“Herald!” exclaimed one of the Inquisition soldiers in the so-called Outskirts camp that overlooked the Crossroads as they rode in after leaving Redcliffe several hours before. “There’s a message for you.”
Sighing because this probably meant they were going to be delayed on their way back to Haven instead of just long enough to water their horses, Meryell swung down from the saddle of her Forder. “From who?” she asked as she reached out to take the folded paper in the woman’s hand.
“The Nightingale, ser.”
Fighting a grimace – purely on the fact that it was bad form for the lower ranks of the Inquisition to see their leaders at each other’s throats – she took the letter and unfolded it to reveal the spymaster’s elegant hand. Skimming it quickly, Meryell sighed before she ducked into the largest of the camp’s tents. There was one soldier inside, a dark-haired young man who was freshly out of his armor judging by the still wet looking sweat stains on his tunic, and he twitched at the sight of her but didn’t immediately jump up to salute her. Which was a good thing given that he probably would have spattered ink all over the map that he and the others at this post worked so hard to keep up to date.
“Herald,” he greeted, finishing whatever he was noting quickly and starting to rise. Meryell quickly waved him back down with a quick slash of her right hand.
“Stay fucking seated, soldier,” she scolded. “You look dead on your feet.”
He smiled gratefully as he sank back into his seat and asked, “How can I help you, Herald?”
Holding up the letter, Meryell smiled and replied, “Just need to figure out where this is pointing me. You lot heard any shit about a Warden here in the Hinterlands?”
“There was…” The young man held up a single finger and dug into the stack of papers to his right on the table, flipping through them hurriedly before he let out a pleased noise. “Ah! From Upper Lake two weeks ago. They sent us and the Nightingale a report of a man wearing Warden armor in the area around Lake Luthias.”
Stepping up to the table, Meryell flicked her eyes across the map but she’d never been very good at reading upside down. It was one of those things that made jobs for the company difficult sometimes though there was nothing for it as trying made her eyes swim. Thankfully the soldier reached out to tap his finger on the sketch of a lake towards the bottom of the map.
“There,” he said firmly, “Lake Luthias. It’s where you cleared those Carta out of an old thiag weeks ago, Herald.”
Now she knew where she was going.
Tucking the letter into one of her belt pouches, Meryell nodded and grinned at him, “You’re a fucking life saver, soldier. What’s your name?”
“You’re under Commander Cullen?”
Smiling, she said, “I’ll put in a good word for you when I get back to Haven. Now get your ass into a bed before you fall out of that chair. Herald’s orders.”
He laughed and nodded, slowly standing up to salute her. “Aye, ser,” he repeated, his voice warm. “Thank you, ser.”
Flipping a hand errantly at him, Meryell turned to leave the tent, trusting that he’d see himself to bed since she’d ordered him there. The soldiers and scouts had a tendency to follow whatever she said to the letter, which had been more than a little off-putting at first. Nowadays she was finally starting to get a a little bit used to it and it certainly helped when she saw some of them pushing themselves too hard.
Striding over to where Cassandra was tugging the saddle off of her own horse, she said, “Got another fucking recruiting job before we go back.”
The Seeker just arched an eyebrow as she turned and dropped the saddle along with its pad onto the ground. As she turned back to the horse, running her gloved hand down it’s neck, she asked, “What is it this time?”
“Believe it or not, it’s a Warden.”
Nodding, Meryell replied, “Apparently our dear el’u’verelan was wrong when she said all of the local ones had disappeared.” She then noticed Solas nearby, his ears twitching, and pointed at him. “Not a fucking word, Chuckles.”
The bald elf just smiled and noted, “I was merely going to comment that your word choice was…apt…for the spymaster, da’len.”
“Enough of that Elven shite,” sneered Sera as she bounced past him and over to Meryell. “We got somethin’ else to do?”
“Seems like,” she replied shortly. All-in-all she understood Sera’s opinion towards Elven culture – she shared some of them she’d learned, particularly that the Dalish and Solas were stuck-up knobs – but sometimes her words grated. The language and what habit she kept had deep meaning to her and she had tried to explain that to her fellow rogue.
It had mostly gotten across.
Meryell then continued, “According to reports, he’s at the nearby lake. Lake Luthias.”
“The one with the thiag overlooking it,” commented Cassandra.
Solas stepped forward, his eyebrows drawn down low, and asked, “And this Warden is there? Why have they not already approached him?”
“Because, Chuckles,” replied Meryell with a roll of her eyes, “apparently that’s my job.”
“Well,” he drawled lazily, “you are the Herald of Andraste.”
Narrowing her eyes at him, she growled, “I will stab you, masvian.” He just smiled in response – that smarmy, know-it-all expression that she hated – and Meryell shifted her attention immediately back to Cassandra. “It’s still fucking early so we can rest a few hours then head that way, spend the night at Upper Lake before we go hunting for this Warden…fuck, what was his name?”
Tugging the letter back out, she unfolded it and skimmed for the name before reading it out loud.
Warden Blackwall was as shifty a bastard as Meryell had ever met. He wasn’t shifty in the way of a bad thief trying to find out where you hid your valuables or a psycho clinging to the edge of madness who made overt commentary.
He was shifty like some of the company was when admitting past crimes.
Like Folke had been that night long ago when she’d accidentally called him baba for the first time and he’d told her her wasn’t worth being anyone’s father because of the blood on his hands.
