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Cauthrien, Five Ways

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It’s the Grey Wardens where she finds purpose again. It takes years, but eventually the day comes when she swallows her pride and climbs the path to Amaranthine, gives herself over to old enemies and lets them maker her anew. It’s different, she tells herself, than giving her to the Orlesians, or to mercenaries, or to any others that she has faced down in the past.

The Wardens have a purpose, and if they don’t have a home, if they force her to give hers up, then at least her sword is put to the best use it can when the Crown will not keep her. She loses within the first year the fall of Fereldan rain, but Antivan heat is not so bad, and Weisshaupt cold makes up tenfold for lost winter mud. She meets men and women she is proud to serve, and men and women who are proud to work at her side.

She does not live so long, but a soldier’s life was never going to lead to old age. In the end, it’s a fair trade: service for a life. It’s the only one she’s ever known, and the only one she would ever want.

 

 

_______

 

 

Tantervale is not Denerim. There is so much that is different: the air, the stone the buildings are made of, the food, the accent, the slant of noses and of foreheads. The faces stamped on coins, the width of roads, the feel of the rain.

The people.

It is not home, and never will be home. The farms outside of Tantervale will never be her father’s farm, and they will never grow the same food, hunt and trap the same animals. They, too, were once held by Orlesians - but the memory is distant and meaningless. This is Tantervale, a city with pride, but not the pride tested by recent invasion.

It’s the pride, however, of a good people, a strong people, and if she finds the petty squabbling between rich merchants and almost-nobility irritating, she reminds herself that it is no different from the banns of Ferelden. There is less space here, and more echoes of Orlesian status, but for all the changes, she can still read jealousy and confidence and competence. She finds somebody she does not mind serving.

She builds him an army, and one day, she moves into the office of the Captain of the Guard while her employer sits as Lord Chancellor. It is right, and good, and there is nothing else for it but to claim a place that was not hers as home.

 

 

_______

 

 

The Crown needs its spies.

Cauthrien is fluent in Orlesian, has been since Loghain taught her all those years ago.To intercept, to interrogate, to protect, he had said, even as his lips curled with distaste at the sound of it from her, the feel of it in him. It had been grueling, then, hours of close study and endless practice after long days of being taught the sword, taught tactics and how to command men. He had molded her by force of will and force of hand.

But she doesn’t think he would understand now.

He would have never thought that she would make a good spy. He would have said she was too noticeable, too seated in her distrust (even if it was not his angry fear), too gruff, too straightforward. She has always been bad at lying. And yet the Crown has sent her here, and here she has gone: an Orlesian chevalier’s bed.

She is bad at lying, but he doesn’t care. Subterfuge is needless here. She is abandoned by her country (in all but quiet threads), and he watches her struggle with her new life, her life as trophy, as symbol, as paraded status. When she writes back to Ferelden, he watches as couriers burn her letters.

But they read them first.

There is no place for her in Ferelden now. Ferelden is not so far, a matter of miles, a horse or a carriage or a ship from Jader. But it is gone, beyond her reach. Her sword, too, is locked away - in the room where Loghain’s armor is kept. The trappings of her life and identity have been set aside.

She is a spy now, and she serves a country she will never see again. But until the end, she serves.

 

 

_______

 

 

The Queen’s pardon gives her the chance at a life she had thought she lost.

It’s hard work. A woman alone can only work so much land, and so much land can’t produce everything she wants. Sometimes, it can’t produce everything she needs. She trades her labor for bread because to grow enough wheat and mill it all would be beyond her. She trades stories for gifts of pies at Feastday, because she doesn’t have the time to make them herself.

Eventually, she trades thirty-six years of freedom for a ring on her finger and a husband, but that is not so bad at all.

She remembers, as a girl, wondering who she would marry. Some girls had turned away from the idea, some had run headlong towards it. For her, it had always been an inevitability. And now, as she looks out a field grown large by her husband’s work, his ties, and by the help of their two children, she thinks that inevitable is the right word.

Her armor is on a stand by the hearth, the Summer Sword mounted on the wall. Her muscles have turned from a warrior’s, to a farmer’s, to an old woman’s, but she has not lost her scars or her memories. War shaped her, but before that, she was a farmer’s girl.

Inevitable is the right word.

 

 

_______

 

 

It’s an uncommonly warm spring when the guard - men and women she knows, men and women she trained - leads her from Fort Drakon. The sun makes her bow her head and close her eyes against it; they’ve kept her in rooms lit only by low torch-light for days, and she wonders if it was intentional, preparing her for this.

But there are no crowds to jeer or to cry her down. No, if it was done on purpose, it was to keep her from seeing her approach to the block.

She wonders, as one of the guard touches her shoulder and she sinks to her knees, if it would have been easier to let the Warden’s sword fell her. But it was the last thing she could do, to take the correct side and make amends as best she could. History will remember her as the traitor who was not wholly evil.

And that has to be enough.

Her eyes adjust in time for her to see the approach of the headsman. She doesn’t close them again.