sagacious_rage: (maebh)
[personal profile] sagacious_rage
Title: Prodigal, Chapter One: Burden/Blessing
Canon: Dragon Age
Characters/Pairing: Duncan, Loghain, Cailan, Maebh, Alistair, Jory, Daveth
Rating: Chapter: E +10 for violence Story: M, for consensual het sex
Warnings: none
Word Count: Chapter: 3,875 Story: 71,100
Story Summary: A mage with a terrible secret attempts to survive the Blight and the powerful people who would like nothing better than for her to disappear for good.
Chapter Summary: The Blight really brings people together.


Burden/Blessing

Ostagar

Beginning of the Fifth Blight


The trip to the crumbling fortress took well over a week. Maebh was grateful that Duncan did not seem to be the talkative type. He was pleasant enough conversation when she wanted to talk, but for the most part seemed content to leave her to her thoughts.

Her sudden departure from the Tower still had her reeling. In a few hours she had gone through her Harrowing, discovered that the man for whom she had been harboring a secret infatuation for the better part of a decade had nearly killed her, been ordered by her mentor to betray her best friend, discovered that said best friend was a blood mage, been nearly killed by another man who had sworn to protect her, recruited into the Grey Wardens and whisked out before she could say goodbye to...

Who was she going to say goodbye to? Irving knew where she was going, was happy to see her escape. Jowan was gone. A not insignificant part of her hoped he was dead. She had no other friends. And Cullen didn't count.

She had escaped the Tower. Her one overwhelming obsession since that cold spring morning sixteen years ago when her father handed her over to the Templars and walked out of her life, without even turning around when she screamed for help, had been accomplished. She was free. She was about to join an organization that would earn her respect and put her abilities to good use. She was out from under the thumb of the Chantry. Maker's Breath, she could practice blood magic if she wanted to. (The irony of that last fact did not escape her.)

On the third night of traveling, when they camped down for the evening, Duncan cleared his throat and said, "You should know that the king will want to meet you."

Maebh froze. "Why?"

"He holds the Grey Wardens in high esteem, just as his father did. He's always excited to meet the new recruits. It should be easier for you than most, what with you being old friends and all," Duncan looked at her, eyes twinkling in the firelight.

"What do you mean by that?" Maebh's voice was steadied by years of asking that question in a tone that betrayed nothing.

"You are the same age as the king, are you not?"

Maebh paused, still unsure of where Duncan was headed. "I am."

"Then you would have been in the Tower when he visited with King Maric ten years ago. I'm surprised you don't remember that. It's such a rare occurrence in Ferelden for the monarchy to have anything to do with mages."

"Oh! Oh, yes, I do remember that! Good King Maric said I was pretty. I made a perfect fool of myself," Maebh laughed. "I do hope King Cailan doesn't remember me. That would be awkward."

Duncan sighed. "Cailan was very close with his father, and has quite an appreciation for...the female form. It's entirely possible that he will remember you. I just didn't want you to be taken by surprise."

"I understand. Thank you."

"Also," Duncan cleared his throat again and shifted, looking uncomfortable, "Since the Order has only recently been reestablished in Ferelden, our political position is quite weak. If anything...inappropriate were to happen between you and the king..."

"Why on earth would the king be interested in me?" Her voice was light and casual as the familiar feeling of dread pooled in her stomach. Who told Duncan? Did Greagoir mention something? Did Cailan? What would happen to her, now? Would she be sent back to the tower?

"As I mentioned before, the king is a very strong supporter of our order and you are the first female Grey Warden recruit since Maric reinstated us. He may find that appealing. I need you to resist any advances."

"Isn't the king married?"

"Yes."

Maebh mulled this over. "I'm not sure what Knight-Commander Greagoir told you about me. He's convinced that I personally corrupted something like two dozen of his Templars over the years. I assume this is why you feel the need to talk to me about this." She stood up and began to pace. "But I am going to tell you something. And I don't expect to ever need to repeat it. What I do and who I do it with is my business. But I'm not interested in helping anybody break their vows, regardless of who he made those vows to. I am tired of dealing with the suspicions of repressed little men who convince themselves that I am somehow sinful for the thoughts they think. I have no control over their minds and I do not appreciate being blamed for their weakness. I had hoped, when you recruited me, that you thought I had some sense."

Duncan looked thoughtful. "Yes. You are sensible. I apologize for bringing it up. I did not mean to insult you. I suppose what I really wanted to do was to warn you that the king may take an inappropriate interest and trust that you have already figured out how to do deal with that."

