"So how 'id you come to be a warden there big man?"
Now Jarrik was the one pouring drinks, well some-what accurately spilling would be a more apt description. A little mead on the tablecloth and dribbling down Alrik's glass, but close enough.
Alrik laughed. "Commander Vorenus find me some time ago. Told me could see very interesting things in Minrathous. So came with, and Vorenus was right. Very interesting. As for drinking blood..."
"What Trajan Vorenus does, Alrik does."
The Darkspawn scattered like cockroaches before sunlight, leaving only Trajan Vorenus, who had been sitting cross-legged among them. He looked up at Thaedrin, apparently unsurprised.
"Good. I was beginning to wonder."
He turned again to look at Dumat for a moment, but then shook his head as though to clear it. He came to his feet, dusting himself off before walking toward one of the few features of note in the cave: an enormous stone spike that drove upward through the ceiling, a winding circular staircase hewn into it. Trajan began the ascent.
Thaedrin followed the Commander up the narrow stairs; the ascent was steep, but he knew the fatigue in his thighs was only a projection of the mind. In the physical world, he couldn't have been any more at rest.
"The Ciraine came upon us in the night, threw us back. I was forced to retreat, and made way for Antiva City." Fearing his superior's disapproval, he quickly added, "But events in the area have left our order with a very sizable donation from the merchant lords. You will be receiving weapons and armor by caravan in two weeks' time. Perhaps it merits an escort, to meet it halfway. We drove the Darkspawn back from the bay, but they are never far."
He paused, looking down at the Commander's feet ahead of him, "Forgive me my detour, but I have a plan to get us the warm bodies we need in the field. Also, a potential recruit has emerged."
"It was always a gamble, the Ciraine," Trajan agreed. "You did well to win us resources; I hope they're something we can use. I'll see them safely delivered."
He mulled over the rest of Thaedrin's words. He could spare the Wardens long enough to let Thaedrin see his plot through-- but did the plan have merit, or was the boy simply incapable of accepting failure? He considered it as they ascended through the ceiling of the cave and into open air above, continuing to climb ever higher.
"You have my leave to continue for now. Recruits are ever the goal. But if results aren't yielded soon, you should return. And have Alrik send me a dispatch by bird, will you? I need his opinion on the Ciraine."
And everything else, of course.
"How fare your party?"
They had reached the pinnacle of the spire; below them were the nebulous windings of the fade, and in the distance, very clear, the Black City. Trajan stared at it with a focus only superseded by the intensity with which he'd gazed at Dumat.
The party. The best possible topic.
"Alive," he said, as that was the most concise description. "They disrespect me. Some loathe me outright. The elves are mouthy fools and Komnenos is no less undisciplined than ever before, however, none of the lot of them has disobeyed a direct order. And that, at least, is seeing us through."
He took a gamble in avoiding a mention of the archer's temporary stint as a corpse, but Alrik had drunk enough mead that it might slip his mind when he made his report. Following the line of the Commander's gaze, he found the Black City hanging in the sky, fixed at the same point no matter how high one climbed. It had taken the lives of thousands of slaves to reach it, he knew, but instead of the wistful reverence of Trajan he held only a bitter contempt.
"Why did He do this to us?"
Trajan stared at the city, the one place in the Fade that he could not reach.
"We fought an Emissary, once. A fiendish thing, a greater threat than ten ogres. It killed many of the first Wardens, so strong were its spells. When we finally put it down, I held my sword to its throat. 'What is in the Black City?' I asked it."
He paused, caught up in the memory.
"'That,' it told me, 'Is something one can only see for oneself.' And then it died. I know not who made that city, or why He tries to keep us out of it. It is our right, our inheritance. I will slay Him as surely as I will Dumat if ever given half a chance. Or maybe it was Dumat who made the city, and he was driven mad when we reached it: mad with fear that his creation had matched his power."
He sat down on a well-worn step; it looked as if he had spent much time upon it. "If only we could make it there, and see for ourselves. What harm could it cause? The damage is already done."
He looked at Thaedrin. "Don't let them disrespect you too much. Know the limit. You are a hard man to get along with and you must be easier on them than you might like, but too easy and they will become rebellious and entitled. Learn to walk the line."
Thaedrin saluted stiffly, though the man's back was to him. "Yes, Commander. I thank you for the opportunity to learn my place as Constable, I will not fail you in this task." The blood mage paused, giving the Black City one last lingering look, "I'll leave you to your rest, then. Goodnight, ser."
He slipped out of the Fade then; a shiver as he returned to true sensation, and he was done. His eyes were dry and his head was pounding when he finally came to bed. Too hard, too easy... The men under his command at Weisshaupt had accepted his authority by virtue of his birth and title; here, every word out of his mouth was to be detested, or worse, challenged. How could it be said that he had been too hard, when his underlings behaved as such? Something would have to change. He would need to hold them tighter, remind them of their duty to the Wardens beyond their own survival.
