Chapter 5Mature

Author note: Yeah - I thought I'd post quite a few in a row...

***

Alistair paced in the wet mud, sure he was wearing a path into the grasses. His mind was aflame with the questions and he couldn't dare himself to even speak. He felt so alone in the wind whipped wilds. He'd never felt the emotion so fully as he had now. Not even when he'd been abandoned in the Chantry at ten, not when he'd slept in the stables with only the mabari hounds for company. That was something of a pattern it seemed. Aegis sat on his haunches and watched the ex-templar pace, offering small whines to the man for attention.

"Will you stop that infernal task! I will check on her but for you to stop!" Morrigan pouted and narrowed her eyes at him, storming into the hut. Alistair sighed. She'd been comatose for the last day while he'd been awake, himself in that same state for three days previously. As much as she was still a grating presence to him. He didn't have another 'friend' in the whole of Thedas as he paced.

***

Morrigan wiped a cool cloth over the young woman's forehead, the water soaked to it infused with elfroot. She stirred beneath the strangely caring touch and her eyes fluttered under their eyelids. Morrigan let herself breathe properly now. That templar fool would soon stop his gratuitous exertions. She put her hand on the fevered flesh of Rose's forehead and felt for her aches and pains as her mind resurfaced to consciousness. She felt the small life within her and a smile played on her lips. Despite her upbringing, she had liked this polite and sensible woman. She'd been the obvious force behind the four humans scouting in the wilds and lead them easily. Not that she'd even let them know that she controlled them. She displayed a great manipulative and subtle touch that Morrigan saw the power in. For some reason she did not want to see her pained.

She moved her aching limbs and Morrigan wiped the elfroot infused cloth down her relatively short limbs. "You are awake. Mother will be pleased." Rose looked up through the veil that had been holding her captive and held to that inner willpower as she broke through it. She wiped the sleeping dust from her eyes against her protesting muscles, looking about her surroundings. The candlelight flickered near her head and cast an eerie glow about the room. She looked up to the woman standing over her. The woman she'd yet to speak to.

"Morrigan?" Her voice came quietly and without the harsher quality had had in the wilds previously.

"Tis I. I have finished tending to your wounds. You are most welcome by the way." She squeezed the cloth into the wooden pallet on the floor and passed it to Rose. Rose looked up at the barely covered woman and smiled. She was still alive. She doubted Morrigan would be waiting for her in the Fade when she died.

She felt the slight chill in the air and noted that half her body was bound in bandages but half was not. "Do you know where my clothes are?"

"Mother and I fixed the leathers you wore. They are at the foot of the bed." Rose sat up in the bed and struggled against the dizziness that filled her head and the pain in her stomach. Almost by instinct her hand fell to the pain and she looked pleadingly at the witch. "The child within you is well. He is strong." She turned away while Rose slid her trousers and boots on and strapped up her cuirass. She explained how her mother had plucked the half dead wardens from the tower in detail to pass the time. She turned back while Rose adjusted her gloves.

"He?" Her eyes narrowed at Morrigan and her hands rested idly on the flat expanse of her stomach.

"Tis but an expression. I could have said that 'She is strong' for all the knowledge I have of the gender of the foetus." She sniffed at the end of the sentence as if hurt that she did not have the information to pass on.

"Do you know where my weapons are?" Morrigan brightened and pointed to the the sword, dagger, bow and small quiver of arrows resting on the chair. "I thank you for all of your help." She gave a short bow and left Morrigan looking incredibly confused in the hut.

***

Rose stepped into the bright sunlight and winced at it's intrusion into her eyes. She shielded them with a hand until she adjusted and looked out. Aegis almost looked fit to burst at seeing his mistress on her feet but restrained himself upon seeing her. He could smell the pain she still felt and didn't wish to add to it. They say mabari are too smart for their own good. Alistair however couldn't help but brighten when he saw her.

"I... I really thought you were dead. The arrow went clean though you and out the other side." She saw the haunted look that she'd come to know on her own face and stopped herself from making a nasty comment on him being helpless without someone to hold his hand.

