By late afternoon I had a slight headache. Learning decipher was not an easy task, at least for me. As the newly appointed Warden Commander I had to learn it just the same. What I really wanted to read was Duncan’s journal but felt this was not the time or place to read it incase Zevran or Leliana asked me what I was reading. I was going to need complete privacy to read it, since it had knowledge on events that might affect my new King. Alistair with eleven blood in his veins and now my children also. I didn’t know what to think or feel about that. The blood of dragons concerned me more. I really didn’t want to delve into that just yet. Better to put the thoughts out of my mind for now.
I opened the small window next to the small bunk; I folded myself back into the small bunk with my knees drawn up and the manual I was committing to memory on my knees. My muscles were getting craps in them. I had to face the fact I wasn’t going to cram anymore Grey Warden decipher knowledge into my brain with a headache. I’d been at it for hours. I returned the manual to one of my packs. I knew once I committed the cipher to memory and knew it backward and forward then I’d have to destroy the manual. Kristoff had already instructed me to do this; he told me to burn it. There was so much to learn and prepare for. It was surreal that the taint helped to read the cipher, creepy in fact. Heck, it was probably written in darkspawn blood which wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I hadn’t gotten to that part of the manual yet. I’ll save that for another day.
I was scared on becoming Warden Commander. Would I do a good job, what would I face? No worries there I already knew there would be tons of darkspawn; the duty of every Grey Warden was to hunt and kill darkspawn and keep all humanity safe from harm. Easier said than done at times, due to the fact the secrecy of my order hindered these efforts because nobody outside the order really understood what it was like to be a Grey Warden and all it entailed. I guess the same applies to being a Templar you won’t know until you are one.
Sure everyone knew what Wardens did and the why, but not the how. We could fight for days without stopping due to our stamina. Our wounds nearly healing as they had been inflicted on the battle field, very few in all of Thedas could match us. I’d say the Quanari would come closer than anyone. Their advantage over a warden would be their strength at least in my mind. I’d say for a warden, our stamina and fast healing, plus our tainted ability to throw tainted blood on someone and watch them sizzle instantly. Nothing smelled fouler than tainted darkspawn blood. Ugh. I’ve lived with the smell in my nose since Ostagar and my joining.
Alistair had turned his nose up at Averness’ little blood magic potion research. Alistair couldn’t believe I’d drunk that blood. I’d already drunk a foul cup of blood once what was one more I had quipped back. I had been slightly disappointed he had not offered a snappy reply to quip. I was the stronger Warden of the two of us for it. I had the ability and Alistair didn’t. I also needed to make a note to clean out that lab at Soldier’s Peak and send that information and the research to Weisshaupt. I had started to mention it when we had been there. I had remained quiet because I knew Alistair would baulk at the idea. Yet, it was blood magic which Wardens weren’t opposed too. Alistair’s templar side had been showing when his nose wrinkled.
Daveth had understood the true deep meaning of becoming a Grey Warden. Sir Jory had not. I really regretted not having the chance to have gotten to know them better. I had thought of them often. Maybe with them along the dark ritual wouldn’t have had to happen? I’ll never know. I also had to prepare myself because I was soon going to be in the same position as Duncan had been in. Find the best possible recruits for our order – those I thought could survive the joining, explain the joining was dangerous and most likely would kill a person and perhaps have to kill those that bulked just like Duncan had done to Sir Jory. Could I really kill someone under those circumstances? Yes, I could kill if someone was trying to kill me but to do it for a secret that had to be kept; this is what truly frightens me. I was going to be tested and tested hard, could I hold it together mentally to do this? Emotionally and physically I knew I could do this. Could I live with it afterward?
How would managing the Vigil be different from the management of Highever and the way father and mother had taught Fergus and I how to run the Monarchy’s garrison which housed over half of the Monarchy’s troops? In a few months time I would find out. I really needed to get all of my affairs in order and get there sooner rather than later.
