A/N: Very excited about DA2. It doesn't come out until 11th here, so if there are inconsistencies with this and the actual game... ignore them ;)
Watching Like a Hawk
I can see her from my vantage point near the wind mill. It might be useful to move closer and find out exactly what she and that qunari are conversing about, but I would be wiser not to risk it. I've already seen the sort of company she's willing to keep. I can't have templars growing overly interested in my comings and goings – it's enough to endanger myself for my curiosity, but I won't put Bethany at risk.
This woman is unusual though. Someone in the pub witnessed a brawl between her and a few soldiers, and his information had revealed two interesting facts. One, she is a mage – though I already knew that. Any idiot could spot a person wearing robes and carrying a big stick and assume that they are a mage. Unless perhaps they are a quaint shepherd. From her attire and bearing I would easily guess that she is a Circle mage. She doesn't seem to feel the anxiety that templars inspire in true mages, and she wears one of those ridiculous Circle smocks. The other piece of intriguing information is that she's a Grey Warden. I've come to learn more about that order since the darkspawn started cropping up.
What would a Grey Warden be doing in Lothering? They were supposed to have died at Ostagar. She's a suspicious one, that's certain. Every so often she will glance around self-consciously. At first I wondered whether it's because she's a mage, and the Chantry has a strong templar presence here. That doesn't fit though – the Circle mage seems oddly comfortable in their midst. I think this must be a side-effect of being part of the collared Circle cattle. Even a mouse would believe itself safe in a cat's company, if the cat was placid until it struck. Does she honestly think those templars and Chantry-lovers would hesitate to strike her down if she was believed to be an apostate or abomination? It is when thinking about these cattle that I feel a surge of adoration for my father. He had more backbone than his fellow mages, and he sheltered us from their puppet-masters.
The Circle mage also has intriguing companions. That batty sister seems to have joined the little band, which is now returning to the Chantry. She is an Orlesian, and just as imperious as the rest of them. Several times she has sought me out on the outskirts of Lothering, asking why we don't attend any of the services at the Chantry. These Andrastians are all too quick to remonstrate with us just for not adhering to their religion. Imagine what they would think if they learnt I'm a mage. They'd fire up a witch hunt, no doubt, led by those sanctimonious tin cans. Last time I told the Orlesian sister that I'm actually Dalish, and worship their gods instead of the Maker. I think I actually had her going for a good few minutes before she realised I was mocking her. It wouldn't stop her from returning again, though. Perhaps if she doesn't leave with the Warden, I'll tell her I believe in Ancestors and stones, or whatever it is dwarves believe. Or maybe I should say something about qunari religion. It would be best if I could do something to scare her off though. Carver's always making moon eyes at her, and the last thing we need is him inviting a Chantry sister home for tea.
There's a young man with the Circle mage. I think he's also a Grey Warden. There's also a mabari war dog, and another mage. She looks very different to the Circle mage, and has 'apostate' written all over her. The templars keep looking at her askance, and I think they realise there is something off with her. I hope for her sake, the Circle mage decides to move on soon.
On the other hand, if she is foolish enough to accompany a Circle mage, perhaps she deserves whatever's coming to her.
They've disappeared into the Chantry. How can a mage stomach going in there?
I'll wait outside, a good distance away. Usually, I don't set foot within a thirty-foot radius of the Chantry, and that's when I go into Lothering at all. It's much more peaceful in the countryside that surrounds the village. Nature doesn't judge you just because you are a mage. In fact, some of our abilities allow us a stronger link to the earth that non-mages. Perhaps that's why the Dalish survive well enough in the forests – father used to say they are led by mages. It is a shame I don't know of any human equivalents to such a clan. To be respected as a mage instead of despised. No wonder the Chantry is so wary of the Dalish.
Mother and Carver are usually the ones who venture into Lothering proper, picking up anything we can't produce ourselves and gathering local news. It always makes sense to keep an ear to the ground when you live close to people who would turn on you at a moment's notice. Bethany rarely comes into the village, and when she does, it's usually just to sell some herbal remedies she's cooked up. She isn't supposed to wander into the heart of Lothering in case one of the templars senses her magic. I'm not supposed to either, but since when have I ever done what I'm told?