"I'm alive only thanks to Morrigan and her mother." She gestured to the seemingly elderly mage and her daughter in turn.

"Duncan's dead. The King's dead. They all-" He looked ready to cry and Rose wasn't the best equipped to deal with more heartache and pain than she'd already been dealt. Of course it all upset her... but it paled next to her own pains at this moment.

"We're alive Alistair. I'm still learning the value of that but at the moment it is a very sweet thing." She bit back the rest of the little speech forming in her mind. Morrigan slipped into the hut as to not get involved.

"That it is Miss Rose." The elderly mage interjected with her own words and Rose nodded to her.

"I have no idea what to do. We're the last two Grey Wardens in Ferelden left and we've a Blight to counter. Are there any allies we can call on?" She was trying to change the subject to one that involved thought. Thinking about any menial task in detail was cold comfort to a person dead on the inside but it was a distraction and this she knew. He seemed to catch onto it and pondered the idea.

"Do you still have the treaties?" Rose thought on it and reached into her quiver, the three rolled up vellum sheets had never been given to Duncan. They'd all but been forgotten in the news after the joining. "If I remember correctly. We have ones for the Dalish Elves, the Circle of Magi and the Dwarves of Orzammar."

"Don't get me wrong young man. But Elves, Dwarves, Magi. That sounds like an army." The elderly mage again put in her opinion and Rose was glad. It was helping distract him more than she had been on the road to Ostagar.

"Isn't this what Grey Wardens do in the event of a Blight? Don't they raise armies to fight the darkspawn?" She pursed her lips. How in the Maker's name were they going to do this?

"They do. Do you really think we can?" He looked pleadingly at her. She felt the weight of the decisions falling on her and shifted on the spot. Was he giving her the role of commander here?

"Yes. If we try we can have a hope of succeeding. If we don't then we might as well leave Ferelden." She turned away from Alistair and instead went to speak to Morrigan's mother.

"I would like to thank you good woman for all your help. But I am hesitant to ask if there is anything you can provide us with... poultices or salves would be very useful." She tried not to think of food. Her stomach was crying out for something to eat.

"Please, call me Flemeth. The Chasind folk find it a suitable name for me. Pretty but pointless." She waved a hand as if to prove her point.

"Flemeth? As in the Flemeth from legends? Daveth was right. You are a witch of the wilds!" Alistair gasped at Flemeth.

"So what? I have my magic and it has served you well. However, I do have something I can offer you for your task in defeating the Blight." Her eyes glinted and she noted her daughter had come back from the inside of the hut.

"So mother. The stew is bubbling. Are we to have two guests for our meal, or none?" Her voice seemed breathless and Rose noted how her cheeks were slightly flushed.

"They will be leaving shortly my girl and you shall be joining them." Alistair and Rose both looked at Flemeth with complete shock.

"Such a shame - wait what?" Morrigan joined the stunned faces.

***

Morrigan lead the small group out of the wilds and around the horde very quickly. Rose was astounded at the speed at which they'd travelled for not being on a proper road. Once they'd come back to the Imperial Highway, Morrigan fell back behind the noble woman alongside Aegis and Alistair. The night was threatening to start as they neared the small village of Lothering.

***

After finding no solace within the Chantry but learning that the Arl Eamon had fallen deathly ill after a short conversation with a Ser Donall, Rose pushed the group to the tavern. Perhaps if they could pay with the small money they'd made from making and selling poisons, traps and health poultices, it would be sufficient for the board of one night.

Morrigan and Alistair sat down on opposite sides of a round table and Rose went to the bartender to order something to eat. Aegis stayed to her heel and licked at the spilled ale on the floor by her feet. "Don't do that. You don't know where this floors been." She nudged into the side of the dog and it stopped. "Ah hello, might I enquire over what meals you have on offer today?"

