"The Queen of Ferelden is worst member of Grey Warden Order, but the best Grey Warden."
- The First Warden's comment on Hero of Ferelden
Physical Appearance Edit
Elissa was a slender woman, stood 5’4’’ (163cm) height as an adult, with fine-muscled, long limbs. She inherited many of her mother’s physical features, including her pale skin tone, small and delicate hands, an oval shaped face, a small, straight nose, and rosebud lips. Her eyes, however, had the same steel blue color like her father, and countless Couslands before him.
In her childhood, she had sunny blonde hair which later deepened into a honey-blonde hue that was mixed with a sheen of brown. She kept long hair that almost extended to her waist after she came into age, but after fleeing from her home, at Warden Commander Duncan’s suggestion she let him cut her hair short, into a boyish hairstyle which only entended to ear level. She didn’t adopt a long hairstyle again until well after the Blight, though she did twist her hair into bun and braid during those years.
She was considered good-looking as a child, though her mother was constantly annoyed the other Teyrn’s child, Anora Mac Tir, outshined her daughter in every aspect. It’s only during her later adolescence she grew up into a stunning beauty that her contemporaries generally acknowledged as prettier than Anora, a fact inevitably fueled the rivalry between these two young women.
Due to long years of dancing training, she had an excellent sense of balance. Combined with her ambidexterity, it helped her develop herself into one of most formidable duelist in her time. Despite her prowess in combat, she still received several serious wounds that left marks on her body. During Arl Howe’s treacherous attack on her family’s castle, one of his soldier managed to cut a deep wound in her right arm before being pinned down by her mabari. Duncan treated the wound with healing poultice, but without healing magic the gash couldn't be healed properly. Only after a week, when they arrived at Circle Tower, there came a healer to address the issue. By that time, however, it’s impossible to prevent a quite visible scar from developing. The scar would remain with her for life. At Battle of Ostagar, she was hit by three darkspawn bolts on top of Ishal’s Tower. One hit her chest. Fortunately, it only marginally pieced her skin after penetrating her armor. The other two bit deeply into her waist and thigh. Only with much effort could Flemeth remove their barbed heads. They still left behind scars, but due to Flemeth’s powerful healing spells, those scars were not very discernible, and eventually faded all together.
Even as a child, Elissa was already headstrong and willful. She had difficulty to follow any authority but that of her own. She ceaselessly rebelled against her mother, who vainly tried to shape her daughter into a “proper, well-mannered” noble lady. Her father’s indulgence of his favorite child certainly didn’t help.
Her fraternity with her father’s long-years friend, Rendon Howe, Arl of Amaranthine, brought a tint of his cynicism and darkness into her character. Both were haughty, inclined to over-confident, self-congratulatory. They despised the nobility as whole, and certain members of that group in particular (e.g. Mar Tirs for their humble origin, Kendells for presumed being "clueless", and Wulffs for being a clan of hillbillies), but the arl and his young apprentice reserved their best scoff for King Cailan, of whom they shared a very low opinion. The duo carefully hid their spite in front of Teryn Bryce Cousland, Elissa always played the role of the sweet, obedient youngest child. Bryce never suspected his beloved daughter caught those questionable tastes from his best friend, thus dismissing his wife’s such worries as unfounded.
Howe’s betrayal hit her like a thunderbolt. Infuriated that he could choose her as a target to eliminate, her anger was further fueled by Duncan and Cailan’s plot to conscript her into Grey Warden. Her fury knew no bound, the revenge against who wronged her became the sole reason for her existence. From then on she showed little mercy or tolerance to herself and none to her enemies. Only because of her friendship with Alistair, Katalina Tabris and Leliana saved her from falling into same depth as Rendon Howe. Her lover served as the last defense of her conscience, Tabris reminded her of her former innocence, and Sister Leliana let her believe even those people surrounded by perpetual darkness of the fate, like herself , could still expect and get salvation, as long as she is still willing to reflect her own actions.
Talents and SkillsEdit
Elissa was a woman with many talents. Accomplished dancer, master swordswoman and duelist, shrewd politician, cunning diplomat, gifted strategist and deadly poisoner … She plays those roles with equal ease.
Elissa received her preliminary dance instruction from age of four. Starting with age of seven, the formal training program began. Originally it just provided her an excuse to escape the hated embroidery lessons, but gradually she began to develop a passion for dance that lasted her entire life. With a flexible body and a quick mind, the young girl could easily master a dance style in weeks which other children needed months to practice. Her sense of rhythm and pacing was uncannily accurate, often shocking her instructors.
The dance training prepared her way to become a swordswoman. Because her mother refused to teach her martial arts, her father, half proud and half amused, recommended his friend Rendon Howe to train his young daughter. Howe the decorated veteran scout taught her the fighting style that served him well in the Fereldan Rebellion, which emphasized the importance of first strike and strived to avoid unnecessary follow on strikes as much as possible. Not a single ounce of energy should be wasted in striking an already crippled enemy needlessly. What vital was to subdue an enemy with as less physical effort, noise and time as possible. Eventually Bryce Cousland also hired other instructors to teach Elissa other martial skills, notably duelist skills. Howe sneered at that, because dueling with an opponent in an open, honorable way was against everything he believed. Ironically, his last fight was exactly dueling his vindictive former apprentice, in which he was taught a lesson that came too late: Never to cross Elissa Cousland.
Her mergence with a powerful fade spirit truly released her full potential as a fighter. Augmented with fade energy, she could develop a fighting style similar to the legendary arcane warriors, which allowed her to move or strike at nearly double speed as before (and even at triple speed for a short time). Besides, she had the quick reflex to fully exploit her newly acquired speed. The result was devastating for her enemies. “The Grand Melee of Landsmeet” was the most (in)famous example of her "Dance of Death”. In front of gathered nobility of Ferelden and their disbelieving eyes, she displayed her undisputed superiority in combat by mortally wounding Loghain Mac Tir in just several seconds and killing nearly twenty of his veteran soldiers single handedly in less than five minutes, usually with only one sharp, fatal strike.
Elissa was also eloquent with calligraphy. She was ambidextrous, but left hand was her main hand. She could write with three different handwriting styles fluently. The first one was the elegant lady style that favored by well educated noble women. She wrote that with her left hand. The second one was a more formal “court” style with her right hand. The third was a wild, nearly undecipherable scrawl with her left hand. She only used this style to communicate with several closest friends, like Morrigan or Astraea. She could also do mirror writing in a seemingly impossible fast speed.
Childhood during King Maric's reign Edit
Elissa Cousland was born in later summer of 9:12 in her family’s ancestral stronghold, Castle Highever, as the second child of Teyrn Bryce Cousland of Highever, and his wife, Eleanor Cousland (née Mac Eanraig). Because she already had an elder brother, initially she was not expected to inherit her father’s title and land. Thereby her early education was more focused on those skills considered as indispensable for a noble woman, whose duty was to serve as future wife of a noble lord. Those skills included dancing, calligraphy, embroidery, or playing instruments. Unlike her brother Fergus, she didn’t receive combat training from earlier childhood. Despite her mother was a renowned sea raider in her time, she forbad Elissa to learn how to sail for fearing the young girl’s fair skin could be damaged if she was exposed under the sun for extended time.
Her parents often had different plans for her future. Teyrna Eleanor was determined to cultivate her into a refined noble lady that could catch a good marriage for herself as well as for House Cousland.
For a time she fixed her gaze on Crown Prince Cailan, who was seven years older than her daughter. But soon it became obvious Maric already reserved the position of future queen for his closest friend Loghain Mac Tir’s daughter, Anora. Eleanor didn’t abandon her ambition for Elissa immediately, because Anora was two years older than Cailan, but eventually she had to concede her daughter stood no chance. Loghain brought his daughter to court in 9:10, Dragon, so Anora and Cailan were effectively raised together. They had a bond another woman couldn't hope to invade.
The teyrn himself had far more indulgence for his favorite child. He promised Elissa could marry for love, as long as the choice was not too scandalous.
The first time Elissa’s marriage was seriously discussed was exactly the first time her parents bought her to another great lord’s castle. The family visited Castle Redcliffe, House Guerrin’s seat in summer of 9:19, when Elissa was barely 7 years old. At that time Alistair Theirin, the bastard son of King Maric under care of Arl Eamon, was 9 years old, the arl decided he couldn’t keep his ward in the stable and pretended he was just a nobody much longer. He invited Couslands to his castle and casually revealed Alistair’s true identity to Bryce and Eleanor, before implying a secret betrothal between him and Elissa. The Couslands understood this was Eamon’s contingency plan to ensure House Guerrin’s prominence if anything happened to Cailan, they also understood this was his subtle offer that House Cousland was welcomed to share power with him. Teyrna Eleanor still persuaded her husband to reject the proposal, nonetheless, because it would bring too much political risk. Besides, she didn’t like the idea that Loghain’s daughter could marry the crown prince, while her own daughter was only worthy of a bastard, regarding that as an insult. This was the first time future monarchs of Ferelden actually met themselves. Alistair remembered that occurrence right to the day they met again, 11 years later. After this fruitless negotiation, Eamon sent Alistair to a monastery in the Bannorn the next year, according to the wish of King Maric.
Then came an interlude as a series of negotiations were held to betroth Elissa to Cyril de Montfont, the only son and heir of Duke Prosper de Montfont, uncle and the most powerful and important supporter of newly crowned Empress Celene I of Orlais. Both Celene and Maric saw potential advantages of this union, as it could serve as first step of reconciliation of two nations. For Couslands, that could bring lucrative business opportunities, as well as a solid future for their beloved daughter. But the negotiation inevitably lagged due to potentially strong objection from nobility on both sides. Beside, Duke Prosper wanted Elissa to be transferred to Chateau Haine and raised there with her future husband and set that as pre-condition of betrothal, a demand Bryce Cousland was unwilling to comply.
The on and off negotiations eventually broke off because of an unexpected turn of event. In the spring of 9:22, Dragon, Elissa’s elder brother Fergus (b. 9:03, Dragon), the heir of the teyrnir, met Oriana, the daughter of a prominent Antivan merchant and quickly fell into love with her. It was a love with greatest passion. Alas, Oriana's family was only minor noble that considered below a Fereldan bann, and even that rather insignificant title was only purchased a decade before from the crown. But the real obstacle was Fergus' betrothal with Delilah Howe (b.9:08, Dragon), Arl Rendon Howe’s daughter. Thereby his marriage with Oriana was something Teyrn Bryce unlikely sanctioned. The couple secretly married in a rural chantry near City of Highever anyway. To mollify his old friend and most important ally, Bryce Cousland had to strip Fergus of his hereditary right, that meant Elissa was now heir presumptive. To offer an Orlesian noble the future lordship of Teyrnir of Highever so soon after their occupation of Ferelden was inconceivable, while Celene and Prosper refused to accept a replacement of lesser rank. Thus ended this round of Orlesian-Fereldan rapprochement.
Bryce tried to apprehend his son and nullify his marriage. Eleanor didn't like this marriage, either, but she was never a fan of Rendon Howe, so she secretly arranged the young couple to be shipped away to Storm Coast, her younger brother Bann Antus Mac Eanraig’s keep, using her old connection with the smuggler ring. In that year’s Landsmeet Bryce announced Fergus was no longer his heir, but he didn’t immediately proclaim Elissa as his heir, either, due to her minor age. Elissa herself had little interest in becoming next Teyrna, as that would forfeit her freedom in marriage promised by her father. Besides, the siblings were very close, she was unwilling to usurper her brother's birth right. Howe, furious at Couslands’ “insult”, refused to visit them for several years. He pointedly declined to speak with Bryce in public, either. Such impetuous actions didn’t help anyone other than their enemies. Bryce Cousland’s political position was weakened in last years of Maric’s reign, while Howe found himself in total isolation.
