Ah, hello? *knock* I certainly hope that there's someone there, reading this. So sorry for the overly long delay. I have good excuses – life changing events during these past few months. I'll not go into detail, but say that I appreciate that I've still been receiving alerts, follows and favorites, even though it may seem like an abandoned story.
So, my thanks, as always, to those who read, alert/favorite, and most especially review: Wyl, artilyon-rand, Shakespira, Kawaibentou, MemoriesoftheForgottenGuardian, csorciere, Legionary Prime…my eternal thanks.
It's short…but, better than nothing (right? *sigh* I hope so)…Now, on to…
The Halla Reborn
Preparations were underway, keeping Logain, Fergus, Alistair and the nobles busily engaged within the halls of the Great Chamber as they coordinated their collected armies.
Dwarves, the Dalish, Chasind and the Wolves tightened their borders around Denerim, interweaving their warriors amongst the various camps, minds and bodies focused upon the preparing for war, even as eyes turned ever upwards, blinking and squinting at the continuing darkness that roiled above.
The elves within the alienage had been armed with bow and blade, completely ignoring those relatively few citizens that cried afoul at such a move. Despite the urgency of the situation, there were those who protested the move, and were quickly quieted by a mere look – hard and focused – delivered by the Warden Commander herself when she emerged from the gated walls of the alienage, having spent the majority of the past few days training the denizens within in weaponry.
Those who protested fell silent, and went back to their lives, worrying more over the Blight, and less of the armed elves within the city's walls.
"No," Adela frowned deeply, shaking her head as she stepped around the senior warden, her arms crossing before her chest as she scowled out the open window.
"Think on it, Adela," Riordan insisted, stepping behind the young elf, a frown of his own forming upon his rugged features. "I have scouted the area, put an ear to the ground, as it were. The Archdemon's army is heading for Redcliff."
With a heavy sigh, Adela turned to face the foreign warden. Roland and Niall, standing off to the side, exchanged concerned glances as the two faced one another.
"Why would the Archdemon send it's armies to Redcliff? It makes no sense," the elf insisted, turning her scowl to her friends, who merely shrugged back at her.
"Reason matters not when taking the darkspawn into consideration, Adela," Riordan reaffirmed, earning a dark scowl from both Roland and Niall at his continued use of their commander's first name.
"Darkspawn, sure," Adela conceded. "But not the Archdemon." She turned away, rubbing a long fingered hand to her forehead. "I saw the beast, Riordan. In the Deep Roads." She shivered at the memory as she turned back to the senior. "Met its eyes. The intelligence…the malignant intelligence therein…" she stopped, hugging herself tightly. Raising her eyes, she fixed the human with her penetrating gaze. "It's going to send its forces to Denerim, and not waste its strength against a target that offers no strategic value."
"Adela…" the warden from Orlais began, but this time, Roland interrupted.
"Why are you calling the Commander by her given name?" the junior warden asked, his frown mirrored by the warden mage at his side. The redhead took a small step forward, body rigid, hands clenching at his sides. Riordan and Adela both turned toward the man, a confused frown upon the elf's face while Riordan glared at the younger man. "She is the Warden Commander of Fereldan, after all, and deserves the respect she has earned."
Sighing, rubbing long, gnarled fingers to his eyes, Riordan turned away from the former knight. "I feel it is…inappropriate to discuss such things at this time, Warden," he remarked as he turned his glare back toward the other man.
"I agree with Warden Gilmore," Niall interjected, his robes rustling softly as he took a step to stand beside his compatriot as he turned his soft brown eyes toward Adela. "It has not gone unnoticed by either of us, nor other members of our group, just how little…respect you have been showing our Commander. Especially in light of all she has accomplished while the main body of the Warden order sat behind Orlesian boundaries."
"Niall...Roland…" Adela began, hoping to turn the conversation back toward the disagreement she and Riordan was having just moments before.
However, Riordan took the moment to address the concerns of the two junior wardens. "No, Adela. They are correct. I have not been showing you the respect you deserve. And, for that, I sincerely apologize." The senior Grey Warden turned dark eyes toward the elf, fixing her with their penetrating gaze. "You have earned my respect – and the respect of all of us in the Order – for what you have accomplished. Especially when we take into consideration that you have very little guidance and training from Duncan prior to his death; that you had to learn everything on the fly, as it were. However," here he paused, frowning deeply. "However, I do not feel it appropriate to allow you to continue as Warden Commander."
This declaration brought an immediate response of disapproval from both Fereldan wardens. Adela, however, stared at the Warden from Jader, her eyes thoughtful, face otherwise neutral.
"May I ask why?" she asked, feeling certain she knew what the response would be.
Taking a deep breath, stepping forward and placing two large hands upon the slender shoulders of the girl, Riordan replied, "We cannot allow one who is not a Grey Warden to lead as Warden Commander."
Adela did not react, although her stomach plummeted as a sick feeling came upon her. Riordan continued.
"I cannot sense you as I can the others," the warden turned toward Roland and Niall, both now openly glaring at the older male. "I know you took the Joining. I found Duncan's records. However, between that time and when we first met, the Taint…you somehow cured it from your blood. There are compelling reasons to…curtail your power as Warden Commander; to countermand many of the orders and actions you may take, now and in the future as we battle against the Blight."
"You can't replace her," Roland declared, hands clenching tighter as his right hand moved toward his sheathed blade.
"I agree," Riordan cut in quickly, not allowing Roland to continue his tirade. "While I have no doubt the Dwarves and mages would continue on to fight against the Blight, I am not quite as confident that the Dalish would. And, neither would the other…non-treaty groups you have gathered do so."
