Dawn finds the Greycloaks hiding on a tree covered ridge line, watching the bandits below wander around their camp through a trio of spyglasses.
"Commander, they got little nuggets wit' em'," Oghren points out a group of dirty children playing under a wagon, "What kinda bandits bring their kids along wit' 'em?"
"Stupid ones," Nathaniel deadpans even as he switches out his poisoned quiver of arrows for ones merely coated with a sleep draught, "Or they are more desperate than we originally believed."
"I don't know if I would call them stupid, maybe they've started the little ones on their bandit training?" Anders fleetingly jokes before sobering, "Desperate appears to be more the case. I might be a lot of things Lynx, but a child killer isn't one of them."
The elder Warden hands her spyglass to her husband and scoots back to sit on a rock, "We won't do anything to the kids unless there are zero options available to us."
"With your colorful history-" Mhairi chimes in but hastily locks her jaws and returns to spying on the kidnappers under the elf blood's irritated glare.
"Contrary to what appears to be popular belief, I do not go around chopping up kids for shits and giggles," Lynx snarls at the Orlesian, then sighs and wearily rubs her face, "Look, there are about a dozen armed bandits down there and nearly double that unarmed. I also counted close to eighteen children playing under the wagons. Anders, Mhairi, you get those kids and the other noncombatants out of the line of fire. Jade, I want you to back them up while Zev, Oghren, and I take out the rest."
"Heh, jus' like old times commander," the dwarf chuckles in anticipation and reaches for his ax.
Anders opens his mouth to say something, but only a muffled yelp escapes when Jade pinches the other mage on the rump, "Come on handsome, time to play."
"Just promise that you will be gentle with me Jade. I'm just a delicate mage and bruise easily," Anders taunts with mock innocence as he tucks Pounce into a pocket hidden in the folds his robes.
The group's subdued laughter is enough to dissipate the worst of the tension and within minutes the sound of weapons clashing rings through the morning air.
It doesn't take long for the seasoned warriors to discern that Lynx's instincts were correct. The so called bandits are indeed a number of displaced refugees who have taken to highway robbery-and now kidnapping-in order to feed their families.
With Eileen Bensley and the bandit leader, Mosley, nearly on their knees as they beg for assistance in passing through the "haunted" Wending Wood, the Grey Wardens finally agree to escort them at least half of the way to Denerim.
Unfortunately for them, this leads to their encounter with psychotic Dalish apostate Velanna as well as a brief confinement by the mastermind behind the intelligent darkspawn, who calls itself the Architect.
"Well Auntie, at least traveling with you isn't boring," Jade lets out a tired laugh as they wearily follow the road that leads to the Keep.
"Oh yes, talking darkspawn, brainwashed Grey Wardens, and hungry dragons. What fun!" Anders grumbles, first aiming a disgusted look at their newest recruit before swiping at his filthy clothes, "Why in the Black City did we agree to escort them through the Wending Wood? Whose idea was that?"
"But we also know what the darkspawn are after now," Mhairi defends while vainly rubbing at a large bloodstain that still glitters with silverite dust, "Perhaps that is what the Maker intended for us to glean from all of this."
"That's easy for you to say Orlesian, a dragon didn't bite you on the arse," Nathaniel simpers as he hobbles along, using Spiorad for support.
"Oh gods, Creators, and ancestors, can everyone stop whining for five fucking minutes?" Lyns snaps and aims a finger at the Vigil, which is now in sight, "We're almost home and I'd rather have a little peace and quiet before throwing myself into the shitstorm that I know is waiting for me there."
"You work for the shemlen," Velanna sniffs, her nose pointed to the sky, "A true Dali—agh!"
The haughty elementalist is on the ground-body convulsing as the electricity wracks her body with agonizing pain-when Lynx leans over her to growl, "I am not in the fucking mood to deal with your self righteous bullshit Velanna, so shut your gods damned yap or I swear that I am going to sit on you and stitch your high and mighty Dalish mouth closed. You are the one who demanded to come along and join the Grey Wardens, not the other way around. That means you will abide by my rules or you will have your ass handed to you. Is that clear?"
The elven mage gives a shaky nod of the head, then picks herself up out of the dirt when the elder Warden takes a step back. Her expression screams every single thing she so desperately yearns to verbalize, but her self preservation seems to kick in at the last second and she mutely falls in line as the comander begins walking once more.
Behind the group, Anders grumpily hands Jade a gold sovereign, which the green haired elf pockets with a smug grin.