Chapter 4Mature

Rose stood with her back to the two other Grey Wardens. She'd just been told that she was effectively barren now. That she would be dead in thirty years give or take. And for what? A slightly improved chance at sensing and killing darkspawn? Immunity to the darkspawn disease? She had felt more light on her feet since she'd drunk that wretched stuff, but how was that a fair price? Her hand held to her stomach, as if by letting it fall the life inside would no-longer exist. She would never have another child, she knew this. She wouldn't have traded it's life for anything - to be able to life a normal life or eradicate darkspawn forever. Something inside her was thawing and she realised that although she'd only know of it's presence for less than and hour she loved it. Part her and Roland. She might have traded this life for him. She bit back the thought. How could she dare think that way?

"And this Wynne was completely sure it's untainted?" She turned back to the awkward meeting, not letting her eyes falter from her commander.

"She is sure. But I am sorry Rose. I have a meeting with the King and Lord Loghain to speak strategies for the next battle." Duncan gave Rose a small smile and left her with Alistair. She looked coldly at him and he shifted under the gaze.

"I suppose you're getting all these ideas in your head now." She darkened the gaze and he faltered, trying to think of some words.

"I was wondering on how the child came to be." He sighed, no point in lying if she wouldn't even speak nicely to him anyway.

"How else? I had sex? Or are you still under the illusion that good fade spirits give happy loved up couples babies while they dream?" She scoffed at the thought.

"Maker! I know where babies come from! I'm not a complete idiot. I was simply asking of it's father." He tried to turn away but found that the tension was too strong for it. She bit into the inside of her lip.

"He died when my home was burning. He gave his life that I may live and he never knew." He saw the tears welling in her eyes and couldn't help feel some sort of compassion for this stubborn and spiteful woman, no matter how moody she had been.

"I didn't know. I'm sorry." She was caught by his sincerity but didn't stop.

"I am the last living Cousland as far as I know. I saw my family dead or dying around me and couldn't do anything about it! I saw the one man I truly loved struggle desperately to hold back the main doors with a small troop of men. I only left him because he promised to follow once he knew I was safe. But I saw the roof collapse in flames. I know he'd died because he was too foolish and stubborn to save his own life. I might have died too if not that Duncan conscripted me as I watched my father bleed out onto the floor. My mother was franticly trying to revive him as I was pulled out the escape hatch in our pantry. I don't think sorry even comes close." She was breathing heavily, her face mere inches from his and she turned away. "You didn't know because nothing like that ever happened to you. I wouldn't wish it on my worse enemy. Not even the man who did this to me." She scowled at the ground and gave it a hard kick.

"The man you loved. What was his name?" He couldn't help blurting out the question and immediately regretted it, he saw the anger replaced by a horrific melancholy. She stood stoic for a moment, as if worrying that his name would make her shatter.

"Rory." She bit back the lump forming in her throat as she finally let the name. "Roland Gilmore. We were going to be married. He had the daftest smile when he lied. He smiled like that when he said he would follow me to safety." She slumped to the floor and Alistair felt too awkward just standing there and knelt beside her. This was why she'd bitten at him when she'd first met him. He'd unthinkingly mentioned the name of the man who'd loved her so much that he died to let her live. He hadn't known she carried his child. She hadn't known. "So what of your family?" She tried not to sound too harsh but the words were hitched and pounded out her mouth.

"I'm just a bastard of a serving girl infatuated. Orphaned at birth and given to the Chantry at ten. I was a templar... so I'm an ex-templar turned Grey Warden now." He finished his little ramble. Somehow he felt comfort that his life hadn't been the worst he'd encountered. He hated himself for the comparison. She was correct with the words she'd spoken. He couldn't imagine giving her experiences to his worst enemy.

"That would explain why you were arguing with that mage when I found you." She sniffed and pushed off the floor. "Thank you by the way. I didn't deserve that poultice back at the ruin. I didn't deserve your kindness. I'm sorry for the way I've acted." She put out her hand in gesture and he took it, puling himself up on her strength and giving it a rough shake. "I'm Rose Cousland. It's a pleasure to meet you Alistair."

