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A New Hero

Sabrina Zbasnik

Table of Contents

Chapter One


Chapter Two

Cat & Mouse

Chapter Three

A Beautiful Princess

Chapter Four

No Way!

Chapter Five

Knights & Squires

Chapter Six


Chapter Seven

Cattle Call

Chapter Eight

Girl of Nots

Chapter Nine

Heart to Heart

Chapter Ten

A Trip

Chapter Eleven


Chapter Twelve


Chapter Thirteen

White Rabbit

Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fifteen


Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Seventeen

Healing Touch

Chapter Eighteen


Chapter Nineteen

Hot Head

Chapter Twenty

Baby Knight

Chapter Twenty-One


Chapter Twenty-Two

Through the Heart

Chapter Twenty-Three


Chapter Twenty-Four


Chapter Twenty-Five

How To

Chapter Twenty-Six

Shot to the Heart

Chapter Twenty-Seven

The Closet

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Hate's Breeding Grounds

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Can't Win

Chapter Thirty

Meadow Flower

Chapter Thirty-One


Chapter Thirty-Two


Chapter Thirty-Three

Fire and Steel

Chapter Thirty-Four

A Lie's End

Chapter Thirty-Five

Tea Kettle

Chapter Thirty-Six

Stuffed Crocodile

Chapter Thirty-Seven


Chapter Thirty-Eight


Chapter Thirty-Nine


Chapter Forty

Cleansing Rain

Chapter Forty-One


Chapter Forty-Two

Bad Penny

Chapter Forty-Three


Chapter Forty-Four


Chapter Forty-Five


Chapter Forty-Six


Chapter Forty-Seven

Innocence Lost

Chapter Forty-Eight

Blood of Friendship

Chapter Forty-Nine


Chapter Fifty


Chapter Fifty-One

Cold Truth

Chapter Fifty-Two

Wolf's Bite

Chapter Fifty-Three

Bring Him Home

Chapter Fifty-Four


Chapter Fifty-Five

Old Sins

Chapter Fifty-Six

Returning Home

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Three Weeks

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Open Door

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Who You Are

Chapter Sixty

What's In A Name

Chapter Sixty-One


Chapter Sixty-Two


Chapter Sixty-Three


Chapter Sixty-Four


Chapter Sixty-Five


Chapter Sixty-Six


Chapter Sixty-Seven


Chapter Sixty-Eight


Chapter One


He heard nothing save the shift of feet and jangle of leather slapping into thighs. The roar of the crowd, the other fighters squaring off in their own circles around the arena, all of it faded away to just his heartbeat pounding with assurance. Gavin stood in front of nearly the entire Arling all peering down from the stands to watch a 17 year old show off his prowess, but in his heart he was back at home trying to best his father in a little sparring before dinner.

A sword whipped towards his head, but he dodged out of the way, the blade harmlessly flailing towards the ground. Spinning on his toes, he rammed his own dull edged blade towards his opponent's shield arm. It should have barely touched it, but the boy's stance wilted like flowers in high summer. Gavin had to pivot fast to keep the blade from slicing up and knocking into the boy's teeth.

In doing so, he spun closer to his opponent. Lifting up his own shield as both protection and to mask his face he whispered, "Pst, Evans. You have a shield, block with it."

The boy who was a good head or more shorter seemed to stare at his arm in shock before nodding that he did in fact have a shield. Greener than the Hinterland meadows, Evans limply lifted up his shield towards his opponent as if to assure him that he still held it. Gavin nodded that it was the right idea then folded tighter behind his.

"Okay," he ordered the boy a few years younger than him. "Now, charge at me."

"Charge you?" Evans muttered, clearly out of his depth. He spent the entire sparring time whipping his sword around like a scythe to mow hay. Which wasn't that surprising. Nearly everyone there was a farm kid or the occasional chantry orphan who couldn't hack it as a priest. 

"Yes," Gavin tried to hone all his strength through his arm, forming his brick for a shield wall as his father taught him. "That's what it's really about."

"I thought I was supposed to cut you, ya know, with this," Evans' wrist twisted the blade around a bit more, failing to flow with it so the heavier metal waned to the ground.

"Just...give it your best," Gavin said.

Nodding, Evans dropped his shoulder down and ran full bore at Gavin. The kid's ropey shoulder stuck hard against the wood, rattling Gavin's body from the unexpected source. Evans was at most 100 pounds soaking wet, but he threw his all into it. Scrabbling, Gavin dug his toes into the sand, trying to stop the runaway kid from knocking him onto his ass. That'd be rather the spectacle in the end. The most promising squire beaten by a fifteen year old kid that could vanish in a birch forest.

Sweat dripped down his back, Gavin getting a grip with his toes in the waning footing. With a little twist, he turned in place, surprisingly light on his feet. Evans stumbled onward, while Gavin playfully touched the blunt flat of his blade against the kid's backside. The kid wasn't able to stop as easily, his feet flopping in the sand as he fought for the brakes while Gavin spun right back to face him.

Never take your eyes off your opponent.

Flailing, Evans dropped his sword and had to spread both his legs far apart to catch himself. But, he finally stopped. Chuckling, he turned around and shouted, "That was amazing! How did you do that?" 

"It's not very difficult," Gavin said. He tried to keep the smile off his face, to remain taciturn in such simple matters, but there was no denying the pride at his hard work. "I can teach you how later."

"Maker, yes you will," Evans shouted again, the enthusiasm infectious. He wasn't the youngest one here, that was a girl barely even 14 who apparently was terrifying with a spear, but he seemed the most naive. A bit like a puppy, Gavin wanted to pull Evans under his wing and set him up with a nice warm box to sleep in.

"Pick your weapon up," Gavin said, jerking the pommel of his sword at the ground. Evans gulped and fumbled around for the metal at his feet when a horn blared through the arena.

Every would-be squire froze in their little test-at-arms, some dropping their weapons same as Evans did, others sheathing them. Gavin preferred the latter, having been taught to appreciate his tools. As the dust settled along with the stilled feet, the Knight-Commander stepped out into the middle of the ring.

