Fandom: Dragon Age
Rating: M (for canon-typical violence)
Characters: Duncan, assorted others
Spoilers: For all the origins except Tabris, and for Ostagar.
Notes: A while back, I asked for prompts, and vieralynn left me several. One of them was about Duncan and secrets, and although this isn't exactly what she suggested, it's the idea my brain immediately grabbed onto. (I am holding on to the other prompts for inspiration on a rainy day.) Six vignettes, one each about each of my five Wardens, and one about Duncan alone.
Also on AO3.
Five times Duncan kept a secret, and one time he wished he hadn't.
Five times Duncan kept a secret (and one time he wishes he hadn't)
1. The young dwarf stumbled out of the darkness and into the circle of torchlight, almost knocking Duncan over as she barreled into him. He rested a hand on her shoulder to steady her, then tipped up her chin to check her face. It was streaked with dirt, blood, and sweat, almost unrecognizable under the grime and desolation, but he still recognized her. "My Lady Aeducan?"
She nodded, then shook her head. "No, I can't be, I-- my name--" With a shuddering breath, she dropped her gaze. "I am a traitor, struck from the memories. I have no right to that name any longer."
"And they cast you out into the Deep Roads." The dwarva nodded, and he gave her shoulders a comforting squeeze. "Would you come with us, then? The Grey Wardens could use your sword arm in the battle to come."
There was no hesitation in her voice, even as it cracked with grief and exhaustion. "Yes," she said. "If you will have me, I will come." She lifted her chin and met his eyes, her golden gaze clear. "I thought I would die in the Deep Roads, but if you can get me out of here..."
Like as not, she still would die in the Deep Roads, someday. But Duncan held his tongue, and, with a glance, ensured that his other Wardens did the same. That was a truth that would keep.
2. There was indeed a mirror in the cavern, just as the elf had said. Feverish and rambling, the young hunter had been unable to say much of sense while Duncan carried him back to the Dalish camp, but he had repeated the word "mirror" several times, along with "darkness" and "stop" and "Tamlen" -- that last, he gathered from the Keeper, was the name of another youth, who had gone missing in the forest.
There was something familiar about the mirror, most likely enhanced by the miasma of taint that hung about it. The surviving hunter stank of taint, too, and might well die from his exposure. But Duncan hoped he would survive long enough to reach Ostagar and undergo the Joining. From everything Marethari had said about the lad, he would make a fine recruit to the Grey Wardens.
First, though, this threat would have to be dealt with. Duncan leaned forward with a frown, studying the mirror without touching it. Was this an ancient elven artifact, or was it Tevinter in origin? Strange to find it here, in a ruin with both human and elven characteristics. Perhaps, if the mirror had been tainted, the darkspawn were using it to--
A loud bang from the other side of the room interrupted Duncan's train of thought, and he stepped away to investigate. A tunnel -- a darkspawn tunnel, and of recent construction if he didn't miss his guess -- stretched out from the back of the room. Had this been here before? Duncan held up his torch, rested his other hand on the hilt of his sword, and took a few steps forward. "Who's there?"
The light of the torch fell on the face of a male elf, who threw up a hand to shield his swollen eyes. He stood half-hunched over, and his skin was already marred by the bruises and lesions of the taint. "No one!" he hissed. "Go away. Leave me alone."
The other one, Duncan realized, his heart sinking. "Let me help you," he said, letting go of his sword and moving to the knife in his belt instead. "I can put an end to your suffering."
"No. No!" The elf pulled a bow from behind his back and drew back, aiming an arrow at Duncan's face. "I told you, stay away from me. Just... go away." He backed away, arrow still nocked, and Duncan held up his hands in surrender, waiting as the elf -- more than half a ghoul, in truth -- vanished into the darkness of the tunnel.
Duncan dropped his hand and shook his head. "A shame," he murmured aloud. But there was no point in telling the other Dalish. Better they think their clanmate dead than lost to this fate.
3. "If she goes with you--" Bryce Cousland stopped talking, eyes rolling back in his head as he sucked in a deep breath, his body desperately trying to replace the life that seeped out of him through the fingers clamped over his open gut. He gasped a few more times, then closed his eyes before opening them again, bringing them to bear on Duncan's face. "Will she be safe? With the Wardens?"
"She will be safe from Howe's men," Duncan said. "I promise you that." No purpose in talking about the other dangers she would face. She would learn about them soon enough, and better for the Couslands not to spend their final moments dwelling on them.
Still, he could see that Bryce was not truly fooled, from the quick quirk of his lips, the tiny nod of resignation. "All right. Then I give you my blessing. But hurry!"
