The Redcliffe Fulcrum


I Never Liked You Anyway

The Elven Mage Origin Fails to Assimilate

into the Warden Party, Dragon 9:30

The boy was possessed. One could guess the end of the story, of course. The abomination would be killed, the world made safe from demons, the grieving survivors left to pick up the pieces.

Then Jowan, pawn and player in this gruesome disaster, had an idea.

"I can go into the Fade and fight the demon there." He hesitated. "It takes a lot of lyrium and a lot of magic. Or it takes a lot of blood. A life's worth."

It was a fair offer, but Alistair absolutely refused to have anything to do with Blood Magic. Arlessa Isolde would have sacrificed herself happily to save her son, but Elin Surana laid the idea by. Her tenuous command would not stand the strain. The only being on whom she could rely was her dog Rambler, a stray picked up on the road.

Was she in command? Sort of, she supposed. Sort of the leader. "Command" was too strong a word. It was rather more like herding cats. When there as a decision to be made—which direction to go, where to stop to eat or camp—Alistair stared at her until she said something. As often as not, he complained about it, but did not offer an alternative of his own. Morrigan smirked at her and made cutting remarks. Leliana was wide-eyed and cheerful, but never offered any helpful suggestions. She even told Elin glowing stories about Orlais, where Elin would be prized like a pet for her delicate features and tiny hands. Sten, the impassive Qunari, looked down on her — literally— and informed her that in Qunari lands she would have been leashed like a dog. He frequently expressed his opinion of her callow inexperience and lack of tactical training.

Well, duh. Yes, Sten, that's just the sort of thing they teach us at the Circle. Tactics and strategy and how to defeat our sworn enemies. Who are standing there watching us the entire time.

She was a mage, and that lay between them: Alistair, the almost-Templar; Leliana the lay sister of a Chantry whose paramount mission was the repression and incarceration of mages; Sten, whose Qunari folk enslaved mages, sewed their lips shut, and kept them in kennels. Even Morrigan scorned her as a Circle mage, one who had been brought up in the limited, hot-house atmosphere of life-long imprisonment.

And then, of course, she was an elf, a member of the most despised race on Thedas. That was not really much of an issue at the Circle, but it certainly was everywhere else. Her journey from the Circle with Duncan after her conscription and her subsequent arrival at Ostagar to join a large human army had been a rude awakening. On the road, everyone had assumed she was Duncan's servant at best, his whore at worst. At camp, she was constantly solicited — sometimes very bluntly and aggressively— for sexual favors that it was assumed she would provide with uncomplaining submission.

It had not helped that while there were two other elves among the Grey Wardens, there were no other women at all. She had found her few nights sleeping in a tent with two dozen strangers—mostly huge, brawny, hairy, smelly human males— frightening and horribly awkward. They were dirty and gross; they belched and scratched and farted. There had been touches; there had been innuendo; she was convinced that within a few days there would have been much, much more, "brother" Wardens or not. For that reason, she had not spent any time mourning them. Duncan may have done her a favor; the rest had done her none at all.

The one thing Alistair had insisted on was that they go first to his childhood home in Redcliffe. Arl Eamon had raised him, and Alistair said he was a good man and would see them right. Only the more she heard, the more it appeared to her that Arl Eamon was not a good man, and had had precious little to do with raising Alistair. Instead, he was just another arrogant noble, who had persuaded Alistair to be grateful for letting him sleep in the stables and eat scraps.

To get back to her current situation: Jowan was the only person in this room that she sort of trusted. She had known him since she could remember. Everyone else was a stranger, and had either patronized or insulted her. Jowan had betrayed her, but she understood why: he had been in fear for his life. For that matter, he was the only person here who understood her.

"If we had sufficient lyrium and more mages," Morrigan pointed out, "we need not descend to the use of Blood Magic at all."

Morrigan disapproved of Blood Magic, Elin understood. Not out of fear of demons or possession, but out of some sort of magical snobbery instilled in her by her awful mother. It was enough to make Elin want to try it.

But she was forced to agree with Morrigan's assessment. So was Jowan. Alistair and Leliana were immensely pleased. Too bad. This solution, in Elin's opinion, would only make everything worse.

"We have to go to the Circle anyway!" Alistair blurted happily. "We'll go and get some mages, and come back and help Connor!"

"So we'll all leave," Elin said tightly. "It will only take two days to get there and two days to get back. If we're lucky. Nothing to worry about. After all, what could happen here in four days with a demon in the castle?"

Alistair grin faded. "Teagan could guard him..."

"The same Teagan we saw cutting capers in the Great Hall?' Elin drawled.

"Well," Alistair said reluctantly. "I suppose I could stay and you could go."

Elin thought she might throw up. "That's an incredibly bad idea. When Duncan pulled me out of the Circle they were about to kill me. If I go back with no Duncan in tow, I expect they will. Or make me Tranquil. If you want to go, then go. I can stay here and guard the boy. Morrigan should stay too. If she goes to the Circle, they'll want to keep her."