Suddenly the door swung open and the air rushed inside the small tavern. Everyone within looked to the door and who would let the cold in so and were silenced by the sight of soldiers in chain armour with shields of the Gwaren Terynir. The obvious leader of the small troop cast his eyes around at the patrons of the bar and stopped once he saw Rose leaning on the top. "Well gentlemen. I think we've been blessed. We asked all day around town for a woman of this description and seems we were lied to." Rose rolled her eyes. They'd only arrived in the gathering dusk. But she was damning her hair for being so distinct. She briefly wished she'd inherited the brown hair of her father as Fergus had instead of the orange flame of her mother.

The chantry sister put down the lute in her arms, her eyes gleaming. The Grey Wardens that everyone had been asking about had somehow stumbled right into her. She paused, looking at the woman they had singled out. The whole person rang out with familiarity and she looked to the silver coin in the pot next to her. The silhouette of the Teryn of Highever imprinted on the back... if you just softened the features slightly, changed the hair... it could have been his daughter! Holy Maker! That Grey Warden was a Cousland! She stood up. "Please gentlemen, these are just poor souls in need of respite. Just like everyone else in this tavern." The man looked at her, his eyes burning with rage.

"If he's so sure he's found a Grey Warden - I'm in no position to change his mind. Perhaps if he stepped outside I could show him the business end of my dagger? Hmm?" The Grey Warden flicked a dagger into her left palm. The blade coming easily from it's sheath on her hip. Alistair watched as Rose stared down the soldier and stood himself, adjusting his shield onto his arm and pulling his sword from its holster. "Let's not get these villagers hurt in out scuffle." Rose walked from the bar and into the darkening night, Aegis and Alistair following but Morrigan staying put on her chair. The chantry sister stepped into the frame of the doorway but the soldiers pushed past her to get to the woman, man and dog they'd singled out.

The fight was quick. Alistair shattered an arm with his shield and the soldier attacking him withdrew from the fight. Aegis ran like a mabari possessed and snatched two swords and a shield out of other soldier hands and landed in a panting pile of dog. Rose kicked at the commanding soldiers crotch and he stumbled back in pain, she used the moment to land on him and crossed the sword and dagger over his neck. "Back off. I would rather not have to kill you." She glared into him and he winced at the intrusive stare. This was the sort of fighting Rose had been taught. Hurt but don't kill, just like tourneys and sparring practices. She felt the skills coming back with ease and relished in it. The memory of her first sparring practice was painful in the back of her mind and so different from this desperate fight in the dark with soldiers.

***

"I don't approve of this Bryce. Our daughter is not going to be fighting armies like us!" Eleanor Cousland sat on the stand next to her husband. She didn't approve at all. She'd thought it sensible to teach Fergus how to be a warrior - he was the heir to the Terynir, but to make her daughter one too? She'd been pleased when the rebellious teenager turned her nose up at the swords and shield and greatswords but took to the archery all too well.

"You can't fight off a sword in your face with a bow and arrow. How else will she understand survival and everything history shows us without it Eleanor." Bryce Cousland squeezed back into his wife's hand. She was the sole reason his daughter had been delayed in learning these skills and now she'd have to fight like a rogue. Thankfully Fergus had asked one of his friends to be her sparring partner. Someone who wouldn't go easy on the short girl but wouldn't kill her either.

Rose looked up to her parents and waved a wooden practice sword and dagger at them. She was smiling from ear to ear that she wasn't in lessons with Aldous and got to wear leathers instead of itchy dresses and proper shoes. Her father stood up and the gate to the sparring pen opened and a lanky looking teenager with floppy dark red hair was pushed into the sawdust arena. "Hi. I'm Roland. Roland Gilmore." His eyes were averted and his hand shot out and she eyed it cautiously before taking it to shake.

"Rosie. But Mama'll tell you it's Rose. You obviously know my last name." She let go of his hand. She wasn't sure of this 'Roland' - he was one of her brothers friends and would most probably been dared to fight his little sister. But he was obviously nervous. He couldn't have been as old as Fergus though. He only looked a year or two older than her. Fergus was seven years her senior.

"Everyone just calls me Rory actually." He blushed beneath his hair and he pushed it from his face. He had been dared to fight against the youngest Cousland by her big brother. He'd said not to underestimate the girl but he was embarrassed that his first 'official' sparring would be against a girl. He'd been trained as a warrior!

