Rose's nose wrinkled at the stench of the Wilds and she felt the now too familiar stirring of her stomach. She reached into her pocket and fondled her lock-picks for a way of distracting herself, reacquainting herself with her tools like old friends. Finally able to think straight she carried on in the swamp covered land, trying to ignore the wolves blood dripping off her legs or the way the mud slipped under her tread. She hadn't seen much point in wasting arrows on mere wolves and when they had attacked she'd gone into the fray with her sword and dagger poised. True, she'd been rewarded with some scratches that nearly drew blood on her face and hands and she'd gotten bitten a few times, but thee wasn't much danger in simple forest animals.
Rose looked up through the misty air and caught sight of something in the distance standing atop the nearest ridge of land. It stood too tall for an animal and for a brief moment she hoped that it would be Fergus. Her hopes were dashed when Alistair spoke aloud one word. "Darkspawn." She blood ran cold and she drew her bow out and pulled an arrow from it's quiver. Notching it and aiming for the head she let it fly to the target and watched on as the creature simply roared in pain and started marching toward her position, the arrow sticking awkwardly in it's fleshy head. Panicking, she drew another arrow, aiming for the face that was getting closer and closer. She saw the other arrow fly next to her own head and embed itself between the plates of darkspawn armour. Gritting her teeth tight, she let her own second arrow fly and it went straight into it's open mouth, lodging in the back of it's throat. It gurgled and fell back. The creature had been halted and she let out a heavy breath. That had been close. She feared so much that very moment, worried that she'd survived Highever simply to be run though by that hideous thing.
Another, dwarf sized darkspawn crept over the ridge, it's small face barely visible as it loaded it's crossbow while it's belly laid on the floor. The genlock let the bolt loose at the human which had killed it's comrade and felt the song in it's head sing triumphantly when the bolt pierced through the leathers of it's leg and find home it the soft flesh. It placed another bolt on the crossbow and pulled the firing mechanism back, not bothering that the wire drew blood from it's fingers as it protested to use. It wasn't aware of the sword so close to it's patchy armour, it didn't know it had been close to death until the sword had gone clean through it and had been sunk into the wet mud below. Rose bit back as she pulled the bolt from her shin and threw the barbed projectile to the floor and stood on it, satisfied with the crack as it broke. It hadn't gotten deep but the pain was terrible.
Alistair yanked his sword from the genlock, placing a foot on it's back to lever himself. Behind him Jory had beheaded a hurlock and was searching the horizon for another, the hurlock behind him had no hesitation though and slammed a shield into his back, knocking the knight to the floor. Two arrows hit at the hurlock simultaneously, one lodging in it's sorry excuse of an ear and the other piercing the cheek clean from it's side to it's nose. It's head whipped to the direction of the arrows and caught another two in the face, one breaking through it's teeth and hitting it's tongue and the other in it's eye.
The hurlock hadn't fallen yet though. Alistair managed to get his sword free and charged at the pin-cushioned darkspawn, bashing his shield it it's face and knocking the two arrows which faced him further into it's head. The darkspawn shook violently then fell and the four of them visibly caved... the last of the darkspawn in the immediate area dead.
Rose dashed forward to the nearest darkspawn, the hurlock that had fallen first and drew her own vial from the pocket opposite her lock-picks. She knelt down in the bloodied earth and pulled the arrow from the side of it's head and held the vial to the wound. "How much of this Maker forsaken stuff do we need?" She called over to Alistair who was helping Jory from the floor. He patted the knight on the back and motioned him to the darkspawn he'd beheaded.
"Fill the vial. I really can't remember! Just don't put it in your mouth!" He shouted back, his hands framing his mouth as to direct his voice. Rose shook her head. As if she'd want it anywhere near her mouth! She looked back down and felt the warm black blood oozing on her fingers. She pulled the vial away and corked it up, wiping the sticky liquid off onto her trouser leg. She stood back up and slipped the vial into the pocket it had come from. Her stomach was turning repeatedly as she looked down at the hurlock. It's flesh looked to be rotted or dissolved badly from it's bones and it's spindly teeth protruded from it's lipless mouth. The eyes were a strange white and she couldn't help but stare at it. It looked horrid and deadly even whilst dead. "They're disgusting aren't they?" She was pulled out of the moment by Alistair and she looked up to him, she'd been unaware that he'd left his place on the ridge.
