DRAGON AGE: BULLSHIT EDITION
What even IS her deal?
Gisele’s family has something of a checkered past. Her grandmother Therese was an Orlesian courtesan of some note in Val Royeaux, having clawed her way up from the slums of the Alienage to enjoy noble patronage, determined to rise above her station, and even had her own salon for a time. She fell in love with her primary benefactor, a rather distinguished noble, and became his mistress. She moved to Ferelden to be with him, at his own request, when he accepted a position in Meghren’s court as an advisor. Unfortunately for Therese, once she arrived in Denerim, the noble’s wife discovered the affair, and humiliated by the notion of being cast over for an elf much less a prostitute, demanded Therese be given the most menial position in the palace’s household staff. The elf who once had a modest salon and even commanded her own small staff of servants in Val Royeaux was reduced to emptying chamber pots and scrubbing floors in the kitchens, while the noble Comte who once claimed to love her more than anything turned his back on her and pretended never to have known her at all; it was a bitter reminder of just where she actually stood in human society, despite her implausibly charmed rise.
Renaud, Gisele’s grandfather, hailed from Halamshiral and was also a servant in the palace at Denerim, “imported” from Orlais with many other elves because they were seen as more docile than the native Fereldan elves. The other elven servants looked down upon Therese because of her past as a courtesan, and generally shunned her, but not Renaud. Unlike the others, who believed her overly proud and that she’d gotten what was coming to her, he took pity on her and befriended her. And she fell in love with him before too long, charmed by his compassion and handsome smile. Renaud and Therese married rather quickly as these things go, and had Liliane, Gisele’s mother, not long afterward. When the Orlesians were overthrown and Ferelden reclaimed by Maric’s forces, Loghain wanted the expulsion of all Orlesian servants from the palace for fear they were spies, but Maric allowed the elves to stay, in the name of mercy. So Renaud and Therese stayed serving in the palace at Denerim, and Liliane was trained to follow in her parents’ footsteps nearly as soon as she was able to walk, to earn her keep.
Liliane had something of a rebellious spirit, though, and swore that she would never end up like her mother living at the mercy of human whims. When she was thirteen, she ran off to join a Dalish clan, the Halathren. She lived with them for a number of years, which is how she met Gisele’s father, Vandarel Surana. He’d been traded to the clan with the intention of being groomed to become their Keeper’s First, as he came from a long line of mages in a very old family stretching back to Arlathan. Old, noble elvhen blood. The clan basically treated him like royalty as a result.
Liliane was kind of shocked that he ended up returning her feelings. They were young and very much in love, but the Keeper seriously disapproved of the relationship; he didn’t especially think Liliane was worthy of Vandarel, being Alienage-born with no Dalish heritage or lineage to speak of and someone who’d spent most of her life in the service of shems. It was a lot of really fucked up politics over blood purity and the like and it ended up tearing them apart. The Keeper wouldn’t give them permission to marry, and told Vandarel to choose between his position and the woman he loved. Liliane didn’t stick around long enough to hear the answer though, and packed up and went right back to Denerim, fed up with the bullshit.
Trouble is, she was pregnant at the time. Liliane gave birth to Gisele and did the best she could as a single mother in the Alienage, but Gisele’s early childhood was very difficult. Being visibly marked as one of the Dalish by her vallaslin meant Liliane couldn’t go back to work at the palace, and she struggled to put food on the table. She resorted to fortune telling in the marketplace, and did any number of odd jobs she could find. Mother and child frequently relied on the charity of the close-knit Alienage community to get by. Gisele was also rather sickly as a child, which is one of the reasons she’s so small even as an adult. Her earliest memories involve her mother using her knowledge of herbalism, and when she was well enough, she remembers foraging for seedlings and keeping a small medicinal garden outside the rundown hovel they shared.