"So…what?" Niall asked, placing a calming hand upon Roland's forearm before stepping away to stand beside Adela. "Keep Adela on as a figurehead."
Nodding, Riordan glanced down at the elf. "That is precisely what I plan."
That declaration was followed by a full minute of silence as those few words settled in the minds of the three Fereldan Wardens. It was Adela who broke the silence.
"So, in other words, I keep the title as a show to our allies, but you are the one calling the shots, making the orders behind the scenes?"
Taking a moment to try and gauge the young elf, whose features had now completely shut down, offering him no insight into her thoughts process, Riordan finally responded.
"No," came the elf's immediate and sure reply.
A dark brow shot up. "No?"
"Simple word, that," Adela's response was snide, and her expression made no apologies for it. "I am the Warden Commander of Fereldan or I am not. I will not act as a figurehead to keep our allies in line while you make decisions that I feel are the wrong ones." She stood to her full, unimpressive height, back straight, head high and certain, blue eyes intense with her determination.
"Adela…" there was a warning tone in Riordan's voice, an attempt to intimidate the young elf as he took a meaningful step forward.
It was a truly show of just how little Riordan knew the elven woman he tried to cow into submission. Adela had grown up surrounded by powerful, determined and stubborn people. From her mother to Loghain to those very people she had gathered around her during the past year plus as she brought together those best suited to battle against the Blight.
This one warden, one who was quickly losing any respect she may have held for him earlier in their acquaintance, was not going to cow her, scare her from the course she knew was the correct one.
She had fought too long, too hard…given up far more than she had ever wanted to. She knew that her's was the correct course to follow.
There was a fear growing in her heart, however. Riordan knew she was no longer a Grey Warden. Whatever taint she had taken into her body was gone. She had known for some time; she was certain that the wardens she traveled with were aware of it as well, if the lack of surprise upon Niall and Roland's faces were any indication. What trouble could Riordan and the other Wardens cause her?
Shaking her blonde head to clear away those useless thoughts and concerns, another tactic came to mind.
"How about we compromise?"
Adela's blue-eyed gaze swept over the gathered Dalish and Chasind warriors. Turning to her cousin, she quirked a blonde brow as her lips twisted upwards in a slight smirk. "Only seven?" she asked, glancing over as Pol and Junar chuckled at her.
Smiling broadly, Theron swept one arm out over his brethren. "Seven is a lucky number in Dalish culture," he remarked. "'Wisdom' shall follow my brothers and sisters as they journey to Redcliff, shall guide their actions, and deliver them back to us."
Shaking her head, she looked over at the Chasind, who numbered nine in number. Turning her gaze to where Apumayta stood tall, his greatsword strapped to his broad back, heavily muscled arms folded across his broad chest. "Nine?"
A chuckle rumbled deep within his barrel chest. "It is assurance that all nine of my warriors shall return, alive and victorious against their foe."
With a roll of her eyes, Adela turned her gaze to the Senior Warden, who stood slightly back, staring at the sixteen elven and Chasind warriors who were currently preparing for their dash to Redcliff.
The compromise Adela had suggested. Frankly, Riordan was unimpressed. However, the warden was also wise enough to understand that this was as good as he would get from the elf. She had proven far more stubborn than he had anticipated.
And pulling her from the forefront, declaring her unfit or unable to proceed as the Warden Commander was no longer an option.
If it had ever been one.
And so, he agreed. Sixteen Dalish and Chasind warriors would race to Redcliff, and determine the threat that the Archdemon and its darkspawn tide would present.
He only hoped that, once they arrived, the wilders would have sufficient time to make it back to Denerim to rally their forces back to Redcliff to battle against the Blight.
"This is a scouting mission," Adela's voice brought the man's attention back to those gathered. "Determine the threat posed by the darkspawn, evacuate any villagers possible. Do not," her tone was stark, commanding. "I repeat, do not engage the enemy. We need you all back here, alive, well and in one piece." Those words were met with humored chuckles and she shook her head at them.
Turning away with a shake of her head, she glanced to where the Wolves stood, tall and resolute, determined and disappointed. They had been chosen to follow the Dalish and Chasind to the outskirts of the King's Highway, but to proceed no further. It rankled many within the pack, as Redcliff had become their adopted home, and many of the fierce warriors were concerned over neighbors and friends that had remained behind.
"Swiftrunner," the bronze head turned toward the elf, "are your Wolves ready to protect the boundaries if necessary?"
Smirking wildly, the former werewolf nodded his shaggy head. "Always ready for a fight, Commander," his deep growl answered, echoed by his fellows, who growled deeply in their chests in reply. "If the elves or Chasind give out a help cry, we'll be on the dark bastards quicker than thought."
Smiling, Adela nodded. "I never doubted you or your pack, my friend."
A rumbling laugh responded to the elf's words. "I knew you were smarter than that, Commander! To recognize our prowess and determination!" Many within the ranks of the Wolves answered with deep laughter of their own, echoed by the Chasind and Dalish surrounding them.
Shaking her head, giving them all a nod, the elf stepped back as the three groups of the fiercest warriors to walk the forestways of Fereldan leapt to their feet, and rushed off, disappearing as shadows into the surrounding forest, the merest of rustling – certainly a farewell – following in their wake.
As the last vanished, the young Warden Commander turned back, stepping to her cousin's side as her knowing gaze fixed upon the unsettled figure of Riordan, who answered her gaze with a slight shake of his head.
How would less than two dozen warriors fare against the vast horde the senior warden was certain would greet them at the gates of Redcliff?