"Indeed. I can't say I didn't enjoy killing it." She looked back down to the corpse. It'd helped her get rid of a morsel of her anger. But she still wasn't too fond of her companions. Daveth was as good as if not better than her with a bow, but that's what she'd gotten for splitting her studies between two classes of weaponry. She'd seen Jory fight back in the tourneys at Highever and was not shocked at how her swung the greatsword with remarkable ease. Alistair was lucky that he knew how to fight. She'd been waiting to see him in proper pitched fights before making imaginary plans on the best way to get at him back for his comments when they first met. She was still imagining just going to him while he slept and placing his hand in warm water. Childish, but it was vengeance. Not that she'd been contemplating taking him on in a fight. No... she wore light armour and his sword would make light work of it. She could find a little solace in the childish prank. He'd blundered into her anger and hatred so it seemed fitting.
"You act like a child sometimes Rosie." Roland caught up to her and she started up the tree. She reached a high enough branch that he couldn't reach her and she leant back on the trunk, catching her breath.
"Maybe I like being a child..." She dangled her feet on either side of the branch that supported her. She was twenty-one now and was grasping tightly to the last few days she'd be allowed to run in the woods and hunt with her closest friend before she was forced into dresses and made to go to dances. "Besides. You're the one who made this all a competition... after you knew you'd won!" He could see her just out of his grasp and chuckled at the youngest Cousland.
"Just get down here. Your mother will kill me if you come back with even a scratch on you." He tried to find a place to start his climb just his boot slipped down the bark. "And if your mother decided to spare me, your adorable puppy might decide she didn't have the guts to do it and would turn on me like a mabari possessed."
"Just admit that Aegis caught you tampering with my bow so I couldn't fire quick enough and I'll come down." She swung her legs back and forth, teasing her friend as he tried to make up the tree as to grab hold of her.
"How could a dog? Argh!" He slid back down. "Fine! I relent. Just get down." He scowled up to the figure which sat in the tree.
"Just what I wanted to hear. Ok... move! I'm going to jump!" She pulled her leg over so she leant from the branch.
"Don't you dare!" But it was too late and she leapt from the tree, crashing into him. She picked herself from the ground and helped him up. "You, my lady are incorrigible." She smiled at him, wrinkling her nose and flashing her teeth.
"As if I've ever been anything else?" She pulled a twig and a leaf from her hair. The two noted how close they were and she blushed in the dappled light that came through the leaves. They were both breathing hard, she from climbing and jumping, he from being winded by a crazy noble girl falling on him. But it was at that moment in time that their eyes met properly and unspoken words fluttered between them. Their lips met and crushed to each other and she had her muddied hands in his hair, his hands encircled round her waist.
They pulled from each other, gasping for air. "I'm incorrigible?" She quirked an eyebrow at him and it was his turn to blush. Something had sparked between the two and they left the woods. Both wondering why they'd kissed and whether the other had felt the same wrenching emotions when they'd stopped. That was just the start of it though.
"Is that the ruin?" Daveth stopped to catch his breath. It had felt like hours that they'd been out in the sodden wilds, the mist eating into their skin and the darkspawn constantly deciding to ambush the small group. The latest group had been slain and Rose rubbed a leaf of elfroot into her latest cuts. She may not have had any skill with herbalism but she knew how to identify plants and had grabbed the leaves as she saw them. The searing pain eased a little and she set her jaw against the remnants of it.
"Let's just scope it out and hope." She moved forward, the pain was getting to unbearable levels and she wished she'd some poultices or bandages with her to stem the bleeding a little more or ease the rest of her ache. She leant against the mottled grey stone and caught her breath. Behind her Alistair fidgeted on the spot.
