“So,” drawled Meryell as she dropped their map down on the flat rocks in the middle of their temporary camp, “we’ve got to get to the dam in order to access the controls to drain this stupid lake.” Leaning forward, she planted a smaller rock on the spot that she’d marked as Caer Bronach after getting one of the men in Crestwood village to give her its location. “And then we’ve got this bitch .”
“Bitch?” repeated Dorian as he settled to her left on another rock, a bowl full of their dinner steaming in his hands. “Now, now, that’s no way to talk about a lady.”
Snorting, she replied, “It is about this lady.”
Sighing, he asked, “And why is that, darling?”
Meryell just grinned impishly at him and replied, “Because it’s going to be an utter bitch of a job to convince her to open her legs to us and let us in.” There was immediately the clatter and slight thud of the ladle they were using to scoop their stew out of their small travel pot and she turned towards the fire that her back was to. Cassandra was red faced as she picked the utensil from the ground and looked unamused, while Varric was half leaned over and choking on laughter.
Dorian just tutted in response but still smiled as he said, “That was crude, even for you, darling.”
“I spent the last half of childhood between a gang and a mercenary company and all of my adulthood up until now in the latter,” she noted with a casual shrug. “That’s actually not the rudest thing I could conceivably come up with.”
“Maker preserve us,” muttered Cassandra. She then straightened and glared as she asked, “If you wouldn’t mind ceasing such…colorful commentary…until after we’ve gotten dinner?”
“Only so as you don’t knock over the pot out of shock as well, Cass.”
The Seeker made that exasperated noise of hers in response before quickly cleaning off the ladle with water from her waterskin and finishing getting her dinner. By then Varric had recovered enough to do the same – though he was still shaking his head and grinning – and both of them joined her and Dorian around the rock.
“So,” began the dwarf as he sat down on the ground, “this lady…”
Snorting, Meryell immediately replied, “Is full of bandits. I went poking around before we left the village for information and managed to find out that they’ve done some shady shit around here. Oh, and they call themselves the Highwaymen, which is literally the least fucking original name I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Dorian shook his head and muttered, “Such incompetence in naming themselves obviously can’t be allowed to stand.” Meryell flicked a potato from her stew at him in response to that, which he just laughed and ducked away from while scolding, “My clothes , darling!”
Cassandra coughed loudly to get their attention back to the matter at hand and Meryell pointed at Dorian before she turned back to the map. He stuck out his tongue at her in response, to which Varric laughed before saying, “ Children , are mommy and daddy going to have to whip you back into line?”
The Seeker’s horrified look in response to that was perfection .
Grinning at Varric, Meryell leaned forward to tap her finger on their map in the general location of where they were on the Old Market Road. “No, Da,” she replied, putting a bit more of an inflection on her original Ferelden accent, “we’ll behave.”
“Good,” he said with a chuckle. Then Varric scooted forward on the rock he’d claimed and balanced his bowl in one hand while gesturing with the other towards the map. “So…you want to finish relating about the lady for us, sweetheart?”
“Right. This fucking lady . She’s important Ferelden history, so let’s try to not bang her up too much when we do get inside.”
Cassandra coughed before asking, “Do we have a plan for getting inside?”
Meryell shook her head as she leaned back to scoop a spoonful of the stew into her mouth, answering, “Not yet. I figure we should probably set up camp here since we’ve got a nice fucking view of the keep with shelter from this tree and rock, plus we can keep an eye on the lake rift from here. Plus, it’ll give Varric and I time to do some snooping around and see what the best way in is. And if we need reinforcements for this shit.”
“Reinforcements from where exactly?” asked Dorian. “There weren’t all that many soldiers at camp.”
“Our forces are scattered throughout the region,” Cassandra explained as she leaned forward. “If I recall correctly from our briefing, there is another camp to our east at Three Trout Farm. All of our soldiers and scouts are not always in camp as well, so there are more here than you might believe, Dorian.”