"Certainly not!" Morrigan declared. "I am not afraid of Templars! Alistair will need someone sensible along if you stay here."

"And I shall go too," Leliana said brightly. "On the road, three are safer than two."

"Pashaara!" Sten exclaimed. "I and the saarebas will guard the boy. With the dog."

"That sounds fair," Alistair agreed. "Three and three."

"All right," Elin, not liking it at all, but unable to think of a way to make it work better. "And Jowan can help me prepare the ritual."

"Absolutely not!" Alistair stormed. "He goes back in the cells. After what he did..."

Elin glared at him stonily. "Don't you think you should get going pretty soon? Or maybe we can just simplify this by killing the abomination, which is the sane, sensible thing to do, and which you would not hesitate to do, were he anyone but the son of a rich noble."

Alistair glared back and flounced off to speak to Teagan, locking Jowan up and doubling the guard on him. He was quite smug about having his way. By this time, Elin had had enough of the lot of them. She could see why Leliana wanted to go, considering how awkwardly her last conversation with Elin had ended; but why was Morrigan clinging so to Alistair? She despised Alistair. There was some sort of agenda there.

Elin let Sten take the first watch, and settled into her room: a little box of a bedchamber, good enough for an elf. For that matter, it really was the nicest room she had ever had. She was able to sleep for a few hours, even though she was unused to such a degree of privacy.

She awakened, restless and on edge, and decided to go down and check on Jowan. They could at least feed him. Come to think of it, she was hungry herself. The upstairs kitchen was silent. Elin snagged a basket of bread, sausage and cheese, dusted off a bottle of mead, and then went downstairs to the dungeons.

No one was on guard there. Elin paused, a terrible weight falling in her belly, like a premonition of doom.

Jowan was dead. He looked small and at peace on the bloody floor of his cell. He had plainly been run through by a sword. Elin sat with him for awhile, wiping her eyes and then eating a bit from her basket, because she was a Warden, and hungry. She gathered up her things and went to the Great Hall. A few guards lounged there. Arlessa Isolde, the cause of all this misery, dozed in her chair of state. Bann Teagan spoke in low tones with some of his knights. Elin approached quietly and stood by the bench where he was sitting. A knight noticed her and jerked his head to catch Teagan's attention.

"Yes? What is it, Warden?" the noble asked, studiously polite.

"I noticed," said Elin, with bright-eyed calm, "that the prisoner Jowan is dead."

"Yes," Teagan nodded, looking serious. "Alistair thought it best, after all. He saw to it just before he left."

"I see. Has there been any activity from the boy?"

He hesitated, just for a moment. Elin wondered if he would rebuke her for not referring to the abomination as "Lord Connor." Luckily, he did not. She could not have answered for her reaction.

"None so far. The Qunari is still on guard."

"I shall soon relieve him. Thank you, my lord."

He nodded in dismissal, and Elin went her way, hating them all with a mighty, burning hatred. With Jowan's death, not one of them was worth so much as a broken fingernail to her.

She found a leather bag in the chamberlain's room, and began some serious looting.

"We're leaving, Rambler," she told the dog. "I've had it. Maybe we'll go find the Dalish. Or maybe we'll go live with the dwarves. I'm supposed to go to them anyway."

She had the key to the armory and the treasury. She had the key to the Arl's desk. It was too bad she could not get into the private family apartments, where the jewels must be kept, but she found quite a bit of gold , which she tied up in a sash and wrapped around her waist next to her skin. The silver went into her belt pouch. She found a good map of Ferelden. She even found a new studded collar for Rambler in the empty kennels. She found some light leathers, obviously made for a young human boy, that fit her reasonably well, other than being a bit big in the shoulders. They were too big for Connor. Perhaps they had belonged to Bann Teagan, or even to the King, the nephew of the Guerrins. With a light helmet to hide her ears, Elin would look like a human boy: beneath the notice of bandits, Templars, or soldiers.

She packed food, too. She had no idea how long her journey would last. If all else failed, she would find a Warden post elsewhere, and let the experts deal with the Blight.

Yes. Actually, that was the best idea of all. She took a breath, sat down, and thought about it. She was a Warden, but a junior Warden, unequal to this monumental task. Alistair was even more incompetent that she. She would report to a superior officer, and let them manage it.

She had not wasted her time on the trail with Duncan. They had needed something to talk about on those long days and nights, so they had talked about the Grey Wardens. The nearest post was in Jader, across the Orlesian border. Elin pictured it in her mind. The next closest was in Ansburg in the Free Marches. Jader was a lot closer. The main gate of Orzammar was only a short distance from the city of Jader. She saw nothing wrong with going to get help from them. Duncan was friends with the Senior Warden there, whose name Elin struggled to remember. Rendon? Randall? No! Riordan!

What else was she supposed to do? The only other Fereldan Warden was a complete idiot who had just murdered her oldest friend. Maybe she could take one of those boats across the lake. When her backpack and her food bag were ready, she hefted her staff, considering walking away. She could be halfway to the border before Alistair knew she was gone.

