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What Have We Here

By Mazanti

Fantasy / Adventure

Orzammar: Castes Aside

Faren Brosca was fairly practical, for a casteless in Dust Town. He had a drunken monkey of a mother and a gorgeous sister, Rica. He did what it took to survive even if that meant working for that slug, Beraht, and his Carta full of slugs while Rica trolled the rarified air of the Diamond Quarter as a noble hunter. Beraht had paid for Rica's education, her clothes and her jewelry so she would be attractive to the male nobles. All she had to do was hook the right noble and bear him a son. The caste of an infant was determined by the caste of the same sex parent. Faren and his mother and "uncle" Beraht could move up as "guests" of the noble family. He hated himself for letting her do it, but had to admit Rica was pretty good at it…if Beraht would just quit rushing her.

"I met a very special man, Faren," Rica said as she came in late. She looked tired but happy as she undid the full-length cloak that got her past the sods on the streets outside their door. Her attire was fine in the Commons or the Diamond Quarter. It would get her robbed and killed in Dust Town.

Mother, without lifting her head from the table strewn with several empty bottles of the local bootleg rotgut and moldy bits of uneaten food, mumbled, "Unless he's a high and mighty lord, you'd better not spread your legs for 'im."

Faren had just returned from a distasteful job for Beraht, so he was in a pretty foul mood. On a good day, his mother could make him want to tear out the braids in his wiry red beard. This was a bad day. He swept the bottles and garbage from the table, grabbed his mother's arm and led her to her room. Once there, he opened the door and shoved her inside enough to be able to slam the door shut. He heard a table fall over, but had no inclination to go back to see if she was on the floor or not. As he stood to calm himself down before going back to talk to Rica, he heard a loud snore from inside his mother's room. She probably did fall on the floor…and then passed out.

Rica stood in the archway to the front room, backlit by the only strong light source in their small apartment, the fireplace. She stared at him with those large brown eyes. "Faren, she is still our mother."

He huffed and ran his hands through his dark red hair. He just been home long enough to unbraid his hair, so he had a lot of hair he could grab…and try not to pull out. He motioned for Rica to sit at the now cleared off table. "Tell me about him."

She blushed, another thing she learned to do. Faren couldn't recall her ever blushing when they were children. "I hesitate to say anything too soon because it might all fall through, but he is a high-placed noble and he's nice to me."

"Does he have a name?" Faren asked. When she kept silent, unwilling to answer him, he said, "Fine. Just let me know if he hurts you." He shrugged. "Don't have a clue what I'd do about it, but tell me anyhow."

Rica looked at him and then laughed. She pulled him up out of his chair and hugged him soundly. "You're a good brother, Faren." She pulled back. "I don't think you'll have anything to worry about, though."

Faren raised an eyebrow of disbelief, but smiled. "Leske and I have another job for Beraht tomorrow around twelve strokes…at the Proving, of all places." It was one of those jobs that Faren took to keep Beraht off Rica's ass, so he would leave her alone, give her more time. He only hoped this job wouldn't land him in prison.

Rica's pretty face scrunched up into a worried frown, but she didn't say anything. She'd told him plenty of times that she knew…and hated…what her brother had to do. She took off her shawl and started to take down the braided bun in her bright red hair. "The Proving for the Grey Wardens?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, surprise evident on his craggy face. No matter how much Beraht had paid for Rica's education, the girl had common sense and was smarter than all of the Carta put together. "How'd you know about that?"

With a twinkle in her eye, Rica only smiled and said, "I told you he was a high-placed noble, didn't I?" She reached into her clothes chest and rummaged around for a nightgown and her soaps and lotions. Then, she grabbed a towel and headed to the door of their small bathing room, another gift from Beraht to make sure Rica smelled nice.

"What? He a deshyr or somethin'?" Faren asked as he followed her. This guy sounded like just the mark Beraht was looking for, but he also sounded like someone that Rica might be falling for. Faren worried that this "special man" would end up disappointing her.

"Good night, Faren." Rica giggled as she closed the curtain to the bath and started to hum as she took her bath and got ready for bed. Faren soon smelled the aroma of the lavender soap. It was a nice change from the vomit of the Dust Town streets and their mother's breath.

