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Caught Between a Rock and Another Rock

Mara Kerr

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Grey Warden
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32
Featured Thread #1
(( 1 Kingsway, 35 Dragon, Afternoon, Cauthrien ))

Mara paced in her cell. Back and forth. Back and forth. She could still feel the sting of ropes on her wrist. The glares of guards, the smug looks on their faces when they brought her in to Fort Drakon. A murderer - that’s what they’d called her. Caught running from the scene. They’d said a witness confirmed her identity. She’d replayed the night over and over again in her head a thousand times and she still couldn’t remember anyone seeing her.

Anyone except Rabbit. He knew she was there. He was the only one that knew where she would be that night. The witness was the one that had called the guards. She knew that much. It had to have been Rabbit. No one else knew. No one else was supposed to know. At first she’d hoped he’d come to her rescue and explain why she’d been there that evening, but Rabbit was Rabbit. She should’ve known he would turn around and stab her in the back one day. That’s what he did to everyone once they’d ceased to be useful to him. Apparently her time had come, and, Rabbit being Rabbit, he had to make it the flashiest, most painful betrayal possible. He always did have a flair for the dramatic.

The sound of the bars sliding open drew Mara’s attention from her incessant pacing. She paused to see a guard step in, posture a little lower than normal. The guard behind him had a hand hovered over the hilt of her blade. Mara raised her brows. She knew better than to put up a fight now. Only a guilty person would make a scene where almost nobody would see. It wouldn’t help her case. As she let the guard tie her wrists and lead her out, she ran over every which way she could get out of this again and again in her head.

She’d anticipated being taken before the Arl - a Bann, really any lordling or lady who deemed it worth their time to hear her case. Apparently whatever case she had was already decided. She blinked as she was lead out into the sunlight, the silhouette of the gallows drawing her gaze. A crowd had gathered. Of course they would. It wasn’t every day someone was hanged, and who wouldn’t want to see a murderer hang for her crime?

Mara’s stomach twisted in a tight knot. She fought back the urge to vomit as she was led through the crowd, her steps accompanied by shouts and slurs slung her way. How the Maker ever let some of those words dirty the mouths of the people of Thedas Mara would never understand. It only made her stomach tighten even more.

They reached the steps as the shouts began to crescendo. Heart pounding, Mara’s eyes darted pack and forth as she searched for any last way to get herself out of this. If the Maker had any pity, He’d make this all stop. She mumbled a quick prayer before digging her heels into the ground and pulling back as hard as she could on the ropes.

“I didn’t do it!” she shouted. Lungs afire, throat burning from the sheer volume. She kept going, hoping, willing this whole disaster to stop. “I’m innocent! I was set up! You’ve got the wrong person!”

She kept shouting, kept pulling and struggling as the guards fought to get her up the stairs and to the noose that dangled simple and threatening before her. Survive. That was all that mattered. That was all that ever mattered. Now or never, she knew this was her moment to fight for it, and, Maker, she was giving it all she had, except the noose loomed ever closer and her heart wouldn’t stop pounding and she couldn’t stop screaming.

Suddenly the world was turned around. Sky in front of her, not above. Strange. That wasn’t right. A heartbeat later and she felt herself hit. Her ankle burned, and it was all rigid and soft around her at the same time. Shaking her head, she realized she’d landed in the crowd beside the gallows. A blink later and she was back on her feet. No. Wait. She crumpled in on herself. Maker, she remembered the last time she’d felt her ankle so on fire and no. No. She couldn’t have that right now. She tried to ignore the weight of it all settling in on her. No outrunning anyone now. No point in not trying, though. With a tight grimace she pulled herself back up and tried to push her way through the crowd. One way or another, she wasn’t going back up to that noose.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#2
Captain Garrett generally sent a messenger to Cauthrien when he had a prisoner at Fort Drakon when he had a prisoner that he thought she would be interested in conscripting, so when he showed up at the gates of the compound, it was her first clue that something was amiss. That he wore a cloak with the hood pulled up to conceal his face in the heat of summer was another.

“I was never here,” he told her as she closed the door of her office behind them.

“All right,” she agreed, settling into the chair behind her desk and motioning for him to take the one in front of it. “Though you’ve got me curious now.” Having charge of the prison in Fort Drakon kept the man’s expression perpetually serious - at least, when Cauthrien saw him - but she had seldom seen him look this troubled, and that the last time had been when she had conscripted Felton was not reassuring. “What’s going on?”

