“What the fuck,” spat Meryell as she watched the Lord Seeker’s retreating back at the head of the templars trailing him, “crawled up his ass and died a decade ago?”
“He was never inclined to ambition and grandstanding. I do not understand.”
Turning to look at Cassandra, she asked the warrior, “You know him well?”
“Lord Seeker Lucius,” replied the woman, “took over the Seekers of Truth two years ago, after Lord Seeker Lambert’s death. He was always a decent man.” She shook her head and muttered on, “This is very bizarre.”
“Perhaps he can be reasoned with,” continued Cassandra, her eyes still on the slowly disappearing figures.
Varric scoffed openly and Meryell sighed before saying, “You don’t reason with a man like that, Seeker. That’s a man who’s so far into zealotry that he can’t see the way back out. You heard him.” She scowled after that before finishing, “The only thing you can do to stop a man like that is put a knife in his damned gullet.”
Cassandra took in a sharp breath before hissing, “Herald, we are in the middle of Val Royeaux. You cannot speak of…of…murdering the Lord Seeker in the open!”
“I’d consider it a service to the fucking whole of Thedas,” replied Meryell with a shrug. “Man like that…he’s only going to lead what’s left of the Order to ruin.” A few months ago that wouldn’t have hurt her much, before when all she’d had to do with the templars was that they sometimes came after Folke or one of the other mages in the company. She didn’t count the ones that were in the company because they weren’t templars anymore at that point. Most of the templars she had met were assholes who by and large hadn’t taken a hint until steel got drawn. Since meeting Cullen, however, she’d come to see a new side to them.
Oh, they could still be bastards all right. But some…some could be decent.
“Y’know, Swears,” mused Varric, “sometimes you scare me.”
Grinning over her shoulder at him, she chirped, “Only sometimes?”
He laughed and Meryell chuckled before she turned away, heading towards the stage where the woman still sat on her knees breathing hard. As the woman looked up on her approach, Meryell saluted with two fingers and greeted, “Your Shiny Skirtness. Seems like your much lauded templars didn’t do you much good in the end.”
“I am certain that pleases you, elf,” replied the woman, her tone more weary than it was cold.
Meryell’s eyes narrowed at the silent insult and then Cassandra stepped up to say, “We came only to speak with the Mothers. This is not our doing.”
“And you had no part in forcing our hand, Seeker Pentaghast?” demanded the woman. “Now we have been shown up by our own templars and my fellow clerics have scattered to the winds.” She then turned her eyes towards Meryell, saying, “Tell me one thing, if you do not believe you are the Maker’s chosen, then what are you?”
“A bitch with too much curiosity who just so happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” replied Meryell, ignoring Cassandra’s little offended intake of breath and getting a bit confused by the noise Varric made. He had an issue with her swearing at Chantry’s officials? She then rolled her eyes and crouched down, peeling off her left glove to reveal the Mark. “But I’ve got this thing and I can just maybe help close the Breach and put a stop to all of this crazy shit going on. I like normalcy, Shiny Skirt, and I’d like the world to get back to that way. No more, no less.”
The woman blinked at her for a moment, eyes flickering back and forth between the Mark and her face, before she said, “That is…more comforting than you might imagine.”
Snorting, Meryell pulled her glove back on as she asked, “Even with all the curse words? Everything I learned from the Sister that visited the alienage when I was a girl made me think that your sort didn’t approve of foul language.”
“There is a time and place for everything. Even those words.”
“Huh.” Meryell nodded almost respectfully to the woman then stood up, jerking her head towards the other priests standing around. “Hey, you lot, take Shiny somewhere comfortable. Honestly, leaving her sitting on this splintery stage…what sort of clerics are you, the shitty kind? Come on, hop to, hop to!” As the pair jerked into motion, she grinned down at the woman before stepping away.
“Thought you didn’t like the Chantry, Swears,” commented Varric as they walked away from the stage.