In the same time Rendon also quarrelled with his own son. Nathaniel Howe (b.9:00, Dragon) tried to defend his friend Fergus’ decision, claiming that Delilah was better off out of an arranged marriage that promised little love. His punishment was to be sent to Free Marche, to serve as a squire under his maternal uncle Ser Rodolphe Varley. By all means Rendon Howe wanted him to remain that way for all eternity. His younger brother Thomas Howe (b.9:15, Dragon) now became heir apparent of House Howe.
Bryce tried to reconciliate with Rendon with Elissa’s help, knowing his friend always had a soft spot for his little girl. While Howe chose to reply Elissa’s letters, he stubbornly refused to address Bryce himself.
For Elissa the only other important event of those years was she finally adopted a mabari bitch in 9:24. She named her “Rainy”, reflecting the drizzly weather of Highever at that time, and her own mood. Her future seemed more uncertain every day.
Adolescence years during King Cailan's reign Edit
Maric’s disappearance and apparent death on a journey to Wycome in spring of 9:25 fundamentally changed the political situation of the kingdom. Without his hands holding the rein, the bickering and feud among nobility began to emerge on the surface. For some reasons that historians still debated today, Teyrn Loghain refused to proclaim Crown Prince Cailan as the new king immediately. Instead, he instigated an extensive search of his missing friend for the better part of two years. Such delay inevitably undermined Cailan’s authority and prestige, as it implied Loghain thought the crown prince cannot be trusted with his father’s duty.
Those events facilitated House Cousland and House Howe’s reconciliation. Both Bryce and Rendon now realized their quarrel put their houses in a dangerous position as the kingdom entered uncertain water. Rendon resumed his visitation to Castle Highever that summer, bringing his younger son Thomas with him. To their fathers’ delight, the boy and Elissa quickly forged a close friendship, and the discussion of their potential marriage soon began. Eleanor Cousland didn’t share his husband’s enthusiasm, but until she found an alternative future husband for her daughter, she couldn't do anything.
Loghain’s search achieved nothing other than squandering huge amount of money which the kingdom could ill afford. He also ruined the fledging Fereldan Navy in the process, as most of its ships fell apart after extensive deployment without proper maintenance. The nobility began to protest, many nobles from the usually unruly Bannorn threatened to stop paying their taxes to the crown.
It was at that time the rumor surfaced the Bannorn considered to replace Cailan with Bryce Cousland as the next monarch. Rendon Howe was enthusiastic to this idea, as that would ensure his grandchild ruled Ferelden. On the contrary, Bryce showed no interest. Some said he declined to embark this adventure not because of his own loyalty, but because he was afraid of royalists’ strength. That certainly makes some sense, as the best scenario Couslands could hope was Highever, Amarantine and South Reach, with help of a significant part of Bannorn, against Gwaren, Redcliffe, Western Hills and Denerim. Even they could eventually defeat their opponents, the odds were so even that the only thing certain is whoever won the civil war would be left much too weak to resist a renewed Orlesian invasion. In the end Bryce chose to support Cailan. Howe grumbled but had to admit that was the sensible decision.
The patience of nobility finally came to an end. In Landsmeet of 9:26, Dragon, they united to demand Loghain to cease his search immediately. With even his own daughter joining them, Loghain had no choice but to back down. Maric was proclaimed dead. Prince Cailan was crowned as King of Ferelden on the first day of Havestmere. One month later, on Satinalia Day, he married Anora Mac Tic in a lavish wedding. Almost every noble from bann upwards attended the royal wedding, including Bryce and his daughter.
Loghain, dismayed Maric was abandoned to his fate, soon announced his retirement. He returned to his fief, refusing to serve as chancellor any longer. Cailan appointed Bryce Cousland as the new chancellor. Due to the teyrn’s absence in most days of the year, Arl Urien Kendells of Denerim remained the king’s most important adviser. The trio of Urien, Bryce and Eamon formed royal council.
Now the kingdom was at peace, at least for a while, Couslands could devote more time to their family affairs. After several years of demands from his wife, as well as persistant ( and sometimes tearful) entreaties from his daughter, Bryce Cousland finally gave his acquiescence that Fergus and his family, now also included his 4 years old son Oren, could return to Castle Highever in spring of 9:27. At first Fergus’ wife Oriana lived as pariah, as neither teyrn or teryna wished to speak with her unless absolutely necessary. She was uncertain how to handle her relationship with her sister-in-law. But eventually her sincere ways earned her Elissa's trust.
Bryce often sent Fergus out to various tasks in his teyrnir, including recruiting soldiers, tax collection, presiding over country courts, etc. Oriana and her son were left in the castle, with both teyrn and teyrna cold toward her, she could only rely on Elissa’s company and goodwill. At first the relationship was awkward, the succession issue of Highever was still murky. Eleanor supported her first-born, especially after he gave her a grandson. But Bryce declined to restore his right. As such, who would rule Highever next was for everyone to guess. Most nobles, as well as Warden Commander Duncan, believed the teyrn would eventually restore his son, only Rendon Howe correctly guess Bryce was still waiting for his daughter to accept the duty. That didn’t prevent Oriana and Elissa developing intimate sister-like bond. In time the antivan woman almost treated the younger girl as her second child, and Elissa didn’t mind letting her sister-in-law pet her. She also learned several useful skills from Oriana, including how to make rudimentary poultice, medicine and poison.
At that time, a promising and handsome squire, Roland Gilmore, son of a minor Bannorn lord, was assigned as Elissa's personal bodyguard. Unofficially he was also responsible for Oriana and Oren’s safety when Fergus was away. The teyrna warned Gilmore that her daughter was not meant for him, but the young man found Elissa’s allure hard to resist. Elissa’s attitude toward him was whimsical at best. Sometimes she was quite friendly to him. In the autumn of 9:27, Dragon, Gilmore successfully passed his training and was knighted by Teyrn Cousland himself. Elissa, Oriana and Fergus threw a wild party for him to celebrate his elevation that lasted the entire night. But more than often she simply ignored him. Occasionally, when Elissa was in a particularly foul mood, she even treated Gilmore with downright meanness.
From Elissa’s perspective, Gilmore was hopelessly outshined by Thomas Howe. The youngest Howe was more cultured and behaved with a wily way that easily caught her heart. Besides, he was happy to play the role of a younger brother, let her take the rein, which no doubt satisfied the arrogant girl’s ego. Because of that she was ready to ignore a few of his shadier characters. Elissa envisaged she and Thomas could one day embark their own grand adventure, just like her idol Sevanna de Montfont and Remi Vascal (aka. Black Fox).
Elissa Cousland had her debutante during Landsmeet of 9:28, Dragon. Marriage proposals soon followed. Bryce entertained such discussions with Arl Urien Kendells for some time, but there was never real possibility Elissa could be married to Urien’s son, the sadistic young lord Vaughan. Arl Gallagher Wulff of West Hills recommended his younger son Berchan for Elissa’s hand, but he was contemptuously rejected by both Teyrna Eleanor and Elissa herself. The teyrna was indignant he dared to suggest her daughter be married to a younger son without heirdom, and even demanding the girl to move to West Hills after wedding. Arl Wulff, in his turn, was angered by Couslands’ aloof attitude.
When Elissa accompanied her father to attend Landsmeet, on more than one occasions she had to defend Thomas from abuse and manhandling from Vaughan Kendells. Rendon Howe was universally unpopular among nobility, thus Vaughan specially marked Thomas as his target because he calculated no other noble would come to the boy’s aid. Arl Urien made no attempt to restrain his son, though he might have warned Vaughan not to hurt Elissa. As the consequence, House Kendells was secretly marked by Rendon as bitter enemy and he was determined to make them pay.
Eleanor Cousland finally managed to find her own candidate for Elissa’s hand, the young lord Dairren of Oswin. His mother, Lady Landra, was Eleanor’s childhood friend. His father, Bann Loren of Oswin, was one of most prominent lords in Bannorn. With more than 10,000 freeholders sworn to him, it is believed he was more powerful than the weakest great lord, Arl of Edgehall. Elissa and Dairren’s union could bring the powerful bannorn of Oswin into Highever’s orbit, giving Couslands more influence on Bannorn. Eleanor also believed her daughter could easily dominate Dairren, just like Landra did to Loren. Unfortunately for her grand plan, Dairren was a dandy and a quite shallow people. Elissa detested him from the very beginning.
With those little dramas unfolding, basked in her easy life and camaraderie with Oriana and Thomas, those years were easily the happiest time of Elissa’s life. Such rosy days inevitably came to an end, though, as the Fifth Blight and a time of great upheaval for the kingdom approached.
The Fifth Blight and Fereldan Civil War Edit
It may be impossible to find out a single reason why Rendon Howe suddenly turned himself from the steadfastest ally of Couslands into their bitterest enemy. To attribute his treacherous actions just to certain defects on his personality could be simplistic. Instead, his betrayal was partly a result of progressive polarization of Fereldan politic in years prior to the Blight.
With Loghain’s temporary retirement, the triumvirate of Bryce, Eamon and Urien held the helm. Cailan had little interest in day-to-day administration, happy to leave his wife Queen Anora to deal with his advisors. They didn’t have a common agenda, though. Eamon Guerrin was an ardent supporter of improving relation with Orlais. Bryce Cousland paid more attention to promote the kingdom’s commercial interest. As Orlesian Empire was both a huge market and a powerful competitor, his attitude toward them was ambiguous. Urien Kendells belonged to the old guard, distrustful of Orlesian incursion. He was the only one of the triumvirate to have daily access to the court, besides, Anora trusted him much more than other two lords. But he was originally a minor lord, elevated by Maric to the position of Arl for his service in the rebellion. He had neither prestige of Cousland and Guerrin or respect of Bannorn.
Loghain’s wife Teyrna Celia died in winter of 9:28, Dragon. Her funeral provided an opportunity for Anora and Cailan to persuade Loghain back to Denerim. But even after that he still showed no interest in politics. He declined to rejoin the Royal Council. His public activities were restricted to occasional visits to barrack.
In spring of 9:29, Eamon and his wife Isolde went to Orlais to visit her family. No one could predict this routine family reunion became catalyst of subsequent cataclysm. In a feast, one insignificant noble suggested that a personal union of Cailan and Celene could pave the foundation of perpetual peace between two nations. Others laughed at his ignorance, as it’s widely known Cailan was already married.
However, shortly after Guerrins’ return, rumor began to circulate the royal marriage of Ferelden was in crisis. It is believed in August of same year Eamon came to Denerim, ostensibly to support concluding a peace treaty with Orlais, but in reality he came to advise Cailan to set aside Anora in favor of Celene. His advice was rejected by the king. It is unclear how much connection between his experience in Orlais, the rumor, and his suggestion to Cailan, though some people believe Celene instructed her spys to spread the rumor, destabilizing Fereldan politics to facilitate a later taking over. It’s no coincidence Loghain became politically active again at the same time.
In Landsmeet of 9:29 the argument of rapprochement with Orlais came to a head. Loghain naturally championed those who were against it. That put him and Urien in the opposite camp of Eamon, Bryce and Cailan himself. Not only relations between big figures of the kingdom deteriorated, but Loghain came to suspect other nobles wanted to usurp Anora’s position with their own daughter or sister. Rendon Howe’s daughter Delilah stood on the top of Loghain’s blacklist.
