Brosca's band of Wardens- those who had survived the fight, anyway -numbered just over a dozen men and women. It felt odd to be traveling with such a large party, many of them wildly different in appearance and mannerisms. They'd come from all walks of life, choosing to join the Wardens for reasons noble or desperate: blacksmiths, nobles, bakers, house slaves, hunters, fishermen, soldiers. All had left their old lives and titles behind, many of them who had joined out of patriotic impulse shortly after the last Blight. Most were human, but there were two elves and another dwarf besides Brosca. One of the elves, a skittish young man with only one eye, had been liberated from a Tevinter slaver by his grim companion, a slender proud elf who had obviously been a Dalish hunter. She was almost unconsciously protective and watchful of the former slave who hung at her elbow, and offered Fenris a brief but respectful nod as the group set out shortly after dawn. The Dalish clans had always made Fenris slightly uncomfortable, an attitude shared by many elves raised amongst humans, so he returned the nod wordlessly and avoided her after that.
The pitiful remains of Alistair's former team stuck close together, Matwog walking along as if sleepwalking. Bethany walked with him to offer silent comfort and coax a bit of food and water into him every few hours. Zevran had last been seen flirting shamelessly with a fair-haired young man near the front of the procession, but Nathaniel dropped back to walk close to Bethany, starting awkward conversations in an effort to get to know each other. Mostly they spoke of Ferelden.
Alistair was very quiet for the first couple of hours, and Fenris walked beside him supportively. He had an idea what plagued Alistair's mind to put such a faraway look in his eyes, so he was unsurprised when Alistair quietly began to reminisce.
"I'm the one who recruited Matwog and his brother," he said, staring straight ahead. His eyes were slitted against the dust stirred up by so many feet on the road. "They'd been living on the streets most of their lives; they're from Denerim, and their parents were killed when they were young. By cutthroats in an alley, so I'm assuming they were fairly well off. The few extended family the brothers had left took all the money and just sort of... left them to fend for themselves. They were pickpockets and fences, and they finally got themselves caught about three years ago. I was on my way to the city when they were run down on the road by the city guard, who'd been chasing them for the last mile or two. It wasn't any of my business, but the guard started beating them right there. I guess they were mad at having been led on such a long chase. Anyway, the brothers fought back, but they were more busy trying to shield each other, so eventually I stepped in." He grinned crookedly. "Couldn't get rid of them after that." His sad gaze shifted towards Matwog. "They only had each other to rely on for a long time. I hope Matwog can bounce back from this."
"He just needs time," Fenris said, more because it felt like the thing to say than because he had any faith that it was true. "Bethany lost her twin brother not too long ago; she'll be able to help."
"And Kel? Did you recruit him as well?"
"No, he was recruited elsewhere while I was on a mission. I met him at the tail-end of his training. His didn't take very long; he was a soldier before he'd volunteered to join the Wardens. Nothing special, just an ordinary grunt, but he'd seen a lot of people die while he and his squad protected Denerim during the Blight. I suppose it was patriotism that drove him to join us." His sigh was just this side of shaky. "He was the big brother of the group. I'll miss him. And Feila... Maker... I didn't even think of how Brosca might feel about that. She's the one who recruited her two summers ago. They used to have drinking contests late into the night. She was sort of a last-minute addition to my squad, though it didn't take long for everyone to grow attached to her." He rubbed at his face roughly. "And I never got along too well with Vorin, but he didn't deserve to die like that. I never should have taken us down there..."
"As Brosca so firmly reminded me yesterday, being a Warden is a dangerous occupation," Fenris said, sympathetic but firm. "They knew what they signed up for. You did what you thought was best in order to protect civilians. You can't spend the rest of your life blaming yourself. Leaders inevitably get people killed for the greater good. If you weren't cut out for this, Brosca never would have left you in charge while she was off on other business."
Alistair flicked him a wry look. "It's a little disconcerting how comforting your bluntness can be sometimes. You and Brosca are going to get along famously."
The familiar lull of travel helped bring normalcy back to Alistair's ragtag group as the days passed. Matwog remained distant and sad, but began responding when spoken to directly, and Bethany seemed more like herself. She spent a good amount of time speaking with Nate, though half the time they seemed to be arguing heatedly, and it was not unusual for them to ignore each other huffily for hours at a time. Alistair fretted over it, but Brosca observed their childish courtship with dry good humor.