He was a friendly sort who Gavin met on occasion at his parents urging. While the others gulped at the shine on the man's armor, the rank insignia and the crimson cape stretching off his shoulders, Gavin noticed that a bit of mutton stew remained in his snowy beard.

"Please," the commander said, "line up here before me."

All the squires nodded at each other and, one by one, fell into an uneasy line. It was foolish, they'd already been accepted. This was a simple matter of tradition and a bit of spectacle before the tourney began. Still, Gavin couldn't hide the small swell of excitement as he lifted up his chest. He'd been working for this day for years. Since he was ten, really, and his mother caught him trying to figure out how to unsheathe one of his father's old swords.

Squinting in the summer sun, Gavin caught sight of the fancier chairs near the Arl's box. Sitting in one was the white-blonde hair of his father, the man with his back straight and no doubt a grit in his jaw. Beside him was a dark skinned woman, her hair spilling off both sides of the blue clothed chair. Gavin's mother kept waving at her son as if he couldn't see her, then turned to his father to nudge the man in the ribs to join in. One was happy for him, the other...cautious.

"Step forward, Erin Womack," the Knight-Commander ordered. A girl from Redcliffe skipped towards him, her head bent. "You shall squire for Ser Quentin."

Erin's eyes grew wide, before she reached out and with both hands grabbed the Knight-Commander's hand in her own. That caused the man's scroll to shake a moment. He hadn't expected such a response, but after a time returned it. 

"He's over there, if you can get to your Knight, please," the Commander chuckled, getting a laugh from the audience. 

Blushing hard enough her freckles turned bright red, Erin waved at the crowd while turning to her Knight. She'd be trained in all the proper ways, not just fighting, but culture, serving the crown and chantry, and be on the fast track to her own knighthood. The moment Gavin expressed an interest in having a Ser before his name, it was squirehood he strived for to get his boot in the door. 

Evans nudged an elbow that was all bone into Gavin's side, "Whatever Knight gets you is gonna be so lucky. You're the best one here."

He should have been here a year ago, maybe two, but his parents keep insisting it wasn't the right time. That he wasn't strong enough, or ready. Perhaps they had a point when he was fourteen, but now Gavin stood taller than his father and could carry bricks from one side of their lands to the other all day should the need arise. He was more than ready, he was meant for this.

Tipping his head up, he kept the idiotic grin off his thick lips but he couldn't hide the shine in his amber eyes. One by one, the Knight-Commander called people up to him and gave them their assignments. The people they'd serve for two years, no questions asked. It was how they learned discipline, and the decorated Knights didn't have to lug around their heavy armor all by themselves. 

Their ranks began to thin, a pair of twins being split apart. They didn't make a fuss about it. In truth, the Redcliffe knights all remained at the castle for the most part. Save a few trips out into the forests of the arling, the squires would stay in the same room and see each other often. That he would be under Arl Teagan's watch was probably the only reason his father finally relented. Even with the straining yoke of his parents influence, Gavin was glad. He...when left to his own devices, his decision making was questionable. A few years answering to a man or woman who reached the point of Knighthood would surely be helpful in teaching him.

"Huh," Evans kept whispering beside him. His eyes darted up to Gavin, "Must be saving the best for last."

"Evans," the Knight-Commander said in his booming voice before returning to the scroll. "That's all it says. Evans?"

"Aye, that'd be me."

"Is that your given name or family?" the man focused on the kid who was trying to knot up his sandy hair.

"Dunno, my dead mum never told me and the Sisters just shouted 'Evans' at the top o' their lungs when calling for me."

"Well..." the Knight glanced around, his fellows all chuckling at the rambunctious young man. "You're with Whitley, who will hopefully find you a good second name."

As Evans darted off to his future, he glanced back at Gavin and winked again. He wanted to laugh with the boy already chosen to be a squire, but only three more people remained beside him. Surely they wouldn't pull such a prank as to single him out? As if that would be funny. Most people upon asking to meet Gavin Rutherford, son of the fabled Commander of the Inquisition, took a long stare at his soft brown skin and asked if it was a joke. He stood out whether he wished to or not. At least on the field he could convince himself it was for his skills and not more obvious reasons.

The Knight-Commander waved in the next two people, giving them to their futures. For a moment, Gavin let his eyes drift over to the last one beside him. Pasty Pete was the name he heard bandied about in the squire tent. It was rather apt, the 16 year old more blinding white than even his father who could act as a beacon in a storm. Realizing that only two of them remained, Pasty's cheeks turned bright red. Poor kid didn't want to be picked last and be shown as a consolation prize. That wasn't how it worked, the Knight-Commander made the decision months back when they all tried out in battles that meant something. 

Back when Gavin climbed out of the armory training yard in Redcliffe, the Knight-Commander had clapped him on the back and said he was guaranteed to become a squire. He practically skipped the entire way back to the refuge, only to wind up tending to Mrs. O'Leary's open sores while telling his mother the good news.

It seemed cruel though, to leave Pasty Pete hanging upon such an edge. Even knowing they belonged, being last was not...

"Peter Pastile, step forward."

Oh Maker. While the second to last squire hopped towards the Knight-Commander to accept his appointment, Gavin felt the blood pool in his cheeks. He could hide a blush better than most, but with every eye watching as the son of the once Commander of the Inquisition was picked last to be a squire, it had to be visible from the treetops.

No. Perhaps Evans was right, and they are saving the best for last. It's a farce, or, they're attempting to put him in his place. Humble him. Yes, that had to be it. 

Locking his back into place, Gavin stuck his chin up higher and prepared himself. For a moment the Knight-Commander's eyes lingered over the young man he once knew as a boy and a pang of confusion lanced through them. "Alright," the man turned on his heel and raised his arm to the coupled up squires and their knights, "let's get off the field so the jousting can get started."


