Dragon Age Origins: Shadow of the Blight
Colban Ar Bethac O Lowhold
It was the month of Guardian. The snow had began its retreat from the lower hills, but the unforgiving peaks of the Frostback mountains were no less forbidding as ever. The bulk of the range was forever snowcapped and a cold constant biting chill hung in the air. Nevertheless the cold protected the Avvars from their enemies, and it was the cold that they used as a weapon against the lowlanders when they raided from the mountains, and the cold the fear they wished to inspire in the faithless. The cold, however, also drove away the animals that the Avvars relied on for food, and so the hunting parties had to venture into the lowlands of Ferelden to find provisions among the forests and valleys that made up the western bannorns.
Colban Ar Bethac O Lowhold inspected some of the haul. Several deer, possibly kept as game by one of the local banns, some boar and a few goats. Korth had been kind. Combined with some of the dwarven ales traded from Orzammar, these would make for a fine feast to celebrate his sisters impending marriage. It would be nightfall soon however, and the party of about 30 men should return back to Lowhold quickly.
An hour passed when Colban suddenly became aware of the stillness of the night. It was too quiet. As if reading his mind, his faithful warhound Ansgar began growling and bearing his fangs towards a copse of trees off to the side. Colban kneeled down and tried to settle his friend. The mabari’s eyes maintained focusly firmly on the copse and it let out a few angry barks, which was soon joined by some of the others. Trusting his instincts, Colban clasped his heavy two-handed greataxe and waited as tension spread through the party. All of a sudden, the looming figure of a huge grizzly bear came crashing through the trees with a roar. Several of the hounds rushed towards the menace, only to meet with its mighty claws and teeth. Colban could stay his fury no longer as with a blood-curdling scream he charged at the beast. The bear reared up and tried to punch and claw at Colban as he swung his axe, dropping the avvar as his axe cleaved into the beasts shoulder. The bear howled with anger, and tried to bring its full weight down upon the warrior, only to find Ansgar snapping at its hindlegs. The distraction was enough for Colban to roll to the side as the bear crashed to the ground. For the briefest of moments the bear and the avvar met each other with furious glares, as the bear snapped towards Colban. In desperate fury, Colban blindly swang the axe with all his strength at the bear. There was a sickening crunch as blood and gore splattered over the snow. The bear collapsed on top of the avvar, and for a moment there was silence.
Groggily, Colban moaned from half underneath the bears heavy frame. Ansgar bounded up beside his master with concern, but as Colban dragged himself from beneath the bear the anxiety turned to joy and the mabari licked at Colbans wounds mixed with yelps of excited approval.
“Lets take this home with us too,” Colban announced groggily. “It will make a good trophy…or at least a nice coat”.
As dawn broke the next morning, the hunting party came within sight of the clan settlement. Lowhold was built near the foot of the Frostbacks, in a naturally raised forest clearing. As such, much of the hold was built from wood from the surrounding evergreens, including the palisade walls. As more and more forest had been cleared, some of the land had been reclaimed for farming. Under the shelter of the mountain, and with the natural defence of the forest surrounding it, Lowhold had prospered amongst the Avvar clans.
As the hunting party broke the treeline, the falconers released the hunting eagles who swooped over the walls, settling on perches above the Avvar longhouses. A great hue and cry swept over the camp as the party came through the gates. Colban loved the great ceremony the men enjoyed when the returned to camp, as did Ansgar too, parading joyfully alongside his master. In the centre of the village, sat the shrine, an ornate wooden structure decorated with intricate carvings of the Avvar pantheon. In front stood a tall circle of stone totems each built in honor of a different god, surrounding a sacrificial pit. Deep from within he heard the growl of the holds sacred animal, a great bear much like the one whose hide he now proudly carried over his shoulder. Colban continued through the hold until he reached a large stone structure with an eagles head over the door. The Thane’s hall. Home of Thane Aralt Ar Orla O Lowhold, the clans leader. His father.
Colban opened the door with great shout and cheer. “Father, come see what prize your youngest brings home!” The room was full, but deathly silent. “Whats wrong? Why aren’t you celebrating?” Colban asked with surprise. His mother stood up and approached him with uncertainty. “Nechtan is here,” she began. “He’s with your father”. Colbans eyes grew wide. The shaman was here?
“Why?” Colban asked with apprehension.
His older brother laid his hand on his side, and looked into his eyes. “We don’t know, but he said it was about you.”
Another door opened, and Colban was beckoned into the audience chamber. The room was uncluttered, with thick furs covering the floor, side for a small fire pit in the centre for heat. On the wall his father prominently displayed various fine weapons and animal heads, trophies of war and hunting. The Thane himself sat at the far end, in a high back seat made of logs, a large burly man, dressed in fine furs with a dark crimson cloak, and a small metal circlet upon his head. Nechtan stood next to him, a much more slender frame, and older in years, but his fraility disguised great ability. It was said that when he was younger, he had met the great bear Sigfrost in a dream, and had challenged him for wisdom. Surviving the encounter, he was bestowed with great power and otherworldly foresight. As Colban entered the room, his father lifted his eyes to acknowledge his son, but then returned to looking at the floor, deep in his own thoughts, head resting on his chin. Nechtan turned to look at Colban, his gaze searching as if he was trying to peer into the mans soul.