“Hate the lot of their prissy pants,” she replied before glancing back at the stage. The woman was upright now, shaking as she leaned between the two young men who’d accompanied her, and watching them walk away. Meryell inclined her head slightly to her before turning away again with the words, “I hate folks who beat up on those weaker than them more though. Fuckers like that need to die slow. Fucking nughumping son of a bitch!”
She jumped sideways towards Cassandra as something flashed past her from above with a low whistle and got abruptly grabbed about the waist by the Seeker. The other woman slung her around like she weighed nothing – which, while she wasn’t in Cassandra’s weight class, she wasn’t by any means light – and pulled her shield up in a defensive position over both their heads. Meryell blinked for a moment as she caught her breath then called dazedly, “Varric?”
“Yeah, Swears?” came his voice from somewhere behind the nearby shrubbery and she let herself relax a little.
“What the fuck.”
“Looks like arrows, sweetheart.”
“Arrow,” corrected Cassandra as she cautiously lowered her shield, her eyes sweeping the landings above them. “There seems to have been only one.”
Meryell frowned and slowly approached the arrow, circling around it cautiously for a moment. Whoever had fired it was good and had buried the tip of the shaft into the seam between two of the worn stones of the yard. And obviously wanted their attention since there was a note carefully curled around the arrow and tied with a little bit of red ribbon.
Freeing the note, she straightened and read aloud, ” ‘People say you’re special. I want to help, and I can bring everyone. There’s a baddie in Val Royeaux. I hear he wants to hurt you.’ Huh, color me surprised. ‘Have a search for the red things in the market, the docks, and ’round the cafe, and maybe you’ll meet him first. Bring swords.‘ It’s signed…” Her eyes went wide and a slow grin spread across her face as her ire at being shot at got mostly erased. “Friends of Red Jenny! Oh, Jennies. What a fucking treat! Come on, we’ve got to sort this.”
“You’re excited about this?” queried Varric at the same time Cassandra demanded, “Who are these people?”
Meryell just grinned and extended her arms as she exclaimed, “The Red Jennies! Only some of the best sort to have around when there’s some high-ass prick jacking off on the lowest in a city. At least here in Orlais and sometimes in Ferelden when they’re not working for their own means. The Marcher ones are more about keeping the streets tidy than anything. I’ve met a couple while working, usually when we were both after the same asshole. They’re the sort of folk you want on your side because if they’re on your ass you tend to not last long.”
Cassandra wrinkled her nose and began, “I do not think…”
“Seeker,” interrupted Varric, “she’s right. I’ve never met one personally but I’ve certainly heard about what the Jennies do. Hawke and the rest of us did some of that street cleaning in Kirkwall for them. We want them to not want to kill us.” He then paused, grinning, while gesturing at Meryell. “Plus, look at Swears. She looks like a kid in a candy shop with all the gold in the world.”
Meryell laughed and tucked the note away, saying, “Well, come on, let’s get on it. I want to find this…oh, hel-fucking-lo.” She blinked at the elven woman in robes who was suddenly approaching them and asked aloud, “The fuck is a mage doing here?”
“Grand Enchanter Fiona!” exclaimed Cassandra, effectively answering the question.
So not only a mage, the mage from Meryell’s limited understanding of what had been the structure of the Circle. Folke didn’t have much experience with it since he’d taught himself what little he was capable of but the mages he was closest to in the company, Gil and Demut, had both been Circle taught. Gil had had decent things to say about Ferelden before the Blight, which was when she had high tailed it out of the Tower, and Demut had escaped Starkhaven when its Circle had burned. She hadn’t had decent things to say about the Circle during the little she even spoke of it and everyone in the company had the good sense to leave her past where it lay.
“And you’re here because?” she asked, folding her arms and tilting her chin up in a challenging pose. The older elf gave her an appraising look and Meryell saw a grudging bit of approval there.
