1. Answering A Call
But I'm more than just a little curious
How you're planning to go about making your amends
To the dead, to the dead
A Perfect Circle, The Noose
The elven woman approached the camp sited midway between the Wounded Coast and city-state of Kirkwall, Circus padding along at her heels. The mabari veered off to the right ahead of her, chasing down some scent or other. "Circus," the elf said, shaking her head. The hound paused and looked back at his mistress, tail wagging. "Heel," she added, slapping her thigh for emphasis. Circus uttered a low whine but returned nonetheless, content with his mistress' company.
Though the sun had sunk below the horizon hours before, the full moon and clear skies provided visibility enough for the elf to complete her journey with long, confident strides. The camp fire burned like a beacon in the near distance, small embers spiralling away on the light breeze. Keen eyesight allowed the elf to see the single guard posted at the edge of the camp, a tall human in full armour. She could have melted into the shadows and emerged at the guard's flank, surprising him but that was no way to make amends for past mistakes; better to approach directly.
"Halt," the sentry called out. Antivan accent the elf noted. She halted, fingers of her left hand scratching between the dog's ears. "What brings you here?" the man continued.
"I seek Stroud," the elf called back.
The man inclined his head towards her, "You have found him."
"You sent out a call requesting reinforcement?" the woman enquired.
"Indeed I did. Come closer, so that we might converse without raising our voices."
Circus at her side, the elven woman joined Stroud at the edge of the camp. As she neared him, his eyes narrowed in recognition. "You," he hissed and spat at her feet. Circus made as though to lunge forward, growling low in his throat; a hand around his collar pulled him back.
The elven warden sighed, arms folded over her chest. Stroud glared hard at her. "Why are you here?" he ground out.
"You sent out a call, I'm answering," the elf looked past Stroud to the fire at the at the camp's centre and the few bedrolls around it. Aside from the man before her, she counted two others by the fire and a figure beneath a blanket, tossing and turning as it slept.
Stroud too folded his arms, his frown deepening the creases in his face. "We do not require the help of one such as you, traitor."
The elf's large green eyes narrowed as she fought to control her temper. Do not let your feelings cloud your better judgement. "I wish to make amends for my part in Denerim." She swallowed hard, heart thumping.
"Your part?" Stroud echoed, voice rising. "You battled and defeated the very man who betrayed our order at Ostagar then let him live?" He glanced briefly at the mabari as it growled in response to his raised voice. "Control your mutt, or so help me I'll-"
The hound attempted another lunge. "Circus!" the elven warden barked. She softened as he looked up at her, whining. "I'm sorry I snapped. Go follow that scent you found." After a moment the dog turned and ran into the night, tail wagging happily. To Stroud she muttered, "Even he thinks you're unreasonable. You want to strike me down? Then draw your blade and do it, I'll offer no resistance." The pair of wardens stared each other down for several heartbeats, neither making a move though the elf felt a trickle of sweat slide down her back, beneath her leathers. She swallowed once more. "Or you can allow me to join you so I might atone."
"What makes you think I care about your atonement?" the man scoffed. "Would your atonement bring back Duncan and the rest?"
"No," the elf admitted. "But you need help and I'm offering."
Stroud eyed her for a long moment, considering. Despite his feelings he found himself in agreement, at least on that particular point. Pressing on, the elf continued, "Besides yourself I see only the two by the fire and-" a piercing scream rent the night air and she jolted involuntarily. "And the screamer," she added.
Stroud turned towards the fire. The elf observed as the screamer – a youthful-looking woman sat up, blanket wrapped around herself. One of the men by the fire spoke to her in low tones and she shook her head. Of Stroud, the elf asked, "Fresh recruit?"
The elder warden shook his head, turning back to the elf. "I did not recruit her. She was brought to us in the deep roads, tainted."
"Ah," the elf nodded in understanding. She thought a moment. "Another reason why you need help. You want to hate me, then fine. Some days I hate myself. But that girl," she pointed at the young woman seated now by the fire, "She needs help and you have problems enough, I'll wager. Let me look after her."
Stroud hesitated. As she was now, Bethany was more burden than help, more liability than asset. It almost would have been kinder to end her life rather than attempt a Joining but the appeals from Anders and her brother had swayed him. Reaching a decision, he stepped in close to the elf. "Train her well, then. That can serve as part of your atonement."
The elf, Kalli of the Wardens nodded, unable to keep a smile from her face. "Thank you, Stroud," she said after a moment.
