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Origin Of A Warden - Chapter 2: Losses

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I woke abruptly in the middle of the night, confused and also comforted. Iona lay in bed next to me, still asleep. I looked up, and saw Conn sat at the foot of the door, barking loudly. Clearly this was what woke me up, and so I picked up one of Iona’s shoes and threw it at him. He growled at me, then returned to barking at the door.

Iona woke and nuzzled against me, before looking up to see Conn barking again. “Goodness me, what is up with your poor dog? If he doesn’t stop barking, he’ll wake up half the castle!”

“Don’t worry about it, my dear.” I planted a series of kisses on her neck, and she trembled with anticipation, turning to kiss me fully. For a couple of minutes, we kissed, and then Conn barked again, louder this time. I swore at him, and Iona tutted at me.

“Don’t be so rude, my love. I’ll just shut him outside, and be back with you in a minute.” She silenced my protests with a kiss, then stood up, wrapping a blanket around her naked body. She took hold of Conn’s collar in one hand, using the other to keep the blanket over her. She opened the door to throw Conn out, and was surprised when an arrow burst out of her chest.

I yelled out angrily, a wordless cry, and leapt to my feet, charging at the archer. I was completely naked, but I grabbed the dagger from my bedside and used it to stab the archer in the face. Two more men appeared, swords drawn. I threw the dagger at one of them, and charged towards the other. He was clearly shocked to be charged by a naked man, and it gave me a chance to wrestle the sword from his grip and turn it against him. Blood splattered against my bare chest as I cut his throat.

Conn leapt around me, barking furiously. I saw that he had used his powerful jaws to rip through a fourth man’s chest, and bite through the man’s guts. I patted him on the head, and ran back into my room to check on Iona.

I knelt by Iona’s body, and a tear rolled down my cheek. She was such a wonderful woman, and so beautiful. I closed her eyes, and wiped the tears from my own. I then got up and looked around my room. I picked up a pair of trousers and tugged them on, before grabbing my belt and doing it up, tying the sheath of my dagger to the belt as I did so. I also grabbed my shirt and pulled it on, in a rush to find out who these men were and what the hell was going on.

I rushed back out of my room and crouched by one of the men, checking his gear. I couldn’t find any outward tokens on their bodies, but then I looked at their blades. One of them had a symbol emblazoned on the pommel: the symbol of a bear. These were Howe’s men!

I looked up and drew my dagger as I heard footsteps, and I saw my mother running towards me, bow in hand. I wasn’t that surprised, as she was always going on about how she was trained as a Shield Maiden, and how the women of our family were stronger than others. What surprised me, however, were the tears running down her cheeks.

“Are you all right?” I asked, and reached out with one hand to support her. When she didn’t answer, I asked the question again.

“It’s Oren ... oh, God, Oren! Oriana!” She was terrified of something, something involving my brother’s family. I knew I had to find out what had scared her so, and so I led her to Fergus’ room. I opened the door, and immediately regretted it.

“What monsters could have done this?” I asked rhetorically, then answered myself. “Arl Howe will pay for this.” The dead bodies of my sister-in-law and my nephew were lying on the floor, in a pool of blood. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I didn’t try to hide them this time. I kept an arm around Mother, relying as much on her holding me up as she was holding me up. I looked at Mother once more, and saw the signs of battle: a cut on her arm, and a bloodstain across her bow. “What happened to you?”

“I ... I woke up to find Bryce was missing. I got up to look for him, and a man attacked me with a sword. I killed him, then came to find you. I looked in on Oren ... oh, why?” She stumbled, but I caught her before she collapsed from the shock and horror.

“Mother, this is important. Where is Father? Do you know where he might go?” I let go of her, knowing we had to keep moving. Conn snapped around my heels, and I patted his head gently.

“He would have gone to either the Treasury, or the Grand Hall. We should get moving, try to find him.” So saying, Mother fitted an arrow to the string of her bow, and began to run in the direction of the Treasury. I followed her, dagger in hand.

When we entered the Treasury, there were five more of Howe’s men, fighting against two of Father’s guards. I immediately charged into one, and Conn leapt at another. Mother fired an arrow directly into the face of a third, and then fired a second arrow at the fourth man, who had cut down one of the guards. After we had killed all of Howe’s men, I looked around. The second guard had taken an axe wound to the gut, and was bleeding badly. I ran to his side, while Mother and Conn kept a lookout.

“Have you seen my father?” I asked, kneeling by his side, futilely trying to wrap a bandage around his wound.

“The ... the Great ... The Great Hall.” The guard spat out the words ,then lay still. He was dead, but even in death he had still done his duty. I turned to Mother, who had heard the man’s words too.

“We should check the Vault first, the family weapons could still be useful.” Mother threw me a key, and I used it to open the vault door. I then used it to open the family chest, and took out the family sword and shield. I slung the shield across my back, and strapped the sheath of the sword to my belt. I kept the blade in my hand, however, knowing I might need it at any minute. I also grabbed a pair of vambraces from one of the chests, and pulled them on. Mother didn’t take anything, she just stood by the door. I looked around for anything else of use, but couldn’t see anything I needed. I ran to the door, and sealed it shut using the key. No matter what, Howe’s men weren’t going to get any of the other treasures because of me.