Maebh sat down beside him and sighed. "I have. Sometimes I've handled it better than others, to be honest. I'll probably just avoid him as much as possible if that's alright with you."

Duncan patted her arm. "That will do fine. And don't go anywhere alone with him. Rumors are often started with much less and can do far more damage than the truth."

"Understood."

Duncan smiled. "Would you like to know what Greagoir told me about you?"

"Not really," Maebh groaned and rubbed her forehead. "I can't imagine it was anything good."

"He said you were incredibly intelligent, one of the smartest people he had ever met."

Maebh ducked her head, hiding her tears behind her hair. "Oh."

They walked seven more days before arriving at Ostagar. Maebh remained silent most of the journey, mourning not only her lost friend but also the adolescent fantasy that had sustained her through her long confinement. Duncan was right. She could not be the person Cailan expected her to be. She had responsibilities beyond that of an average mage, and besides that it still wasn't a good idea. How did he hope to conceal her identity from her father and sister? How was he going to explain choosing her over older, more experienced mages? How was he going to deal with the inevitable scandal?

It also occurred to her that it was entirely possible that he did not remember the promises he so earnestly made so long ago. He knew how to be charming, not sincere. The possibility that he never intended to follow through with his silly plan had haunted her ever since she heard of his coronation. If he truly had been attempting to create a position of mage advisor to the court the Tower would have exploded in rumors about who was to receive the honor. The deafening silence on the subject served only to feed her despair about ever escaping. He never wrote to her, never had any contact whatsoever with anybody in the tower as far as she knew. He had forgotten her, and she would fade away into the shadows like her father had wanted.

But that wasn't what was going to happen now. Now she was free, more free than she had ever been. The burden of responsibility the Wardens offered was a blessing. She was not locked in the tower or a palace. She was not to be afraid of her abilities, she was to use them to actually help the people. She realized with a jolt that she could leave Ferelden after the Blight, if she managed to survive. She could even go beyond the reach of the Chantry. The only limit to her freedom now was her own wits and abilities.

It was all too much. The heady sensation of absolute freedom sometimes made her faint, and she would have to sit and catch her breath. Duncan was patient with her. He could not expect her to be in good physical condition after not being allowed out of doors for sixteen years, and allowed her to rest whenever she needed. It helped that she was so stubborn that she refused to rest until she was so faint she could no longer feel her feet and would begin to trip over bumps in the road.

She noticed with pleasure by the tenth day that her body was already changing. The morning stiffness had eased, and she could walk longer without tiring. She was about to comment on this to Duncan when they arrived at Ostagar and were greeted with a royal welcome.

~*~



There were voices, men talking. Cailan was talking about battle and tactics and looked so blasted happy about it that Maebh felt ill. She could tell that Duncan was troubled by his attitude, and that Cailan was either happily ignorant of that or happily not paying attention. He glowed with triumph and anticipation. She struggled to keep her composure.

A realization managed to penetrate the fog in her brain. He was looking at her. He was walking towards her. Was he talking to her?

"Ho there, friend, might I know your name?"

"You might. But I'd be surprised." Maebh said with a slight smile.

Cailan laughed with delight. "You have a live one here, Duncan!"

Maebh searched his face for any hint of recognition, but there was nothing. It's been too long, she thought. He's forgotten her. Her heart steadied. This is a good thing, she thought to herself. This will make things easier.

She dully replied to his other queries, "Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord." And then he was gone to talk to the Teryn. She watched him with her heart in her throat. He did not turn around.

Duncan was too preoccupied to notice her agitation. They spoke for a bit about the Blight before he mercifully dismissed her, with vague orders of finding somebody or other in the camp. She ran across the eroded bridge and searched for someplace to sit and think.

She found an outcropping that had once been part of a solarium and sat on the edge, looking out into the Wilds. Yes, it would be easier if he had forgotten her. She was just another Grey Warden. After the battle she would go do whatever it is that Grey Wardens do when there is no Blight to worry about and have no contact with him ever again. Problem solved.

Which left her free to mull over the other, more troubling situation: the Teryn. She turned that particular puzzle piece over in her head, observing from every angle until she came to the unavoidable conclusion that she had to speak with him. There were too many questions that could only be answered by a face-to-face confrontation. She steeled herself with the idea that the likelihood of him recognizing her was slim to none. He had been telling other people of her untimely demise for so long he may have started to believe it himself. She knew how it was. How many lies had she told that she had to cling to with such ferocity that she could barely pick apart the difference of what was true and what she really needed to be true. The constant planning of conversations before they happened, sleight-of-hand, admitting to one thing to one person and inventing something to another, muddying the water enough that she could slip away unnoticed, the anxious tightrope walk of her day-to-day existence sometimes made her feel as if she were losing her mind.