The mage blinked then inclined his head towards the woman with a murmured, “I will bow to your better voice of experience, sweet Cassandra.”
Scoffing in response (which was to try and cover the blush in her cheeks that Meryell damn well saw), the Seeker said, “It might be a better course of action for one to scout the keep and one of us to make our way over to Three Trout while the other two remain here.”
Shaking her head, Meryell argued, “Back to the village if we go that route. I told Harding before we left camp to pick two of her soldiers who were worth a damn at being sneaky to dress down and set up there as a drop off point. We at least know the road back to Crestwood and those two are specifically there for the purpose of getting word back to North Gate and on to Skyhold.”
Varric let out a low whistle and asked, “That a Fang tactic, Swears?”
“One of the standards for anyone out on a job, though we usually hired out the work ahead of time,” she replied with a casual shrug, not afraid to share details about the company’s organization with them. They weren’t going to betray their workings.
Cassandra frowned slightly before saying, “That first letter you were going to send out…it was going to such a contact?”
Meryell grimaced slightly because that letter was still a bit of a sore point. She didn’t regret her action one bit because back then she still hadn’t trusted anyone all that much, though Varric and Cullen got more for being civil. However, she was aware that she probably could have handled the early days with the Inquisition better than she had. The past was the past, though, and couldn’t be changed.
Nodding, she answered, “There was. We also had a contact at the Conclave before it went to shit. Drop points in Jader, Highever, and Amaranthine if I ended up having to take a coastal route home on the way out. Anyway!”
With a shake of her head, Meryell continued, “Given what I heard of this group from the villagers, we probably want to go with the latter plan. Though the fuckers could have played them for fools and be a smaller group than they think. But…”
“Keep like that,” murmured Varric, his eyes focused over the large rock towards the distant towers half shrouded by Crestwood’s almost ever present mist, “it holds a lot of people. And a region plagued like this one spawns a lot of bad folk looking to make a bit of quick coin.”
“I say,” piped Dorian, “that we do the sensible thing and get some soldiers to help us take our dear lady on the hill. Rather like that plan of yours in Redcliffe: distract with one group so the other group can slide in from the back to strike the killing blow.” He then laughed as he spooned up a bit of his stew. “Hopefully it’ll be without a trip into the future this time.”
“Maferath’s rotten balls, don’t even joke about that happening again,” scolded Meryell, her eyes narrowed slightly. As he lifted a hand in a sudden sympathetic gesture, she waved him off. “I’m not fucking glass , Dorian.”
The mage frowned, his lips pursed beneath his mustache, before he leaned forward and murmured, “Of course not, darling, but we will not pretend that it wasn’t terrible. Let me give a little comfort to my friend since I was fool enough to bring it back up?”
Sighing, she grumbled, “Fine, you sod.” As his hand stretched out to rest on her shoulder, Meryell let go of her spoon to reach up with her left hand to lay it over his. His fingers squeezed slightly and she made the gesture in return while turning to smile at him.
“Forgive me?” he asked quietly.
“‘Course,” she answered shortly.
Dorian smiled then pulled away, turning back to his food, and Meryell looked at the others.
“Right. So who’s riding back and who’s staying here?”
Cassandra let out a breath and said, “I will ride back. I do not think even a bandit would be fool enough to attack a Seeker.”
“You’d be surprised,” commented Varric. “Most bandits don’t do a lot of higher thinking.”
“Then I shall take my chances, Varric.”
The dwarf just shrugged before saying, “Sparkler and I can keep watch here while you go take a look around, Swears. I’m pretty sure your vision in the dark is better than mine.”
“So, it’s settled then!” Dorian swept out a hand to encompass their camp as he added, “By the time you two get back, we’ll have a veritable palace waiting for you.”
Laughing Meryell finished off the last of her stew and stood up as she said, “We’ll just have to tear it all fucking down right after that, Dorian.”
