The city was quiet. Hardly anyone was awake. The moon was still in the sky but it was starting to set in order to make room for the sun. At this hour, the only living souls were the street animals scavenging for scraps and the city guards going about their designated patrols. It was a quiet night in Kirkwall throughout the city except at the docks. It was already very lively there as people were rushing back and forth to prepare the ships for their next journey or to welcome new ships that brought all sorts of goods from across Thedas.
All of the shouts from captains or merchants were so loud, much louder than any other time of day because the rest of the city was so quiet. With no other noise, the voices here seemed so loud and they echoed off the stone walls.
I was sitting on a crate that had already been loaded onto a ship and from there, I watched the men and women around me going about their duties. This ship was much smaller than the others in the harbor but it was a decent enough size. It was a simple cargo ship and was the only one I could afford to travel on. The fees for going on any other ship were more than double the amount of coin I had so this would have to do.
I watched anxiously as the men worked to get the ship ready to set sail. I wished they would go faster. I needed to leave this place as soon as possible. My fingers tapped on the rough wooden crate as my anxiety picked up. Only when we left would I be able to calm my nerves. I did what I could to distract myself but nothing really seemed to help.
Eventually, I focused on all of the hard working men. I was actually impressed with them. The sun was barely visible and there weren’t many lanterns on board to provide light but somehow they managed to navigate their way around with ease. I had no clue how they were able to work with so little light without making any mistakes or even falling. They were experts at what they did and clearly, they have been doing this for a long time. It was almost like second nature to them at this point. They had their surroundings mapped out in their heads. It was like how fighting was second nature to me. I had been doing it for years and now it just came naturally.
As I thought about fighting, my focus shifted to the staff that was resting against my back. It used to belong to my father’s sister who passed away long before I was born. In fact, she died way before my parents had even met each other. After her death, my father brought the staff with him and it made its way to the cellar where it sat collecting dust behind dozens of crates and portraits of people I didn’t know. I had no clue how long it had been sitting there before I came across it but it was safe to assume over a decade. No one in my family wanted to look at it as it reminded them of my aunt but they couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of it. At least I could put it to good use.
It felt like hours had passed when the ship was finally untied and began to slowly drift away from the docks. Off we went. I was leaving this city that I had once called home.
I turned around on the crate and looked back at the magnificent city of Kirkwall. A new chapter in my life had officially started as of that moment. I watched as the city grew smaller and smaller as we sailed away. I was never going back there... That meant that I would never see my family again... It hurt to think about as I had many happy memories in Kirkwall but this was for the best.
I had been nothing but a disappointment to my father... He was the type of person who was never shy to show his disgust and anger with me... Ever since that day... He wasn’t the same father I knew from early childhood... He had changed practically overnight and that was when my life turned into a living hell... The best thing I had done was leaving that place... It was the best thing for all of us...
That life didn’t suit me. It never had. I just wasn’t meant to be the heir to the family estate. It was laughable to think I ever was heir to the estate belonging to one of the wealthiest and well-known families in all of Kirkwall. An Elven mage heir to the Hawke estate? It was absurd.
It had been almost four years to the day since I left my family behind. It was almost hard to believe that that much time had already passed. It went by so quickly. Sometimes, it felt like only yesterday that I was still living at home. The day I left was still so clear and fresh in my mind and on nights when I couldn’t sleep, I still thought about it. On better days I remembered the happier times. Back when I was a young child who spent their days practicing magic with my father. I could still remember the first time I was able to successfully cast a spell. My family had been so proud of me, especially my father...
I sighed when I thought about my last few years at home. My mind then shifted to the last four years. During that time I had been staying with the Dalish who live on Sundermount and they had been kind enough to take me in. Without their help, I would not even be on this ship. All this time they had sheltered me, fed me and even helped me improve my magic and fighting techniques. On top of that, I was taught recipes for basic healing potions and how to hunt and prepare my own food. These were all skills that I would need for this journey.
When I first arrived at their camp I wasn’t sure if they would even help me. I wasn’t from their clan nor did I know anyone there. On top of that, I am not even a pure elf but I had nowhere else to go and no one I could turn to so they were my only hope. At least I would have a chance with them because no one in Kirkwall would want to help an elf like me, a ‘knife-ear’.
In Kirkwall, I had heard rumors that the Dalish didn’t welcome anyone who was not a pure elf but I quickly found out that that simply wasn’t true. The Keeper and the whole clan welcomed me with open arms as if I was a long lost relative. Right from the start, they treated me like family. I was really going to miss them. They had all been very accepting of me and treated me with nothing but kindness and respect.
It was the complete opposite of how my own father had treated me...
I hoped that when I reached Haven that I would be able to find people who were as kind as the Dalish but I braced myself for the inevitable hate I would most likely receive. There were so few people in this world who would ever accept someone like me. I was different and for some reason that I still couldn’t understand, people don’t like different. If you were different then you were weird. To fit in you have to be ‘normal’, whatever that means. It’s like people are scared of change. There was definitely one person in my family who was scared of change…
Luckily for me, it was easy to conceal my secret so I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone finding out. And if they did, what were they going to do? I was sure that everyone was too focused on the breach to even pay attention to me. The big hole in the sky was more important than a boy who used to live as a girl.
I just kept telling myself that everything would be fine. No one would find out if I didn’t bring it up.
I focused on the gentle rocking of the ship amongst the waves to distract me from my thoughts. It was soothing. I didn’t understand why people go sick on ships. It was no different than having your mother rock you to sleep in a rocking chair. I guess that not everyone was made for the adventurous lifestyle like I was. It was in my blood. Almost everyone in my family had gone on at least one adventure outside of Kirkwall. Now it was my turn.
Being on this ship, I finally understood why my aunt Isabela loved the sea so much. The gentle breeze swirled around me and caused my wavy brown hair to dance around my face. That breeze was cool and smelled of salt. It was almost calming.
This time of day, the air was crisp and cool. It was perfect weather for sailing. The gentle rocking of the ship was quite soothing and actually made my eyelids feel heavy but I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t know the next time I would be on a ship so I was going to cherish this moment for as long as I could. I looked at the vast ocean that surrounded us. There was no land that I could see before us. Behind us, Kirkwall was so far away that we couldn’t even tell the city from the mountains. It felt good to finally get away from that place.
As we sailed, I started to wonder what Haven was like. From what my Keeper told me, it wasn’t very big but it did have its own Chantry and so far, a decent sized army. Many people who had lost their homes after all this fighting broke out went to Haven to seek shelter and the young men and women who were able to fight joined the army to fight back.
Just before we left Kirkwall, I overheard some men talking about how the Inquisition was making plans to visit either the Rebel Mages or Templars to ask for help with closing the breach. They wanted to Inquisition to go to the Templars as they had been trained in dealing with magic, so to them, they were the better option. They blamed the big hole in the sky on the mages but I got the feeling that it was something bigger than magic that caused the breach. It wasn’t like any magic I had ever heard of before. No matter what caused it, I thought the mages were the better option. They were the ones who had magic and if that is what caused the breach then they would be able to close it. The Templars didn’t have that kind of power at their disposal. If the Templars didn’t spread such vile rumors that all mages practiced blood magic and were evil then more people would agree that the mages were the best choice...
I certainly didn’t practice blood magic and would never dream of it but my aunt Merrill explained that it wasn’t as bad as people thought it was. I wasn’t too sure as Papa had told me many things about it... I wasn’t sure what to think about it but knew I would never want to use it even if my life depended on it.
For the rest of the day, my mind went from thought to thought until night had come. By the time the sun had completely disappeared, the sky had grown cloudy and the wind had picked up. The wind howled as it whirled around us and it was so strong that it rocked the boat. We went from gentle rocking to vicious swaying. Now I was beginning to feel nauseous... I held on to the side of the ship with my head hanging over the rail as I felt my stomach contents creeping up the back of my throat.
When the wind had died down a bit and the rocking became less intense I was able to sit back as my stomach settled. I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths. Now I could see why some people got seasick. At first, the trip is nice but being rocked back and forth for too long would eventually take its toll on a person...
As I sat on the deck I overheard the captain talking to some crew members. They were only a few feet away from me so I could easily make out their conversation and what I heard troubled me. We were lost. No one knew where we were or which direction we were going. We were nowhere close to land in any direction and without the stars, we were stuck. All we could do was drift until we could collect our bearings.
That wasn’t something I wanted to hear from the captain but what else could we do? From the sound of his voice, it was clear to me that he had had a few bottles after dinner. He must have gone with the crew below deck who were drinking until they passed out for at least a little while. For someone who was responsible for a while ship and its crew, you would think he would be smarter than to drink while on duty.
I listened as they made up a plan. That plan was to have someone steer the ship to keep it from crashing into any rocks and wait for the clouds to clear up. When they did we would be able to track our position using the stars. I wasn’t too sure about this but he seemed like he had been sailing for a while so I had no reason to question his orders. I just sat quietly as we sailed.
After hearing all of that I wasn’t sure I would be able to sleep. What happened if the clouds didn’t clear up soon? What would happen if we crashed? Most, if not all the crew were pretty drunk and I didn’t trust any of them behind the wheel. This is what I got for getting a ride on a small ship for so little coin. I knew it was going to be a bad idea but I didn’t really have much of a choice.
Just before I left home I didn’t take that much in the way of money. I had found some coins in a storage chest in the cellar but it wasn’t much but I was able to make a decent amount after settling with the Dalish. I went off gathering herbs which I sold at Kirkwall’s Lowtown but they didn’t go for much as they were all common herbs so, therefore, easy to acquire. Occasionally, I stumbled across some rarer herbs which were great days for me.
On the days when I had barely made any money I had debated on sneaking back home to grab whatever I could that I would be able to sell to a decent price but I decided against it. There was too much risk of getting caught which was the last thing I wanted.
I was no longer a noble. I had left that life behind when I left home. I didn’t have access to vast amounts of gold coins now. I wasn’t going to be able to go to someone and ask for money. No. I was now just a regular apostate elf. I had to make money on my own. That was something that was very foreign to me but this was the life I chose. I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to leave and I knew it was going to be difficult. Not many people would have left such a luxurious life but there was no way I was going to stay there any longer...
I sighed in frustration as I heard the crew below deck sing and talk loudly. They were probably so drunk that they couldn’t even sit up on their own. This was going to be a long trip... They were all so loud that I could make out almost every word that they said through the wood.
I didn’t think it was normal to be able to hear them so clearly, even on a small cargo ship but it did look quite worn down and probably shouldn’t even be floating. It didn’t look like it was maintained as often as it should be which was worrying. One small bump into a rock and I was afraid this thing would collapse.
You get what you pay for...
Hours later the crew had finally quieted down and I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. I thought that perhaps I should try and get some sleep. It was going to be a few days until we reached our destination and I couldn’t stay awake the whole time. I decided to sleep on deck as it was more appealing than sleeping in a hammock surrounded by a dozen drunken men.
I got off the crate and unrolled a small blanket that I had found on the ship. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable bed but it was better than nothing. I got as comfortable as I could and surprisingly, fell asleep rather quickly. I had no clue how long I slept for but it didn’t feel like a particularly long time.
I was awoken suddenly when the ship impacted on something. As I sat up I could hear the wood crack and snap at the force. I tried to see what had happened but it was so dark that seeing even a foot away was nearly impossible. The clouds had completely blocked out the moon and the lanterns didn’t help. The light from them only lit up a small area and I soon figured out why. When I had come to my senses and oriented myself I noticed that we were surrounded by fog.
All around me were the screams of everyone on board and some people yelling, “we’re sinking!” That wasn’t true. We couldn’t be sinking, could we? No. We were nowhere close to land and even if we were, the water was probably so cold that we wouldn’t make it to shore before freezing to death. We could not be sinking!
I grabbed my weapon and a nearby lantern then tried to make my way to the end of the ship that had been hit so I could see the damage myself. I refused to believe the damage was as bad as they claimed until I saw it with my own eyes. The whole crew was just a bunch of drunks who were probably just overacting to a minor situation. I couldn’t take them seriously.
I pushed past all of the mad men running about but I only made it a few feet before I was shoved to the ground. Somehow the lantern didn’t go out when it fell to the ground and it lit up the area around it. It wasn’t a lot of light but it was just enough for me to get a good look at the damage and the crew was certainly not exaggerating…
The wood of the deck was covered in cracks and some planks had been snapped in half. That wasn’t good... If the deck was this bad then I didn’t even want to know what the sides of the ship looked like.
I tried to get back to my feet but the ship was rocking so much that even if I managed it, I would end up on the ground again. At the very least, I had to get up on my knees so I wasn’t completely vulnerable.
I was about to push my body up when I heard the loud cracking of wood breaking underneath me. I felt around with one hand and could feel the cracks spreading. I quickly scrambled away but it didn’t do any good as the cracks quickly caught up to me. I kept moving until I sat on top of a weak plank. My weight was all it took for the thing to break apart and I fell down below deck.
I braced myself for impact with wood but instead, I fell into the cold water of The Waking Sea.
When I hit the water I got the shock of my life. It was freezing! My whole body went numb the moment the water engulfed me. With every second that went by the temperature just got colder.
I opened my eyes shortly after adjusting to the shocking change in temperature and I quickly got accustomed to the salty water but it didn’t make a difference. The world around me was pitch black. I couldn’t tell up from down. It was like I was floating in nothing. It was a strange feeling. I wasn’t sure if I was upside down or right side up.
I looked all around to see if I could spot any debris from the ship to get an idea of where I was but it was too hopeless. It was so dark it was as if my eyes were covered with a blindfold.
I began to panic. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like not being able to see my surroundings. I was never scared of the dark but being in the open ocean made the dark even more terrifying. I had no clue what was in the water with me.
During my panic, my mouth had opened and it was quickly flooded with cold, salty water. I gulped some of it down but more had instantly filled my mouth. I was now running out of oxygen.
I had to get to the surface and soon.
I still had no sense of where I was but I had no time to worry about that now so I picked the direction I assumed was up and began swimming. I kicked my arms and legs frantically as I swam up. My body craved air. I was so thankful that my instincts had been correct and in just a few seconds I reached the surface.
I took in a huge breath of air the moment my head surfaced above the water. I coughed to clear my mouth and lungs of water but it was quickly replaced by more water. The storm was causing huge waves that I had to fight against but I was occasionally forced back under. It was like the water was doing everything in its power to drown me but I wasn’t going to let it.
I continued to fight and listened for the sounds of the crew. They sounded nearby and I tried to figure out which direction the sounds were coming from. At the moment, my best option was to swim away from them. The sinking ship would just mean death for me. I could get caught on something and get dragged under. I pinpointed the general direction the ship was in and began to swim away. As I did, I hit some wood and other things from the ship that were able to float. I pushed past them and kept going.
I knew I probably should have tried to find a big piece of wood and used that to keep me afloat but something inside me told me to keep swimming. I didn’t know if there was land nearby but I had a feeling that if I continued in this direction I would reach safety. I couldn’t explain it but it just felt right. It was like I was being led by some greater power. I didn’t believe in the Maker or Andraste but at the moment, I questioned if they were real or not. Could they be the ones guiding me to safety?
I swam until my arms and legs began to tire. I didn’t think I could last much longer. I just wanted to rest. There was no land nearby. I was stuck in the middle of the sea. I accepted that I was going to die out here. I slowly began to slow down but that feeling inside me, that urge told me to keep going but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to sleep.
My legs were the first to stop working then my arms. I was just barely able to keep my head above the water. I was tired and cold. My lips must have turned a nice deep purple at that point. I went under and couldn’t even go back up. My limbs felt stiff. Even if I wanted to move, I couldn’t.
I told myself that this was it. I was going to die here. I was going to die in the cold water and no one was going to find my body. My parents would never know what had happened to me. They could search all of Thedas and find nothing. At least I was going to die here and not at home. I wasn’t going to die in the same house as my so-called father...
I closed my eyes and let the water take control of my body.
I woke up to the feeling of raindrops hitting my face. I groaned. I was slightly irritated that I had been woken up. I wanted to continue sleeping. I felt like I could sleep for centuries. I didn’t get a good rest last night and wanted to cherish a few more minutes of sleep, maybe even hours.
I let out a long sigh as the raindrops continued. I wasn’t going to get any sleep at this rate. As I stirred I became aware of just how sore my entire body was. I didn’t even have to move to know that every inch of me hurt. I was sore and stiff. It was like I had been turned to stone. On top of that, I felt cold. I wasn’t so cold to the point where I was shivering but I did feel like an icicle. I was chilled to the very core. Maybe I was so cold that I was no longer able to shiver if that was even possible.
It took a few minutes but eventually, I gathered enough energy to open my eyes. The light from the sun almost blinded me. It was so bright that I had to close my eyes to save them from the sun’s vicious assault.
Now that I was more awake I became aware of what was underneath me. The ground was hard and very uncomfortable. I opened my eyes again but my vision was out of focus. I moved my hand over the ground and as I did I could hear pebbles shift and I could feel them in between my slim fingers. They felt strange. They didn’t feel like normal pebbles. It felt like they were covered in slime or something.
When my vision cleared I could see that the pebbles were covered in moss, bits of seaweed and debris. So that’s why they felt slimy. I also became aware that my lower half was still submerged in the cold water of The Waking Sea. I had to get out and get dry.
With a rather loud groan, I slowly flipped myself on my stomach and tucked my arms underneath me. I pressed my hands against the slimy ground and with all the strength I could gather, I pushed myself up into a sitting position. When my legs left the water a violent shiver went through my body. I had no clue how I managed to survive not only drowning but being cold for so long. I should have come down with hypothermia by now.
Had my uncle Sebastian had been here he would have told me that the Maker had a plan for me. He always seemed to say that. What a load of rubbish. I never believed in the Maker and never will.
I moved one leg to check for any potential injuries but felt nothing. I moved the second and still nothing. I felt no bruises or broken bones but I did feel some tension in my muscles. That wasn’t too serious and would go away once I warmed up and stretched them out to get the oxygen flowing. I checked out my whole body and to my surprise, I was completely fine. I was just a bit sore but other than that I had no severe injuries. I didn’t even have a single cut. I was quite amazed.
I did some stretches to get the blood moving and after I had warmed up a bit I decided to try standing. The rocks under my feet added an extra challenge. It wasn’t stable ground and with my weak legs, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get up. I needed to get on solid ground. I didn’t want to fall and end up with actual injuries after surviving last night.
I looked around and saw that most of the immediate land surrounding me was nothing but gravel. That wouldn’t work. I needed something firmer that wouldn’t move underneath my feet.
I looked to my left and saw some smooth, flat rocks not too far away. That would do. They were probably a bit slippery from the water but I should be able to stand up on those. I crawled over the few feet it took to get to the rocks and pulled myself on top. I stretched my legs one last time then tucked them under my body and slowly pushed myself up. I was a bit unstable but managed to stay on my feet. I felt like I hadn’t used my legs in ages. It was a strange feeling. I stood there for a while as I let my legs adjust to my weight and when I felt like my normal self I hopped off the rock formation.
I looked at the ground where I had washed up and looked for my staff. I still had my coin pouch as I always made sure it was secured to my waist and when I moved I heard the coins shift around but my staff was in my hand when I fell in the water. I had let it go due to the cold water and my focus on trying to survive.
I frowned when I didn’t see my weapon and tried to accept the fact that it was long gone. That thing was decently heavy as there was metal on it so it wasn’t likely to float. That upset me. I had grown attached to it over the years. I took a few minutes to accept that my staff was gone then looked up and took a better look at my surroundings.
On one side there was nothing but water as far as the eye could see. Somewhere across the water was Kirkwall… I turned my head in the other direction. I didn’t want to think about that place anymore. I focused on my right and there was nothing but mountainous terrain. The first thing I noticed was the incredibly steep slopes. I looked up and saw that they lead up to a grassy area that was littered with towering trees.
After examining my surroundings I knew that I had to be at The Storm Coast. It looks exactly the way it was described to me by my aunt and uncle. Long before I was born, the two of them had traveled to or at least gone past The Storm Coast and got a good look of the area.
Now, if I remembered correctly, my Keeper had made mention to Inquisition camps in the area. I should go and try to find one as that was my ticket to Haven. The only problem was that I had no clue where to start looking. Their camps could be literally anywhere in the area. I didn’t want to go deep into the forest to search for a camp that may or may not have been there. Going in the woods would be suicide. I had no knowledge of the area and the creatures that inhabited it but it wasn’t animals I feared.
I was afraid of running into rebel mages, Templars or worse… Darkspawn… My Keeper had warned me of the creatures that came from The Fade. They were monstrous beings that had twisted forms. Looking at them would give anyone nightmares and they would kill anything that got too close. I needed to find an Inquisition camp and quickly. There was no way I wanted to run into Darkspawn anytime soon.
I decided that my best course of action was to walk along the shoreline. Surely at least one of the multiple camps they had out here would be somewhere near the water.
I only walked a few feet from where I washed up when I came across debris from a ship. They looked fresh so I assumed it came from the ship that I had been on last night. I looked around to see if I could find any signs of another person but I was all alone. It didn’t look like anyone had survived except for me. I wasn’t too surprised as almost everyone on that ship was piss drunk when we crashed. Anyone who landed in the water would have died not long after from the combination of the cold and the alcohol in their system. It may have been because of all the drinking that we even crashed in the first place.
I looked through the things that had washed up to see if there was anything that would be of use to me. There wasn’t much. There was some bits of wood, some twisted metal and ripped pieces of cloth. None of this was really worth anything to me. I was about to give up my search when something caught my eye. Something reflected the light from the sun and shone right in my eye. I squinted and looked at what this was. When I saw what the object was my heart skipped a beat.
It was my staff!
I had thought it was lost forever but it washed up meters away from me. I rushed over to it and picked it up. “I’m so glad to see you made it!” I exclaimed as I held it up. It was rather silly to talk to an inanimate object but I was alone and didn’t care. With my weapon secured on my back and my spirits lifted I went back to my search for an Inquisition campsite.
I turned around and failed to watch where I was going. My foot hit a heavy object which caused me to fall. I landed on the ground with a thud and I caused several pebbles to scatter away from me. I groaned in annoyance and turned to see what I had tripped over. The sight made me freeze.
Under my legs was the body of a man. He wasn’t moving. Not even breathing and his skin looked to be a funny color. He was most certainly dead. I quickly pulled my feet away and scrambled to what I felt was a safe distance. My heart was racing in my chest and my breathing had increased. Luckily for me, he was face down. The last thing I wanted was to see the face of a dead man… I assumed he was on board the same ship I was on but unlike me, he didn’t survive. I looked around but didn’t see any other bodies. I was glad because seeing one was enough for me. It was time to get out of here.
