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From Ashes

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Tomyris Cousland was nothing like the rest of her family. Even for a lady of Ferelden, she mostly abhorred dressing up in fancy silks and brocades for the salons that her parents insisted upon every now and then. She would have much preferred to be in the training grounds with the knights, striking at a straw training dummy with her patented twin-bladed style.

Even now, despite wearing a fine dress in Cousland blue, she felt very uncomfortable. But Mother had insisted, and when Eleanor Cousland wanted something, she would get it, and damn anyone who tried to stop her. “You’re not going with Fergus, dear girl,” she had said, “there’s no need for you to be in armor. After all, you’re going to be running the house while your father is away. What teyrn would run their estate in armor?”

Still, Tomyris had won herself a small victory. While Mother had wanted her to let her long, red-brown hair flow freely, she insisted upon wearing it tied back, and rather shockingly, the elder Cousland had acquiesced.

And yet it made her feel no better upon seeing her father’s guests. After Bryce had called her to the main hall, she was met by two men: Arl Rendon Howe of Amaranthine, and Ferelden’s Grey Warden-Commander, Duncan. The Warden was a pleasure to meet. He seemed a fine man, one of honor and duty. Howe, however, was someone she never liked. Even from a young age, she knew that Howe essentially saw her as a way to lay claim to the teyrnir, a finger for his son Thomas to place a gold ring upon. To her eyes, Rendon Howe was a slimy, ambitious toad, regardless of the history of friendship between Father and he.

Bryce had given her one final request prior to his leaving her in charge: find Fergus and inform him that the men of Amaranthine were delayed in their march to Highever. The men of Castle Cousland would march ahead of schedule, and meet King Cailan’s men in the ruins of Ostagar before Howe’s troops joined them there. Before that, however, she was stopped again by an intrusion of sorts: Ser Roderick Gilmore.

Tomyris had known Gilmore for years, since they were children. His father was a minor bann associated with the teyrnir, and hoped that his son serving as a knight would build his station amongst Highever’s lords. She often thought that the poor boy was sweet on her, much to her chagrin. Still, she was fond of him, as one would be an old friend, and when the (admittedly rather dashing) young knight told her that her prized hound was in the castle larder...again, and that Nan was furious, and threatening to leave...again, she had to do something about it.

Sure enough, Ned was in the larder, but not raiding it as Nan had assumed. Instead, he’d managed to track a small herd of Korcari giant rats inside, and was trying to chase them off. With a little help from Gilmore - who commented on how close such things were to old fairy tales - they managed to drive them back, and successfully avoided a lecture from Nan in the process.

Gilmore returned to his duties, and Tomyris moved on, along with Ned this time. Eventually, she came across a group of three ladies and two men, most of whom she recognized.

The older woman in pinks and purples was her mother, Eleanor. In surprisingly drab-looking yellow, brown and grey was Lady Landra, the wife of Bann Loren. Close by was an elven woman with braided blonde hair that covered her ears, and beside them both was a man in orange and purple brocade; Landra’s son, Dairren.

Standing in the center of the group, however, was a man with dark, messy hair and a closely-trimmed beard, clad in a brocade of primarily blacks and greys. This man was Endrew, a somewhat curious man who Bryce had apparently met and befriended during one brief visit to Orlais. He claimed to be a minstrel, but Tomyris had never seen him with a lute, and the one song she had heard him sing was addled by drink...and was not very good. Still, she liked him well enough, even if it was solely because, like her, he didn’t seem to care much for courtly behavior.

“Ah, there you are, my daughter,” Eleanor was saying. “I told you the dress was a good idea.”

“I’m still not sure I agree, Mother.” Tomyris sighed, crossing her arms and cocking one hip. “It seemed to catch the arl’s eye a bit too much.”

That got a scowl from her mother, a wry smile from Landra, and a titter of laughter from Endrew, Dairren and the elf.

“Oh, come now. Thomas is a fine man, and an honorable knight. I understand he is already in Ostagar.”

“Yes, and if the rumors are true, he’s trying desperately to place his head firmly within King Cailan’s--”

Eleanor let out a noise, and Tomyris cut herself off, giving Endrew a sly grin as she did so.

“Perhaps we should let you all continue?” Dairren said in a diplomatic tone, clearly more interested in moving things away from this awkward moment...and likely knowing full well that his mother was likely going to try and bring up the possibility of his marrying Tomyris again.

