In the shining opulence of Orzammar’s Diamond Quarter, the birth of the second child of the Aeducan family is cause for great celebration. The nobility of Orzammar flood the palace with gifts of gems, ceremonial armor, and other such finery that does a better job of flattering the king than of serving any use to his newborn daughter. Favor is earned and alliances are evaluated as Marja Aeducan gurgles in her crib, oblivious to the fact that she is second in line to the throne her father sits upon.
In the tired streets of Orzammar’s Dust Town, the birth of the second child of the Brosca family passes with little notice. The people here have better things to do than fawn over yet another Casteless infant. An exception lies in the boy’s sister, a child herself, who devotes her time to caring for her new sibling. Darvis Brosca sleeps contently in her arms, unaware of the mark on his face or the meaning it carries.
At seven years old, Marja is the darling of the palace and the favorite of the king. Most of her time is spent with her tutors, where she learns politics, culture, and history from the large tomes brought in from the Shaperate. Any time not spent in the library is spent at her father’s side, where she sees these concepts put into practice. Marja prefers the practical lessons. Even at a young age she is a natural at charming the court, and her father delights in showing her off.
Her only other companions in these times are her brothers. Bhelen, barely old enough to walk, trails after his sister whenever he can, and Marja loves spoiling him in return. Trian, the eldest, considers himself too mature to indulge his siblings in their childish games, but he's still Marja's brother, and she supposes she loves him anyway.
At seven years old, Darvis knows the alleys of Orzammar like the back of his hand. The alleys are dirty and dark, but they are hidden, and nobody yells at him for venturing past the limits of Dust Town. Occasionally he comes across others in the alley, people he instinctively knows to be dangerous, but they pay little mind to the scrawny boy with skinned knees scampering past.
This is where he meets Leske. Leske teaches him how to pick a spot and sit in wait until the moment is just right. Together, they dart into the street, Leske knocking over carts and stalls as a distraction while Darvis snatches coins from the hand of some unsuspecting citizen. It’s risky business but the boys are small and quick and reckless, and at the end of the day the guard has more dangerous criminals to spend their time chasing. Rica has given up on telling him to stop and now merely tells him to be careful. Darvis knows she worries, but the look of relief on his sister’s face when he hands her the coin is enough to make it worth the danger.
When Marja is twelve, she meets her first assassin. He comes in the night, and it is only by chance Marja awakens in time to scream for the guards. She cries as the guards drag the body of the assassin out of her room, and her father chides her. You are royalty, he says, and royalty remains strong. Marja takes his words to heart and swallows her tears. The next day she attends court with her father as she always does, smiling her usual smile at the fellow nobility, and silently wondering which of them paid to have her killed.
Until then Marja has regarded her combat training as a mildly interesting subject, much like her history lessons. Now, she commits herself to the training with greater vigor ever before. Her trainer gives her a ceremonial sword and shield, all bright and polished and beautiful. Marja, however, prefers the large double-handed greatsword. Some of the older warriors snicker at the sight of the young princess struggling to lift the large blade. Trian even refuses to practice with her, claiming it’s beneath him. Marja pays them little mind. She seeks out someone who will spar with her- the son of one of her father’s warriors, a boy her age named Gorim- and practices every day until she can wield the imposing weapon with ease. The weight of the sword carries some comfort, and with the weapon at her bedside she is able to sleep soundly again.
When Darvis is twelve, he meets Beraht. He is returning home after a typical day, hoping that his mother will be passed out by now and that Rica has found enough food to make dinner. Instead, he finds Rica conversing with an imposing man he’s never seen before. The man, he learns, is Beraht, and he has come with a job offering. Rica’s face is pinched and worried, but she tries to inject some brightness into her voice as she talks about the opportunity Beraht has for her. The man has a predatory look that sets Darvis on edge, but it's too late to hide the stolen coins clutched in his fist. Beraht's eyes fix on the money immediately. And where did you get that from, he wonders. Darvis glares at him defiantly, and he laughs. I might have a job for you, too.
Darvis already has his own knives, but the set of daggers he gets from Beraht is shiny and new. Darvis runs his fingers lightly over the edges, admiring the handiwork. He’s not stupid. He knows that Beraht can’t be trusted. The jobs Darvis gets now are far more dangerous than running through the streets and pickpocketing strangers. But the money is good and for now that’s all that matters.
By the time Marja is sixteen, she knows the intricacies of court inside and out. She studies each of her acquaintances carefully, taking note of the different ways each can be persuaded and the unique signs that mark their lies. They do the same to her, always searching for something that they can exploit. Marja keeps careful control of all she does, offering smiles and soothing words and nothing more to the circling nobles that wish to win her favor and undermine her power in equal measure.
Fortunately, Marja has Bhelen and Gorim at her side. Bhelen rarely gets involved in the complex schemes of the nobility, and in fact finds amusement in most of the mechanics of the court. Rarely does a ceremony go by without a sarcastic, under-the-breath comment from the young prince, and he is one of the few who can coax a sincere laugh from his sister.