Rendon was wary of his precarious situation. With his usual recklessness, he suggested Bryce and himself launch a coup and arrested Loghain, Anora and their supporters. Bryce rejected his proposal, deeming it overreacting. He couldn't imagine this refusal led Rendon's defection to Loghain and his own downfall. Rendon Howe was already fed up with Cousland's "indesicion" anyway. He swore he had no ambition for Delilah, instead, to save his own skin, he made a false accusation that Bryce had such plan for Elissa. Loghain ordered him to expand his army in secret. Together, they would strike down those traitors of Ferelden when the opportunity presented itself, starting with House Cousland.
During winter and spring months of 9:30 Rendon built his army to more than double of its original size, augmenting it with large numbers of mercenaries. He appointed Basil, an ambitious adventurer from Free Marche, as his captain because this man had no connection with Couslands. He still put on hold his bet, though, as House Cousland still had powerful allies. He was ready to throw his lot back to them, if they were proved be more likely to prevail.
In Bloomingtide of the same year, Bryce Cousland, as the chancellor, visited Orlesian Empire at the behest of King Cailan. Little result was achieved other than further fueling Loghain’s suspicion that Bryce intended to sell Ferelden to Orlais and to serve as their puppet. In the mean time Eamon wrote to Cailan, once again trying to persuade him to divorce Anora. The letter was found by Anora, leading to a fierce quarrel between her and Cailan. Soon Loghain knew that, too.
Nevertheless, the truly momentous event of that year was the beginning of the Fifth Blight. The first reports of the trouble arrived in the early summer. Soon they could no longer be ignored. King Cailan began to mobilize his army and call his vassals to help him. On 2nd August, a royal summons to every noble house that swore loyalty to House Theirin had been announced. Those nobles should mobilize their own army to join the king’s effort to battle darkspawns on southern border of the kingdom. On the same day, Loghain directed Rendon Howe to destroy House Cousland by any means necessary.
1.Howe's Treachery Edit
Yet Howe still hadn’t decided his course. Nor he had any idea how to eliminate numerously more powerful Highever Army. He sent a letter to Bryce, promising to lead his army to Highever soon. Cailan and Loghain, with part of royal contingent, marched to South Reach on 14th August to meet forces from that arling and Gwaren, Arl Urien followed them with remaining soldiers, as well as Grey Wardens, one week later.
On 23rd August, the next day after Elissa’s 18th birthday, Vaughan kidnapped an elven girl, Katalina Tabris, a potential recruit of Duncan, as well as several other women from her own wedding. Katalina eventually escaped, but not before killing several of Kendells soldiers. To deal with this unexpected episode, Duncan, originally planned to leave Denerim on that day, had to delay his departure for a day. The captain of city guard, at Vaughan’s request, and also because of his own grudge aganst Grey Warden, refused to release Katalina to Duncan’s custody, but sending her to Fort Drakon instead.
Rendon Howe decided to make one final visit to Couslands’ castle so he could spy their army personally. He arrived on 27th, the same day as he promised to lead his army there. Previously Elissa tried to persuade her father to send Cailan only a token force, but Bryce refused. Instead, he charged her to rule the teyrnir when he was away. The unhappy girl saw Howe’s arrival as her blessing. If her father was determined to send their whole force to fight Cailan’s war, at least she could help Howe to retain his soldiers, so she could later seek his help if necessary. Together they devised some excuses to explain Amaranthine Army’s delay. Bryce, dismayed by that news, decided to send his son Fergus with his army ahead alone. He would stay behind to wait Howe’s force, making sure his friend had no further excuse to tarry. Thus, he trapped himself and his family in a woefully under-garrisoned castle. Rendon saw his chance. Besides, that also conveniently left Highever Army for Loghain to deal with. He made up his mind even as he agreed Elissa would marry Thomas after the war ended.
Unknown to Howe, Duncan arrived at Cousland Castle on 30th, one day before Howe’s attack, on his way to Circle of Ferelden to recruit the young mage Astraea Amell. The Warden Commander always wished to recruit noble for his order, to bolster its prestige. King Maric once warned his friend not to recruit from nobility, because the order's bad reputation there. But now the Great Blight had begun, Duncan considered such restriction lifted. He tried to probe Elissa’s attitude, but to his disappointment, she showed no interest to join. Her parents were sufficiently alarmed by this news to offer Ser Gilmore as a replacement, to ensure the Warden Commander would leave their daughter alone.
Eleanor didn’t abandon her hope for Oswin marriage. Dairren now came to serve as Bryce’s squire. The fact that he would risk fighting darkspawns for her enhanced Elissa's opinion of him. Still, a union with him was out of question.
At the pre-dawn hours of 1st Kingsway, Rendon Howe launched his coup de main. He was reluctant to enter the castle, to face Bryce himself, so the assault was commanded by Captain Basil. Howe’s main target was the teyrn, as well as Fergus’ wife and son, whom he hated. The castle was surrounded by about 600 soldiers he brought. Half of them entered the castle, others formed a blockade line around it. Loghain demanded Eleanor be captured alive, to serve as hostage against House Mac Eanraig. Rendon himself desired to collect his headstrong apprentice, making her capture the top priority. All other inhabitants should be killed or captured, too, so no one could alarm Fergus and his soldiers.
Basil, however, had his own plan. If Rendon could backstab his long-years friend, the man who saved his life more than once, there was no reason his captain should remain absolutely loyal to him. In fact, Basil didn’t believe Arl Howe could win in the end and had already planned to betray him at the most convenient moment. The problem is, any surviving Cousland was unlikely to compromise with him, so he better made sure none survived. He ordered his trusted lieutenants to kill every woman and child in the castle, to ensure Elissa and Oren’s death, and they interpreted this as “killing everyone inside”.
The assault quickly devolved into a series of confusing skirmishes. The seriously understrength garrison now comprised less than three dozen soldiers, Howe expected a swift victory. He didn’t calculate numerous mercenaries and newly recruited soldiers in his army were unfamiliar to the layout of Highever Castle. Under the cover of darkness, the defenders fought with courage of desperation, as the result Basil didn’t manage to overcome last resistance until several hours later. Bryce Cousland was badly injured very early in the siege and was carried to the store room that contained a secret exit by Duncan.
Elissa, following Rendon’s advice to exercise dancing and fencing to exhaustion before sleep, didn’t wake up until a mortally wounded Oren stumbled into her room. With no armor and practically no weapon in her bedroom, she could do very little other than following her mother and her mabari. They managed to fight their way to the doorway leading to the store room, but were intercepted by several enemy soldiers there. By then both women were injured, the mabari suffered such grave wounds that she had to be left behind. At that moment Duncan launched a sudden strike behind those soldiers, killing most of them, thus saved Elissa’s life.
The trio then proceeded into the store room, and it’s immediately clear to Elissa that her father was too badly injured to survive the night. Teyrna Eleanor urged her daughter to escape on her own, and begged Duncan to see Elissa safely to her brother’s army, claiming her own injuries could only encumber them.
With Gilmore likely already dead, Duncan demanded Elissa as his replacement to join the Grey Warden. Shocked and horrified by what she saw and what she heard, the girl suddenly realized she was always Duncan’s target, and with her parents no longer able to protect her, the Warden Commander now ruthlessly made his move to collect his prize. She protested bitterly, screaming and kicking, to no avail. At the behest her parents themselves, Duncan dragged her into the secret escape way.
2.The Road To Ostagar Edit
When the two fugitives emerged from the secret exit, there was little time remaining before sunrise. Knowing Howe might deploy his riders to catch anyone escaped from the castle and they couldn’t outrun their pursuers in broad daylight, Duncan led a half-conscious Elissa into a shallow cave nearby. They hid there until night came again, before proceeding toward Kinloch’s Hold, the seat of Circle of Ferelden, Duncan’s origin destination.
Meanwhile, Howe finally entered the smoldering castle. To his chagrin, he found everyone inside dead. Eleanor was cut down trying to defend her dying husband, despite his explicit order. Nobles, soldiers, servants, none was spared. Bann Loren’s wife Landra and his son Dairren were murdered, too. His apprentice and biggest prize, Elissa Cousland, was nowhere to be found. Basil claimed she must died in fire, her corpse burnt out, Howe could do nothing but accepting the result. While he shed no tear for all those innocent people slaughtered, he was still angry the assault came into such a mess. He couldn’t punish Captain Basil, though, as he still needed the mercenary’s service. A half-hearted search by riders was organized, but the direction was toward south, the way to Fergus’ army. No result was yielded. In the end, all corpses, nobles or servants, were burned together and buried in a common pit. Bryce and Eleanor were not even granted a dignified funeral, another offense Elissa could never forgive. As her retaliation, not only Rendon, Loghain and Anora's corpses were treated in a similar way, none of their killed supporters was given any funeral or tomb, either.
The first two or three days Elissa and Duncan spent together was an ordeal for both of them. Torn from her comfortable, spoiled life, disheveled, beset by anguish and regret, the Cousland girl trudged on like a processed person. Having absolutely no trust for the older man, constantly in fear of being violated by him, she didn’t dare to sleep, until sheer exhaustion overwhelmed her. Eventually she looked little better than a wild animal. Duncan had to force her to bath in a creek, if only to prevent her appearance and smell drawing unwanted attention.
They constantly argued about her conscription. Duncan reasoned that by saving her from Howe Soldiers, she owned him her life, and everyone had to contribute to fight the Blight, including her. Elissa disagreed, for she believed her family had not only provided all their strength to help the king and Grey Wardens but also paid the heaviest price for it. It seems so unfair that the more they gave Wardens, the more they should still demand. When Duncan lost patience and threatened to execute her for desertion, she just asked him to go forward and do it, for after fraternizing with Howe and betraying her parents, she didn’t wish to live anyway.
Seeing that intimidation didn’t work on her, the Warden Commander decided to change his tactic. He already gauged from their brief conversation that she feared pregnancy and childbirth, so he warned her if she ran to one of her family’s vassal, they might force her to marry one of their son or brother, as well as conceive a child as soon as possible, to lay claim for Highever. That’s a nasty move, distasteful even to Duncan himself, but it worked much better. In fact, none of her vassals proved that foul, but Elissa had lost all confidence to “allies” after Howe’s betrayal. She was sufficiently scared that she promised stop trying to run away. Duncan, on his part, agreed to withdraw her conscription. He would escort her safely to the King’s army. There, together with Cailan and her brother, they would decide her future. After this agreement their relationship improved a lot.
The duo arrived at Kinloch’s Hold dock on 6th Kingsway, the same day as Fergus and his army arrived at Lothering. Duncan rented an as-comfortable-as-possible room in “Spoiled Princess” inn for Elissa before he went into the circle tower. Several hours later came a healer to treat her injured arm, but Duncan himself only returned the next day empty handed. As it turned out, the Knight Commander Greagoir refused to turn over Astraea to him, claiming her serious crime (colluding with a blood mage) could only be pardoned by the king. That rose Elissa’s own hope that Cailan may help her to escape Grey Warden’s grasp, too. She and Cailan may be not in best term, but her family did everything to help him, and getting murdered in the process, surely he would take their sacrifice into account? Besides, the Right of Conscription didn’t seem so omnipotent anymore.
Perhaps to partly compensate for their refusal, templars did provide a boat for Duncan, to take him and Elissa to Lothering. They arrived there in the evening of 10th to learn Cailan’s army already left to ancient fortress ruin of Ostagar more than two weeks ago. The Highever contingent arrived 3 days ago, and was ordered to meet him there, too. Duncan procured two horses for them.