I hopped to my feet and walked away from the area as fast as I could. I wasn’t too sure why seeing the dead man had caused me to panic so much. I had seen a dead body before. In fact, I have killed before. When I was with the Dalish some men had attacked the camp so I joined the fight. There were seven men in total. I had killed three. The only difference was those bodies were all fresh but this one… It had been in the water for a long time and had swollen up and the skin had turned purple. Even though I couldn’t see the face I could still see some skin and that was enough to disturb me.
I shook the thoughts of death from my mind. I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to focus on getting to Haven and proving myself a worthy soldier. I wondered what the commander was like. My Keeper hadn’t told me anything about him except that his name was Cullen. He was the one I had to go to in order to be officially recruited. I had to show him what I was capable of and prove I was physically fit enough to join the fight against the Breach.
I had been fighting for years now and had gone through intense training with the Dalish. I was ready for this. I may not have been big in size nor lots of muscles but what I lacked in size and strength, I made up for in speed and agility. I was quick on my feet and could turn at lightning speed. Surely they would need someone like me. I was sure they would have been grateful for any help they could get. I assumed that there were only a few very brave people who wanted to join this fight so every person helped.
I got lost in my own little world and was so focused on my thoughts that I had failed to hear the sound of heavy footsteps coming from only a few yards away. It was only when an arrow shot past my head did I snap back to reality. I turned around to see who had shot at me and when I did I was face to face with a small group of Templars. Their armor gave them away.
Most of them were quite small in build but one was absolutely massive. He was tall, covered in armor and carried a huge sword and shield. He was a warrior. He let out a war cry and began to charge right at me. This monster was more than twice my size could easily crush me with his bare hands if I had let him.
As he ran towards me, the two archers of the group fired at me while the two rogues followed the warrior. Why on earth were they after me? It couldn’t have been for valuables as the clothes I wore didn’t scream, “I’m rich”. I knew that Templars went after mages to take them to the circle but if that was the case then wouldn’t they approach me and demand I go with them? Why would they attack first? Was it perhaps that I was an elf? Did they pick and choose who to take to circles and killed the rest? I wasn’t sure and I wasn’t about to ask. I had to focus on staying alive.
I let the warrior get just close enough to believe he could strike me but before he had the chance I jumped out of the way and got my staff ready to fight. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take him down as he had so much armor but I did have a chance with the other four. First I had to distract him.
I ran away from him to a safe distance and picked up a decent-sized rock. This time when he charged at me I stood my ground and when he was close enough I threw the rock right at his head. It hit right where his nose would be and made the most awful sound when it connected with his metal helmet. He screamed out in pain and dropped his weapon. I must have broken his nose.
I grinned and turned my attention to the archers. I had to get rid of them first as they were the ones who could do damage from afar. I threw a few more rocks at the rogues who were closing in on me and when I saw an opening I ran right past them and to the first archer. He didn’t expect me to advance so quickly and was barely on his feet when I jumped in front of him and swung my staff at his face. His head wasn’t protected by a helmet to the metal on my staff did some serious damage to his flesh. He screamed in pain and fell to the ground. Now it was easy for me to cast a fireball at him and he burst into flames. He screamed and writhed in pain as the fire consumed his body. He was going to die soon so I focused my attention on the second archer.
He was aiming his bow right at me and it looked like he was ready to fire. I easily dodged the arrow and ran towards him. He was quick to fire another but I dodged that one too. He turned and tried to run from me but I was too quick. I was right on top of him before he could even take a step and hit him with my staff. When it made contact with his face another fireball exploded from it and set him on fire just like his comrade. He went down in a screaming inferno. Now I could focus on the rogues.
I turned around to locate them but came face to face with the warrior. He had somewhat recovered and was furious with me for my actions. I didn’t even have time to process anything. The moment I had turned around, he body-slammed me with his shield and when I hit the ground I could feel the air leave my lungs. I couldn’t breathe but I forced myself to move as he brought down his sword. I got out of the way just in time. If I had stayed for just a few more seconds that sword would have impaled me right through the chest.
He grunted in anger that had escaped his blade. I tried to get to my feet and as I did, the two rogues surrounded me to prevent my escape. I was trapped. I coughed as I desperately tried to catch my breath. I was barely able to dodge his attacks now and I was sure he was purposely missing me just for the fun of it. He liked watching me struggle as I heard him chuckling behind his helmet.
I stumbled over some rocks and a rogue took the opportunity to shove me back on the ground. They, of course, all laughed and said something about how I was a pathetic knife-ear. That seemed to confirm my suspicion that they attacked me just because I am an elf.
I got to my feet when I felt the air fully return to my lungs and got my weapon ready to fight. They continued to laugh at me. They didn’t seem to realize that I was a threat. Sure, I might have been small but I had already taken down two of their men all by myself.
I was just about to make my move on one of the rogues but the other shoved me in the direction of the warrior who was holding up his sword and looked ready to strike. I looked up at him just as he brought it down and tried my best to move out of the way but I wasn’t fast enough. I fell to the ground and felt an intense pain on the left side of my face. I let out a blood-curdling cry and a hand shot up to the side with the injury. Instinctively I applied pressure but that just seemed to cause me even more pain. It was the most intense pain I had ever felt in my whole life.
I squeezed my eyes shut and now used both hands to apply pressure. I didn’t care that by doing so it only caused me more pain. In my mind, it would help ease the pain, only if it was a bit. I took some deep breaths and tried to collect my thoughts. A few moments had passed and it was then I realized that my hands were covered in something warm and sticky… I removed one hand from my face and opened my good eye just enough to look at it. My hand was red. It took me only a second to realize that it was covered in blood...
It was covered in my blood...
The thought made me want to pass out but I fought against it. I couldn’t faint now. I had three enemies surrounding me. I tried to locate them but my whole face hurt too much. All I could do at that point was close my eyes and wait for them to finish me off but they never did.
In fact, now that I was a bit more aware of my surroundings I noticed that they were screaming but it sounded like they were a few meters away. I tried to find them but my head was spinning at that point. I couldn’t tell if it was from pain or blood loss. Perhaps it was both.
I tried standing by my body swayed violently and I fell down on the hard ground. I blinked to try and focus my vision but it was starting to blur. I was slowly losing consciousness and there was nothing I could do about it. I came to terms with dying out here. I had accepted my death in the water last night and now I accepted my death on the shore of The Storm Coast and at the hands of Templar scum...
As a mage traveling on their own I should have expected this would happen sooner or later. I wasn’t with the Dalish anymore. I had no one to protect me. At least my Keeper was able to keep the Templars of Kirkwall at bay just long enough for me to make my escape but here... Here I was going to die because I was alone... I suppose I had always been alone. This just made it clear.
As I lay there the screams had died down and everything went silent. Were the Templars dead? And if so, who or what killed them? Were there Darkspawn in the area? Inquisition soldiers perhaps? I didn’t know.
I watched as a tall figure quickly approached me. This was it. They were going to finish me off. I blinked a few more times and lost consciousness before I could see who had knelt beside me.
When I regained consciousness, I had no idea as to where I was but I knew it wasn’t The Storm Coast. I didn’t hear the crash of the waves on the shore nor did I smell the salty air. In fact, the smell I got was very similar to the scent that lingered in the air after a snowfall. The air was crisp and I could hear the faint howl of wind just outside.
At first, I thought that maybe I was in a tent but it felt too warm. I had to be inside a house. I listened closely and could hear the voices of people not too far away and the crunch of gravel beneath their feet as they walked. I had no clue where I could have been. I first thought that maybe I was in Emprise du Lion because of the snow but that was miles away from The Storm Coast. Who would have brought me all the way there? Then it hit me; I must be in Haven. Yes. My Keeper said that it was located in the Frostbacks. A cold place where snow covered the land.
As I came to my senses, I could hear the crackling of a fire from across the room. It put me at ease. For a moment I felt like I was back in Kirkwall. I smiled to myself as I remembered the good times I had there. My Papa and I all snuggled up under the silk bedcovers as he read me The Tale of the Champion. The story of my father from his life at Lothering to Kirkwall.
I remembered the laughter we shared at some of the more… interesting things dad had done in the past which uncle Varric had to include in the story. Of course. He didn’t want The Champion of Kirkwall to seem intimidating so he included bits that made him seem more human and down to earth just like everyone else.
I missed Papa’s laugh…
I let out a sad sigh as I thought about my family but that all went away when I remembered the reason why I had left in the first place. Father…
I clenched my hands into fists as I thought about him. I grabbed the rough wool towel that covered me and squeezed as hard as I could as I let my anger out. Tears streamed down the side of my face as the memories came flooding back. Part of me wished I could go back but the other part was glad to finally be free. Kirkwall was no longer my home… I could never go back… No amount of gold in all of Thedas could get me to even think of returning…
My scars began to burn the more I thought about my past. I let out a whimper as the pain increased but my scars weren’t the cause. My face was. The whole left side of my face felt like it was on fire. The pain was so intense. I had to calm down. Getting worked up was only hurting me.
I did some deep breathing and cleared my mind of all unpleasant thoughts. I breathed in from my mouth and slowly let it out from my nose. I concentrated on the rise and fall of my chest as I took in a breath then let it out. With each breath, a little bit of my anger and sadness left my body until I had calmed down. Grandma was right. This really did work in helping one to calm down.
The intense feeling of burning pain was already beginning to die down but my face still hurt. Thinking about it brought back memories as to what had happened. I was fighting a small group of Templars and one was a warrior. He was massive in size and carried a sword that could easily have weighed as much as me if not more. I wondered how I could have even survived one blow from it.
I tried to open my eyes as I was starting to feel a bit more like myself but I encountered a rather serious problem. As I cracked open my right eye I was hit with another surge of pain on the left half of my face. It was stronger than before. I wanted to scream out but all I could manage was a small whimper as the pain took control. I quickly shut my eyes and tried to push through it. When the pain went away, I noticed that only my right eye had opened.
But what about my other eye…?
I felt a panic begin to build inside of me. Had I… Had I lost my eye…? At first, I thought it was ridiculous but I did lose quite a bit of blood and the pain I was feeling… The fact that I couldn’t open that eye…
My breathing increased rapidly as I began to panic. I couldn’t have lost my eye! There was no way! No! Not possible! I repeated that to myself over and over again. No. I did not lose my eye. I could still see out of it after I had received the injury. Well, I could mostly see out of it but my vision had been a bit blurred but it had to have been because of the blood.
I quickly brought a hand up to my face to investigate. I could feel my eye as it moved around in my head. It had to have been still there. So why couldn’t I see? When I touched my face, I got my answer. Covering the whole left side of my face was a thick cotton patch that was held in place by thin strips of cotton. I gently pressed down on my eye to make sure it was still there and indeed it was.
That was a sigh of relief…
So that was the reason why I couldn’t open my eye. Not because the eyelid had been stitched shut. It was a relief to know that my eye was still in my head but the more I thought about it, that didn’t necessarily mean I could still see out of it… I guess I would find out when the bandages came off, whenever that would be...
I forced my good eye open again and when my vision cleared, I took a good look at where I was. I was in a simple wooden house that was a single room of decent size but appeared much bigger in size due to the lack of furniture.
I was lying on one of three beds and pressed against the walls were some desks and bookshelves but that was about it. There wasn’t much happening in this building. Since there was no way that people actually lived here, I assumed it might be a hospital ward or something. It must have been a regular home but got converted after the breach appeared in the sky.
I wanted to get out of bed to see where I was and to find out who had brought me here. I wanted to thank this person for saving my life but the pain and dizziness prevented me from even lifting my head. Just tilting it ever so slightly up off the pillow was enough to make my world spin. With a sigh, I placed my head back on the pillow and accepted defeat. There was no way I was getting up. Not yet. I had to let my body heal a bit more before I tried again.
All I could do was lay there and think. I wondered about how many days had passed since my fight with the Templars. My guess was not many because with every slightest movement I could feel my skin and muscle tugging at the stitches that were keeping my face together. I could feel the blood leak from the wound and get soaked up in the cotton patch. It couldn’t have been more than a few days that had passed. The wound still felt very fresh and my body had not yet had enough time to heal itself. I could also feel that the cut was rather deep. That explained the amount of blood loss and why I had passed out shortly after receiving it.
Since there wasn’t much that I could really do in the state that I was in I decided to try and get some sleep. I had lost so much blood that it caused me to feel faint and drowsy. I closed my good eye and only minutes later I fell into a deep sleep.
When I woke up again, I heard sounds coming directly from my right. It sounded like someone was fiddling with things on the desk right beside my bed. I blinked a few times until the world came into focus and did my best to turn my head to the side. I saw the back of a man who was dressed in fairly nice clothing and focused on whatever was on the desk. It appeared as if he was reading something.
From where I was, I couldn’t see anything that was on the desk except for a few mugs and some tall glasses filled with what I assumed had to be water. I heard the man flip through some pages of a book before he turned around to face me. He must not have expected me to be awake because he jumped in surprise and clutched his chest. “Oh, you’re awake! That’s good because there are some things that I need to ask you.”
“I have some questions of my own...” I replied with a raspy voice. My throat was dry and sore. I needed water. He knew from the sound of my voice that I was dehydrated so he picked up a glass bottle from the table and helped me drink. I drank every last drop that bottle contained. I felt like I hadn’t had anything to drink in weeks. When I was finished, I thanked him and he set the now empty bottle back on the desk.
“Well, I guess it is only fair that I answer your questions first. You must be frightened. My name is Adan and I am the person who stitched up that nasty wound of yours.” He said and gestured to my patched up my eye.
“Thank you, Adan.”
“Don’t mention it. If you should be thanking anyone then you should go to The Herald of Andraste. He was the one who found you and brought you here in time.” So that figure I saw was the Herald of Andraste? It must have been. Did The Herald of Andraste himself really go out of his way to fight off Templars just to save one little elf? The sound of Adan’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. “If you haven’t already guessed, you are in Haven. Now, what is your name young man?”
“Joseph,” I replied without hesitation. My heart was pounding and I had to try and suppress a huge smile from spreading across my face. Not only did I want to mess up the stitches but I didn’t want him to see just how happy I was. I wasn’t sure how well I passed as a boy because of my feminine features but when he saw me, he saw a young man. This was one of the happiest moments of my whole life.
“Joseph... that’s not a typical Elven name,” Adan replied as he wrote what I assumed was my name in a book. It must have been used to keep track of the injured or something. That was my best guess.
“I am half Dwarf and half-Elf. My parents didn’t live with their people and never cared for their heritage. They made a home for themselves in Kirkwall and when I came along, they picked the name Joseph because they liked it so much.”
“I see... I have never heard of a Dwarf and Elf having offspring...” He looked suspicious. I was a bit nervous as I watched him as he looked closely at me. It was almost like he was studying me or something.
“My parents did. They had me. They were both outcasts and happen to meet on the road and the rest is history.” I watched his face for any signs that he believed me. He kept studying me for a bit then wrote something in the book.
“I see. Well, that would explain your short stature. You are what, five feet tall or so?”
“Last time I checked I was five feet, two inches.” He nodded and wrote some more. I wondered why he would need all this information but I didn’t question it. He then told me that he would keep changing my bandages twice every day and that I shouldn’t try getting out of bed. I needed to let my wound heal just enough that I wouldn’t risk opening it up. That was going to take at least a few weeks... Great...
I hated staying in bed. I am the type of person who needs to be doing something or else I don’t feel productive. I thanked him again for helping me and he left the building, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
It took five weeks for the wound to fully heal and the bandages could finally come off…
I was sitting up in bed when Adan walked in and handed me a small handheld mirror. I held it up and watched as he removed the cotton patch from my face. When it came off, I let out a small gasp as I got a good look at the damage. That blade had left a large and deep scar that started at the middle of my forehead and went halfway down my cheek. Somehow it missed my eye completely. I don’t know how but it did.
I could hear the voice of my uncle with his thick Starkhaven accent saying that it was the Maker’s plan. No, it was just luck.
“I know this looks bad but it could have been worse. You are quite lucky as your eye was completely untouched by the blade. Andraste herself must have been with you that day.” I mentally groaned at his words. He sounded exactly like my uncle Sebastian… I didn’t want to say anything to him and be all icky about his belief so I just smiled. It would be very hard to find anyone in Thedas who didn’t believe in The Maker and his bride so I was just going to have to suck it up. “Now remember, even though your skin has healed you still need to take it easy. You haven’t been out of this bed in over a month so your muscles won’t be as strong as they used to be. Your body needs time to adjust to moving around again, alright?”
“I understand. I promise to take things slow.” I might have said that but I didn’t mean it. I was fully recovered and ready to be my normal self again. I shook his hand and he let me leave the house.
Finally! I was finally free! I went over to the door and swung it open. The sun blinded me for a few seconds, which was something that I did not expect. There was more than enough light that came in through the windows so I thought my eyes had adjusted to it but I guess not. My left eye definitely needed some time to get used to light again. I squinted and did my best to get a good look at Haven. It was a good-sized village but one with a huge Chantry. For a place with less than ten buildings, the Chantry seemed awfully big.
I stood there in awe for a few moments but soon decided to get moving. With my eyes now adjusted to the light, I decided to go find Commander Cullen but just as I exited the building, I froze. I saw a familiar face around thirty feet away…
It was my uncle Varric...
If he saw me then I would be praying for death. I would rather die by Darkspawn tearing me apart than have uncle Varric seeing me here… I could only imagine how angry he would be at me and he would make a huge scene. That was the last thing I wanted… Not only that but he would then write to my parents after scolding me and they would be a hundred times angrier than he would be… Especially my father… I didn’t even want to know what his reaction would be…
Why was Varric even here? He didn’t seem the type of person to get involved with something like this… Sure, the breach kinda affected him just as much as it did everyone else but still… What could he really do to help? He was just a writer and merchant. What help could he have possibly offered the Inquisition? I didn’t know and I really didn’t care. What I cared about was not being seen by him. Of course, he just had to be right next to the stairs I had to take to go find Cullen...
I watched him from a bit, hoping that he would face away just long enough for me to slip past but he kept walking around every few seconds... and wherever he moved, he had a view of the stairs… By a stroke of luck, the man who I assumed was the Harold went up to Varric and started to chat with him. He came from the opposite direction so Varric had to turn around to face him. This was my chance!
I walked quickly to the stairs and when I reached the bottom I took off in a sprint. I went down the second set of steps, past the thick wooden double doors and slowed down as I approached the training grounds. I followed the dirt path and walked past the recruits as they practiced their fighting techniques. By the tents, I saw a blond-haired man with a somewhat serious expression on his face. I assumed that he was Commander Cullen so I went over to him and introduced myself.
“So you’re Joseph, the young man who was able to take down two Templar archers all by himself. We heard about you from The Harold and I have to say, he is very impressed. It’s not every day we see someone of your size take down two opponents on their own and not only that but with three other opponents attacking at the same time.” I was shocked. I didn’t know that word had spread of my kills. I didn’t think it was that amazing. I did what I had to do for survival. “He was so impressed with your skills and has even offered you a position as a soldier, that is, if you want to join.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say on the matter. I just couldn’t believe that I was being praised by Commander Cullen himself who even told me that The Harold himself was impressed with me. “And yes, I want to join the Inquisition. That is why I came here. I want to do everything I can to fight the Darkspawn.”
“That is very brave of you. Before you can officially become a soldier, you must undergo some fitness tests. Are you sure you can handle it?”
“Yes. I was so bored just sitting in bed doing nothing for the past five weeks. I need to fight.”
“I like your spirit. Alright, but we will start easy and work our way up from there. Follow me.” I did. He took me in the direction of some training dummies and I thought I was actually going to practice on them but we walked past them. We went over to a path that looked like it went towards the lake and stopped just at the top of the slope. “First, I want to see how much stamina you have. I want you to run a lap or two, whatever you can handle all around this little hill and back here. Remember, don’t push yourself. I want to know what your limits are without you going over them.”
I nodded and jogged around once, then twice and finally a third time. By the time I finished, I was barely out of breath. Even though I hadn’t been on my feet that much the past few weeks I was still in shape. I had been in shape for most of my life so a few weeks off didn’t have much of an effect on me. He seemed to be amazed by this. He probably only expected me to last maybe two laps but not three at almost a full sprint.
The next thing he had me do were push-ups to test the strength in my arms and I made it to one hundred before he made me stop. I could have done way more but he insisted that I not push myself. He underestimated what I was capable of.
I did a few more basic exercises until we finally made it to the hay-filled dummies. We walked over to them and he handed over my staff. I had wondered where it went!
“That is a fine weapon you have there. If you don’t mind me asking but how did you come across it?”
“It used to belong to my aunt and when I grew older, she gave it to me.” It wasn’t exactly a lie but wasn’t exactly the truth either. This did come from my aunt but she didn’t give it to me.
“Well, it’s a very well-crafted staff. Now show me how you fight.” I did and he seemed to be taking mental notes. I hoped that my skill was good enough. I showed him all of the techniques that I had been taught by my aunt Merrill and the Dalish. When I was finished, he looked rather impressed. “You did amazing considering it’s been weeks since you have been on your feet. I would say you are ready for battle but I would still like you to rest, at least for a few more days. We can’t risk anything happening to you if it can be prevented.” I wanted to protest but knew it was pointless. If the Commander had already made up his mind then there was no changing it.
He dismissed me and went about his duties while I stood there all alone and looking lost. I didn't know anyone aside from him and Adan but they weren’t people I could just go up to and spark a conversation with. They had important matters to attend to. Everyone had something important they needed to do.
I decided to walk around and see if there was anyone I could talk to or if anyone needed help with something. I could have gone back to my temporary bunk but I didn’t want to risk it until I knew Varric was either fast asleep or focused on his latest project.
I looked around and not too far away from where I was standing, I saw some people sitting in front of a tent. All of them were talking and laughing. They seemed like fun people so I went over to talk to them. Right away I noticed one who stood out from the rest. He was a Qunari with horns that looked like a bull’s horns.
“Hey...” I was confident but when I saw him, I was slightly intimidated. I wasn’t worried about him being mean as from what I saw he seemed to be a decent guy, and the group seemed to like him but he was so tall. He looked like he could easily have been close to seven feet tall or so.
“Oh hey, are you new here?” The Qunari asked with a cheery voice. That calmed me almost instantly.
“Yeah, I mean, I have been here for five weeks but I have been recovering from this,” I said pointing to my freshly healed scar.
“That’s quite the scar you got. It looks badass!” I laughed.
He invited me to sit with the group and introduced me to everyone. I found out that they were all friends who fought together and they called themselves, the Chargers. They were all fun people to be around and we laughed well into the night. I was glad to have some friends here.
A few days had gone by and I was back to my normal self, just with a scar on my face. It healed nicely and didn’t look that bad. Adan had done a good job at stitching me up but he wasn’t as good as my uncle Anders. He was so skilled that the wounds he treated were nearly invisible. The scars were so faint that one would have to look really closely to see them.
Now that I was back on my feet I was free to go wherever I wanted and the first thing I wanted to do was get out of this cabin. I got out of bed and went over to the chest that I had been given to store my items. I didn’t have much so the chest wasn’t that big.