Gorim is even better. He often jokes that Marja has no need for his services as her second in battle, but Marja is thankful for him all the same. Steadfast and loyal, he is everything a warrior should be, and one of the few people Marja knows that truly possesses something resembling honor.
Her relationship with Trian, however, only grows more strained. As time passes, his resentment of his sister festers. It comes to a boil on the day Marja finally convinces him to spar with her on the training grounds. Trian is highly skilled in combat, but he underestimates his sister, and to the surprise of them both Marja manages to knock him flat. The spectators laugh, and Trian has never liked to be laughed at. He leaps to his feet and glares at Marja, dark fire in his eyes. Don’t forget that I’m the one who’s going to be king, he spits. I’m going to rule, and you’re going to be married off to whatever House pays the most. He turns and stalks away, and Marja swallows her own angry words as she watches him go. She wants to fight back, but Trian is right about one thing; being the future king carries a certain power. For now, she has to hold her tongue.
By the time Darvis is sixteen, he’s well-known as a thief and lackey of the Carta. He’s good with his daggers and his fists, and can lift a purse as easy as breathing. In a way, he’s lucky. The Carta is respected and feared, and membership provides protection from the other Dust Town criminals. The job is simple. He follows orders, gets the job done, and brings home just enough coin to ensure he and Rica won’t starve. If the job is also unpleasant, well...most things in Dust Town are unpleasant. He doesn’t expect anything else.
Rica, however, carries an endless optimism. She speaks of someday with a smile. Someday when she finds a wealthy patron. Someday when they pay off their debts. Someday when he’s free of the Carta and can become whatever he wants. Darvis doesn’t see the bright future she describes, but he can’t bear to tarnish her hope by arguing.
The Carta isn’t all that bad. Darvis is good at what he does, and he has Leske to watch his back. Leske is sarcastic and crude and smiles like he’s laughing at the world. They make a good team, and Darvis knows he would have landed in the Orzammar cells long ago if not for his friend.
The Orzammar guard is not the only danger. The Carta may offer protection and payment, but it also doles out punishment. Darvis knows what happens to those defy orders, so when Beraht visits he bites his tongue and smothers his temper. His family’s welfare is dependent on this man. It’s just hard to remember that when Beraht speaks to Rica the way he does. Once, Darvis leaps to her defense, until a blow from Beraht sends him to the ground. You’re useful, he snarls, but you’re not the only lowlife for hire. Remember that, and be a little thankful for all I’ve done for you. There are a million things Darvis wants to say, but he sees Rica trembling in the corner, and he says none of them.
Marja is twenty when she hears that a Warden will be visiting Orzammar. The rumors say he is looking for aid against an upcoming Blight. The dwarves hold little sympathy for him; darkspawn on the surface are no concern to them. But it is still tradition to honor the Wardens, and as dictated by tradition there will be a banquet, a Proving, and every other piece of ceremony the nobles think will impress their visitor from the surface.
The Warden’s visit is not the only reason for celebration and ceremony. Marja has at last been given her first moment of command- the first of many, she believes. Rumors are sweeping the nobility, saying that the king will pass over his eldest son and make Marja his heir. Marja has heard them all, and knows they are more than idle gossip. She has known for a long time that Trian would make for a terrible king. He is stubborn and callous, and the only favor he holds in the Assembly is with the staunch traditionalists.
It's an opportunity Marja can't pass up. The king will be looking to impress the Grey Warden, and her mission will provide the perfect opportunity. If all goes well, this will be the last push needed for her father to officially name Marja as the future Queen of Orzammar.
Darvis is twenty when he hears that a Warden will be visiting Orzammar. The man’s arrival would not matter to him in the least if not for the Provings. But the nobles never miss a chance to show off their favorite pastime to the visitor, and Beraht makes a lot of money off of gamblers. He sends word to Darvis and Leske to ready themselves for an important task on the day of the Proving. No more details are given, but Darvis knows what to expect. For all the nobles like to talk about honor and the favor of the ancestors, most Proving champions are decided by people like Beraht before they even step into the arena. He simply needs some rogues that are good at not being noticed to make sure everything goes according to plan.
Like everything they do, the risk is significant. If Darvis and Leske are discovered, the nobles will have their heads. But for once, Darvis has a good feeling about what the future holds. Rica is positive that she has a patron now, a wealthy noble that is enamored with her. She needs a little more time, and then they’ll have enough coin to last them the rest of their lives.
It's an opportunity Darvis can't pass up. Beraht normally be keeps eyes on Rica, but with the nobility flaunting their wealth for the Warden, he will have his hands full running a dozen different schemes. Darvis just needs to do his job and keep Beraht happy. With a little luck, by the time the ceremony is done Rica will have secured a spot alongside her noble. Once that happens, they’ll never need to turn to Beraht for help again.
A Warden is visiting the grand city of Orzammar, and everything is about to change.