When they stayed in Lothering, they learned from local official news just came in that Urien, Arl of Denerim and king’s closest advisor, was killed by unknown assassins along with his retainers, when he rode to meet Cailan. Elissa knew Fergus still commanded a quite potent army, and Howe wouldn’t dare to attack their castle, unless he could somehow neutralize this force. She feared for her brother’s safety.
During their journey, Duncan found time to teach Elissa some basic but essential survival skills, including how to most effectively free herself from restraint, either rope bondage or various cuffs, and using any possible material to produce traps. Grey Warden didn’t value fair fight but prefer any means to win. They also freely discussed the order itself. To his surprise, Duncan found Elissa not averse to the fact warden had a short life, or the joining ritual itself. Elissa claimed she didn’t plan to survive to become a crone anyway, and actually agreed with Duncan’s opinion that “hero lives long enough to become the villain.” After all, her icon Sevanna and her lover the Black Fox didn’t enjoy a long life, either, but they got most for whatever time they had. What she couldn’t accept was to be degraded to the company of commoners because her family was the most loyal noble house to the king. The idea that those most loyal were rewarded with serverest punishement was downright absurd.
Then came an episode that would leave a life-long influence to Elissa. On 12th, when she and Duncan rode in a small road near the forest, they found an injured, half-conscious elf, Felenast "Fel" Mahariel, from Clan Sabrae. Duncan decided to escort him back to his clan. After that he set off to seek Mahariel’s missing companion, leaving Elissa to the clan Keeper Marethari’s care. Unsurprisingly, most of Sabrae’s elves showed open hostility toward her. The Keeper had to ask Elissa never leave her side. Only the clan’s First, Merrill, treated her friendly, perhaps because her curiosity toward human. Unfortunately, Merrill herself seemed unpopular, too. Those unfriendly elves only left her alone after Fel told them so.
The next day, after Felenast was treated by the Keeper’s magic and his condition stabilized somewhat, Duncan departed the clan with him and Elissa. He said Felenast had been tainted by the blight and the only way to survive was to attempt joining the Grey Warden. He worried Elissa would flee as soon as she heard the news. Instead, she not only didn’t run, but also offered to ride the same horse with the dalish elf so Duncan could ride, too. The Warden Commander had to admit a handsome face did have its advantage.
Now the two young people got acquainted with themselves, they quickly developed a close friendship which surprised Duncan. Elissa learned that Fel was an orphan, his father was killed by treacherous humans, with some city elves’ help. before he was even born. Now she lost her parents to their closest ally’s treachery, too, they found they had common ground. Mahariel, on his part, was disgusted Duncan could bully a scared and grieved girl to join his order in front of her dying parents. Elissa soon found out he was a chivalrous type, someone she wouldn’t expect from dalish. She decided to use her considerable charm to seduce him, to ensure she had a protector in the rank of Grey Warden, if the worst happened and she couldn’t avoid to join. It didn’t take long for both of them to know dalish elf was not immune to her beauty, as she might have worried. He promised to protect her from any molestation, wardens or otherwise. Their fraternization annoyed Duncan. The Warden Commander had his own candidate to serve as Elissa’s guardian, too. And that man was not a dalish elf.
3.The Joining Ritual and Catastrophic Defeat At Ostagar Edit
According to official report of Battle of Ostagar that was published a decade later, on that day there were approximately 5,000 Fereldan soldiers present. Cailan had 1,500 soldiers directly sworn to serve the crown. There were also 200 soldiers that nominally sworn to now deceased Urien Kendells, Arl of Denerim. The Highever contingent under Fergus had 800 men. Loghain and his lietunant Cauthrien commanded a force of 700 to 750 Gwaren soldiers. Leonas Bryland, the Arl of South Reach, sent his entire army of 500 soldiers, though he was ordered to remain in his arling so he could coordinate logistic effot. In retrospect, it might just be Loghain's plot to keep him seperating from his soldiers. Other arlings’ force didn’t arrive. It's more difficult to determine how many men The Bannorn sent. The official report said there were 1,200 of Bannorn soldiers present, though that number could be anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500.
As usual with such report, it only took into account professional soldiers (i.e. knights and men-at-arms, as well as veteran militiamen sworn to serve under such circumstance). Because no warhorse could be trained in time to charge at darkspawns, all soldiers, even the king himself, fought on foot. There were also hundreds, perhaps up to 1,000 volunteers that joined the army after it began to march. The future Champion of Kirkwall, Gareth Hawke and his younger brother Carver were among them. These men and women were not included in “official figure”, neither were a large number of camp followers and servants. All in all, there could be 8,000, or even nearly 9,000 people at Ostagar on that day.
Duncan and his two recruits arrived at Ostagar army camp in the morning hours of 17th, Kingsway. He quickly sent Fel to meet other wardens, then led Elissa to Cailan’s tent. Only then did Fel know his new friend came from an exalted noble family, while at first he thought her father was just a knight.
Elissa’s meeting with the king was anything but pleasant. If she had hoped Cailan could help her to escape Grey Warden’s grip, she was to be sorely disappointed. The King had no wish to discourage Duncan. Instead, he only reciprocated Duncan’s rhetoric that joining wardens was an honor. Elissa couldn’t help wondering if that’s his retribution for her consistently cold attitude toward him. Seeing she didn’t show enough enthusiasm, he began to lecture her that everyone needed to contribute fighting the Blight. Because she had no experience commanding the army, she had to either fight as a warden, or help getting more soldiers for him. That meant he would marry her to any Orlesian noble who could provide most soldiers to fight darkspawns. Cailan said that as her overlord, he had the right to do so. When Elissa claimed after her father’s death, she was incumbent teyrna, thus couldn’t be auctioned off like a horse, the king said her succession was invalid without sanction of Landsmeet. Only he could confirm her ascendancy, but that wouldn't happen unless she agreed to join the Warden.
Though Grey Warden was supposed to forsaken all titles, Duncan didn’t object the king’s proposal, neither did he voice any objection that Cailan would personally appoint her as Lieutenant-Commander of the Grey if she passed the Joining Ritual, for a teyrna of Ferelden couldn’t be commanded by just any commoner. Elissa, shocked wordlessly by Cailan’s proposals, could only excuse herself to visit her army. She flatly refused Duncan’s suggestion that she should met other wardens first. As such, she never knew any of them except Alistair and her fellow recruits.
When Elissa arrived at her army’s campsite, another nasty shock awaited her. Only now she was informed by the senior knight of House Cousland, Ser Callum, that her brother Fergus was sent by Loghain to a very dangerous scout mission with only a handful of his men. He left three days ago, yet still not returned.
Without her brother’s support, Elissa felt powerless. Fergus’ mission was too convenient, so quick after Howe’s betrayal. She found a lot of her men sharing her suspicion of Loghain. On their part, her vassals and knights were shocked by Howe’s treachery. Cailan’s insistence that their young mistress join the Warden angered them even more, as it’s really difficult to interpret this demand other than extortion, or even the king’s conspiracy with Grey Warden to take over the teyrnir, possibly with Howe and Loghain’s help. No one objected she was now their teyrna. Callum and many others suggested they immediately returned to Highever, and pledged they will defend her with all means, including fighting king’s army, but that was rejected by Elissa. It’s unlikely Cailan and Loghain would just let them go. Their combined force greatly outnumbered her own. Besides, if they fought king’s men now, while darkspawns attacked at the same time, it could doom them all. If joining Warden could placate Cailan to adopt a more sympathizing posture to Highever, she had to consider that option for their sake, as it’s her duty as their liege lady to protect them.
Elissa had her lunch with Cailan in a subdued manner. Seeing that he had no intention to change his mind, she refused to beg, for it was not only futile but also beneath her dignity. On Cailan’s part, he told Elissa it’s not necessary for her to join Warden immediately, but she needed to go out with other recruits for preparation.
When she met Duncan again, he had several other young men with him. There was one sandy-haired former templar called Alistair, he was to lead recruits, including her, to nearby Kocari Wilds to collect darkspawn’s blood. Elissa didn’t remember their last meeting at all, but Alistair immediately recognized the spirited young girl he met so many years ago, as if just in yesterday. Elissa was delight to see Fel again, giving him an enthusiastic hug, but she was far less pleased to see the other two recruits. The former cutpurse Daveth repelled her, the other one, a knight called Jori, who previously served under Arl Eamon, appeared far too dumb to her liking.
Normally the process of collecting darkspawn blood for new recruit could last several days, involving an incursion into Deep Roads. But now there was a Blight raging with darkspawns practically everywhere around the old fortress ruin, they only needed to walk a short distance to encounter some. Duncan still warned Alistair that he must lead his charges back before night, with or without success, for the night out there was too dangerous even for a warden.
The scenes in the wilds was anything but reassuring. Dead and dying soldiers, mutilated bodies, hanged human corpses… all indicated that Fereldan scouts generally came off worse in their skirmishes with darkspawns, which didn’t bode well for Fergus. Elissa, worried and upset, sullenly followed others, refused to join the fight. In two hours all other recruits had gathered their share of tainted blood, except her. Seeing her show no intention at all to willingly fulfill her obligation, Alistair decided it’s time to follow Duncan’s secret instruction, namely to gather some blood for her by himself. Before he could do that, however, to his great chagrin, Felenast had already shot a darkspawn dead and collected its blood for Elissa, which she graciously accepted.
On their return journey, those young people were intercepted by Flemeth and her daughter, Morrigan. The old “Witch of The Wilds” had invested on Clan Sabrae long ago. She helped them to escape Avvars’ attack by killing their pursuers. As the result, she expected this clan to perform certain services for her, such as providing the Grey Warden hero who would lead Ferelden in the next Blight. She foresaw Felenast Mahariel to be this hero. Until now. The fall of Highever and availability of Elissa Cousland was not foreseen even by her.
So now, Flemeth was faced with decision to trust whom with that vital job. True to her character, she decided to personally interview them. Daveth and Jori she dismissed out of hand. Despite Mahariel being an elf, Elissa won easily by her noble birth, charm, education, and composure she showed while replying the witch’s inquiry. Awed by Asha’bellanar, Felenast failed to give an equally satisfying performance.
After what was perhaps one of most fateful interviews in history, Flemeth made up her mind. The five young people’s fates were now sealed. Before sending them away, Flemeth gave Alistair the ancient Grey Warden treaties that bound Wardens' traditional allies to them. Mahariel, Daveth and Jori breathed a collective sigh after leaving these two witches, only Elissa was fascinated by them.
When they returned to camp, it was already dusk. They expected a hot meal and a night’s good rest, after hours of trekking and fighting. But Duncan told them it would not be so. He and other wardens already detected signs of darkspawn hordes approaching. No more time could be wasted, the recruits needed to undertake their Join Ritual immediately. He only allowed Elissa to make up her mind later. But she understood a battle with darkspawns was imminent. If she wanted Cailan’s goodwill to secure a better arrangement for her soldiers, she needed to brave the ritual with others.
Unlike his deceptive way to other recruits, Duncan already told Elissa most details of Joining Ritual, to ensure she had maximal chance to pass it. She knew the sacrifices a Grey Warden needed to make, too. But there was one thing Duncan chose not to divulge: The infertility of Wardens. Future historians will debate this topic hotly. With Fergus missing, potentially already dead, his sister was now the last living Cousland. Because of the infertility issue, to force her join the Warden means the end of Cousland line. Some historians suspected this was intended to let House Cousland die out, so to merge their title and land with those already belonged to the crown. As Teyrn Loghain of Gawren’s only child and certain heir Anora was already Cailan’s wife, with this move Cailan could finally realize many of his predecessor’s dream, that is, elimination of the last two remaining independent teyrnirs.
