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Read my previous blog post if you wish, to read a (not very well-written) prologue to this story. This story follows Aedan Cousland, a Human Noble Warrior as he joins the Grey Wardens and travels to Ostagar to face the oncoming Blight.
I strode into the Grand Hall, still tired from the training I had been doing with several of the guards. I saw my father, Teryn Bryce Cousland, talking with another person, but could only see the back of his head, his short mop of grey hair looking slightly greasy in this light. Father called me over, and I ran over to him and his guest, who turned to see me. I recognised him from his large, broken nose and long, shapeless face. It was clearly Arl Rendorn Howe, my father’s best friend and trusted advisor.
“Good afternoon, father. And good afternoon to you as well, Arl Howe. How is your family doing?” I was friendly with the Howe family, and had spent several long summers in my youth with his sons, Nathaniel and Thomas, and his beautiful daughter Delilah. Those memories were fond ones, and I couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s good to see you, young Aedan. My daughter has been inquiring about you for some time now. I sense a marriage on the cards, if you would be willing?” Arl Howe smiled at me in that shifty way he did, as though he was guilty of some terrible crime and I was the judge. I simply blushed, which caused both him and my father to chuckle at me.
I looked around, embarrassed, when I spotted a third man enter. He wore foreign garments, which were a combination of robes and armour. A sword and dagger hung from his belt, and his long black, slightly greying hair was tied in a ponytail. The man was unusually tanned, suggesting that he was from Rivain. Seeing this new arrival, Father turned to greet him. “Hail, Duncan. This is my son, Aedan, and of course you know Arl Howe.” The Arl nodded in respect at Duncan, and I thought that he looked slightly worried and intimidated by the man’s appearance.
Duncan looked at me, sizing me up as though we were about to fight. “It is an honour to meet you, Aedan Cousland. I am Duncan, of the Grey Wardens.” I bowed as I remembered the history of the Grey Wardens, a noble order who lived to fight darkspawn and other things that go bump in the night.
“The honour is all mine, lord Duncan. What brings you to Highever?” Duncan smiled. “Please, a Grey Warden has no need for titles. Just call me Duncan. I’m here to accompany your father’s troops to Ostagar, and find new recruits for the Wardens.” Of course! I remembered how Father and Fergus, my older brother, were marching south with our troops to help King Cailan at Ostagar, where a darkspawn Blight was apparently happening. Almost all of the guards were preparing to march, leaving only a few with me and Mother to protect the castle.
Then an idea struck me. “Could I be recruited into the Wardens?” Duncan smiled slightly, but Father looked angry.
“No, you cannot. I don’t want to risk your life in battle. It’s bad enough for me having to worry about your brother, but you are too young to fight in this battle.” I could tell Father meant it, so I dropped the subject.
“So, Duncan, who are you planning to choose then?” I was curious still, for I knew the Wardens only took the best of the best fighters.
Duncan hesitated before answering. “I was thinking of taking Ser Gilmore.” I knew who he meant, for Gilmore was one of my closest friends amongst the guards, and I had actually been sparring with him earlier in the day. Thinking back, I remembered seeing Duncan watching us fighting from the walls of the castle, when he was walking with my father earlier.
Father interrupted our conversation. “Aedan, could you go up to Fergus’ room and tell him to leave with the troops as soon as he is ready? I will be staying here for the night with Arl Howe, because his troops have been delayed, but I will march with him tomorrow.” I nodded, and said my farewells to the group, heading out of the Great Hall.
I was walking down the corridors when I heard my name shouted behind me. I stopped and turned to see Ser Gilmore running towards me.
“Hello, my lord. Apologies, but Nan wants to see you now in the kitchen. Some dog issues or something?” I chuckled. She wasn’t related to me, but she was the castle’s cook and had been my Nanny when I was younger.
“Very well, Ser Gilmore. I’ll go and see her now.” I turned and started walking towards the kitchen. Gilmore came with me, because he was bored and off-duty. I entered the kitchen to see the most peculiar sight. An old woman with a meat cleaver squaring up against a mabari battle-hound. Two of the servants – elves – were cowering in the corner. I immediately intervened, grabbing the collar of the mabari. My pet mabari, Conn. Ser Gilmore tried to help me, but the mabari was too strong and broke free, racing towards the larder.
“No!” cried Nan. “Go and get your filthy hound out of there, before he eats everything, you useless boy!” Nan was the only person with the nerve to insult me so, but I had grown up with her and considered her to be part of the family, in a way. I ran into the larder after my mabari, Ser Gilmore following us.