Sniffing theatrically, the mage huffed and turned away from her. “Fine! We’ll see if I attempt to give you something pretty ever again.”
Shaking her head, she leaned over to kiss his cheek as she purred, “I’m not into pretty things anyway, love.” With that Meryell straightened and said in a louder tone, “I’m going to wash this up then get a start on this shit. Be safe on the road, Cass.”
“Maker watch over you, Meryell,” replied the older woman solemnly while Dorian flashed a sly smile.
“If you don’t like pretty things, darling,” he called after her as she carefully made her way down towards the lake so as not to be seen, “may I have your Commander?”
“Don’t like him ‘cause he’s pretty, Dorian!” she called back. Turning, she flashed him a broad smile and a wink. “I like him for all the wicked things his tongue does.”
Meryell turned back towards her destination with a laugh as she heard the mage let out a hoot of laughter and Varric say, “Why, Seeker, you’re turning an awful shade of crimson. Something you ate?”
As she reached the water and dunked her bowl and spoon in to rinse them out, she lifted her eyes to regard the shadowy silhouette of the keep against the slowly darkening sky. You , she thought grimly as she stood back up, you’re going to be mine, you big bitch. And we’re going to murder every bloody bastard that calls you home right now for hurting these people.
Two weeks and three days later, with the Inquisition flag flying atop the keep and bandit blood still being scrubbed out of the stones, Meryell stood staring furiously at the wheel that controlled the outflow for the dam.
It was funny how quickly she could go from being amused by the rather heavy pawing session they’d interrupted between those two youths to cold outrage.
She clenched her left fist and felt the Mark flare in response, green light glowing through her leather half-gloves. Pain lanced up her arm in immediate response, same as it always did when it activated. Drowning it out had become second nature now with how many rifts she’d closed since falling into the piss pot that was everything after the Breach.
In that moment, however, she needed the pain as a distraction to keep herself from descending into a full on rage.
“He lied ,” she snarled aloud.
“What’s that, Swears?” asked Varric from the main part of the tavern. Then Meryell heard his footfalls right behind her and he inhaled a short breath before muttering, “Well shit .”
Cassandra entered the room a moment later, her expression as stormy as a thundercloud as she moved past them into the room. She made a half circuit before turning back to face them as she said icily, “This looks like it has taken no damage. Certainly none from darkspawn.”
Varric huffed a breath before saying, “Darkspawn have a tendency of leaving shit in pieces. So, sweetheart, now what?”
Meryell stared hard at the wheel, not answering the question at first. She barely even registered it being asked, to be honest.
No, her mind was on the dead. On those who had died in Old Crestwood during the Blight. Who had drowned when the supposed darkspawn had destroyed the controls of the dam.
What was the real story?
What had happened?
Why had those people died?
Finally able to unhinge her jaw, she answered in a far calmer voice than she felt, “We drain the fucking lake. There’s still a rift to close.”
“And the Mayor?” asked Dorian as he entered the room.
Stepping forward to lay her hands on the wheel, Meryell replied, “He’ll answer my questions. Or he won’t like the consequences.”
“Meryell,” spoke up Cassandra, looking concerned now. “Are you…?”
“You don’t leave people to die,” she spat venomously. Somehow old anger and pain crept into her voice and she fought to shut it down, to keep the emotions inside. It was choking , remembering how it had felt to think that there was no help coming, that she was next, that death was all there was. “Not if you can help it.”
“Swears,” began Varric but Meryell cut him off with a quick slash of her hand through the air
“We drain it . We find out what happened to these people. And then we bring the sorry fuckers that were involved to justice.”
Dorian’s voice was calm from behind her as he said soothingly, “Of course, darling. We will find them.”
“We will,” echoed Cassandra with all the surety of good steel in her tone.
Meryell looked around at all of them, a little overwhelmed at their responses, before she nodded firmly. Taking one hand off the wheel to gesture at it, she said, “Let’s get this done then.”