He lay awake and regarded the ceiling for a time, thinking of the story of the Emissary. Thaedrin was up again, bathed and dressed, by dawn to have the slaves prepare breakfast and awaken his comrades. The elves of Rorqual's moved down the hall, coaxing the Grey Wardens out of bed with sharp knocks and gentle voices. Jarrik, as well.
Waking up of her own accord, in the bed of the man she cared for, with enough time to relax would have been fantastic, however, a wake up was issued. The elf stirred and groaned as she nuzzled back into Diocles, reluctant to wake."If the darkspawn are not at the doors, I request a few more moments of rest."
Ulrin woke up when the call came to rise. He was more than happy to be on his feet and out of his bed. The sooner they were up and fed the sooner they'd be gone from this dreadful mannor.
Diocles sighed, unwrapping his arms from the elf.
"If you wanted more rest, you shouldn't have let me keep you up so late. Come on, we don't want to give them a reason to try to keep us apart in the future."
He rolled out of the bed with a yawn, dressing this day in somewhat more practical clothes. It was still contained a great deal of silk.
Jarrik awoke with a grumbling murmur, squinting against the morning light. Last he recalled, him and Alrik had been drinking and swapping stories, but then his memory got all fuzy. It certainly felt like he'd attempted to drink the barbarian under the table.
That's what this morning needed, and he quickly washed and donned attire. "Morning." His curt greeting as he joined the table and hungrily gathered a plate of poached eggs, fresh bread and cheese. Along with a small glass of wine to ease the pressure in his skull.
"Think the 'spawn will sortie again today?" It was an open query to cut the silence more than a need to know the answer. Thoughts of the joining ever lingered in the back of his mind, and it was easier to focus on more immediate issues.
"The blame cannot be shifted entirely on myself, lath."
She slipped out of the bed, stretching. Unfortunately for her, all changes of clothes for a woman were still in a different room. It seemed she never thought these things through. Sulahn'nehn dressed herself in what she had and approached Diocles, he really did have a knack for fashion. She wrapped her hands around his waist from behind and kissed his shoulder. "I need to prepare for the day. I will see you over breakfast."
Sulahn'nehn left him behind to change into something less dressy. It would only be a disappointment later when it was taken from her or ruined. Later, she returned to the dinning hall for their morning meal.
She looked to Jarrik, covering her mouth as she got over a rather bad case of yawns. "Good morning, ser."
Diocles waited just a few minutes, giving Sulahn'nehn time to enter before him. It wouldn't do for them to enter together. The appearance of making appearances, that was enough for civilized company. Finally his hunger overcame his patience, and he joined the others in the dining hall. He stacked his plate high, taking a seat near the head of the table.
Ulrin arrived at breakfast in just bearly higher spirits than the night before. He gave a curt nod and a simple "morning" to yhe oyhets before taking his seat and fixing his plate. After a few bites he spoke up again, "So when do we leave? "
"Tonight," Thaedrin said, at the head of the table with his plate already clean and a dark stout at his elbow, "but until then, there is work to be done and preparations to be made. Eat, and we will leave for the warehouses once you've all finished. We will have you each equipped properly before we begin."
Ghil wandered into the room, hair still damp from last night's soak and wearing a satin robe that hung open at the chest. Thaedrin managed to convince himself to be glad she had at least belted it, though he gave a long-suffering sigh.
"What? Was all that was there." She shrugged, tearing a fistful out of a loaf of bread, "What have I been missing? Equipping, you said?"
Diocles continued eating silently. His eyes glanced towards Ghil once or thrice though.
Ulrin wasn't bothered by Ghil's appearance. Somehow it just seemed fitting she would arrive that way. It was reminiscent of when they first met. "We're getting our gear. From the warehouses."
Sulahn'nehn noted that Diocles had not said a word since he arrived, which was odd to say the least. And then Ghil arrived in her usual fashion, she would have said nothing if not for the sigh. "Ghil, my friend. You may wish to, um, readjust your robe." She looked the barbarian over, "And if you would like I can help you with your hair again. "
The woman shrugged again and pulled one side of the robe inward to cover a breast.
Thaedrin eyed Diocles with suspicion; the archer had no precedent of silence. Instead of pointing it out for discussion, his attention turned elsewhere. "Ser de Avalos, I found myself wondering, why is such a... 'decorated'... Rivaini man here in Antiva City?"