But then, her conscience rebuked her. Could she live with herself if she left all these people to be killed by the abomination? Not the nobles and their lackeys. She owed them nothing. Bann Teagan had been polite, but that was because she was a Warden who had arrived with Alistair and had saved his life. The Arlessa had made her contempt for Elin clear. The possessed boy had cackled with glee, remembering how the castle dogs had chewed the sliced-off ears of the murdered elven servants. Not one survived in the castle. Elin was the only elf in Redcliffe now. It was fairly alarming, when she allowed herself to dwell on it.

But there were harmless, frightened people in the village like that girl Kaitlyn and her little brother. They had not shown much respect for her as an elf, but they, too, were utterly at the mercy of those in the castle. Elin must see this through, and have the decency to wait until Alistair and the rest returned before she announced her decision to go to Jader. Reluctantly, she went to her room and set down her bags of loot and provisions. They would keep until her work here was done.

It was time to find Sten and send him off to bed. He was standing guard just at the entrance to the family apartments. Knowing his views on mages, Elin approached him somewhat nervously, now that there were just the two of them. This creature had killed an entire family in a mindless rage, after all.

He grunted at the sight of her. Perhaps she did not look as disgustingly mage-like in the leathers.

"Has the boy done anything?" she asked.

"No. There has been no movement and no sound. He is likely asleep."

Elin thought about that. That did not make them safe. "Be careful," she cautioned the Qunari. "The demon has the power to attack you when you are in the Fade. If your dreams seem odd, it could be that the demon is manipulating them. It will offer you things that you desire. Try to wake yourself, if you can. It might well be the way it first gained control of the castle."

The Qunari did not scoff, but took the warning seriously. "It would have been better to slay the abomination at once."

"I agree, but we are now guests of the family, and have promised otherwise. We must hold fast until Alistair and the rest return."

It was a horrible wait. The demon did not cease its onslaughts. A number of guards fell prey and some murdered each other. Arlessa Isolde did not cease to whine and complain.

And someone had to feed and water the abomination in the family rooms. That job fell to Elin. Sten helped her, though he continued to make plain his opinion that it was absurd. Elin did not disagree, only pointing out that the demon might lash out if its host was hungry. They left bowls and pitchers at the hall leading the rooms, and came back later to fetch the empties. The demon had decided to take the trouble to keep its vessel alive. It would all be so much easier if it did not.

Days passed. The fourth, the fifth, the sixth. Elin was filled with dread, wondering what those idiots had stumbled into. She considered raising the idea of just leaving to Sten. On the seventh day they returned.

With only one new mage.

Elin knew Wynne, of course: Senior Enchanter Perfect Wynne, who called herself an Aequitarian, but who was the most vocal Loyalist in the Circle. Her network of "old friends" among the Templars had ensured that she could go anywhere and do anything she pleased. She had been at Ostagar, for that matter, but Elin had seen little of her. Wynne had managed to escape unscathed from that, too, which was no great surprise. How did Alistair imagine that they would be enough to perform the ritual to save Connor?

Before Leliana could compliment her on her new, boyishly martial look, Elin asked, "Where are the mages?"

Alistair turned red. "We ran into some trouble at the Circle. The mages were rebelling, and some of them were Blood mages..."

Elin stared at him in horror. "What are you saying?"

Wynne answered for him, in her too-smooth, pseudo-maternal way. "The Knight-Commander has sent to Denerim for the Right of Annulment."

"What!" Elin screamed. She shouted at Alistair. "You were supposed to get the mages to help against the Blight. Not kill them all!"

"It could not be helped," soothed Leliana, more in sorrow than in anger. "And the Templars will help us instead, so it is for the best. Who can tell who is a blood mage, and who is not? They will be questioned... and..."

"They'll be tortured to death! But I noticed that Wynne slipped away, as usual. Nice to have faithful 'old friends,' isn't it?"

Wynne was very indignant. Morrigan burst out into cackling laughter.

"The Knight-Commander wished her to stay, and offered her the position of First Enchanter!"

"Such a surprise," Elin said, sickened. "But you didn't stay, did you? Much safer to be far away when the killing starts."

"You're upset," Alistair blurted. "You weren't there..."

"No, I was here, trying to keep that little abomination from slaughtering what's left of Redcliffe! How are we going to do that ritual now?"

"I guess... we can't."

"Well," Elin said, her words clipped. "Too bad you murdered Jowan, isn't it? We might have managed it with four mages. Good work there, stabbing a helpless man locked in a cell."

"He poisoned Arl Eamon!"

"We needed him! I needed him. We lost more people here, because there weren't enough to guard that little monster. I don't know why he matters so much to you anyway. You obviously don't object to killing children."

"What?" He was furious now. "You can't say that!"