All the blood in his cheeks drained. That can't be right. There was one more. Him. He had to be assigned. To be told where to go. Who to serve. Around him he could hear the whine of whispers, judgment itself passing upon the lone young man standing adrift. What was going on?

How did he fail?

"Ser..." Gavin tried to call to him but his voice was frozen in his throat. The threat of tears burned in his eyes but he shook them away. Not here, not with everyone watching. He turned towards the stands where his parents sat and found the seats empty. Were they so embarrassed by his failure they had to leave the tourney in shame? His brain churned though a dozen thoughts, most of them freezing his blood cold. It wasn't a matter of losing, it was as if he lost before the game even began.

What was he supposed to do now?

A few harrowed eyes darted towards the shadow left behind from the light, but all the other squires were too busy having equipment dumped into their ropey arms. It would be their job to handle it, carry it, oil and clean it, learn their master's every whim as if they shared one mind. While Gavin...he had no idea. 

Horses trotted past him, the jousters in their frilled finery marching past the crowds that were rising to their feet in anticipation. His parents didn't bring him often to the tourneys, but on their rare chance to escape the abbey he'd sit upon his father's shoulders, fingers knotted in the blonde curls for balance, and stare in awe at the mighty warriors. Now only a spitting rage dulled with frozen failure filled him. Barely glancing at the horses, he dipped his head low and tried to skirt out of the arena without drawing any attention.

He hated farming. It was nothing but keeping things alive just long enough to kill them. Day in and day out, plant the seed, water the seed, tend to the plant, harvest the plant, walk the livestock over the stalks before winter. Repeat come spring. He wanted...Maker, his father would cuff his ears for it, but he wanted the same adventures people spoke of when it came to his parents. Or his Aunt Hawke. Even when his father grumbled about the fairy stories, she'd sneak into Gavin's room by candlelight, pull a giant blanket over her massive form and tell him about the time she fought the Arishock or took on a would-be god. 

It was what he wanted since he was little. To be a knight, to fight for what was right and help people. Not like his mother, not with potions and slapping on ointments with his hands and back. But that wasn't to be, apparently. Gavin wasn't built to be anything but the pack mule at some backwater abbey in the middle of nowhere.

His head slumping so far down his chin skimmed near the middle of his chest, Gavin turned towards the south and the direction of home. In his wallowing state, walking the three days there seemed preferable. He had no weapons to his name, no food, no shelter, not even a cloak, but it was that or face his parents and having to tell them that he was wrong. That he failed.

"Master Rutherford," a voice called out from the side.

Gavin didn't turn. That was what people called his father, when not all but bowing while dropping a Ser. He kept his eyes squeezed tight and remained shuffling sadly into the distance, when the voice picked up, "Gavin, stop..."

Now he did, and turned to find Arl Teagan out of breath and running towards him. He was dressed not in traditional finery for watching the tourney but typical riding leathers. "Buggering, brothers of..." the Arl gasped, almost tumbling to a knee as he came to a stop. Instinctively, Gavin reached out to grip onto his elbow to keep him upright as the elderly man gasped in a breath.

At that moment, who should appear but his parents. 

Ser Cullen Rutherford eyed up the situation with a distant concern, while Gavin's mother yanked him towards the ill Arl. "Teagan," she cried out as if running to an ailing friend's bedside. While his being a friend was apt, the running was not. His mother had to hobble on her cane, his father taking most of her weight as he guided her closer.

"No, no," the Arl tried to wave away her healing hands, "I'm quite all right. Just thought I'd make it in time and misjudged." Crystal blue eyes landed upon Gavin who gulped at such focus from a high Lord. "Forgive me, son. I meant to reach you before the ceremony, but was delayed."

"Teagan?" his mother leaned closer to the old Arl who'd been as bald as a river rock for all of Gavin's life. She mentioned on occasion how he had the most striking red hair when she first met him but that was ages ago. 

A breath rattled in the old Arl's lungs like gravel trapped in the spokes of a wheel, but he smiled brightly at Gavin's mother. "The Knight we assigned your son to..."

"Good man," Cullen said, nodding his head. What did he know of it? Even Gavin had no idea who it was until today. But his father had been in on it, and most likely his mother too? His father never made a decision without her input.

"Yes," Teagan nodded brusquely, "but also incapable of fulfilling any of the duties prescribed to him. I'm afraid he suffered a hunting accident a week earlier, fell into a poorly marked bear pit."

"Oh Maker," his mother gasped, her fingers covering her lips. "Is he alive? Do you need...?" She waved those same fingers through the air, twanging it with magic that only Gavin and his father could feel.

"No, he is recovering, but at his age and then injury, I'm afraid he won't be up to fighting speed to take on a squire."

He didn't fail. Gavin gasped as if a massive weight as freed from his chest. No, your to-be mentor was nearly killed. Which means...? "What now?" Gavin asked, he turned to his parents first before orbiting to the Arl. 

His father's hand clapped him on the shoulder, "You try again next year. It's not such a long wait." Wait again? He'd already skipped it twice over, to be eighteen -- a true man -- and looking into squiring? Every knight would laugh him out of the running.

Tears lifted in his eyes, not of sorrow but rage at the cruel finger of fate. He'd been so close to this. Proved himself, had made friends with many of the other squires already. They'd been trading letters since the trials, getting to know one another in preparation of sharing quarters and now...

"There is another option," the Arl said, his words instantly drying Gavin's frustration. A flicker of hope danced in his chest. "A Knight in Denerim lost a squire and is willing to take on someone fresh. Now, they've already been training together for a few months, so there'd be catchup but..." Teagan tipped his head at Gavin's mother, "knowing your boy I think he can handle it."

"No," Cullen threw his foot down in an instant.

"No?" it was his mother who turned to him, a hand on her hip. If she added the other, he was done. "For the Maker's sake..."

"Lana, no," he cupped his fingers around his wife's arm and shook his head more. "We had this all planned out. Knew who Gavin would study with, have him close to home so we could..."

"Could what, father?" Gavin leaped in, tired of his parents taking over his life.