I pulled out some cotton strips and standing out of sight from the window, I wrapped them around my chest. They were nice and snug but not tight enough to prevent me from breathing comfortably. After they were secure, I got dressed and left the cabin. I didn’t need to worry about Varric seeing me as he was busy in his tent writing who knows what for the past few days. Knowing him, he was possibly writing down ideas for a new story. There was bound to be loads of inspiration here. Maybe he was recruited to write down the Herald’s journey. After all, he did a great job at writing Dad’s story.
Since I was free for the next few days, I decided to go spend time with Bull and The Chargers. As I walked along the dirt road, I thought about the mission the Harold had planned for today. Everyone was talking about it. It was big news. He was going to attempt to close The Breach once and for all with the help of the mages.
The people of Haven were divided on the matter. There were some who believed he really was The Herald of Andraste and that he was sent here to save us while there were still some who didn’t believe it. They didn’t think he could close the breach. They thought that he was a mage who was seeking fame and fortune. Some of these people were convinced that he was responsible for The Divine’s death and wanted him to pay for what he had supposedly done.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure on the matter. I simply didn’t believe The Maker or his bride sent the Harold to save us. I thought it happened to be a coincidence but that didn’t really explain the mark on his hand. How did he get it if it wasn’t divine intervention? I wasn’t sure but I knew it couldn’t have been The Maker’s doing or that of any god. There had to be a rational explanation for it all. Perhaps it was magic that created the mark but what kind of magic could open or close a rift like that? Was it Elven? It had to be. Maybe it was some kind of ancient Elven magic because I had never even heard of anything like it before. No one had.
I shrugged off the thought as I left the walls of Haven and went to the tents that housed the Chargers. They were sitting around a campfire and they were all laughing and drinking. I sat down with them and one of the Chargers, Skinner was her name, handed me a jug of what had to have been beer. It smelled horrible. Why did anyone want to drink this?
Since I had lied about my age, I could have drank it if I wanted to but I wasn’t particularly interested in trying any sort of alcoholic beverage. Especially one that smelled as nasty as this. I remembered the scent of wine as I had smelled it back at Kirkwall when we had family over and from what I could remember, it smelled a heck of a lot better than this. If I was ever offered wine then I would definitely try it while I had the opportunity but for now, I just held the nasty beverage I had been given and talked with the group. Another Charger who went by the name of Rocky saw that I wasn’t touching the drink so he ripped the jug from my hands and chugged in within a matter of seconds. I tried not to gag at that. The smell was awful and I could only imagine what it tasted like.
“So, Joseph, why did you join the Inquisition?” I turned my head to Bull when he spoke.
“I had nowhere else to go and since I am a skilled fighter, my Keeper decided to send me here.”
“You’re Keeper? I take it you’re Dalish then?”
“No. I only stayed with them for about four years before coming here.”
“What about before that? You got any family?”
“No,” I said in a bit of a harsh tone. I didn’t want to talk about it and he seemed to get the message, although he probably thought they were dead or had been taken as slaves judging from my tone. He dropped it and changed the subject.
To lighten the mood a bit Bull told me stories of how he recruited everyone. They were all interesting and it was nice to see that he recruited a variety of people from different backgrounds. He didn’t judge anyone by how they looked or where they came from. He only cared about how trustworthy they were and how well they could fight.
While all of the stories were fascinating, the one that interested me the most was the story of how he met Krem. They didn’t know each other but when he saw Krem being attacked in a tavern, Bull saw it as his duty to protect him. He stepped up and defended him but in doing so he lost an eye. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I heard the story. Bull is such a nice person and loves his friends. Of course, he would step up and help someone in need.
After telling stories of how he met his crew, Bull then went on to tell stories of missions he had been on and the places he had been. He had been to so many places! He was just like my aunts and uncles… They had all been to various places across Thedas while I had been stuck at home most of my life. I had rarely left Hightown. I never went to visit any of my family in their homes. They always came to the estate. It annoyed me and every time I asked my parents about it, they always said it was safer. I never understood why they kept saying it wasn’t safe for me to visit my own family around Kirkwall. Four years ago, when I left on my own, I left at night and I wasn’t attacked by anyone. No one, not even the guards cared about where I was going so late at night.
My parents were probably trying to keep me from going anywhere because I was an Elven mage who just so happened to be ‘a girl’. That made walking anywhere very dangerous according to everyone around me. When I ran away, the guards I passed didn’t think I was an Elf and they didn’t care about the staff that I had attached to my back. My parents made a big deal over nothing.
I was snapped back to reality when Bull gave my shoulder a friendly slap. It startled me so much that I nearly fell off the log I was sitting on. I felt like my soul was ready to leave my body. Bull and The Chargers laughed at my reaction.
“What were you thinking about?” Bull asked before taking a big swig of beer.
“O-Oh… Nothing…” I stammered as I came back to reality. He raised an eyebrow at that and I felt my face heat up due to embarrassment.
“Were you thinking about a girl?” He asked in a teasing voice. I saw a smirk quickly spread across his face and the others perked up at this. Great … Now all eyes were on me as everyone waited for me to respond.
“Oooooh! Does someone have a crush?” Dalish chimed in.
“N-No!” I tried to say it in a stern voice but my body betrayed me. My voice cracked which made me blush even more.
“Deny it all you want but your face says otherwise!” Bull laughed and slapped a hand over his knee.
I bowed my head ad avoided eye contact as everyone joined in on the laughter. I get embarrassed very easily and getting called out for spacing out was enough for my cheeks to burn up. Now my friends thought it was all because of some girl… How was I going to get out of this? I had to think fast.
“Well um…” I cleared my voice and spoke a bit louder to be heard over the laughter but when I started speaking everyone went silent. They wanted to hear what I had to say. “I… I wasn’t thinking about a girl… But I was thinking about someone…”
“Oooh! So who’s the boy who stole your heart?” Bull asked. “Come on, tell us!”
“Yeah!” Everyone cheered.
“Well… It doesn’t really matter… He lives back at Kirkwall…” I hoped that would have been enough to satisfy them but it did the exact opposite. It made everyone even more curious and eager for answers.
“Oh come on Joey, give us more than that!” Skinner said in a whiny voice. She sounded like a child begging for more sweets.
I gave hera face but sighed. “Fine…” I paused for a second to think up of a story. Everyone was on the edge of their seats and remained silent as they waited anxiously for me to continue. “I grew up right next door to him. His name was Damien and he is around my age. We would play together as kids but as we grew up, we began to sneak out at night after our parents had gone to sleep to meet up with each other. We had to be careful though because the guard patrols walked by quite frequently and the last thing we wanted was to be caught and questioned as to why we were out and about late at night.”
“Oooh! A secret love affair! I like it!” I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes. I just knew Bull would like that.
“So what happened to him? What became of Damien and your love affair?” Krem asked.
“Well, I broke it off when I heard he was engaged to a girl from Orlais. He, of course, was hurt and said he wanted to run away with me but I wanted him to live a good life. If we ran away, we would have nothing and that’s not the life I wanted for him. He begged and pleaded for me to stay with him and said that he would never love anyone the way he loved me. I told him that I loved him too but it was for the best. After that, I felt like I couldn’t stay so I fled to Sundermount and stayed with the Dalish for four years before making my way to Haven. Now, here I am.”
“That’s so sad…” Dalish said. She looked heartbroken while everyone else remained silent. It was almost like the silence given to remember fallen soldiers.
“I’m so sorry.” Krem reached over and gently pat my back.
“Thanks, but I’m fine. It’s been long enough. I’ve moved on.” I shrugged.
“One doesn’t simply get over someone they loved. If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.”
“Thank you Krem. It means a lot.”
“Hey, don’t forget me. I’m always here if you need to talk or hit someone.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I chuckled. Everyone else gave a small laugh and we finally moved on to a different topic. I was so relieved… We all talked for hours after that and only stopped when the Inquisitor’s party set out to the Breach.
We, like everyone at Haven, waved goodbye and wished them luck. When they were gone from sight, we all sat back down in front of the tent and resumed our conversation. It was more of multiple conversations as some of the Chargers had started some side conversations and soon, they were all occupied with other topics. That left, Krem, Bull and I to talk with each other.
I had gotten to know more about them and at some point, we talked about who Krem was at birth. I discovered that like me, he was born female but lived as a male. It shocked me. I had never expected to meet someone like me as I thought that I was the only one who felt this way but it appeared that wasn’t the case. As we talked, I felt comfortable revealing that I too was like Krem.
“I have a confession.”
“Ha! You sound like you are in the Chantry.” Bull laughed. “Go on, what is it you want to tell us?”
“I am what your people call, Aqun-Athlok...” I don’t know why I was so nervous. Krem was exactly like me but I still feared rejection. Life was great back home until I revealed my true identity to my father... He used to be just like Bull… Kind, fun-loving, and cared deeply for me but it all changed quickly. I didn’t want Bull to turn out the same. I had finally found a father figure who cared for me and I didn’t want to ruin it but I wanted to tell him. I felt like I had to.
There was silence after I spoke and I realized that the rest of the group had quieted down. I was so nervous that I didn’t even dare lift my head to face them. I just looked at the snow beneath my feet.
“You know the term? I’m curious, how did you learn it?” He didn’t seem displeased or upset with me. In fact, the atmosphere didn’t really change that much. Everyone gave off a curious vibe, not a hostile one. Maybe I was making up all of it in my head but I still didn’t dare look at anyone.
“My Papa was educated in the Qunari customs and even language although he never told me how he gained the knowledge.” I was so nervous that I began to blush. “He told me of the term when I told him that I felt different...”
“I see... Do you know what it means?”
“Yes. Papa taught me a bit of Qunlat and told me that it translates into ‘someone who is born one gender but lives like the other’. He even said that this was nothing to be ashamed of...”
“No, it isn’t although I am sensing a but in there.”
“ But … I often wished I was normal like everyone else...”
“Why is that?” This time it was Krem who spoke. “Being normal is boring. Everyone is born as an individual person and therefore should live as one. You don’t need to be like everyone else, so don’t try to be someone you aren’t if it doesn’t make you happy.”
“My father never approved of me living this way... It got so bad that I had to be removed from my own home for my safety...” Now the whole group was dead silent. No one said a word. They were all in shock. Who wouldn’t have been? It was a shocking thing to hear. Hours before they heard of a story of “my first love” and in it, I gave no indication that I had a rough childhood. “That’s all I have to say about my past...” I tried so hard not to cry. I hated that I was getting so emotional around my new friends. I never liked showing weakness around others. I was strong and always tried to prove it to others even though I knew I didn’t have to.
I still refused to look up so when I was pulled into a hug it came as a surprise. I was yanked against Bull’s chest and held in a gentle yet very secure grip. The moment my face hit his chest I felt who I could only assume was Krem hugging me from behind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Skinner join in on the hug. I looked to my other side and saw Dalish. Soon all of the Chargers had joined in. That is when I began to cry. I started off quietly but quickly grew louder with each passing second until I was an utter wreck. We all stayed in a group hug until I had calmed down to just small whimpers. Everyone let go except for Bull.
He pulled me on my lap like I was a small child and continued to hold me against his chest. Krem handed me a handkerchief and I wiped the salty tears from my face. “Thank you. Thank you, everyone, for making me feel like a part of the family...”
“What are you talking about?” I looked at Krem. “You are family.” When I heard that I smiled so widely that my cheeks began to hurt. This was more acceptance than I had ever gotten at home. If my aunt and uncles accepted me then they didn’t show it. I didn’t even know if all of them knew the truth about me or not.
I remained on Bull’s lap until we saw a flash of bright light coming from the breach. We all looked up but it was so bright we had to cover our eyes. I raised a hand to cover mine but Bull was faster and covered them for me. His hand was so big that it could have covered my whole face but he made sure to just cover the top half so I could still breathe. When the light died down, he removed his hand and we all looked up in amazement. The sky was clear. It was no longer a vibrant green. The breach had been sealed! We heard cheering coming from all around us and we quickly joined in.
The Inquisitor had succeeded.
All around us, people were celebrating. Everyone was drinking, dancing and singing. No one thought of the creatures that came from the fade or rogue Templars or Apostates. It was like all the problems in the world ceased to exist.
The Iron Bull had his crew open the casks of wine they had and everyone got a cup, even me. I was actually shocked that he gave me a cup as I looked very much like a child and he treated me as such but I did lie to everyone and claimed my true age to be eighteen.
I looked down at the mug in my hands and was a bit unsure about drinking it. I was still so young and definitely not at the right age to drink anything with alcohol but no one knew so no harm in trying, right?
I was hesitant but took a small sip. It tasted great. It was sour but sweet at the same time and it smelled so much better than beer. Part of me knew that drinking the whole thing was a bad idea but a part of me really wanted to act like the adult I pretended to be. I knew I was small and therefore the alcohol would affect me quicker than most people so I took small sips throughout the hours while the others chugged cup after cup. Rocky encouraged me to drink faster but I told him I didn’t like getting drunk. He shrugged it off and said there was more to go around and continued drinking.
I watched as everyone was having a good time. It was nice for everyone to not have to worry about anything.
As the night went on, I found myself coming down with a headache. I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or the fact that everyone around me was so loud, especially Bull... When he talked the whole ground shook. I don’t think this guy even knew what an ‘indoor voice’ was. Maybe the cause was a mix of both the noise and alcohol.
I set my mug down on the bench and stood up. “I’m off to bed,” I announced over the loud cheering.
“Awww... Leaving so soon?” Bull sounded very drunk. “Stay with us for a while longer!”
“I’m sorry but I’m really tired. Goodnight guys.”
“Goodnight!” Everyone said back. Screamed was more accurate. Most of the Chargers were so drunk that they could barely sit up on their own and were leaning against each other for support. I rolled my eyes. I never understood why people wanted to get drunk and then deal with the hangover the next day. There was nothing appealing about that to me.
I waved at everyone then headed back to my cabin. I stumbled a bit on the stairs from my headache and with each step I was more and more convinced that this dizzy spell was caused by the alcohol more than the loud people around me. I hoped I wouldn’t get a bad hangover the next day...
Slowly but surely, I made it back and closed the door behind me. I sighed with relief. I could still hear everyone having a good time but now that I was inside things were a little quieter although, not much. It was still loud but I was going to do my best to ignore it and get some sleep. I walked over to the bed and collapsed on top. I didn’t even bother to get undressed. I was exhausted and my head hurt. I just wanted to sleep and so I did. I fell asleep almost immediately after my head hit the pillow.
I was awoken sometime later by screaming. It was loud screaming. It was the scream one would let out if a dragon landed right in front of them. The people who I heard screaming were afraid for their lives. At first I thought that the screams had originated inside my head. Maybe I was having a nightmare and the people in it were running away from Darkspawn. It was possible but I soon realized that this wasn’t a dream. Those screams sounded way too real for it to be all in my head
I groaned as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes then stretched my skinny arms above my head. I took in a deep breath and stretched out my whole body to help bring me back to the land of the living. I wasn’t sure how long I had been asleep for but it felt like forever. I felt like I had been frozen in time and my body was now getting used to moving again.
I sat up in bed but as I did the world began to spin and my headache came back with a vengeance. It hit me so suddenly I felt like I was going to throw up but I held it back. I fought against the urge with all my willpower. I internally groaned when I realized that I had a hangover. “I knew I shouldn’t have drunk so much…” I scolded myself. “I am never drinking that much again…”
I carefully got out of bed but that just made the pounding in my head even worse. It was so bad that I could barely stand up. I stumbled forward and collapsed on the desk right in front of me. I held my arms out and was just barely able to stop my head from smacking the corner of the hard-wooden piece of furniture. I looked to my left and squinted as I tried to look out the window but my eyes refused to focus on anything. I could make out some light but it wasn’t sunlight… It was an orange glow that fires give off...
Along with the light, I also noticed that it was unusually warm… I could hear the sounds of cracking and popping… Those were the sounds that came from fire…
Haven was on fire !
But why? How? What happened? How long was I asleep? When did this start? I had so many questions running through my head which didn’t help my condition. Thinking about just one question made my head spin more than it already was.
It took a few seconds but soon I came to my senses. I was somehow able to push my hangover to the side and managed to focus for just long enough to realize how serious the situation was. “I have to get out of here…” I told myself.
I stumbled over my own feet as I made my way over to my staff. I had left it leaning against a bookcase but somehow it ended up on the floor. With a grunt, I bent down and picked it up. My weapon just happened to be near a window so after I secured it to my back, I looked outside to see what was going on. I saw people were running about in a panic. Some people tried to save whatever they could while others left everything and ran right for the Chantry. It was the only safe place now. It was a sturdy building, being made out of stone rather than wood and was the only place in Haven that stood a chance against an attack. I found out that it was an attack because I saw people dressed in Templar armour chasing the people of Haven but these weren’t normal templars… While some of them of them looked human, others looked more like some twisted monsters… It was a horrific sight.
I waited for a group of these monsters to leave the immediate area before trying to leave the house. I watched as they left to attack some soldiers then went over to the door but just as I lifted a hand up to pull it open, there was an explosion. There was a flash of bright light that was accompanied by a huge bang then there was the sound of wood moaning and cracking. I didn’t have time to think about what had just happened. The moment of the explosion, I was lifted off my feet and thrown to the ground.
I coughed as I felt the air leave my lungs due to the force of impact. My chest tightened as I gasped for breath but my body refused to work. I had let air out but my body couldn’t take any in. It was terrifying. Why couldn’t I breathe? I was panicking. I tried taking in a big, deep breath but my chest could barely rise. It felt like there was something crushing me and preventing me from breathing. On top of that, the room was quickly heating up which didn’t do anything to help my breathing.
I tried to get up but found that I couldn’t move. I wasn’t in any severe pain so nothing was broken. Or maybe I was in shock and couldn’t feel if anything was wrong… What if I had lost a leg? Or worse… I looked down at my body to see what was going on and found there was a reason why I couldn’t move. A huge wooden beam had fallen on top of me.
I looked around and saw that the cabin was on fire. That explained the growing warmth in the room… I tried desperately to get the beam off me but it was no use. It was too heavy for me to lift but I had to do something. I didn’t want to die here. I tried to get my staff but it was trapped underneath me and with the weight of the beam there was no way I could get it. Without it, I couldn’t really do much in terms of magic which was my last hope of getting out…
All I could do was watch as the flames grew bigger and spread around me. They were spreading fast. Too fast for my liking. If I didn’t get out of there in the next few minutes then I would burn alive. I was able to keep them from getting too close by shooting small amounts of ice at them which turned into water and put them out but that only worked for small flames. It didn’t stand a chance against the big ones. The ones that would burn me alive if I didn’t get out soon...
All I could do was call out for help and pray that someone heard me. I wasn’t too hopeful. Even if someone heard my cries for help, there was very little chance that they would risk their lives by running into a burning building to save me. Anyone who heard me would turn and run for the Chantry but that didn’t stop me from trying. I had to try. Maybe, just maybe, one person might be willing to help. I hoped so…
I screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed so loud that I thought I was going to tear my throat open from the inside. As the seconds turned into minutes I became less and less hopeful. It didn’t seem like anyone was going to help. Why would they? They would be focused on their own safety. Not mine. I didn’t matter to anyone...
I had survived nearly drowning and the fight with those Templars at The Storm Coast but my time was coming to an end. I was going to die here. For a third time, I accepted my fate. I finally gave up trying to call for help. I came to terms with dying here. I made peace with it. This was The Maker’s plan for me, I guess. I had survived nearly drowning and bleeding out but I wasn’t going to survive a fire. I guess I had used up my miraculous escapes. The Maker was done helping me now.
I coughed as the smoke started getting to me. I had been saved for a little bit because I was close to the ground but it was quickly filling up the room and the flames grew bigger and hotter. This house and all of the furniture was made out of wood. Wood burns fast. I looked around and saw the flames were closing in on me. I maybe had a minute or two before they reached me.
I closed my eyes and got ready. The flames could consume me any second now. My time on earth was up. I hoped Bull and The Chargers had made it to safety. I wouldn’t want anything happening to them but they were all skilled fighters. Even if this attack was a surprise, they would have been ready. They could handle anything and Bull would have made sure they were all safe.
I took what I thought would have been one of my last breaths but something inside me flared to life. I didn’t know what it was… but… something told me to try calling out for help again. I didn’t know why. No one came to my aid during my previous attempts and the room was so hot and my throat was so sore. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of making any kind of sound, let alone one loud enough for someone passing by to hear but this urge persisted. Maybe it was just my gut telling me to give it one last go before completely giving up. I didn’t want to but when I thought about it, it couldn’t hurt to try. Maybe I would get lucky but that was a longshot. This just had to be my brain trying desperately to survive. Deep down I did want to live but realistically there wasn’t much of a chance. Oh well… One last try… If anything, it could give me something other than the fire and pain to think about.
I sucked up the remaining air and let out the loudest cry for help I could manage. My nose and throat felt like they were on fire. Each breath felt like I was swallowing flames. The air around me was so hot. Any sweat that covered me was evaporated and didn’t last long on me. This was my last chance. If no one responded to my calls then I was dead.
After letting out the loudest cry I had ever made I heard something just outside the building. At first, I couldn’t quite make out what the sound was because the flames were so loud but when it got closer I was able to make them out. The sounds were voices! There were people just outside the cabin! They had approached after somehow hearing me over the sounds of the flames.
I was feeling hopeful now and continued to cry out for help. “Please! Help me! Get me out of here!” I called. I heard bashing at the door and realized they were trying to break it down. Whoever heard me was helping! I wanted to be relieved but I wasn’t safe until I got out. I looked back at the flames and they were only inches away from my face. “Please hurry!”
The banging on the door stopped and for a moment I thought that they had given up. I wanted to call out to them, to plead for them to try again but the room was quickly filling up with smoke. There was no more air. I couldn’t breathe. Every time I inhaled, I inhaled smoke which burned my lungs and I coughed to try and rid it from my body.
During a mini coughing fit, I heard a thud next to me and when I looked up, I saw the one and only Herald of Andraste standing before me. He was here to save me! He was going to save me for the second time now. I watched as he wasted no time and rushed to my side. He got a grip on the wooden beam then looked down at me.“I am going to lift this and when you can move, I want you to crawl away as fast as you can. You ready?” I nodded and with all the strength he could gather, he lifted it off me. The moment I felt the weight lifted off me I scrambled to get away. When I was free and nowhere close to the beam, he let it fall to the ground. It landed with a thud and the rush of air from under it caused the flames to get dangerously close to us.
He turned to the door and saw that it was blocked with another beam. We were trapped. We both coughed and I saw him remove his weapon from its place on his back. It was a giant battleaxe. He lifted it over his head and brought it down on the wood. It took a few strikes but soon the wood exploded into hundreds of small pieces. He kicked them to the side then helped me to my feet and led me out of the burning building. We both gasped and took in the fresh air.
