“Darling, I hope you know that I absolutely hate you right now.”
Meryell, who was leaning over the main map that the scouts had been working on for weeks of the Fallow Mire, glanced up and laughed out loud at the sight of the dripping wet Tevinter mage. Dorian’s normally well coiffed hair was in a right state thanks to the damp, rainy weather that they’d encountered so far since travelling down into the Fallow Mire and his moustache seemed to be drooping for the sheer purpose of giving it company. Why he’d decided to leave his nice warm tent was a damned mystery. They’d set up all of their tents during the lull of it not raining when they’d arrived at Fisher’s End for that exact reason.
“You know you love me still. Even if I’ve ruined your boots,” she replied wryly as she turned her attention back to the map. There wasn’t really much there as the Fallow Mire pretty much lived up to its name and the undead had been plaguing their men as much as the group of Avvar in the area had. Of course, where the undead had just been killing them on occasion, the Avvar had actually caught them and were holding them captive somewhere deep in the region.
Hence why they were bunkered down in Fisher’s End waiting for the Fangs to meet up with them before they fully took the fight to the bastards.
“I am beginning to wonder why for just that reason,” muttered Dorian as he wrung out a sopping wet section of his robes. He then let out a truly theatrical sigh before making his way over to her, standing close enough to see the map but no so much as to where he’d drip on it. The map had probably seen worse than a few droplets of water already judging by what she was pretty certain was a bloodstain on one corner but the mage had a deep respect for paper, so she let it slide. “What are we looking at here, hmm?”
Shuffling a little to her left so he could get a better vantage point, Meryell replied, “What of this fucking piss pot of an area that the scouts have sussed out. Baba and the rest determined that it is demons animating the corpses, so whatever is happening here is a weakened Veil and not some sort of magic.”
The mage huffed out a laugh, saying, “That is both reassuring and not, though I’m certain you know that.”
“Fuck yes. So, we’ve got maybe half of this region mapped out. Mostly it’s death and bogs from the impression I got from Harding when she gave me her report earlier, though there’s some kind of magical shit near this spot.” Reaching out, she tapped a location that was very nearly a straight shot forward from their camp, barely more than half a glass of walking judging by the notations on the map. “That,” Meryell continued, “is what Harding and her lead scout Lyda described as a hill with a menhir on it.”
Dorian arched his eyebrows and asked, “And what, darling, is so strange about a hill with a large rock on it?”
“Because it’s got what sure as shit sounds like a brazier for that veilfire stuff you and Chuckles can summon. Plus, it’s surrounded by demons if anyone gets too close.”
The mage rolled his eyes at that and moaned. “Maker forbid we go anywhere without demons!”
Meryell just grinned at his moaning and said, “I take you to the best places, don’t I?”
“Darling, I will set you on fire.”
“Even though you still love me?”
“ Especially because I still love you.”
Snorting a laugh, she leaned over and tapped on another marker on the map, saying, “Well, whenever the Fangs get here, getting over here will be our goal for that day. There’s apparently some sort of shallow cave in a rock there that the scouts figure will make a good camp for pressing onward.”
Dorian sniffed at that before asking, “And when , dare I ask, will the rest of your lovely family arrive?”
“I hate you even more.”
“Well,” drawled Meryell as she looped her arm around the mage’s shoulders as he was just a little taller than her, “if it’ll put me back into your good graces any, I packed a bottle of your favorite wine alongside my whiskey.”
His arm hooked around her waist in response, tugging her close against his sodden side but she didn’t protest. They’d have to go out in the wet to get to the alcohol anyway so she was already settled to the fact that she was going to end up at a similar state to him. Had been since they’d first set foot at the edge of the whole region, in fact.
Dorian hummed and said, “I suddenly find myself a little less inclined to hate you, darling. A glass of wine…or two…before bed, though, might just bring me back to feeling neutral about you.”
Laughing, she noted, “Have I told you that I am so fucking happy that I can bribe you with alcohol, Dorian?”
“No, but you can tell me over our drinks tonight. Alongside some gossip about your night with the Commander when the tavern opened, hmm? I heard you were carried off by him.”
Meryell snorted and grunted, “Like a sack of potatoes .”
“Now, now,” tutted Dorian as he paused at the door of the tent, peering at the dreary gray of the outside world with disdainful eyes, “that’s hardly romantic, darling.”
“Well no, but I was being a bit of a bitch to him at the time.”
“And later ?”
Reaching around with her free hand to smack him, she replied, “In my tent, darling . Where the alcohol’s at?” Dorian was actually one of the few she would talk about her and Cullen to more in depth as he knew when to keep his mouth shut about certain things. He also, unlike Cassandra, made her feel like she was gossiping with the Fangs as he had no qualms at saying all the things appreciable about Cullen.
Sighing theatrically again, the mage grumbled, “Oh, very well. Here, here, let me put a barrier up for all the little it will do to protect us on the move…now run !” They immediately dashed from the tent at his exclamation, she giggling hysterically while he cursed bloody murder in Tevene, before they stumbled into her own tent. Dripping wet, Meryell brushed her hair back out of her eyes while making a mental note that she needed to actually cut the mess back to her normal length before she bent over to pull a sealed wine bottle out of her open pack.
