining ritual is all about?" He looked to his left and right as if he were speaking of something he shouldn't have. "I heard we'll be heading into the wilds for some reason." Her heart leapt at the thought of heading where Fergus was but quickly sank once more on the thought of telling him of Oriana, Oren, Mama and Papa.
"Is the wilds supposed to scare me?" She gave him a look of disbelief. If her brother was out there, there wouldn't be a darkspawn strong enough to separate them. Bad news or not, she had to know that he was alive with her own eyes.
"They say there's more than wolves and whatnot in those swamps. Witches and monsters." He shuddered and she recognised the look as the one Oren usually had when he'd decided Aunt Rose would be a better person to wake up than his parents when he'd had a nightmare.
"Tell you what. I'll look out for these witches and monsters and you can have the darkspawn?" He smiled at her and she quickly regretted the words.
"Need a strong man to save you from the darkspawn?" He laughed and she gave him a stern look.
"Only if you need saving from witches and monsters." She turned on her heel. "Oh by the way, Duncan's back. I'd suggest you find him in the Grey Warden enclosure." Then she left the man looking stunned. She walked quickly up into the old temple where the guard had said he'd last seen this elusive Alistair.
"You're glibness does you no credit." The dark man in mage robes spat the words at the blond man in splintnail armour. She had to assume one or the other was Alistair. She didn't know which she might have preferred.
"And I though we were getting along so well! I was going to name one of children after you! The grumpy one!" He crossed his arms to the mage.
"Argh! Let me alone. I will speak with the Revered Mother." He turned away and pushed past Rose. She wasn't sure as to follow him in case he was the man she was sent to find or to stay put. The blond man noted her presence and sighed.
"It's wonderful isn't it? How the Blight really brings people together!" He smiled at her and she gave him a glance through narrowed eyes, unsure of him.
"Tell me about it." If that was an argument over the Blight then he ought to see what nobles argued about. It would often come to blows.
"It's like a party! We should all stand in a circle and dance around the darkspawn. That'd confuse them." He smiled harder but she carried on her critical analysis of him. A sword and shield fighter... and the sword matched the one she was given. This must be Alistair.
"You are strange. Alistair, I'm presuming? I'm the third recruit." She extended a hand to shake his but immediately withdrew it. She didn't know this man properly. He looked her up and down as she had, analysing her. Leather armour, sword and dagger but a bow and arrow too. She had a bruise creeping up her neck and down below the line of her leathers and it was tinged with yellow on the edges. Her lips were cracked and her mouth didn't look right on her face either, it was too wide and thin to sit with her straight nose and stubborn looking jaw. He stopped his examination of her, he hadn't responded yet to her.
"I thought we were expecting a knight, you're a little shorter than I expected and as much as your hair matches the description you don't look much like a Roland." He tried to laugh at his own words but she gave him a stern look that he'd only seen once before - when Arlessa Isolde had been up all night crying because Conner had been up all night crying and he'd tried to make her laugh with a joke. "All right... touchy subject. I'll drop it."
"I'm Rose if you must know. Duncan said I was to find you?" She crossed her arms. She would have rather had the mage been Alistair and all she would have had to deal with was possibly being burn in his anger.
"Great. Let's go find him. I was told I have to look after the recruits." He ignored her defensive stance and started walking to the Grey Warden enclosure.
"You don't have to look after me. You were doing a fine job with the others. Daveth's eyeing up anything that moves and Ser Jory is wandering about like a lost lamb."
"Don't worry, I won't embarrass you. But yes I do have to look after you. Let's just find Duncan and get the joining underway." She started to follow him, her arms still crossed and as they walked past a stew pot she felt her stomach squirm. She almost moaned from the pain but restrained herself while Alistair was near her. She didn't like him much and he was going to have to do something spectacular to change her mind. She wasn't going to play the weak little girl around him. They might have expected Rory to be the recruit, all armour shining and giving them smiles like he always did; but she was here and they were just going to have to live with. Just like she had to.
Duncan sensed the tension in the air between Rose and the three others. He'd guessed as much that she wouldn't like them but thought Alistair might have cheered her up a little with his light hearted nature. He frowned slightly. She stood in the corner of the enclosure, her arms crossed over her chest and if looks could have killed, Daveth, Jory and Alistair might have fallen dead. He cleared his throat.
"If you could all come here?" Rose, Daveth, Jory and Alistair all moved toward him and Rose dropped her arms to her sides. She was still looking daggers at the others though. "Now before we start the Joining Ritual, I have two tasks for you to perform. The first is relatively simple. I need you to go into the wilds and collect three vials of darkspawn blood, one for each recruit and return with them to me."
"Why do we need blood? Don't you have enough being darkspawn fighters?" Rose turned her silent anger into a quiet but potent form and immediately blushed. "Sorry. I'm annoyed is all." Duncan sighed.
"It's alright. I'll tell you once you've returned with them." He looked at Daveth and Jory and noted the looks of ease that Rose had softened slightly. Alistair still hadn't got the look of unease off his face as of yet and he noted that Rose was still glaring at him. "The second task. In the wilds there is an old Grey Warden tower. We had to abandon it years ago when we could no longer afford such remote outposts. It has recently come to my attention however, that there were some treaties of support left behind. I ask if you could find these and bring them back also."
"Right. Blood and treaties. Got it." Rose stalked out of the enclosure and the three others looked at Duncan.
"Well, go after her, she'll take on the wilds alone if you just stand here!" He almost had to push them to follow her but they eventually they went after the girl. He put a gloved hand to his forehead and rubbed at the headache forming there. Learn to get along. We can't fight darkspawn if you're all bickering with each other when we're faced with them. He tried to will his thoughts into being but instead returned to the fire and poured hot water onto the tea leaves in his mug. He strained the leaves out once it had coloured the water sufficiently and blew a cool breath over the tea before sipping. He winced at the burn on his tongue but it allowed him to think of something other than his recruits turning on one another while they were supposed to fight alongside each other.