"I can't, can it? What do you think will happen to the six-year-old apprentices you condemned to death?" She snarled, seeing the amusement on Morrigan's face. "I expect Morrigan to delight in death and cruelty, I expect Wynne to manipulate the situation to her own advantage, but you pretended to be something else. I see that empathy, after all, is not exactly your strong suit. Of course you won't see or hear them screaming for mercy as their little bodies are broken on the rack, so why should you care?"

Morrigan's smile vanished, in a sudden look of confusion and surprise. Not at the picture of the torture of children, Elin guessed, but that Elin would express such contempt for her. With an effort, Elin mastered her rage, burying it under an icy layer of clinical analysis.

"All right. We're back where we started, and with an insufficient number of mages to help us. We have some hard choices now. We can walk away from this disaster, for I see no advantage to the Wardens in remaining..."

"We can't—"

"Or Connor must die. Those are our choices. Those are the choices you have made, Alistair. You'd better inform Arl Teagan and that horrible woman."

Sten had awakened and come looking for her. Hearing the voices, he joined them.

"Was the mission a success?"

"No," Elin declared before Alistair could begin obfuscating. "The mission was a failure. Alistair brought back only one mage, which is an insufficient number for the proposed exorcism."

The Qunari was unimpressed with all of them. "I told you that we should slay the abomination."

"I agreed with you at the time, but we tried the only alternative. Now it appears that the abomination must indeed be slain. It only remains to decide who will do it."

"Well," Wynne said softly, "as a Grey Warden, Elin, it obviously falls to you—"

"Oh, no!" Elin laughed, a sharp nasty bark that startled the dog. "You're not going to make the elf the scapegoat this time. I can just imagine how quickly they'd hang me. 'Elf mage murders Arl's son?' No, we're going to confer with the nobles and their flunkeys. In my opinion, Bann Teagan should do it, or a man under his command. We can stand by to protect them from magical attacks."

"But.." Alistair flailed. "that's just... cruel!" He threw up his hands in despair. "Why can't we try what Jowan suggested? That would save Connor..."

"Blood magic?" Elin scoffed. "I think not. You had a Blood Mage, and you threw him away."

"It's very sad, of course," said Wynne, a gentle hand on Alistair's muscular arm. "But these things happen, and it is in no way your fault. How could anyone have anticipated the fall of the Circle? It is a tragic situation, but it is the fault of a Blood Mage."

"No," Elin snapped. "It is entirely the fault of that stupid woman, the boy's mother, who thinks laws are for the little people. She'll suffer for it, and there's an end."

It was a glum group that approached Teagan and Isolde. The arlessa shrieked in horror and begged pitifully for her son's life. And then she accused Alistair of deliberately murdering him. Elin considered putting her under a sleep spell, but was going to do nothing to make herself a culprit here. Wynne did instead, acting the part of the concerned Healer, a part she knew how to play so very well. Perhaps she was even sincere, when her patient was a human noblewoman.

In the interest of solidarity, Elin said to Bann Teagan, "Alistair could not have known about the disaster at the Circle. We made a desperate attempt to save the boy, but there are no more Circle mages to help. We cannot perform Blood Magic. There is only one thing left to do. In the absence of any Templars, it is for the civil authorities here to pass sentence."

"You will not..." Bann Teagan began, but stopped at the stony look on Elin's face. "You have already done so much... saved so many."

"We will of course stand by as witnesses," Elin continued. "And continue to guard against another attack by the demon."

All the knights were afraid to kill the boy; afraid of the consequences, afraid of the Arlessa's vengeance, afraid of her screams. In the end, Teagan had to do it.

But the demon was ready to fight for its life. When the pleas of the sad little boy did not disarm his uncle, the demon lashed out in full force, as the boy transformed, growing, huge...misshapen...malicious...hideous.

They had quite a fight on their hands. Teagan was hurt, and Leliana was hurt, and Sten was badly slashed. In the end they brought the creature down.

Elin stood back, behind the others, casting her spells from a safe distance, glad when it was over. Teagan, haggard and red-eyed, slumped against a wall, his bloody sword fallen to the stone floor with a clang, hands over his face.

"We must see to the Arl," Elin said quietly, and followed Alistair and Wynne into the Arl's chamber.

It stank in there, of course: the bed filthy and reeking of voided excrement and stale urine. The Arl was yellow and wasted.

And his heart had stopped. His faded blue eyes were open and unseeing.

The others wondered when he had died, since it had clearly been very recent. Elin was unsurprised. How could the demon continue to keep the man alive per its agreement with the boy, when it had been killed and its host with it?

Arl Eamon of Redcliffe was dead, his heir was dead, and Teagan Guerrin, now arl in his turn, had in a sense killed them both. Elin was never so satisfied with the wisdom of a refusal in her life. Teagan had plenty of witnesses to the boy's possession, but these deaths would shadow him for the rest of his life.

Downstairs, the Arlessa had awakened, and was screaming. Her screams were coming closer and closer. Elin eyed the room, behind the rest, and found a few little treasures to palm before she made her escape. The arlessa's screams changed...became wild and terrified, when she saw what her little son had become.