He took the gesture as a fresh start between them both. The tension had definitely dropped even though the events had still happened. "It is very nice to meet you Rose. I look forward to having you as a fellow Warden." He let go of her hand and looked up as he sensed Duncan's return. The familiar taint of his commander and father-figure nearing the two. He pointed up to him and Rose whipped her head round and Duncan smiled at them both. He could tell that things had been at least temporarily mended between the two. That would make the task they had to do so much easier.

***

Rose, Alistair and Aegis carried on up the Tower of Ishal. She had been relieved when Duncan had told them of their small but vital role in the battle, but Alistair had been furious. He wasn't ready yet to explain the complete machinations behind the King's decision to send him with her. Duncan had used her 'condition' as an excuse to Alistair that she needed protecting, much to her ire. If this was going to be the way it worked she might as well have not been made a Grey Warden. Still, she was relieved that she would not be in the main battle.

They neared the top floor and she gulped back the looted health poultice from a chest in the tower. Hoping that it would effect the cuts made to her body. She threw the flask the the ground and grimaced at the bitterness. They pounded up the stairs. They had most probably missed the signal by now but the beacon still had to be lit. They rounded the last corner and she stopped dead in her tracks. Leaning over a corpse stood the tallest darkspawn she'd ever seen. It was solid muscle from head to foot and had huge horns protruding from it's head. The darkspawn ripped a leg from the corpse and cracked down with powerful jaws on the bone. It felt the presence of the two Wardens and turned to them roaring and renting thick saliva over the floor. Rose grabbed one of the few arrows she had remaining and fired at it's relatively weak looking eyes, only to see the arrow glance off leaving no more than a scratch on it's brow.

"Maker's bloody breath. What is that thing?" She notched and fired another arrow and it too saw no purchase in the thick hide.

"It's an ogre. I'd switch to your blades now." Alistair dashed forwards and the creature knocked him back with a sickening crack as he hit the floor. Rose drew the sword and dagger, hoping that she took would not fall so quickly. She tried to creep around and Aegis tackled the beast head on.

The mabari sunk it's teeth into the flesh and held the ogre still while she took deep blows into it's relatively unprotected back. Alistair groaned as he got back up and felt the broken bones in his left shoulder. He steeled himself against the pain and favoured his right sword arm, knowing his shield would be all but useless now. He dove forward as the ogre kicked the mabari into the air and Aegis landed on his paws, skidding on the stone. Alistair caught deep in it's thigh and wrenched the sword down, tearing at the muscles and fatty tissues and spilling it's blood over the floor. It fell to it's side and Rose yanked her sword and dagger from it's back as it fell, stabbing now into the exposed side of the creature, slipping the blades between ribs to pierce the lungs. Seeing his opportunity to attack a weakness Alistair moved to it's head and smashed his pommel into it's face, shattering the bone and bloodying it's face. The ogre wailed and threw all it's weight into it's arm and caught Rose on the side of the head and she was dashed to the ground like a ragdoll.

She winced and got back up, the pain blinding her and she used the only senses at her disposal. The Warden's sense of darkspawn. She lunged and drove her sword into it's side and pulled it out, creating a deep gash down it's side. Alistair raised his sword and thrust it deep into the broken face, spiking it into the creatures brain. It slumped back dead and they finally stopped fighting. Rose reached into her pocket for another poultice and finding only torn elfroot leaves put them in her mouth and chewed. Alistair took his last poultice and gulped the weak concoction back to help remedy the suffering in his arm.

Aegis barked at the two and remembering the task at hand and having gained back a small portion of her vision, Rose ran to the tinder box at the end of the flue for the beacon. She sparked at the kindling and blew at the wisps of flame until there was a whoosh and the fire ignited the oil saturated ropes that lead to the beacon itself. She slammed the grate down and moved over to the window to watch over the battle.

"Are you ok? I heard something crack when you fell..." She spoke loudly over the din of the raging battle and Alistair moved beside her to watch.