"Now that introductions have been made." The Teryn cleared his throat. He wasn't sure of his son's choice. The teenager was about a foot an a half taller than his daughter and looked ready to die of embarrassment, but at least they couldn't have been too far apart in training, even if his daughter had only learnt from books so far. "Let the sparring commence." He sat back down and Eleanor glared at him.

"I'm not happy Bryce."

The two teenagers backed from each other and readied their weapons. She the wooden sword and dagger, he with a wooden sword and light shield. Rory knocked the girl onto her back and looked shocked that she'd fallen so easily. He moved forward to get the first point and went to dash his sword at her when the girl parried the move with her own sword and kicked him back. Nimbly she jumped to her feet and he dodged the thrust at his midsection. She was fast but light on her feet. She grinned inanely, her nose wrinkled up and her teeth in plain sight. She was enjoying this!

Rose caught her breath. She hadn't expected to be knocked down in the opening move. But she loved this! Her blood pumped with excitement and she took a glancing blow to the shoulder. Mother Mallol was by the point board and flicked the wooden slat over for a point to 'B' or him. Dammit! He'd got the first point. She gripped tighter to the practice weapons and ducked as he swept the sword at her and she thrust a dagger at his leg. Her point! She looked up as the slat flipped on her 'A' side.

Roland flinched as the dagger grazed him on the thigh. Ow! He stepped back and pushed her away with a bash of the shield to her shoulder. He saw the pain flash on her face and hesitated. He hadn't meant to hurt her! Great! If this little girl went crying away he might as well kiss goodbye any illusions he had on ever becoming a knight. He'd go down as 'Ser Girl' or something as stupid.

Rose took the moment of hesitation and knocked him on the side with the sword. Another point! The 'A' flicked again. This was more fun than she thought it would be! He came out of the little daze and caught her with two blows to her midsection and she stumbled back. 'B' flicked twice. Dammit all!

The bout ended at A = 12 and B = 15 and they stopped, both breathless. "That was fun!" She managed the words and looked up to see a disapproving looking mother and a smug looking father. She'd done better than expected by getting into double digits. She wiped the sweat drenched hair from her face that had slipped from it's tight ponytail. "Hey, Rory..." She sighed. "I'm going hunting later with Fergus. Wanna come along?"

He caught his breath and rubbed a bruise forming on his leg where she'd hit the dagger a bit too hard. "Fergus didn't say you guys were going hunting today!" He wasn't sure if he was pleased he'd won. Technically it was good, but on the other hand it was against a girl. A younger and smaller girl. One who jabbed daggers at legs. Ones that smiled when they thought they were winning and used his hesitation against him. "But yes. I would like to come along. I have a few words for him."

"Young lady... I think you've had enough excitement for one day." Her mother entered the ring and dusted sawdust from her daughter and her leathers. Rose frowned. It had been fun to fight against this 'Roland' or Rory or whatever he preferred to be called. "So Fergus will just have to go hunting with Master Roland without you."

"But!" Rose looked up at Roland for him to help her.

"No buts. You have lessons and I'm not having you spending any less time in them." Eleanor looked sternly at the flushed and disappointed looking daughter.

"If I may Lady Cousland." She turned to the lanky teenager. "If I ensure she does her lessons, could she go hunting later?" Roland wasn't sure why he'd just done that... but he was going to have a go at Fergus and he would use this little girl as ammunition if needs be. He gave the lady a daft smile and tried to look innocent.

"Please Mama?" Rose smiled at her mother, hiding her teeth as she was told to. She sighed and waved them off. Her daughter could manipulate her like no other. Rose and Roland walked back up to the castle chatting. Their awkward friendship starting.

"She's running around like a boy Bryce." Her husband joined Eleanor in the ring.

"She's just like you before you had Fergus." He smiled at his wife and picked up the fallen wooden weapons. "But she enjoys it. Let her have the lessons slightly older. It won't harm her too much and she enjoys the reading too."