To his credit, Teagan was trying to pull Redcliffe together. Nor did he seem to bear them any ill will. Isolde, locked in the boy's room, was another matter. She was hysterical and vengeful, swearing that she would inflict horrible deaths on all those who had betrayed her: Teagan and Alistair first of all.

"She's gone mad," Teagan said heavily. "Utterly mad."

Elin did not think she was mad, nor for that matter, did Wynne. They agreed that the Arlessa's condition was in part the natural grief of a bereaved mother and in part the fury of a powerful woman who had never before been deprived of anything she wanted. The proportions of those parts were not theirs to judge.

"We have to move on," Elin said. "Despite the tragedy here, the Blight is still a threat to everyone. We still have two possible allies: the Dalish and the Dwarves. I think we should go north to Orzammar."

"The Dalish might be closer," Leliana pointed out.

"Let's leave the Dalish alone," Elin said, frost in her words. "There aren't that many of them to begin with, they might take time to locate, and people hate elves, anyway. Somebody might decide to kill them all instead."

Alistair glared at her, but she ignored him, and went on. "I think we should head toward Orzammar, to the dwarves, because they have a big army. And Orzammar is in one place on the map. We can't miss it. And I have another idea, too."

They looked up, more or less apathetically. Elin tried not to sneer. "Orzammar is only a short distance from Jader. Part of our group should go to Jader, where there is a Grey Warden post, no doubt full of Wardens. We need help, obviously, and an experienced commander."

"That is the most sensible remark I have ever heard from anyone in this party," Sten declared. "It is appropriate to report to a superior officer, when one's own abilities are insufficient."

"Jader?" Alistair floundered. "But that's thousands of miles away! How would we ever get there?"

"It is not 'thousands of miles away,'" Elin contradicted. "Look, I have a map."

She laid it on a table and showed it to them. "Here is Redcliffe. To get to the Dalish lands, we would have to go past Lothering, which is already under attack by the darkspawn. On the other hand, we can go north, maybe taking a boat part of the way. There, through the Gherlen Pass, and just off the Imperial Highway, is Orzammar. Now look. There's Jader. It's not half a day's walk from the gates of Orzammar. We might have to sneak across the border somewhere other than at the Highway, but it's really not far. Duncan told me about the Wardens of Jader. He has a friend there, named Riordan."

Alistair perked up quite a bit at the mention of Duncan. "I remember Riordan. He was at my Joining."

"All right, there you go," said Elin, feeling like she was speaking to a child. "We'll find this Riordan. I'm sure he'll help us. He has Wardens under his command. I think we should go to Orzammar, and see how the land lays, and then some of us should go to Jader and talk to Riordan."

"At least," grudged Morrigan, "'tis something resembling a plan."

Sten grunted agreement, and Wynne smiled so approvingly that Elin wanted to curse her.

"I think it is a wonderful idea!" enthused Leliana. "Jader is a splendid city. Many buildings are faced with greenstone, and there is much wealth and culture there. I am sure this Warden Riordan would be most helpful. I could guide you there. I know the city well."

"I'm sure you do," Elin agreed, not wanting Leliana anywhere near Jader. By this time, she was absolutely sure that Leliana was a former bard, and the degree of "former" was unclear. An Orlesian in Lothering, who just "happened" to want to join the Wardens? The daffiness sometimes seemed laid on a bit too thick. Morrigan had an agenda, certainly, but Leliana had one, too, and Elin did not want to advance it in the least.

In fact, she was not sure she wanted any of them with her. She was very uncomfortable in this party as the only elf. They had cheerfully murdered Jowan; why would they not murder her if it suited them? She wanted to get away from them: far away, and this seemed like her best chance, if she could bring it off.

She did not let them kill Zevran. That was always their first impulse in any situation, but she was there to keep an eye on them this time. They had killed Jowan, but they would not kill this elf.

He told her she was gorgeous, which was ridiculous and fairly annoying, but he told her other, more important things as well. Arl Rendon Howe had contacted the Crow assassins, and had persuaded Teyrn Loghain to hire them to murder her and Alistair. Zevran had had no trouble finding and recognizing Alistair at all, which was very odd and fairly alarming, though Elin's leathers had concealed her own identity. Of course, word must have got out about the disaster at Redcliffe. No doubt their enemies were making hay of that and blaming them for everything. It made her very sad sometimes, but of course elves and mages were always blamed for everything. Teyrn Loghain had actually been rather nice to her when they met at Ostagar. Could he actually believe all these terrible things?

Of course not. It was politics. Human politics. The Grey Wardens made a convenient scapegoat for the defeat at Ostagar and the death of the king. At the moment, she really could not see what good it would do to remain in Ferelden without more Wardens to help her. She was eager to see what this Riordan of Jader was like. Surely he would know what to do. If she did not like him, she would leave, and take her chances as an apostate.

For now though, it was rather nice to hear Zevran's stories of Antiva, since they did not include patronizing comments about what a charming servant she would make there.

One night, he murmured. "You do not like your comrades, I think?"

