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Return From Darkness

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Elisabeta stopped in at West Hill on her way to the Hinterlands and closed the rift reported there.  She had sent a few of her personal effects to Highever, including her harp.  Then she had stayed in her home for another two days.  Fergus had been right, the moment her nieces had seen her spar with Ser Gilmore, she’d won the girl’s admiration.

During the journey, she worried if Alistair might still be there and harshly reminded herself for the hundredth time that she didn’t care anymore.  She was moving on and he was no longer part of her life.

            She was both sad and relieved when she efficiently closed the rift with only a handful of Ferelden soldiers there.  Most had no clue who she was, but there were a few who gasped as they realized just who and what she was; not to the Inquisition, but to Ferelden.

            “It’s her,” one declared to his companion.  “I fought in the final battle against the archdemon in Denerim.  That’s our hero.  Andraste has returned her to us.

 

 

            They stopped to camp south of the town of Lothering, as they progressed to Redcliffe.  Elisabeta was disturbed by what she saw.  She remember a town with lush farms, green grass, trees, and refugees fleeing for their lives.  Now the ground was brown and cracked.  Vandal Aria and Felicious Aria were breaking through the ground.  It would be many more years before the land was useable.   “Cassandra, can we find out if the Crown has used mages to try and heal this land?”

            “I’ll have Josie ask around,” Cassandra shook her head at the area.  “Was this caused by the Blight?”

            “Lothering used to be a lush, green land,” Elisabeta revealed.  “I met Leliana here.  There was a darkspawn horde on its way when I did.”

            “Hawke is from Lothering,” Varric revealed.  “He’s talked about running from here.  His family… they didn’t quite leave on time, an ogre killed his sister.  He really loved her; he says she was the best of the Hawkes.  I never thought that I would be here to see what was left behind.”

            “I didn’t think I’d return, eith…”  Elisabeta stopped talking as she passed by the remains of the chantry building.  There were swords and armor scattered around.  There were also piles of ash, as if those who’d finally come back to take care of the casualties of the Blight had just piled up the remains of the darkspawn’s victims and burned them in a huge pyre.  “This isn’t right; they should have been given proper Andrastian funerals.”

            “Whoever oversaw the cleanup efforts was probably more concerned with making sure they didn’t raise as the undead,” the Iron Bull reasoned.  “There was no time left for sentimentalities and they would have been lucky if there was anyone left for such emotions.”

            “Bethany Hawke and Aveline’s first husband, Wesley, were both killed fleeing this place,” Varric revealed.  “I wonder if there is anything of theirs left among the rubble.  I wonder if we can at least give them a proper funeral at last.”

            “We can look,” Elisabeta offered.

            “I’d also like to find their home,” Varric admitted.  “There may be something salvageable that we can take back for Hawke.”

            “I thought you didn’t know where Hawke is,” Cassandra’s voice was terse.

            “That doesn’t mean I can’t hold on to the item,” Varric shrugged.

            “Let’s look around… and loot,” Elisabeta slid from her horse.

 

 

            That night, Elisabeta unpacked her pipes and stood on a small hill, looking towards Ostagar as she played.  Her leather battle coat swayed in the wind and her long braid swirled around her matching, tilted brim hat.  The song was solemn and comforting as she played to the spirits of those who’d fallen during the Blight.

            “You fought in the Blight?”  Bull spoke when her first song had ended.

            “I did,” she confirmed.  “I… well, let’s just say I was the last victim of the Blight.”

            “Do you want to talk about it?”  He urged.  “Perhaps it would tell me what is going on between you and the King of Ferelden.”

            “I’m trying to get past that,” she lifted the pipes back to her lips.

            “O.K.,” he stopped her before she had a single note out.  “Can you just tell me about some of the battles?  Did you ever fight a dragon?”

            “There were a few dragons,” she admitted.

 

            Things had improved a bit when Elisabeta’s group returned to the Hinterland’s Crossroads.  They spent a day asking around about a Grey Warden running around and then went to the cabin where he was believed to be staying.  The cabin was situated picturesquely by a lake.  It was small, but well kept.

            Near the cabin, we burly man in Grey Warden armor standing in front of men who were dressed, and held their weapons, like farmers who were hoping they just had to scare away a few crows.  “They will make this a fight, not us,” he declared.  “Remember how to carry your shields!  You’re not hiding, you’re holding.  Otherwise, it’s useless!”

            “Blackwall?”  Was he really instructing men who had never fought before?  Elisabeta knew without a doubt that Grey Wardens didn’t recruit those who had no idea to fight.

            “You’re not…” he approached her, sword drawn.  “How do you know my name?  Who sent…?”  Shouts interrupted him.  He lifted his shield, stopping an arrow meant for Elisabeta’s head.

            A man dressed in a bandit’s garb and carrying a mace shouted, running out from the nearby trees.  Elisabeta briefly wondered how they had approached so quietly.  They would have either had to cross the lake or made the trip through mountainous foliage.  It wouldn’t have been easy.

            “That’s it,” Blackwall declared.  “Help or get out.  We’re dealing with these idiots first.”  He turned to the men who were likely more skilled at wielding pitchforks.  “Conscripts, here they come!”

            Elisabeta unsheathed her swords and slipped into the shadows.  She took her first two opponents out before they even realized their danger.  Meanwhile, Varric’s Bianca released arrow after arrow, as Iron Bull swept two of the supposed bandits into the lake where their blood mingled with the water.  Cassandra took out the remaining one. 