"Here." He pushed the small health poultice into her hands. "Just don't make me regret this. I've had enough of those scowls you have for me." Clutching tightly to the flask she uncorked it and dabbed a finger in, coating it with the red liquid. She probed the wound made by the crossbow bolt first, letting the blood congeal under her touch and she winced as the ingredients went to work knitting at her skin. It was potent and soon the wound looked nothing more than a red mark on her shin. She re-dipped her finger in it and set to work on the most painful cuts and massaged the stuff into her forming bruises. Finally satisfied that she'd done all she could on the outside she tipped the last of it into her mouth. It was bitter and strong and she tried not to gag as she forced it down.
Regaining her composure she pushed into the ruin where the three men had already started digging in the rubble. She knelt by Alistair. "Just don't make me regret this. But thank you." She turned away from the open mouth of shock she got and started digging herself, hefting rocks and dust away from the floor.
"Hey! I found this chest with the Grey Warden emblem on it!" Daveth chucked the broken looking but nevertheless, ornate chest into the centre of the ruin. Alistair shuffled over to it on his knees, trying to think of how the box would recognise the taint within him. He placed a hand over the emblem and it pinged open at his touch. He looked inside and tipped it over.
"Blast! It's empty!" He pushed the chest away and it skidded to a halt at the feet of a woman in a patchwork leather skirt.
"Well, well, what have we here?" The woman smiled as she stepped around the four of them. She was wearing the full black leather skirt on her bottom half but on her top she wore barely more than a strategically placed strip of deep purple fabric. Rose looked at the strange woman as she stalked between them, finally stopping in front of her. The rich golden eyes looked calculating at her and she gulped back. "Are you vultures, I wonder?" The woman continued, "Scavengers, poking amidst a corpse whose bones were long since cleaned? Or merely intruders, come into these darkspawn filled wilds of mine in search of easy prey?" She crossed her arms under her half exposed breasts. "What say you? Scavengers or intruders?"
Rose pondered the question. Technically they were indeed scavenging for something, but on the other hand they belonged the Grey Wardens. But if the wilds were 'hers' as she'd said... then they were intruders. Not that you could call slaughtering darkspawn by the dozen and collecting their blood intruding much. She squared her shoulders, ready to answer when Daveth spoke."That's a witch of the wilds that is!" She ignored him and his whine and turned back to the woman.
"We're merely come to search this Grey Warden tower for some items abandoned by them."
The woman chuckled. "Tis a tower no longer! The wilds have long since claimed this corpse. I have an inclination as to your quarry. I might also be inclined to tell you of it's whereabouts." She moved slightly toward Rose. "But first I would know your name?" Her words were filled with a high spirited lilt and she had a broad, full lipped smile.
"Don't answer her. She looks Chasind... and that means there could be more nearby." Alistair stood up and roughly dusted his splintnail of rubble dust.
"You fear barbarians will swoop down on you?" The woman stopped her ever nearing inquiry of Rose and turned on Alistair.
"I do actually. Swooping tends to be bad." Rose snorted at the vague attempt at humour. It was inane hearing him face down this 'witch'. Morrigan scowled at him and moved away, preferring now to lean against a pillar and observe.
"My name is Rose. It is a pleasure to be of your acquaintance miss." She liked this woman for some reason. Perhaps it was that she had been as instantly disapproving of the blond Warden as she but she didn't think so.
"Well that is a civil greeting! Even in these foetid wilds! I am Morrigan, and it is indeed a pleasure." Morrigan nodded to the light red haired woman. "Now, I assume it is some treaties of support that has drawn you to this tower?"
"Do you know where they are then Morrigan?" She quirked an eyebrow at her, not sure what to make of the situation.
"I do. They reside in a hut not far from here." She pointed out into the distance.
"You stole them didn't you? You're some sort of sneaky witch-thief!" Rose whipped her head and could have sworn Alistair had said something insignificant. Morrigan however eyed him up.
"Oh how very eloquent. What use would I of your treaties? Twas my mother that removed them if you truly are that curious." She drawled the words out as if taking immense satisfaction in simply talking. Rose went back to thinking on the information. Duncan had tasked them to retrieve these treaties. It would be nonsensical to just ignore this woman and her offering.