"I hate them," she told him frankly. "They murdered my childhood friend when my back was turned. They went to the Circle, and their incompetence will lead to the torture and death of everyone I grew up with. They're awfully pleased with themselves about it, too. I hate them, and I'll never forgive them."

She told him more: how she been taken to the Circle in early childhood, and been conscripted into the Wardens. He told her about how he had been orphaned, and then sold to the Crows. They had many things in common. Elin had not known a great many elves. She had certainly never before met an elf like Zevran.

At the village nearest Orzammar, they were warned that the border was under heavy guard. They could get to Orzammar and the Frostback Fair, but no farther without risking being identified.

Alistair was ready to give up. "Well, I guess that's the end of that."

"Not at all," Elin said briskly. "We'll slip through the countryside, or we'll go up to the coast and get another boat. I'm sure I can get through to Jader."

"Maybe I should be the one to go to Jader and see Riordan," said Alistair. "He'll remember me."

"Maybe not," Elin countered. "You're the son of Maric. I'll bet serious money the Orlesians know that, and they'd try to use you.'

"But I'm a Warden!" he protested. "They can't!"

"You think not?" Elin shrugged. "I wouldn't bet on it. How would you like it if the Empress tried to put you forward as the rightful King of Ferelden?"

He shuddered, unable to find words.

Elin thought she had him. She filled her voice with confidence.

"I think you'd be a lot safer in Orzammar, and we'll have the Jader Wardens join us there. You don't want to give Teyrn Loghain any more ammunition about the Wardens being traitors. Nobody cares about an elf, but they'd care about you."

He disliked her, and had little respect for her, but she could see that the ingrained fear of putting himself forward was working in her favor. Like the rest, he had completely forgotten that he had broken her heart and trampled on it, and that she hated him. The feelings of an elf were of no importance. With luck, she could slip over the border to Jader, and would never have to see any of these horrible people again. If she did, maybe the Jader Wardens would stand up for her.

More assassins tried to kill them near Orzammar: first, a band looking for Leliana.

By now, Elin suspected that Leliana was not only a bard, but that she was on a mission for someone important in Orlais. She spoke of her old bardmaster, Marjolaine, and gave an implausible story of their violent ruction. When Alistair gossiped about their comrades behind their backs, Elin did not hesitate to badmouth Morrigan and Leliana. She had a few things to say about Wynne too, but had to be careful, for Wynne was making inroads with Alistair by mothering him. He liked being coddled.

But she had plenty to say about Leliana.

"She's admitted that she was a bard and stole secrets. A lay sister is a good cover. I think her joining us was just a little too convenient, don't you? And of course Teyrn Loghain can accuse us of being in league with Orlesians, since we are in fact, in league with an Orlesian. It looks bad. I don't think she should go to Jader at all. I think she should stay with you in Orzammar. She fights well, and it will reduce the appearance of collusion with a foreign spy."

Then they were attacked by bounty hunters not far from the gates of Orzammar. None of these lived to tell their story, but on them were the broadsheets denouncing Grey Wardens and describing Alistair and Elin. Luckily, Elin no longer resembled the description on the broadsheets. Her robes had been disposed of in the lake. She carried a bow on her back: a bow she did not know how to use, but which gave her the appearance of a young boy out hunting.

"You need to change your appearance further, my Warden," Zevran advised. He knew how to brew hair dye, she discovered, from elf root and dragonthorn bark. He even helped her apply it, turning her dishwater blonde hair to a rich, dark chestnut color. He helped her trim it off in a style that was both boyish and that covered her ears. It was odd, being tended to. Odd and pleasant at the same time. She was beginning to hope that she and Zevran could truly be friends. It was so hard to trust anyone...

While her comrades ran about the Frostback Fair, making purchases and gossiping among themselves, Elin marched up to the gates to pursue their mission. The first order of business was to enter Orzammar. Even in that she was nearly thwarted.

For Loghain had sent an ambassador to the dwarves, who was even now ranting at the guards who refused him entrance. Elin came up behind the tall human, listening to the quarrel. Apparently, there was trouble in the dwarven kingdom. Elin slipped past Loghain's envoy and asked to be admitted.

"Orzammar is closed, stranger."

Elin offered her copy of the Warden treaty with more confidence than she felt.

"I am a Grey Warden, and this treaty obliges the dwarven people to assist in the war against the Blight."

The dwarven guard frowned over the document, and others gathered to look at it. The guard nodded. "This is indeed a valid document, Warden, but Orzammar has no king to honor it. Nonetheless, you will want to speak to Steward Bandelor, who rules the city...for now."

"What!" Loghain's envoy shouted. "You're letting her in? Everyone knows the Wardens killed King Cailan and almost doomed Ferelden!"

It was too much.