He sighed and shrugged as he took off his leathers and spent a few minutes cleaning and oiling them. Even with the entry passes Beraht gave them, he doubted the Proving guards would let in a brand with dried blood on his armor. Then, he slipped under the old, worn blanket he'd had since he was a kid and went to sleep fast. Tomorrow was gonna be a busy day.


Gorim opened his eyes, yawned and stretched, until he realized that Sereda was still asleep on his shoulder. He grimaced and tried to shake her awake. She only moaned something unintelligible and tried to snuggle closer to him. "Princess," he said firmly, "we've got to get up before someone finds us in bed." Sereda looked beautiful to Gorim even with her rumpled dark red hair and crusted drool on the side of her mouth. She sighed heavily and opened her gorgeous brown eyes.

After only a couple moments, she awoke fully. "By the Stone, Gorim!" she cried as she threw off the covers and headed to her already laid out armor and undergarments, leaving Gorim to chuckle as he did the same.

Neither of them was a heavy sleeper … side effect of their warrior training and many treks into the Deep Roads to keep back the darkspawn: the misshapen brood of monsters that mothers threatened their children with — or the result of some diabolical topsider sin — only the Ancestors knew. All any dwarf knew was that the darkspawn were the bane of all dwarven existence.

So, coming fully awake and donning armor usually took a very short time.

However, both of them awakening in the same bed was greatly frowned upon. Sereda was of the Noble caste, and worse, she was the daughter of the King. "Princess" was more than a term of endearment to Gorim. He was a member of the Warrior caste. Both were respected and acclaimed, but the caste walls were built stone by stone over the centuries to be impenetrable.

"Of all days to oversleep," Sereda mumbled as she buckled her breastplate.

"Let's just hope your brothers haven't found out yet," Gorim grinned. "For the sake of my hide."

Just as Sereda finished combing her hair into place, her bedroom door slammed open. "I knew I should have knocked sooner," Bhelen, Sereda's little brother said. "Dragging my sister out of bed isn't part of your duties, Gorim." He narrowed his eyes at the warrior. "Or dragging her into bed."

Gorim cleared his throat. "I assure you, Prince Bhelen, there was no dragging either direction."

Bhelen stared at Gorim for a moment and then seemed to dismiss any other comments he may have had … for the moment. Turning to Sereda, he said, "Trian's on the warpath this morning, sister. Might want to stay out of his way."

She sighed and frowned. "First, you didn't knock. You barged right in like you always do. And second, I need to go to the Proving, Bhelen, and I know he'll be there, too."

"Well, don't say I didn't warn you," Bhelen said with one of his more insincere smiles. Gorim never liked either of Sereda's brothers but he had to respect how they both played the game of deceit and intrigue inherent to the Noble caste. Must be all the inbreeding over the centuries. He smiled at his Princess. She was different. After King Endrin returned to the Stone, maybe the Ancestors would bless Orzammar with her as Queen. Many noble houses felt the same way as there was no guarantee the Assembly would put the eldest heir on the throne. Gorim just had to see to it that she survived the machinations of her brothers until then.

She strapped on the last of her armor and smiled at Bhelen. "Thanks for the warning. This Proving is for Warden Commander Duncan as well as to celebrate clearing the Aeducan Thaig. I hear the construction of a barrier door beyond the thaig is almost complete unless the Artisan class has some other complaint about how drab it looks. If Trian wants to be a pain in my back side today, so be it." She looked at Gorim. "Give me a bit of time in the throne room with father and the Warden Commander and I'll meet you in the entrance hall."

Gorim bowed his assent as she left the room and began to leave himself, but Bhelen stopped him. "I'm going to overlook that I found out you weren't at call this morning, Gorim, but you must be more discrete. Trian's well aware of her popularity with the other noble families. I wouldn't put it past him to try something to discredit or get rid of her and pin it on you."

"I will do my best as always, Your Highness," Gorim replied with a nod and then looked directly at Bhelen. "I assure you that nothing will happen to your sister and severe consequences will happen to whomever tries something." Then, Gorim's face formed into a frown. "How far would Trian really go?"

