I awoke to the aravel being in full stop and I knew instantly that we had reached our destination. I stayed still for just a moment longer; I was slightly stiff but well rested. Soon, we would scout Gwaren and see what was going on. I figured we had a few hours or more walk ahead of us before we came to the back of the castle, with luck we wouldn’t run into any darkspawn on the way.
I wouldn’t be able to get into the massive castle from the front with it facing the sea. There had to be a hidden postern gate and I hoped I could find it, we’d wait for nightfall. Hopefully, I would find a way in and also avoid Alistair’s, Loghain’s, and even Eamon’s troops. I had no idea what I would find. Loghain’s troops had not defended Denerim. I didn’t know if they had scattered or they were going to support their disposed Queen. I’m sure the troops at Gwaren were just as loyal to Loghain and Anora, as the troops that my family had been in charge of at Highever were to their commander, which had been my father. Loghain might have been their commander but Cailan had been their king and he had been well-loved.
I glanced around and realized that Leliana and Zevran were also awake, they were just waiting on me.
“Gathering your thoughts?”
“Yes, and this means no pillow fights for us today.”
“We will have more later, Si?” Zevran said with a hugh grin on his face. He’d had fun yesterday. I was glad. The life of a Crow was just as difficult as that of a Warden.
I smiled at Zevran, “oh yes, many more.”
I was warm and snug, I threw off my covers and in the process sent a few feathers flying. Apparently I’d missed a few from yesterday. I smiled. Yesterday with the pillow fight had been fun. It had been good to laugh and feel alive and be slightly happy for a change. I smiled but it was not heartfelt. It was for the benefit of those around me, trying to reassure them, that I was alright. I was far from alright. I had a great poker face.
I saw the smile on Leliana’s face as well. All three of us got up and got dressed and gathered our gear. Checking our daggers, bows, swords, flasks of poisons, health potions and health kits. We would have no mage with us once we left the Dalish encampment. We would be on our own. If any of us got hurt we’d just have to do the best that we could.
“Come we should be good guests and tidy up,” I had no idea who the actual owner of this aravel was, I didn’t think it was Lanaya’s.
Leliana and Zevran nodded in agreement.
We spent a few more minutes putting the aravel into order making our beds and seeing that everything was nice and tidy. Zevran knocked on the door and the driver was there to open it for us. We stepped outside to an overcast day. I looked up at the sky and realized we might encounter rain. The skies looked heavy with downpour and the thick covering of the trees over our heads wasn’t helping. It was going to be a chilly walk. At least all three of us were used to it. I had the taint to keep me warm. This might be a problem for Leliana and Zevran with long-term exposure. We wouldn’t be able to set up camp for hours yet and given where we were a fire would be out of the question. We’d have to find a cave to shelter in and cut brush for the opening to conceal us or find an outcropping to shelter under.
Lanaya waved us over to her campfire. She had the extra fish from last night with bread. Hot steaming mugs of herbal tea, sweeten with pure raw honey to give us energy for our long walk, already for us were offered into our hands. We nodded our thanks and sat down to eat. Besides the natural sounds of the forest the camp was fairly quiet. No one seemed in the mood to talk. The general sounds of moving about with the preparation of breakfast and utensils being used was all that was heard. There seemed to be around 20 Dalish with her. She was their Keeper and they would keep her safe. She was a mage and I knew she could hold her own in battle.
The Dalish Keepers were nobody to mess with if a person knew what was good for them. They’d go to their God’s twisted and mangled for sure. Burnt to a crisp or frozen solid if they tried to mess with a Dalish Mage, or be suspended within the horrors of nightmares. Freezing the said attacker in place. Their faces frozen in grotesque horror.
I finally finished my meal and excused myself to go to the bushes and take care of business and wash up. I checked my bandages, they would do. I would need new bandages by evening. My wounds were clean and dry, they itched like crazy. I didn’t have time to apply nature salve to them to stop the itch of their healing. With rain we might have to stop and Leliana would have to bandage me anew. Wynne had told me I had to keep them dry except to wash the wounds for fresh bandages.