When she was five years old, Gisele began exhibiting signs of magical ability; she frequently had clairvoyant dreams, and was able to see and hear spirits. Her mother was not at all surprised, given Gisele’s paternity, but unlike most parents of magical children was proud of her. It meant Arlathan’s blood ran true. But Liliane was torn between feelings of dread that she would lose her only child to the Chantry, and hope that it would mean more opportunity and a better life for her, one that she would never be able to provide. Sure enough, the Templars came calling on Gisele’s eighth birthday, and took her into custody. The terrified little girl was escorted to the Circle, where she was to spend the rest of her life learning to control her powers, under the watchful eye of the Templars.
Gisele’s life in the Circle was kind of a study in contradictions. When she was little, she didn’t understand why she was torn from her mother, and was scared and cried herself to sleep a lot at night, but at the same time she liked it there because she had regular food to eat and clothes that weren’t worn, and the humans there were much nicer to her than the ones on the outside. As she got older she was resentful of the lack of freedom, but at the same time she had a real passion for learning and loved living in a giant library. And she took to study like a fish to water; she was something of an overachiever, her nose always in a book, and passed drills with ease. Healing was something she had a knack for, even in those early years, but she was equally adept with destructive elemental magic.
Irving was like the father she never had. He really had a heart for the kids in the tower and would sneak them sweets and the like, but he was really responsible for bringing Gisele out of her shell and encouraging her to make friends with the other kids. She never lacked for playmates, being a warm and friendly child once she got comfortable around people, and the human children were just as gregarious as the elven ones.
In time, she even became less afraid of the templars. Some were more severe than others, but for the most part they treated the mages well, and most were kind to the kids. Greagoir always scared the shit out of her though, because he was big, gruff, and taciturn. Seeing elves in positions of authority was also a big deal to her, after spending an early childhood in the Alienage and never knowing an elf to be anything but a downtrodden servant to humans. She didn’t know elves could even be in charge of humans until she got to the tower. So while it wasn’t perfect, it did feel like home to her after a while.
As Gisele got older, and puberty hit, she gained the attention of a lot of her fellow apprentices. Around this time, Irving instituted an exchange program with the Orlesian Circle of Magi, in the hopes of mending ties in the wake of his Orlesian predecessor’s treasonous plots to overthrow King Maric, and as a result enchanters from the White Spire came to visit often, providing instruction and mentorship to Ferelden’s apprentices. Circle officials from Montsimmard would sometimes bring gifts for the apprentices as a treat, including fancy perfumes and makeup. Gisele kind of went nuts with it, since that was the first time she’d ever seen those kinds of luxuries before, and in a restrictive environment one of the few vices she was allowed growing up was cosmetics. She absolutely loved them. But adolescence was when things got a bit more difficult for the elven girls in the circle, as tempestuous teenage hormones ran amok and ugly prejudices came to the surface when rivalries developed over this or that suitor. Even though casual encounters with multiple partners was something of the norm regardless of race even for the adults in the Circle, and bisexuality was hardly unusual, elven girls were seen as more promiscuous and were frequently the target of whisper campaigns. Gisele was no exception, and “painted elven trollop” became the preferred insult from her human peers whenever she turned the wrong boy’s head. Her unusual coloring in addition to her race made people see her as an “exotic” beauty, and her body developed earlier than some of the other girls, which didn’t help matters. Not all of the attention she received was wanted, and Gisele was deeply conflicted.
She found solace in one of the visiting Orlesian mages, Enchanter Vivienne, who was a beautiful young prodigy barely in her majority, but who’d used her considerable charm and talent to gain entrance into the exchange program. Gisele was immediately enthralled with the tall and glamorous mage, and eagerly absorbed everything she could teach her–and not just in the arts of magic. It was from Vivienne that Gisele learned to take pride in her beauty and in the Orlesian heritage she was always made to feel ashamed of in a Fereldan circle.
With her newfound boldness came first love, in the shape of a beautiful young templar recruit barely older than her. Victoria was a recruit from Starkhaven who was taken in by the Chantry as an orphaned child, and sponsored in the order. Shortly after she was assigned to Kinloch Hold, where she and Gisele would quickly become enamored with each other. They were crazy about each other, and would sneak off to spend time together as much as they could. But one of Gisele’s rivals caught wind of the relationship, and ratted them out to Greagoir.