I collapsed on the ground as a coughing fit took over me. I had inhaled a lot of smoke. I kept coughing to get every last bit of it out of my body. “Hurry, we need to head to the Chantry!” I heard a voice call out. I tried to get on my feet but I wasn’t able to due to the coughing. When I got up on one knee, I was knocked back down due to the intensity of my coughing. Before I could try a second time, I felt a strong arm wrap around my waist and another hook under my knees and I was lifted off the ground with ease. I looked up at the person who now held me and saw a middle-aged looking man with long dark hair pushed back and a thick beard. He carried me to the Chantry and when we were safely inside, he gently set me down on a chair. I thanked him for the best I could through the coughing.
“Joey!” I heard Krem call out my name and before I could even lift my head to see where he was, I was tackled in a hug. Krem was squeezing the remaining life I had right out of me. “I’m so glad you’re safe! We were so worried!”
“I’m fine Krem...”
“You don’t look fine. Here, has some water.” He handed me a bottle and I eagerly drank. I didn’t even realize just how dehydrated I was until then I chugged the whole bottle in mere seconds.
When I had recovered a bit, I overheard Commander Cullen talking with the Herold, someone from the Chantry and a young man. He looked like he was in his early twenties and scrawny looking. His shirt looked like it had been crudely patched up and he wore the biggest hat I had ever seen. I didn’t recognize him. Did he arrive before the attack? He could have been at Haven the whole time but I was positive I would have remembered someone so oddly looking like him.
Krem had turned his attention to Bull and they talked about who knows what. I was focused on the conversation going on only a few feet away. They were talking about what the options were for the people of Haven and it didn’t look good. We had no means of escape and the Chantry wouldn’t hold up forever. We were sitting ducks here. From what I could tell, whoever had attacked us were strong and came in large numbers. What were we going to do?
When all hope seemed lost, the new boy spoke up. He said that Chancellor Roderick had something he wanted to say. So that’s what the priest’s name was. The poor man didn’t look too good. Was this going to end up being his final words? I listened in on what was being said.
“The people can escape. She must have shown me, Andraste must have shown me so I could tell you...”
The Herald paused for moment. Everyone held their breath as they waited for him to decide on what to do. I watched as his bright blue eyes lingered solomley on the Chancellor before looking up to Cullen. “What about it Cullen, will it work?”
“Possibly. If he shows us the path. What of your escape?” There was silence. The Harold looked away with a look that I couldn’t really distinguish. “Perhaps you will surprise it, find a way. Inquisition, follow Chancellor Roderick through the Chantry. Move!” Everyone got to their feet and prepared to move.
The boy with the big hat helped support the Chancellor who turned to the Herald. “Herald, if you are meant for this, if the Inquisition is meant for this, I pray for you.” He said in a strained voice. The Herald gave a small nod and watched as the two walked away.
I watched as some soldiers ran to the doors. Cullen turned to the Inquisitor. He started to speak but I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of Bull’s booming voice. He announced that he was going to help with the heavy lifting and he instructed Krem to help me.
By then I had stopped coughing but my lungs still burned and felt dry. When Krem made his way over to me I started to stand up but he stopped me. “Rest.”
“Rest? We have to go.” I started coughing again before I could even finish speaking. I tried to suppress it but that just made it worse.
He let me recover but once the coughing died down he suddenly picked me up. It was so sudden that it almost made me jump out of my skin. I wrapped my arms around his neck to feel secure and we waited for Chancellor Roderick to catch up. I watched as they passed. There was something about that boy that captivated me but I couldn’t tell what it was.
When we got in the tunnel, I was beginning to feel drowsy. I tried to keep my eyes open and my head up but it kept bobbing to side, against Krem’s neck. “Get some rest, Joey.” I heard him say softly against the top of my head. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t tried but it ended up coming out as nothing but quiet mumbles. He chuckled and moved his hand up to my arm which he gently rubbed with his thumb. The feeling was soothing and into time at all, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I found myself on Bull’s lap and wrapped in a blanket. I looked up and saw a sky full of stars. We had escaped and since it was still nighttime, I assumed that not too much time had passed. I was asleep for maybe an hour or so.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes then looked around me. We were at a campsite and people were getting their injuries checked out. Those who weren’t hurt were in charge of distributing food, water, and blankets.
“Finally awake?” I heard Bull’s deep voice say from above. I looked up at him and nodded. “You hungry?”
“No, not really. Just tired.”
“Then go back to sleep.”
“Where are we?”
“I’m not sure. We got away from Haven and set up camp when we were far enough away. Don’t worry, we should be safe here until they figure out what to do next.”
I looked over at Cullen, Cassandra, Leliana, and Josephine who were standing around the fire and arguing. It sounded like they were conflicted on what to do next. They were all yelling loudly at one another. I watched as the tension grew between them. Eventually, they got tired of arguing and sat in silence. They looked like they were ready to give up. There was no plan and nowhere for the survivors of Haven to go. We needed to find a secure and safe place soon. We were easy targets out here and campfires could only keep us warm for so long. We needed shelter. If a snowstorm hit us like this then we would lose many to frostbite and hypothermia.
The whole camp went silent after the fight but it didn’t last long. I saw a woman from the Chantry get up and she went to stand beside the Inquisitor. I thought she was going to talk to him, to give him advice but she didn’t. Instead of talking, she began to sing. It was a Chantry Hymn called, The Dawn Will Come .
I knew it because my grandma had taught it to me. She loved how pretty it sounded and the hopeful message it gave. She sang it to me after I announced how I truly felt about myself. That night, my dad had gotten angry with me and tried to tell me that I was too young to know what I was feeling and that it was ridiculous. He told me no one can just change who they are and that The Maker had made me a girl. Nothing could change that. I had been so upset by that that I ran to my room crying which is where grandma found me. She didn’t say anything. She just started singing much like the woman from the Chantry just did.
I watched as everyone from the camp started to join in on the singing. There were only a few people who stood silently and watched the others. I was one of the few who remained silent during the song. I knew the lyrics and it sounded nice but I wasn’t much of a singer. I never liked singing because of the sound of my voice. It was too high pitched for my liking.
After the song had ended everyone felt more hopeful and inspired. It had put everyone in a better mood after that huge argument. That Chantry Mother sure knew how to cheer up the atmosphere.
I yawned as my body settled and grew drowsy. I had been through a lot in one night and mentally, I was exhausted. That and my body needed sleep to heal itself. There was only so much a healing tonic could do. Now it was up to me to get some rest to help speed up the healing process. I snuggled up against Bull’s chest and he held me in a secure grip.
“Get some sleep.” He said in a soothing voice. He gently rubbed my back and the feeling made my eyelids grow heavy. In no time at all, I had fallen asleep.
Early the next morning we got up well before dawn and began to pack up the supplies and prepared for travel. None of us knew where we were going, but we couldn’t stay here. We needed a safe place that was better equipped than Haven was in case there was another attack. I didn’t know if such a place existed and no one else seemed to know either.
“Where do you think we are going?” I asked Krem as I packed up my sleeping bag.
“Dunno, but the Inquisitor seems to have a plan.” He shrugged.
“Oh? And how do you know?”
“I saw him talking to that elf, Solas I believe his name is, before you woke up. I think he was telling the Inquisitor about a fortress that might suit the needs of the inquisition. Not sure where this fortress is located but I remember hearing that it isn’t too far away.”
“Well that’s a relief.” I sighed dramatically which caused Krem to shake his head and roll his eyes. “I hope we can get there within the day because I don’t really like walking long distances.”
“You’re a soldier. A big part of the job is to walk for miles.”
“I know but I don’t have to like it.”
“Fair enough, I suppose.”
When we finished packing up our belongings, we went to help the injured in any way we could. I was assigned to the task of loading up the wagons. At first, the people in charge seemed skeptical and one person even had the nerve to ask if I was strong enough to lift a nug skin hide. “I’m a soldier.” I said defensively. “I can lift whatever you give me.”
“Sure. I bet you are a soldier, kid .” The human chuckled and some others joined in. “If you’re a soldier then I’m a Druffalo.” He and the others laughed at that ‘clever’ joke. I just rolled my eyes and went back to work. They would have kept pestering me but Commander Cullen walked by to inspect our progress so they backed off. Thank The Maker ...
Once everything was loaded up, we started moving. I went up to meet with The Chargers, and we set out. All of us wondered where we were going and some were eager to arrive at our destination. It was cold, even with the sun shining down on us. Its warm rays could only do so much for us. The strong winds that often threw crisp snow in our faces was more powerful than the sun.
Being so high up in the mountains, it was monstrously cold. Being soldiers, we weren’t given much to keep us warm as blankets and clothes were given to the villagers. They were the ones who needed them the most and our armor did a decent job at blocking the wind so it wasn’t all bad.
As we walked in the deep snow, I looked over at The Chargers to see how well they were doing with this weather. None of them seemed to be affected and if they were, they hid it very well. The expression on their faces was that of a man walking around in Kirkwall’s Hightown on a nice sunny day. They were tough. Much tougher than I. It would take years, possibly decades for me to reach the level of strength and composure they had.
I looked over at Bull who wore next to nothing on his torso and wondered how he could walk in this weather without shivering. He didn’t even seem phased by the cold! Not even when a huge gust of wind blew enough snow to fill a barrel right in his face! I watched as he brushed it off and kept walking. I was covered from head to toe with warm, wind resistant armor yet even I was cold! But there was Bull, walking around with little clothing and acting as if he wasn’t surrounded by knee-deep snow and howling winds. “Are you not freezing?” I asked him after countless minutes of observing him.
“Nah.” He shrugged. He chuckled when he noticed my eyes go wide at that nonchalant reaction. “With enough mental training, nothing bothers me. I can teach you some techniques when we have the time, if you’d like.”
“Sure. That could be useful.” I shivered when a gust of wind smacked me in the face and had to bite my tongue to keep my teeth from chattering. I was not used to this kind of weather…
“Indeed, it is very useful, especially to a soldier.”
“You guys are going to need to defrost me when we arrive…” I said between chattering teeth.
“Ha! You’re funny!” Bull slapped his thigh and laughed. I sighed and we kept moving.
For the rest of the journey, I kept my mouth shut about being cold. I was a soldier . Soldiers didn’t complain about being cold. Perhaps I could have gotten away with it if I still lived as a spoiled noble but I wasn’t a noble anymore. I couldn’t let the people of Haven see me as weak and complaining about the cold. That would make them lose faith in Inquisition soldiers which wasn’t what we needed. They needed to see that we were strong so that’s what I kept telling myself. I was a soldier of The Inquisition and I had been learning how to fight ever since I was a kid. I had been through worse things that being caught in the cold. This was nothing. Just a little snow and wind. It was no big deal. If I managed to live through the events at The Storm Coast then I could surely survive this. Thinking that I could die out here was stupid. That was ridiculous. Someone as strong as me wasn’t going to succumb to the cold. I continued this way of thinking and that was enough to keep me going until we reached our destination.
After hours of walking, (what felt more like years) we began to climb a steep hill. The Inquisitor went first and when he made it to the top, he froze. I couldn’t get a good look at his face but judging from his posture, I could tell that he was surprised. There was something amazing on the other side of that hill and I wanted to see it for myself. I was so eager that I picked up my pace and hurried up the hill, leaving The Chargers behind. Krem called out to me, asking me to wait but I didn’t. I was too excited to see what the Herald saw. Whatever it was, it had shocked and amazed him so much to the point where he had to take a step back so it must have been an amazing sight.
When I made it to the top of the hill, much like The Herald, I paused and took a step back. The sight before us was absolutely breathtaking! In the distance was a grand fortress that was perched on top of a mountain. Surrounding this fortress was even more mountains that were much taller and very steep. Those mountains were covered in snow and ice that reflected the light of the sun which made the landscape sparkle like jewels.
“Would you look at that.” Bull’s voice snapped me back to reality. I turned to look at him and smiled.
“Yeah. This is an amazing view.” I agreed.
“This is it.” I heard the Herald say more to himself than to us or Solas. “This is where we will set up. This is the Inquisition’s new home.”
“This will do nicely.” I heard Cullen say as he walked up to the Herald’s side. The Herald nodded and was the first to walk towards the stronghold. Everyone else followed close behind.
The walk to this impressive fortress was quite long. We still had to trudge through deep snow and down steep hills. We did come across a road which made it easier to navigate but even that road was snowed in although it wasn’t as deep as the rest of the area. When we made it down the hill we all went up the tall flight of stairs then down the long bridge that lead up to the fortress. I was one of the first to enter. The Herald and his advisors were the first, followed by The Chargers and I, then the rest of the people.
I looked up in amazement as I walked past the main gate. This place was impressive! I couldn’t believe a place like this even existed. It was right in the middle of nowhere up on a mountain. Nothing but snow and mountains surrounded us.
Being there, in that fortress I felt like I was in one of Varric’s stories but it was better than anything he could ever write. He wrote of fictional places that could not possibly exist and were full of mysterious but this… This was better than any story because it was real. Instead of reading words on a page in the comfort of my room, I was actually standing there. I was standing in the middle of a huge courtyard and before me was this grand fortress that towered over all of us.
It was quite the sight but it could have been better. It was clear this place had long been forgotten as there was plant life growing everywhere and bits of stone and wood scattered all over the place. It made me wonder, just how long has this place had been forgotten and why? Why would anyone leave this place? It looked like this might have come under attack but if so, then why didn’t the previous occupants stay and try to rebuild? Whatever the answers were, they were lost to time.
While I had been distracted at how marvelous this place was, everyone around me had gotten busy settling down and moving debris. The first area that was to be cleared out was both the upper and lower courtyard so we could set up tents.
After I was done admiring our new settlement, I was given orders to help put up tents and to unload medical supplies. First, up went the tents. Those who had the most severe injuries were moved inside to help keep them warm while the others were placed on blankets outside of those tents. There were so many people who had been injured and I feared that many would die soon due to the severity of their injuries.
In the daylight I was able to see just how bad some of the injuries were. Many of them were absolutely horrible and I was sure they were going to claim the lives of the people who had sustained them. I saw some amputees, deep gashes and severe burns among other injuries. The sight made me sick but what made it worse were the sounds of pain the injured people made. It was heartbreaking and sickening all at the same time.
This was the result of war. I knew this and I had mentally prepared myself the best I could but many of the people who had been injured at Haven weren’t even soldiers. They were regular people who were helping the Inquisition in ways other than fighting. Many of them had never even held a weapon before but still they had gone through hell...
After unloading the last of the supplies, I was free to do whatever I wanted. I could have gone somewhere to rest up as I was exhausted but I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel like I could rest with all of this mess around and all of the injured people around me. I still wanted to help in any way I could.
I was lucky I didn’t have to worry about Varric. He had gone off into a tent to presumably write something. Maybe he was writing his account of what had happened the previous day or maybe he was writing letters to my aunts and uncles. Word of the attack would spread quickly so he probably wanted everyone to know he was safe so they wouldn’t worry. They were already hurting from losing one person they cared about, they didn’t need the pain of losing another...
I sighed as I thought about my family and went to help the injured in any way I could. I would have helped cleaning and wrapping wounds but the healers felt like I would only get in the way. I wasn’t exactly trained in the medical field and they didn’t want to take the time to explain every step to me but they did tell me I could help by producing potions. That was one thing I was pretty good at so I was presented the supplies and got to work.
We didn’t have a lot of supplies as many of the resources were destroyed or left back at Haven as the priority was the lives of the people. The only thing we had in was whatever had been stashed in Haven prior to the attack and that wasn’t a lot. We had to use everything sparingly until people were able to bring in new supplies. I hoped that would happen soon. We only had a chest full of herbs and with the amount of injuries, I worried that it wouldn’t last for more than a few days at most.
I sat on the cold ground and got to work grinding down the leaves of an Elfroot plant. It was a boring and repetitive task and when it was done, I poured the powder into a pot filled with water and placed it over a fire to boil. I stirred it every once and a while to make sure it got an even boil but then went back to grinding more Elfroot. I was instructed to grind as many leaves as I could so they could be made into a potion as quickly as possible.
It took a long time because I was the only one grinding and stirring. Everyone else was too busy with either fixing up the place and moving debris or treating the injured. It annoyed me how they couldn’t spare just one other person to help me but I didn’t say anything. I was just a halfling and even if I did say something, I had my doubts that anyone would even listen to me, let alone instruct someone to help me so I just sat there and did my job.
After probably two or three hours of making potions, I had run out of Elfroots. I knew there were a few more in a chest nearby so I got up and went to retrieve them. As I walked away from my spot I noticed The Herald talking with a small group of people just by the stairs. I recognized one of the people was Solas and I was sure the woman in full armour was Cassandra but I didn’t know who the third one was. She looked to be an enchantress judging from her clothing. She must have been from Orlais as her clothes were very flashy but she didn’t have that strong of an accent. In fact, it sounded like she was from the Free Marches and the accent she had suggested that she was possibly a noble.
I never spoke like a noble even though I was one. My father moved into the family estate when he was already an adult and my Papa was never a noble along with most of my aunts and uncles so I never developed the accent. I was glad for that because it kept people from asking questions about my past. I didn’t want to know what people would say or do if they learned me, a halfling used to be a noble…
I gathered up the few remaining herbs from the chest and turned to go back to my spot but stopped in my tracks. I saw that The Herald was no longer talking to the small group and was walking over to a young man standing by the big fire keeping the injured warm. I recognized the young man the moment I saw him. He was the same person who was talking with The Herald and Commander Cullen back at the Chantry. He was the one who had helped the Chancellor walk so he could show us the way out of Haven.
I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying and when I got closer, they walked over to an injured soldier. I knew him. He had been too badly injured to save. He was dying slowly and I felt bad for him. I wished there was something I could do for him but the healers said there was nothing anyone could do. All they could do was give him something for the pain but I knew it didn’t really help.
The young man and Herald exchanged some words and I noticed the soldier's body go limp. He had died… I bowed my head slightly and took a few moments of silence for him. When I looked up again, I saw that the young man had walked over to someone else and handed them some water. He then stood up and faced The Herald as they continued their conversation. I was curious and wondered what they were talking about but the young man’s back was facing me and he spoke in a soft voice so I couldn’t even make out one word he said but I was able to hear The Herald. “If you’re willing, The Inquisition could use your help.”
The young man muttered something that I didn’t catch and walked over to another injured soldier. When he stood before him, he pulled out a small knife from his belt. I wasn’t sure what he could possibly need with a knife and so I watched him and The Herald speak. I was horrified when I heard The Herald say, “alright, help him”. It was then I realized what they were talking about...
That young man was going to kill the soldier...
I knew there was nothing that could be done for him but to kill him without giving him a chance… Maybe he could have recovered, given enough time but The Herald gave this young man permission to kill the soldier…
When the young man took the soldier’s life, I looked away and stood frozen in my spot, clutching the plants to my chest. When I looked back, the soldier was dead… I felt slightly sick after witnessing that. That soldier deserved a chance... I knew the extent of his injures and I knew that survival didn’t seem likely but maybe he could have lived...
I looked up at the young man who had taken the soldier’s life and saw that he was looking in my direction. At first, I thought that maybe he was looking at something next to me but when I took a quick glance at my immediate surroundings I saw that there was nothing near me. I blushed when I realized that he was looking at me. I couldn’t read the expression on his face as it was mostly obscured by his oversized hat and that made me nervous. Why was he looking at me? It couldn’t have been anything I did or said as we had never interacted before. Could he tell that I was a halfling? It was pretty obvious as I didn’t have strict Evlen features. Was he one of the many people who looked down at people like me? If I could just see his face then I could have tried to guess what he was thinking but I couldn’t.
The feeling of his eyes on me sent a chill down my spine and I wasn’t quite sure why. I looked down when I grew uncomfortable and hurried back to my spot. I felt him watching me the entire time, even when I resumed grinding the leaves. It made me nervous. So nervous that my hands began to shake but I tried to ignore it. Perhaps it was nothing. From what I could tell, he didn’t look disgusted when he saw me. If anything, he was curious. Maybe he saw me, saw how young I looked and was trying to guess my age. I was worrying too much. If he disapproved of my kind then surely he would have said or done something to make it obvious.
When I looked back to where I had last seen him, he was gone. I looked around the area but didn’t see him anywhere. He sure moved fast. I shrugged off the whole thing and went back to work and I didn’t stop until all of the leaves had been grinding and mixed into a potion.
The next day I expected to be exhausted and sore all over from all of that physical activity but I was just fine. My shoulders were a bit sore but it was nothing too serious. I was still able to function which was good because there was still lots that had to be done. The moment I woke up I was put to work. I was sent to make more potions as a new batch of Elroots had been brought in early that morning so off to work I went grinding more leaves. It was so boring and extremely repetitive but it was an important job. The sick and injured desperately needed these potions and the healers were too busy treating injuries to bother with making potions.
Once a bottle was completed, I handed it off to the nearest healer who then used it on the next patient. Eventually, everyone who had been injured had their injuries tended to but that didn’t mean I could stop production, unfortunately. I was told to keep going until I ran out of Elfroot. I sighed as I looked at the crate full of the herb beside me. It was practically overflowing! I knew I wasn’t going to finish until dinner time...
“This will be fun…” I said to myself as I crushed some more leaves.
That day went by very slowly as I repeated the same actions over and over again. A little after noon I was completely exhausted and sore. My my whole body was killing me from the repetitive actions. Luckily, a soldier saw me struggling and offered to help out as he was off duty. I immediately accepted the offer. He sat down next to me and got to work.
“So what’s your name?” I asked after providing him with the right materials.
“Karl Wolf.” He said with a smile. “You?”
“Joseph.” I smiled back.
“Joseph? That’s an interesting name for an elf. What about your last name?”
“I guess that would be Sabrae as that was the name of the Dalish clan I lived with before joining the Inquisition.” I shrugged.
“If you don’t mind me asking, but how did you get the name Joseph? Wouldn’t the Dalish give you an Elven name?”
“I only lived with them for four years. Before that I lived in Kirkwall with my family but...things...happened and I had to leave…” I focused on stirring the pot of boiling water and leaves as I explained my past. “I no longer associate with my family, so I don’t really use a last name. After being welcomed by the Dalish I have been calling myself Joseph Sabrae.”
“I don’t know how anyone can say such a thing…” Karl said sadly. I knew he was looking at me but I ignored him and pretended to be focused on the pot. “My family and I are all very close so I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be with their family…”
“It’s complicated but all I will say is that if I stayed there, I would have died by now.” I could sense the shock in him after the words left my lips. That didn’t surprise me. Who wouldn’t be shocked after hearing something like that? “The details aren’t important but just know that my home life was hell. I would have fared better in The Fade so I got out of there for my own safety. With nowhere to go, I signed up to be a soldier. It’s all I could do.”
“Why didn’t you stay with The Dalish?”