"'til recently, I was attached to the Tevinter legion in Rivain." He cut into one of the poached eggs, letting the yolk soak out into the bread. "But given its location, Rivain is about the closest semblance to peace in the realm. Far east and all but land bridged that is, and we haven't seen no 'spawn with gills yet." He crudely drew the outline of the area in the air with a fork to demonstrate why it was strategically easy to defend.
"A few skirmishes with brigands and the more ruthless pirate." Taking a break to pause for a bite of egg soaked bread, washed down with wine. "But it gets pretty dull riding on patrol day after day. So I went off seeking fame and fortune, as they say."
Jarrik briefly pondered the question forming in his head. "How did a Laeta...Atlus come to find themselves with the wardens of the grey?
Thaedrin paused, running his hand along the pint glass in front of him. He considered telling the man it was none of his business, but, aside from rude it was also hypocritical at this point.
"My motives were not so different from your own." He stood, nodding his head towards the others, "Come, all of you. You'll walk to the docks, and you will have your pick from what was left behind in the warehouses." As his Wardens made the way toward the door, he continued, calling back their attention, "But there is more. Once you've selected what you'll be taking with you, you will be responsible for filling the empty wagons nearby with the gear we'll send to Weisshaupt. This is not a time for leisure, in spite of your current accommodations, and I hope that the weight of every sword or mail shirt you salvage reminds you of your brothers and sisters in our order. Now, begin. Constable Alrik will oversee you, and bring you to the ship when you have finished."
So the new comer and Theadrin were fighting Darkspawn for glory? Ulrin almost laughed at the idea of it but kept his chuckles to himself. Glory? What was so glorious about the joining and Dumat haunting your dreams? If it was a glorious venture then why force slaves into the ritual, shouldn't all the smug human bastards be lining up to fight. He considered the Constible for a moment and shook his head. Perhaps even the humans trick other free men into being bound to this fate.
He left his breakfast half eaten, meanial labor at the docks sounded more inviting than pretending he was comfortable here. He turned his attent to Ghil, "Are you wearing that robe down to the docks?"
It was horrible of her to have forgotten, but in the grand setting they were in it slipped her mind that there were other Wardens facing the same danger they were. Just because she was happy didn't make everything good and well.
As told, the elf went in search of new equipment. It differed greatly from the staff she'd picked in Weisshaupt; this one was extravagant. Sulahn'nehn felt a sense of pleasure just holding it. Next, of course, came piecing together an ensemble that was practical and fit. As much was she wanted to stay in flowing dresses, it was clear it would get in the way somewhere down the line.
Sulahn'nehn gravitated towards the proper knives to look them over. Was one better than any other?
Ghil's shoulders lifted and sank in what was, besides a grunt, quickly becoming her most common means of communication. "I asked slaves for pants, they keep giving me dresses. So, this is what I will be with the wearing until there is much else." Picking through the warehouse, for her, was more enjoyable than their time in the merchant lord's manor. The clothing was fine and the armor finer, though it took much searching to find a good piece that wasn't merely decorative. Sulahn'nehn across the way caught her eye, and she nudged Ulrin gently with an elbow. "What is Soola needing with the daggers?"
Ulrin shook his head. Of course they kept giving her dresses, it was a bit amusing to him, he couldn't help but chuckle as they rifled through the warehouse's goods.
"What does she need with them?" He glanced up at her, "She said it was for combat but, I susspect something more. If she wanted a weapon for combat why steal a dinnerware knife?" Again he let out a grim chuckle and shrugged, "I used to steal them to fight, when I was on the run. But that was more savage. Acts of violence and hatred... I wonder if shenhas such desires."
Ghil's expression hardened at the tale and she eyed Diocles's back curiously, "Does she have need to be frightened? I was of the thinking that she liked the skinny man. Or... has the blood mage touched her again?"
Ulrin looked to the archer and then nodded at Ghil in agreement. "If there was anyone that deserves Sulahn'nehn's it is Theadrin. Not that he is undeserving of our hatred as well. But, as much as I hate to say it, she is overwhelmed with affection for Diocles. She won't be stabbing him... At least not until he does something foolish and wrongs her." The elf turned his attention back to the items before them, "Which considering his behavior, that's not too far in the future. "
Jarrik had little need for equipment, seeing as his armor and weapons were all polished and shimmering back at the manor. While not technically a warden, he saw little cause to stay behind otherwise, it would have been boring and Thaedrin didn't seem the sort to argue semantics with.
Reaching the warehouse, he took the opportunity to peruse the piles and crates to assemble a semblance of a traveling kit. In truth, it was more to try keep his attention focused and busy his mind with other musings. First, there was the joining and all that entailed - was becoming a warden worth that risk, but the more pressing matter was why the Alamarri woman, Ghil, was barely dressed.