"Everyone knows?" Elin exploded, poking him in the chest. "Then 'everyone' is an idiot! Teyrn Loghain knows I had nothing to do with what happened to King Cailan because I was on the other side of the battlefield— doing what he said would be something safe, but the Tower was already infested with darkspawn and I ended up flat on my back for two weeks after the battle being nursed by crazy Wilders! I don't know what you're talking about when you say the other Wardens killed Cailan. If they did it was a stupid plan, because now they're all dead, too! You listen to me, and you take Teyrn Loghain this message. I'm not doing anything wrong. It's my duty to get allies for Ferelden against the Blight, and I'm doing it. You're here for the very same reason, but the difference is that I have a treaty and you don't. Tell Loghain that I'm working on it. You tell him. That's all I've got to say."

"Except—" she paused and spoke to the mage standing next with the warriors. "I know you from the Circle. Don't go back there," she warned him. "The Knight-Commander's gone mad and sent for the Right of Annulment. In the middle of a Blight!" She growled at the envoy. "If Loghain wants allies, tell him to do something about that! I've got a treaty for them, too." She refused to mention Alistair's verbal agreement for Templar help, considering it worth less than nothing.

She stalked to the open gate, and turned for a last parting shot. "And tell him to stop sending assassins after me! I can't get the dwarves to fight for Ferelden if he keeps trying to knife me in the back!"

Rambler barked agreement. Zevran laughed; and elf and dog followed her as she swept past, headed for the entrance to the dwarven kingdom.

The envoy stood there agape. A few moments later Alistair tore himself away from the vendors and came rushing after Elin, with Leliana, Wynne, and Morrigan in tow. Sten brought up the rear, looming over them, pleased to have his sword again, which he had bullied from a trembling merchant.

They discovered Orzammar in chaos. However, Elin found it refreshing not to be despised on sight. The dwarves thought no better of humans than they did of elves, nor had they any reflexive horror of mages. They actually respected Wardens. No one stared, disgusted and baffled, when Elin spoke for the group as their leader. The Steward told her of the stalemate between the rival candidates. There was bloodshed in the streets.

Alistair made his opinion clear. "This is hopeless."

"It's not hopeless," Elin disagreed. "We'll have to find a way to break the stalemate." She yawned. "Tomorrow. Let's find an inn, get some sleep, and meet with those nobles tomorrow."

They slept two to a room, except for Alistair, who made plain his distrust both of Sten and of Zevran. Elin swallowed her bile and put up with Wynne's insistence that Rambler sleep outside the door, and then tried to ignore the older woman's insufferable words of wisdom.

"You should learn humility, my dear. It's not for mages to put themselves forward. When Alistair gives you an order, it's for you to obey."

"Oh, really? But he doesn't give orders! He won't even express an opinion until someone else does, and then it's only to disagree!"

"I don't have any problem with him. He's a very sweet young man." Wynne sighed. "You just don't seem to have a gift for managing men, I'm afraid. He might need a nudge now and then, but you should leave him his pride."

Elin turned on her side and pretended to go to sleep. Soon after, she really did, for she was exhausted, and felt fairly safe for the first time in weeks, with a stout door and stone walls between her and the rest of the world. Tavern noise drifted in, but even dwarven singing could not wake her. Nor was there dawn to awaken her naturally. Many hours later, a pounding on her door roused her. She stumbled away from the strange stone bed, clutching at her clothing.

"Who is it? Alistair?"

"It is Zevran." The assassin's voice was muffled by the heavy metal door. "And Sten. And the dog. Dress quickly. The rest are gone."

Sure enough. Wynne was not in the room, and her little bundle of possessions was gone as well. Elin felt frantically for her coin, but it was still securely tied around her waist.

Qunari, Antivan, and Dog. Her remaining three allies stood before her in a bizarre, stair-step arrangement.

"They're gone?" She stared about wildly, expecting to see red hair and black hair emerging from the room across the corridor. "Leliana and Morrigan, too?"

"They have deserted," Sten growled. "They have fled. It is a disgrace."

"And, I fear," Zevran told her, "that they have left you to pay their bills."

"Bastards!" Elin burst out, magical flames dancing around her head like a halo. The people she hated had dared to seize the initiative, and done to her exactly what she had planned to do to them. She felt she might actually ignite from rage and frustration. "I'll skin them! Cowardly bastards!"

The two men backed a way a little, and Zevran, assuming a conciliatory, fixed smile, suggested, "Let us search for anything left behind. It may tell us whence they have fled."

"Bastards!" Elin snarled, still leaking magic. "They're dead! They're nothing!"

But she followed them, all the same, as they searched the rooms for anything left behind.

There was not much. Having a room to himself, Alistair had packed at his leisure. And so, likewise, had Leliana and Morrigan, taking all their trumpery gew-gaws. Wynne alone had left something: a letter. Offensive and condescending as it was, Elin gave her fellow mage credit for having the decency to explain herself. The others had simply run away.

My dear Elin,

When you read this, I will be long gone. Alistair has decided to go to Jader to report to his superior officers. Morrigan, Leliana, and I think it best to accompany him. The situation in Orzammar—and, I regret to say, in Ferelden—is utterly hopeless. While that monster Loghain rules, there is no point attempting to resist the darkspawn. I hardly know which is worse.