"I'm fine. Nothing a bit of healing magic and a strong poultice or a lot of sleep won't heal." He tried to keep his tone light but in truth he couldn't move his arm from where it was even to drop the splintered ash shield on it. The weight of it wore down at his reserves of energy.

***

Outside Duncan took a cautionary glance up to the tower. The beacon was lit! Reinforcements were coming! There was a surge of energy in the men fighting for their lives as they too noticed the signal fire. The ogre tore through the horde and Duncan felt the presence of the Archdemon encroaching on his mind.

Slaughter the Grey Wardens! Kill the Golden one and this land will be ours!

Duncan shook the thought from his mind and finally saw the ogre as it picked up King Calian. It clasped tight to him and it's spittle dripped over the obviously frightened man. The ogre crushed him within it's thick fingers and tossed the body away as if it were nothing. Duncan charged at the ogre and leapt to it's waist, climbing up it's body using his weapons as rudimentary tools and twisting both the dagger and sword with each stab. The ogre tried to shake him off or hit him away but he remained steadfast. Holding to the weapons as blow after blow cracked his body.

Finally he reached it's weaker part of it's body. It's neck and he wrapped his legs round it and drove the sword and dagger down into it's body through it's neck. The ogre fell back and unable to wrench the weapons from it Duncan took a jump back off it, not wanting to be hurt as it fell.

He landed on his knees and they cracked as he was forced into the ground. He looked up and around the blazing battlefield and saw the soldiers fall to the darkspawn blades. Where were Loghain's men? He looked through the smoke and couldn't see the banners or flags in the distant hills. Either they'd fallen or retreated.

He felt the powerful burn of a hurlock vanguard nearing and had only a moment to think before the axe buried itself in his neck. His last thought was of the two Wardens in the Tower of Ishal. Bickering and nearly coming to blows. But it was slightly prophetic as he saw Rose, her stomach large with her child, a greatsword aimed over the head of the Archdemon. The thought was too cruel. Rose was no warrior. It was merely a blind hope. A hope that the Blight would and could be defeated after his death.

***

The embers floated in the air and Loghain watched as the beacon flared up. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ser Cauthrien raise her arm to mobilise the army. He held up his own arm, knowing that they would follow him over her. "Sound the retreat. The battle is lost." He looked on at the blazing field and the horde that ran rampant. He turned to his second in command. He hadn't hear the horn blare out yet. He saw the hesitation on her face and grabbed her still raised arm. "Do as I say!" He shoved her back and Ser Cauthrien bit back her opinion. She raised the horn of retreat to her lips and threw her arm away from the horde. The horn blasted and in synchronised movements, the small army turned and started their march away.

***

Rose, Alistair and Aegis carried on watching the battle from their viewpoint, screaming as they saw the retreat and heard the horn blow over the roar of the horde. "NO!" Alistair felt his adrenaline kicking in again and the taint inside him burnt. More darkspawn were approaching. Rose felt it too and instinctively albeit slower than he, pulled her weapons from their sheaths. The door banged open and the archers rounded the corner up the stairs.

The flurry of arrows hit the three before they had a chance to counter-attack. Rose fell to an arrow through her collarbone, Alistair to one in the stomach and Aegis got three in the side. As Rose hit the ground her head cracked hard on the floor and she felt the darkness consuming everything.

***

The light was all encompassing and she felt bathed in its warmth. Rose felt as if she hadn't moved in years and her movements showed this. She felt the familial presences and reached toward them. There were here parents! Oriana, Oren! She tried in vain to find Rory and felt the stabbing and relief inside when the words whispered to her. "He's not here. You shouldn't be here. It isn't your time. Leave this place." She changed her target and tried to search out for Fergus and again the words chanted to her.

She felt enraptured by this light. It was too comfortable to leave. But there was a quiet willpower that seemed to come from within her and although it spoke nothing it was forcing her to the surface. It wanted her out of this place.

Rose felt the light disappearing and felt the air rush at her. The darkness returned but the quiet willpower remained. It urged her to carry on moving away from this place too.

The End

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