I had been praying for clear weather. It didn’t look like I was going to get my wish. My leathers being oiled would keep me dry for a time. They would have to be re-oiled once they dried from the rain; I was sure a drenching downpour was on the way. Hopefully, the rain would keep wild animals at bay and they would stay in their woodland shelter and hunt for food later. I could hope anyway.
We might encounter darkspawn, which wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we did. Thousands and thousands of darkspawn had started their blighted march here in the south and we weren’t all to far from the Kocari Wilds where the blight had started, which also bordered the Brecillian Forest to the west. We might also encounter: troops, bandits, wolves, bears, demons, spirits, trees possessed with demons, and oh yes, let’s not forget my least favorite…large spiders bigger than I was. Maker! Those things gave me the creeps, their large mouths clicking and clacking as they tried to bite you. If we ran into a dragon or drake, well I didn’t think our chances would be good if we did. I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to fight another dragon at this point. Very few survived a battle with a high dragon, you had to be extremely skilled to battle one. All high dragons were female. The drakes were the males, and they were just as fast as the females, just not as big. The dragonlings, were baby dragons, they could do their own damage as well. I’d been eye-to-eye with a few.
It came over me suddenly. I knelt down and bowed my head. “Holy Mother Andraste, I bow before you today to pray that you watch over Leliana, Zevran, and me. I but do my duty that my King and father command me to do. Please watch over all of us so that I may see my child safe. Let it be your and the Maker’s wills.” It had been a long time since I’d prayed. Not since that last night at Redcliffe where I had spent the night in the Chantry with my wounded heart over Alistair and Morrigan. I should have brought Thor with me. If a dragon, drake, or spider knocked me down I would be in serious trouble. I didn’t have a mage or a warrior with me. I gathered my courage and stepped out of the bushes.
I saw that Leliana and Zevran were done seeing to their needs and were ready to go. Lanaya waited with them. I walked to them and gathered my gear. Throwing daggers were lodged in my boots and up my sleeves along with my swords in my sheaths on my back. I secured my packs to my belt with leather straps. Our gold was strapped to my upper thighs, which I had done in the bushes. I’d left the largest portion at Fort Drakon with a note if I died to see that my brother got the remainder of my profitable adventures. He’d need it for Highever. Nobody knew I had nearly one thousand in gold. I had a meger 100 on me. Still heavy enough to be annoying to feel the jiggle between my legs. I’d sometimes wondered if this is what guys felt like with their natural ummm equipment between their legs. The small pouch was flatten as good as I could get it and secured with three straps around my thigh.
“Are you ready Lanaya asked?”
I looked at Leliana and Zevran and they nodded, they were ready to go. “Yes, we’re ready.”
“You have the ring on?”
“Yes, I do Lanaya.”
She nodded, “Good this will help me get to you if you need assistance.” “If we have to move before you get back I’ll send scouts to led you back to us, they will be close by if you need them.”
“Your sending your troops with me?”
“They will stay hidden unless you have need of them or they think you are going to be killed, they will not interfere without my say, thus the ring. You are in charge have no fear.”
Zevran grinned at her words.
She stepped to me, “may your prophet and Our Creators keep you safe my lady.”
“May they do the same to you and your people Lanaya, and one more thing if you will?”
“Of course, what can I do?”
I handed her two letters, one for Alistair and one for Fergus. “If I die see that these are delivered to the King and to my brother. Lanaya looked at me then she took the letters from my hand.
“As you wish my lady.”
“Thank you Lanaya.”
She nodded goodbye.
My small party and I walked into the forest following the deer path that would take us to the backside of Gwaren. I checked the sky for the direction of the sun or what I could make out of it from the cloud cover. We were now heading directly south. The Dalish had brought us as close as they could get us. The path was well-worn. After we were out of site of the Dalish camp I stopped for a moment holding up my hand to halt. I motioned for Zevran to take the lead. He nodded and stepped quietly around me. This put Leliana behind me and Zevran in front of me. It would be up to me to sense darkspawn in which case if I did, then I’d step in front of Zevran and have both of them at my back.