Damn you Alistair and you also First Warden. I really didn’t want to do this. Why was I chosen, just because I’d killed a demonic dragon? I shook my head. I’ll bet many military personnel had been ordered to assignments they really didn’t want to do so I guess I could classify myself within this lot now. I really needed to get into the right mindset to do this. I had no choice. There had to be more skilled and administrative Wardens than me. I had been trained to run Highever just like Fergus so I guess I wasn’t entirely lacking in this department.
I really needed to talk to someone about my feelings, my fears, and I guess Sten would be the right choice. He would hold my confidence. He was a military leader himself and his mission had been here inside Ferelden to learn about the blight for the Arioshok. What the heck was a blasted Arioshok anyway? As usual Sten had replied in half grunts, his answers which were always cryptic and thought provoking. If he was a mightier warrior than Sten, then that might be kind of spooky. Still, it might be interesting to meet one as long as he didn’t try to convert me to the Qun. Now there was a scary thought. Traveling with Sten had been a real eye opener into that culture.
I finally turned my thoughts to something else. A long forgotten memory of visiting the Vigil when it had been the home of Arl Howe came into my mind. I had always hated the place, it was dark and dreary, always had been. It had been years since my last visit as Lady Cousland. Howe had always wanted me to marry his son, he had mentioned it every chance he got in my parent’s and my presence. My parents had always instructed me to answer diplomatically when asked how I felt about Howe’s oldest son. I’d hated Thomas; he was a drunk and just flat-out mean. He was a bully just like his father, he used to pull my hair and pinch me when nobody was looking. I got bigger and gave as well as I got and he would just laugh at me.
I always felt sorry for him in a way. Howe was always so mean to him. I’d always hated their sister too. Ok, hate was a strong word. Hopefully with age Delilah had mellowed out. I guess I’ll soon find out if she is anywhere near her former home. I had no idea what had happened to her since her family had lost the Vigil now, had she even survived the blight. Had Thomas? She was a devious piece of work and I wouldn’t trust her any further than I could see her. She wasn’t nearly as bad as Anora had been growing up. It had been really annoying every time they visited Highever I’d have jewelry come up missing. I’d never been sure it was her or her maids. I’d hide my good pieces. I was a natural climber, Delilah wasn’t. Highever was my home and I knew all the best hiding places.
Nathaniel was the best out of the lot and he always had been. We’d been friends as children. I’m sure that friendship is no longer in existence since I killed his father. I hope I never run into him. I’m sure he hates my guts now. Would he even try to understand? It would come down to a fight I’m sure. He had the height and weight on me; but, I was quicker. Nathaniel had been gone from the Vigil and Ferelden for a long time. Would I even know him, if I saw him? He’d been sent to foster in the Free Marches in one of the city states called Kirkwall where his mother’s family is from. I’d been miserable when he had been sent away. He was a year or two older than me. A year or two later I’d been sent to Orlais.
I used to be green with envoy over Nathaniel’s natural abilities and the things he was learning. He was a trained rogue just like me but his skills had taken the route of nature instead. I’d heard he had become a ranger with above par tracking abilities, oh the things they could do, like summon animals of the wilds to help them. I don’t know what his abilities might be now. He had been an excellent fighter with his fists. He’d had to be with a brother like Thomas. Nathaniel could follow a nature trail where I would need a map to make my way. I was better at swordplay then him being a trained assassin. He was way better at the bow then me, I had the basics down. I was the better poison maker though. I’d say we were about even on the lock picking skill. Nathaniel had taught me a lot and what nature skills I had I did owe to him.
Oh the hours I had spent with him exploring the caves around Highever when he had come to visit. If there was a cave in the area Nate would find it and explore to his heart’s content. We’d had a blast together as kids. Mine was a duel memory now, one of happiness and now one of pain, a good friend lost forever, just because of his insane father. I hope he can forgive me one day. All he’d ever wanted was too impress his cold hearted father. I was glad in a way Nate hadn’t been here to see what had happened to his family.