Cullen took a slow sigh and the same amber eyes he saw in a mirror glared at him. "Watch over you should the need arise."

"I'm not a child," Gavin jabbed at his chest. "Look, look at what I did out there. What I accomplished in the trials. I have done everything you've asked of me. Made every sacrifice, learned all I could, proved myself every step of the way!" His normally soft, bass voice was rising in anger when not dipping into a low growl at the inequity of it all. 

His father got to lay out all the rules, all the steps necessary for him to prove he was ready. And the moment a single rock threw it off, everything Gavin did, all the blood and sweat he lost, meant nothing. No. He wasn't having it. Shaking his head as if a bee lodged in his ear, Gavin stepped away from Lord Rutherford. 

"I'll go to Denerim on my own," he stated as if he was seven years old again and planning to run away because his mother tried to make him eat leeks. Forgetting his sense, Gavin didn't turn to the Arl to ask who this knight was, or even the proper direction of the city on the other side of the country. Nope, he just stepped forward and kept walking.

"Blessed Andraste," his mother cursed behind him, "Gavin Grayson Rutherford, you get back here this instant." The full use of his name froze him in his boots. It wasn't magic, but it may as well have been.

"And you," Lana spun on her heels, having to drag down Cullen's stature to stare her in the eye, "You'll not be playing the part of stoic but cautious father. Our son is right, he's earned this. Denerim is not the edge of the world. It's not as if he's being shipped off to Tevinter."

Shocked, Gavin turned back to find his father's eyes darting around the grounds as if he was a dog that got caught crapping on the rug. The shame was palpable from his wife's tongue lashing. "But we don't know this Knight," Cullen tried to argue.

"We know our son," his mother extended her knotted hands to Gavin. A callus that never went away skirted over the back of his hand as she tugged him over. "He's a good boy, man, sorry. Still getting used to that. Besides, didn't you...?"

"Fine," his father threw up his hands, giving in almost instantly. Gavin could hardly believe it. He'd been excited about being somewhat under his father's long shadow, always having people look towards the great Rutherford before risking the son's safety. But in Denerim! Maker, not a soul would know who he was. He could be Gavin instead of Cullen's boy. 

"And," his mother shrugged, "it's not as if he'll be completely alone or unlooked out for. We can always ask --"

"Do not say his name," Cullen grumbled, catching Gavin's attention. There were a lot of people his father couldn't stand. Most of them, come to think of it, but few he refused to name verboten.

Lana stumbled towards her husband and cupped his cheek, "Oh Honey Eyes, it's been nearly two and a half decades. Don't you think...?"

"You're asking me to trust him with our son?" his father crested his forehead over his mother's. Gavin immediately looked towards the horizon, far too used to his parents behaving mushily.

"He's good with kids, and keeping people safe," his mother whispered before sounds of kissing followed from behind his hand as a blinder.

As Cullen pulled away, his eyes landed upon Gavin and he sighed, "I suppose, Teagan, our son will be heading to Denerim to become a squire."

Yipping, Gavin raised his fist in the air before the self consciousness struck him. Squires probably weren't supposed to hoot and holler about such things. In a more demure tone he said, "Thank you, father." Then he tipped over and hugged his mother, "And thank you for convincing him."

She skirted her hands over his shoulders, as if still shocked he wasn't a little boy climbing in her lap for a story. That was always his problem, his parents couldn't stop seeing the child and everyone here was happy to indulge them because one was a great warrior and the other...they had no idea.

Standing up, Gavin glanced around to find where he left his meager belongings. He might need a bit more if he was to set out for Denerim, but traveling light would be best. "I should find a horse, set out to the city before dusk fall," he said, a plan falling into place. There were a few maps around to guide him down the road, it'd be an adventure. The start of his adventure. Maybe he'd meet a shifty character in a tavern.

"Hold up, son," his father's hand landed upon Gavin's shoulder. They met eye to eye, and despite Gavin having the younger age and slightly wider frame, his father kept him pinned down.

"There will be a convoy leaving for Denerim in a week's time, my boy," the Arl said. "It's best to travel together on such an endeavor." 

"But..." the words and whining faded. He turned to watch what was to be his life slipping into various tents, all of the new squires humbled by their workload. 

"Do not be so hasty to run headlong into a lifetime of drudgery," Teagan chuckled. "Come, I believe there is jousting occurring."

Perched beside his mother and father, who shared a box with the Arl and the Arlessa, Gavin watched the tourney as a spectator. Hopefully, the next time he sat at one of these he'd be a full knight in his own glittering armor and banner.

Chapter Two

Cat & Mouse

Her head pivoted as she watched the shadows skip down the alleyway, crunching of broken cobbles no one would ever repair giving them an extra bounce in their step. Perched on the wall above, she focused on the greasy form of a man skittering towards her like his ass was on fire. Which it wasn't. Her mother had been very specific on that point.

Clucking her tongue, Myra shifted into a crouch upon the two inch thick wall. She could do it on skinnier ones but had to account for wind resistance.

"Jeff." Her voice froze the man on the run, his head tipping back high to spot the girl waving cheerily at him. In his haste, the hood he pulled over to disguise himself fell off revealing a mop of oily hair that some people thought was cute. Stupid people with too much time on their hands, but never on a person like Jeff. If you fished a rat out of a gutter, shaved it, and put it in a coat, that'd be him.

"Jeffy, Jeffery, Geoffrey," Myra continued to talk, her fingers gripping to the staff across her lap. "What's with the one they spell Geoffrey anyway? Does the Geo make it fancier? Or did someone who couldn't spell start it?"

Barely any of the mage lights reached here, only a torch she left on the upper wall gave illumination to Jeff yanking out a sad little dagger from his pocket. Shrugging her shoulders, Myra scrunched up into her thighs and then leaned forward. It wasn't much of a fall, she'd taken worse, but Jeff skittered back as if afraid she'd splatter apart into a bag of guts.