"Could you take us to her?"
"Now there is someone with a sensible head on their shoulders. I believe I like you. Come if you wish." She started down the slope n the direction she had pointed and seeing no other alternative Rose got up and followed Morrigan.
"I'd be careful if I were you. First it's 'I like you' then it's zap frog-time." Alistair tried to talk under his breath but both the women turned their gazes to him, Morrigan's in questioning and Rose's with a puzzled expression.
"She'll put us in the pot she will. Just you watch." Daveth offered the piece of information to nobody in particular but before Rose could correct him that this was not a cannibal... cannibals had bones as earrings from all the stories - Jory cut in.
"If the pot's warmer than this swamp it'll make a nice change." He slipped off his chainmail gauntlets and rubbed his hands together before returning the padded metal to his hands.
Morrigan left the group at the gates to the Ostagar fortress. "I bid you well, Rose. My mother does not accept strangers too well and I haven't seen her this intrigued in a long time." She quickly turned her back to the startled woman, stalking back into the misty wilds. Rose shook her head. First; Daveth had been muttering about witches, cannibals and every other Maker forsaken monster his mind could think of and now, Morrigan had decided to sound ominous. Too much exposure to swamp gases and the such. Her stomach groaned and she clasped it tightly. She had no restraint left in her after the long walk and she emptied her stomach of the breakfast which seemed to be so long ago. Jory side-stepped the puddle and Daveth winced hearing it.
"Don't start. You'll have me off." He groaned too and she couldn't care less what he said as another spasm shook her body. A gauntlet pulled the ponytail that had fallen forward back as she continued to sick up. She wiped her mouth and looked up to Alistair and scowled at him. She wasn't a baby that needed looking after. It was a natural body reaction to the entire set of events that she'd had to deal with over the last week and a bit. She glanced at the dusky sky and pushed forward of the group of men. Alistair inwardly sighed. She was back to the glowering at him. He'd have to find out why. Before she actually lunged at him instead of just looked daggers at him.
The three recruits stood in the old temple and Aegis came up beside Rose, brushing his patchy fur against her in welcome to her return. Absent-mindedly she scratched behind his ears and watched as Duncan strode into the ruins and held in his hands a large silver chalice.
Rose looked at the fallen bodies so close to her. Men she didn't particularly like but who still hadn't deserved to die. So this was it. Die drinking or die by blade? She opted for the chalice of blood and took it gingerly from Duncan. The thought crossed her mind that she could drop it but she pushed it away. She brought it to her mouth and the smell was overwhelming. If she'd had the capability she might have started to vomit again. The smell was making her eyes water! She took in a small mouthful and Maker did it burn! She felt as if every part of her that touched the liquid burned! She struggled but swallowed it. There was nothing that vile. There couldn't have been. Raw skunk could have been more preferable at that moment. The liquid reached her stomach and she held the scream no-longer. Her eyes whipped open, glossy with the tears not fallen and her scream came out ragged.
She was watching as the dragon flew overhead and she heard it singing. The song was so beautiful. It called to her very soul. As she neared the colossal beast she could see how it's scales can been blackened and looked to fall off it's body. It smiled at her and her entire body was engulfed in blue flame and the razor sharp teeth looked to crunch down on her cooked corpse.
"Duncan - I've never seen a joining with no survivors." Alistair picked up the body of Daveth, all still warm as if cruelly reminding him of the life he'd had only moments ago. Suddenly he could sense the taint in him stirring and he looked down to the limp body near his feet. Duncan must of sensed it too and crouched down next to Rose. He held a finger under her chin and sighed. She hadn't died. For good or bad she had survived. Her breathing was laboured and her watched for a few moments as she lay on the ground.
"Could you go to the Magi enclosure and find a woman called Wynne. She's the only mage that knows of the fatality of the joining. Tell her we may require her healing skills." Alistair nodded to his mentor and carefully putting Daveth back down left the temple.