“I feel like I had overstayed my welcome. They are super nice and probably wouldn’t have minded if I stayed but I wanted to see the world. I wanted to explore and travel.”
“Don’t your people travel?”
“Well yeah, but the clan I was with are currently stuck on Sundermount and they think that they will be there for a few more years. I don’t want to wait years before they started moving again. At least here, I have more opportunity to see the world which is all I have ever wanted. Even when I was little.”
“I take it you never left the city back when you lived with your family, huh?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I rarely left the house because my parents were afraid something might have happened to me. They were quite protective.”
“Sounds abusive if you ask me…”
“Well it wasn’t. They had their reasons… With what they did, it was understandable.”
“What they did?”
“My… My Papa is very close with The Champion of Kirkwall. The same goes for all of my aunts and uncles…”
“No, really?!” Karl exclaimed. He had stopped what he was doing and now gave me his full attention. I expected as much and sighed.
“Yes. I know The Champion personally too. I suspect that you have many questions so ask away.” I said rather flatly.
“I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start!” He exclaimed. My ears turned down as he was speaking so loud that it actually hurt which he noticed and was quick to address. “Oh, sorry! Sorry. I don’t mean to be loud, it’s just… wow! You know The Champion of Kirkwall!”
“You know what, I don’t think everyone in Skyhold heard you. Please, say it again, louder this time.”
“Sorry.” He flushed in embarrassment and bowed his head in shame. This time he spoke in a more appropriate volume. “So how does your family know The Champion?”
“They are all his companions.”
“Even your father?”
“Wow! So what’s he like?”
I paused. I had to think about that for a good few seconds. I had to be careful with what I said. I didn’t want to reveal my real affiliation with The Champion but at the same time, I didn’t want to tell Karl a complete lie. I had to twist the truth just enough that I wouldn’t give it away. “Well…” I started as I thought. “He’s a nice guy. He cares about people who are close with him and he absolutely adores his family. His mother is super sweet and after knowing her for even two seconds, you can tell she loves her children and is very proud of them. The Champion and his brother Carver get along well enough I suppose. They care about each other but if you don’t know them, you would think that they hate each other's guts. The Champion tries to show his brother he cares and can come off as a bit protective which Carver hates. I understand that. He’s an adult and wants to be treated as such but he’s the younger brother so what can he do? He will forever be the baby of the family.”
“I know how he feels.” Karl said.
“You have siblings?” I asked and he nodded.
“Yup. Three older siblings. I am the youngest and every time we all get together, they never let me forget it. Do you have any siblings?”
“No. I am an only child.”
“Lucky. I love my siblings but sometimes I wish it was just me.”
“It gets lonely at times.” I said sadly. “Sometimes I wish I had a brother or sister, especially in that environment but I guess it's for the best that I didn’t. If I had a sibling then they would have been brought up in a toxic environment like me.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through whatever it was. It sounds like you had a rough past…”
“I did but I’m fine. That was all in the past and I’m in a better place now. I’m here, a soldier of The Inquisition and doing my part to help in any way I can.” Karl gave me a small smile and we went back to work. We had been so distracted with our conversation that we had stopped working entirely. We were lucky that no one had seen us slacking off. We would have been in trouble for not doing our work but thankfully, all of the healers and higher ups were super busy.
We talked for hours as we worked. We shared various stories of our past and what we wanted to do after we were done with The Inquisition, if we survived , that was. Karl wanted to go back to his hometown and become a farmer. He grew up working on his family farm and enjoyed the work. “I especially love looking after the animals. I also want to have a Mabari who will follow me around and help herd the Druffalo.”
“That sounds like a great future and it will be a nice change of pace after you retire as a soldier.”
“Yeah. I am going to live a nice and quiet life after all of this is done. What about you? Will you ever try to reconnect with your family..?”
“Perhaps but right now, that doesn’t seem too likely…”
“Don’t you miss them? Your father? Mother?”
“My Papa, yes. I miss him very much and my grandmother too but… I don’t know… Maybe I will try to get in touch with them but I just don’t know...”
“Our futures aren’t set in stone. Maybe one day, you will be able to return home and reconcile with your family. I know I don’t know them, but I feel confident in saying that they will welcome you back with open arms.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say so from there, all conversation between us died. We worked for the rest of the day in a peaceful silence and the only time we spoke was to ask for more supplies. We worked hard and as fast as we could but by the end of the night, we had made only a small dent in the crate. I gave a heavy sigh as I looked at all of the plants that still remained. “There is still so much left… And I heard that even more plants are being sent over…”
“Well at least we were able to make a decent amount of potions.” Karl nodded towards all of the bottled we had filled up and sealed. They were all in boxes and ready to be used.
“Yeah but there is still so much work that needs to be done… My shoulders hurt just thinking about it…” I slumped against the crate and gave out the biggest sigh of the day. “I’m going to dream of nothing but potions tonight and for the next month…”
I side-eyed Karl when I heard him snort as he held back a laugh. “You’re so funny Joseph.”
“Glad you find my pain funny…”
“Don’t be so dramatic.” He said with a rather charming smile as he looked down at me. “Get a good night's rest and tomorrow you’ll be ready to continue. I know this is all repetitive and boring but it isn’t in vain. There are people who desperately need potions, now and in the future. You are doing important work by making these. It was very noble of you to take on this job that no one else wanted.”
“Yeah but you helped me all day today.” I pointed out.
“Well, I couldn’t sit back and watch you pour your blood, sweat and tears into this all alone. I had to help.”
“Very noble of you.”
“Thanks. I try.” He stood with his back straight then gave a bow one would give to a king. When he stood straight again we both laughed. “Goodnight Joseph of the Sabrae clan.”
“Goodnight Karl Wolf.” I replied. He gave me a small wave and off he went to his tent. I watched him go until he had completely disappeared inside and even then my eyes still lingered. I felt my face flush when my brain began to work again and I realized that I had been staring for way too long. “Maker, no…” I whined. I covered my eyes with my hands and I sunk even lower to the ground with my back still against the rough wooden crate.
I curled up in a ball as my brain flooded with thoughts. Thoughts that I didn’t want. Thoughts I wished I could evict but no matter how hard I tried, they wouldn’t leave. I was having thoughts about Karl… I was starting to like him more than just a friend or fellow soldier. At first, I told myself that I just admired him as a person. He seemed like such a nice young man who would give the shirt off his back to help someone in need. He was just naturally a kind soul. That’s why I liked him. I just like how nice he was and it was nothing more but the blush on my face went against that.
“Get up soldier!” I heard a harsh voice say. I quickly scrambled to my feet and looked up at the person who had just spoken. It was a healer and one who wasn’t all that friendly. “You can sleep when you’re dead. We need more potions so get to work!”
“But sir, there is more than enough to last through the night and I was just about to have dinner.”
“No excuses. Get back to work!”
“That’s enough.” I perked up when I heard Commander Cullen’s voice. We both turned to him when he walked over. He looked at that jerk right in the eye as he spoke. “This young man has been working hard all day. I saw him work non stop since dawn. He deserves to have the rest of the night off. Look at all of these potions. There is no way they will all get used up tonight.”
“ Right … Forgive me, Commander…” The healer gave a quick bow and left.
When he was gone the Commander turned to me and smiled. “Nice work soldier.”
“Thank you Commander but I can’t take all the credit. Karl Wolf was a great help and without him, I wouldn’t have been able to make all of these so quickly.”
“You two are quite the team. I don’t think I have ever seen so many potions created after just one day. Keep it up.”
“Thank you Commander! We sure will!” I gave a salut and after he gave me a nod, he left to return to his duties.
Now that I was free of that torture, I was able to do what I wanted for the rest of the night and the one thing I wanted was dinner. I was starving. Absolutely starving! I had been so busy that day that I hadn’t even eaten lunch not that that would have done much. Since we were still settling in Skyhold and had so few supplies, lunch was nothing more than a couple handfuls of nuts and some dried fruits. That wasn’t even a meal so even if I did eat, I would still be hungry. As a soldier, I could have secured a few apples but they wouldn’t have filled me for very long.
I decided to go visit The Chargers for dinner. They should have been finished their work and getting ready to eat. Maybe they were wondering where I had been all day but before I went to see them, I decided to change into some fresh clothes. I sweated quite a bit during the day as the sun was beating down on us and my body was under serious strain. I felt gross. I wanted to be at least half decent when I met up with my friends.
I went into the tent that had been assigned to me and began to strip off my sweaty clothes. My lower back was the worst for sweat. My cotton shirt stuck to my back like a baby nug to its mother. The feeling of it peeling off my skin was gross.
“I’m gonna need a bath…” I said to myself after my shirt had come off. I threw it to the ground then went to work on my bindings. They were even worse than the shirt! “So gross…” I unwrapped the cotton strips from my chest and with each layer they got wetter and wetter. The last few layers, the ones that were right against my skin were the worst. They smelled of salt and were soaked through. They joined my shirt on the ground and I reached for a bucket full of water and a rag.
I dunked the old rag in the cold water and wiped myself down with it. I shivered as the cold water came in contact with my skin but despite the temperature, it felt good. It was refreshing. Even if the water was cold, it still did a good job of taking away my sweat.
When I was clean, I dried myself off and got out new bindings. Ones that were clean and free of sweat. I wrapped them around my chest and made sure they were snug. Looking down at my body made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like my chest. I wasn’t big by any means, in fact, I was quite small but without the cotton strips, my chest would be very noticeable. It would have been even more noticeable if I wasn’t fit but still I didn’t like my body. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t like it.
I tightened the bindings on my chest more than usual. I wanted to make my chest as flat as possible. I didn’t care that it hurt. It kept tightening as much as I could. When they were secure, I looked down and felt a bit better. My chest was flatter than before but of course there was a small price to pay. There was a very slight, dull pain but I didn’t care.
I went to put on a new shirt but froze when I heard a gasp. I turned around and saw Karl standing at the entrance of my tent. He had lifted the flap open just enough to peek inside and he saw me, shirtless and with my bindings on full display. “Joseph… What?”
“Karl! You scared me! “I clutched my shirt to my chest to try and hide myself but it was too late. He had seen me but I didn’t know just how much he had seen. I didn’t hear him approach so I had no clue how long he had been there.
“You… You liar!” He shouted at me and I flinched.
“What are you talking about? Liar? I haven’t lied!”
“Why would you lie about your gender? Women are allowed in the Inquisition too! Why would you lie about this?!”
“Karl, I didn’t lie! I-” He left before I could finish. I knew what he was going to do. I scrambled to put my shirt on and even before it was fully covering me, I stumbled out of the tent. When I steadied myself, I looked around for Karl. I caught a glimpse of him at the top of the stairs then he vanished behind the stone walls. He was fast.
I hurried up the stairs to try and find him and when I made it to the upper courtyard I saw him talking with both Cassandra and Cullen. The sight was enough to paralyze me with fear. He had gotten to them first and said only Maker knows what to them.
He saw me right as I made it to the top of the stairs and pointed me out to the others. I didn’t even have time to protest before two soldiers in full armour grabbed both of my arms. I didn’t even bother to fight them. It wouldn’t have done me any good and besides, they had the upper hand so even if I did try to fight, it would have been a losing battle. I just let them knock me to my knees.
Cullen and Cassandra walked up to me and both glared down at me. Cassandra was more frightening than Cullen who looked more confused rather than angry. Cassandra looked downright pissed with me. “Is it true?” She asked in her heavy Orlesian accent. “Did you lie to us about who you really are?”
“No.” I cursed my voice for cracking. I cleared my throat and slowly raised my head to look at them properly. “No, I did not lie. My name is Joseph of the Sabrae clan.”
“You might be from that particular clan but you are not named Joseph! That is a male name and you are not a male!” I looked over at Karl and gave him a glare.
“And how are you so sure of this?” Cullen asked and turned to him.
I saw his face grow red as he explained. “I saw her, without her shirt, in her tent. She had cotton strips wrapped around her chest. If you check her right now you will see that I am telling the truth!”
“Cassandra, go check.” Cullen said. She nodded and walked over to me and circled behind me. She reminded me of a vulture flying around its prey. I held my breath as she lifted up my shirt just high enough to see my bindings. She only took a quick look and when she let go of my shirt, she must have nodded to Cullen because he waved a hand to the two soldiers who were holding me and they forced me to my feet. “I’m afraid I have no other choice but to have you arrested and put in a cell. There will of course, be a trial.”
“Wait, no!” I began to protest now. “You don’t understand! I didn’t lie! I didn’t lie to anyone when I introduced myself! My name is Joseph!”
“But you are not a man.” Cassandra said. She was now at my side. When I looked over at her, her expression hadn’t changed.
“I… I might not have been born a man but I am not lying about who I am! Please, believe me! Please!” I looked over at Cullen with hopeful eyes, praying that he would believe me but it was useless. He gave a sigh and looked away.
“Take her to a cell.” He told the soldiers.
“Come along Dalish.” One of them said as they tugged on my arm but I kept my feet planted firmly in the ground.
“No! I am innocent!” I felt tears of frustration forming in the corner of my eyes as I protested. I looked around to see if there was anyone who could help and just my luck, I saw Bull and Krem not too far away. They had noticed me and were watching silently. “Bull! Krem! Help! I am innocent!” I called out to them.
At first, neither of them moved and I was afraid that they wouldn’t do anything. That they would just stand there and watch as I was taken away but they didn’t. Bull was the first to make a move after processing the scene before him. He rushed over to me but Cassandra blocked his path.
“What is going on?” He asked her.
“Look, I know you care about her but she is in serious trouble.”
“Her? You mean Joseph?”
“Her name is not Joseph. We will interrogate her later to find out what her real name is.”
“My real name is Joseph!” I called out as I was being dragged away. I was now too far away to hear what they were saying but it looked like Bull was trying to defend me. He was trying to convince her to release me but she didn’t listen. Why would she? He had no say in this.
All I could do at that point was give in. I still struggled for a bit but once I was taken through a doorway and led down a long flight of stairs, I gave up. It was just me and the soldiers now. I had no one to call out to. No one to ask for help. No one to protest my innocence too.
I yelped when I was thrown into a cell. I hadn’t expected to be treated so harshly but I should have seen it. I am an Elf, afterall. Many people don’t consider us people or worthy of any kind of respect.
By the time I had pushed myself into a sitting position, the cell door had been slammed shut and locked. I turned around to see two guards on either side of the door standing to attention. The two who had brought me down were already making their way back up to the courtyard.
‘ At least I wasn’t put in shackles ....’ I thought to myself.
With nothing else left to do, I pressed myself against the wall furthest from the door and curled up in a ball. I pressed my legs up to my chest, wrapped my arms around them to keep them in place and left my head fall on my knees.
I was not expecting this to happen. I had been so careful up until this point… Why did Karl have to walk in on me? Why was he even there? What could he have wanted to talk about so urgently that it couldn’t wait until tomorrow? I couldn’t believe any of this was happening. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to Kirkwall and hug Papa and grandma. I wanted them to tell me that everything was going to be alright.
Was this serious enough to execute me? I didn’t know but I got the feeling that maybe it was. I didn’t want to die. Not like this. If I was to die this young, I would have wanted it to be on the battlefield and not by some executioner.
How did I end up like this? I just wanted to go home. Maybe leaving was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have left… I should have stayed… I should have stayed with the Dalish. Maker… Going to Haven such such a stupid idea! I should have listened when my Keeper told me that leaving was a mistake!
I should have listened...
I should have listened!
I sat in my cell for days.
I wasn’t sure just how long it was. I lost count after five days. I had sort of given up after that. There was no point in it anymore. I was trapped there with no way out. I was just sitting in a damp, cold cell just waiting for my trial. The trial that would determine my fate.
With every passing hour, I grew more and more anxious. What were they going to do to me? How was this going to go down? How much trouble was I in? Could Bull help get me a lighter sentence? Maybe he could at least get them to exile me. That would be a better fate than being executed. At least, if I was exiled then I would have a chance at starting over. I had enough survival skills to live on my own and after wandering around long enough, I was bound to run into a Dalish camp. If the Sabrae clan took me in, then surely another clan would too. I was half elf and just a kid. The Dalish are kind people. Of course they would take me in. I had no doubt about that.
I sighed as I sat on the ground. There was a leak coming from somewhere up in the ceiling so water was leaking down the walls and through the cracks in the floor. It moistened the ground which, overtime, made my pants damp but I didn’t care. Life couldn’t get any worse.
Or so I thought.
Sometime during the wait for my trial, Cassandra came to interrogate me. I watched as she marched up to my cell with narrowed eyes and her lips pressed in a thin line. I had the feeling that she wouldn't hesitate to kill me given the slightest excuse. She looked like she had come to torture me but that wasn't the case. She didn't even have the guards open the door to my cell.
"What is your name?" She asked. Her eyes felt like she was looking right into my soul.
"I already told you, my name is Joseph."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Why?" I snapped. I didn't mean to but I was frustrated. The look on her face would have been funny if I wasn't locked up. She looked like I had just slapped her. "I told you the truth. My name is Joseph."
"You also claim to be from the Sabrae clan. Joseph is a human name, not Elven. Not only that but it is a male name, which you are not ."
"Yes I am . My father named me Joseph! And just so you know, he is an Elf too! Just because I'm different doesn't mean I'm a liar!" Originally I had been sitting down but now I was on my feet and marching over to the door. I looked up at Cassandra and glared at her.
"Watch your tone!" She warned. She almost sounded like a mother for a second. "You must remember your place! Now tell me, what is your name. Your real name. The one given to you at birth."
"The name I had been given at birth is not who I am. That part of me died long ago. I am Joseph. I always have been but only realized it when I was around six years old. Perhaps younger but that's when my family started to notice that I was… different… "
"I will ask you once again, tell me the truth. Now ." Now she was getting on my nerves. Why didn't she believe me? I was telling her the truth!
"Write to my clan. They will confirm that my name is Joseph and has been for years. I stayed with them for nearly four years but even before that, my name was Joseph! I told them that my Papa was the one who came up with the name!" I wanted to yell at her. I wanted to scream to the world that my real name was in fact Joseph. This is who I am. It's who I've always been even if I didn't know it from the start.
She made a sound of disgust and backed away from my cell all while glaring daggers at me. " Fine . We will write to them but if they respond and say they have no knowledge of you then you will be looking at execution."
"They won't say that. My Keeper loved me. She'll confirm my identity!"
And that was that. Cassandra left without another word. She was probably frustrated with me since all I did was repeat myself but I did that because that was the truth. I wanted her to understand that but of course, she didn't. What a surprise. Hardly anyone understood me… and instead of trying to understand, they claimed me to be a liar and that I didn't understand what I was talking about. As if they could understand what was going on inside my mind!
After that failed interrogation, I didn't see her or Cullen. No one tried to question me again. They just left it at that which I found strange. Surely they would have tried to make another attempt at getting what they thought was 'the truth'.
The only person I saw after that, aside from the guards was someone who brought food to me but we didn't talk. They must have been given strict orders to not talk with prisoners or maybe they just didn't want to.
I picked at my meal, if one could call it that. I think it was supposed to be some kind of soup but it was clumpy and didn’t taste very good. It tasted bad but not bad enough to make me stop eating. It was the only food I was given so unless I wanted to starve to death, I had no choice but to eat.
I took small spoonfuls of this so called ‘meal’ and forced it down. It wasn’t the worst thing I had eaten but it certainly was not the best. Orana’s soup was the best I had ever tasted. She was more talented than the most popular chef in Orlais. I thought about her cooking as I ate this slop. It made sense that they wouldn’t give a prisoner the best food in Skyhold but to give someone this? This wasn’t even food!
I put the bowl on the ground before I could even finish that slop. I didn’t want to finish it in case I threw up. I had put just enough in my stomach to keep me from starving until my next meal. I couldn’t wait for more slop that I wouldn’t have fed to a Giant Spider.
I used my foot to slide the bowl back under the metal bars which caught the attention of the guards. They both looked down at the bowl but didn’t do or say anything about it. They just shrugged it off and went back to staring off into space. Their job must have been boring. Ever since I had been arrested, I had been the only prisoner. Many cells had been destroyed but there were still many that were in working condition. I guess no one had broken a rule or something…
Just me. I was the only one so far in this whole place who had gotten in trouble. There’s nothing new there. I was always the one who was getting into trouble. Back at home, I would always do something grandma called naughty. One of my favourite adventures was running around in the garden with Mabs, our Mabari after a heavy rainfall. When we were done we ran inside the estate and covered all of the expensive rugs in mud. Papa and Grandma were furious while Dad just laughed it off. Those were the good old days…
The days before Dad was angry with me…
Before he started hating me…
I thought back to the good times we shared but there weren’t that many. All of this started when I was so young… I had more bad memories of Dad than good…
I sighed as I thought about the past. I did miss the good times and wished I could go back. I wanted to be six years old again. I wanted to go back to the estate, back to my home and to be with my family again. I wanted us all to laugh and have fun again. I wanted to practice magic with Dad again. He would always laugh when I cast the wrong spell and ice would cover the yard. Sometimes I even got either Dad or Papa who was unfortunate enough to walk in on us practicing and froze their hair solid. It was so frozen that one could easily break a piece off. I smiled to myself at the memories.
I would have continued thinking about the past, about the happier times but I was sadly interrupted by the sounds of footsteps coming down the stone stairs. I looked up and waited to see who it was. Was it going to be another prisoner? What could someone have done that would land them in the cells beneath Skyhold? Well, perhaps going against the Inquisitor would do it... Was it someone who tried to kill him? I knew there were still a few people out there who thought he was a fraud. That Andraste never sent him and this was all some scheme to get money and fame.
I waited as the footsteps got closer and closer to the bottom. When the people finally came into view, it felt like my heart was in my throat. Cullen was the first to come down and was followed closely by Cassandra. I tried not to show surprise or panic when I saw them. I stayed as calm as possible and kept a neutral expression on my face.
Cassandra looked down on me with a displeased look while Cullen looked almost sad. I couldn't understand why. I was just a soldier who he didn't know all that well. Why would he be sad when looking at me? Was it because he thought I was wasting my potential?
"Open the door." He said to the guards. One nodded and took a set of keys from their belt. They rattled together as the one for my cell was picked out and put in the old metal lock. The key was turned and there was a loud and heavy click as the door was unlocked.
I got to my feet as the door was pulled open. The hinged creaked loudly under the weight of the metal. The second guard entered my cell and put shackles on my wrists. "So... I guess it's time for my trial..?" I asked nervously.
"You were not given permission to talk." Cassandra said sharply.
"Cassandra, that's enough." She shot Cullen a look and I expected her to say something to him, maybe to tell him that I was a prisoner. That I shouldn't be talking unless I was addressed but she didn't. She must have been too shocked to say anything. "Yes… It's time for your trial... I was able to secure a more private setting for it. There is no need for your... particular situation to be broadcasted to all of Skyhold."