It wasn't as if Antivan City was without its carnal pleasures, the fine wine trade, lavish merchant lords and local pirating being a perfect melding to support such activities. This was coupled along with the pleasantly temperate climate in the area keeping shear clothing in fashion, but the utterly nonchalant nature about her was most perplexing. Well that and remembering how she'd cleaved those darkspawn practically in two. Is she ever caught his gaze lingering, he'd quickly shift his eyes as if suddenly interested in say that flint right there.
'Actually, some flint and tinder wouldn't be a bad idea to bring along.' And he promptly dropped the items into the pack he was carrying. Satisfied, Jarrik took to moving a pile of mail shirts to the wagons. Though each one weighed nearly 30 pounds, and he was making frequent trips back and forth to move the whole lot of them, he didn't appear to outwardly tire.
Upon passing Sulahn'nehn, Jarrik stopped to shift the armored jackets he was carrying and to ask. "So is that normal for her?" Motioning to Ghil with his head, and hoping his curiosity stayed outside her hearing.
Diocles remained ignorant of those speaking of him. He was in another place as he examined a new bow. It was longer stronger than his old bow. It, too, was a recurve, but the composite materials allowed for a stronger draw. Skilled craftsmanship allowed for a better arrow rest so the feathers would strike less upon release. It was in every way superior to his family bow, which was now lost. And he hated it.
He took the bow regardless, finding a quiver to match and a suit of chainmail as well. Shortly thereafter he joined Sul, forcing a smile while he spoke to her of the blades.
"You'll want something light enough you can hold up to your eye line for a few minutes at least. Daggers-That's a knife with two edges-are better at thrusting to penetrate armor and easier to learn, but I prefer a curved knife. A wide slash is much harder to dodge, and it takes very little force to cut. They're also better for parrying and self defense. A miss leaves you vulnerable, though, as you can end up over-extended with your blade facing the wrong way."
Alrik finally appeared, seeming none the worse for wear after his late night escapades. He swapped his tattered armor for a new set, tightening it over his shoulders, before sitting in a corner and seeing to his axe with a whetstone.
Whether he was lost in contemplation or listening in on the rest of them was hard to say.
Sulahn'nehn nodded her head, keeping her eyes on the weapons in front of her. There were only two women in their group so there was no need to actually look at Ghil. "I think it is normal among her people."
The elf was surprised to hear Diocles speak up, she was beginning to think he was unwell from how quiet he'd been. Although, she could still have been right, the bright smile he'd always given her was a little stiff. Sulahn'nehn wanted to question this, but as he'd mentioned keeping up appearances she didn't want to bring it up. Besides, he was attempting to teach her something about daggers.
She nodded along with the information, trying to retain it as quickly as it came. Light and curved, light and curved. There was a bit of just lifting up the knives to feel their weight before settling on one. "Is this good? I think it is light enough. Is this safe to carry around without a..." Sulahn'nehn gestured about something like a sheath.
"Sheath. You could put it through a belt fairly safely, but it would still be possible to fall on it and cut your leg, so it would be a good idea. I'll see if I can find some."
Diocles first picked up two heavier knives Sul had passed over-khukuris, he thought he remembered them being called. He liked a blade that worked for utility and combat, more than anything. Before leaving he picked out a few smaller blades including daggers weighted for throwing and the tiny chakmak and karda. He gave Jarrik a nod as he went to search for the scabbards.
Over the next half hour, Ghil had procured pants, boots, shirts and mail. There were pieces of plate she tested with a firm kick before attaching to her person. Her sword she replaced as well; though she still had the old one back at the manor, she'd taken poor care of it along the way. By the time she emerged with armfuls of armor and sword belts to throw onto the wagons, she was covered head to foot with the robe in a pile in the corner of the warehouse somewhere.
After load five or six, the work became grueling instead of merely repetitive. Thaedrin, meanwhile, could be seen across the docks, speaking with a few Imperial soldiers beside a lean schooner that would carry them across the bay.
"Slaves could have done this," Ghil muttered to whoever was nearest, "He is being purposeful."
Having found proper sheathes (Returning one to Sul) and equipped himself, Diocles aided Ghil in carrying equipment. He took less in each load, but made quicker trips, and he too was beginning to tire. He nodded to Ghil with a slight sigh.
"He's just expressing his authority, reminding us he is in charge. .. He isn't wrong to do so, you know."
"Well he is an Atlus." Quipped in Jarrik as he unloaded more cargo into the wagons, not sure if the barbarian woman even understood the meaning.
He wiped a tattooed forearm across the red sash he wore over his brow before continuing. "They think everyone that isn't from some line of magisters that can trace their lineage back to First Archon Darinius's second cousin first removed is considered beneath them."