"I suppose. But don't think I've let you make our daughter into another fighter. Maker forbid you should." She sniffed and walked out of the arena and back toward the castle. She couldn't see her daughter or that other teenager and whipped her head to see two red-haired figures running out over a field. Neither of them looking back to watch. She shook her head. Rose was definitely like her when she was younger.

***

"I am pleased you spared those men." The chantry sister stepped into the light of the torch on the side of the tavern. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am lay-sister Leliana of the Lothering Chantry." She slid the dagger back under her sleeve in case they thought she was going to continue the work of the soldiers.

"Thank you for trying to dissuade them Sister Leliana, but I think we must be off. They'll be back with more men and their wounded pride later." Rose studied the sister. Orlesian accent and a dagger hidden up a sleeve. But she had tried to help them. "I'm Rose, this is Alistair, Aegis and the woman inside the tavern who is now walking past you is Morrigan." Morrigan scowled at the Orlesian.

"Then let me join you. You are Grey Wardens and will undoubtedly need help." She smiled. She'd been right. That was Rose Cousland. It had to be. The pieces fitted together too well for it not to be. Rose took a deep breath in a sighed. She might need the help. She couldn't turn away help.

"You're welcome to join us. But don't speak often. Not may Fereldens would have an Orlesian travelling with them. I try not to stand out." Rose put her sword and dagger into the sheaths and looked at her companions. "What say you two?"

"I think your skull was more cracked than mother thought. Or you're hormonal." Morrigan eyed the Sister with disdain. Rose sighed. Morrigan hated everyone. Morrigan hated Alistair and Aegis and now Morrigan hated Leliana. To be honest Rose just about tolerated Alistair, vaguely approved of Morrigan and of course she loved Aegis.

***

Three women, Alistair and a dog. Rose couldn't help but think that the entire group was just a mismatched mistake. On the surface it was an Apostate, a Templar, a Ferelden Noble, an Orlesian and a Mabari. Just what the darkspawn required - an ironic laugh. But she wasn't going to let Alistair cook ever again. She'd thought it would be a good distraction for him to do so - but the distraction had back-fired when she'd not been able to actually keep the food down. She missed Duncan and his scrambled eggs. She missed being able to eat without chucking it back up. She crawled into the one of the bedrolls that Leliana had brought for them. The Sister had been a very helpful companion so far - bringing some money, the bedrolls and tents and some food. She even had her own armour and weapons - which truly was a bonus because there was no way they'd be able to fight her in a chantry robe with a single dagger. Even if she was crazy and believed the Maker sent her a vision. Rose was still wary - it could be an act. How she'd managed to know who she was so quickly though... she called her out on her surname so quickly.

She shuffled out of the bedroll, the question would bug at her. "Leliana - a question. How did you learn to fight? You didn't take those darkspawn attacking the merchant on with an inexperienced hand?" She quirked an eyebrow at the Sister by the fire.

"I was a travelling minstrel in Orlais. You learn to fight while travelling no?" She shrugged and poked the fire with a stick. Leliana had hated the food too. She was determined that if Alistair cooked again, she would start stowing food back so she could have something edible.

"True. I was just wondering. I would also like to make any apologies for my behaviour. I was brought up to not like Orlesians and you've been most lovely since we met." Rose pursed her lips. She couldn't help her deep seated feelings. But the question had been answered. Leliana was a rogue like herself and all good or living rogues were suited to fighting and living using their wits rather than brawn.

"I know. I hope to change your view on Orlesians. Even though I'm not one." She sighed and Rose sat down next to her. That sounded like a vague statement. One with a background.

"You're not Orlesian?"

"No, my mother was a Ferelden servant. At the end of the Rebellion she moved to Orlais because her mistress did. I was still in swaddling clothes so I went there too." A few Ferelden nobles had moved to Orlais because they'd been used to the luxury of the country, taking everything they had with them. But she might as well have been of the country as she'd grown up in the culture. But this meant that Leliana was the same age or so as her brother. Rose smiled a little. At least there would be people of roughly the same age that she was used to being with. She left the conversation at that and crawled back to the bedroll. Now she'd be able to sleep.

The End

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