“Oh, of course,” Landra replied, giving the elven maid a smile and nodding to Endrew before saying her farewells to them all, the maid and her son following behind.

“Well…” Endrew let out a sigh to break a tense moment of silence. “I think that went rather well.”

Eleanor’s sigh was one of slight frustration. “I have no idea what Bryce sees in you, boy.”

“Something he likely craves, your Ladyship. A break from the monotony of Ferelden’s vastly political world.”

The older woman rolled her eyes. “At any rate, darling…” She turned to Tomyris now, placing a hand on her arm. “Shouldn’t you be speaking to Fergus right now?”

“I was planning to, but Ned got into the larder, there were giant rats, and now I’m here.”

Ned barked and wagged his tail, clearly happy with his escapades.

“Giant rats?” Endrew looked incredulous. “Are you sure you weren’t just imagining things?”

“No, they were definitely rats that were giant.”

“Hmm...ah, well. Perhaps my years of telling tales in the courts of Orlais and the Free Marches have poisoned my views on reality. After all, literally every story in the Knights of Neverbrumal chronicles begins with giant rats. I’d have thought that Guyeks would have had more originality.”

Tomyris smiled, while Eleanor rolled her eyes once again. “Darling, Fergus is in his room upstairs,” the teyrna explained, returning the conversation to business. “Saying goodbye to Oriana and Oren, no doubt. Go tell him what’s happening.”

“Of course, Mother,” she sighed.

Eleanor suddenly grabbed her daughter tight and hugged her. “You know I love you, darling, yes?”

“O-of course I do. What brought this on?”

The grip was loosened and Eleanor pulled back slightly. “Nothing, nothing at all. I just...something about all this”

“Mother, we’ll be fine. Father and Fergus will be beside the King and the Grey Wardens when they defeat the darkspawn.”

“A tale the bards will speak of for generations to come, my lady,” Endrew chimed in, a smile on his face and sincerity in his eyes.

She smiled. “Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps I’m fretting more in my old age. Go on, then, darling.”

Tomyris smiled, hugged her mother once more, and went off to find her brother.

That night, Tomyris had a visitor in her quarters. The elven girl who had been with Lady Landra. Alone. In nothing but a robe, which she quickly dropped.

The conversation was brief, but informative. She said her name was Iona, and that she had heard of Tomyris’...proclivities from a certain handsome minstrel.

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to kill Endrew for this or to kiss him.

Hours later, both women were awoken by noise, both outside the room and within. Thumping noises beyond the stout wooden door, and a dull growl coming from Ned nearby.

When Iona, still nude from their tryst, went to open the blasted open, and an arrow sailed inside, catching itself in the girl’s throat and sending her to the cobblestone floor...dead.

Instantly, Tomyris’ mind clicked into action. An armored man entered the room holding a dagger, moving to strike at her...and she grabbed his arm, slammed her knee into the elbow and forced him to drop the blade. In a swift motion, she bent down to grab the weapon even as the man tried to recover from the pain in his arm...but it was too late for him. The Cousland woman had his dagger, and was ramming it through his neck and out the other side.

Outside the room, there was the sound of another stabbing, a gurgling and a collapse of a formerly living body on the floor, followed by a bow clattering against stone. Footsteps followed…

...and they belonged to a familiar man with black hair. Endrew.

For a moment, she didn’t recognize him. Gone was the fine but weathered doublet, replaced instead by worn, black-colored leather armor, a dagger at his back and another in his hand. Both the armor and the dagger in hand were stained red with fresh blood.

His gaze went to Iona first, naked and dead, before moving to the former assailant, and then to Tomyris, bloodied and disheveled, her naked frame having spots of blood on it. He winced and looked away politely.

Tomyris rolled her eyes. “Oh, you’ve seen worse than this.”

“Just get dressed, will you?” the man muttered, at which point she noticed something. His jovial nature was gone, replaced by one of surprising seriousness.

“What’s gotten into you?”

“Well, I tend to not be very happy when someone decides they’re going to try and kill me in my bed.”

“ as well?”

Endrew put his dagger on his back and tossed something he’d leaned against the door into the room, something she hadn’t seen when he came in.

It was a shield. A shield marked by the symbol of a bear. The emblem of Amaranthine.

“Like I said, dress, grab your armor, weapons, whatever you need.” Endrew’s tone was dripping with a sudden gravitas. “Howe means to kill us all.”