“There’s an execution scheduled for today,” he told her. “You heard of the murder of Lord Tyndall’s son?”

Cauthrien nodded. A week earlier, the only son of the minor noble had been found in his bed with his throat cut; the killer had reportedly been caught leaving the estate. “The trial’s done so soon?” she asked, then, at the look on his face, “There wasn’t one?” Not unheard of, but increasingly rare under King Alistair’s rule; it had once been common for elves accused of crimes to be punished without a trial, though anyone of low social status suspected of a crime against a noble might be so treated. “Does the King know?”

Garrett shook his head grimly. “Tyndall’s got money, bribed a judge to issue a guilty decree and report that a trial had taken place.”

Cauthrien frowned. “Why? As I heard it, she was caught red-handed. The trial should have been quick enough.”

“Aye, and that’s part of what’s bothering me,” Garrett agreed. “And I knew the girl’s father.” He quirked a sardonic grin. “In a professional capacity, so to speak. Arrested him a couple of times. He was a thief, right enough, but a good enough bloke for all that. I have to admit that I rather liked him, and he was no murderer. Now maybe the apple did fall far from the tree, but -” He shrugged. “She insists that she didn’t do it.”

“Most of them do,” Cauthrien observed, knowing that he knew that. There had to be more to it, and after a moment, he provided it.

“The young man was killed in his bed,” he told her. “Throat cut ear to ear. I doubt he even woke up. He didn’t walk in on her stealing; he was assassinated, pure and simple. But she was caught in Tyndall’s study searching his desk, and without a drop of blood on her. What kind of an assassin kills a sleeping mark, takes time to clean up and then goes browsing?”

“An inexperienced one,” Cauthrien countered, “or a stupid one.”

“She’s not stupid,” he disagreed. “Inexperienced maybe, but my gut says she didn’t do it.If you conscript her -”

“If I conscript her, she will be a Grey Warden,” she reminded him. “There’s no going back from that.”

“Roland’s done well enough,” Garrett replied. “So has Linn.” Both had actually committed murder, though there had been extenuating circumstances in both cases. But he’d made his point; he’d had good instincts for identifying suitable candidates so far; he’d warned her against conscripting Felton.

“All right,” she conceded, “but I’m not going to be looking to clear her name.”

“I’ll be poking around on that,” he replied. “I just need you to let the king know that one of his judges is taking bribes.”

“Done.”

After getting the judge’s name, Cauthrien had saddled Dragon and ridden to Fort Drakon. She never attended executions; she loathed the carnival atmosphere, the rowdy behavior of the onlookers, and this one was no exception. As the dark haired young woman was led toward the gallows, the crowd hurled abuse and jeers at her. The Warden-Constable shouldered her way to the front just as the girl began to struggle against the guards.

“I didn’t do it!” she cried out, thrashing and kicking as she was dragged up the steps. “I’m innocent! I was set up! You’ve got the wrong person!”

This of course only caused the crowd to intensify its outcry, and a few stones and pieces of rotten fruit were hurled toward the platform, hitting the scaffolding with thunks and splats. She was led toward the noose, her protests dissolving into terrified screams, and Cauthrien saw glimmerings of sympathy on a handful of faces, but most drank in her terror with a glee that disgusted the Warden-Constable. Suddenly, the girl broke free of the hands that held her, her momentum carrying her forward and off the edge of the platform.

It was the worst thing she could have done. Cauthrien had heard stories of condemned men and women torn to pieces by frenzied spectators as they tried to escape, and the front ranks surged forward with a dreadful eagerness as the girl struggled to her feet, hands still bound, and began limping away from the gallows. None of the guards moved to intervene; they knew what was about to happen, and even the ones who weren’t smirking weren’t going to risk their own lives for that of a murderer.

“Back!” Cauthrien shoved her way to the younger woman’s side, grabbing her by the collar of her tunic and debating whether or not to draw the Summer Sword. “I said get back!” The authority in her shout, along with her Grey Warden uniform, made some obey, but others shoved at her, hands reaching out for the prisoner.

Dammit. “I will conscript anyone who lays a hand on her!” she roared at the top of her lungs. That did the trick for the moment, but violence was still simmering near the surface, and she bent until her mouth was beside the prisoner’s ear. “If you want to live, do not take another step away from me,” she warned in a low voice. “I don’t know how long I can keep them back.” And Nathaniel was not going to be happy if she conscripted a few dozen rabblerousers … though that would likely finally eclipse the tales of his ‘Red Conscription’ in Highever a few years back.
 