As your senior in the Grey Wardens, Alistair decided that he would be the best choice to report to Jader. Leliana feels she will have not the least difficulty in getting us across the border. It is really for the best, you see. A larger party would only attract unwanted attention, and I fear that Sten and Zevran are not to be trusted.

Alistair thinks it does not much matter what you do. You can stay in Orzammar, or go anywhere you like. Personally, I believe it is your duty to return to the Circle. After the Annulment, they will need help in rebuilding. Of course, you will do as you like, but I hope you will not be so wicked and foolish as to dream of being an apostate. It is a terribly hard life, and you would no doubt soon suffer the lawful fate of such. Do be sensible, my dear. Even the Tranquil serve a purpose. It is all part of the Maker's plan.



Elin's first impulse was to crumple the letter and set it on fire. She fought the impulse down, and smoothed out the parchment, instead letting it burn into her brain. She was keeping this. Forever. Someday, she would shove it down a blond imbecile's throat.

They had done more or less what she had planned — go to Jader —which rankled. Her intention, however, had been to get help. It was clear that these humans were simply abandoning Ferelden to its fate. She could hear Alistair's voice in her head, telling Riordan, "It's hopeless." As for Wynne's inability to distinguish between a mere pig-headed soldier like Teyrn Loghain and the darkspawn — well, that was too idiotic for words.

She turned to her remaining companions, anger fueling a new determination.

"Come in here and shut the door. I want to read this to you. You have the right to know what's going on. Know this: whatever these scum have decided, I am going to fight on. Maker, hear me! I'm going to fight, and I'm going to put a king on the throne of Orzammar, and I'm going to defeat the Blight, and I don't need Alistair and his women to do it!"

Notes: Yes, this story is from Elin's POV, and she is not being fair to the other characters. On the other hand, they're not being fair to her, either.

I think how Alistair turns out depends entirely on the nature of the Warden PC. This pairing was very unfortunate. Elin is too distrustful and fearful of him for them to make friends easily. If they had tried another quest before Redcliffe and had bonded over that, it all might have worked out.

I also think there are lots of problems with the Redcliffe story—especially leaving to go to the Circle with a possessed Connor still active. How exactly are they to keep him from going on another rampage? I don't believe they can, personally. Or if they do, it still might not work out they way they want. I don't see why Eamon, kept alive by the power of the demon, would survive its demise. I know the story requires Eamon, but I still think that his survival is a major plot hole.

I don't see why a Circle mage would adapt easily to the outside world, or instantly make best buddies with an ex-Templar, a lay sister of the Chantry, a Qunari, and an apostate who despises Circle mages. Perhaps the Circle mage would never like them at all. It's possible in the game for all the female Origins to fall in love with Alistair, but I can see reasons why the elven origins might not find a human male with Templar training attractive. In the case of the mage elf, quite the opposite, in fact.

Also, based on the ingrained racism evident in Thedas, I think an elf in charge of the Warden party would be very much more objectionable to most humans than we can easily imagine. Many Thedosians might find it shocking and repulsive, in fact. Imagine a black soldier attempting to take command of a white unit in the U.S army during WWII. (There were some black officers, but white soldiers could often flout them with impunity).

As to Leliana, my views on her have radically evolved since DA2. The charming, daffy, idealistic Chantry dilettante shows up in Kirkwall as a hard-eyed Chantry zealot: a dedicated agent of the Divine, high in the Seekers' ranks. Maybe she always was. She wears a Seeker's Amulet, after all, in DAO. It could be that the eccentricity really was entirely an act. Revered Mother Dorothea might well have recruited her into the Seekers before sending her to Lothering. Bards are very good actors. While I kept my original vision of Leliana consistent in Victory at Ostagar, Bronwyn's original misgivings would have been right on the mark with the Leliana presented to us in DA2.

Alistair's incompetence I base on canon, i.e., the DLC alternate timeline The Darkspawn Chronicles. (SPOILER: Alistair obviously permits the Annulment of the mages (which Wynne somehow survives, heh-heh) slaughters the Dalish elves, chooses Harrowmont and sides with Branka. He apparently kills Loghain and takes the throne alone. We can presume that Anora was either executed or imprisoned and left to die in the sack of Denerim. His only companions are Leliana, Morrigan, and the dog —though Sten, Wynne, and Zevran are to be found in Denerim. He fails, big time, and perishes at the top of Fort Drakon.) At any rate, it is canon that Alistair cannot overcome the Blight without the Warden PC.

This story is complete, and I currently have no plans to continue it. (Some hints, though: King Bhelen writes a very nice letter of alliance to Loghain, speaking of his good friend the Fereldan Warden Elin, who is to be his liaison with the surface peoples. There is a fruitful visit to Soldier's Peak. Meanwhile, Orlesian troops mass on the border, under the aegis of a hapless puppet ruler: "Alistair Theirin, son of Maric, rightful king of Ferelden.")

Next up: "The Stupidest Order in Canon."