Kicking at the boot of one of the men who’d attacked the Warden and his so-called recruits, Meryell snorted. They were common thieves judging by the ill-fit of their gear and that had been confirmed by Blackwall’s statement about the unarmored men he’d been ‘training’ when they’d walked up taking back what was stolen. She then flicked her eyes up at the man and stated firmly, “So you’ve not got one fucking idea where the other Wardens are.”
Unlike a lot of people, he didn’t seem at all taken back by her cursing. There wasn’t even a twitch from that impressive black beard he sported. So, he wasn’t just some loner who was good with sword and board, as Harvard had always termed wielding a sword and shield. He was a soldier…or had been at one point.
“No,” replied the man. “I haven’t seen any other Wardens for months. Mostly I travel alone, recruiting.”
Meryell flicked her eyes in the direction that his ‘conscripts’ had gone before arching an eyebrow. She wasn’t an expert but she’d read enough about the heroes of the Blight and their Order to get a grasp of how things worked. Wardens didn’t just temporarily conscript folk.
Once you were conscripted, that was it.
“And tossing poor sods into the piss?” asked Sera. “That part of Wardening?”
“I was in the area recruiting. Fought some demons and that’s when I heard about the stealing.” Blackwall turned to look in the direction his ‘recruits’ had gone and the look on his face was that of a man who’s done something terrible that he knows he can’t ever correct. “They had to do what I told them to, so I told them to stand. Next time they won’t need me.”
Sera snorted in response and Meryell could see her nose already curling up into a sneer. Holding out a warding hand to stave off whatever comment the younger elf might have, she pressed, “So where might the other Wardens have gone? Surely you’ve got one place they might have headed.”
Shrugging, he replied, “They might have retreated to our stronghold Weisshaupt up in the Anderfels. Other than that, I don’t know where they might have disappeared off to. If they did…I usually stay outside of towns and the like. Probably why I haven’t heard anything.”
Meryell glanced sideways at Cassandra, who was standing an arms-length away with her arms crossed. The older woman turned her head towards her, one eyebrow arched, before saying, “Then this…detour…has not been helpful at all.”
“That might be warring for your top spot as the understatement of 9:41,” commented Meryell wryly. She then turned her attention back to the man and said, “Thanks for what little you could give us, Warden Blackwall.”
As she turned away, ready to tell everyone to head back to the Upper Lake camp, Blackwall gruffly said, “Inquisition!”
Spinning back around on the heel of one foot, Meryell arched her eyebrows curiously at the man as he approached her with the oddest expression on his face. “Warden?”
“Look, I imagine you’ve got your hands full with all of this…well, shit, to put it properly… going on, what with the Divine’s murder and the hole in the sky. Thing like that…thinking the Wardens are gone is almost as bad as us being involved. So if you’re trying to put things back right, maybe you need a Warden. Maybe you need me.”
If she were someone else she might not have realized what that odd expression on his face was in that moment. Were she true Dalish or had never left the alienage or even if she were human by some chance of fate, she might not have seen.
But she was herself, thief and killer (if the need called for it), and Meryell knew that look like it was a longtime lover. She’d seen it on her face, on Arnald’s, on Folke, on Cullen most recently, and more as Arnald had practically built the Fangs on people like that.
Folk who’d done wrong and couldn’t wash the blood off their hands yet still, still strove to do one thing right.
Who was she to deny a man that chance?
Extending her hand towards him, Meryell met Blackwall’s eyes with her own. His were blue and they, above all else, confirmed everything his face had screamed. Demut had told her long ago that the eyes were the keys to a person, whether you were having a conversation or facing them across the blade of a weapon.
As his hand enclosed her own – a heavy grip that reflected the use of the two-handed sword slung across his back – she smiled.
“Welcome to the Inquisition then, Warden Blackwall.” She then tipped her head towards to her left, adding, “We’ve got a camp just down the hill and a spare horse or two. If you’ve got nothing to settle, you’re welcome to ride back to Haven with us.”
“I know the camp,” he said with a slight smile. “Got some things hidden that I need to get but I can meet you there in a few hours.”
“We’ll see you then, Warden.”
With that Meryell strode off and the others fell into step behind her as they made their way back around the lake towards camp. Thankfully they all waited until they got to the other side of the lake before saying anything.
“You really want that one?” asked Sera as she stomped alongside Meryell through the lake’s shallows. “He’s trouble.”
Turning to grin at her, Meryell noted, “We’re all trouble, Sera.”
“Ha! Too right!”
Cassandra cleared her throat before saying, “The Warden seems to be an accomplished fighter. Even with the Fangs and the Chargers augmenting the Inquisition forces we can’t afford to turn away a steady blade.”
“Agreed,” commented Solas. He then added, “Though you know he hides something, da’len.”
Meryell turned a flinty gaze back towards the bald elf, staring at him for a long moment before she shifted back forward at Sera’s muttered Don’t let Egg get to you, he’s just pissed I threw lizards in his bed roll. Snorting softly at her fellow rogue’s antics (she’d guessed it was Sera causing the commotion this morning), she spoke firmly in a voice that would carry back to him.
“We’ve all got shit we hide, Chuckles. You, me, Varric…name a name and they’ve got something they want to hide. Seems to me like that makes him a perfect fucking addition to this piss pot mess.”