The Circle mage and her party aren't out of the Chantry yet, so I'll head back towards the pub. There are usually drunken louts and gossips loitering outside, waiting for a free mug of ale to be passed through the window by their friends inside. The numbers are even more swollen due to the refugees seeking to drown their sorrows. Soon the whole village will be overrun with them. This doesn't bother me too much. Our family is quite self-sufficient and anything that keeps the templars pre-occupied is fine by me.
News of encroaching darkspawn is more of a concern.
I sidle up to Cantankerous Pete, who's slouched on a bench outside the pub, his gammy leg stretched out before him. Obviously, people don't name him 'cantankerous' to his face, but he's developed the name for being a grumpy bugger when his leg is bothering him. He's always been civil to me though – probably because he has a soft spot for my mother. As though he'd stand a chance.
"Alright there, Pete?" I grin, dropping into a friendly demeanour. "Only noon and already drinking?"
"Wouldn't have to if me blasted leg wasn't playing up," he grumbles, tankard in hand. "And that news the soldiers brought wiv 'em doesn't do much to brighten the day, does it? Everyone's sayin' it's only a matter o' time before the darkspawn are upon us. They'll follow the soldiers up from Ostagar then this'll be their first target, mark my words."
I fold my arms, regarding him speculatively. I make sure to stand to the side, so I have a clear sight of the Chantry's gate. My observations of the Circle mage aren't complete yet, and I don't want her to slip away before I've had a chance to follow her about a bit more – her arrival is the first interesting thing to happen since the soldiers passed through with scare stories about darkspawn. Life is usually slow and bland in Lothering.
"How do you know all this about the darkspawn?" I ask him.
Cantankerous Pete gives a dazed shrug. "People have bin sayin' all sorts lately. Like how there's three Grey Wardens that are in Lothering right now – two mages and a templar. I hope that templar knows how to deal with them. Don't seem wise for him to be watching two at the same time." He burps. "What if them mages gang up on him? Don't think the fellow'd stand a chance – I've heard what they can do, controlling yer mind and such. Don't say anythin' about it, mind. I don't want him taking some of our templars off with him just so he can control 'em."
I narrow my eyes, before remembering to school my expression. Pete might be blind-drunk, but it still pays to be cautious.
"How do you know they are mages? And that the other Warden is a templar?"
"Some folks saw 'em up on the highway, takin' care of some bandits. They asked a templar 'n' he explained it all to them. Too bad I wasn't up there me'sen, but I wouldn't want ter be near to a mage when they're flinging spells about anyway." Pete shudders, slopping some of his ale onto his trousers. "Don't envy that templar, I don't. I s'pect the other Wardens all died in Ostagar, and now he's got ter take care of them all on his own. Hmm. Makes you wonder how it is they didn't die."
Cantankerous Pete tries to focus as he attempts to direct his thoughts at this curiosity, but the mental capacity evades him. That tends to happen when one has been knocking back tankards of ale since early in the morning. No wonder his wife is always complaining to merchants. Anyone else is lucky to get their wares when she's stood there in the middle of a tirade about her drunken husband. I've always felt that watching the populace of Lothering is like observing a nest of ants. Funny little creatures, scuttling about.
The fact that he knows they are mages is of concern to me. The last thing we need is the villagers whipped up into an anxious frenzy, powered by their worries about darkspawn and general fear of mages.
To learn that the apostate is also a Warden means that it makes more sense to me now, why she would travel with a Circle mage. Perhaps the Circle mage would be unwilling to hand over a fellow Warden over to her masters. Even if the mages are able to set aside their differences under the banner of the Grey Wardens, I find it hard to believe that the templar forsakes his old vows so easily. Do templars cease to be templars once they become Wardens? No, I realise now that this must be the source of hostility I've observed between the templar Warden and the apostate Warden. Neither of them trust or approve of the other. The Circle mage on the other hand is sufficiently indoctrinated for the templar's liking, but still able to sympathise with the interests of a fellow mage apostate. She is probably the only thing keeping the pair from tearing each other apart.
"Has anyone asked Ser...?" What's his name? "Bryant. Ser Bryant. Has anyone asked him to deal with the mages?"