Mara Kerr

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#3
It didn’t take long for the surprise to wear off. A glance over her shoulders. No guards, but the looks on their faces told her they needn’t have bothered leaving the the platform. A hand snatched her wrist, another at her shoulder. Someone grabbed at her hair and was pulling her away from the other two. She shoved and yanked her arms back to her chest - she might’ve bitten someone’s hand that got too close, but she wasn’t sure.

“Back!” A hand yanked at her collar. She felt the hilt of a blade at her back. “I said get back!”

This person was either one of two things: her savior or her executioner. One person against any entire crowd didn’t make the odds for the former very likely, but the blade remained in its hilt. If this woman had any intention of making a move, Mara wished she would make it quick.

“I will conscript anyone who lays a hand on her!”

Oh. Mara glanced at the woman gripping her collar, but all she could catch was the blue of a uniform. Warden blue. The woman bent near Mara’s ear and growled, “If you want to live, do not take another step away from me. I don’t know how long I can keep them back.”

The Maker had quite the sense of humor. Mara let that sink in as she kept herself close to the woman. When she’d asked for a way out, well, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. She never thought someone could be both a savior and an executioner, yet the Maker managed to find just the right person for that.

Suddenly Mara felt a yank on the rope at her wrists. Her tunic caught at her throat, causing her to cough and hack once she steadied herself. At the other end of the rope stood a guard, one hand gripping the rope and the other hovering over the sword at his belt. A quick glance over her shoulder at the woman behind her had Mara convinced he really wasn’t all that impressive even with his shiny armor. That didn’t stop him from giving the rope another sharp tug.

“She’s ours, Warden,” he growled, but Mara could see the wariness in his eyes. He kept his distance, rope still taut but not pulling his prize in. Yet. “Best let her go so’s we can get on with this, eh?”

Mara half-expected the woman to just shove her back over to the guard. Maybe the woman wanted the show, not for some pile of crazed onlookers to tear a criminal apart. Mara wouldn’t put it past her - challenging the guards wasn’t exactly something Mara considered sane, Warden or not.

“Look, if you’ve got some plan to get me out of this, it’d be best if you did it now.” Fingers crossed she had some exonerating evidence. “Otherwise…” Otherwise what? She didn’t want to go back to those guards. She didn’t want to be paraded in front of the crowd once more. She didn’t want to dangle from a noose.

There was no running away, though. Keeping her weight off the ankle was hard enough - unless the Maker Himself came down and blasted the crowds away, running wasn’t going to be an option. The Warden was a complete stranger to her, but Mara hoped she had a modicum of mercy within her.

“Don’t let them take me.” A pointed look at the woman’s sword. “Please.”

She never thought she’d have to make a request like that, but, then again, she never thought she’d be facing down a noose. Today was full of firsts, yet all Mara could focus on was smothering the panic that was settling in. There weren’t many options available, and the most likely ones she could see all ended in death. If she was going to have any choice at all in it, though, she would rather it be quick and quiet.

((Guard Color: #9A4B1A))
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#4
The young woman stilled at Cauthrien’s command, but a sharp yank on the rope tugged her back toward one of the guards. There were cries of protest from the crowd, and a few surged forward, but they subsided quickly at a warning look from the Warden-Constable.

“She’s ours, Warden.” He tugged again, making the prisoner cough as the movement pulled her shirt collar taut against her throat, and Cauthrien reached out to catch her shoulder. “Best let her go so’s we can get on with this, eh?”

“Look, if you’ve got some plan to get me out of this, it’d be best if you did it now,” she exclaimed, impatience edging her voice “Otherwise…” She trailed off, her gaze moving from the scaffold across the milling crowd. When her eyes returned, the impatience and anger were gone, leaving only naked fear.

“Don’t let them take me. Please.”

Looking in those eyes, Cauthrien couldn’t tell if she was innocent or guilty, or what kind of person she might be when she wasn’t begging for her life, but she could see far more humanity than she had ever seen in Felton’s cunning gaze. Whatever she might be, she was no monster.

Decision made, she lifted her eyes to lock gazes with the guard, steel in her voice. “I claim the right of Conscription.”
 