“Conn! Here,boy!” I called out to him, both of us looking desperately for my dog. He bounded over to me, and began barking. I didn’t quite know what he meant, until I saw what he was barking at. A pack of giant rats emerged from round a corner, and ran at us. I drew my dagger, and Ser Gilmore drew his sword. Conn leapt at the rats, slamming his full weight into the pack and squashing several. He bounded on top of one and bit down hard, ripping its head off. I watched as a rat leapt at me, and moved at the last second out of the way, slicing with my dagger as I did so. Ser Gilmore hacked with his sword, finding the long blade difficult to wield in the small room. We carved our way easily through the rats, and I watched with a grin as Conn chewed on one of the dead rats, gnawing through it easily with his giant fangs. He then bounded over to me and licked my dagger clean. I patted him on the head, and he let out a small bark of satisfaction.
We headed out of the larder, and Nan stood there, still brandishing her cleaver. “What was going on in there, boy? Has your mutt ruined my goods?”
I shook my head. “No, Nan. Conn here is a hero. He smelt giant rats attacking your food, and he raced down here to fight them off and protect your cooking.”
Nan grimaced. “Very well, your brute can have this.” She placed a steak on the floor, and Conn darted over to it, feasting himself happily on it. I thanked her, then led Conn away. Ser Gilmore left, saying he needed to do some other errands, and I led Conn upstairs. He normally slept at the foot of my bed, and was my most trusted and loyal companion.
On my way to my brother’s room, I was stopped once more, this time by my mother. She was with one of her friends, Lady Landra, her son Dairren, and Landra’s elven lady-in-waiting. I could tell immediately that Landra was drunk, and both her servant and her son looked embarrassed.
“Ah, darling Aedan. I trust from the presence of your troublesome hound that the situation in the kitchen is dealt with?” My mother, Teyrna Eleanor Cousland, addressed me politely, trying to make up for the lack of manners Lady Landra was displaying.
“Yes, mother. Nan is back to work, and Conn here isn’t going to be any more trouble today.” If a mabari could look bashful, Conn did, and he prowled off into a corner. I sighed, knowing what mess the dog was going to leave for a servant to deal with.
“That’s good, son. I trust you remember Lady Landra? You last met at one of her social gatherings.”
I grinned mischievously. “Indeed I do. Didn’t you try to get off with me, with your entire family watching?”
Landra chuckled. “Maybe I had a bit too much to drink that day. You remember my son, Dairren? You duelled at the last tournament.”
“Of course, it’s good to see you again, Dairren.” I nodded in respect, remembering the fight. It had been close, but I had bested him.
“Good to see you, Aedan. It’s an honour, as always.” Dairren showed great respect, partially because his father, Landra’s husband, was Bann Loren, one of the minor lords, whereas my father was one of the three most powerful men in Ferelden.
Landra continued. “And this” she gestured towards the elven woman, who was actually rather pretty, “is Iona, my lady-in-waiting.” She then said in what was supposed to be a whisper, but came out louder than intended. “She’s got an awful crush on you.”
I smiled and took Iona’s hand. “How interesting, Iona. Maybe we should meet up later, and get to know each other better.”
Iona blushed. “It would be my pleasure, my lord.”
“In that case, beautiful, come to my room later and we can ... talk.” I winked, then turned back to my mother. “Apologies, mother, but I must go and deliver a message to Fergus.”
My mother nodded. “Very well. Lady Landra, you and your son have the guest quarters. Your lady-in-waiting can stay there too, if she chooses.” I said my goodbyes to them, and continued up the stairs towards my brother’s room.
I entered my brother’s room to find him speaking with his wife, Oriana. His young son, Oren, was clinging onto his back, laughing. Upon seeing me, Fergus called out a greeting. “And here comes my little brother to bid me farewell. Don’t worry, my dear wife, we will win this fight. I will return.”
I smiled and picked Oren up, hugging my nephew tightly. “I just wish I was coming with you, brother.”
Fergus chuckled. “I wish you were too, little brother. Your sword arm is strong and swift, and I trust you above all others to guard my back. Sadly, Father has said that there is no chance of you coming with us to Ostagar.”
I remembered why I had come. “Fergus, Father says that he needs you to start the marching of the troops now. He will come later with Arl Howe’s troops, which have been delayed.”
“Indeed I do.” The voice came from behind me, and I whirled to see Father walk into the room, Mother on his arm. In response to my questioning look, he replied, “I had to tell you something to get you up here. You know how hard you can be to track down.” I chuckled, remembering the times I had gone hunting with Fergus and Father in the woods, and how one time they had lost me for several hours.
“Father, Fergus agrees that I should come with you into battle.” I winked at him, indicating for him to go along with me.
Unfortunately, Fergus’ mischievous side was active today, and he saw an opportunity to wind me up. “I never said such a thing! Aedan, you’re such a liar.” I swung playfully at him, and he dodged it, chuckling.
Father stepped between us. “I’m sorry, Aedan, I don’t want to risk your life as well as ours. You must stay behind and look after the castle with your mother.”
“Very well, Father.” I consented with his wishes, but I was sure I was ready to fight alongside him. Shortly after, I made my excuses to go up to my room for the night. As I left, I heard Mother telling them about Iona, and a loud, raucous laugh that was definitely Father. Little did I know that was the last time I’d ever hear my father laugh.