Lady Howe had been a nasty woman in her own right but I guess being married to Howe might do that to a woman. My mother had always tried to be gracious to her. I remember mother saying it wasn’t an easy task. The fact was the woman hated bowing to my mother since she was the Teyrna of Highever, way above rank in nobility than her smaller ranked title of Arlessa. May as well cut to the chase and call a spade a spade. I think the woman had hated it because she had come from a higher more well-to-do family than the Howes’. She’d actually married down instead of up. The rumor mill suggested that Thomas hadn’t been the Arl’s real son. I had never believed it. I’d always been able to see the former beauty of the woman. Bitterness and time being married to Howe had changed the woman greatly from the rumor mills also. She had been lively, and witty in her youth. Thomas had looked like her and Delilah also. Nathaniel had taken his looks from both of his parents. Nathaniel did inherit his mother’s darker hair. Unfortunately for Nate, he got his father’s nose.
The Vigil was a massive fortress and older than Highever itself. It had been built in the time of the Avvars. The Vigil was also said to me haunted, well in all fairness Highever had an even bigger legend being the former home of the famous Witch of the Wilds…Flemeth herself had once lived in my home. I’d read the legends in the library and my tutor had made sure we knew of the legend. Morrigan had also offered up her version of the legend. I used to laugh at the notion. I’m certainly not laughing now about it.
I stretched; these musing were exhausting in their way. Good for the soul, tough on the mind. My stomach rumbled. I seemed to be hungry all the time now. I grabbed my pack and was rummaging through it when Leliana stirred. She rubbed her eyes and then opened those baby blues. She had beautiful eyes, she really did. I wish mine would make their mind up on which color they were. My eyes seemed to have a mind of their own; sometimes they were dark blue, sometimes dark green. I smiled at her.
“Oh yes, much better now.”
“Yes, but I need the bushes more so.”
I laughed. “Yes, I could make use myself. I wonder how much longer it will be before we stop?”
“Soon,” said Zevran
I glanced down and smiled at him
“Did you sleep well too?”
“Yes, with pleasant dreams of having beautiful ladies sharing my bed.”
“Just ladies,” I asked him with a wicked gleam in my eye.
He snorted returning my wicked gleam.
“Contrary to what you think an orgy now and then is fine, but I preferring one or two to a crowd.”
“Really?” Leliana and I both asked at the same time, we looked at each other and giggled. It was good to giggle.
“Si.” He said, returning our wicked stares.
“Well?” asked Leliana
“Aren’t you going to tell us about it?”
“It is better to demonstrate than to discuss.”
I looked over at Leliana
“Is that so,” I said.
“Some sort of Crow philosophy?”
“You want a demonstration then?”
“Fine,” I said.
Leliana’s eyes widen, she started to say “You’re not going too….
Before she could finish and Zevran could say another word I hopped out of my bunk and grabbed a pillow, and smacked him in the face with it. Giggling devilishly as I did so.
“Oh, is this how it is then?”
“Well you did ask for a demonstration, what are you going to do about it?”
“This was not the type of demonstration I had in mind.”
I laughed, hitting him again with a big wallop to the chest. Dang, my aim was off.
Zevran grabbed his own pillow jumping to his feet and tried to smack me back. I laughed and landed a strike against his golden locks. Leliana had now joined the fray, laughing and giggling.
“You know Zev that tattoo on your face makes good target practice,” giggled Leliana.
“Well come hit it if you dare” he said wiggling his eyebrows at her making his tattoo move on his face which was actually stunning to see the grace and beauty of it.
“Don’t mind if I do” she snickered. She went in for the kill which Zev blocked with his arm.
Soon the three of us were trying to land the best hit against each other laughing.
“Hey, no fair two against one.” Zevran said laughing.
“I say everyone out for themselves,” I landed a hit on Leliana.
“I’ll take that challenge she roared and struck me back square in the face.” Laughing as she did so.