Landing upon her back heel, when Myra slapped her toe down, she extended her staff and whacked right into Jeff's shocked wrist. The baby dagger tumbled to the ground without any fuss. Assailant disarmed. Good. Now to the next step.

"Come on, Jeff," Myra whined as he moved to crouch and retrieve his lost blade. She spun on her well crafted shoes, knocking her staff end into Jeff's upper arms and legs. None of the blows would do more than sting, but she moved so fast it kept the man confused and pinned in place. "You know how this goes."

"Just..." Jeff scratched at the pile of whiskers reaching off his cheeks, "just let me go, okay. You can say you didn't see me. I was one o' them ghosts. Woo!" Poor, deluded Jeff waved his hands around and made a few more woos while Myra shook her head.

Despite being a girl, of the fresh-faced seventeen and in bloom variety, she towered over the little gutter rat. Most men either met her eye to eye or struggled onto their tippy toes to try. Cursed or blessed with great height and reach, Myra was able to counter any of Jeff's attempts at attacking her. She waved the end of her staff back and forth whacking his hands apart, turned a knee outward to bring him to the ground, and then slid closer as if about to brain him.

But rather than finish it, Myra paused and slung the weapon over her own shoulders as if she was to carry water buckets dangling off the ends. "Can't do that, Jeff. You know how the detective gets."

"I could, uh," on his one knee, Jeff moved to reach into a pocket that was probably filled with rat droppings, "make it worth your wild."

Myra laughed at the serious look in his face, like there was anything he had that could get her to turn on her employer and mother. Suddenly, Jeff sneered and his grubby fingers lashed out for the fallen dagger. Barely shifting, Myra jammed the end of her staff onto his hand, pounding the bones into the cobbles, then twisted it back to whack under the man's chin. When poor Jeff's head snapped upward, Myra jammed the end of her staff right into his gut and leaned in.

"What else ya got?" she whispered, when a bright white light burned at the end of the alleyway.

"Myra Sayer," a shrill voice echoed down the not so silent street. Groaning, Myra tipped her head back as a woman in her early 50's, dressed in a signature yellow coat and brimmed hat sauntered onto the scene. 

Reiss Sayer, fancy detective who worked for herself and anyone with coin, folded her hands up and jerked her chin at Myra, "What do you think you are doing?"

"What you told me to do," she lifted the pressure on Jeff a moment before squeezing harder into him.

Snarling, Reiss shook her head and marched closer. With one hand, she snatched onto Jeff's thin wrists and hauled him up. "I told you to play with your food?" 

Suddenly, Jeff's eyes shifted from the elven woman shackling him up, to her half-human daughter who'd had him on the ropes. He cried something pathetic at the thought of Myra no doubt planning on eating him. Ugh. Guy like that'd taste of mud, shit, and smog. 

"It's a metaphor, Jeff. Knock off your whining," Reiss thumped him in the back of the head to get him to shut up. "And you..." she turned to Myra who returned the staff across her shoulders. Raising both fingers up to point at herself as if she did nothing, Myra tried to look innocent. The dark blonde hair and piles of freckles sometimes fooled people, if they had a narrow idea of what innocent was. It never worked on her mother.

"A staff," Reiss turned her accusing finger to the weapon of choice.

"I didn't do any magic with it, like you instructed," Myra grumbled. She could have solved the Jeff problem in a minute, but no, we need to chase him down on foot because your mom likes to watch you run around like a rat in the pipes.

Reiss took control of Jeff, the man's fight long gone as he accepted he was once again heading back to jail. With a death grip on his shoulders, she marched him out of the alleyway. But even with a suspect, she couldn't stop haranguing her only daughter. "What happened to the sword?"

"Didn't like it," Myra muttered to herself, a finger running down the stick that had no fancy ornamentation. It wasn't really a mage's staff either; any lightning bolts she'd try to cast down it would fry the thing. 

"Myra," Reiss glared at her, death coming in the color of bright green eyes, "do not mumble." She didn't elucidate her point by gesturing to the missing right ear, but Reiss whipped her head around to get the good one near her grumbling daughter.

"I said I didn't like it! The grip was all wrong and it was heavy, okay," Myra shouted exasperated. "Was that loud enough for you?!"

"Yes, quite," Reiss sighed again, letting them lapse into silence as they walked a wailing Jeff through the quiet streets of Denerim. She'd lived in this city her whole life, save a few summers when they shipped Myra off to learn magic. Sometimes she missed that, getting to know what her body could do with a little coaxing of her mind to spit fire or sparkles from her fingers. But her mom needed her here, and honestly, the city was far more interesting than some old abbey healing clinic out in no man's forest.

"There's the signal from Lunet," her mom suddenly said. "Run on to the office while I take care of Jeff."

"Take care of or...take care of?" Myra asked, her head tipped down to make her eyes look maniacal.

Her mother shook her head, not answering her bait. Continuing on towards Lunet, Reiss sighed, "Do as I say for once, Myra."

The thick boots of the Solver leader carried down the better repaired cobbles while Myra tipped her head back and forth. She waited until she was certain her mother was gone before grumbling, "All I ever do is what you say, because all you ever do is order me around." Twisting with the undulating streets of the alienage section of Denerim, Myra followed the paths she knew by the soles of her feet. Her eyes trailed the old eaves and poorly laid bricks. It'd take nothing for her to scramble up the side of this apartment building and take to the roof. Maybe leap from eave to eave like a cat out on the prowl.

Rather than make good on her plan, she turned to the left and wound up in front of her mother's both agency and home. It was quiet, only the embers in the fireplace flickering. Everyone else had gone home for the day, probably because it was late into nightfall and only prostitutes, piss-collectors, and very lost people were out on the streets. 

"Hey Bryn," Myra called to the silent agency. "You home?" No voice answered. Most likely her friend was working late, or found somewhere else to crash. She'd been doing that more, preferring beds closer to the castle. Psh, it wasn't that far of a jaunt. Myra'd been doing it since she could remember.