If so, considering what Couslands had sacrificed for Cailan and Duncan’s war effort, that was an utterly ruthless and coldblooded move, even by standards of Grey Warden. Ironically, by his earlier decision to recruit Alistair, Cailan’s younger half-brother, Duncan greatly cerebrate Ferelden’s succession problem, and indirectly helped boost Loghain’s chance to grab power, the very same man who would soon murdered him and his wardens. Grey Warden is supposed to remain neutral and apolitical, but that was a lie. Duncan’s action was just another example.
Anyway, when Duncan and Alistair gathered four recruits in the site of old ruined temple, it was already half past five o’clock. By carefully arranged schedule, the first one to try was Felenast, because Duncan thought he had the greatest chance beside Elissa. After a reassuring smile to his new friend, the elf bravely swallowed the tainted blood, and soon passed out, even Duncan couldn’t determine whether he would survive or not.
That was not the encouraging beginning Duncan envisioned, and things quickly went downhill from there. Daveth undertook his ritual next, this time the result was even worse. He was dead in seconds. Upon seeing this Ser Jori refused to follow suit. Later he was condemned as a coward, but Elissa thought the knight had good reasons to fear the so-called Joining Ritual was just another sham to sacrifice four young lives in a blood magic ritual, for whatever infernal purpose. Considering the Grey Warden’s darker reputation among nobility, that could well be the truth. Jori lost his mind, went berserk, drew his sword and lurched toward others, including Elissa. Duncan didn’t hesitate to plunge his dagger into the knight’s heart.
Now there was only Elissa remaining. And Duncan, in his eagerness to persuade her to join, not only confirmed all Cailan’s promises, but also pledged to lead his wardens to help her recover Highever, as after joining the order they were all her brothers. Tthe young woman’s will to resist, already shaken, finally succumbed. She drank the tainted blood in one swallow. Later, she would regard this as the worst decision of her life.
At least Duncan’s assertion that she would survive the ritual without difficulty proved true. Elissa awoke in less than twenty minutes. Except for a terrible headache and loss of appetite, her physical condition didn’t seem to be in any problem. Mahariel, however, was still unconscious. Not too much could be done for him except for waiting.
While Elissa and Fel were still unconscious, both Duncan and Alistair perceived with their Grey Warden ability that an enormous horde of darkspawns were approaching. Shortly afterwards, scouts sent out by Loghain confirmed this report. By the time sky began to darken, even common soldiers could observe numerous torchers appearing on distant hills.
At half past seven, an emergency royal military council was summoned. The King himself, Teyrn of Gwaren and Teryna of Highever, as well as Warden Commander Duncan, Senior Enchanter Uldred who let the Circle Mage Contingent, and ranking cleric of Chantry were present. Because only two arling sent their forces, one of the arl already dead, another was not in Ostagar, no arl attended the meeting.
Cailan first congratulated Elissa for her successful passing of Joining Ritual, then confirmed that she was henceforth Duncan’s Second in Command. But pleasantries were soon replaced by bitter arguments and acrimonies. Loghain, without consulting anyone, declared his plan for coming battle: He would adopt an anvil and hammer tactic, using part of army in the dry river valley beneath the fortress ruin as bait, while remaining soldiers would be deployed on adjacent hill slopes, to charge the darkspawn horde's flank when they were fully engaged.
It was a reasonably good plan, but not without its weak points. The most obvious one was, due to the inadequate recon effort, no one had any clear notion how many darkspawns they were about to face. Grey Wardens warned the number could be as high as that of Fereldan Army, Loghain suspected there were even more, but these opinions were dismissed by the king as extravagant. Anyway, those soldiers who must fought in the valley had most dangerous tasks, and likely would suffer heaviest losses. Thus, it’s unsurprising that Elissa Cousland declared this plan unacceptable when she heard her soldiers, along with part of royal contingent, would be charged with this dangerous task.
Seeing Loghain show no intention to address her inquiry, or even acknowledge her existence, the girl angrily warned him that her army will ignore any of his command, because House Cousland owned no allegiance to House Mac Tir. If Cailan insisted to execute this plan, she would consider this move as a plan to collaborate with Howe to destroy her army. The implied message was quite clear: in that case she would consider her house’s oath to obey House Theirin null and void, as the king actively helped Highever’s enemy without provocation from the part of House Cousland.
When Loghain threatened to execute her as a deserter and traitor, she called Duncan and Alistair to defend her, a sister in their order, according to their promise. The tension was only absolved when Cailan changed the plan to mollify her, replacing Highever Army with remaining of his own army, as well as some Bannorn contingent. Elissa’s men were redeployed on mountain slope as part of striking force. Loghain was furious, as this part of royal army was commanded by officers who were loyal to him. But he couldn’t openly defy the king’ order, neither could he persuade Cailan not to join his army in the valley.
While Cailan made this concession to Elissa, who was now also formally acknowledged as new Teyrna of Highever, he also ordered her and Alistair to perform their Grey Warden duty. The task he gave them was to light the signal fire on Ishal’s tower upon seeing other Grey Wardens’ signal. That would let Loghain know the darkspawn horde was fully engaged, or situation in the Valley was critical, thus required him to launch his attack without delay.
Elissa knew this move was to keep her safely out of the battle, but also to remove her interference, leaving Cailan, Loghain and Duncan complete control over her army. So, before she left with Alistair to perform her duty, she made one last appearance before her army. (Alistair demanded they went to Ishal’s Tower without delay, but Elissa sternly ordered him to shut up). She briefed her senior knights and vassal lords of what happened in the military council, informing them Loghain’s malicious intention. She had done all she could for them, and now it’s up to their own vigilance. She reminded them that their obligations were to House Cousland alone, untransferrable to anyone else, including the King. If she died, then all their obligations and oaths were absolved, her vassals could consider themselves as sovereign lords. Finally, she bid them farewell and good luck. Seeing their young, sad, seemingly fragile liege lady going to meet her fate moved her soldiers. Many openly wept, begging her to stay, but she refused. Whatever her opinions toward Cailan, Duncan and Loghain, now the top priority was doing everyone’s best to defeat darkspawns in the coming battle.
In the meantime, Loghain, still furious at Elissa’s defiance, decided it’s time to remove her once and for all. He sent a trusted knight to Ishal’s Tower, bringing his secret instruction to his garrison commander there. That officer must coax Elissa and Alitair to an isolated room, secretly killed them, and destroyed their corpses. Under no circumstance was the beacon to be lighted. If the flanking attack was to be launched, it must come from Loghain’s own volition.
Now the time was half past eight. Dark clouds were gathering in the sky, concealing moons and stars. Unknown to Loghain, a large group of darkspawn emerged from underground chambers beneath Ishal’s Tower exactly at same time, when his messenger was briefing the garrison commander. In the ensuing fighting, both messenger and commander were killed, only a single soldier who knew this nefarious plan survived, but he didn’t have authority to order other soldiers’ help. Besides, darkspawns won the skirmish, Loghain’s soldiers were routed, survivors being driven out of the tower.
When Elissa and Alistair walked over the stone bridge to Ishal’s Tower, they were caught up by Felenast, who finally recovered from his unconsciousness. Elissa was joyous to see him alive, couldn’t help to give him an enthusiastic kiss, which made Alistair jealous.
The trio arrived at the base of the tower to find Gwaren soldiers fleeing from it. Using her charisma and an imposing voice, Elissa rallied them, including a circle mage, to retake the tower, urging them their task was vital to victory. Alistair personally led them to assault the tower. He asked Elissa to follow behind and ordered Fel to protect her. This precaution proved necessary, as the sole assassin suddenly tried to stab Elissa during the battle, but was intercepted and overcome by Felenast before he could succeed. The three wardens briefly interrogated the assassin and knew the truth. While this man’s confession could incriminate Loghain, Elissa recognized it's imperative to retain her temporary followers’ loyalty, who were, after all, still Lohgain’s men. Thus, without hesitation, she ordered Fel to execute the assassin, claiming this man was a traitor bought by Ferelden's enemies.
Those people fought their way up to the top of the tower with steadily diminishing number. Some soldiers were killed in the fighting, some fled, despite wardens’ warning that anyone who tried to escape by his own was certainly to be picked off by small group of monsters still emerging from underground chamber. When they reached the top level, only a dozen soldiers still remained with wardens and the mage. There, they found an enormous orge feasting on corpses.
Only Alistair had some rudimentary training on how to fight that kind of monster. Elissa found her fighting styles, either as a fencer, or the hit-and-run scout style taught by Howe, had difficulties coping with the sweeping strikes of the orge, whose movement, despite the size of its body, was surprisingly agile. Felenast fared a little better, since he was an archer and fought from a distance. Several soldiers foolish enough to charge the orge head-on were quickly despatched. One was thrown out of the window, another was caught and torn from limb to limb. Their screams, as well as panicked shouts of others, let Elissa feel she was having an unending nightmare. Their struggle was not futile, however, eventually the orge suffered enough injuries to slow down.
Before it could be finished off, the monster gave out a great roar which stunned Elissa. It then charged toward her, knocking her down. She couldn’t scramble to her feet quickly enough, as the orge already posed to grab her. But at that critical moment, Fel rushed to her, pushing her away. Yet he couldn’t avoid the orge’s grab himself. Elissa frantically stabbed the monster’s heel, Alistair slashed at its knee. Other soldiers and the mage also fired spells and bolts at it. The orge finally crumbled down, throwing Fel onto ground, breaking his legs. Elissa, in a fit of rage, jumped up to the monster’s chest, stabbing its eyes repeatedly, even after its death, and had to be dragged away by Alistair.
In the valley beneath, fighting raged on. At first, several waves of darkspawn assaults were easily beaten off by Fereldan shield wall, supported by archers and ballistae deployed on the great stone bridge. Cailan even thought the battle would once again end quickly in Fereldans’ favor. But it was not to be so. The darkspawn emissaries who coordinated those assaults didn’t mind heavy casualties common hurlocks and genlocks suffered, the purpose was to detect positions of supporting troops. Soon, dozens of fireballs and boulders rained down on stone bridge, killing many archers and ballista crews, dispersing survivors.
Seeing the defenders now without support, darkspawns renewed their assaults with even more ferocity, and Fereldan infantry began to take heavy losses. The shield wall gradually dissolved. Emissaries and orges also threw fireballs and stones into intermingled combatants indiscriminately, with no regard to their own kind’s safety. Not that those monster canon fodders seemed to mind, but human soldiers’ morale were badly shaken.
At about tenth hour, the situation in the valley became critical for Fereldans. Duncan tried to persuade Cailan to evacuate the battleground, but his advice was sternly rejected. In the meantime, Loghain also judged the number of darkspawn horde vastly surpassed their original estimation, thus, flanking attack could not be launched. Cauthrien tried to persuade him at least to retrieve the King, but Loghain said that was impossible without a full-scale attack, which could leave the army fully engaged and destroyed.
Shortly before half past ten, the beacon was finally lighted. Seeing there was no longer any excuse to delay the planned attack, Loghain ordered his men to retreat immediately, after vetoing Cauthrine’s protest. He didn’t bother to notify other contingents of the army of his decision.
At approximately the same time, numerous darkspawns (later estimated as more than two thousand) began to pour up from the underground chamber of Ishal Tower. Most of them emerged out of the tower, killing anyone they found, but there was also a large group of them charging to upper levels of the tower. Elissa and her party were now hopelessly trapped.