Bhelen gave no indication that he caught the implied threat. He just sighed. "Just watch out for poisoned daggers and ambushes."

"He'd actually kill Sereda?!" Gorim whispered as he stepped closer to the younger prince. Dwarven ascension was usually fraught with political intrigue and scheming but Trian just never struck Gorim as that vicious … or that smart. Sadly, though, Trian might pay for someone else to actually kill his competition for him … and pin it on Gorim.

"He wants to be the next king. Badly. What do you think he'd be capable of?" Bhelen glanced toward the door. "I need to attend father and Sereda. Just watch her back. Like you always do." The last part was said with a sneer that meant it wasn't a compliment to Gorim's vigilance in protecting his charge.

Instead of going directly to the entry, Gorim stopped off in the storeroom and double-checked King Endrin's supply of poisons. Every Orzammar noble house had such a supply. Most of the bottles and vials were dusted with a heavy layer of disuse. A worried frown creased his forehead as he noticed one of the vials missing, a vial of the poison called "Noble Killer". It could have been stolen years ago or it could have been taken to be used in Sereda's drink at an opportune time. When he heard an argument break out in the kitchen down the hall, he feared he might be caught staring at the poison supply. So, he quietly left the storeroom and slipped into the entrance hall to wait for Sereda.

She didn't come out. It had been long enough to wait as Gorim nodded to the throne room door guard and slipped quietly into the back of the room. Things looked to be wrapping up from the breakfast feast before the day's celebrations. Bhelen was already gone and Sereda was standing next to Commander Duncan and they both were having some sort of serious discussion with King Endrin. Gorim couldn't hear the conversation but Sereda soon noticed him and nodded. The king walked away from the discussion with a decidedly unhappy look while Sereda looked very happy. Gorim didn't know the warden well enough to read him.

"Let's head to the Provings," Sereda said as she walked up. She read the questioning look on Gorim's face correctly. "We'll talk on the way."

While they were pretending to shop at the handpicked, today-only merchant stalls in the Diamond Quarter, Gorim leaned close. "Okay, what's going on? Whatever it is, your father didn't seem happy," he whispered.

Sereda walked over to a railing overlooking the great lava pool and the bridge to the Provings down below. She turned quickly to Gorim with a worried look. "What do you think of the Grey Wardens, Gorim?"

"Why? Did Duncan say something he'll regret?" Gorim asked as he looked around for the Warden Commander.

"At ease, Gorim," Sereda chuckled. "Duncan and his wardens are here to investigate the cause of an increased darkspawn presence on the surface. They're afraid it might be signaling a Blight and want to check the Deep Roads beyond the Aeducan Thaig before the barrier door is finished. Come on. It's an honest question. What do you think?"

Gorim pondered the answer to that one. "I think they're an honorable group. They know what we go through down here. And, I've always thought Duncan was to be given respect for his efforts."

Sereda's smile gave Gorim pause. She turned to look out over the railing again. "Would you ever consider becoming a Grey Warden?" She asked the question with a lot more trepidation than she'd ever asked a question of Gorim before.

Gorim laughed. "Only if you did, Princess."

When she didn't laugh back, he got really, really serious. "You? Joining the…?! Have you lost your mind?" he hissed. "You're the daughter of the king, second in line for the throne, and definitely in line to rule the new thaig. You'd be abandoning your responsibilities and your caste. You'd be a surfacer, sky-touched, stone-blind." He turned her to face him. "Tell me you're not considering that."

She only responded with, "Did you mean it when you said you'd join if I did?"

The overlook was starting to get crowded and their conversation was garnering too much nosey noble notice. He looked into her eyes for several long minutes. "I…you…we'll talk after the Proving." Then he swept his hand indicating that she should go first.

She quickly made her way past all the vendors and down the newly outfitted elevator to the Commons. There she and Gorim ran into Duncan and his wardens. "Gorim, this is Commander Duncan of the Grey Wardens. Duncan, I'd like you to meet my second, Gorim."

Gorim plastered on a pleasant face but inside he was a jumble of worries and fears. "Warden Commander, a…pleasure to meet you."