We continued on. It was odd the forest was so quiet. Not even birds were bustling about getting a refreshing bath in the light mist, soon I knew the heavens would open up. I didn’t like this one bit. There should have been birds moving around. I looked around me as I walked. These lands didn’t look blight riddled. I had no idea how much the blight plague from darkspawn had spread after Ostagar. Ostagar and the surrounding area was completely devastated, the lands completely black and turned to ash and rock. Nothing would grow in those lands for years to come and they may never fully recover. I knew there were places in other countries where the blights had been fought and the lands were still wastelands even after centuries of laying dormant. Nothing could live or grow on blighted lands.
The darkspawn plague wiped away all layers of topsoil and ate even down into layers and layers of silt eating through and leaving hard black rock and ash. The blight had turned the southern half of Ferelden rich in farm lands into nothingness. Alistair and company would have to purchase grain from Nevarra, Rivain, and the Free Marches to feed his people. The cost would be high and I had no idea how much gold was in Ferelden’s coffers. There would be famine and it would be wide-spread. If the north had fared better and I’m sure it had since we had ended the blight at Denerim then their was hope. Ferelden was rich in farmlands, and free holds. The Bannorn which was between Highever, Waking Sea, Amaranthine, Soldier’s Peak, The Vigil, and the Western Hills was just as fertile. Highever itself had thousands and thousands of acres of rich fertile farmland. Who would work those lands now I wondered?
We continued on for several hours. Passing large ferns, bushes, trees that had lived for who knows how long. Stepping over the gnarled thick roots. Beautiful flowers in a few meadows here and there. The Brecillian Forest was beautiful with numerous waterfalls and fast rushing waters. One could spend weeks walking through it to reach the end of it. Not a sound. Not even the sound of our footfalls since all of us were rogues and we all three stepped light. Finally after what seemed liked hours we came to another stream. I tapped Zevran on the shoulder and he stopped. I wasn’t sure if he smelled the smoke like I had. Being a warden I had a sensitive nose. I pointed and we stepped off the path to our right which positioned us west. I guessed we were around a half hour out from Gwaren. You could smell the sea salt in the air.
I stepped carefully. Being fully aware of branches, twigs and pebbles under my feet, so I didn’t disturb them to make any sound. We finally came upon a campsite and it had been ravaged by darkspawn. I saw the bodies close by, this was recent I thought. What was left of the tents were still smoking and the campers gear was also still smoking with a few flames still burning here and there. Just a few scrapes remained of their tents. The mist within the forest had contained the fires. I motioned for Zevran and Leliana to not come any closer. I knew what I was going to see. Sure enough, the darkspawn had feed on the bodies of the dead. I uttered a silent prayer for their souls. I grabbed a stick nearby and went to one of the flames. Catching fire to the end of it. I walked over to the men that had feed the darkspawn. I knelt down to examine them. They were humans or had been, and possibly refugees fleeing the blight, most likely from Lothering which was my guess. It was just a guess or they could have been soldiers fleeing Ostagar. I’d never know, their gear was utterly destroyed I couldn’t even make out any heraldry of any kind to help me determine who they might have been or where they had come from. They were humans and that is all that I knew, what little remained of their skeletons and flesh told me they were human because of the size of their exposed bones. I could already see the decay taking root in the forest floor. This beautiful forest would be covered with it if I left anything remaining.
I reached into one of my packs and grabbed a small flask of oil. I poured all I had out over the bodies and then I set my flame to them, it took a bit of time for the flame to catch. I did the same to all the bodies and gear in the area. Nothing could be salvaged here. I couldn’t move on until I knew the bodies had been turned into ash and their bones purified. We’d be here in this spot for a time. I motioned for Zevran and Leliana to step back into the forest. They didn’t like my command but they did it anyway. My reason, if any troops were near which I’m sure they were, being we were close to Gwaren; the smoke would most likely be seen. There was no help for it. I guess I could always say I was following darkspawn to make sure they were fleeing back to the deep roads. Good as any story and who knows it might get me inside Gwaren for shelter for the night. One could hope.