“Is someone going to tell me whats going on?”
The Thane looked towards the guards with him, and beckoned them to leave the chamber, then resumed his meditative pose. Colban strode forward, and spoke again, more forcefully this time. “I said, whats going on? You asked to see me Nechtan?”
Nechtan turned to look at the Thane. “Nechtan has had a vision….”
“Tell him, Nechtan. As you told me.”
The sage old man turned to Colban and fearfully began to speak.
“I have had a vision, a vision of great distress to me!”
“And?” Colban asked, curtly.
“In this vision I saw the hold, and the hold was on fire, and bodies were scattered everywhere…”
The brash young warrior looked a little more concerned now. Colban didn’t know much of Nechtan’s abilities, but his father had told him that his faith in the old mans insight and wisdom had proven his worth to be taken seriously.
“Mother said you were looking for me. Where do I come into this…?”
Nechtan again turned towards the Thane, as if seeking permission. Aralt closed his eyes and nodded.
“…and in the midst of the flames, climbing out of the ruins, I saw you there!”
Colban laughed. “So what are you saying? You think I’m going to burn this place to the ground? My own home? The clan I’ve grown up in? That I’ve fought for?”
Colban sneered derisively. “You had me worried there for a moment, old man.”
Nechtan seemed taken aback, but the Thane sat emotionless still, staring into the fire in the centre of the room.
“Wait, are you actually taking this seriously father??!” Colban was incredulous.
“I must take all threats to Lowhold seriously…” the Thane began.
“But I am your SON!”
“AND I AM THE THANE!” bellowed his father, rising out of his seat. “My responsibility is to not just this family, but everyone who shelters within our walls!”
“So what will you do?” asked Colban sarcastically, passions stirring. “Do you plan to feed me to Mahon in the pit?!”
Father and son began to shout angrily at each other, squaring up as both their tempers flared. Nechtan, on the other hand, stood by, head bowed, leaning on his staff. He closed his eyes, as if deep in a meditation. The very essence of calm in the storm. Finally, he broke his silence.
“If this omen is from the gods, let the gods decide your fate.”
Both warriors broke their stare on each other and turned to the old man.
“What do you mean?” Colban asked.
“Come.” The old sage left the chamber as the chieftain and his son followed.
Quite the crowd had gathered outside. Perhaps they had heard the shouting outside, or perhaps word had got around that Nechtan had asked for an audience with the Thane. Either way, it seemed as if the entire hold had now assembled. As Nechtan walked out towards the shrine, the crowd parted for him like snow before a flame, then began to follow.
“I need an offering”. Someone in the crowd brought forth a young goat. Nechtan offered up thanks to Korth for his providence, then cast the animal into the pit. The kid bleated fearfully, then there was a roar and a wet tearing sound. The old man muttered some spell or ritual, and fell to his knees. Colban and the crowd stood still with fearful anxiety. A few minutes passed in relative silence before being suddenly broken by a murder of ravens passing overhead. From the flock, a sole raven came down and settled on one of the stone totems, a statue of a woman cloaked in feathers obscuring all but her eyes.
Nechtan rose to his feet, muttering thankfulness to the gods as he pulled himself up with his staff. “The lady has spoken”. He extended his staff towards the raven, which promptly fluttered down from the totem to perch on the end.
He turned to face Colban. “You must leave the hold, never to return! Follow the lady’s messenger. Where th’ raven roosts shall be your home.”
The crowd gasped and murmered. Noone was quite sure what was happening, or why, not least Colban. Why him? Had he offended the gods? He was fiercely proud of the clan, what could possibly cause him to turn against family and friends?
The rest seemed to happen very quickly. Colban made his goodbyes, packed his bags, took some rations for the journey, but left the hold resolutely and with little emotion. It seemed so unreal. He was barely halfway between the hold and the treeline when Ansgar came bounding out of the gates towards him, barking. Where was his master going, had he forgotten him? “No boy, this is your home,” Colban said, pointing back towards the gates. “You must stay, they will need a dog like you!” Ansgar crouched down, folding back his ears in confusion. He was an intelligent dog, but he was still a dog. “Go,” the warrior commanded, feeling tears welling in his eyes. “Now!”
Mortified that he might have done something to offend his master, Ansgar prostrated himself at Colban’s feet, nuzzling his nose at his boots and whining plaintively. The barbarians façade finally broke down.
“Oh Ansgar. I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking with grief. “What say you friend?” he asked “are you up for an adventure? Just you and me?” The warhound bounded in place, overjoyed that his master was taking him along after all, barking excitedly in anticipation. Together, the two moved off into the forest.
For two weeks the pair moved through Ferelden, following the raven. Once or twice they attracted unwanted attention from miscreants and wildlife, but when Ansgar bore his teeth or Colban his mighty axe, both threats usually backed off. The once or twice they didn’t soon ended badly for their aggressors. As if lowlanders would be any match for us, he thought. Finally, just as the avvar began to wonder would the bird lead them across Ferelden in its entirety, the raven flew into the top of a tower, the highest point of a tall keep climbing out of the sleepy Ferelden countryside, a mighty castle built into the side of a mountain, bearing the heraldry of a bear and another beast he did not recognize. There were more than echoes of the Avvar homeland here.
Colban smiled at Korth’s providence again.
Yes, this would be his home.