Mara Kerr

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#5
It felt like all the world had slowed around her. Mara could feel every heartbeat, her senses attuned to the small world around her. The grip of the Warden at her collar, the ropes biting into her wrists, the sweat on the brow of the guard at the other end. Her own breathing was slow, like she’d drawn back an arrow and was waiting for the release.

“I claim the right of Conscription.”

The world snapped back into focus. Wild shouts from the crowd filled her ears, and she could see a snarl twisting the guard’s face. Her knees grew weak beneath her. If it wasn’t for the Warden’s calm grip on her, she knew she would’ve collapsed.

No. No. Mara’s eyes darted from the noose to the guard. No escape. There was no escape from Conscription. No escape from the noose. As her breathing quickened, the severity of the situation began to bear down on her. No escape. No way out. Her mind turned the situation around over and over again, but nothing was coming to her.

“You-you can’t just do that!” The guard sputtered. “She’s a murderer! She should hang!”

Mara gritted her teeth as she desperately started to work the ropes off of her wrists. The fibers dug in, wearing down the skin and leaving red, but it wouldn’t budge. The guard was lying. She shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t hang for something she didn’t do. As she struggled with the ropes, a new realization dawned on her. Nobody would vouch for her if she was dead, but if she lived...if she could survive as...well, as a Warden, then maybe there was a chance to fix this.

“I’m not a murderer!” Mara stood as tall as she could, wincing a little at the sharp pain in her ankle. “And she can do that!” She tilted her head to look back up at the Warden. “Right?”
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#6
Cauthrien’s announcement drew a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd, but nobody seemed inclined to challenge her claim.

Almost nobody.

“You-you can’t just do that!” the guard holding the rope protested angrily. “She’s a murderer! She should hang!”

“I’m not a murderer!” the young woman shot back, struggling in vain to work her hands free of the rope. “And she can do that!” Grey eyes cast up to her worriedly. “Right?”

“Grey Wardens have the right to conscript anyone they choose,” Cauthrien confirmed in an even voice, looking past the guard to the one wearing a lieutenant’s bars standing at the foot of the scaffold. He didn’t look much happier than his subordinate, but he nodded to the other man, who glared defiantly for a moment longer, then flung the end of the rope at her.

“I guess a murderer’s a fit enough companion for a traitor and a whore,” he spat. Cauthrien didn’t dignify the insult with a reply, drawing her dagger and cutting the ropes from her new conscript’s wrists.

“I trust that I don’t need to tell you that trying to run would be a very bad idea,” she said, putting a hand on the young woman’s shoulder and guiding her away from the gallows, alert for anyone that might decide to take justice into their own hands.
 

Mara Kerr

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Grey Warden
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32
#7
“Grey Wardens have the right to conscript anyone they choose,” the woman confirmed sternly. Mara gave a confident nod as if to say Ha. Told you so. If she hadn’t been terrified to the tips of her toes she would’ve stuck her tongue out, too, but it was hard enough keeping herself composed in front of so many that would rather see her dance instead of walk….er, limp.

“I guess a murderer’s a fit enough companion for a traitor and a whore,” the guard spat. Mara raised her brows and looked up at the Warden to see if he’d drawn any kind of reaction, but her face was as expressionless as stone as she pulled out her dagger and cut the ropes.

“Thanks,” Mara mumbled as she rubbed away some of the tenderness. The fibers left burning imprints on her wrists, loud enough for her to wish for gloves to obscure them. Looking around, she doubted anyone would be offering such a luxury anytime soon.

Mara felt a hand guiding her away from the gallows as the Warden spoke once more. “I trust that I don’t need to tell you that trying to run would be a very bad idea.”

“Not like I could get very far in the first place.” Her pace was slower than she would’ve liked - a hasty exit from the crowds wasn’t in the cards for her, so she kept her eyes cast downward and bit her lip, stifling the urge grunt or cry out at every hobbling step. A sprained ankle was a much gentler punishment than death. She knew she should have felt grateful for such a turn of events, but the Wardens…

As the crowds dwindled away behind them, Mara dared to look up at the woman that had...well, rescue wasn’t the right word. Trading one punishment for another wasn’t exactly a rescue, but it was nevertheless a bold move to go against the guards so brazenly. Whoever this woman was, Mara couldn’t help but wonder if every other Warden had the backbone to do such a thing, let alone the authority.