And for all her intelligence and savvy and observations and defenses she had not seen what Jowan was. This was troubling. Her closest friend had managed to conceal not only his illicit affair with that moronic initiate but, more importantly, the fact that he was practicing blood magic. How did he take her by surprise? What else had she missed?

She stood up and brushed off her robes. This sort of navel-gazing was unproductive. Wallowing in self-doubt would only make her weaker. She would think on it later, when the pain was not so fresh and she could pick it apart logically. She missed Cullen. It would be nice to talk to him right now. He was always so steady, so transparent with no ulterior motives to anything he did. She hoped he was coping, that the other apprentices were not tormenting him the way they used to until she started her subtle campaign of directing their attention at the hapless mage Godwin. The image of poor Cullen surrounded by girls giggling at his discomfort with nobody to distract them disturbed her more than than she expected. He never had learned how to deal with the interpersonal politics of the tower and she was partly to blame for that. She had personally shielded him from the worst of it without him ever noticing. She couldn't dwell on that, either. At the time she had been convinced that the tower was her tomb, so planning for a future in the tower that did not include herself wasn't worth the effort. Maybe she would write him when she had the chance. Yes, writing would be better than a personal visit. He could approach it at his own pace and not be so intimidated by her physical presence.

She began to walk without any particular goal in mind. Focus, she commanded herself. Aimlessness is how mistakes are made. She could not afford to make a mistake in this conversation. Stay neutral. Reveal nothing. A reconnaissance mission.

She briefly considered going over to the king's tent first, but dismissed that as a poor choice. No matter what Cailan said to her when she inevitably talked to him again, she was not going to be able to focus afterwards. He was simply too distracting. No, that confrontation would have to wait until she could afford it.

The guard in front of the Teryn's tent stopped her. "He's not to be disturbed," he said.

"So the Teryn is inside?" Maebh shifted her weight slightly, sticking out a hip and subtly arching her back. "I have a message for him, and would be most grateful if I could speak to him directly."

The guard's eyes flickered over her body. "Of course."

He disappeared inside the tent. Maebh stood straight and smoothed her hair. If she trembled or stammered or showed any sort of hint of her anxiety, all would be lost. The Teryn strode toward her, accompanied by Ser Cauthrien. Maebh felt a flare of rage at the sight of the woman, approximately her own age, standing where she was supposed to be. She quickly looked away and focused on the Teryn. She could not afford any distraction.

"So, you're the new recruit Cailan was bragging about. You wanted something?"

Maebh smiled humbly. "I was just curious about your views on the upcoming battle. The king seems so confident..."

"The king is very young. You'd do well to remember that. I could give you a better assessment of our position if I were left alone to do the work I came here to do," his voice was flint, his eyes steel. "I image you're planning to ride out with him and the rest of the Wardens?"

Maebh allowed herself a moment of honesty. "Oh no, I hope not. I'm not much of a fighter,"

"You're smarter than you look," the Teryn sneered, and Maebh caught a glimpse of something else in his eye. Recognition? Curiosity? It was gone before it was fully there. His tone softened ever so slightly. "Duncan is a good judge of ability. I'm sure whatever you lack in experience you more than make up in potential."

"Thank you."

The softness disappeared. "Now, if there's nothing else you wanted, young Warden, I actually have some work to do." He turned without waiting for a response.

Maebh felt hollow, and had to beat down the urge to jump on Ser Cauthrien's back and pull out her stupid ponytail. Focus, analyze. He had noticed something about her, that's for sure. But what? Did he suspect who she was? Should she tell him?

She decided that after the battle she would be writing two letters. She would make the first move, but then leave the rest to him. She was surprised by her own ambivalence. A part of her longed for reconciliation but another part wanted nothing of the sort. If she were to reestablish some sort of relationship with him, it would be another bond keeping her in Ferelden, a limit on her freedom. She was not sure that was what she wanted.

She had wasted enough time on self-indulgence. It was time to find that Alistair fellow Duncan wanted her to meet.

~*~


Kocari Wilds


As their little group walked through the Wilds, Maebh was intoxicated with the first real test of her abilities, both intellectual and magical.

She felt a rush of affection for her newly-met companions: Daveth, the flirtatious rogue; Jory, the hapless knight; and Alistair, the ostensible leader. Alistair's official leadership was handed over to Maebh almost immediately after they walked through the gates.

"Alright," she said, turning to address the group, "I'm assuming that you have all been in combat situations before, yes?"