“I heard of this gathering and I wanted to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes,” replied Fiona. As Meryell snorted, the woman continued, “If it’s help with the Breach you seek, perhaps my people are the wiser option.”
“Well, here I am in all my travel dusty glory,” Meryell said grudgingly at the hated title. She didn’t mind the way the Inquisition soldiers said it so much anymore – they’d turned it into something to be proud of almost, like a badge of honor – but the way the Grand Enchanter said it…it made her skin crawl. There was something not right about this whole situation. “By the way, why the fuck weren’t you at the Conclave? Shouldn’t that have been right up your alley?”
“She was supposed to be,” intoned Cassandra, her voice accusatory. “And yet, somehow, you avoided death.”
Fiona remained unflappable in the face of the Seeker’s ire and Meryell gave her props for that alone. The woman had balls.
“As did the Lord Seeker,” pointed out the woman. “We both sent negotiators in our stead in case of a trap.” She then shook her head as she continued, “I won’t pretend to be glad to live, Herald, Seeker. I lost many good friends that day. It disgusts me to think the templars will get away with it and I’m hoping you won’t let them.”
The accusation hit Meryell like a knee to the gut, making her think of Cullen and everything he felt for the Order, and she asked, “So you think the templars are responsible?”
“Lucius hardly seems broken up over his losses,” Fiona sneered. “If he’s concerned about them at all. You think he wouldn’t happily kill the Divine to turn people against us? So…yes…I think he did it.” She then smiled coolly as she finished, “More than I think you did it at any rate.”
She couldn’t fault the woman that particular piece of logic. The Lord Seeker did seem exactly like the sort that would do just that if he thought it would bring his goals closer from what she’d seen of him so far.
“Fair enough,” she acknowledged. Then she narrowed her eyes at Fiona and asked, “So…are the mages going to get off their arses now and help us?”
“We are willing to…discuss it…with the Inquisition at the least. Consider this an invitation to Redcliffe. Come and meet with the mages, an alliance could help us all. Au revoir, my dear Herald.”
As Fiona turned and walked away, Varric muttered, “Did anyone else get a really creepy vibe during that conversation?”
“Oh fuck yes,” agreed Meryell, not taking her eyes off the woman. “She’s genuine but…something’s up. I dunno what but there is definitely something not bloody right about this whole thing. Too damned convenient.”
“I agree,” said Cassandra sternly. She then sighed and said, “Shall we investigate these Red Jennies of yours quickly? I would like to begin our return to Haven before night fall.”
“Best to bet on tomorrow, Seeker,” Meryell replied as she started towards the cafe that the note had mentioned. “This could take some time.”
Time turned out to be hours past dusk when the city was dark.
They had followed the trail of their mysterious Jenny and as Meryell pushed open a pair of doors, she instinctively jerked back to avoid the fireball that came flying towards her face. “Fucking shitebag!” she cursed, glaring at the Orlesian fop standing in the middle of the open courtyard.
“Herald of Andraste!” exclaimed the man before he posed – fucking posed – where he stood. “How much did you spend to discover me? It must have weakened the Inquisition immeasurably.”
Meryell blinked at the man, working her jaw silently through a collection of words that she wanted to say but they wanted to come all at once and not one at a damned time like proper. She turned her head to look at Varric, who shrugged before hefting Bianca, and then over at Cassandra, who made her signature noise of disgust as she freed her sword from its sheath. Then she looked back at the fop and sneered, “I have absolutely no fucking idea who you are other than the mother fucker who just threw a fireball at my face.”
The man curled his lip underneath his mask at that.
“You don’t fool me! I’m too important for this to be an accident. My efforts will survive in victories against you elsewhere.”
Oh, she was going to gut this asshole like a sodding fish. On the mere fact of him being a stuck up prick, not to mention that he’d tossed a fireball at her. He’d thrown down the gauntlet first so far as she was concerned.