Not knowing their own precarious situation, these people’s attentions were all focused on the battlefield below. They couldn’t believe their eyes. No one was charging. On the contrary, a large group of soldiers were retreating from the battlefield. Only now did Alistair realize the battle went wrong. He remembered Duncan’s last secret instruction to him: if that happened, he must escort Elissa to escape and do everything he could to ensure her safety. But he couldn’t simply abandon Fel, who was lying immobile on the ground, and Duncan, and all other wardens still fighting for their lives in the valley. Worse, he found that Elissa, who hadn’t eaten anything since midday and already spent last ounce of her strength fighting the orge, could hardly stand.
Before he could make any decision, darkspawns were already swarming into the chamber. Elissa had no more strength to dodge their missles and was quickly hit by three bolts. Alistair tried to shield her with his own body, but the situation was obviously hopeless.
Suddenly, a great roar, even louder than that of the orge, shook the tower, and the roof was shattered. Waves of flame swept incoming darkspanws, burning them alive. Other fled. It’s Flemeth, in her dragon form, temporarily drove those monsters away. She grabbed unconscious Alistair and Elissa and quickly flew away. Even before she took off, darkspawns were already swarming into the chamber again. Seeing other survivors’ demise was inevitable, she breathed a last wave of dragon fire, killing everyone on the floor below.
In the meantime, those darkspawns emerged from underground a while ago already poured down into the valley, to the rear of Fereldan position. Shortly after elventh hour, Cailan and Duncan, as well as almost everyone of the small Grey Warden party, were overwhelmed and killed by darkspawns. The demise of the King and vaulted Grey Wardens also signified the final collapse of the resistance in the valley. Any soldier still alive could only try to save his own skin, but very few succeeded. Of more than two thousand soldiers fighting in the valley, it was estimated fewer than two dozen survived, including future commander of the City Guard of Kirkwall, Aveline Vallen. There was no warden among them.
Other Fereldan contingents, seeing that their colleagues were massacred but receiving no order either to attack or retreat, finally began to leave the battlefield on their own volition. It was too late for them to avoid being pursued by victorious darkspawns. Those contingents suffered heavy casualties, too, losing between one third to three quarter of their numbers.
It was about midnight when last remnants of Royal Fereldan Army fled from the battlefield. The abovementioned war report asserted the army lost between 3,000 and 3,500 soldiers in the battle and subsequent retreat. Again, this didn’t include hundreds of volunteers’ death. As those camp followers, servants, and other non-combatants, without the army to protect them, few managed to survive. Thus, it’s not unreasonable to estimate, all counted, beween 5,000 and 6,000 humans, elves, and dwarves perished in that terrible, bloody night, in one of the greatest military disasters of Ferelden.
4. At Flemeth's Home Edit
Flemeth literally snatched Elissa from death’s door. There was only enough time for the old witch to cast one quick healing spell on the young woman before taking her away. It slowed her bleeding, but couldn’t completely stop it. In the half hour’s flight back to the witch’s home, Elissa lost large amount of blood. Alistair, half conscious in Flemeth’s other talon, could only snarl with wordless frustration. Upon her return, Flemeth immediately ordered Alistair to carry Elissa into the hut and place her on Morrigan’s bed. Alistair expected the younger witch to complain, but Morrigan was obviously only shocked and dismayed to find Elissa in such a terrible state. The two witches then set about the difficult task of saving Elissa’s life, while Alistair was unceremoniously banished from the hut. Considering Elissa’s condition, it was only because of Flemeth, or more likely, Mythal’s extremely powerful ancient Elven magic that she lived to see next day. Even Morrgian, who was never a fan of her mother, later admitted no one else in entire Thedas could pull that miracle.
Normally, Flemeth’s healing magic could fix a person in remarkably short time. But on this occasion, no magic could replace that much lost blood in just a day or two. Elissa lost much more than blood, of course. Her weapons were discarded in Ishal’s Tower, including a silverite dagger she borrowed from Duncan. Her armor, borrowed from a female soldier in serve of her house, was damaged beyond repair, and even her underwear was so smeared with blood that they couldn’t be salvaged. It was Highever Nightmare all over again, she escaped with nothing but her skin. Lying on Morrigan’s small bed, totally immobile, under two “Witch of Wilds” ‘s scrutiny and at their mercy, it was a time of frustration and dejection. She didn’t know what happened to her brother or their soldiers, but it was unlikely they fared much better. If darkspawns hadn’t finished off Highever Army, Loghain might already did.
Morrigan, however, was something unexpected. She was assigned the tedious job of caring Elissa’s physical need. Changing Elissa’s bandage, dressing her wounds, cleaning her body, and, after a week, feeding her with the soup she could consume. If Morrigan felt annoyed of being demoted to servitude, she never complained in front of her charge. Instead, she seemed to be cheerful in her work, sometimes humming to herself. In the evening, she would come and hum a tune or two to help Elissa sleep, so Elissa felt Morrigan was genuinely happy to see her alive. Later Elissa would say she had no secret in front of Morrigan, either in regard of body or soul. That might not be an exaggeration.
Alistair spent a cold, miserable night outside Flemeth’s hut, given just a small, old skin tent to shelter himself from the drenching autumn rain. The witches spent better part of night to treat Elissa and they didn’t bother to inform him the progress. Though he was not a very religious man, on this night he prayed fervently to the Maker to spare Elissa’s life. It was only on next morning, when Flemeth emerged from the hut and gave him a slight nod, that he finally succumbed to his exhaustion. He experienced joyless dream with the entire world shrouded in a universal greyness, as he saw Duncan and all his other Grey Warden brothers silently trudging in the distance, as in funeral procession, ignorant of his desperate calling. When he awoke, he knew they were gone, forever.
Though he was anxious to see Elissa, it took him three days to muster enough courage to make the demand. Morrigan wanted to refuse, believing he intended to harass Elissa, who was still immobile and only had Morrigan’s spare underwear on her, but Flemeth decided Alistair could enter the bedroom to visit Elissa, even only for several minutes per day.
Their first meeting after Ostagar was an embarrassment. Alistair was overjoyed to see her alive and well, that is, until he discerned subtle disappointment on Elissa’s face. Suddenly, he realized Flemeth and Morrigan didn’t tell her which of her companions survived. She was expecting to see Fel Mahariel and dismayed to see it was him. At that moment, as Morrigan remembered, “I could feel the air frozen… an awkward silence engulfed the room.” But if Morrigan expected Alistair would cease to come, she was wrong. The next day he came again, and the atmosphere was more amicable. They talked about their childhood, their hobbies, even some fashion topics Alistair shyly admitted he was not very familiar with. No mention of Duncan or any Grey Warden, Blight, Highever Massacre, or impending civil war. Several days later he came with a yellow rose in his hand. He said he found that when he wandered in nearby swampland, the sole bright color in a sea of desolation, and he wanted her to have it. Elissa graciously accepted it, and, to Morrigan’s amusement, requested her to use her magic to preserve the flower.
Unknown to either Morrigan or Alistair, though, Elissa was more depressed than she let them see. The young noblewoman had a secret suicidal inclination since her childhood, and her current predicament made it surface again. She briefly sent Morrigan out of the room with some excuse and then asked Alistair to give her his dagger, ostensibly to defend against potential threat from these witches. He obliged without suspecting. Elissa hid the dagger under her pillow. Then, when she was alone again, or she believed so, Elissa took the dagger out and tried to stab herself. But Flemeth already expected that move. She secretly observed Elissa’s move and paralyzed her with magic. Elissa was given a stern reprimand and reminded that her life belonged to the old witch, not herself. Besides, since her life was bought with Mahariel’s, the suicide attempt was an insult to his sacrifice. Elissa had to swear never to do such foolish thing again. Morrigan was also severely admonished for her carelessness. After Flemeth was finished with her, Morrigan angrily burst into the bedroom, preparing to give Elissa an acid tongue-lashing, too. But upon seeing the girl, in tears, sheepishly begging her forgiveness, Morrigan found herself suddenly didn’t have the heart anymore. In the end, Alistair was the only one that got punished. He was forbidden to see Elissa again until she could walk.
Finally, after spending nineteen days in Flemeth’s hut, Elissa was sufficiently recovered to leave on 6th, Harvestmere with Alistair and Morrigan. Flemeth collected some weapons for her, and a set of leather armor reinforced with chain shirt, which must have belonged to a woman of similar height and size, but Flemeth refused to divulge the fate of its original owner. By that time, the strategical situation of the kingdom had changed drastically.
The Highever Army managed to retreat from Ostagar with moderate losses. Because they heard nothing about either Elissa or Fergus’ fate, however, men lost heart. The remnants of that once proud army eventually dispersed before it reached the border of teyrnir. But due to Elissa’s effort, more than half of its members survived. Most survivors returned to their respective lords and would provide the backbone for the reconstituted army. Some of those directly served House Cousland chose to offer their service to those lords actively fought against Loghain and Howe, while others would gradually gathered in Redcliffe Castle once they knew Elissa was allied with House Guerrin.
Rendon Howe didn’t wait to finish the complete subjugation of the Highever. He left half of his force, about 300 men (later reinforced), under Captain Basil to finish the job and led other half, augmented with a few soldiers left behind in Vigil, to Denerim (including the future Guard Captain and Seneschal of Vigil, Ser Garevel). These soldiers were suspected of being too friendly to Couslands, but Howe felt they could be trusted with other tasks. Upon arriving at Denerim he easily controlled the city and arrested Vaughan Kendells, the de-facto Arl of Denerim. Anora was furious but could do nothing. Just a few days later, he led his soldiers to purge Alienage, brutally massacred nearly a thousand elves, simply to show he meant business. Even the Alienage Orphanage was burnt down with almost everyone inside murdered. Except for several elves who managed to escape, only a little girl, Amethyne, who would be adopted by Elissa in the future, was spared, as Garavel lied to other soldiers that her mother worked in Vigil.
In Teyrnir of Highever itself, Rendon Howe’s Captain Basil led his men to Highever City and coerced it to surrender. A few members of Merchant Guild played a vital role in negotiation, which would make them pay heavily in the future. The guerilla activities against the occupation force soon began, however, which forced Basil to focus his attention.
Loghain led his army across Arling of South Reach and forced Bann of Lothering, a vassal of Arl Leonas of South Reach, to march with him, along with all able-bodied militiamen of his bannorn. As South Reach’s fighting force was decimated in Battle of Ostagar, Leonas Bryland was unable to stop him, but that was not an offense the arl would either forget or forgive.
Arlessa Isolde and Bann Teagan could do nothing about Arl Eamon’s illness. Teagan arrived at Denerim to seek help, only to witness Loghain taking over the capital from Rendon Howe. Upon seeing Loghain declaim himself as “Regent”, Teagan led the Bannorn’s protest and was threatened by Loghain. Fearing for his life, he was forced to flee the city on the same night. Isolde sent most of Redcliffe Knights in a wild-goose chase of Andraste’s Ash, greatly weakened the castle’s defense. Worse, unknown to her, the young lord Connor made a deal with a powerful desire demon to save his father. On the last day of Kingsway, just a week before Elissa and her companions departed for Lothering, the first undead appeared in Redcliffe Castle.
5. The Road To Redcliffe: The "Liberation" of Lothering And Elissa's First Nightmare Edit
Elissa and her two companions departed with much grumble from Morrigan who complained to be unfairly exiled by her mother. It was really just a show to cover the true purpose of her journey (namely producing a child with a Grey Warden (that is, Alistair) to absorb Archdmon’s soul) as if she didn’t come with the two Grey Wardens willingly. Before they left, Flemeth bade Elissa into her hut. First, she made Elissa promise to keep Morrigan safe, whom she valued above anything in this world. Then she gave Elissa a silverite dagger named “The Edge” that she said once belonged to another Lord of Highever. She also gave Elissa a steel ring with a small jade embedded in it. Flemeth claimed this was a Dalish Promise Ring once belonged to Mahariel’s father. She didn’t say where she got it, but it was obviously meant for Mahariel. While this ring had some magical healing effect, the main purpose is for Elissa to keep Fel Mahariel’s memory. Finally, unexpected, seemed to be moved by some long-suppressed emotion, she tole Elissa that the young woman was the daughter she always wanted to have but could never. Before Elissa could grasp what could this mean, Flemeth already returned to her usual abrasive self, urged her to leave quickly because “time was being wasted”.