Laying her staff on Auntie Lunet's desk, Myra tugged up a file that was marked with red ink. That meant it was one of those salacious ones she wasn't supposed to know about. Flipping through the notes in Lunet's tight script, Myra sighed. Woman married to man, caught sleeping with another woman who was also sleeping with her husband. There weren't even any in depth details. 

Boring. She'd been stealing and reading better dirty files since she was thirteen. Hell, the Pearl madame would recognize her on sight and sometimes ask how her schooling was going in the middle of the market. The first time Myra wanted one of those giant dragons to swoop in and gobble her whole. Now, it happened so often she'd sometimes pass notes from her mother.

With her hands free, Myra began to unplait her hair. The braid usually snaked around her neck during work, because no one wanted to deal with an armed gang while hair smacked you in the face. But she preferred to leave it free when possible. Her face looked harsher than it already was with all her hair pulled back. Tucking the green ribbon into her pocket for tomorrow's braid, Myra combed through her gold hair. Not like the pretty gold that made up shiny new coins, more that ochre-like gold that people found at the bottom of muddy ravines after a carriage went over a cliff. 

After thumbing through her mother's desk and finding nothing, Myra curled up with one of her many tomes on spell casting. Most weren't very helpful, often dealing with something called entropy and how to fight off other magic users. Myra didn't care about that, any mage who went loony would be hunted by the knights or the college itself would send someone. No, she needed the destructive spells, stuff that would turn a street fight to her advantage.

Myra fell into that world of droll run-on sentences and big, fancy words because it made the writer feel super important and not at all regret how little his Daddy loved him. She was trying to weave together something that would make grease when her mother popped back in. Reiss always took her time, shaking off her signature yellow overcoat to place upon the rack before adding her hat as well. Sometimes when clients came in, they'd try talking to the hatrack first instead of any of the people.

"You home?" Reiss called, a hand digging into her shoulders.

"No, I got lost on the way back. This is a robber you're talking to. Ah shit, I shouldn't have said that. We're all mice back here. Nothing else. Squeak," Myra said, thumbing through her book.

What would have gotten a pursed lip from her mother a year ago only received a soft sigh. Slowly, Reiss glanced over at her daughter with her shoes up on the desk, the girl tipped back in the chair. "You should get to bed. It's late."

"We have big plans for tomorrow? Ooh, maybe we can catch Jeff again. Because that was a great use of my time."


"How many times have we had to haul him in? Six, seven? I'm losing count because I swear every time we check the messages there's another from the jailor saying good ol' Jeff's done pulled a runner," she jerked her hand through the air in an awe shucks move.

Reiss wiped her hands over her face, tugging upon the loose skin to emphasize her wrinkles, "What would you have me do, then?"

"Let him go," Myra said, "Or kill him."

"Kill the man for stealing bread?" Her mom crossed her arms and glared at her logic.

"Or break his legs. I don't know. He's gonna keep escaping, we're gonna keep taking him back, which is when they lengthen his sentence which causes him to decide to escape yet again," Myra closed her book and chucked it onto her pile. "I'm pretty sure I'll be chasing Jeff down until I'm as old as you and he's dust."

Reiss snorted out of her nose, "Well, if he's dust then it should be easier to catch him, right?"

"I...suppose that's true. You could keep him in a jar, hard to get out of that without hands," Myra's whining fell apart as exhaustion took over. All she wanted was to crumple into her bed and not wake until the rooster was boiled. Was that too much to ask? Struggling to rise, Myra's leaden shoes hit the floor as she began to slide to her room. 

"Oh, Myra," her mother's summons made her stall, her arms hanging in the air, "your father's got a request for you."

"Father dad or King dad?"

Reiss rolled her eyes, "When has he ever asked you to do anything as King?"

Myra scratched her chin, "I think he told me to clean my room once."

"And considering the crater of a sty you live in I can see how well you listen to your sovereign's orders," her mom shook her head before getting to the meat. "Seems the Rutherford boy will be coming to Denerim and he wants you to keep an eye out for him."

The Rutherford boy? A few memories flashed through Myra's brain of a thirteen year old with shaking hands who clumsily reached for hers. Warm, pouty lips slipping and sliding past hers before landing back in place for her first kiss. Bright shining eyes that glittered like mead on a hot day.

"Gavin?" Myra tried to shake away the old memories, "What's he doing here?"

"Apparently he's going to be a squire."

"Why?" she pinched up her eyes, fully confused. Squiring involved standing around all day being ordered to do things and having drunk Knights shout at you. That soft spoken, skinny lad she met all those years ago was the furthest thing she could picture trapped in that boorish life.

"I don't know, Myra. You can ask him when he arrives with the caravan out of Redcliffe," Reiss sighed, already falling into her chair. It was a long walk up stairs to get to her bedroom. " it for your dad, okay?" 

"Fine," Myra sighed as if it was a huge burden, but her curiosity was piqued. It'd been a few years since she last heard from Gavin. What'd he been up to since? Resuming her slow shamble to her room, Myra tried to hide the blush of young infatuation beneath the pile of freckles on her cheeks.

Before Myra vanished behind the door to her sanctuary, Reiss shouted, "And clean your damn room."

Myra tipped her head out and made a motion of bowing low, "Yes, my liege."

Chapter Three

A Beautiful Princess

"My lady," a head tipped to her, but she didn't have time to properly wave or even give a little nod. Rosamund may have been short, but she was using the full length of her stride to not-quite run through the palace walls. Running from royalty implied a major problem certain to cause panic, practically but not-yet running meant she was very busy and to get out of her way before she barreled through someone. Hands behind her picked at the quiver, which easily tugged away, then tried to grab her bracers off.

"How late am I?" Rosamund asked, twisting her head behind to one her ladies. She raised a single black eyebrow to try and get the girl to cough out an answer, which she'd been dodging since Rosie heard the bells and ran clear across the meadow at full bore. Sweat clung to her forehead and drenched her back, very un-princesslike sweat. It'd probably shock people to learn that not only was the crowned princess of Ferelden prone to sweating out her dresses like no one's business she also, on occasion, passed gas and had rather thick and dark leg and arm hair. Her ability to charm woodland creatures to do her bidding was also taking time to emerge.