Meryell then jerked her head around at the sound of a man dying from their left and noticed that the man had turned as well. She blinked at the slight form of the young blond elf standing there in patchwork leather armor that covered some truly garish looking fabric that made up tunic as well as pants and then started laughing at the girl’s immediate words.
“Just say ‘what ‘.”
“What is the…grrk!”
The fop toppled with an arrow in his throat and Meryell sighed before she strode out towards the girl, saying, “And here I was going to gut him open like a fish at market. Good shot though.”
The other elf grinned at that before saying, “Sorry! Squishy one but you heard me right? Just say what. Rich tits always try for more than they deserve.” She then moved towards the now corpse and tugged out the arrow. “Blah, blah, blah. Obey me! Arrow in my face.”
“So,” she continued, “I see you followed all the notes well enough.” The girl then trailed off as she tilted her head to the side, which let Meryell observe that her blond hair was hacked off short in uneven patches the same as hers. Definite pattern of someone who’d gotten used to dealing with life on their own. Then she noticed the girl’s nose wrinkling in disgust as she drawled, “Aaaaand, you’re an elf. Hope you’re not too elfy.”
“Swears? Elfy?” said Varric from behind her as Meryell just blinked at the girl. The dwarf grinned as she turned to look at him after a moment before continuing, “I mean, I know you know some Elven, Swears, which would normally make you elfy but I’ve met elves from the alienage that are a lot more elf-like than you are.”
“Thanks, Varric. I think.”
“Alienage?” repeated the girl.
“South Reach,” answered Meryell. She then cocked her head to the side, recognizing the girl’s accent as clearly as Ferelden as her own (though she herself was like Cullen in that she had some obvious Marcher influence from years spent there). “Denerim?”
“You’re good!” The other elf then waved her hands as she said, “The most important thing is: you glow? You’re the Herald thingy?”
Rolling her eyes, Meryell replied sourly, “That’s what they’re calling me. So…you’re the Red Jenny? The one that shot the arrow at us? And who was that idiot?”
The girl cocked her head to the side, a grin growing on her face as she asked, “You already know about the Jennies?”
“Worked with a few during my years. You ever heard of the Fangs of Vimmark?”
“You’re a Fang! Never met one of your lot before but I’ve heard of you. One of you helped whats-his-name in Jader take out that bastard who was taking kids off the street like he was helpin’ them and doing terrible shite to them.” She then shrugged and continued, “And I don’t know this idiot from manners. My people just said the Inquisition should look at him.”
Cassandra huffed from behind them and asked, “Your people?”
Meryell tilted her head to the side as she said, “The servants. The working poor. The homeless. Anyone that gets spit on by most by those who think themselves better. They shit on the little folks who they think can’t do anything and the Jennies step in to even the score.”
The girl just grinned before gesturing at a large crate, saying, “Name’s Sera. This is cover. Get round it. For the reinforcements.” She broke off for a moment and her grin became even brighter. “Don’t worry, someone tipped me their equipment shed. They’ve got no breeches.”
Finding herself grinning right back at the girl, Meryell freed her daggers from their sheaths as she tumbled into cover at the almost absurdly perfectly timed sound of boots on the cobblestones. A quintet of guards wearing everything they owned except their pants came around the corner and she couldn’t help it. She burst into giggles as soon as she sprang out of cover once one went past her, burying her blades keep into his kidneys.
“You are such a child!” exploded Cassandra as the woman slammed her shield into another guard’s face, drawing a fountain of blood from his shattered nose as he stumbled backwards.
“Only when it’s appropriate, Seeker!” she shot back with a laugh as she spun herself around the back of the collapsing guard towards another who was rushing at her. Her first strike clattered against his armor but her second came in low while he was grinning at her, slicing the inside of one of his thighs open right up at the groin. Meryell darted away as blood poured from the wound while he fell to the ground as his leg gave out. She’d been taught her anatomy well, just the same as any in the company.
