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A Chip off the Old Block

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The Hero of Ferelden's chambers were on the ground floor of the castle, some distance from the regular guest quarters, and Rowan had to sneak carefully past several servants and armed guards to find her way there undetected. It was well past her bedtime, but she had been waiting for her chance to speak to Warden-Commander Aeducan for months, and might not get another opportunity like this again for an age.

Getting out of her chambers was easy enough, all the guards were watching out for external threats, not internal escapes. Getting into the Warden-Commander's chambers was a bit more of a challenge, but she eventually managed it with some quick footwork and the convenient distraction of a fight between two dogs in the corridor. One advantage of being so tiny was that everyone was looking out for full grown soldiers and assassins, not small girls who could hide in the shadows and duck behind suits of armour without being seen.

Of course once she was in Warden-Commander Aeducan's chambers Rowan then had to get up the courage to talk to him. That turned out to be more than she could manage right away, so she hid.

The rooms were very sparsely furnished, the flat grey stone of the walls free of all the tapestries and thick curtains she was used to seeing in other parts of the castle. The Warden-Commander was the only person who used this room, but there was little in the way of personal decoration: a cracked sword on the wall, a few books, the odd stone statue. There was a large fire in the grate, though, and despite his small stature the Warden-Commander seemed to fill the room with his presence. Rowan peeked her head over the top of a chest and watched him as he read through some papers, no doubt some boring grownup business he'd been given to deal with after talking to her parents. (Rowan's father was always complaining about all the boring grownup business he had to deal with, it made her glad she wouldn't be a grownup for ages yet)

Warden-Commander Aeducan was short, like all dwarves, but he had been provided with furniture designed to fit his frame and looked totally at ease as he sat by the fire. He was wearing loose comfortable clothing that covered his limbs, but Rowan could see that his arms and legs were in proportion to the rest of his body, or perhaps a little long. There was that distinctive dwarfen oddness to his face, something about the shape of his nose and breadth of his brow, and the effect was accentuated by his long braided black beard and the tattoos lining his skin. His head did not look too large for his body, and his back was straight. He was powerfully muscled too, Rowan could well imagine him chopping off heads and battling ogres, for all that he might have to jump up a bit to get to them.

"Are you going to stand there all night, Princess Theirin?" The Warden-Commander didn't look up from his papers, and his voice was mild, but Rowan was still stuck still in terror. He'd noticed her! Now he'd call the guard and she'd get into trouble and she'd never get to talk to him alone.

He looked up and smiled at her. His face was scarred and it was hard to see his smile under the fuzz of his moustache, but the friendliness of his expression still made Rowan feel better. "It's alright, I won't get you into trouble," he said. "I remember being your age. Did you get bored and want to explore the castle?"

Bored? What kind of person would go to so much trouble just because they were bored? She stood up and shook her head. He smiled encouragingly and she stepped forward.

"I wanted to talk to you," she said.

"To me?" said the Warden-Commander with surprise. "I...if you like. I can't promise to have much to say you'd find very interesting, but I'll do my best." He put down his papers and gave the awkward smile of a grownup trying their best to be "good with children" when they didn't have much practice at it.

She walked the last few steps towards the fire and stood in front of him. She had to look up to meet his eye, but nowhere near as much as she usually did with adults. There were not many dwarves invited to stay at the castle, and Rowan didn't go out much. Her parents had promised that she'd get to see more of the world when she was older, but for now this was one of the few chances she'd had to see a dwarf up close. He really did look very different to her, from his broad brown face to his long muscular arms. Her question seemed far more silly now than it had when she'd decided to go talk to him, but she hadn't come all this way just to back out now.

Rowan took a deep breath and tried to look like a woman who meant business (her mother was very good at this expression, and and usually got her way when she did it) She leaned forward and looked the Warden-Commander in the eye before forcing the words out in one long breath.

"Everyone denies it when I ask them but then I hear them whispering in the corridors and you're only dwarf I know who knows my mother and everyone says the two of you were very close after the war and so I was wondering...uh...um..." The Warden-Commander's expression had gone from polite encouragement to embarrassed surprise but he did not interrupt her, for which Rowan was incredibly grateful. She took another breath. "Are you my father?"

"Your father?" he repeated. "I...no!" She frowned at him to show she wouldn't be easily convinced, but he did look sincere. "Really, your highness, no. I don't know how much you know about...how babies are formed, but your mother and I never...we don't have that sort of relationship. We never did. I like Queen Anora, she's a lovely woman, but we're just friends. If that. And I am good friends with your father, I would never betray him like that, even if your parents are..." He stopped short of saying a marriage of convenience, like everyone else he seemed to assume children didn't notice that sort of thing. He looked at her in confusion. "People really think I'm your father? But you look nothing like me!"

"I know," she said. The longer she looked at him the less resemblance she saw with herself. It was not impossible for someone with his sort of dark colouring to produce a pale, blonde child like Rowan, but it was certainly unlikely. And apart from being short his body shape looked nothing like hers. "But..."

"Oh," he said. "It's because you're a...zwerg, what you'd call a dwarf."

She nodded.

"Oh...." He opened his mouth and closed it again, then really looked at her, the way she'd previously been looking at him. Probably noticed how short her arms and legs were, if he hadn't before, and how big her head was compared to the rest of her body. That was what most people stared at. "Your highness, you may be a dwarf but you are not a dwarva. Trust me, I grew up in Orzamarr, I have met every kind of dwarva there is and none of them looked like you." Wow. Even the dwarves thought she looked weird. This was mortifying, she should never have come. The Warden-Commander continued. "Well...that's not entirely true. We have...we call them zwergs, people like you whose bodies don't grow the way they...the way most people's do. They're short even for dwarves. You look a little like some of them." This was the first Rowan had heard of dwarven dwarves. Her mind boggled trying to imagine how tiny they must be. "Anyway, my point is that you look human. A bit shorter than most, but definitely not dwarva, not one of my people."

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Hey, I'm not insulted," he said. "I'd be proud to have you as a daughter. And I'm sure your father, your real father, is happy to have helped create such a brave, beautiful, and clever little girl. You certainly remind me of him." He smiled. "Knowing Alistair, he probably spoils you rotten."

"No..." said Rowan, though he was absolutely right. "He just treats me with the respect a princess deserves."

"I'm sure," said the Warden-Commander, grinning. "Especially since you seem to have inherited your mother's iron will."

He had a point: she really did take after both her parents. She even had her father's thick stubborn hair, though whenever she asked to cut it all off like he had he just laughed and said she'd have to wait until she was queen and got to decide that sort of thing for herself. Not that she wanted to be queen just yet, she liked her parents being around. They might not love each other, but they definitely loved her.

Rowan decided she wasn't going to listen to the silly gossips any more: she was a princess, there'd always be silly gossip about her, she just had to do her job well and trust the people of Ferelden to figure out the truth about the important things for themselves.

"I'm glad you're not my father," she said. "Um. But I still think you're really nice. And if I was your daughter that would be ok. I just..."

"Thanks," said the Warden-Commander. "And I understand." He gave a pained smile. "I...tried being a father, it didn't stick." He coughed, and then stood up. "Anyway, it's getting late, how about we try sneaking you back into your room?"

"Oh, yes please," said Rowan. "I'm not sure I know how to get back in without being noticed."

"Luckily for you," said the Warden-Commander, "You are talking to an expert at breaking in and out of a well guarded bedrooms when your parents think you should be asleep. Um. But don't tell your parents I gave you any hints, ok?"

Rowan grinned. "It's a deal."