Wynne placed a glowing blue hand on the young girl's head and instantly felt that taint that all Grey Wardens had. She let the healing magic wash through the body and she tried to make sense of all the aches and pains that the girl felt. She withdrew her hand and pursed her lips at Duncan. "She should awaken soon, just very tired. Her child is untainted by the way." She watched Duncan for his reaction and was shocked when he was.
"She is-" He started but Wynne held her hand up to silence him.
"No more than a month. And before you question me, I know of your joining ritual. I've been called to heal enough Wardens these past battles. It has been spared due to the amniotic fluid that encompasses the foetus." She got up and left the two men staring at the woman on the floor.
Alistair was the first to speak. "The first woman in the Ferelden Grey Wardens since King Arland's days and she's pregnant?" He looked accusingly at Duncan.
"I honestly did not know." He felt her pulse on her neck again as a way of passing the time. "Did you know her mother was pregnant for the end of the Rebellion those thirty years ago? It was seen as a sign of good luck, that their cause would be victorious." Duncan studied both Alistair and Rose. Could history repeat itself?
"Did the child survive the fighting?" Alistair wasn't sure of anything he'd known about the Grey Wardens at this time. He knew they loathed to recruit women because they tended to desire children more... but to have a pregnant Warden? Was it even possible the child could live full term? Did she know? Who was the father? The questions swam in his head.
"He did. Fergus Cousland was born just after the battle at River Dane." Duncan smiled at the memory. He'd been present at the naming day celebration when the child reached five years. King Maric had only just invited the Wardens back into Ferelden and the Couslands had extended the invitation to the Grey Wardens as a means of bridging that gap that would be there. "No doubt there are hundreds of questions waiting to be answered. I will have to wait until she awakens to answer though."
Rose blinked up at the dark sky but all she could see were blurs. The burning that raged through her body and she tried to remember what had happened. She held her teeth tight together as a wave of nausea swept her body. She'd just drunk darkspawn blood and by some miracle - she was alive.
"Duncan? Are you there?" She tried to recognise the distorted faces that came into her vision. The familiar voice came from her left and he stroked back her hair on her forehead and she allowed the gesture. Her head was pounding.
"I have some news for you." She tried to sit up but found herself floored. "You might want to stay laying down." She couldn't help but let her mind wander. Was that entire ritual a hoax? Was she supposed to have died to abate this ancient God but had survived against the odds? Her eyes adjusted and she found her vision clearer. She focused on Duncan and looked imploringly at him to just tell her whatever he wanted to say. "Rose. You are with child." She stared at him, looking for signs that he was joking. She couldn't have been... she'd last... about five weeks ago now while the castle had been empty, her mother and father in Highever City. She'd gotten Rory into her room and they'd...
She felt her eyes water at the thought. Poor Rory. He'd never know. Her hands sprang to her stomach and she knew it held a life. The sickness and the avoiding fish whatever the cost. She was. But her tears weren't for Rory at that moment. They were for herself. Whatever grace the Maker had, when her family had been killed - she'd been given this small life. This thing to cling onto in the darkness. There wasn't just that crushing hopelessness. A soft nose nudged under the crook of her elbow and settled on her breast, looking up to her with worry. She gave Aegis a weak smile and sat up, still being kept to the floor by both Duncan and Alistair.
"Is it... tainted?" She looked through the tears to Duncan, suddenly hoping it hadn't felt the pain she had just now as her body felt as if it had been fed to the flames.
"You took so long to come around we feared the worst for you. We had a mage come and heal anything that might have been stopping your full recovery and she discovered... well." His face fell for the woman. "It is not tainted however." She struggled against the hand that held her down and he nodded to Alistair to help her up. She scowled at him as he did so.
"I'm not an invalid! I can do things on my own!" She pulled her arm away from him and lashed out. "Duncan... I have so many questions to ask you." She turned away from Alistair and his pained expression from where she'd hit him. "Oh... and sorry Alistair."
"I don't know if I'll have all the answers. But I'll try." He walked down to the Grey Warden enclosure, his two newest Wardens hot on his heels and Rose's mabari. She'd at least apologised for her actions. But he couldn't blame her for everything that had happened. He couldn't imagine what was going on in her head. He was struggling with the thoughts in his own.