"Thank you…" Was all I could say. There was no reason for him to do that. He could have just let me go on trial in the throne room where everyone could witness and hear of my 'crime' but he didn't. It shocked me but I was grateful for what he did.
"Let's go." Cassandra said a bit impatiently.
I nodded and let her drag me out of my cell and to the stairs. I made no fuss. I walked beside her while Cullen followed behind. The whole walk to the room was silent. It was an uncomfortable and awkward silence but both Cullen and Cassandra didn't seem bothered by it. They must have been used to this.
I looked around as we made our way across the courtyard and to the staircase leading up to the main hall. There were people watching me as they went about their duties. Some even stopped and whispered to each other. Had word gotten out about my arrest? It wasn't impossible . It would have taken just one person to overhear the charges and word would quickly spread. People loved to gossip.
I tried to ignore the looks and whispers as we walked by. Whatever those people were talking about, I didn't care. Everyone was entitled to their own opinions. I didn't even know these people so why should I care about what they thought of me? I shouldn't have cared but I did… I didn't want people to get the wrong impression of me. I wanted them to know the truth of what I had done and why I had to do it. I wanted them to know who I really was. I didn't care if they would accept me or not. They certainly didn't have to but I still wanted them to know the truth. As painful and hard as it would have been, I wished for a public trial but was still thankful mine was going to be private.
We went up the stairs and into the main hall. I was escorted to the second door on the left. Two doors were opened and I was brought into a room that would look very elegant after having a little more work done to it. Even so, there was a desk and comfy looking chair behind it. I recognized the woman sitting in it. Her name was Josephine. I wasn't too sure what her main job was but it looked like she handled diplomatic part of the Inquisition.
"Good. You're here." She said as she stood from her desk. "The Inquisitor should be here any moment now." She looked over at me and at first, looked shocked which transformed into a sad smile. I wonder if my looks gave away my true age but eighteen was still young.
Josephine and I had never met before so everything she knew about me had been told to her by others. Whatever was said, no one would have guessed that I was the one who had been charged. I had been told that I looked so innocent and because I had such a round face, I looked much younger than eighteen. I didn't even look my real age. Back in Kirkwall, some people had assumed I was ten when I was in fact, thirteen. I just had that kind of face.
Josephine prepared the paperwork while we waited for The Herald. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long. I was getting sick of this tense atmosphere. When he walked through the doors the panic started to build up inside me. Standing just a few feet away was one of the most powerful and important figures in all of Thedas... He was going to try me for 'lying about my gender'.
My fate was in The Inquisitor's hands…
I gulped as he walked over to me. He was so intimidating. Not just because of his status or what he could do but because of how tall and strong he was. Of course he was strong. I saw his main weapon. A heavy battleaxe that was most definitely three times my weight.
"So this is her?" He asked to no one in particular.
"Yes." Cullen replied.
I wanted to correct them but I was too scared. It was one thing to talk back to Cassandra but if I did the same to The Inquisitor… The Herald of Andraste … I was sure I would have been killed on the spot so I kept my mouth shut. Even if it killed me to hear the wrong pronouns… My heart skipped a beat when The Herald looked at me.
“Why did you lie about your gender? Unlike other armies, The Inquisition welcomes everyone who is willing to give their life for our cause.”
“You don’t understand…” I sighed. “None of you can possibly understand why I did things that I have done…”
“Then why don’t you explain it to me.” He gave a small understanding smile as he spoke and his voice was soft. The Herald was kind. Kinder than Cassandra presented herself but I was sure that to the right people, she was a nice person.
“I tried to tell Cassandra…” I paused and looked over at her. She was giving me a warning look. She was not-so-subtly telling me not to give The Inquisitor any attitude. As if I needed a warning for that.
“You tried to tell Cassandra, what?” He asked with a sort of puzzled expression on his face.
“I haven’t lied about my name. I have been using the name Joseph for years now. You should have received a letter from my clan by now confirming it. I may not have been born a male but in my heart that is who I am. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
“I do have a letter from your clan, in fact.” Came a sweet sounding voice. I turned to see a woman with a hood covering her short red hair. She was holding up an envelope that she handed to The Inquisitor. “I received it only moments ago.”
The Inquisitor opened the envelope and read the letter. I waited anxiously for him to finish. I knew that the Keeper would have my back but the thought didn't help my anxiety.
"What does it say?" Cassandra asked when she felt like The Inquisitor was taking too long.
"The Keeper did indeed confirm that this Elf is named Joseph." He responded while still looking at the letter.
Cassandra looked shocked and turned to me in disbelief. "But she is a young woman. Her real name can't be Joseph!"
"It was not the name given to me at birth, but I can assure you, it is my real name. It is who I am. It's who I've always been whether you believe it or not. In fact, there is someone else here at Skyhold who is just like me and you have no problem accepting them because they can fight. I can fight too. I want to fight. I want to fight against the Darkspawn and the apostates, and the rogue Templars. I want to bring peace to Thedas just like everywhere else here." The more is said, the more my confidence grew. At first, I bowed my head in shame but by the end of my little speech, my head was held high and I had the look of confidence written all over my face.
"Well that's one problem sorted out." The Inquisitor said. I looked puzzled. One problem? I thought that was the only problem involving me. What more could there be? "However, there is still the issue of your age. I've been told you are eighteen but when I look at you, you appear to be much younger than that. Now is the time to be truthful. Why are you here? Is it really because you want to help or is there something else?"
"If you come clean now, you will be pardoned and if you wish, you can return to your position as a soldier." Cullen said with a small smile spread across his lips. "I would really like for you to return. You are very skilled and I'd hate to see that all go to waste." So I was right.
"Very well…" I sighed in defeat. There was no point in hiding now. "I'll tell you what I can. First of all, you are right, I'm not eighteen. I had no choice but to lie about my age. I had nowhere to go and I needed to make a living. I had to do something to support myself and I knew that you wouldn’t accept me if I wasn’t at the very least, eighteen. I did what I felt like I had to do. In truth, I am barely fourteen years old…" A Hush fell over the room. Everyone looked at me in shock. Fourteen? That was young. I was young but had amazing skills for my age which helped in convincing people that I was older.
"Four...Fourteen?" Cassandra said breathlessly.
"But… I've seen your skill… There is no way someone at your age can be so advanced!" Cullen exclaimed.
"It's because I've been practicing magic my whole life." I explained flatly. "From the moment I could sit up, I was taught by my father to control my powers. With his status, nothing would have happened to me but he still thought it was better to be safe rather than sorry. That and my grandmother wanted me to control it for my own safety. She was always worried that someone might attack me so she wanted me to be able to defend myself. Because of who my father is, she had a valid reason to worry."
"Who is your father, exactly?" Cullen questioned. His interest sparked to life. Everyone else was giving off curious looks as well.
"That, I cannot say."
"And why not?" Cassandra took a step in my direction and was looking down on me.
"Because I don't want you to get in touch with him. I'm better off without him… I’m just better off without my family... I want nothing to do with them... I'm safer away from them..."
"Safer?" The Inquisitor's eyes widened, as did everyone else's. "What do you mean by 'safer'?"
"I don't want to say. I don't want you to get the wrong impression of my family, especially my father. He is a good man, I know it, but sometimes… Anger can change a person… Please , just drop this... I don't want to talk about it… The past is the past…"
"Look, whatever the situation was that lead you to leave, we need to get in contact with your family," Cassandra began. "You are too young to go around without a guardian and I'm sure your family will be glad to see you."
"Oh, I'm sure they will but I don't want to see them. I haven't seen them in years. I'm better off without them!" I momentarily lost control and snapped at her but to my surprise, she didn't say anything. She looked shocked and rightly so, but she didn't try to scold me.
"Inquisitor, what should we do? We cannot let this child, who is not even fourteen years of age, run lose. She needs a guardian. She needs her family."
" He ." The Inquisitor said without hesitation. Cassandra looked taken aback at that and gave out a huff.
"Fine. He needs his family. It's for the best."
"No it isn't." All eyes were on me. I gulped. I wanted to look away and avoid eye contact but I was frozen in place. My eyes were locked with The Inquisitor’s. “As of right now, my parents don’t have custody of me. Even if you were to get in touch with them, I can’t go back to them.”
“What?” Culled said in disbelief. “Why?”
“On the eve of my tenth birthday, I nearly died. That was the reason I was removed from their custody...”
“Bethany, it’s time for breakfast!” The young girl mumbled out some sort of noise in response to her father calling out to her. She tried to tell him that she was awake but her voice was barely above a whisper. Luckily for her, she had her Mabari companion by her side. He gave out a bark to let her father know that she was up. He seemed satisfied with that and went to the dining room.
The Mabari looked down at the young girl who was still curled up in bed. He tried to paw the young girl awake but she refused to move from her comfy and cozy bed. “Gimmie a minute Mabs…” She tried to push the war hound away from her but he kept persisting. Finally, she opened her eyes and looked up at the dog in slight annoyance. “Fine. You want me up? Well I’m up now. Stop scratching my blanket. You’re going to ruin the fabric.” The dog barked in response and jumped off the bed and waited for her to follow. She did some stretches before getting out of bed and changing into some fresh clothes. She sat at her vanity and brushed her long brown hair. She watched as the bristles of the brush ran through every strand as they took away the knots that formed overnight. Every time the brush reached the ends of her hair, she watched as they fell on her shoulders.
She sighed as she looked at her reflection.
In the mirror, looking back at her was a young girl who had recently turned seven years old. A young girl who was depressed and nothing seemed to help. Her uncle told her to get outside more. ‘Soaking up more sun will do you some good’. He told her with a smile. He even suggested doing more of her favourite activities which he assumed to be playing with dolls, styling her hair, experimenting with makeup and trying on new dresses. None of those were her favourite activities.
Not even close .
This young girl, half Elf and half Human looked into the mirror. She looked at the reflection of her deep green eyes. The eyes she got from her Elven father. The eyes that reminded her grandmother of emeralds. Those eyes were the brightest green ever seen on and Elf but were so dull. There was hardly any spark to them. There was no joy. No life behind them. They were just empty pools of green but no one could see it.
All people saw when they looked at her was a happy young girl who smiled at everyone. She was the light in the room. Her smile shone brighter than the sun, according to her parents. Her smile . She scoffed at the thought. Her smile was nothing but a mask.
She was a fake .
This happiness that she projected was all a lie. It wasn’t who she was. Inside she was sad and angry and confused . She didn’t know what she was, but she wasn’t the happy little girl her family thought she was.
This isn’t who I am… She thought to herself as she saw her long hair fall around her round face. She was tired. She was tired of this act. She was tired of pretending to be someone that, in her heart, she knew she wasn’t.
She would have brought this up to someone but she was afraid. She was so young. Too young to be going through intense emotions but here she was, struggling with an inner demon. One who was very close to winning and Bethany was afraid. She was afraid that it was only a matter of time before it did win.
Telling her parents about her constant sadness did nothing for her. They didn’t help and neither did her uncle. He just suggested things that she found very hard to do. Find joy in things? How? She couldn’t remember the last time she actually felt happiness. When was the last time she had a genuine smile on her face? It seemed that this darkness inside of her had been with her since birth. It had always been there, for as long as she could remember and she didn’t see it leaving any time soon.
That thought terrified her.
What would happen if she couldn’t get rid of it? What if she became possessed by a demon from The Fade? One must surely be watching her by now. She gave off such a powerful sadness that any demon would want to infest her body. To twist and shape her into a demon too. To corrupt her.
“Bethany?” The voice snapped her from her thoughts. She looked up at the person who had called her name. The name that she never liked but could never explain why . “Bethany, are you alright?”
“I...I’m fine Papa…” She smiled sadly at Mabs when he rested his big head on her lap. She gently stroke the short brown fur on his head and sighed. Her father watched her closely and knew that something was wrong.
“You don’t seem fine. Are you having a slow day?”
“I guess....” She said after many seconds of silence.
“Bethany, how long have you been feeling sad? Do you know what caused it?”
The young girl shook her head. “I dunno. I have always been like this.”
“That can’t be true. You have always been so happy growing up. I’ve hardly seen you frown.”
“Because I don’t let you and Dad see this side of me…” She reluctantly admitted.
This news came as a shock to her father. He never would have guessed that his daughter, his own child would have kept something like this from him. The girl was only seven years old and already she was locking away her true feelings.
“Why would you want to hide this from us?” Concern was plastered all over his face. He reached over to touch Bethany but she quickly moved away. She didn’t want any comfort. She was afraid that she would start crying and if she did, she wouldn’t be able to stop. “”Bethany, please tell me what’s wrong. I just want to help you.” He pleaded.
“You can’t help me… Not with this…”
“Well I won’t be able to help if you don’t talk to me. I can’t read your mind.”
“Even if I did tell you, you wouldn’t understand!” She snapped. Her father was taken aback at this. He had never seen her like this and it worried him.
“Whatever it is you’re going through, I just want to help. You are my daughter and I love you. You don’t have to go through this alone. I want to be able to help but you half to meet me halfway. We can work this out together. Please, tell me what’s wrong.”
Bethany studied her father. He looked into her eyes and waited for her to respond. His eyes were begging her to talk to him. His eyes were full of concern and love. “No one can help me with this… I don’t think even you can… Or grandma… Or Dad… Or uncle Anders… None of my aunts and uncles can help me… I don’t even know what it is…”
“Then tell me how you feel and what you think is causing it. We will work on it from there.” He held out his hands to Bethany and after a second of hesitation, she placed her hands on his. This gesture told him that she was giving in and was ready to talk. She was trusting him to help her. Trusting him with her secrets. She was trusting him with her life with this simple action.
“I… I don’t want you to be mad…” Her voice quivered in fear. Fear of anger and hatred. Fear of rejection.
“Bethany, whatever it is you have to say, I won’t be mad. I could never be mad with you.” He reassured her.
“I promise .”
She took a deep breath and mentally prepared herself. “Well… I… I just don’t feel right. I can’t explain it. I just… I just don’t feel like this is who I am. I just feel wrong. It is like I am in the wrong body… I know I’m not making any sense but it’s how I feel. I don’t feel like a girl . I don’t like dresses or dolls or makeup. I don’t like my long hair. It makes me feel...weird… I almost feel sick looking at myself in the mirror… It’s all wrong. All of it! It’s all wrong ! This isn’t me!” By now the poor girl was in tears. She had never voiced her feelings before now. Not even to Mabs who was usually a great listener. She bottled them up and tried her best to ignore them but the more she ignored, the stronger they grew. With every passing day those feelings grew and grew and now the dam had burst. It was too much to hold back anymore. Tears poured down her cheeks and quickly soaked the collar of her dress. She was just so full of all sorts of emotions that could no longer be contained.
Her father was quick to react. He scooped her up in his arms and held her close. He held her in a tight hug to let her know that he was there for her and that he wasn’t going anywhere. She could cry for as long as she needed to and by the end of it, he was still going to be there.
She cried for a long time. Neither of them knew exactly how long but it felt like an eternity for the little girl and just as long for her father. It broke his heart to hear her cry like that. Sure he had heard her cry before but it was never like this . This wasn’t caused by a little scrape or cut. This was pain . True and raw pain that had been festering for only Maker knows how long. This was the sort of pain that normally affected adults. Not children. It tore at his heart to hear his child like this but he kept it together. He had to for her sake.
When she had finally calmed down, she looked up at her father. He gave her a sad smile then leaned in and gently kissed the side of her head. “It’s alright. I’m here. You’re alright .” He said in a soothing voice.
“Papa…. Do you know what’s wrong with me..?” The little girl looked up at her father with hopeful eyes. He was an adult and her father. Surely he had to know something. He knew all sorts of things.
“I think I do.” Bethany perked up at that. Her eyes were wide with curiosity and joy. Finally . Finally she was going to get some answers. “I believe you are what the Qunari call, Aqun-Athlok.”
“The Qunari? Those bad guys who still haven’t left Kirkwall?”
“Oh, I’m sure not all of them are bad and yes, I am talking about them. They have a term for people who are born as one gender but grow up to live as the other. Aqun-Athlok. From what you just told me, it’s safe to assume that you don’t feel like a girl at all. Do you wish you were born as a boy?”
“Yes…” She admitted after some thinking. “I wasn’t sure how to put it into words before… but yes… That’s exactly how I feel… I’m strange, aren’t I..?”
“What? No! No, of course you aren’t!” Her father held her close and stroked her hair. “You are many things Bethany Hawke but strange isn’t one of them. You are just different and there is nothing wrong with that. Besides, who wants to be like everybody else? I’m certainly not like every other Elf.”
“No. You’re way grumpier!” She squealed with laughter when her father attacked her face with kisses.
“You cheeky little thing!” He said in between kisses. When he retreated his attack, he looked at his child who was now lying on the big bed. She was still giggling as the sensation of being kissed still lingered on her skin. “Bethany, please don’t ever try to become like everyone else. You are unique and I want you to express yourself in any way you want and I will support you the whole way.”
“I promise . Now little one, if you don’t feel like a girl, you are going to need a better name. I’m sure you don’t want to stick with Bethany your entire life.”
“What about everyone else? What are they going to think?”
“Bethany, they are going to love you no matter what. You can expect your uncle Varric to spoil you with new clothes after he hears the news.” Bethany giggled again when her father gave her a few more kisses. “Do you have any names in mind that you might like to go by?”
“No. I never thought about it. I’m only beginning to understand myself now thanks to you Papa.” She sat up and crawled on to her father’s lap. She wrapped her small arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. “Why don’t you name me? I’m sure you’ll pick out a good name. No, I know you will.”
“Well let me think…” He said and looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought. “Would you prefer a human name or an Elven name?”
“Alright. Well, you were named after your aunt so maybe… How about Joseph?”
“Joseph? Is he part of the family too?”
“Yes. Has your father told you the story of The Hero of Ferelden?”
“This is crazy! Absolutely crazy!”
“Love, if you’d just let me ex-”
“Explain? Is that what you were going to say? Explain what ? That my daughter is delusional and thinks she is a boy?”
“Delusional? You dare call my daughter delusional?!”
“This is a messed up thought! Maker knows where she thought of it but it is nonsense! No matter what she does or says, she will never be a boy! The Maker made her a girl so that’s what she is! She can’t change that!”
The child now named Joseph, formerly known as Bethany cowered in fear behind his bed. Even with the heavy oak door closed, he could still hear every word his parents said. They were only a few feet away, down some stairs and standing in front of the fire place as they argued. Every word bounced off the wall and echoed into his room. He tried to block them out by pressing two pillows on each side of his face but it did no good. He could still hear the yelling.
The yelling that never seemed to stop.
It just kept going on and on and on with no signs of stopping. His parents just kept on exchanging harsh words with each other. His Papa tried to defend and stand up for him while his Dad refused to listen and claimed that this was all in his head.
That he was just making this up for attention .
That all of this was a lie .
He didn’t know himself.
He was too young .
Seven is hardly old enough to know yourself .
Joseph cried silently as the fighting continued for the next thirty minutes. By the time everything had quieted down, he was a mess. His whole body shook as he cried. One pillow fell to the ground and he hugged the other close to his chest. It was his lifeline. It was all he had for comfort.
He stayed there, sitting on the cold ground well into the night. He was too shaken to move. Never before had he heard anyone yell like that and the last people he expected to do so were his parents. He was sure that one of them left the house as the front door slammed shut shortly after the yelling stopped but he didn’t know who. It must have been Papa as he didn’t come to check on him after the fight. In fact, no one came to check on the young boy. Not even Orana. He was all alone in his big room, cowering beside his bed. He didn’t even have Mabs.
He looked at the clock and two hours after the fight, he finally got to his feet. His whole body was weak. His legs trembled under his weight. He took a step towards his bed and fell on the soft mattress. He pulled the thick covers over his small body and up over his head. He needed to hide. He needed a place to hide from what had just happened. He needed a place to forget. To escape his home and to go somewhere else.
That night, the boy known as Joseph cried himself to sleep.
And it was like that for many nights after that. There were constant fights which resulted in one of his parents leaving the home afterwards. Some days it was his Papa. Some days it was his Dad but each time one thing remained the same. No one came to comfort him after the fight.
No one thought to even check up on him. All the fights occurred way past his bedtime so he should have been fast asleep. No one thought that he could hear the yelling from his room but he did. He heard his father expresses his disappointment in him and how this would all soon pass so why take it so seriously? He heard how his father said that he would never support this. That he would not encourage such a ridiculous thing.
Joseph heard every word.
Each word stung .
With each word, he lost more love and respect for his father.
His father was not the man he thought he was. He thought he could trust him. He thought his father would always support him no matter what. When he told his father about how he felt, his father said to his face that he would always love him, no matter what and that he was still his child but what he said when Joseph was not around told a very different story.
He couldn’t believe that his father had the nerve to lie to his face. To tell him that he would still love him and support him. Over and over Joseph heard his father say that he would never support this. He couldn’t support him. This was bullshit . How could he support such a messed up thing?
I am messed up.
Joseph told himself this over and over as the fighting continued. It lasted for days, then weeks then months until over a year had past. Joseph was now eight years old and still the fighting continued although it wasn’t as frequent. He was hoping that things were getting back to normal but he quickly found out that there was no more ‘normal’.
There was no more laughter and fun. No more play fights with his Dad. No more laughter when they practiced magic together. The atmosphere had turned tense after that first fight and it never went away. His Papa and grandmother tried everything they could to lighten the mood when his father was around but nothing they did seemed to work. Eventually, Joseph just learned to live with it.
At least he had the support of his Papa, grandmother and uncle Carver but it was hard. Living like this was not what Joseph had in mind when he came out to his family. He just wanted everyone to be happy again but knew that because of his father, that most likely wasn’t going to happen. Not unless he took back what he said and went back to living life as ‘Bethany’ which he didn’t want to do. It didn’t matter that the fighting hurt him. He wasn’t going to hide his true self. He wasn’t going to hide just to make his father happy. His father’s feelings about this didn’t matter.
Life continued for the family.
After seeing how his father reacted, Joseph did not want to tell anyone else. His Papa tried to reassure him that his aunts and uncles would still love him but he said the same thing about his Dad and that didn’t end up as expected. To avoid further rejection and to remain on good terms with the rest of his family, he decided to keep quiet.
“One day I’ll tell them.” Joseph told his Papa. “One day, but not now.”
By the time his ninth birthday passed, things had become a bit less tense. The initial anger had died down but there was still a silence in the estate. A tense silence that seemed to follow Joseph wherever he went. The silence kept him up late at night thinking about everything that had gone on in the past two years.
Joseph found that he had grown up rather quickly during that time. He became more serious and withdrawn. His depression became worse, although he didn’t tell anyone. He just pretended that life was fine. He pretended that he didn’t hear the late night fighting. He pretended not to know about his father’s true thoughts and feelings on the subject. He bottled up these feelings over the years and soon, they became too much for him to handle.