In the Wilds, the relation between Alistair and Elissa quickly cooled. Alistair had hoped in time she could become more accommodating to her new identity as Grey Warden. He was rudely rebuffed. Elissa claimed even calling her a warden was unacceptable, because she firmly believed joining Grey Warden was the most severe punishment a person could possibly receive, equivalent to death penalty. Since neither she or House Cousland did anything that deserved such punishment, a great injustice was imposed upon her by Cailan and Duncan. Because of that she would not answer anyone who called her “Grey Warden” as she regarded it as insulting. Alistair tentatively tried to call her “Warden” or “Commander” several times, but was invariably ignored. Morrigan didn’t let the chance to laugh at him pass. In the end he had to accept the inevitable and from this point on, “Warden” or “Grey Warden” became forbidden word in the camp. Not only Alistair, but their new companions quickly grasped the rule, too: Elissa was only allowed to be addressed as “Your Ladyship”, according to her title, or directly called by name. Even worse for him, no one called him “Warden”, either, as everyone knew Elissa didn’t like to hear that word at all.
Alistair’s other attempts to make Elissa behave like a warden met with equal failure. Elissa contemptuously refused his demand to do chores like collecting foodstuff or firewood, claiming manual labor was beneath her. He tried to threaten her with starvation if she didn’t work, but when Morrigan pointedly and smugly promised to feed Elissa by her own, and Elissa happily agreed to help her make health poultice, Alistair knew he was once again outmaneuvered. If he insisted his demand, he would get nothing but Elissa’s resentment. He withdrew his demand and was sullenly resigned to his fate of being bullied by these two petulant women, since it seemed they could well survive without him, yet he couldn't without them.
Though Elissa and Alistair squabbled over a few topics, there remained one thing to firmly bind them together, namely the shared hatred against Loghain. When they were not busy quarrelling with each other or in cold war, they gathered themselves to discuss all kinds of nasty punishments they would administer to Loghain once they defeated him. At times like that Morrigan felt both amused and annoyed by their childish behavior. She teasingly suggested their little group marching directly to Denerim so they could strike Loghain down and ended his nuisance once and for all. Fun as it might be, Morrigan didn’t want the relation between Elissa and Alistair to completely break down. Since she couldn’t bear appeasing Alistair herself, she needed Elissa’s help to persuade him to accept the Dark Ritual.
Every day, before they set out on their journey, Morrigan would transform herself into a raven and scout the road ahead. By this way they managed to avoid ambush by several groups of outlaws. In the early afternoon of sixth day after leaving Flemeth’s hut, the trio arrived at outskirts of Lothering. They were intercepted there by a single woman who called herself Leliana. Not a bandit, but a Chantry sister. This woman claimed “The Maker” told her to wait for them and even showed her the trio’s appearance. There might not be a worse choice to win the trio’s trust. None of them liked Chantry. Besides, Leliana’s Orlesian accent aroused suspicion from Elissa who detested Orlais. Yet they couldn’t ignore her warning that entering the town was unwise because a group of Loghain’s soldiers were stationed there. She also showed them a wanted poster that with all Fereldan Grey Wardens’ name on it, including dead ones. Leliana said such posters were all over the town.
Watching this poster led to further embarrassment for Alistair. There were only two portraits on it. Elissa’s name and a crude image that didn’t do nearly enough credit to her beauty showed up on the top of list. Anyone who managed to capture her alive and deliver her to Loghain would be rewarded for a hefty 150 sovereigns. Killing her could bring 80 sovereigns. The only other one who had a (fairly accurate) portrait was Duncan. He was wanted for 60 sovereigns alive and 30 if dead. Everyone else, including Alistair, was just a formless name, wanted for a universal 5 sovereigns, dead or alive. Morrigan found it immensely amusing. To Alistair’s credit, he didn’t mind joking about himself, but he claimed he would not sell Elissa for either 150 or a million sovereigns, or for a king’s crown. He also tried to laugh at Morrigan since no one offered to pay a single copper for her. Before he and Morrigan could start a new quarrel, Elissa reminded them there was more important thing to do, namely killing Loghain’s men.
Leliana was notified of the trio’s arrival almost three weeks ago by “The Maker” in her dream, who was, in fact, none other than Flemeth herself. The old witch also revived a few roses in the monastery that Leliana lived to make sure her trick convincing. Leliana used these days to prepare her journey, including gathering her gears and making a large number of grenades, both elemental ones and poisonous ones like choking powder bombs. She knew they were very effective tools, especially for in-door fight, from her old bardic days. Now these came in handy. She didn’t want to attack those Gwaren soldiers, since she signed up for fighting darkspawns, not humans. But she was a realistic woman and she knew helping eliminate these soldiers was the entrance fee she had to pay if she wanted to join. Both Morrigan and Alistair were against accepting her. The only one who wasn’t and who could veto these two, Elissa, the leader of this little group, had set her price.
The small, crumbling house that was used by these Loghain soldiers as barrack had only one door and two windows, all on the front side of it, that excluded any chance of escaping by backdoor. Leliana had observed these men’s activities and she knew Elissa and her companions came at an optimal time, since every afternoon the commander of this little garrison and several of his men would go to town tavern, to drink and to harass others. No one wanted to be stationed in someplace that people presumed to be next target of darkspawn horde. As the result, these men’s morale was very low. Those who didn’t went to tavern to drown themselves in alcohol slept in their barrack even during the day, no guard was posted. It was a textbook example of assault. Leliana picked the lock of front door, threw a choking powder bomb that followed by two acid flasks. The scream of men badly burned by acid was soon silenced as Morrigan’s Cone of Cold hit them. Alistair and Elissa’s blade finished any survivors off.
The group the executioners then proceeded to the tavern. Once again, they attacked without warning. As Leliana and Alistair didn’t want to hurt innocent bystanders, a different tactic was used. As the garrison commander rose from his seat, Leliana threw a flask that released poisonous gas, disoriented him and his five subordinates. Before they could recover, Morrigan casted a Mind Blast spell, stunning them. Per Elissa’s command, Alistair knocked the commander down with his shield and hit him unconscious with flat of his sword. Then, to his shock, he found Elissa already struck down four others in just as much time. This was the first time he witnessed Elissa fighting with her full power. He was surprised and (at this time) a little disturbed to find she was not some gentle flower that needed his constant protection at all. The spell’s effect lasted less than ten seconds, but that was enough for Elissa to stab each of them by the throat. Four stabs, four hits, four mortally injured men on the floor gurgling their dying breath. He could see blood still dipping from “The Edge”’s edge, a sinister, almost maniac grin on the young teyrna’s face. The last soldier tried to flee out of the door, but was caught by another spell from Morrigan, this time Crushing Prison. Then, with a squeeze of her fist, the doomed man was shattered to multiple bloody chunks in front of horrified tavern patrons.
In a short time, the lobby was empty except the warden’s party and their prisoner. A hasty interrogation was conducted by Alistair and the Gwaren knight quickly confessed his men were the only Loghainian force between Lothering and Denerim, which confirmed what Leliana learned from other sources. Elissa watched impassively, and when the process ended, she ordered Alistair to match prisoner outside. Sensing her murderous intent, the Gwarenian began to plead, but a violent backhand slap by Alistair quickly silenced him. Leliana learned a new lesson: while Alistair might seem naïve, even a little timid, facing Loghain’s men quickly brought him into a violent rage. Elissa had far less compassion, but her worst side was also reserved for Loghain (and Howe)’s men alone. Despite being Grey Warden, Alistair had only modest interest in battling darkspawns, Elissa had almost none, the duo’s fury was solely reserved for their human foes.
The two wardens marched the prisoner directly toward the big elm near the town square. Now their intention couldn’t be more obvious, the Gwaren knight desperately seeked any escape. He saw a large number of onlookers gathering and decided to take his chance. Suddenly he screamed at top of his lungs that his captors were exactly the same person wanted by Teyrn Loghain, especially the blonde girl who was worth 150 sovereigns. Unexpectedly this appeal worked, as a dozen refugees, induced by high bounty placed on Elissa’s head, decided to attack her. But the knight’s joy was short-lived. These refugees, who didn’t witness what happened in the tavern, might believe they could easily subdue four people, especially three of them were young women, yet the subsequent fight was simply a slaughter. Morrigan’s first spell, Cone of Cold, already froze more than half of assailants rigid, Leliana’s acid flask then exploded amid others. Elissa and Alistair's blades mercilessly bit into those people’s totally unarmored bodies, dispatching them in short order with meticulous accuracy. Before most onlookers realized what happened, only three assailants still drew breath. They begged for mercy, but while Leliana was willing to grant it, Elissa adamantly refused. She said her house’s downfall was all because her father was too nice to other people so they believed they could hurt House Cousland with impunity, that impression was something she intended to change. True to her words, of all people that assaulted her with weapon during the Blight, only two were spared, both were elf. Thousands others died.
With these assailants dead, the Gwaren knight’s last hope was gone. Resigned to his fate, he didn’t resist any more. Elissa led the way, holding her head high like a queen in parade, followed by Alistair who marched the prisoner, kicking and cursing all the way, with Morrigan and a somewhat uneasy Leliana trailing behind. Like Leliana promised, the Revered Mother didn't allow her templars to intervene in what she regarded as domestic conflict among Fereldan nobles, though one or two templars did come to watch out of curiosity.
When they reached the elm, spectators once again gathered, eventually numbered several hundred. After Elissa offered reward with money and other items freshly confiscated from those Gwarenians, there were plenty of eager volunteers coming to help put the noose around the knight’s neck. Elissa then announce his alleged crimes (there were quite a lot), including desertion, robbery, high treason, banditry, branding a weapon against a teyrna and trying to assault her, and so on (according to her, every one of them is capital offense). She condemned him to death. The onlookers cheered, perhaps because to them, the execution provided a rare entertainment in those grim days. In a strange, almost festival atmosphere, Loghain’s commander was hanged, thus formally ended three week’s Gwaren occupation of Lothering.
After that, Elissa turned her attention to a profiteer merchant who had set his shop in front of Chantry yard. A cleric, perhaps emboldened by the Gwaren garrison’s demise, came to demand him to lower the price of his goods. This man should have packed and run when the Grey Wardens’ attention was elsewhere, now it was too late for him. At Elissa’s order, Alistair confiscated all his belonging with Right of Conscription. The profiteer’s henchman casted a single glance at the Gwaren knight's swinging corpse and ran, the merchant himself wisely followed suit. Elissa pocketed all coins and jewelries, but donated everything else, food, clothes and weapons, to the Chantry. This time, in Teyrna of Highever’s name. Pleased by this gesture and encouraged by Leliana, the Revered Mother personally assured Elissa she would do everything she could to prevent her Chantry colleagues helping Loghain. She also provided the information that Arl Eamon seemed to be gravely ill as several of his knights had passed by to seek Sacred Ash of Andraste as remedy. The Revered Mother didn’t believe Eamon had participated Loghain’s conspiracy and urged Elissa to go Redcliffe to investigate, and, if possible, to seek help there, also for Lothering.