            Blackwall stood his sword out and his jaw open.  “Yes, well…”  He rammed the tip of his sword into the earth and walked purposely towards one of the fallen men.  “Sorry bastards.”  Then he walked to his own recruits.  “Good work, conscripts, even if this shouldn’t have happened.  They could’ve… well, thieves are made, not born.  Take back what they stole.  Go back to your families.  You saved yourselves.”

            As the men walked off, Varric murmured to Elisabeta.  “What did they do?  We saved them.”

            “Noticed that, too, did you?”  Elisabeta continued to watch the men go.

            Blackwall gazed at Elisabeta.  “You’re no farmer.  Why do you know my name?  Who are you?”

            “I’m many things to many people,” she began.  Something seemed off about him.  She figured that it had to do with his being a Grey Warden, when she no longer was.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on things, though.”

            “Well, I’m asking,” he growled.

            “My parents named me Elisabeta Cousland.  I’m an agent of the Inquisition.”  That was all she planned to tell him for now.  “I’m investigating whether the disappearance of the Wardens has anything to do with the murder of the Divine.”

            “Maker’s Balls,” he cursed.  “The Wardens and the Divine?  That can’t… no, you’re asking, so you don’t really know.  First off, I didn’t know they disappeared.  But we do that, right?      No more Blight, job done, Wardens are the first thing forgotten.  But one thing I’ll tell you, no Warden killed the Divine.  Our purpose isn’t political.”

            “Isn’t...”  She gave a little snort and shook her head.  “There seems to be a few things wrong with that statement.  If the Wardens just disappeared after every Blight, Thedas would be in even worse shape every time one started.  I’m not accusing, though, not yet.  I just need information.  I’ve only found you, not any from Ferelden and not the rest from Orlais.”

            “Why do you believe I’m from Orlais and not a Ferelden Warden,” he seemed a bit nervous suddenly.

            “You’re accent is decidedly Orlesian,” she informed him.  “Relations between Ferelden and Orlais would have had to have drastically changed in the last ten years if the Crown is all right with a large group of Orlesian Wardens moving in, instead of replenishing Ferelden’s numbers among her own people.”

            “Perhaps I was assigned to Ferelden before the last Blight,” he challenged.

            “No, you weren’t,” she crossed her arms.  She wasn’t going to tell him just how she knew he couldn’t have been assigned to Ferelden or how she knew that only one Ferelden Grey Warden made it through the Fifth Blight alive.

            “I haven’t seen any Wardens for months,” Blackwall admitted.  “I travel alone, recruiting.”

            “Have you?”  She didn’t want to tip her hand about just how much she did know about Grey Wardens.  He hadn’t reacted at her name, so she thought he was unaware of her own connection to the Grey Wardens.  Still, some things really bugged her.  “You called those men recruits, but did you even put any of them through the Joining?”

            “The Joining… uh, yes, the Joining,” he stammered.  “That is done at our fortresses and I didn’t want to take those men from their families.”

            “Yet they think they’re Grey Wardens now,” she continued to push.  “What is going to happen when they try to go up against a darkspawn?  They don’t have the ability to sense them yet.  They don’t appear to have the skills to fight them, either.  When did Wardens start recruiting the untrained?”

            “We can train them after recruitment,” Blackwall shrugged.  “Things are different in peacetime.  There isn’t much interest since the archdemon is dead and there is no need for conscription, since there’s no Blight coming.  Treaties give Wardens the right to take what we need.  Who we need.  These idiots force this fight, so I pretended to conscript their victims.  They had to do what I said, so I told them to stand.  Next time, they won’t need me.”

            “Since when can Wardens take what they want?”  She had worked so hard negotiating treaties and working for the money to pay for the supplies her team needed.  They could have just taken what they wanted?  Dang, she wondered if Alistair had known.  Likely he hadn’t.  They had been the two youngest Grey Wardens. 

            “It’s complicated,” he shrugged.  “If there’s a Blight, everyone has to help fight it.  The treaties are ancient, Outside of Blights; they are as binding as a clever tongue can make them.”

            “Really, then why…”  She broke off.  She was going to ask where the Orlesian Grey Wardens were while Ferelden fought on its own.  That would be revealing more than she planned to, yet.  It was easier to investigate the disappearance of the Grey Wardens without anyone realizing it was a former Warden, returned from the dead, asking.  It was also obvious that this Blackwall hadn’t ever tried to enforce a treaty with a Circle of Magi that was being overrun by abominations, a dwarven kingdom in a civil war, or Dalish Elves who were under siege by werewolves.  That was part of her problem, she realized.  He didn’t seem to react like a man who had stayed home while the neighboring kingdom was battling the Blight.  Something was definitely off.  “Well, thank you, Warden Blackwall.  Your information has been… well, rather useless.  But you tried.”  She moved to walk away. 

            “Inquisition…”  Blackwall called after her.  “Agent, did you say?  Hold a moment.”  He rushed to her.  “The Divine is dead and the sky is torn open.  Events like these, thinking we’re absent is as bad as thinking we’re involved.  If you’re trying to put things right, maybe you need a Warden.  Maybe you need me.”

            She lightly bit her bottom lip.  If she let him join and took him to Haven, then Leliana could figure out who he really was.  No one in their right mind would pretend to be a Grey Warden.  Perhaps he was just trying to forget his inaction from ten years before.  She could make sure at least one Orlesian Warden did the right thing this time.  “The Inquisition needs all the support it can get, very well, Warden Blackwall.  Welcome aboard.”

            “Good to hear,” he smiled at her.  “We both need to know what’s going on and perhaps I’ve been keeping to myself for too long."