When his tenth birthday drew near, he couldn’t take it anymore. There was yet another fight. This time, the yelling was louder than ever before. He even heard a pot smash and his grandmother scream. Frightened, the young boy pressed his ear to the door and listened. No one had gotten hurt. That scream he heard was just his grandmother’s reaction to presumably, his Dad throwing the pot across the room. His Papa cursed at him. Was his Dad trying to hit him with the pot?
Joseph’s breathing and heartbeat increased. He began to have a panic attack. This was nothing new. They had developed shortly after the first fight and happened quite frequently.
Slowly, Joseph crawled his way over to his bed. His breathing became strained as his lungs refused to take in air. His chest felt tight. His limbs felt weak. He couldn’t even pull himself on the bed. His body just shut down. In seconds he began to feel light headed. His head bobbed around as he tried to hold it up. He scratched at his throat and chest as his lungs screamed for air. He knew what he had to do to make it stop but he couldn’t think at that moment. He was just so scared . His father had never broken anything in a fight before.
Tears quickly soaked his face as the panic attack continued. When the pain in his chest became too much for him to handle, he came back to his senses and took deep breaths to try and calm down. He breathed in and out. In and out. In and out…
He closed his eyes and slumped his head back on the bed as the attack died down. His chest burned with each breath and his face felt cold as the tears dried up. His hands shook violently and his limbs felt weak. He couldn’t even move his legs.
He was a prisoner in his own body.
All he could do was watch the fire as the flames danced and it crackled and popped in the fireplace. The sight was actually rather calming. It helped bring Joseph out of his state and he started to feel more like himself.
When he could finally move again he felt as if he hadn’t used his body in years. Everything felt stiff and a little sore. If his joints could make a sound, they would sound like old hinges on a door.
He got to his feet and made his way over to his vanity. He looked at his reflection and hated what he saw. Because of his father, he had not been allowed to cut his hair so he was stuck with long brown hair. He hated it. The only thing he was allowed to do with it was to grow out his bangs. That helped a little but his hair was still too long for his liking.
He wanted to cut it.
He had to cut it to feel like the boy he was .
In a rage, he picked up a stone bookend from a nearby shelf and used it to break the mirror. The glass shattered and fell on the vanity and the floor. It was loud but Joseph doubted it was loud enough to be heard through the thick door.
He picked up the biggest piece of glass he could find and held it in one hand. He held it so tightly that it cut through the skin. He heard blood drip onto the floor.
Pat. Pat. Pat.
In his other hand, he took a clump of hair and held it out to the side. He held the glass up against it and with a few strikes, chopped off the clump. He let it fall to the ground where it mixed with the small pool of his blood. He ignored the pain in his hand and repeated this process until he had cut his hair down to shoulder length. It was by no means perfect. It was choppy all around but at least it was short. It was no longer down to his hips.
He was free.
Or was he?
He knew that as long as he lived under his father’s roof, he would never be free. He would never be able to be himself. He would constantly have to hide his true self until he could leave the house which wouldn’t be for another ten years, at least. He couldn’t wait that long. He refused to wait ten years.
What point was there in living if you couldn’t be yourself? This was no life for him. This was no life for anyone. If he couldn’t leave then he had to do something . At least this way, he could take what little control he had over his life. This was one choice he could make and it would set him free .
He held the shard of glass up to his wrist. He held his breath and thought for a moment. Was this really what he wanted to do? Was this the best option? It was his only option at the moment. He didn’t want to continue hiding who he was. He wanted to be himself without the rejection and anger from his father. He wanted to be somewhere where he didn’t have to hear fighting. A place where he was at peace. A better place than this.
He took a deep breath and as he let it out, dug the shard into his flesh and dragged it across his wrist. It went deep. Blood gushed out and covered the hand holding the shard. It made it slippery and tricky to hold on to but he didn’t care. He switched hands and repeated the process to the other wrist.
It was horrible but it was also relaxing, in a way. He had been so numb over the past three years. He had forgotten how to feel anything but this… this gave him a rush. It allowed him to feel . He finally felt something .
He dropped the shard of glass and held up his hands. Blood gushed down his arms and onto the floor. It quickly formed a puddle that kept on growing. The patter turned into splats. Soon, Joseph became dizzy as the blood escaped his body. He took a step forward and his knees gave out from under him. He fell to the ground and landed in the puddle of blood.
The last thing he remembered from that night was the sight of the door swinging open and his parents rushing to his side. They were screaming but it wasn’t out of anger. It was fear . They were scared. They were calling out to him, telling him to keep his eyes open and to stay with them. He heard his grandmother screaming as she entered the room. Even in his semi-conscious state, the sound of his grandmother screaming sent chills down his spine.
He felt something being wrapped around his wrists. A cloth of some sort to stop the bleeding then the sensation of being lifted off the ground. Was this it? Was he dying? Was the Maker calling him home? No. His father had lifted him up and now they were rushing out of the home.
Joseph lost consciousness shortly after leaving Hightown.
“I don’t remember much after that.” I let out a long and drawn out sigh. I had never went into detail about my past, not even with the Dalish. It was strange to tell others about what I went through at home. “The next thing I remember was waking up in my uncle’s clinic. He had kept me overnight to monitor me and sent my parents back home. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. He wanted to get my parents away from me so he could question me as to what happened… Had they been in the room, I wouldn’t have said anything and he knew it.”
I finally pried my gaze away from The Inquisitor’s eyes and looked at the fireplace. The flames were dancing around the stone and small sparks flew into the air. The cracks and pops coming from the flames were almost soothing. It made me think back to the times back in Kirkwall, back when the fights broke out... I remembered sitting in front of the fireplace in my room and I would focus on the flames. I would watch them for hours until they began to burn out and all that remained were ashes that glowed red around the edges. When watching those flames die, I felt like the fire inside me was dying with every new fight that broke out...
I sucked in a big gulp of air which stung my whole chest as I tried to control my emotions. I wasn’t done my story yet but the more I remembered, the more pain it seemed to cause me. Both physically and emotionally. The memories stung and my scars burned. It hurt but I knew that if I wanted to escape imprisonment or possibly exile then I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth, no matter how difficult that was...
“I was scared to say anything at first...” I admitted. “I wasn't sure how he was going to react… I thought that maybe he'd be angry at me… I mean…. I did try to kill myself… But no. He wasn't mad. He quickly calmed me down and made sure I was okay before sending word to the Captain of the Guard. A little while later, before my parents arrived, I was taken from the clinic and sent to live with my aunt and uncle. They had an excellent reputation as soldiers who respected the rules so they were trusted with my care as they were capable of distancing themselves from the situation. After I was settled, my parents were informed that there was an investigation into what happened and that they no longer had custody of me… They didn't like it but they couldn't fight in and eventually, months later I was allowed to stay with them for a while during the day but still had to go back to my aunt and uncle's house at night. Six months after I was removed from their custody, I was allowed to stay one full day with them. It was hard and my Dad was pissed with the arrangement but everyone else understood why it had to be that way. My safety was put above all else…”
“Maker…” I heard Cullen say.
“It was that day that I decided to leave. I didn’t have much but I took what I had stored in my room and left sometime during the early evening.”
“How did you leave without being noticed?” The Inquisitor asked curiously.
“I went into my room with the excuse that I wanted to change into more comfortable clothing which worked, much to my surprise. Once there I changed into some clothes my grandmother had gotten me which was nothing more than plain pants and shirt. I then grabbed some coin and my aunt’s staff. I found it in the cellar when I was maybe eight or nine years old and snuck it back to my room. Late at night after my parents fought I used it to practice magic alone in my room. I prefered to practice alone after I revealed my true self to my family...” I sighed. “I escaped my room by blasting the glass of my balcony door then climbed out the window and jumped down into the courtyard. I then climbed over the wall and left the city and made my way to Sundermount… I found the Dalish and stayed with them before making my way to Haven and that’s my story.”
“I’m so sorry…” The Inquisitor said barely above a whisper. “You shouldn’t have had to go through all that…”
“It’s fine I guess… Not everyone is going to have a positive reaction about me. It’s just how the world is and I’ve learned to deal with it… I already had to deal with hate because of my heritage. Getting hate about my gender makes no difference to me…”
“Still, you shouldn't have gone through that. No one deserves to receive hate based on who they are." What happened next was something I didn't see coming. The Inquisitor walked over and embraced me. I tensed up in his arms out of surprise but the shock soon wore off and I started crying. I returned the hug and wept as The Inquisitor held me. I buried my face in the expensive fabric of his shirt and cried out all of my emotions and he didn't let go until my cries turned into small sniffs as I tried to calm down.
"Thanks…" I whispered as he pulled away from the hug.
"I hate to break up this moment," Cassandra said once I regained my composure, "but there is still the matter of custody. We need to get in contact with Kirkwall and find out Joseph's true identity. When confirmed, we will send him home."
" What? No!" I said, partly shouting. "I don't want to go back home! I like it here! I actually have friends here! I have people who care about me and who accept me! I don't want to go back to Kirkwall where I hardly have a support system and no friends to speak off! I can't go back! If you send me back then I'll just run away again and again and again! I'm not staying there! I don't ever want to step foot in Kirkwall again. You can't make me go back!"
"Alright, calm down." Cullen said. "There is no need to get all worked up."
"Cullen is right." I looked over at The Inquisitor as he spoke up. "We will figure something out but in the meantime you need to stay calm."
"Figure something out?" Cassandra sounded shocked. "We know what we need to do!"
"I'm not going back!" I repeated.
The Inquisitor nodded. "Don't worry, we aren't going to send you back." He tried to reassure me but I was still on edge. "We will find a solution to this."
"But the best thing to do is send him home." Josephine said while making a gesture with the hand that held a fancy feather pen. "His family must be beside themselves with worry over him."
"My feelings never mattered back when I lived in Kirkwall so why should theirs matter now?"
"I understand that you're upset but they are your family." I turned to Leliana who stepped forward. She had been pretty quiet up until this point but now she finally found an opportunity to speak. "You have people who are missing you. People who love you."
"You people really don't understand… I tried to kill myself just to get out of that environment! Why would you send me back there even knowing that? I will only attempt it again if escape is impossible and I just might succeed next time. If I am successful then my death will be on your hands because you were the ones who put me back in that position!" I glared at everyone. I was angry that this was even being considered. Going back to that place was the last thing I wanted. I would rather be sent to The Fade then back to Kirkwall. "I'd rather die than go back there so how about you either exile me or let me continue to serve as a soldier so that if I do die, it will mean something."
"That's enough!" Cassandra's booming voice would have made me jump out of my skin but after hearing my father's loud voice yelling at Papa for several years, I remained calm and unfazed. "You seem to forget what position you are currently in. Your fate is up to The Inquisitor and the most logical choice is to send you back home to Kirkwall."
"Kirkwall isn't my home." I said flatly while looking right into her eyes with a serious expression plastered on my face. “It’s simply a place where I used to live. That doesn’t make it my home. A home is a place where you are supposed to feel safe and loved and wanted . I felt none of those in the last few years of living there…”
Cassandra looked over at The Inquisitor and the expression on her face asked the question, what do we do now? ’
The Inquisitor let out a deep sigh. It was the type of sigh that originated deep inside the chest and it was slowly let out through his nose. He looked at each of his advisors as he thought about what to do about this. He thought about it carefully. It was an anxious wait for all of us but most of all, for me. Finally, he made a decision but it wasn’t one that any of us were expecting.
“I will take custody of Joseph. He will live at Skyhold as my ward until we figure out a more permanent solution.”
The room went dead silent. Everyone was shocked. I was so shocked that I momentarily forgot how to breathe.
“Are...Are you serious?” Cassandra asked. She was possibly more shocked than I was.
“Yes.” He replied. “I don’t see why I can’t be his guardian.”
“Inquisitor,” Cullen said, “I understand that you want to help him but I don’t think this is the best idea.”
“And why not?”
“You have too many duties and responsibilities. You don’t need, dare I say, the burden of a child on top of everything else.” He glanced over at me. “Sorry. I don’t mean to say that you are a burden.”
“It’s fine. I understand what you meant.” I gave him a small understanding smile which seemed to help put him at ease. “And you guys don’t really have to worry about me. I’ll be just fine on my own.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that.” Cullen replied almost immediately. “You are too young to go without supervision.”
“Which is why we must get in touch with Kirkwall.” Cassandra said. “Once they confirm his identity and his story we can send him back and they will deal with the rest. I’m sure they will pick up where they left off before he ran away and eventually, if his parents prove to be loving and caring then I imagine they will get custody of him again.”
“I agree with Cassandra.” Josephine said. “Lord Trevelyan, there are important matters that require your undivided attention. There is no need to add the concerns and welfare of a child to the list when they have family just across the sea.”
“We can easily find him a tutor.”
“But it isn’t necessary .” Cullen said. “As much as I would like for him to stay, he needs to go back home, back to where he belongs. We also need to prove that he is telling the truth and if he is then the Captain of the Guard will confirm it.”
“I don’t want to be sent back there and I won’t stop fighting this stupid decision.” I said in a firm voice but I didn’t dare look up at anyone. “And there really is no need to contact Kirkwall. There is someone here at Skyhold who can verify my story… He wasn’t there for most of it but he surely will know all of the details. Find Varric Tethras and bring him here. He will confirm that what I said is true. Trust me.”
“Varric?” Cassandra gasped. She was completely shocked. I actually thought she might have fainted then and there but she didn’t. She didn’t seem like that type of person to me.
“He’s my uncle.” The colour drained from her face and she actually took a step back to help keep her balance. Cullen moved closer to her and got prepared to catch her just in case she actually collapsed.
“Leliana, go fetch Varric.” The Inquisitor said. She nodded and swiftly left the room without so much as a sound. Her footsteps were light and barely made a sound as she walked across the smooth stone floor. She opened the heavy wooden door then she was gone. The Harold then turned to Cassandra. “Are you alright? You look pale.”
“I’m.. I’m fine…” She choked out. She then composed herself and stood up straight like a proper soldier. “This is just so... unexpected… Varric… An uncle..? Joseph, who are your parents?”
“Who they are doesn’t matter. Not anymore... I left them and my past behind me and I haven’t looked back and I never will.”
“But we need to know who your family is.” I could feel her gaze pierce my very soul but I didn’t answer her. She gave an annoyed huff when she realized that I wouldn’t speak and backed down. “It doesn’t matter. Varric will tell us what we want to know about you.”
“Do you think he’ll tell you the truth?” I asked. “How do you know that he’s going to say the truth and not some big made up story? He does have a reputation of making things up as I’m sure you know.”
“That is true but he did tell me the real story of The Champion of Kirkwall and I am quite confident that what he told me was the truth. I have a feeling he will be truthful about this too, if he knows what’s good for him.”
I rolled my eyes. Cassandra was absolutely convinced that uncle Varric had told her the whole truth about my Dad but I knew my uncle better than her. Even when telling a ‘true’ story, he always sprinkled in some lies every now and then. Of course, he said they were minor exaggerations but his minor was my major.
I wondered what he told her. He had published a book about my Dad and his entire story so what more could he have told Cassandra? What did he exaggerate? Did he mention anything about ‘Bethany’? For my safety, he excluded all information about me from the book so maybe he mentioned that Hawke actually had a kid. Hopefully, if he did say anything about me, he left out the name. If word got out about my dead name then Cassandra would definitely put the pieces together and figure out who I am and who my father is which was the last thing I wanted…
We waited for a few more seconds until the door opened up again. I heard the creaking of the wood and old metal hinges as it swung open. I held my breath and looked away. I couldn’t face my uncle. Not yet… I didn’t know what his reaction would be and I was afraid to find out… How mad was he going to be with me? Was he going to yell at me? Tell me how stupid I was? How worried I made everyone? How worried he had been about me?
I soon found out.
When he walked into the room I heard him stop suddenly. I knew it was his footsteps as they were much louder than Leliana’s. Hers were little taps that were barely audible but Varric’s were loud thumps. The soles of his shoes smacked against the stone floor but went silent when he saw me. He couldn’t see my face from where he was but he must have recognized me. He had known me all my life. In fact, he was one of the first people to even hold me just hours after my birth. No matter how much time would pass, he would always be able to recognize me.
“Varric, do you recognize this… young man..?” I heard Cassandra ask but she didn’t get a response. At least not immediately. “Can you please turn to face him. Now.”
I obeyed and heard my uncle gasp. My eyes lingered on the ground before slowly meeting his. His eyes were wide and his mouth agape.
I tried to hide the small smile that beginning to form in the corners of my mouth. It was so good to see him after all these years. I really missed him and seeing him again, all of the memories came flooding back. I remembered the happy memories of spending time with him. I remembered sitting on his lap when I was six and he one of his stories to me. I didn’t understand it as the topic was too complex for my mind at the time but the subject didn’t matter. All that mattered to me was spending time with my uncle.
I loved his stories. He made up so many. As I grew up, he would tell me stories of knights in shining armour saving a princess or fighting a dragon. He would tell me stories of an Elven mage traveling the lands in search of a powerful artifact that would save the world from the Darkspawn.
But despite all of the good memories, there was one that stood out to me. It was one time after a particular nasty fight between my parents I fled the house and found my way to The Hanged Man to see Varric. He was the only one I felt like I could go to at the time. He was far away from the fighting and that was where I wanted to be. I wanted to be as far away as possible from it. I wanted to be far away from my home as nothing good happened there anymore...
I rushed inside the tavern which got some looks from customers as I was only eight at the time but I didn’t care. I ran past them and to the back where I knew my uncle would be. I found him, sitting on a chair reading a book and before he could say anything, I jumped into his arms and cried.
He held me until the tears stopped then got me to explain what had happened. I told him about the fighting and how it scared me. I told him how Dad raised his voice and smashed his fist against a wooden table. The force was so great that it caused small items to rattle against the wood before crashing to the ground.
Uncle Varric gave me some food and water until I felt safe then brought me back home. That memory would always stick with me.
I never told him how I felt, about who I am but he must have known. He would have questioned my parents about the fighting. Why were they fighting? What was it about? And knowing him, what can I do to help? He must have gotten all of the details, if not from my parents then from my grandmother.
“Hey uncle…” I said nervously.
“J...Joey..? Is it… Is it really you..?”
“Joey? Maker… Is that really you..?” Uncle Varric asked in a raspy voice. He looked like he had seen a ghost and in a way, that was probably true. I was sure that everyone back at home must have been wondering if I was dead or not. Of course, no one would want to believe that but after so much time the thought must have crossed their minds at least once.
“So you know him?” Cassandra asked with an eyebrow raised. She looked eager to hear his response.
“Yes…” Uncle Varric choked out. He cleared his throat and I swear, he was trying to hold back tears by blinking his eyes quickly. “Yes, I do. This young man is my nephew.” The room went silent once again and when everyone took a few seconds to process the information, they all looked at me. I bowed my head in shame to avoid eye contact and sighed.
“So you confirm that his name is Joseph?” Josephine asked and he nodded.
“Yeah. It is.” He looked over at me and in his eyes I didn’t see anger like I expected. Instead, he looked sad and disappointed. “Maker... Joey, where have you been all this time and what have you gotten yourself into? Are you in trouble? Inquisitor, whatever you think he did, there has to be a logical explanation for it.”
“No need to worry Varric. We just needed someone to confirm that he does indeed go by Joseph.” The Inquisitor replied. “A soldier had claimed that Joseph was lying about his identity and claimed he was a man when in fact, he was born a woman. We just needed to prove that Joseph wasn’t lying when he told us his name.”
“It is true that Joey was born a girl and lived like one for most of his life,” Varric confirmed and looked at me with a sad smile. “If I had known earlier I would have done more to make him more comfortable…”
“It’s fine uncle... “ I sighed. “It’s better that you didn’t know. Maker knows what Dad would have done if you showed your support for me… He had no problem exploding at Grandma and Papa…”
“Yeah, I heard all about that after you went missing… I’m so sorry you had to go through with that… I can’t believe the things your father did…”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it uncle. It’s not your fault he turned into a total monster.”
“No, but I wish I could have done something… If only I had known…”
I sighed and was about to try and comfort him again but Cullen spoke up. “I hate to interrupt this little moment but Varric, we also need you to confirm Joseph’s age.”
“His age?” Uncle Varric looked at me with wide eyes and I looked away again.
“Yeah… About that…”
“Joseph…” He said sternly. I felt his gaze burning into me and my face flushed. “What did you do?”
“He originally claimed to be eighteen years of age.” Cassandra quickly explained and my face continued to redden.
“Eighteen?!” Uncle Varric exclaimed.
“I only did it because I had no other option!” I said defensively. “I had nowhere to go and I needed to make a living somehow! And if I told people my real age then they would try to find my family and for obvious reasons, I didn’t want that to happen!”
“Maker…” Uncle Varric whispered to himself and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. When he looked up at me, he gave me a look that appeared to be a mix of disapproval and disappointment and shook his head slightly.
“He then informed us that he in fact, not even fourteen.” Cullen added.
“That’s right.” Varric confirmed and gave a slight nod. “His fourteenth birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. Joey, what happened? Why didn’t you come to me or someone else? Did you leave or were you kidnapped? And how did you end up here? Here! In Skyhold of all places! Just… what happened..?”
“You can ask him all the questions you want later but there is an important matter at hand.” The Inquisitor stopped Varric before he could continue or before I could reply to his questions.
Uncle Varric raised an eyebrow as he looked over at The Inquisitor. “Which is?”
“There is an issue of custody.” Cassandra explained and Varric looked a bit surprised but also like he expected such a thing. “We can’t have him running around without a guardian and he does not want us to contact the Captain of the Guard in Kirkwall. The Inquisitor wants to take him in as his ward but I don’t see the need when he has family who must be missing him.”
“I really do think bringing him back home is the best thing but if he’s not ready I don’t want him to be forced.” This answer shocked me. It was completely unexpected. I would have thought that he would want to take me back home the moment he saw me and scold me for running away. Perhaps he would get in some yelling before that but no, that didn’t happen. My uncle was relatively calm but I feared that was just a mask he had on while we were in front of The Inquisitor. Perhaps after this he would explode. While he was talking with the others, I was preparing myself for an angry Uncle Varric. “I’m not sure what he’s told you but he had a difficult home life before he went missing… His father had been trying to work on his anger but with the way things were at the time of Joey leaving, I don’t think his parents would have gotten custody of him for another year or so…”
“So what you are saying is we shouldn’t send him back home?” Cassandra asked in surprise.
“Yes. He will only be sent to live with someone else while being allowed to see his family during the day. I know it’s for the best but maybe we shouldn’t rush to send him back to Kirkwall. He needs time to process everything that happened before he left. If he’s pushed, I fear he will just try to run away again and I can’t stand the thought of losing him again…” He looked at me with the saddest expression on his face that didn’t just break my heart but tore it out of my chest and shredded it into millions of little pieces. “Please Inquisitor, let him decide on his own when he wants to go home. I can’t lose him again. Once was enough for me and I don’t think my heart can take it a second time…”
“I understand Varric. We won’t contact Kirkwall, yet .”
