I always took my home for granted. It was a grand castle, riddled with side passages and secret entrances from one part to another. As children, my brother and I used some of these secret passages to play pranks on one another. He would put frogs in my bed and I would hide my favorite toys under his and get him in trouble with Father. We loved each other but I don't think we ever said it. He would call me a brat, which I was, and I would call him a bully, which he wasn't. Even the day he left for war, I teased him, not realizing that I may never see him again.

The cold stone walls held secrets too. Not just those of boys and girls, frogs and toys. I had a secret romance with Roland, Ser Gilmore, when I was sixteen. It only lasted a few months before Mother found out. He would stand outside my window and sing poorly to me and I would laugh at him. He still came back the following night and I would laugh again, all the while I flirted with him. I was learning how to wield feminine wiles, as Mother said I would need them when I married. She was always pushing me towards marriage, but Father held back. He knew that I had no desire to marry and raise a family at such a young age. Father indulged me, putting off the topic of my marriage over and over again. I was grateful.

Father always indulged me. I can remember times when he let me join the hunt. My arrows shoot true and I have had my fair share of kills. Fergus and I would compete. I was a better shot than he, but I can barely lift a broadsword, much less swing it in a meaningful manner. I left the lists to him.

Mother rarely indulged me. She was kind but strict. I learned all the niceties of nobility: how to sit, how to stand, curtsey, dance, play the harp, and paint. I learned how to run a household and keep servants. I never liked how Mother allowed Nan to treat the elves, but it wasn't my house to order.

Both Fergus and I were well educated in politics and culture. I speak three languages. I know the Cousland family history back to when we were merely Banns. I've met a few of the Ferelden nobles as we entertained them, mostly Arl Howe, since he was our vassal. I've danced with many a gentleman since my coming out, and frightened a few of them with my level of education and strong opinion.

My life changed the day I met Duncan. Father introduced him as a Grey Warden. He was middle-aged, younger than Father, but still had a significant amount of grey in his hair. I briefly wondered if a "Grey Warden" was required to have grey hair. His skin wasn't grey, so how would anyone identify him as a Grey Warden? Duncan was dressed as a warrior, with two long daggers strapped to his back. He looked fierce, but his voice was kind as we were introduced. He said he was at Highever to recruit for the Grey Wardens and was considering Ser Gilmore, among others. I expressed an interest in joining so that I could fight with Fergus and Father at the forefront of battle, but Father refused. He said I was needed here to run the castle while they were away. I was to be in charge!

My brother left that afternoon, and Father was preparing to leave the next day. King Cailan was waiting in Ostagar, preparing for a major assault against the darkspawn. He needed as much support as he could muster for the upcoming battle. I spent the day exchanging pleasantries with Arl Howe and meeting Duncan, then running around after my hound, Loki, who had slipped into the larder again. Our cook, Nan, was most aggravated by his actions, as she always is, and threatened to quit. (Again.) So I went with Roland to find out what was the matter and as it turns out giant rats had infested the larder and Loki was trying to fend them off. Good dog, Loki!

Ah, but I have become distracted – back to the night my life changed.

I awoke from my sleep to the sounds of fighting. I was shocked. How could the battle be here when the king was fighting the darkspawn in the south? I rushed to get dressed and found Mother at my door, dressed for war with a longbow and a quiver full of arrows. I turned at a sound, then pushed Mother aside a blow struck the air between us. I grabbed an arrow from Mother's quiver and drove it into the man's eye. He staggered backwards and fell to his knees. That was when I recognized the livery of Arl Howe. Wolves in sheep's clothing… we had foolishly let them into our home – yielding every courtesy – and we were to be repaid with blood.

I killed my first man that night. Sadly, it would not be my last.

Mother and I wound our way down through the castle, but saw no sign of Father. Our intent was to go to the armory first and take the family sword and shield, but Howe's men overwhelmed us and we barely made it out alive. Fire obscured our path, and we left Roland defending the great hall from the invaders. When we came upon a group of Howe's men, we shot them full of arrows. It was then that I realized my archery skills may have come from Mother. I had never seen her hunt before. I had no idea she could shoot a bow. And I would never have imagined her killing a man. But all these things came true that night as we snaked our way about the castle. Eventually, we discovered Father in the pantry, near the secret exit to the castle. Duncan found us there.

I begged Father to come with us out the secret exit, but he refused. Instead he gave me into Duncan's care. I begged Mother to join us, but she was adamant about not leaving Father's side. She said she could give us a head start. I remember her last words to me: "I am no pampered Orlesian maid. I can fight as welll as any man. I love you. Now go." Duncan had to drag me down the tunnel, for I couldn't see through my tears. I started back towards them twice with the foolhardy notion that I could save them, but Duncan was persistent in his task. We fled the castle and went to Ostagar.