He’d be dead in minutes.
Turning to survey the rest of their attackers, she saw that one was already down via arrows from the girl, Sera, as well as Bianca’s bolts. Cassandra had already downed the one she’d slammed in the face and swiftly took out the last who’d gone after her in what looked like a last ditch attempt at doing something. Tugging at one of her pouches for a cleaning rag, Meryell swiftly wiped the blood from her blades and sheathed them before she smiled at Cassandra. The Seeker caught her look and snorted before making her disgusted noise as she shook her head.
There was a little twitch at the side of her mouth though.
She’d almost gotten the ever serious Seeker to fucking smile. It might just be her new goal in life now, since she’d actually come to like the woman since those first days after the Breach’s opening.
“Friends really came through with that tip!” exclaimed Sera with a smile and a giggle. “No breeches!” She then looked right at Meryell and said, “You’re a strange one, Herald, but…I like you. I’d like to join.”
“You want to join the Inquisition?” Cassandra asked in surprise.
The elf nodded sharply as she looked over at the other woman, responding with, “You need people, right?” She then shifted back to Meryell as she continued on. “I want to get everything back to normal. Like you?”
“Like me,” agreed Meryell, as she’d said the exact same thing earlier. She almost turned to look at Cassandra but decided against it. The Seeker had been happy to let her make the decisions by the time they’d finished up in the Hinterlands – before she’d gotten her arm torn open by a damned demon – so she was going to run with it. If Cassandra wanted to fight about it, the Seeker surely would. Extending a hand, she said, “I think the Inquisition could find great use in the Red Jennies.”
“Grand!” exclaimed Sera. She cocked her head for a moment before she grinned and reached out to take the offered hand, shaking Meryell’s whole arm fiercely for a moment before she let go. “You’ve got people that’ll buy things right? ‘Cause now I’ve got all these breeches…anyway, Haven. See you there, Herald!”
With that the girl turned and left, leaving them in a courtyard with six dead bodies.
“Swears?” Varric said in a slightly cautious voice.
“You attract the strangest people.”
Meryell just laughed at that, saying, “You know that includes you technically, right?”
“Pff,” he replied, flapping a hand blithely, “I was already with the Inquisition. Doesn’t count!”
“You were not with the Inquisition,” Cassandra hissed. “You were loitering where you were not wanted.”
Varric grinned and waggled a finger at the woman before he said, “Ah, but don’t forget, Seeker, I turned out to be useful.” When she made only her disgusted noise in response, he chuckled before speaking again. “Anyway, Swears, we should get out of here. All that commotion is going to draw the city guards eventually and the last thing we need to do is get arrested. Curly and Ruffles would both have a fit.”
Nodding, Meryell said, “Alright, let’s go. There’ll be no catching a ship tonight but we can be on the docks bright and early to find one that can take us back to Jader. So I guess it’s back to the tavern.”
“Ugh,” was Cassandra only comment to the plan and Varric just nodded.
Shaking her head at them, Meryell headed for another set of doors that let out of the courtyard and took a minute to orient herself after opening them. She was already thinking of drinks and bed and the company that came with the former (but not the latter)…but not a one of those was in Val Royeaux.
They weren’t even a minute into their trip home and she was already counting the time until she could settle into a chair at The Singing Maiden with a bit of whiskey in her glass and Cullen’s warm presence at her side. She could practically hear his voice in her ear, all quiet commentary about this man or that woman and what their story was. It was their game she’d come up with to pass time, giving people stories that weren’t their own, plus it kept both of their minds going on other things. That was her own excuse for it anyway, so she didn’t think too much on the handsome man that half of Haven already thought she was bedding.
The man she had to now go tell that his former Order was looking more and more out of their minds.
That thought brought any happiness she felt to a screeching halt and Meryell groaned quietly to herself. She suddenly wasn’t looking forward to the return trip at all.