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From Ashes

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Tomyris dressed herself in a hurry, grabbing her nicked longsword and belting it onto her armor - the plating a dark iron, padding Cousland blue - before joining Endrew in the familiar hallway...though what she saw was far from familiar.

Scattered across the room were several bodies, some in the armor of the local guard, others who presumably were Howe's men. Blood adorned the cobblestones and carpets, a mess the likes of which she had never seen before.

Endrew stood rather passive, his bloodstained face a mask of an...oddly off-putting seriousness. He had his arms crossed over the black leather of his armor, looking at the bodies that he had presumably placed there.

“What did you mean, Howe means to kill us all?” Tomyris’ voice was almost plaintive, as if demanding an answer she could comprehend.

“I’ve read the stories before, and apparently so has Howe.” There was that dark tone again, a chill running down her spine as she heard it.


“Orlesian tragedies. La Duchesse et sa Garde comes to mind, actually.” After seeing the obvious confusion in her eyes, the minstrel sighed and uncrossed his arms. “It’s an old tale, one where a duchess falls in love with one of her guardsmen. A forbidden tryst, as is often the case in those horrible things.”

“I still don’t understand what that has to do--”

“The tale ends with an old ally of the duchess betraying her in the dead of night, sneaking his men into her chateau and slaughtering everyone in sight, laying claim to the duchy himself. The guard is killed trying to save her, and she...well, let’s just say Orlesian playwrights don’t want their female protagonists having noble deaths.”

It took a few moments for Tomyris to wade through the rhetoric to find Endrew’s point. “So...Howe deliberately delayed his men so Fergus would march and leave the castle unguarded?”

“Or at least have the bulk of the men gone, yes. As good as your knights are, my Lady, I rather doubt they could stand up to an entire army alone.”

Just then, they heard the slamming of a door, followed by the clinking of armor. Both of them instinctively reached for a blade, but then…

“Darling! You’re alright!” Lady Eleanor Cousland, clad in heavy armor, rushed into the room and caught her daughter in an awkward hug, made so by their mutual armored states.

“Good to see you’re alright, messere,” Endrew smiled slightly, bowing to her.

Eleanor regarded him for a moment and, to Tomyris’ surprise, she didn’t see the usual exasperation in her gaze. More...begrudging respect. “I assume you awoke my daughter, minstrel?”

“More that the attack and the murder of her lover did that, my Lady, but...yes, I can take some credit.”

“Then thank you. It is fortunate Bryce brought you here, after all.”

“Speaking of Father,” Tomyris interjected, “where is he?”

“He stayed up with Duncan and Howe last night,” the teyrna replied. After a moment, fear began to cross her face. “Wait...if Howe is attacking, then…!”

“There’s a chance the teyrn is in danger,” Endrew finished the thought grimly. “Though from what I know of Ferelden’s history, I doubt it takes something as petty as this to kill Bryce Cousland, my Lady. The man fought the Orlesian army and won, remember.”

“I know, but still--”

“Mother.” Tomyris cut off the thought before Eleanor could speak it aloud. “We’ll find him.”

Endrew nodded as he moved towards the door. “My Lady Eleanor, do you still have your treasury key?”

The teyrna blinked. “Yes, but...why do you--?”

“Your husband told me, though I never asked for nor did I ever intend to use said information. That’s where you keep the Cousland family blade, yes?”

“ you think that…?”

“If I’m right, Howe would love nothing more than to hold the Cousland family sword as proof of his right to rule Highever.”

Eleanor’s expression immediately hardened as she pulled her sword from its sheath, bulling past Endrew and heading out the door, not stopping her pace as she beheaded a Howe soldier as he made an attack.

“...Remind me to never annoy your mother that much,” Endrew sighed, drawing his daggers and following behind.

Despite the grim circumstances, Tomyris smiled as she drew her sword.

The castle was a mess. Burning rubble and bodies lay strewn everywhere, Howe’s men were killing soldiers and servants alike in their bloody coup...and worse, as they moved through the grounds, they found many bodies they recognized.

Fergus’ wife and his son, Oren. Lady Landra. Old Aldous the tutor. Dairren. Nan, Tomyris’ former maid turned castle cook. All dead at Howe’s hands.

Just as Endrew had predicted, Howe’s men were attempting to bash down the door to the treasury. The three of them - four, including Ned - wasted little time in attacking.