The men paused and looked at each other, not sure what to make of the assertive young mage. "Well, I've been in a few bar fights," offered Daveth.

"Mostly tournaments and bandits," declared Jory.

"I'm already a Grey Warden, and before that I was trained as a Templar," Alistair said, crossing his arms and looking at her with curiosity.

"Oh, good. So you have experience fighting with mages? Or at least some idea of how they usually fight?"

He nodded.

"Because I was thinking it would be best if I stay back at first, using ranged attacks, and maybe healing if I can, until I get my feet under me and can devise more effective strategies."

"Not a bad idea."

"I'm also thinking it might be best if one of you made sure to keep a clear line of vision on me at all times, in case one of them notices me and comes close. My robes aren't much good against a blade, and I'll need backup."

Daveth grinned, "I'll back you up, Maybe."

Maebh blinked, her line of thought crashed. "Please don't call me that."

"Why not? I think it's a cute nickname. You can call me Davey and we'll be bosom buddies, eh?" Laughing, he reached and arm across her shoulders.

She flushed and pushed him away. "I'm serious, please just... I'm just Maebh. Amell if you want to use my family name."

"Alright, if you insist. Can we still be bosom buddies?"

"Your chances of success in that goal will be greatly improved if you can prevent any darkspawn from stabbing me in the back."

"Well," said Alistair, clapping his hands, "what more encouragement do we need? Let's go."

The rush of battle was intoxicating. Maebh found herself giggling, and felt giddy when she heard Alistair laughing as well. After a few skirmishes she called for another huddle.

"I think I'd like to switch tactics," she said, her eyes glowing with delight and her cheeks pink under the splatter of blood on her face.

Alistair saluted, "What are your orders, ser?"

She giggled. "Well, I was thinking if, the next time we come across a group, I could sprint into the middle and stun them all with a mind blast or something, and then run out while the rest of you charge in to cut them all down before they recover."

Jory shook his head. "That's no good. What if you trip?"

She made a face. "Damned robes. Here," she turned to Daveth, "give me your dagger."

"I'm not sure I like where this is going..." Alistair warned.

"I'm sure I do," Daveth handed over the dagger with a grin.

Maebh prepared to cut a foot of length off her robes. "No, that's a bad idea," Alistair took the dagger and handed it back to Daveth.

"Why, they're my clothes, aren't they?" Maebh stuck out her chin.

"Yes they are, but do you have anything else to wear?"

"Well, I..."

"Exactly. What do you expect to do once we get back to camp and you have to be respectable? Oh, don't look at me like that."

"But I want to try my strategy! And Jory's right, if I trip I'll be slaughtered."

"Then we'll have to wait until next time. Or maybe you'll be lucky and you'll find some things left by somebody that you can modify. In the meantime, keep doing what you've been doing. It's working fine."

Maebh rolled her eyes. "Fine."

A few minutes later she found a letter which led her on a wild goose chase from one end of the swamp to the other. "A-ha!" she crowed in triumph. "Chasind robes! I don't even have to modify them!"

"Oh Maker," Jory covered his eyes with his hands once Maebh emerged from behind a bush wearing the strips of cloth.

"Oh yes, possibly those could be considered robes, if one was feeling as charitable as Andraste herself," Alistair sighed.

"Oh hush, it serves a purpose," Maebh waved her hands as if to put the matter to rest.

"Yes! A very important purpose that we must never forget!" Daveth agreed, "What was it again?"

"I'm going to run over there and stun all those darkspawn, and then the rest of you are going to run in and kill them. Ok? Here goes nothing." Maebh bolted into the center of a formation of darkspawn at the base of the old tower they had been trying to find.

"Wow. She's fast," Jory said in a hushed tone.

Maebh was already sprinting back toward them. "GO GO GO!" she shouted, waving her arms.

The three charged down the hill. "Behind you!" shouted Alistair as an emissary appeared, preparing to cast his own spell. Maebh spun, ducked a lighting bolt and petrified him.

"Somebody smash it!" she commanded. Jory followed her orders, and the emissary shattered. Maebh then turned and cast a cone of cold followed by a cone of lighting at the darkspawn who were in the process of regaining their senses. Once Alistair had struck the last hurlock down, Maebh cartwheeled, whooping in triumph. "That! Was! AMAZING!" she howled.

Alistair laughed as well, wiping the blood off his face. "It was, wasn't it?" he grinned.

"Come, o great leader," she smiled, and linked her arm through his. "Let's go get those treaties!"


~*~


Previous Chapters:

Prologue
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