"It's not bad, yet," Tess insisted, trying to tug off the leathers Rosie had on while out in the field. They may not breathe all that well in the summer heat, but they worked through tall grass better than a skirt.

"Yet?" Rosamund gasped first in concern, then from her lady tugging the belt tighter to get it off. The scabbard at her hip fell to the floor. "Maker's breath," even as the fury undressing her picked up speed, Rosie bent down to pluck up her sword. She'd had it for years, designed by one of the greatest smiths in all of southern thedas. Gifted to her by her father from when she cleaned her entire room for a month straight. She was rarely far from it.

Hands plucked the scabbard out of her fingers, and Tess' pinched face pinched tighter. "Sorry, my Lady, but we'll keep it safe."

"We...?" Rosie began when a flock of women seemed to appear out of the woodwork to circle around her. They all locked bodies, shielding the princess as she was stripped of the last of the fighting leathers and thin linen shirt. No doubt to the others passing across the mighty staircase or from one room on the second level to the other it looked like a teeming anthill. Perhaps they caught a sliver of Rosie's pale skin slipping into a tan sleeve, or a girl cinching up the golden belt before letting the skirt covered in gold embroidery of rose bushes fluff out. 

Tipping her head up, Rosie took in a deep breath while nimble fingers cinched up the laces on the bodice, trapping her well proportioned breasts behind a fluff of lace. It was modest for the future queen without being stuffy on a twenty something girl. Even still, Rosamund's bust size allowed a handful of her soft flesh to poke out of the top of the coverings. She was hard to strap down with anything other than a tight band double knotted and up to her neck.

"Are we done?" she asked, her hands still out at her sides as if afraid they'd begin adding more clothes to her.

"Wait a moment, my lady," one of her cousins said. Her mother made her take a few into Rosie's entourage, the ones that their fathers hoped would either find a nice noble man to marry, or fall into eternal servitude to the queen. Fingers dabbed a dash of pigment onto her lips -- red as her namesake. With a soft brush, others drew powder across her closed eyelids, green as the forest in shadow, to match her striking eyes.

When the pressure removed from her eyes, Rosamund risked taking a peek to find the multitude of women sliding back from her. She blinked a few more times, trying to sift any excess powder off and then gave a little bow. "How do I look?"

"Like a princess," Tess sighed.

"That doesn't really help me. I was hoping more for imposing diplomat, but..." in the distance Rosie heard the bells peal again. "What time is it?"

"Um..." the girls clutching to her training clothing and weapons all blinked and gulped at each other.

Oh Maker, it was even worse than she feared. Hitching up the skirts, Rosie revealed her pair of riding boots. Well, no time to change them out for slippers now. She jogged towards the stairs, Tess tight on her heels while the princess insisted yet again, "How long have they been waiting?"

"Not very, your highness."

"Give me an answer in numbers, please," Rosie was tired of people dancing around the subject already.

"Um," Tess swallowed hard and spat out, "an hour...or more."

"An..." Rosamund's trained poise shattered apart. This was her first time let off the lead and she, she stupidly... She should have stayed here in the palace, prepared, read through the notes again. Made certain she was on top of it all, but no, her nerves got the better of her and she thought a bit of sword training would work them out. Then the time got away and--

"My lady," Tess interrupted, "it's all right. Royalty often keeps their lessers waiting. For instance, your father..."

Rosamund took a deep breath and stared hard at Tess. "I am not my father," slowly, her eyes trailed to the looming door behind which her first solo meeting with the heads of state for Denerim waited, "though I wish he was here right now." He'd have walked right in with horse muck clinging to his boots, made some charming joke about how there was a traffic jam on the streets, and everyone would love him for it. 

Calm down, Rosie. You know this. She'd been reading reports about the state of Denerim's food storage, sewage, and road requirements for the past two weeks. Every night before bed in preparation for today she'd lower the light on her lantern and dig into refuse and unburned corpse numbers. 

Lifting her chin up, Rosamund stared through the air as if she could command the room itself to bend to her will. With that burst of certainty in her step, she opened the door and walked in to find a group of five adults all sitting at the conference table. They looked bored, feet up on the table, a few waving stacks of books around without a care in the world. When their princess stepped into the room, all the shoes hit the ground. A few of the men moved to rise, but Rosie waved them off.

"Forgive the lateness of my arrival, I was..." in the middle of mastering a back kick, "delayed." She shuffled back towards the chair that sat at the head of the table, perfectly aligned in front of a red stained glass window. For months her father sat there while Rosie took a chair against the wall, watching and learning. Now it was her turn.

"Will your..." the Arlessa of the Alienage spoke up, her eyes trailing Rosamund as she sat in place, "the King be joining us?"

"No, it is only me for the day. Though I will pass on all we say and decide to him," Rosamund's smile was as phony as the sense of leadership she could command, but she trudged on through it. Would they call her on it? Make her go and fetch the proper King, or walk out and refuse to have the meeting? Her damn heart beat twice as fast as it had while she ran to get here.

"Well," the Arlessa chuckled, "we should get through this a lot faster."

"No terrible jokes," the city steward agreed, laughing at the idea of no humor.

"Or having to explain things five times over," the Arl of Denerim added.

Right. Rosie shut her eyes, letting a moment of calm chip away at her anxiety. This may go well. No, this will go well. She situated her shoulders and moved to begin the proceedings when she caught Tess still standing in the doorway. Rosie moved to tell her she could go, when she noticed the horrified look in Tess' eyes. The lady in waiting lifted up her hand and pointed at Rosie's right shoulder.

As if aiming for a scratch, the princess reached up to find a dagger's hilt still strapped to her back under the dress. 

Damn it.