Fenris, still uncomfortable around strangers, spoke very little to Brosca's Wardens. They let him be for the most part, perhaps assuming he was grieving much like Matwog. There were not quite enough tents to go around, so Fenris and Alistair were unable to spend another night alone during their trek. This did not stop Alistair from stealing a kiss or two any time they found a brief moment alone during guard duty or when foraging for firewood.
Fenris took up sparring once more. After seeing him hold his own against Alistair, several of the Wardens offered to cross blades with him. Each of them was highly skilled, and it was good practice. Several of them proved quite a challenge, and despite her short stature, Brosca proved impossible to overpower, much less beat. He learned much about fighting tactics in the weeks it took them to wind their way back south to Ostwick, where Brosca made arrangements for them aboard a merchant's ship making a run to Amarantine.
"You've been on a ship before, surely?" Alistair asked, noting the wary way Fenris eyed the sailors and the enormous ship itself from where they waited on the docks.
Fenris stepped aside to dodge a pair of men carrying supplies, and grimaced. "Yes. But I was always kept in the hold with the other slaves. I was often sick."
"Well, we won't be getting our own cabin or anything," Alistair admitted. "So it'll be cramped. But it won't be as bad as what you've experienced, I promise. And you can go out on deck any time you start to feel queasy or cooped up."
Bethany had come to stand with them, and was admiring the sheer size of the galleon with wide eyes. "My family and I were crammed into the hold of a small fishing ship with the other refugees when we fled Ferelden. Even when I first went to Amaranthine after joining the Wardens, and when we came here for our business in Antiva, we had to take a pretty small vessel. I've never been on one this big before." She sent Fenris a quick smile. "So we can get seasick together."
Fenris, surprisingly, was only briefly seasick, though Bethany was miserable for the entirety of the short voyage. She remained curled up in her bunk or hanging over the rails, moaning and puking up just about everything she managed to eat. Zevran both mothered her and mocked her during her illness, which seemed to irritate Nate to no end. It was perhaps in part why he did it at all, Fenris mused.
After his initial bout of seasickness, Fenris found himself almost enjoying the trip. Isabela had always lauded the life of a sailor, and now he thought he understood at least partly why the sea had called to her so strongly. He would stand at the forecastle's rails for most of the day, gazing out across the endless plains of choppy water and letting the salty wind chap his skin and tug at his hair. Alistair would join him sometimes, but something about the great emptiness of the sea seemed to depress him, and he never gazed out at it for long. To Alistair it represented loneliness and loss; to Fenris, it looked just as Isabela had said it would.
It looked like freedom.
All too soon the trip was over, and for the first time Fenris set foot on Ferelden soil. Bethany perked up almost immediately, clearly glad to be home at last.
"Ah, Ferelden. Land of dogs and mud," Alistair said with affection. Fenris felt a smile twitch at his mouth. He'd heard many in Kirkwall speak derisively of the country- a prejudice in large part a reaction to the unwanted flood of fugitives, no doubt. Hawke had always taken offense to the attitude.
Salin, the stern Dalish woman, looked southward, almost quivering with eagerness. She caught Fenris watching her. "I was born here," she explained. "We Dalish may be nomads, but I remember well the woods where I spent my childhood." She looked into the distance again as if she could see straight into the past. "Not all memories of Ferelden are good ones, but it somehow feels good to be back." Bethany smiled in agreement.
Fenris felt a slight twinge of jealousy. The furthest back he could remember was Tevinter, and he could conjure no good memories of the place at all. He could not imagine ever being homesick.
"Everything aboveground looks alike to me," Brosca grunted, and he could not tell if she was serious or not. "Come, let's resupply and catch some rest. I want to set out as early as possible."
Matwog, who had been silent from the moment they spotted Ferelden on the horizon, took a flask of wine from his hip and uncorked it. Tilting it, he watched the crimson stream spatter into the dust. "Home, brother," he murmured. Tossing the empty canteen away, he strode off after Brosca, deliberately avoiding the sympathetic looks of his fellows.
Fenris reached out and touched Alistair's arm briefly, hoping to banish the flash of guilt from his eyes. "Come on. You can show me dogland."
A smile pulled at the corner of Alistair's mouth. "Mabari are great animals. If more people had them, I bet they wouldn't make fun of us so much. Beth, didn't you have one?"
They began extolling the virtues of the big Ferelden dogs, and Fenris let them prattle on, glad to leave the ghosts of Kirkwall behind them on the dock.
I know it's short, but I figured a small update was better than none _ ;;