Even as all evidence showed there was no Loghainian force in the vicinity, Elissa decided they shouldn’t take unnecessary risk and overnight in Lothering. The group left at sunset, only stopped to camp after midnight. This time, it was Alistair who proposed only he and Morrigan stood watch. Though he and Elissa still behaved like they were in strong rivalry, he was actually very much concerned about her health, days of arduous trek after being gravely injured so recently. Leliana volunteered for taking part in watch duty, too, but was rejected by everyone else. She was hurt by this universal vote of no confidence, after what she had done in Lothering, but was determined to win others’ trust by her deeds, since argument wouldn’t bring any. Alistair took the first watch and Leliana stayed awake to keep him company.
Just before Morrigan was supposed to take over the watch, Elissa suddenly waked up with a terrified scream which also awakened Morrigan. Alistair knew instantly what had happened: The taint had taken hold of her. This was the first nightmare, supposedly the first of many. Morrigan also understood, but she pretended otherwise. Forewarned by Duncan before she participated the Joining Ritual, Elissa knew, too, but it was still a profound shock as now the raw truth finally sank in. She was firmly condemned to a short life filled with pain, terror and humiliation by Cailan, Duncan, Rendon Howe and Loghain together. Previously she was the most exalted and sought-after unmarried girl in the kingdom. Now, just a tainted creature like any darkspawn. So, after the initial terror and disbelief, there were only self-pity and irrepressible hatred against those who wronged her. She cried unabashedly for what had been unfairly robbed from her.
Though Alistair wanted nothing more than consoling her, he didn’t dare to come forward. He already doubted Duncan’s wisdom of forcing an unwilling girl into the order but this was the final waking-up call. He was ashamed that he only wanted women into Grey Warden for his own eyes’ sake but never stopped to consider they would henceforth live in pain and distress for the rest of their life. Besides, now with Duncan and everyone else dead, he alone represented the order and the sole bogeyman in Elissa’s eyes. So, he retreated into a corner of the camp while cursing his own cowardice. Morrigan pretended nothing undue had happened, too, but this was out of an unspoken covenant with Elissa. As both were very proud person, neither wanted the other one to pay attention to her own vulnerability, so in this case, showing no concern was not negligence, but a sign of respect between two strong women. Leliana was the only one who had no clue what had just happened, so it was convenient for her to play the babysitter. Gently holding Elissa, she let the younger woman cry to sleep in her bosom. From this moment on, the ice between Leliana and Elissa began to melt.
The next three days passed without further unpleasant event. None spoke much, Leliana’s song was the only thing that lifted their spirit. To Alistair’s relief, Elissa’s nightmare didn’t recur. Once again Morrigan flew to Redcliffe to reconnoiter situation there. She didn’t find any sign that an army had gathered. On the positive side, it proved Eamon was not withholding his soldiers, which meant he didn’t participate Loghain’s conspiracy. But they wondered if Revered Mother was right then how Eamon could provide support. Finally, on the fourth day since they left Lothering, 15h Harvestmere, Elissa and her three companions arrived at Redcliffe. It soon became very clear Redcliffe was in no position to help them. On the contrary, Both the town and Eamon’s family were in dire need of outside help.
6. Meeting Rina: The Battle Of Redcliffe And The Circle Interlude Edit
The first man they encountered at the entrance of the town was a jumpy young man called Tomas. This man was obviously not some hardened veterans like those Gwaren soldiers in Lothering, but a peasant militiaman pressed into service. That he instead of a professional soldier standing watch at such a key place already spoke much. Still, Elissa suspected he could be a spy and wanted to interrogate him. In that case, even mentioning the first one or two of her torture techniques was more than enough to make the man beg for mercy. Seeing this, Leliana volunteered to take over and in short time Tomas told them everything he knew.
It turned out all communication with the castle had stopped ten days ago. No one came into there ever came out again. Then undead began to attack the village at night. On first two or three days a few people fled the town, before the undead started to chase down and killed anyone who tried to do so. Bann Teagan returned from Denerim two days ago. It was unknown if any mastermind behind the disaster noticed his arrival, but last night’s attack was so intensive that it almost overwhelmed the defenders. The town major and the senior knight present persuaded Teagan to take refuge in the Chantry, because they believed he was the focus of undead attack and somehow attracted their attention, though no one could be sure if this solution was effective.
In the Chantry, Elissa and Teagan met for the first time since last Satinalia. They both remembered that day very well. Traditionally, the annual Landsmeet session ended on the last day of Harvestmere. On next day, Satinalia, a Grand Royal Ball would be held to formally adjourn the Landsmeet. Young noblewomen who reached 16 would also make their debut. Elissa herself appeared as debutant just two years ago. The Royal Ball of 9:29, held in Arl of Denerim’s Estate, was the last great gathering of Fereldan nobility before The Blight and civil war engulfed the nation. In a way, it was also the curtain call of Maric’s generation. Loghain Mac Tir and Rendon Howe were the only important figure who didn’t come, both claimed ill, though the significance of the event was only understood much later…
That year’s Royal Ball produced a very happy King Cailan, who asked a 17 years old Elissa Cousland, the prettiest girl and the best dancer in attendance, to waltz with him for hours… and three very unhappy person. The first was Elissa herself. She disliked Cailan but couldn’t find any good reason to refuse the king’s invitation. Her usually doting father didn’t come to her rescue. On the contrary, he looked quite pleased, as if being forced to amuse a dandy like Cailan was something his daughter should be proud of! Her buddy Thomas Howe didn’t provide much help either, as he disappeared soon after the beginning of the ball to explore Arl Urien’s estate, because Elissa foolishly made a bet with him about the exact location of secret passage leading to the dungeon. The traitorous boy only returned when the ball was almost half finished. The second unhappy person was Queen Anora. According to a witness, her face became so long that it could almost reach the floor. The last one was Teagan. To make her point, Elissa only danced with her father and Thomas whenever Cailan released her. As a result, Teagan didn't get to dance with his “favorite ballerina” for even once.
As Teagan recently returned from Denerim, he knew more about what was happening in the kingdom than Elissa. As it happened, Loghain already declared entire House Cousland attainted for alleged ‘rebellion’ against the crown. It was an unprecedented move, since usually only individual noble got such punishment, but never an entire noble family. Because attainment not only strips a noble lord’s lands and titles, but prevents any of his direct descendant from inheriting them, attainting Bryce Cousland’s children was totally superfluous. Other nobles wondered if such unheard measure came from Loghain’s ignorance of aristocratic tradition, or simply because he hated Couslands that much, though naturally no one dared to ask him.
Loghain also listed Elissa joining Grey Warden as an ‘evidence’ of Couslands’ treachery despite Anora’s objection, which indeed proved a bad move, because no one really believed Bryce’s willful and beautiful daughter could possibly join such a controversial secret order of her own volition. Teagan, like most others, believed she was forced to join by Loghain himself, because Loghain suspected she could pose a threat to Anora’s position. There was great outrage and sympathy for the injustice inflicted on Elissa. Moreover, other nobles began to fear if they sent their men to help Loghain, their own beloved ones might fall prey to Grey Warden, too. Though Loghain promised to outlaw Grey Warden, it did little to dispel the Bannorn’s suspicion. When Loghain demanded soldiers and money from them, most banns responded with hostility.
Now Teagan had chance to know what really happened in Ostagar, but the new knowledge brought him fresh fear. Though he knew Cailan was sometimes impulsive, he was shocked his nephew could be that reckless to blackmail the last Cousland into Grey Warden. Doubtless Elissa now hated Cailan with a passion. For Teagan, the top priority for now was to prevent her extending the same animosity to entire Guerrin family. Since Isolde had sent most Redcliffe knights away and disbanded its army after Eamon fell into coma, and the castle itself along with its garrison was also lost to undead, Teagan knew he had very little to bargain. Yet it was obvious the town couldn’t survive another undead attack without Elissa and her friends’ help.
At the same time, Elissa’s three companions were quarreling among themselves about whether they should help to save the town. Alistair and Leliana obviously wanted to help hundreds of innocents that gathered there, but Morrigan pointed out the whatever help the town could provide simply didn’t warrant the effort to save it. Elissa herself watched them argue with a cold, impassive face. Teagan knew if she said ‘no’, the town and entire Guerrin family was finished. In desperation, he begged her to show mercy and pledged Redcliffe’s fealty to her. Seeing her give a slight nod, he immediately summoned Ser Perth and Mayor Murdock and announced this good news to them, with strict instruction that everyone must address Teyrna of Highever properly and show respect. There was also a stern warning that anyone who dared to call her ‘Grey Warden’ would be severely punished. as if that person insulted Arl Eamon himself.
But there was still an unhappy Morrigan, as the witch remained obstinate. Teagan was once again worried, since it was clear a powerful mage like her could be the difference between victory and failure. However, Elissa knew how to handle her. As if conjuring out of thin air, she quickly produced an elegant golden rope necklace she previously confiscated from that profiteer in Lothering. Amazed, Teagan, Alistair and Leliana watched Elissa carefully hanged the necklace around Morrigan’s neck, in the meantime, thanked the witch for her help before she had chance to refuse. Though seemingly a little irritated, Morrigan didn't reject the gift. Instead, she said, loud enough for others to hear, that she only did it for Elissa’s sake.
Now properly bribed and motivated, Morrigan did provide great help. It was not difficult for her to deduce those undead could only be introduced by a powerful demon or some undead, demonic mage, since it would be nearly impossible for a normal mage to control so many of such creatures. Then Teagan told them Eamon was poisoned by an apostate mage, so it all began to make sense. Morrigan claimed she had some spell to deal with demons or rogue mages, though it was ineffective against reanimated corpses. Thus, they spent the entire afternoon to devise a suitable plan and made corresponding preparations.
Before the night came, however, there was a further episode. A tearful young woman called Kaitlyn Mcfarlane came and begged Elissa to find her kid brother, Bevin. Normally the arrogant young teyrna would have little patience for such request. But this Kaitlyn was not only a sweet girl of the same age as Elissa herself, but also a tailor apprentice. Elissa already found she had need to hire a personal maid, thus, she agreed to help Kaitlyn. It didn’t take Alistair and Leliana long to collect the little boy, as they found him on his way to the castle’s main gate, dragging a longsword with him. He claimed he was going to find his mother, who was carried to the castle by undead. The sword piqued Alistair’s interest, as he found it was made from rare blue steel, with very high quality craftmanship. The boy claimed it belonged to he and Kaitlyn’s grandfather, a renowned ‘dragon slayer’, but Teagan had another story.
It turned out McFarlane siblings’ grandfather was a foreigner, perhaps from Free Marches. He was a highly skilled ranger who served under several Orlesian arls of Redcliffe. When the last such ‘usurper’ arl, that is, Isolde’s own father, was deposed, all Orlesians and anyone who helped them were demanded to leave, too. Only this man was allowed to stay, because he was able to hunt some dangerous beasts that plagued Redcliffe in those days, on the condition he changed his family name to his Fereldan wife’s. Eventually he managed to win the town’s gratitude by eliminating a particularly dangerous nest of wyverns, but several years later he died of old wounds. Bevin was born some years after his death and came to worship this grandfather he never saw. Since he was a likeable lad, other people generally indulged his fantasy. That family blade might have a more grandiose name before, but now it was simply called ‘The Green Blade’, perhaps due to the blade’s strange green hue. It was possibly the craft material was a mixture of steel and stormheart, a very rare ore that has magical property to help sunder the armor. Anyway, the blade was clearly enchanted. Kaitlyn wanted to give the blade to Alistair as a reward, but he insisted he only borrowed it. The blade would be wielded by him, along with other swords, in numerous battles before it was returned to Bevin after the boy began his knight training.