Pete nods. "Matter of fact Leandra was there talking to him about it a few hours back."
"She was what?" I demand.
His unfocused gaze steadies as he regards me curiously. I flinch, realising I've just trapped myself. Most villagers would have no problem with their mother wandering off to have a chat with the head templar. They would probably even be proud of her for thinking of the villages' safety in regard to these strange mages. My mother should know better. Unless she was just trying to deflect interest from me and Bethany and onto these strangers? What better ruse than to pretend you are just another ignorant, mage-fearing villager?
"What did Ser Bryant say?" I ask, trying to smooth over my temporary blip in composure.
"Oh, he said there's nothin' ter worry about, apparently. Says that the mage Wardens can be trusted, and the templar Warden'll keep an eye on 'em anyway. I hope he's ... oh!"
"What is it?"
"What if them mages are controlling his mind?" Pete splutters excitedly. "They can do that! What if they're just pretending ter be innocent?"
"Mages can't control templars," I lie. As far as I know, blood mages have this advantage over templars, and father always said that's why so many of them turn to it to survive. The Chantry creates the very thing it fears. What irony. In any case, the last thing I want is this drunken sot riling up the other villagers with tales of enthralled templars. Bryant hasn't given us any trouble so far, but if he was replaced, a more zealous templar might take his place – the kind that insists on observing villagers for signs of magic and regular Chantry attendance.
"Do you know what those Grey Wardens want?" I ask.
"Why, you lookin' ter join them, love?" Cantankerous Pete snorts. "Don't think yer mam would approve o' that."
"I'm just curious, it's not every day you see a member of their order."
"That's true. I think they're just gettin' supplies and news before they move on. I'd ask 'em what they intend to do about these darkspawn and why they're not down in Ostagar dealin' wiv the problem, but, uh... I don't wanna go pokin' my nose in mage business."
"Maybe I'll just ask them myself," I say, casting a glance over at the Chantry gates. The small band appears to have emerged, the apostate looking venomous as the other three chat animatedly. The Circle mage is twirling a key on her fingers, a smug expression on her face.
"Well, you be careful. And warn sister Leliana while yer at it." Pete shakes his head, as though he's the font of all wisdom. Old villagers like to do that. As though I'm likely to take advice from oblivious fools. "I dunno what a nice girl like that is doing wanderin' around with them mages. Some people say she's funny in the head. I reckon it's an Orlesian thing."
I nod as though I appreciate his advice, and walk swiftly towards the edge of the village as the group draws nearer. My observation spot by the windmill is still free of interlopers, so I situate myself there and watch as the Circle mage leads her followers back to the qunari cage.
Unable to resist, I draw closer, hoping to overhear their conversation. There is a clutch of bushes at the base of the hill that provide adequate cover.
"...We have different ideas about what constitutes freedom," I hear the qunari intone in his deadpan voice.
The Circle mage slots her key into the qunari's cage and pulls the door open. I glance around nervously, noticing the disapproving glares of the templars not far off. They are willing to overlook the mages' presence when they are just Wardens going about their business, but it is clear the templars disapprove of this interference. But how did the Wardens get the key, if not from Ser Bryant or the Revered Mother? Surely they would never entrust it to a mage's hands, but the only alternative is that the Wardens stole it.
As for the Wardens themselves, do they honestly intend to help this qunari? He is a murderer, having slaughtered an entire farm-hold for no apparent reason. And I've heard about what they do to their mages in the qunari lands, chaining them up and cutting their tongues out. Father had an old text on them and their peculiar religion. It made the Chantry seem positively welcoming to mages. At least the Circle Warden still appears to have her tongue.
The Grey Wardens are a curious bunch. For a moment, I am seized by the desire to speak to them, to find out just how willing they are to receive help. But the fancy passes quickly. I would love to escape the monotony of Lothering and use my magic for something other than practice with Bethany and dealing with the occasional wild beast. However, I could never leave my family here, especially not with a darkspawn threat hanging over everyone like a belligerent templar. There would also be no guarantee that the Circle mage, Chantry sister, and her templar friend wouldn't turn me over to the Circle tower as soon as I am no longer needed. No wonder the apostate Warden looks so disgruntled. It's a wonder she doesn't just abandon them.