“For what it’s worth,”
Mara mumbled as she stumbled along, “I’m not a murderer.” Her jaw grew tight, so she smothered the swell of emotion by letting the pain in her ankle through instead. She drew in a hissing breath, paused a step, let out the breath and pushed forward once more. The Warden could believe her or not - it didn’t change the fact that she’d publicly taken responsibility for her. Still, even having one person believe her was miles upon miles better than none.

“How much do you know?” Even if she was in no position to be asking questions, Mara still wanted answers. Too much had happened in such a short amount of time - scrounging for information was her best bet for making some sense of it all before it drove her mad.

“Did you just happen upon a hanging today, or did someone send you?” Oddly enough, Mara hoped for the former rather than the latter. At least then she would know someone in this rotten city still had some scrap of empathy. It was much better than feeling like a bargaining chip or a pawn in yet another scheme she wouldn’t understand.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
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Grey Warden
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214
#8
The young woman needed no prompting to stay close to Cauthrien, though the Warden-Constable was obliged to shorten her own stride to compensate for the injured ankle. Despite the obvious pain, she pushed forward doggedly, head down and shoulders hunched against the jeers from the crowd. Cauthrien kept her own gaze up and moving, just in case anyone thought to hurl more than insults, but evidently, her threat of conscription had been effective. Just as well; she didn’t think that any in this bunch would be suitable for anything more than darkspawn bait … present company possibly included.

“For what it’s worth, I’m not a murderer,” the girl offered, making a pained sound as her leg wavered beneath her.

“Well, I’m not a whore,” Cauthrien replied calmly. “But it’s never stopped folk from calling me one.” Once painted with a brush of a certain color, that color would be all that some would ever see. “Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean,” she introduced herself. If she recognized the name, she’d know why Cauthrien hadn’t denied being a traitor.

“Bring my horse, please,” she instructed the guard when they reached the street. “Watch him; he bites. We’ll have a healer tend to that ankle back at the Grey Warden compound,” she added to her new conscript.

“How much do you know?” the young woman wanted to know. “Did you just happen upon a hanging today, or did someone send you?”

“You were recommended to me,” Cauthrien replied, “by someone who doesn’t think you are a cold-blooded killer.” She wouldn’t mention Garrett’s name until they were well away from here. “Someone whose judgment I trust.”

“Warden.”

The voice that addressed her was harsh with anger, and Cauthrien was not overly surprised when she turned to find Lord Tyndall bearing down on them flanked by four guards. “Lord Tyndall,” she addressed him politely, taking a half step to place herself between them and the girl, hoping that she would not panic and try to run.

“What is the meaning of this?” the noble demanded. He was a burly man with steel grey hair and beard and cold blue eyes, wearing a russet leather doublet. “That filth murdered my son! My only child! She deserves to die!”

“Service in the Grey Wardens will be her penalty and penance,” she countered, taking another step to block him as he tried to get closer. No grief ravaged his countenance. Only the anger of thwarted purpose. “The right of conscription is absolute.”

“But not irreversible,” he challenged her. “I can offer you two of my guards, seasoned warriors who will be an asset to the Wardens, unlike this trash!” He gestured contemptuously toward the woman.

“One of these?” Cauthrien inquired, looking among the suddenly nervous quartet, who quite obviously had not been let in on this plan ahead of time. “Do I get to pick, or are they going to volunteer?” Her gaze came back to Tyndall, making no effort to hide her disgust.

“Conscript them!” he exclaimed with a dismissive shake of his head. “As you say, the right is absolute. Take all four of them if you like. Just deliver this one -” He jabbed a thick finger at Mara, “to the Maker’s justice.”

Cauthrien shook her head slowly. “No deal,” she told him as a guard led Dragon along the cobblestones with a skittish gait that indicated that the brute had already tried to take a bite out of him.

His face flushed an ugly red, and he stepped forward to grab her arm as she turned away. “Name your price,” he snarled. “You betrayed King Cailan, then Loghain Mac Tir. You’ve got a price. I want that bitch dead!”

Cauthrien felt her right hand curling into a fist. “Take your hand off me now!” she ground out. “Unless you want to join her in conscription.” That did the trick; his hand flew off her as though it had been burned. “You have my sympathy for the loss of your son,” she told him in an even tone, though he did not seem in need of consolation, “but she is a Grey Warden now, and she will remain a Grey Warden.”

“This isn’t over!” he threatened her, and she turned to face him fully once more.