As soon as she handed it over to the mage, she started stripping out of her leathers so they could dry a little and Dorian whistled at her.
“If I knew getting you wet was all it took to get you out of your clothes, darling, I’d have gotten you naked in front of the Commander ages ago. Shall I tell him that you stripped for me when we return to Skyhold to make him jealous?”
Sticking out her tongue in response, Meryell replied, “What makes you think I haven’t stripped for him before?” She hadn’t (yet) but he didn’t need to know that they usually still went to sleep in their clothes. Though after that one night in his room that might be changing.
Dorian just waggled his eyebrows in response before he settled on the floor of her tent, long fingers curled around the neck of the wine bottle. “Because I know that neither of you have, ahem, done the nasty yet as our ever eloquent Sera would declare.” He then pouted, saying, “No glasses ?”
“No glasses,” she replied as she finished stacking her gear up in a dry section before plopping down on the ground near him in her sodden breeches and long-sleeved shirt, reaching for her own bottle as soon as she was settled.
“Such barbarism .”
Snorting, Meryell tugged open the cork on her whiskey, smiling around the mouth of the bottle as she took a long swig while he worked to get his wine open. “What do you expect?” she asked a moment later. “I am a barbaric Ferelden by birth, you know.”
Dorian sniffed before saying, “Honestly, dragging me down into your heathen ways. Why, if I ever go back to Tevinter, it will be a scandal. ”
“You love scandal.”
“Why, yes, I do.” He finally got the cork on his bottle and took a much more elegant drink from it than she had from hers. “ Now ,” he said seriously, “I believe you owe me a story.”
With a laugh, Meryell shifted around where she could lean her shoulder against his and settled in for a long night of slightly tipsy shenanigans with her friend.
Eight days later, covered in demon gore and undead gunk and the stickiest mud she’d ever encountered, Meryell glared at the ancient keep lurking ahead of them from their temporary shelter in an old house. “Rhiryd,” she called behind her as the big Avvar man had been obviously included amongst the team of Fangs Arnald had sent actually into the Mire. The Captain had intended on being there himself but apparently something else with a caravan being harassed by Red Templars in a pass south of Haven had taken priority. So they ended up with a mixed group of Fangs and Inquisition leaving Skyhold and splitting off at a halfway point along the way instead with him at the head of the rescue group.
“Yes?” he asked as he came to stand beside the old stool deemed still sturdy that had been relegated to the seat occupied by whoever was keeping an eye on the keep through the hole in the wall. Meryell turned away from the wall to cock her head up at him in question.
“So,” she began, “this group we’re up against, do you know of them?”
Rhiryd grunted in response and looked like he was chewing air for a moment before he replied, “Some. They are from Blue-Ram Hold. Tend to be…hmm…hot head. Quick to anger. Thane is good, keeps check most time if same as I knew.”
Nodding at his broken Common, which was better than it had been (teaching him had been Sister Cecilia’s pet project since they’d found the big man half-dead two years back at the edge of the Wilds while hunting bandits for a job) since he hadn’t known anything but yes and no originally, she asked, “Did your Hold have much dealing with them?”
“Some,” he replied. “Before my Hold, Red-Lion, was took by black sick.”
“Black sick?” she repeated, not certain what he meant by the term.
He nodded and gestured vaguely with his hands, which she’d always registered were huge , nearly three times the size of her own. They were heavy, square hands, meant for holding weapons and tools. Cullen’s hands were similar in shape, which wasn’t surprising as she remembered that the Avvar were one of the other Alamarri tribes like the one that most native human Fereldens were descended from.
“From eleven samhradh …sum…sum-mer? Yes, eleven summer ago.” He nodded to himself as he finished the sentence then continued, “The sickness took all land, all animal. Cecilia, she tell me that Wardens stop it, stop dragon that rule it.”
Meryell blinked several times because that sure as shit sounded like the Blight and she hadn’t known that it had spread south enough to affect the Avvar. Then again, how could she have when she hadn’t even been in Ferelden when it had nearly decimated her birth country.
“It destroyed your Hold?” she asked.
Rhiryd shook his head before replying, “Took most life, not all. I survive with some but Hold could not stand. Death took the croí – the heart – from the Hold. Killed the young and old, took our Thane, took our Hold-Beast. Those left were lost, broken.”
Arching an eyebrow, Meryell pressed, “And then?” because that surely wasn’t all to the story. Judging by the dark expression that immediately took over the Avvar’s face, it had been something that had gone against everything that Rhiryd believed in.
“Warrior returned to the Hold,” he growled, his teeth suddenly gritted in anger. Obviously this was something that he had held onto for the past decade, that still drove him. “He was hot head, never agree with Thane. Never want peace. Saw…moment? Ch-chance?”
“Opportunity?” she offered.
Nodding, Rhiryd confirmed, “Opp-or-tun-ity. Yes. Saw this to turn Hold. Claimed gods left us, abandon us. That is why Hold fell sick. That is why Hold died.” He then clenched his hands into fists and continued, “Did not trust him. He was no augur, could not speak to gods. He did not know . I not let him lead me away.”