"And here I was hoping for a nice warm bed," the templar Warden jokes. A funny templar? Whatever next?
"You heard what the innkeeper said," replies the Circle mage. "Lothering's full to bursting. Too bad Alistair, it looks like we're sleeping on the hard ground again tonight."
"Perhaps you wish you had been more appreciative of my mother's hospitality now?" the apostate smirks. She has a strange manner of speaking, along with her odd appearance. I wonder whether she was this obvious about her status as an apostate before she had the safety of the Grey Wardens to protect her. I wouldn't have the gall or the stupidity to wander into Lothering dressed in that templar-attracter.
"On second thought, I'd much rather sleep on the ground than bunk with an ancient abomination," the templar Warden replies. He sighs, glancing back at the village. "I just wish we could do more for these people before we leave."
The Circle puts her hand on his arm tenderly. They almost appear to be friends – a mage and a templar. "They won't listen to us anyway, not after Loghain's lies. Quite a few people are already heading towards Denerim, and hopefully, the templars will encourage the rest of them to leave before the darkspawn come."
"Ser Bryant and the Revered Mother will make sure they are safe," the Orlesian Leliana says with confident enthusiasm. The apostate scoffs in irritation, staring sulkily off in the direction of the qunari. He appears to be following the dog in favour of the Grey Wardens.
"Well, I hope they start getting people to leave soon," Ser Alistair huffs, "because the darkspawn aren't going to wait much longer. They've already gotten this far up the highway."
The Circle mage shakes her head, gesturing towards the road. "There's no point staying here and stewing over it."
"'Tis the best idea I have heard from you yet," remarks the apostate. She seems unmoved by the concerns of the other Wardens and sister Leliana. Perhaps she is less interested in sparing the villagers from the darkspawn, and more interested in hunting down the darkspawn themselves. That was probably a practical approach, if a callous one. It is curious they didn't try and recruit anyone to their cause though.
"We make camp now," the Circle mage instructs, "and then set off at first light. I want to put as much distance between us and the darkspawn horde as possible, and even more distance between us and Loghain's men."
The others nod in agreement and continue in the direction that the qunari and mabari have taken, towards the imperial highway.
I remain crouched in the undergrowth, waiting for them to leave. Once out of sight, I return to my post by the windmill. The group is set upon by darkspawn further up the road, but finish them easily. Those creatures never seem far away, though they only ever attack in small groups of about half a dozen. The Wardens said that an entire horde was headed this way. If that was true, why aren't the templars arranging the evacuation of the village? Don't they believe the Grey Wardens? Or are they waiting until they are able to organise something better than a mass-panicked rush onto the highway?
Another thought occurs to me. The Grey Wardens want to distance themselves from the darkspawn instead of fighting them. Maybe they intend to flee. They might not be warning anybody at all about the impending darkspawn threat, especially if they are at odds with Teryn Loghain Mac Tir. His forces were the only ones who had come through here lately, except for a few stragglers from the king's army. If the Grey Wardens don't intend to stop the darkspawn, then who is going to? Those creatures apparently overwhelmed the whole of the king's army, and now there is only disparate forces scattered around Ferelden to deal with the situation.
I have always been most concerned about my family in relation to the templars, and the ignorant villagers of Lothering. Those worries seem almost trivial compared to the darkspawn.
Is this a Blight? I have read about them in history books and learned about them in my parents' lessons when I was a child. If one begins here, then my family will stand no chance. We can defend ourselves, but not from an entire horde, and the templars will be quickly overwhelmed without the bann's men to reinforce their numbers. If the bann's soldiers were here, and the templars not so stupid, I would consider helping them protect the villagers. But it is each for their own, and I have to get my family to safety.
I'll go home and warn mother about what I've heard. If she isn't convinced, then I'll convince her. She can even go and warn the templars' commander, so he can prepare the villagers, assuming the Grey Wardens didn't alert him to the danger.
Then I will flee with my mother and siblings. It doesn't matter where we go, but we can't stay here and wait for the darkspawn to take Lothering. And if it truly is a Blight, perhaps we should find passage on a ship before the darkspawn take all of Ferelden. The Grey Wardens won't help us.
At least I get the adventure I was hoping for.