In a flash, Endrew opened the skirmish by drawing a knife from his belt, tossing it expertly towards a crossbow-wielding soldier, the blade lodging itself in his throat. Eleanor parried a sword swipe with her own blade, bashed her attacker in the face with her shield and buried her weapon in his stomach. Tomyris dodged the slow swings of a knight wielding a war-hammer, cutting at his legs before slicing off his arm with surprising ease, ending the attack with a swift kick to his jaw.

The treasury was, luckily, untouched. From it, Tomyris retrieved the Cousland family sword and belted it beside her own weapon, on her back as she often did. Endrew, meanwhile, after briefly conferring with Eleanor about whether she would allow it, replaced his old and scarred iron daggers with a pair of fine-looking Orlesian blades, steel engraved with what appeared to be - though probably wasn’t - gold filigree. When Tomyris asked what the filigree said, Endrew replied, “ Que l'ambition ne vainc jamais son humanité . May ambition never overcome one’s humanity. Ironic, in times such as these.”

Armed as they were, the group burst into the main hall of Cousland Castle, only to find knights led by Ser Gilmore struggling against more Howe troops. Timely intervention from Tomyris and her band managed to keep losses at a minimum, however.

Once the last soldier fell, Gilmore immediately began barking orders like a seasoned general. “Go, now! Man that gate! Make sure no more of those bastards make it inside the castle!” He then turned to them. “Your Ladyship, my Lady, Master Endrew! Thank the Maker you’re alright! I thought Howe’s men were going to get through!”

“They did get through, Gilmore,” Tomyris responded, panting slightly from the recent exertion.

“Though I doubt they expected the ladies of House Cousland to be so formidable,” Endrew smiled slightly, his words briefly lightening the mood in the room.

“Ser Gilmore, have you seen my husband?” Eleanor pleaded.

“When I last saw the teyrn, he was with the Grey Warden, and they were headed for the servant’s entrance in the kitchen.”

“The Warden?” Endrew looked surprised. Apparently he didn’t know everything going on in the castle after all.

Tomyris turned and tilted her head. “Yes, Duncan. Warden-Commander of Ferelden. He was here to scout Ser Gilmore, though…”

“...yes, I imagine that’s the last thing on his mind at this point.”

“We must hurry and find Bryce!” Eleanor fretted. “Ser Gilmore...Maker watch over you.”

Gilmore looked down. “Maker watch over us all.”

As Eleanor, Tomyris and the ever-obedient Ned filed out of the room, Endrew stayed behind and clasped a hand on the knight’s arm. “Roderick. You get out of this. Alive. Understood?”

He blinked. “Y-yes, Master Endrew.”

The minstrel smiled. “Good. Because though Tomyris is rather...choice about the company she keeps, I doubt she’d enjoy knowing you died a hero. She’d much rather you live a friend.” With those words, he drew his blades once again and ran back into the fray.

Sadly, they were too late. When they finally reached the servant’s entrance, Bryce was waiting for them...sat on the cold, stone floor, blood seeping through his fingers as he clutched a wound in his side, wincing with every breath. “ all are. I was...wondering when you’d get here.” His tone would have been almost joyous were it not for the obvious pain.

All three humans rushed to his side and took turns in asking what had happened. Bryce couldn’t tell them that Howe had attacked himself, but he knew that the man was behind it, even if solely by his rather squirrely behaviour over their strategy meeting.

There was, perhaps, news that was even more grim. Bryce’s wound was fatal, and he knew it. He told his wife and daughter to flee as soon as they could, leave him be. They wouldn’t hear of it, even as the teyrn told them he would slow them down.

“I’m afraid the teyrn is right.” The voice was familiar to Tomyris. She turned and, in something of a shock, saw Duncan, his resplendent armor caked in blood, a sword in one hand as he walked into the room. “I was too late to save him from his injury, but I did all I could to bring him here.”

Endrew stood up and gave Duncan a brief, quizzical look. As the Grey Warden met his eyes, the minstrel began to speak in a low tone. “ El Rey necesita saber sobre esto .” (The King needs to hear about this.)

For Duncan’s part, he was shocked to hear the language which, though more common in Antiva than his native Rivain, he still knew and recognized. “ Si. Aunque todavía está en Ostagar mientras hablamos .” (Yes. Though he is still at Ostagar as we speak.)

Endrew just gave a wry smile. “ Entonces quizás deberíamos ir allí nosotros mismos, ¿no? (Then perhaps we should go there ourselves, no?)

Duncan simply nodded before looking at the sight of the Cousland family, such as they were. Bryce, a bleeding mess. Eleanor, her minimal makeup running down her cheeks from tears. Tomyris, desperately trying to convince her parents to get up and flee.

The Warden-Commander knew what he had to do.