I led the way to the Great Hall, kicking open every door as I did so. When we neared the final corridor, I heard shouting and the ringing of steel on steel. I turned the corner to see the Hall in chaos. Father’s men were sprawled across the floor, puddles of blood all over. Ser Gilmore and three other guards fought against many men, at least ten. I ran forward at full speed, sword and dagger in hand. I slashed through the leather armour of the first man with the family sword, before stabbing the dagger into a second man. I spun to slice through a third, and saw Conn leap past, ripping through another man’s corpse. Mother fired arrow after arrow at the men, taking down at least two of them. Ser Gilmore and I sliced through the last two men, then raced to the main door. We pushed it shut, and the other guards began piling everything they could in front of it.

“Ser Gilmore! I’m glad to see you’re still alive.” I grabbed the man’s arm in a warrior’s handshake, pleased that some of Father’s men were still alive and fighting.

“Likewise, my lord. Your father was last seen heading towards the kitchens, to get out through the servant’s exit, as Arl Howe’s men are covering the other exits.”

“Ser Gilmore, I order you to hold your ground for as long as possible. Keep these bastards away, and kill as many as possible.” I gave him a salute, which he copied. I turned back, and led Mother and Conn down the corridors towards the kitchens. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t be seeing him for a long time, and when we met again, it would be in the most dire of situations.

We ran through the corridors, as rubble fell around us. Howe’s men must be using some sort of siege weapon, as the paths were being destroyed. I looked around as I ran. This place, and the people in it, were irreparably damaged. I saw a tree in flames, the tree I had planted myself when I was only three. Nan’s body, grumpy even in death, was sprawled across the ground. The carrion circled already, and Mother fired an arrow into one of the crows as it swooped down towards Nan, tears rolling down her cheeks.

As we neared the kitchen, we heard the sounds of several men laughing and jesting, and the moans of pain from another man. I drew my sword and darted into the room, slashing at the three men that stood around my father, who lay bleeding on the floor. Within seconds all three of Howe’s goons were dead. I dropped my sword and ran to my father, ripping my shirt to use it to stem the bleeding. Mother ran to him also, bow falling from her hands as she supported my father’s head.

“Father! Where is Howe?” I called out urgently, knowing what I had to do. I was determined to turn around and hunt down the bastard until I killed him. No death would be painful enough for him.

“No, my son.” Father seemed to be struggling with the words, but he managed to get out what he had to say. “It would ... it would be suicide to try to kill him now. Get out of here.”

“But this wound, it is too deep. If I tried to move you, you’ll bleed out.” I hated saying it, admitting this weakness. My father could not move, but I had to move him. Then I heard him say those two words, the two words that would haunt my dreams.

“Leave me.”

“No ... no! There must be some way we can get you out of here!” I was panicking now, and my voice was raised. I didn’t care that everyone else could hear my voice. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – leave my father.

“You have ... no future here. You must go ... live your life for me.” Tears dripped from my face, Mother’s too. Conn whined sadly, licking Father’s cheek. He patted Conn weakly. We were interrupted by a voice from the door, otherwise we would have stayed there until Howe’s men broke down the door and killed us all.

“There is a future you could have, Aedan.” I drew my dagger and ran at the man, who blocked my blade with his own, pushing me away. “I am not your enemy, but I can help you get revenge.” It was the Grey Warden, Duncan.

“Duncan ... will you look after my wife and child for me?” Father coughed out a globule of blood. “Aedan ... go with him. Duncan can protect you.”

“No!” I protested at the same time as Mother.

“Aedan, I offer you a new chance. A way out. Join us. Become a Grey Warden. You were always my first choice anyway, but I wanted to respect your father’s wishes.” Duncan placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, but I stayed knelt by my parents.

It took me a few minutes to reach a decision, but I finally decided it. “Very well, let’s go. Where is the servant’s exit?” Father pointed, and I scooped up the family sword, sheathing it. Duncan led the way, Conn barking sadly as he followed. I walked through, taking a torch from the wall and lighting it so we could see the way we were going. I turned to watch for Mother, but she slammed the door, bolting it shut from her side.

I hammered on the door with my fists, screaming my parents’ names. I heard my mother’s voice, and stopped, tears falling openly from my face. “Go. Live for me, and for your father. Get revenge on Howe, but find someone to love. Please, for my sake.”

Duncan took my arm gently, and eased me away, leading me away from my parents. I would never see them alive again, and I knew it. Never again would I spar with my father, or enjoy jokes with my mother. The tears continued to flow in great, racking sobs, and I no longer cared about it. I was the last of my line, except possibly for Fergus, and I couldn’t cope. I stumbled and fell to the ground once out of the castle, but Duncan caught my fall just before I hit the ground.

“I need you to keep it together. I know how it feels right now, but I can help you find a purpose. I need your help. You know about the darkspawn horde to the south, correct?” I nodded numbly, but remained slumped on the ground. “I need Grey Wardens to help me fight this Blight. You have the ability.”

“Why?” The single word seemed to drain me of all of my remaining strength, and I fell to my knees. Duncan looked at me pitifully.

“I shouldn’t be saying it like this, but ... Grey Wardens are above the laws of any country or state, highly respected. Also, you are from one of the most honourable families of Ferelden. With my testimony as well, we can have Howe punished for his crimes.”

I looked up. “You would help me?”

Duncan smiled. “You forget, I was here. I was nearly killed, and the Wardens will not take such actions lying down.”

“Thank you for this, Duncan. I will never forget it.” I took his outstretched hand, allowing him to pull me to my feet. He led me away from the burning castle. My home.

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