Duncan didn't miss the hesitation. "Well met, Gorim. We're all very honored to be here today." When Gorim glanced at the other four wardens, Duncan continued, "These gentlemen are here to go with me into the Deep Roads after the Proving has concluded." He gestured to another dwarf. "This is my second, Senior Warden Gavin, and…"

"Gavin Bemot?!" Gorim interrupted. "I'd heard you left for the surface…what, 10 years ago?...but I could never shake out the fact from rumor."

Gavin merely shook his head. "Well, the truth of the matter was that I left before my father exiled me to the Deep Roads." He sighed. "I kinda lost my head when he killed the brand I was seeing." He added in mumble, "That girl had more sense than all of the nobles…" At Duncan clearing his throat and Bemot finally noticing Sereda's bemused smile, he added, "…all the nobles I'd ever met." We smiled at Sereda. "I don't think I'd ever met you, Princess."

"Well, now you have, Gavin," she said quietly. "I hope I'll earn your respect over time."

Then, Duncan turned to the three humans and introduced them: two of them looked like seasoned warriors, Carsten and Orich, but the third, grinning like a man after his first tumble in the bedchamber, was a new warden by the name of Alistair. He looked familiar to Gorim, but then all humans did look similar. If he was a new warden, then it was highly unlikely that Gorim had seen him.

They all made their way to the honorary seating above the Proving arena, but before they could sit down, Duncan took Gorim aside. "All right, Gorim, you've been glaring at me and I'd like to know why."

Caught in his inattention to propriety, Gorim cleared his throat. "Warden Commander," he began quietly while looking around to make sure no one would be listening, "I'll speak plainly. You cannot take the Princess away from Orzammar." He leaned in even closer to Duncan and added, "She's the one person who stands a chance of maintaining any kind of peace after her father returns to the Stone. If she goes with you, she won't be able to return and do that."

Duncan smiled warmly. "And, what of the Princess's desires, Gorim?" He also leaned in closely. "She has told me that she wishes to be a Grey Warden and even the King realizes how important it is to have more dwarven representation amongst the Grey Wardens, especially so if we discover that an Archdemon has risen and the land will be hit by another Blight."

Gorim considered Duncan's unfortunately accurate words. "All right," he replied. "Let me and the Princess go with you into the Deep Roads…I can't believe I'm offering this…and if you do find out that we have a Blight, you will not only have her as a new Grey Warden, but me as well."

Duncan frowned. "As I understand it, you and the Princess will be leading a sweep of the nearby Deep Roads to clear the area of darkspawn and lay traps and alarms for future incursions."

After pondering that for a moment, Gorim said, "I'll talk to her about it and ask Frandlin Ivo to lead that group. His house is the one that actually made the plans for the alarm system. I don't think it will be a problem, other than dealing with the nobles who think it beneath the Princess to lead a group of Grey Wardens into the Deep Roads."

"And, if we find no evidence of an Archdemon," he surmised, "then you would like to try to talk the Princess out of coming with me?"

That wasn't exactly what Gorim wanted, but he knew it would be the best he would get. He nodded, reluctantly, at the unspoken statement that she would want to join the Wardens even if there weren't an Archdemon.

Duncan chuckled. "I just made a similar agreement with King Endrin, Gorim." He stood to his full height. "And, I will tell you what I told him: I will not use the Right of Conscription on Princess Sereda. If she decides to stay here, I will not force her to go with me." He smiled. "However, having the Princess … lead … us tomorrow will be a great honor and very much appreciated. Thank you."

Gorim had to admit it, Duncan was good at diplomacy, even though the Warden Commander bristled a bit at being led by Sereda. He made Gorim almost want to become a Grey Warden. Almost.

He took Sereda aside for a moment and went over his proposed change of plans. She thought it was a great idea, so Gorim went off to get an audience with King Endrin and Frandlin Ivo. He knew what to tell each of them to make them agree. The King would want Sereda to taste the life of a Grey Warden and perhaps change her mind before she actually went through with it. Ivo wanted to lead the excursion anyway, so that shouldn't be a hard sell either. Gorim sighed as he realized that he would have to do some very persuasive talking if it turned out that there was a Blight.

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