Meryell frowned and gnawed on her lip for a moment. “But the others did.”
The answer was short but there was so much behind the single word answer. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like, to have survived the horrors of the Blight only to have the whole of his Hold – of his family – turn against him. Because it had been obvious when they’d found him that Rhiryd had been alone for a long time.
Impulsively reaching out, Meryell lightly touched his arm for a moment and as his eyes met hers, she said softly, “You know the company would never do that.”
A small smile graced his lips then and he nodded slightly. “Do not fear company falling to same. Could but doubt. Do not have those like him.” As she watched, he slowly relaxed, the tension easing out of his shoulders as he let his hands fall loose at his sides once more.
“No,” she agreed, “the Captain doesn’t take the sort like I’m guessing he was.” Then she shook her head and chuckled before adding, “Though we seem to have gotten off on a fucking tangent, Rhiryd.”
The big man laughed at that and said, “You ask, I answer. Did not know things of me. Were curious.” He then shrugged easily and gestured broadly with one hand towards the hole in the wall that she’d been keeping an eye through. “Blue-Ram are hot head, as said. Attack hard but slow. Prefer big weapons.”
“You think they’ll still be like that a some-odd decade since you were with your Hold?”
Rhiryd snorted loudly at that, drawing attention briefly to them from one or two of the Fangs that were still awake in the rickety house. As they settled back down, he replied, “Avvar never stay same. Always change. Most anyway.”
Cocking her head to the side, Meryell mused, “Let me guess, Blue-Ram Hold didn’t take too much to change.”
“Hot head not good for it. Bet drinks that they are same.”
“Now that’s my kind of bet, Rhiryd.”
Chuckling, he nodded and she laughed before holding out one hand towards him. As he gripped it rather lightly for a man who walked so heavily and wielded a two-handed sword as tall as she was with ease, Meryell said, “Two rounds of drinks get bought by the loser?”
“Deal,” he answered before turning to leave her with her watch once more. Shaking her head after him in mild amusement, Meryell turned back towards her watch as she wasn’t about to be relieved for at least another two turns of the little hourglass that Astrid had brought to keep track of watches. She got the distinct feeling that she was going to lose their little bet but that would be perfectly fine.
Rhiryd seemed like the sort she’d like to have as something closer than just a general brother in the company. Plus, he was smitten with Sister Cecilia, who she had long adored. Anyone that the Sister approved of, was someone alright by her.
Seven hours later when they finally made their way into Hargrave Keep and spent a ridiculously long fucking time whittling down the Avvar warrior who’d been calling himself the Hand of Korth (a title that made Rhiryd outright scoff every time he heard it), Meryell flopped down onto the top step of the stairs the idiot had been standing on next to the big man. Rhiryd grinned down at her as he leaned forward with his elbows propped on his knees and said, “Owe me two rounds.”
Shaking her head, she looked out over the bustle below them as bodies were dragged away and a temporary camp was set up inside the keep. Dorian was using his magic to bring the braziers and a fire someone had built in the center of the old hall to life while Urien and Slaine, the two mages who had come with the company contingent, set about healing the wounds of the Inquisition soldiers that they’d just rescued. The seven of them were bruised and battered but damnit they were alive and half of that was because the man next to her had been right about the warriors from Blue-Ram Hold being slow and hot-headed.
They’d hit like fucking Hinterlands bears , which wasn’t entirely encompassed by the description of them hitting hard, but she’d gotten plenty of practice with those during her time there with Cassandra and the rest.
“Three rounds,” Meryell replied as she smiled because her people were safe. When he looked at her in surprise, she jerked her chin towards the sight in front of them. “Your knowledge of these Avvar helped save our people, Rhiryd.”
“Our?” he repeated softly, turning his gaze towards the others.
“They did name me Inquisitor.”
He huffed out a laugh in response to that before saying, “Many thought them mind lost for such.”
“I thought they’d lost their shit when I got told about it too. But…” As her voice trailed off, Meryell chuckled as she thought about how quickly things had changed in her head as soon as word had come in that the Avvar had captured their scouts. Suddenly a dozen cheerful shouts of Herald the moment she’d walked into the Singing Maiden had echoed through her head alongside smiles from scout and soldier and villager alike and then the heartbreaking recollection of poor Edan telling her Send ‘em to the fucking Void through bloodstained teeth. As wary of being the Herald of Andraste as she had ever been or concerned about giving orders as Inquisitor, she’d known one thing for certain right then at the war table: that these people were hers and she’d follow the Captain’s example to see right done by them. “But, fuck, I started thinking of them as mine a while ago to be honest.”
Rhiryd smiled and clapped a heavy hand on her shoulder, hard enough to rock her slightly forward. As she turned to look up at him, he grinned and said, “Then they are ours. Inquisition was wounded, lamed, by attack. Needs Fangs to keep fighting.”
Meryell just smiled and looked back over the group – her people – working in concert with each other.
“Yes,” she murmured, almost to herself as she nodded slightly, “the Inquisition needs its Fangs.”
samhradh – summer
croí – heart
The above are Irish.