* * *

She'd been sent for officially by the King. He never did that, her father of the mind that if he wanted to talk to someone he'd wander around until he found them. Didn't matter if the person was busy with a meeting, certainly didn't matter if the King himself was supposed to be in one. He seemed to float through all the pomp of royalty never letting it touch him. And now he wanted to talk to his daughter, in private. 

As private as one could get on the archery field. When the servant bearing the message found Rosamund trying to cool off by the fountain and wick away all the embarrassment from her hot cheeks, she shook it away as her father being silly. The meeting ended a few hours ago, leaving Rosie with a pile of information she had to condense down into a report for her father and the candle of shame burning bright in her gut. Surely he didn't already know about her rather small mistake of fully forgetting about the meeting.

Watching the man stand at the line and lift a bow up with his left arm, Rosamund realized she was in ten kinds of trouble. Normally, the yard was teeming with soldiers. Knights, the guard, just people rushing from one end to the other to move equipment, and always training. It was why she preferred the meadow where the horses ran to the official yard. Also because people were less likely to gawk at their future Queen attacking a scarecrow head on.

Despite being near his 60s her father remained trim, and also kept his simple and efficient wardrobe. The armor softened over the years, wool padding being a favorite, but he preferred wearing the assuring splint mail about like a bathrobe. It was as much a part of the King as the crown was. As he tugged out an arrow and moved to nock it, a massive burst of smile lines crinkled at the side of his eye. Even when his face was neutral, he looked as if he was about to break into laughter or song. Rosie had more than a few memories of her father serenading diplomats or politicians who pissed him off.

Alistair released his notched arrow, the shaft bobbing as it struck the second outer ring of the target. "Ooh, I hit it that time," he cackled, his fingers reaching back for another.

"Father," Rosamund called to him.

The King didn't stop from grabbing up the arrow, but as he turned, he used the arrowhead to scratch his scalp. "Rosie," he called out, a full smile raising his cheeks high, "get on over here. Show me how it's done."

Unable to shake her own lightness at her father's joy, even while her soul weighed in regrets, Rosamund tugged up a bow from the rack and slung a quiver upon her back. She fell into the lane beside him, her hand plucking on the bowstring to get a feel for it. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched an arrow go flying. This one stuck a bit closer to the target, but nowhere near the bullseye.

"I thought you hated archery," Rosie said. Nocking her first arrow, she let her fingers ruffle up the fletching. Her arm remained slack, watching as her father rolled back and forth on his feet.

"I wouldn't say I hate it so much as archery hates me." He launched his second to last arrow, this one digging into the dirt as his arm fell too low. "See! Pretty sure all the arrows get together at night to talk about that dreadful King Alistair. Let's mess him up tomorrow, they laugh to themselves, all plummet to the ground or veer wildly over the top. Arrows don't have much of a life."

Laughing at his incompetence with a bow, he shrugged, "Give me a sword and a shield and I'm good, but this...there's aiming, and precision, and being able to see all the way down there."

He waved his aging hand towards the targets that weren't even at regulation range. Rosamund bit her lip at the reminder that time didn't stop for any of them. She hated having to accept that her father was getting old. Even when all his hair went from straw to snow, he never stopped seeming young -- even more childish than the royal progeny running after him. Tipping her chin up, she drew the arrow back. The feathers skirted against her cheek before she anchored her thumb, got her sights, and then released. 

"See," her dad cupped her shoulder while looking at her shot. "That's a bullseye."

"No, that's in the circle beside it. Not bad, but..."

"So modest, my Rosie. No idea where in the void you get it from."

"Mother," Rosamund said, plucking up another arrow, "and the dozen or so finishing schools she made me attend."

When the arrow whizzed past, her father chuckled. "I never could figure out what you were finishing there. Furniture? A good soufflé recipe? A relay race?"

"Finding long lost treasure of the ancient Imperium," Rosie said, her voice certain.

Alistair blinked madly a moment, "Really?"

"No. It was all about knowing when one should sit, when one should stand, when one should speak, and when one should hold her tongue." Rosie fired again, this time striking close to a true bullseye. "The last was apparently meant to happen all the time."

Her father shook his head, the white scraggles of his scruff seeming to fascinate his bored fingers as he roughed up his chin. "Sounds like the chantry. Sit down, be quiet, do as you're told, and answer us when spoken to. The mothers didn't like it when I pointed out we couldn't talk and stay quiet at the same time." Rosie chuckled at the idea of her father anywhere near the chantry. He'd tell them about it on occasion, as a lark, but the way he described the templars was confusing for their modern world. They were an order that felt as ancient as something from the Imperium in Andraste's time.

A few more of Rosie's arrows sunk into the target, all circling the bullseye like a dog hunting for the perfect spot to lay down. "So," Alistair said, rising up and down on his toes, "how'd it go?"

"Fine," she sneered. Placing all her power into her upper shoulder, Rosie yanked the bowstring so far back when the arrow hit the target it sunk down almost to the quivering fletching.

"That fine, huh?" her father laughed, a finger rubbing the stubble on his upper lip.

Rosamund's head tipped down, the shame she couldn't flee from no matter how hard she tried circling her. She was to be Queen, she'd been told as such since she could understand what a queen and king were. This was what she was born to do, but...

"Did they come to you?" she whispered, her fingers strangling the leather guide for the bow.

"Yeah," Alistair scratched the back of his ear, "but they always do that." Rosie glanced over in surprise. "The meeting's just for show. Stomp around, read the same words everyone does, adjourn at the same time with the same promises to do nothing useful. After, that's when they tell you the real important stuff."

"But that," she shook her head, "that makes no sense. Why not inform me then, when we can all handle the situation?"

"Because then everyone else at the table knows their shit stinks same as the rest. The Denerim folks ain't too bad about it, just if something big's bugging 'em, but those diplomats." Alistair whistled, "Granted, nothing can touch the Orlesian problem. Pick a successor, Celene. It'll be for the best your giant dressness. Might want to do it before you die. Well," he shrugged at the mess of Orlesian politics, "west of the frostback's problem, now."

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