Greagoir was furious, and re-assigned Victoria back to Starkhaven; Irving was stern but compassionate and told Gisele to be more careful in the future, to avoid templars at all costs. After that, she kept her nose down, and learned to be a lot more discreet–and also gave a wide berth to templars, much to the chagrin of a young templar recruit named Cullen, who in time developed something of an obsession with her, to her dismay. Though he was unlike the bolder templars, and was always careful not to overstep the boundaries Greagoir strictly enforced, Gisele was always unnerved by the way he watched her and always seemed to be lurking around every corner.
Still, she focused her burgeoning teenaged hormones elsewhere. Youthful experimentation with her friend Jowan went nowhere except fumbling and laughter and mutual awkward agreement that they should remain friends. But Penelope Amell, the very first friend she ever made in the Circle, became something entirely different as they grew older. And Gisele experimented in other ways with a shy young mage, an older boy named Niall who was Harrowed not long after Gisele’s aborted romance with Jowan. Ostensibly her tutor in the school of Creation, Gisele studied a lot more than magic with Niall, including the Orlesian books of vice kept in the section of the library forbidden to apprentices.
It was around this time that Gisele first made formal contact with the Spirit of Love that would later come to aid her in spirit healing. She’d attracted spirits since she was very little, and very quickly grasped the need to keep them at a distance, but this one was different. Even as a child in the alienage, it would come to her in her dreams in the Fade, never intruding upon her or trying to lure her, merely observing and offering comfort in times of pain. But she grew more and more curious about it during her time in the Circle, and her romantic and sexual blossoming seemed to make her bond with it grow deeper. As she continued her studies in the waking world, the spirit freely offered knowledge to help in her healing techniques.
By the time her own Harrowing came around, Gisele was already well-versed in Creation magic, aided in part by her spirit guide, and though she was secretly shaken by her first encounter with an actual demon, she passed her trial without much trouble, easily seeing through the demon’s deception. As a fully initiated mage, Gisele was proud of her success and greatly looked forward to furthering her education in the magical arts, and diving even deeper into Circle politics now that she would be able to formally join one of the Fraternities.
When Irving introduced her to Duncan, though, her stomach got butterflies for an entirely different reason. Duncan was…well, to an impressionable young woman, incredibly alluring. He was tall, strong, and handsome and she had a schoolgirl crush on him pretty much immediately. She brought him tea and talked his ear off. For his part, Duncan was impressed by her knowledge, if amused by her youthful enthusiasm.
The Jowan incident went pretty much the same as in canon. Gisele agreed to help him only because she understood his illicit feelings for Lily, though she was livid about the fact that he’d lied to her about being a blood mage. Mostly she was angry at herself for having fallen for the deception, and she was probably more upset than Greagoir was at her. Although she leapt at the chance to travel with Duncan and become a Grey Warden (for reasons that were not entirely selfless or altruistic, perhaps), she was heartbroken at leaving the only real home she’d ever known aside from her brief early years in the Alienage, as well as her friends and lovers–she was devastated at being separated from Penny, in particular, as well as Niall.
At the same time, there was always a longing she had to know more about her heritage, and the world outside the books she’d read in the tower. Gisele grew up around humans, in the human world. She was always intensely curious about the Dalish because all she knew of them were her mother’s stories and the faded vallaslin on her face. She devoured any book she could find on them, but hungered to know more. And the prospect of becoming a Grey Warden was a bit frightening to her at first, but the possibilities intrigued her more than the fear gripped her. She’d be able to put her skills to good use instead of languishing in a tower, helping protect and defend people, and she’d grown up reading romantic tales of their heroism. Even though her heart was heavy at leaving her home, Gisele relished the opportunity to see the wider world and learn more about it, and herself.