“But then who will take custody of Joseph?” Josephine asked.
“I already said I can do it.”
“Inquisitor, you are far too busy. It simply isn’t a good idea.” Cullen said sympathetically.
“That’s very thoughtful of you Inquisitor but I think I should take custody of him. He is my nephew after all.”
“You? A guardian? I don’t think so.” Cassandra said firmly and dismissively.
“But I’m the only family he has here at Skyhold. It just makes sense.” Uncle Varric protested.
“Umm… Uncle..?” I said quietly. Once again, all eyes were on me. “Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t you eliminated as a possible candidate back in Kirkwall because you are too close to my Dad?”
“Well that was back then but now-”
“If that’s the case then you can’t be his guardian.” Cassandra was quick to interrupt him. She really wasn’t liking the idea, even the possibility of him looking after me. She didn’t seem to like him, period.
“Look, I know I’m busy with my duties but I want to be his guardian. I want to take him in as my ward.” I swear, everyone in the room looked like they were about to have a stroke as they stared at the Inquisitor. “Joseph seems like a very bright young man and if he is my ward, he will get the best education and protection. He can stay here until he feels ready to go back home, however long that may be.”
“Inquisitor, as kind as that is, you don’t have to do this. I appreciate it, I really do but you don’t have to. This is my nephew, if anyone should be his guardian then it should be me. I know I was initially eliminated as a candidate but that was almost four years ago. I don’t see why I can’t be his guardian now.”
“Varric, I understand what you are saying but I want to do this. I don’t mind, really. Joseph, how do you feel about this?”
“Oh, so now my opinion matters?”
“Watch your tone!” I was a bit taken aback when both Cassandra and Uncle Varric said the same thing at the exact same time.
“If you are to become the Inquisitor’s ward then you will need to have a thorough lesson in manners.” I tried so hard not to roll my eyes at Cassandra.
“Fine and as for my opinion, since you finally asked me, sure. If the Inquisitor wants to take me in as his ward then I have no complaints. If it means I’ll be able to learn and practice magic then I’m all for it.” I shrugged. “It will definitely be better than being forced back home. I’m really not ready to go back to that life and not sure I will be any time soon. Also, back when I was placed with my aunt and uncle, I barely had time to practice magic. My studies were more focused on boring things like history and geography and of course, proper etiquette. Talk about boring.”
“Those are important lessons for someone of noble birth.” Uncle Varric pointed out.
“Yeah but I don’t have to like it.”
“That’s true but if you are to be the Inquisitor’s ward then you will need to take such lessons again and they will be more strict than what you are used to.” I sighed. I knew Cullen was right but I didn’t like hearing it. “Even if you are here for a short time, you will need to present yourself accordingly. We can’t have people thinking that the Inquisitor’s ward is a barbarian, after all.”
“Yep. Got it.”
“So I guess this settles it?” Varric asked as he took a quick glance at everyone.
“I suppose so…” Josephine said with a sigh. “Inquisitor, I hope you know what you’re doing...”
“I do. This will be a great way to earn the people’s trust and gain their support.” He looked over at me with a smile and I couldn’t help but return it with a small smile of my own. “I am very aware that many people fear me, with good reason of course, but if I am seen with a ward, especially one as young as Joseph then maybe that will put them at ease.”
“Yes. Yes , of course!” Cullen chimed in like he just had an epiphany. “By taking in a young ward with the goal of providing shelter and protection, you are showing people that you care for the wellbeing of others. It also helps that the boy is an Elf, showing that no matter who he is, you are willing to help him.”
“It’s a win-win situation.” I said. “You get to boost your reputation and get more support and I don’t have to worry about being shipped home and seeing my father just yet.”
“Speaking of which… Varric, who exactly is his father?” Cassandra sounded suspicious and narrowed her eyes as she looked at my uncle.
I saw Uncle Varric’s eyes widen ever so slightly and he looked nervously at me. He looked conflicted. One part of him looked as if he wanted to tell not just Cassandra, but everyone in the room the truth but the other part of him wanted to keep quiet. He wasn’t sure what I told them about my father. He wasn’t sure what they knew about him so if he told them his name then it would cause quite a stir. If word got out then my father’s reputation would be ruined forever. Everything he did in Kirkwall would mean nothing anymore. Everyone he helped would want nothing to do with him and deny ever knowing him and there was no way Uncle Varric could do that to my father. He and Dad were best friends. They were so close they were almost like brothers. There was no way Uncle Varric could betray Dad by telling everyone in the room his name, revealing who this monster was to people who only knew him by his legacy.
Despite my feelings towards my Dad, I knew that he wasn’t a bad person. He just didn’t know how to properly deal with his anger but that didn’t make him a monster. At first, that’s what I thought he was. A monster, but after living with the Dalish my view on him changed. I had discussed my situation with the Keeper who helped me deal with my emotions. She gave me a different perspective and told me that even though my dad was angry, he still loved me. When she first told me that, I scoffed. I found that hard to believe because his actions had told me otherwise but she explained that he wouldn’t have gotten so worked up about it if he didn’t love me. He was just dealing with his own set of emotions which was something I hadn’t considered before. When I looked back at it, I supposed that maybe she was right. She had more experience in life so who was I to question her advice?
Still, after all these years and guidance from my Keeper, I was still mad at my father. I had every right to be mad. Being an adult, he should have known better than to immediately react with anger when he was told about how I felt about myself. I was just a child who was confused about myself and just wanted guidance but instead I got years of hell.
After all this time I finally realized just how shocking the news must have been and difficult to deal with but that’s still no excuse for how my father treated me. I was so young back then. I didn’t deserve to be yelled at and told that I was screwed up. He should have handled himself better… When I last saw him, he didn’t even want to make an effort to understand me…
Before I left Sundermount my Keeper told me that he must have changed by now. His anger must have died down and if I went home, then he would be relieved to see that I was still alive but at the time and even now, I wasn’t too sure. I doubted that my dad had changed which is what kept me from going back when I still had the chance. My Keeper and even some of my clansmen tried to convince me that my Dad had changed and that I should go back home, that things wouldn’t be as bad as I thought they’d be but I didn’t listen to them. Instead, I went ahead with my plans to travel to Haven and now I was at Skyhold and very soon, I was to officially become the Inquisitor’s ward.
“His father…” Uncle Varric’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts and back to reality. I watched as my uncle struggled to find the right words while everyone in the room waited anxiously to hear what he had to say. “His father… Is just some noble from Kirkwall… He’s very popular and everyone loves him which is why I can’t tell you his name. I don’t want word to get out because then his reputation could be ruined… I can’t do that to my best friend. I’m sorry…”
“I understand Varric.” The Inquisitor reassured and Uncle Varric gave him a slight nod in response. “You’re a good friend.”
The Inquisitor gave him a small smile then he and the adults discussed on making me the official ward of the Inquisitor. So many things had to be done. I didn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying at this point. All I got from the talk was that I was now, obviously, free and no longer a prisoner and I needed a room to stay in and not some tent. There was some debate as to where I could stay as I couldn’t share a space with other soldiers. After much discussion it was decided that I was going to stay in a room in one of the towers.
Apparently this was a guest room from the looks of the remains. A few things were still in decent condition including the luxurious bed which was a relief to me. I was going to sleep on an actual bed again! It had been years since I was able to lie down on a soft bed. I couldn’t wait but unfortunately I had to wait until well into the night as that room had to be put back in order before I could even go in it.
Cullen had said that part of the stone wall and roof had caved in as a result from a previous attack on the fortress. Debris had to be cleared out and a temporary patch had to be put in place to protect me from the weather. That room would be put as a priority but it was still going to take hours to finish up so in the meantime, I was free to do whatever I wanted for the day. After I got settled was when lessons were to begin.
I couldn’t wait for that…
Since I was free for the rest of the day I wanted to go explore Skyhold but just as I left the room, I was stopped by Uncle Varric. “Hold up Joey.” He called out and hurried over to me.
“Yeah?” I asked as I turned around to face him.
“Where do you think you’re going? You have so much explaining to do!” I should have expected an outburst from him at some point but he had caught me completely off guard.
“Right… I was wondering when we were going to have this conversation… Let’s go somewhere more private and I’ll tell you everything you want to know…”
“Oh I’m sure you will.” He huffed.
He followed me out of the main hall and towards the training grounds. A few dummies had been set up already for soldiers who were well enough to practice on but so soon after the attack, no one was using them. Many were still recovering or doing whatever they could to help fix up the place. Training was the last thing on their minds at the moment which was good for Uncle Varric and me. We had a nice quiet place to chat without having to worry about being disturbed.
We sat down on the grass and I started from the very beginning. I wasn’t sure how much he was told and even with the information he did know, he didn’t know how things were from my perspective so I felt like I had to tell him every single detail which I did. I told him about when the feeling of being different first crossed my mind then all the way up to when I ran away. I made sure to repeat that it wasn’t an easy choice and that part of me didn’t want to leave but I was afraid to stay. I didn’t want to continue living in that environment so the best thing I could think of was to remove myself entirely and find somewhere else to live. Somewhere I could be myself and be with people who accepted me.
I told him absolutely everything. I left out no details and when I was finished, I cried in his arms. Every time I thought about the past, I couldn’t seem to help but cry. It was all too much for me to handle but every time I told my story, I found it a bit more bearable. It was like a weight was lifted from me with each retelling of it and each time I was starting to understand my Dad’s perspective a little bit more as I thought about the memories.
After explaining my story, I was a mess. Tears were pouring down my face and they quickly soaked my neck and shirt collar. Uncle Varric wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into a strong and secure hug. It made me feel a bit better. He held me until I stopped crying and when the tears had stopped flowing he pulled out a handkerchief and used it to dry my face. “Feeling better?” He asked as the last drop of salty water was wiped off my cheeks. I nodded and took a deep breath to compose myself.
“No need to thank me,” he chuckled. “I’m just doing my job as your uncle. It’s my duty to look after you.”
This brought a smile on my face and I gave him a big hug. He wasn’t expecting it as I could feel him tense up but that only lasted for not even a second. After getting over the shock of the surprise hug, he returned it with an even stronger hug. I felt like he was squishing the life right out of me. Just before he let me go, he kissed the top of my head and told me that he loved me. “I love you too Uncle.” I replied.
We sat together until the sun went down behind Skyhold’s walls. It was still bright out but it was only a matter of time before the sky turned a fiery red as the sun made its way down behind the land and the moon took its place.
With the sun now gone, it was getting a bit too cold in the shade so we got up and went inside to the main hall. A lot of the debris had been cleared out and a table with chairs had been set up in front of the fireplace. The fireplace had been lit and was already warming the area. It was nice feeling the warm air from the fire after being out in the cold.
We sat down at the table, with Uncle Varric sitting at the head and I took a seat to his left. Since we had been busy in conversation for the past two hours or so, he said that he had fallen behind on some work that he had to do but I was more than welcome to sit with him so that’s what I did. I sat quietly as he got busy with his quill in hand, writing letter after letter. I was a bit curious as to who he was writing too but I figured it was to his publisher or someone of importance. That seemed boring to me so I picked up a copy of The Tale of the Champion that he had left on the table and flipped through the pages.
“You reading that again?” I heard Uncle Varric say. I looked at him and noticed that he hadn’t even taken his eyes off his letter writing. “Haven’t you heard that story a hundred times by now?”
“I like looking at the pictures.” I shrugged as I continued to flip through the book. “I find it interesting how you described everyone, especially Papa. He doesn’t wear crazy armor like that.”
“Yeah well I had to protect their identities somehow but back then, Fenris did wear some interesting looking armor.”
“But did it look like that?” I pointed to a picture of Papa even though I knew that Uncle Varric wouldn’t look at it. He didn’t just as I suspected but he knew which picture I was referring to.
“No.” He said with a chuckle. “It was nothing like that but it wasn’t the usual type of armor one would find in Kirkwall. It was some design from Tevinter.”
“But Papa hates Tevinter. Wouldn’t he have changed his armor after arriving in Kirkwall?”
“He just grew accustomed to the style.” Uncle Varric shrugged. “Just because he hates the people doesn’t mean he hates the clothing. He grew rather fond of his armor so he just kept it. I don’t think he came across something he particularly liked in Kirkwall so that’s another reason why he never changed. You know how picky that man is.”
“Don’t I ever .” We both laughed at that. It was true that my Papa was very picky. He usually wore the same clothes throughout my entire childhood. Occasionally he would wear something else but mostly his outfits just stayed the same. When I questioned him about it, he simply said that the clothes were comfortable.
"I bet you're missing him." Uncle Varric said when the laughter died down.
My smile turned into a slight frown and I sighed. "Yeah… I do but I'm still not ready to go home yet… I'm not ready to face them yet…"
"Why not? No one is going to be angry with you. It's perfectly understandable why you left. Your parents will be so happy to see you and to know that you're alright."
"Garrett will be happy too, trust me." He tried to give me a reassuring smile but I could see right through that act. I could tell that he was unsure of how my Dad would react and was only telling me that to try to put me at ease. It didn't work.
"He'll be happy to see Bethany , not Joseph ." I countered.
"Joey," he said seriously as he put his writing quill in the small bottle of ink. He then looked up at me with an equally serious look and clasped his hands together. I knew what was coming. I was about to get a lecture. “It’s been three, almost fours years. Things have changed since you left. Your father has had time to adjust.”
“That’s what he wants you to think…”
“That’s not true. Do you really not believe that people can change?”
“Oh, I know that people can change. Just not my dad…”
“He didn’t try when I was still at home!” I exclaimed. I stood up from my chair so suddenly that I knocked it over. The wood made a horrible noise against the stone floor as it was pushed back before it landed with a thud. I placed my hands on the table, leaned forward slightly and looked at my uncle with narrowed eyes. “If he really wanted to try then he would have done so years ago but he didn’t! He never tried to understand! Not even once! He just kept telling me how messed up I am! Why should I believe that he’s any different now?”
“Joey, please, just calm down.” He also stood up but he did so calmly. He tried to approach me but I backed away before he could reach me.
“No! No, I will not calm down! I can’t believe you would even think that my dad can change! He can’t and he hasn’t! He will never change!”
“You don’t know that! It’s been years since you last saw him! He’s not the same person he was back then!” He replied with a firm voice. “He’s been trying to deal with this the best he can but it’s hard for him! You were his little girl but now you’re his son. This kind of information takes time to process!”
“I get that but he didn’t have to treat me like shit but he still did! I can’t believe you’re defending him!”
“You know what, fine! Believe what you will. I’m not picking this fight.” His tone made me pause. He sounded defeated and tired. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. That was that. Our conversation ended there. He didn’t say a single word after that. He just sat down on his chair and resumed his work like nothing had happened. This actually shocked me. I didn’t expect him to act so normal after that argument but there he was.
I didn’t know what to do after that so I grabbed the book about my father and marched out of the main hall. I walked down all of the steps and when my boots hit the grass I paused. I had originally planned to go to my new room when I remembered that it might not be ready for me just yet. With nowhere to go I decided to go to the tavern. At least it would be warm in there.
When I walked in, I could hear the bard strumming her instrument and singing the song Empress of Fire . It was one of my favourites as I loved how pretty it sounded. I was about to take a seat so I could listen but I heard a familiar voice call out to me. “Joey!” Before I could turn to see the person who had called my name I was tackled in a big hug. “We just heard the news! We’re so glad you’re free!”
“Krem! It’s so good to see you!” I exclaimed and threw my arms around him. “How have you been?”
“I should be asking you that. Were you given enough food in the cells? You look thin. Are you hungry? Let’s get you some food.”
“Krem, I’m fine.” I smiled and gently pushed him away. “Did you guys hear that I’m the Inquisitor’s ward?”
“Yeah! I can’t believe it! Come, sit with us and tell us all about it!” He led me to the back where I found The Iron Bull slouching in a chair and the other Chargers sitting around him like normal people. They all cheered then they saw me and I was pulled into one hug after another.
“Come here!” Bull said when it was his turn to hug me. I rushed over to him and jumped into his arms. He laughed and held me securely against his chest. “Oh, it’s good to have you back!”
“I’m glad to be back,” I replied and not once did I loosen my grip on Bull. “I missed you guys so much!”
“We missed you too kid.” Rocky said with a smile.
“With nothing to do in the cell, it gave me time to think and there is something I want to tell you guys...” I announced when Bull finally put me down.
“Oh?” Bull tilted his head ever so slightly to one side and everyone waited for me to continue.
I bowed my head in shame. I didn’t think I was able to look them in the face but I knew that I had to. I gave myself a second to prepare myself before raising my head up and I glanced around at everyone, making sure to make eye contact with them. “I’m sure word has gotten out by now but it’s best that you hear all of this from me…” I started. “I never told you the full truth of my past and many of the stories I told you are just that, stories . Stories that I made up to pass off as happy memories to make you believe that I had a good life before coming to Haven. I hate my past… I wanted to get away from it… For years, I wished that I had a normal and happy life so I used to spend my days dreaming of what that would have been like. My childhood started off happy but that all changed when I told my dad that I am an Aqun-Athlok… From there, things just went downhill… As I already told you, it got so bad to the point where I had to be removed from my home for my own safety. That happened over three years ago… On the morning of my tenth birthday… My real age is thirteen, soon to be fourteen… My birthday is actually coming up in a few days… I’m so sorry for keeping this from you… I feel horrible for lying but at the time I thought it was the best option… I just couldn’t bring myself to relive my past by talking about it… It is already so difficult just thinking about it... Can you forgive me..?”
“Joey, we aren’t mad.” Bull placed a big hand on my shoulder. My eyes widened when I heard that and I snapped my head up to look at him.
“R-Really?” I stuttered.
“No. Of course not.”
“We could never be mad at you.” Krem added.
“But I lied to you guys!” I exclaimed.
I looked at Bull and he simply nodded. “Yes but we understand why. We all have things in our past that we want to escape from. What matters is you came clean.” Bull pulled me into another hug. This one was gentle. Comforting. Reassuring. Caring. He held my small body carefully in his big arms. “Thank you for being honest with us Joey.”
“I can’t believe my lies don’t bother you…”
“It’s like the Chief said, what matters is that you are being honest with us now. Do you promise to tell the truth from now on?”
“Then there is no issue here. Now, let’s get some drinks, except for you. You get water.”
“I’m alright with that.” We all laughed and spoke for hours. I went into detail about what happened to me back at Kirkwall with my father which was painful but I managed to get through it. I had a big support system all around me so when I began to tear up they were quick to comfort me. I was so grateful to have The Chargers in my life, especially Bull. In many ways, I saw my Papa in him with the way he treated and supported me. He knew just how to comfort me and make me smile.
It made me miss my Papa… and my Grandma… and my aunts and uncles…
But even though I missed them all terribly, the thought of my Dad reminded me why I didn’t want to go home just yet. I still didn’t believe Uncle Varric when he said that Dad had changed. There was no way that he could have changed…
No way at all…
Fortunately, I was brought out of my negative thoughts when Bull’s booming voice started telling a story about how he helped The Inquisitor defeat a dragon. He was really excited as he spoke. It was like a little kid talking about a new toy. I thought it was funny just how obsessed he seemed to be about dragons. I was terrified of them so I couldn’t imagine loving them as much as Bull but its as my Papa always said, “it takes all kinds to make a world”.
When it got late in the night the chatting began to die down. Everyone but us had already left the tavern and gone to bed. Most of The Chargers weren’t even speaking, at least not properly as they were all pretty drunk. I was quiet too but only because I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.
I had my head resting on the rough wooden table in front and was starting to doze off when The Inquisitor himself walked up to me and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “I think it’s time for bed.”
“Is my room ready?” I mumbled.
“Yes, the debris has been cleaned out and there is fresh bedding waiting for you.”
“That sounds lovely…” I sat up in the chair and yawned. The Inquisitor chuckled and helped me to my feet. I was so tired I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to make it up all those stairs but it was either the floor or a nice warm bed. I had to make it.
With The Inquisitor’s help, I managed to make it up all of the stairs inside the tavern. Near the top I did have to lean against him for support and he encouraged me to keep on going. I did and soon we made it to my new room. When I saw that comfy looking bed I gained a sudden bout of energy and rushed towards it where I flopped down, landing with a little poof on the thick bedding. I could hear The Inquisitor chuckle then walk towards me. He carefully removed my boots and I could hear him place them next to the bed.
“Good night Joseph.” He whispered. I tried to respond but I was so tired that I couldn’t even form a word. I mumbled something that he took as a ‘night’ and left the room. The heavy door closed with a thud and not long after I fell into a deep sleep but it didn’t last long.
I woke up a few hours later screaming. I had had a nightmare and it was a really bad one. I couldn’t say what had happened but I knew that I was scared, absolutely terrified . I felt like I was dying. I did see some flashes as I thought about the dream. I saw myself as a young child, back in Kirkwall at the family estate. I was in my room and holding a big shard of glass. I remembered seeing blood but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from but I knew that it had to have been coming from my wrists.
My scars were burning. It felt like they were on fire and they were terribly itchy. I pushed up the sleeves of my shirt and scratched at the scars in a sort of frenzy. I wasn’t really trying to satisfy the itch but to try and erase the memory. I didn’t want to remember anything about that place. I wanted to forget it all. I wanted to forget about my Dad and the painful things he had said to me. I wanted to start over but I couldn't so long as I remembered the past. I hated it. I hated everything about my past.
About my childhood…
That was no childhood… That was no way to live… No one should have gone through what I did... Someone as young as I was didn’t deserve that treatment… Not from anyone, especially my own father… And my Papa and Grandmother didn’t deserve the treatment he gave them. All of the yelling and harsh words…
Just days before I tried to take my life, my Papa was brave and pushed back. I heard him threaten my Dad with a divorce if he kept up his behaviour. That was the one and only time I saw my Dad freeze during their arguments. He wasn’t expecting that and judging from how Papa said it, he knew that Papa meant it. Papa was dead serious with that threat. He would divorce Dad and take me with him and Dad would never see us again. He was completely serious and Grandma supported it.
After that was a period of quiet days. Dad didn’t say much to anyone, especially not to me. He couldn’t even look at me. When I entered the room, he would look away or pretend to be busy. It hurt but it was better than being misgendered and referred to with my now dead name.
I jumped out of bed and went over to one of the doors leading out to the battlements. I pulled it open and left the room. I didn’t even bother putting my boots on. I just wanted to get out and clear my head. I had to calm down. I had to find a distraction. I walked up embrasures and peered over the edge. It was a long way down to the ground… A fall from this height would kill me.
“You don’t want to do that.” I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard that. I thought I was the only one out here. I wasn’t expecting someone else. I turned my head in the direction of the soft sounding voice and saw the young man with the big hat who I saw speaking with The Inquisitor before my arrest.