I walked back to the forest and stood with Zevran and Leliana and we watched as the remains of the men burned. I motioned for them to keep watch for any movement. They nodded. Leliana took watch to our backs. I took the watch facing Gwaren and Zevran took up watch to our west. There was nothing more we could do until the bodies burned to ash. We’d be standing here for hours possibly. Maker I sure hoped not. If the rain started I’d have to wait until it was over and try to burn the bodies once again. I had no choice this was my duty as a Grey Warden. I knew I might run into this sort of thing.
I’d say nearly an hour passed when we heard movement. Which I suspected that we might. Leliana pinched my arm. I turned to look at her and we saw Dalish moving towards us. I held up my finger to my lips for them to see to keep quiet. They nodded and joined us. They knew as well as I did that darkspawn and troops were in the area. There were six of them. Three warriors, three rogues. Three men and three women. They joined us, they glanced over at the campsite. They saw the bodies burning. They keep vigil with us. All with our backs to each other keeping watch for the next turn of events. We didn’t have long to wait.
I felt the taint in my body flare. “Darkspawn” I whispered. I motion for the warriors to take up positions. One warrior to my left, one to my right and one to protect Leliana and the other Dalish bowmen that had joined her. The rogues followed suite. We now had 12. I pointed straight ahead and stepped up to meet them as they crashed out of the forest right smack into the burning campsite. My dagger and sword at the ready. Leliana and another bowmen had taken aim. I looked over at Leilana I nodded, both bowmen fired into the darkspawn war party coming right at me. Oh maker! They had an ogre with them. I counted sixteen of them.
“Zevran watch my back.”
I reach down and broke a flask of quiet death and coated my blades, I flicked my wrists and brought powerful ruins within my blades to life. I charged yelling as I did so. “Die you bastards.” Leliana’s and the Dalish elf’s arrows were hitting them slowing them slightly. I struck the first one with my left hand straight to the heart and with the right across the throat. The genlock’s blood spraying all over me. I could hear and feel from the ground the heavy footsteps of the ogre gaining ground shoving his fellows out of its way to get to me.
“Smoke” I yelled at Zevran.
The air-filled with poisonous smoke. The smoke allowed me to step to the left being hidden and I sank my blade deep into its side with a death-blow. It roared with rage. The monstrous thing reached down to the ground to rip a boulder out of the ground.
“Incoming” I yelled.
I yanked my blade out with my right hand and with my left stabbed it in the arm hoping to slow it down from grabbing a boulder; the boulder if landed would knock all of us off our feet and scatter us. A Dalish warrior struck it from the right side, digging deep into the ogre’s leg, it bellowed it’s rage. The Dalish warrior with his shield setup to shield bash it. I continued to try to work my way to it’s back landing fast blows as I went. The other warriors and rogues were keeping the rest of them off of Zevran, the Dalish warrior and me. Zevran on my left and me in the center, with the Dalish warrior on my right, so we three could concentrate on the ogre.
With my right hand I stabbed it in the back. I felt an arrow sting my neck. I activated stealth and then tainted blood. I turned around reaching inside my sleeve for a throwing dagger and saw an alpha genlock rogue taking aim at my back with his very impressive bow. My dagger landed true right in the middle of its forehead. It dropped with a thud. I spun back around and had to jump back, the Ogre swung to grab me, I dodged it just barely. Coming out of stealth as soon as I let the dagger fly.
“Hey you, over here you piece of shit.”
“Damn it Zev, you’re not a warrior, I yelled.
“Today I am he yelled back.” Digging his blades with a double strike to the Ogre’s left leg.
Zevran and the Dalish warrior were cussing and striking at the Ogre trying to focus its attention on them. No such luck. I was the Warden and the blasted thing knew it. I felt more arrows swhish pass my head. I heard the thuds behind me as they landed. Leliana had shot defensive arrows of fire behind me so I knew there was more darkspawn on my rear. She had activated fire to her arrows. Good girl I thought.
One of the other Dalish rogues, took up position behind my back giving me cover from the advancing darkspawn. Another rogue joined him. The third engaging more near Leliana with the other keeping them off of her as she activated rapid fire. I could hear the twang of her bow string as she sent more and more arrows in an arc and they rained down all around me. Several hitting the ogre. I loved watching her do that, unfortunately, I was busy at the moment.
