I always thought of myself as Ascalonian first, and Krytan second.
Both of my parents were Ascalonian—my mother came from a family of Rurikton refugees fallen on good times, my father from Ebonhawke, and I was born there, myself.
Mother had resigned from the Ministry over some quarrel with Minister Caudecus, and hammered in her protest by uprooting the entire family for an extended holiday with my aunt Elwin in Ebonhawke. This was long before the Rurikton gate got fixed on Ebonhawke, so in the off phases, people generally took “going to visit family in Ebonhawke” as a euphemism for something. But Mother being Mother, she headed through Lion’s Arch to the Black Citadel of all places, carved her way through only the gods know what to the gates of Ebonhawke, turned herself over to the Vanguard, and waited for Aunt Elwin to show up and get them released.
She was seven months pregnant with me by the time she arrived, Father and five-year-old Deborah in tow. And two months later, she delivered me there, Father and Aunt Elwin at her side, and Charr siege engines in her ears.
Father always wanted to go back to Kryta, for Deborah’s sake and mine. And during the times that the Rurikton gate got switched to Ebonhawke, when our kin in Divinity’s Reach rushed supplies through, requests for Mother’s return to the Ministry came with them.
She only said, “We need soldiers, not supplies—yes, I know, centaurs—”
“We need to go home,” said Father.
A Charr attack shook her resolve more than he did: one that briefly broke through the walls while Deborah was out walking with Aunt Elwin. But it was Aunt Elwin who convinced Mother that she could do more to help our people in the Ministry than as one more staff against the Charr legions. She accepted the latest offer from the Ministry, this time to serve as representative of the Salma District itself, and we headed—home, to a place I’d never seen.
My father was a Fairchild, a descendant—if collateral—of Duke Barradin himself, while my mother was only a Langmar, and a Langmar of mixed heritage, no less. But Langmar meant nearly as much as Fairchild in Rurikton, where the family had owned a mansion for generations.
When we first arrived, I’d never seen anything like it, for Aunt Elwin’s house in struggling Ebonhawke couldn’t begin to compare to the splendid gardens and shining marble of a mansion in Divinity’s Reach. Even Deborah, her eleven-year-old dignity often stronger than any other feeling, couldn’t help staring around with wide eyes.
Mother, meanwhile, gained a still greater mansion in the Salma District upon receiving her appointment as representative, but she wanted us safe from the politicking and corruption of the Ministry. Deborah and I grew up quietly in Langmar Manor, educated with other Ascalonian nobles by Ascalonian tutors, familiar with every corner of Rurikton and very little beyond it. Deborah chafed at the confinement, but I was a little girl, content enough to spend my days playing and studying with Yolanda, Corone, and Faren, new and lifelong friends.
Deborah joined the Seraph the day she turned twenty.
“I don’t understand,” I said blankly.
“We call ourselves Ascalonians,” she told me, “and that means more than tracing our family trees. You don’t remember Ebonhawke, but those are real Ascalonians, fighting for what they love—like our ancestors fought for what they loved—but we’re happy to boast of their names without doing anything. Captain Thackeray could just sit back and enjoy everything he gets for being Gwen Thackeray’s heir, but he isn’t, and I won’t either. Ascalon is lost, even if Rurikton and the Settlement and Ebonhawke will never admit it, but as long as Kryta stands, we have something to fight for.”
Deborah as a Seraph, solving crimes, keeping order, and skirmishing with the occasional bandit raid, wasn’t half so chilling a prospect as Deborah fighting legions of Charr, so I didn’t say what I thought—as long as Ebonhawke stands, we have Ascalon to fight for.
Deborah’s departure left the whole family scattered: my mother in Salma, my father dead, my aunt and cousins in Ebonhawke, my sister stationed all the way down in Claypool, and some remote relations and I in Rurikton. Mother, still grieving Father and anxious over Debs, decided that at fifteen, I was old enough to come live with her in her Ministry mansion.
I’d felt lonely and restless in Langmar Manor, but I still received the news with very little short of horror.
“You’re going the next district over, not across the world,” said Yolanda.
“I’ll take a house in Manor Hill too,” Faren said recklessly, “and we’ll have amazing parties.”
Faren being Faren, he actually did, aided by his father’s relief at him showing interest in something beyond Rurikton high society—even if that thing was only Salma high society.
My mother kissed me when we arrived, and with a smile, told Faren, “It’s a pleasure to know you’ll be keeping my girl company, and of course, just to see you—you’re looking so well!”
We spent those early weeks exploring Salma, curious and cheerful despite ourselves, suppressing giggles as we followed a dour guide about the district.
“Orr was destroyed,” the guide was saying, “Ascalon was ravaged by the Foefire; only Kryta is left, and that by a narrow margin.”
“Ascalon was ravaged by the Searing,” I said sharply, all laughter gone.
Nobody would call Faren a great wit, but when it came to conversation and society, his instincts were impeccable.
“You must have gotten the order confused, good sir—the Searing came first, the Foefire when everything was already wrecked—but a simple mistake, I’m sure—you were saying something about Kryta?”
Biting back the first words that came to my lips, I forced myself to smile and say, “Sorry, it's just that we’re Ascalonian.”
“I guessed,” said the guide.
I suppose I was a callow, coddled creature in those days, spoiled if never malicious—and though three years of even more luxury in Salma didn’t change that, a single letter did.
To Minister Ailoda Langmar,
I regret to inform you of the loss of Falcon Company in a centaur raid. Your daughter, Sergeant Deborah Fairchild, died honourably in battle.
With my deepest condolences to you and your family,
Captain J. Tervelan of the Seraph (Queensdale)
As Mother staggered backwards, I caught her, and somehow afterwards, that was always the clearest memory: her weight in my arms, the letter falling out of her hand, fluttering downwards until it reached the floor, nothing visible but the seal of the Seraph.
Until then, I’d been little more than an irritable butterfly, but with Mother shattered, I found myself willingly shouldering the work of mourning: the formal letters and heartbroken notes, the refusal of Deborah’s pension, the visits from friends and allies and enemies—I was warm and grateful to the Mashewes and Baroness Jasmina; coldly civil to that ass Zamon, whose commiseration fell little short of gloating; brave and dignified to Corone and his friend Edmonds; grieved but composed with Faren and Yolanda. Like a creature of a thousand faces, I sometimes thought in exhausted moments: not at all a proper Ascalonian hero, more Anise than Deborah—but it was the only way I knew to be strong.