Next thing we knew feathers were flying everywhere as the pillow fight continued. Hard to have a pillow fight in a small enclosed space. Somehow all of us got tangled up with each other, due to the sway of the aravel. All of us soon landed on the floor with Zevran on the bottom of the pile; all of us laughing and giggling. Soon we all calmed down as the fun dissolved catching our breaths. Zevran hugged Leliana and me to him and sighed with content. Feathers were still floating down out of the air and if I wasn’t mistaken some even had flown out the little small windows. We’d really made a mess.
The little window on the door of the aravel opened with Lanaya tsk tsking us for our mess. “Are you children done playing now and going to behave yourselves?” Her eyes twinkled with laughter. I could hear our driver smirking as well. “All of you need to clean that mess up or no supper for you?”
I giggled. “Maker, you sound like my old nanny?”
“Well someone has to take unruly children in hand.”
“Maker, I haven’t been called an unruly child in a long time.” My belly shook with laughter.
I glanced over at Lei and Zev. Both smiling like happy fools.
Zev hugged us to him again with a strange look on his face.
“What is it I asked him?”
“Is this what you used to do as a small child, have pillow fights?”
“Yes, all the time.”
Zev looked at Lei, she also nodded yes.
“You’ve never had a pillow fight before?”
“Oh Zevran, that is so sad.”
Leliana hugged Zevran tight and buried her face in his neck.
I rose up to look down at him. Saying as I did so.
“Well you’ve now been initiated into the proper fighting skill of fighting with pillows and if you need practice at this skill than I’m sure Lei and I will be happy to assist in your training.”
“I believe, Mi Bella, I would like that very much.”
I smiled at him.
“Come everyone let’s clean up our mess, hopefully, our pillows won’t be too lumpy with the lack of feathers that might have been misplaced.”
Soon we had our mess cleaned up and our pillows stuffed back into existence once again. The aravel had come to a stop. Which I was blissfully thankful for since my bladder was about to burst. When Lanaya opened the door for us, the three of us ran for bushes and relieved ourselves. Traveling by aravel seemed to have pros and cons in regards to traveling.
Once again we were deep in the forest near well worn deer paths and Lanaya said not to far from Lothering and now the Blight lands. We were on the south east side of the Breciallian Forest. Supper was finally prepared and everyone ate their fill of poached fish and fresh greens and a few vegetables with delicious baked bread and honey, which the Dalish had gathered for our meal. A nice crisp ale was offered to wash it all down. Simple, yet filling was the meal. No wonder the Dalish stayed so skinny. Leliana and I helped in the gathering. Zevran had helped with the fishing and he had done a splendid job of it in the nicely flowing stream nearby. He had helped catch enough that we might have enough for our morning meal.
“How is it you are so good at fishing Zev?” I asked him. I didn’t think fishing would have been high on the list for a Crow assassin to learn.
“Spending hours fishing off the docks of Antiva and in ocean waters, all Crows had to gather their own food or you didn’t eat.”
“Oh.” What more could I say to this when I’d just gone to meals in the dining hall three times a day. Granted I’d had to work in the kitchens with Nan and learn each and every job at Highever but it wasn’t an everyday thing for me wondering where my next meal was coming from as a child of the noblest house in Ferelden.
We would camp here for the night. Zevran volunteered to help with the watch for a few hours. Giving our driver time for much needed rest and seeing to our Halla’s needs. Many gathered around the campfire once all the chores were done to listen to Dalish tales which had really captured Leliana’s attention, her being a collector of stories being a Bard. She was thoroughly enjoying herself. Finally everyone soon drifted to their own aravels and many of the Dalish warriors and bowmen who had been following us came into camp for their own meal. They would leave before any of us before morning to scout the last leg of our journey to Gwaren which we would arrive at I’m guessing sometime late afternoon on the following day. Then the real work for Leliana, Zevran, and me would begin.
I soon drifted off into sleep with Leliana dozing next to me in the small bunk and Zevran on watch outside. Leliana would trade places with him half way through the night. I felt guilty but they wouldn’t allow me to share watch since I was still healing from my injuries fighting the battle of Denerim.
Tomorrow I would not be getting out of rogue duty.