Stroud shook his head. "Do not thank me, elf. Tomorrow we brave the deep roads, so you had best get to training your charge."
Bethany sat by the fire, shivering despite the blanket wrapped around herself. Maker, the dreams! Her throat felt raw from the screams and she stared into the dancing flames, watching the sparks fly. The two wardens by the fire, Redmond and Josef nodded to her and offered a few words of support before falling silent. Bethany looked up as soft footsteps approached. The source of the footsteps stopped and crouched beside her, dropping a pack to the ground. "Who're you?" Redmond demanded, scarred face twisting as though with a life of its own. Bethany wondered what manner of fell beast had inflicted the injury upon the man.
Bethany's visitor, a dark-haired elven woman, ignored the question. Instead she addressed the young mage in a low voice. "Stroud tells me you could use some training."
Before Bethany could reply, a large brown mabari bounded through the camp, coming to a stop by the elf, tail wagging furiously. An elf and now a mabari? I must still be dreaming Bethany decided. At least it's a nicer dream than the last one. No darkspawn. The hound began sniffing around the blanket tucked around Bethany's feet. The elf clicked her tongue, "Stop harassing the poor girl, Circus." At this, the dog sat back on its haunches, panting.
"You call your dog Circus?" Bethany asked, voice hoarse.
The elf settled herself beside Bethany, knees drawn to her chest. The flames of the fire seemed to dance in her eyes and leather armour. "Short for Flea Circus," she replied. The dog tilted its head to one side, voiced a questioning whine. "Yes, I know you don't have any more fleas," the elf observed.
"Oi, elf," Redmond snapped, rising to his feet, Josef alongside. "I asked you a question."
The elf looked at Bethany as she replied and she felt uneasy at the attention. "I'm a warden. That's all you need to know. Stroud called, I answered."
Redmond and Josef glowered at her. "I'm turning in," Redmond finally answered. He jerked his head at Bethany. "Don't let the fire burn down."
As the two men saw to their bedrolls, Bethany asked, "What is your name?"
The elf shrugged, one hand patting Circus' side. "Names are pretty but useless. Somebody with more power than an entire Circle of magi told me that, once."
"Your accent is Ferelden," Bethany observed.
The elf nodded, "As is yours." She sighed, "Call me Kalli, then."
Bethany drew her right hand out from beneath the blanket, offering it to this Kalli. She blinked, as though surprised at the gesture before gripping the offered hand with her own. Bethany felt the calluses on the elf's fingers and hand. "Bethany," she said in turn. "Why are you here?" she asked, returning her hand to her lap.
"You know Stroud sent out a call requesting reinforcement?" Kalli asked. When Bethany nodded, she went on, "Well, here I am."
"I think Stroud was hoping for more than a single warden. I think he was hoping for a company of soldiers."
Kalli shrugged. "We make do with what we have." The elven warden turned her attention to her pack, loosening the ties holding the bedroll in place and spreading it on the ground beside her. She removed a multitude of blades from her leathers and laid them beside the pack, keeping one to hand should she have need of it. Bethany stifled a yawn; though her body all but cried out for sleep, the nightmares and her own fear made that an impossibility. Kalli looked briefly at her. "The hour is late and Stroud will want to move as soon as the sun rises. Get some sleep."
"I can't," Bethany replied in a low whisper. "The dreams. Every time I try to sleep, I see the most terrible, black things. I open my mouth to scream and yet more blackness pours forth."
Kalli nodded sympathetically; she wakened screaming almost every night in the first weeks following her own Joining. "I know what it's like," she said softly. "But you need to sleep, Bethany. I can't promise you won't have any more dreams but I can promise I'll be here when you wake." After a moment, Kalli added a caveat, "Unless Stroud puts me on watch."
Bethany rubbed at her itchy, bloodshot eyes. Though she had no reason to, she found herself wanting to trust this warden who'd just walked into camp. "All right," she eventually answered, more to herself than Kalli. Settling back into the bedroll, shifting to find a more comfortable position on the hard ground, Bethany bade the elf goodnight. Kalli lay on her back, listening as Bethany's breathing slowed and as Circus snored. Only when she was certain the young woman was truly asleep did Kalli allow herself to drift away.
Author's Note: So I'm taking a ride on the Bethany as Grey Warden bandwagon, partly because I love her character, partly because why the hell not?. BioWare owns all, except the things I make up and my own vision of the not-quite-Hero of Ferelden. Reviews, constructive input appreaciated as always.