I stuck again going to cripple strike landing my blows to the ogre’s legs. We had to get this thing down. I felt it. The atmosphere change around us. What the hell? I jumped back as it swung at me again. The ogre landed a hit which knocked me flat off my feet. I scrambled back frog walking trying to get out of its way, finally I jumped back to my feet. I heard another thud from the other side. That sounded like a bolt hitting it. Then the Ogre was frozen in place. I blinked. A mage, there was a mage here. Thank the Maker but who?
I didn’t hesitate but took full advantage and started swinging for all I was worth. Come on, come on, putting everything I had into my strikes. I broke another flask on a down swing and coated my blades once again. I set up for Punisher. I could hear the grunts and clang of steel on steel and thuds of arrows and bolts all around. I went low and struck, opening a massive hole in the Ogre’s leg and tearing hunks of it’s flesh pulling my daggers back out. Blood splashing all over me. I stepped back, crouched and with all of my strength I jumped as high into the air as I could, ramming my blades into the neck of the ogre, sinking my blades to their hilts into the neck. I heard the sound of shattering ice. There was spells being thrown all around. I knew I was in the middle of an enthropic cloud, the cloud of death that only mages could use. I could also hear more ice shattering behind me. I rode the falling pieces of the ice-covered ogre down to the ground, tucking myself into a ball, then back out of the ball, jumping back to my feet. I took a deep breath joining the battle again, I turned searching for my next darkspawn to engage. I didn’t have long to wait. Zevran at my side we both charged the Hurlock Alpha coming toward me.
“Get behind it Zev.”
Zevran went into stealth while I took the Alpha head on. Blocking it’s swing against me. The ugly thing snarled in my face as Zev rammed his daggers deep into it’s spine while I blocked from the front. It’s salvia dripping on my arms. Ewww, gross. A bolt of lighting struck it in the head and I ran my dagger in my right hand across it’s throat, my left still in block position from the wicked edge of the darkspawn’s blade an inch or less from my throat. It fell to the ground. I looked again for another one, which I engaged and dispatched. I saw on my left Leliana was in hand to hand with another Alpha Hurlock. No way she could take it on by herself. I reached into my sleeve for another throwing dagger.
“Hey over here you ugly brute.”
I’d diverted it’s attention long enough with my dagger to give Leliana an advantage. She didn’t hesitate and rammed her left blade into it’s chest. Zevran was at her side in an instant, he could really move when he had too, finishing the ugly thing off. He got a little help with a bolt of lighting flung at the darkspawn then Zev spinned and swung, cutting the ugly things head off. It’s head falling to the ground and rolling a few feet away. Leliana had keep it’s attention on her from the front while Zevran dispatched it from behind. The remainder of the Dalish were finishing off the rest of the genlocks. Spells were flying everywhere. I heard another darkspawn to my right as it was blasted apart, warrior and mage finishing it off, it’s death throes echoing away into the mist. There had to be two mages, but who? Whoever the mages were had to use petrify with stone fist to shatter it with the warrior’s help. It was over. I wiped the sweat and blood off my face. Blood and gore from the ogre was all over me. I was drenched in blood from head to toe. So much for clean bandages I thought. Blood was dripping off of me. I felt healing magic wash over me. My small scraps and scratches healing instantly. At least I hadn’t gotten injured.
Now time to find out who these mages were who had come to our defense. I didn’t think it was Lanaya. I could be wrong though. I wiped more blood out of my eyes which continued to drip into my face from my hair. The healing eased the throb in my legs. The ache was always there. At least the pain was manageable for now.
I turned around to look behind me. There, it was Aneirin, the mage I’d helped Wynne find in the forest. The red-haired elven mage grinned at me. I grinned back. Ok, he was one of them, who was the other. I turned again to search. I didn’t see anyone. Then I heard a rustle out of the trees, I took a battle pose getting ready for more action to my right. Then I saw her.
Morrigan stepped out of the tree line. Her staff still in her hand. Our eyes locked one on one.