The girl knelt down beside her father, tears in her eyes. "Father, are you sure..."
"More sure than anything," he rasped. "Go, pup. Go with Duncan, and be safe. Find Fergus, and tell him--" He doubled over, struck by a coughing fit, and blood darkened his lips. Duncan let out a small sad sigh. It would not be long, now.
On Bryce's other side, Eleanor closed one hand around his shoulder and reached for her daughter with the other. "Tell him what happened," she murmured. "Tell him we love him, that he is teyrn now, that it is up to him to get justice for us."
"I will." She kissed her mother's hand and her father's brow, and then she stood to face Duncan, her expression calm despite the tear that streaked down her cheek. "I'm ready."
4. Sometime after Duncan had settled down in his guest quarters, he heard a gentle rap on the door. He was not truly surprised to discover First Enchanter Irving standing on the other side, worry etched into his brow. "Good evening," Duncan said.
"May I speak with you, in private?" Irving stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "We are about to have some trouble, and I wonder if you can help."
"Whatever I can do, I will. Within the bounds of the Grey Warden mandates, of course." Duncan gestured toward the empty chair in the corner, but Irving either did not see or chose to ignore the gesture. Instead, he paced over the rug, hands grasped behind his back. "What can I do?"
"Our newly-Harrowed mage. The young elf who showed you to your rooms." Irving sighed. "He has fallen in with bad influences, and much as I had hoped to keep him here, to groom him to take my place someday... I fear matters will come to a head soon, and Greagoir would never allow it." He turned on his heel and stared hard at Duncan. "You can save him, give him a new destiny, if you take him away from this place."
"Could you not just send him to Ostagar with Wynne and the others?" Duncan asked.
Irving shook his head. "He would not go. He is too fond of the Circle and the society we have here. More importantly, if my fears become reality, I will need to put him beyond the templars' reach. Not just for a few months, but permanently. That means with you."
It was not, Duncan feared, always as simple as that, but never mind. "I would gladly take such a talented mage as him into the fold of the Wardens."
Irving's shoulders fell, whether in relief or unhappiness Duncan could not be certain. "Thank you, my friend. I will call you when it is time." He turned for the door, then paused. "Please, do not tell him? I would not want him to think that I cast him out of his home. As I would never have done, if I had seen any other way."
"Of course," Duncan said. "Your secret is safe with me."
5. The young dwarf had been full of nothing but questions ever since they had stepped out the front gates of Orzammar, and Duncan had been glad to see it. Better curiosity than terror or homesickness -- both reactions Duncan had seen in dwarves released to the surface before, far too many times. The animals, the plants, the geography, the climate: it was all new to her, and all delightful. Even a jaded old man like himself could take pleasure in her excitement.
This last night out from Ostagar, though, as they settled in by the campfire, she asked the one question he had most dreaded: "But what about darkspawn?" She leaned back on her hands and looked up at him, eyes wide. "Where do new darkspawn come from? Do they hatch from eggs, like deepstalkers? Or do they have mothers and fathers like us? Or-- what?"
He took a deep breath, noticed that other Wardens were looking at him: some with knowing horror, others with equal curiosity. "We don't truly know," he said, the lie coming easy, thanks to many years' practice. "There are theories, some seeming more likely than others. But which is true, and which merely legend?" He shrugged, spreading his hands wide. "That, I cannot say." Technically true: few Wardens were trusted with the truth about broodmothers. Certainly not a young new recruit who had just escaped the worst part of Orzammar. There would be time.
6. Time. It's only a matter of time before they come for him. The darkspawn will sense his weakness and strike, and Duncan is in no condition to fight back. The sword hilt slips out of his rain-soaked hands, and he falls off the dying ogre as it topples backward. He hits the ground, his foot sliding on the mud, and he is on his back, head splashing into a puddle of rainwater and blood. Drops of both pelt his face, hard enough that he can barely see the signal flare dancing atop the Tower of Ishal.
The last two Grey Wardens succeeded in their mission, but he has failed in his. Failed to protect the king, to defeat the darkspawn, to stop the Blight. Duncan's final thoughts are all regrets, every last one. So many things he should have told them. So many things he would have done differently, if only he had known that there would be no time. No time to tell the newest Warden about their role in the order, and Alistair... Duncan would have told Alistair about Maric, oaths sworn, sacrifices made... and now he would never know.
He lifts a hand to wipe his face clean and sits up, one last time, staring down the edge of the hurlock's axe as it whirls through the air.
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