“No, it is not,” she agreed. “The King will be informed of your bribery of a judge, as well as your attempt to interfere today.” The latter would likely have been overlooked as the act of a grieving father if not for the former. King Alistair had made equal justice a pet cause, and took a dim view of nobles attempting to circumvent his policies.

She watched him storming away, his guards trailing him with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, then turned back to her recruit. “He certainly does seem to want you dead,” she remarked. “Didn’t seem all that choked up about his son, though. Have you ever ridden?” It seemed unlikely, and she bent and laced her fingers together. “Grab the saddle to steady yourself, step up with your good leg and throw your other leg over.” With any other horse, leading him would be an option, but she didn’t trust the big bastard not to jerk free and take off with a novice rider on board. Swinging up behind Mara, she took the reins and turned him toward the compound.
 

Mara Kerr

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32
#9
“Well, I’m not a whore,” the Warden replied. “But it’s never stopped folk from calling me one.”

“Right, well. Not much you can do about that,” Mara sighed. Her shoulders sagged a little more at the thought of being referred to as a murderer for the rest of her life. Thief she could do - she’d earned that - but murderer was wrong. Perhaps that was the point.

“Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean.” Mara blinked before realizing this was the first time she’d heard her “rescuer”’s name. She knew it - kind of. It was just out of reach in her mind, a memory of conversations fading away behind nights under the stars and days under patchwork sunlight. Whore was in there somewhere, but the Warden, with her stern features and steady posture, didn’t seem the type. Not that there always was a type, nor was there any proper way to judge a person’s character and -

Mara shook her head before it could chase its tail for too long. Besides, she needed to speak before the moment was lost.

“Mara Kerr, at your -” she began to dip into her usual little bow but caught herself. “Well, you probably already knew who I am. Not like many can keep their mouths shut around here.” Except for her. She grew silent, only asking the occasional question to get the information she needed to sort out her situation and trying not to shudder at the mention of a horse.

“You were recommended to me by someone who doesn’t think you are a cold-blooded killer,” the Warden-Constable responded. “Someone whose judgment I trust.”

“That makes one,” Mara muttered under her breath. Before she could voice a proper reply, a shout rang out that stopped her in her tracks.

“Warden.”

“Lord Tyndall.” Cauthrien’s voice was steady as she subtly took a step to place herself between Mara and the sputtering man. Mara leaned over on her good foot to get a better look as he shouted his nonsense at them. It was the Tyndall estate she’d robbed. This must’ve been the father, and while he looked more furious than Duff preparing to tear apart other predators, something was off. There was no sadness there, just anger and spite. Her death was more important than anything, even grieving his own son.

Suddenly Mara felt very, very small. She curled in on herself, pulling herself in as much as she could so Cauthrien could obscure her from Lord Tyndall. When she woke up this morning, she never thought she’d be listening to two people arguing over her right to live in front of her, yet here she was, watching a bargain that (fortunately) never went through. She had always been aware of how insignificant she was in the grand scheme of things, but at least her life was always her own, not some commodity to be traded off.

The realization stung. Her first instinct was always to hide, but that wasn’t happening, not with a handful of guards and a Warden to catch her. Her second instinct came through with a blazing fury, one that made her dig her nail into her palms and stand tall once more. Fight.

“This isn’t over!” Lord Tyndall snarled at the pair.

“It’s going to take more than a few guards for you to ever lay a hand on me,” Mara growled. If she’d had her dagger, she would’ve thrown it at his feet for good measure, let it dig into the dirt between the cobblestones and relished the look on his face. Instead, she settled with a glare that she felt would get the same point across.

“The King will be informed of your bribery of a judge, as well as your attempt to interfere today.” Mara’s gaze snapped to the Warden-Constable, jaw open but speechless. Lord Tyndall and his guards slithered off, dejected but surely not defeated.

“He certainly does seem to want you dead. Didn’t seem all that choked up about his son, though,” Cauthrien remarked.

“About that…” Mara began. Something was wrong with Lord Tyndall. Whether it was common knowledge or not, she had a feeling Lord Tyndall wasn’t a father in the truest sense of the word.

“Have you ever ridden?” Mara’s thoughts ground to a halt at the question.

“Yes,” she replied hesitantly. “If you count being slung over the saddle by an angry bounty hunter.” She stifled the shudder from the memory.

“Grab the saddle to steady yourself, step up with your good leg and throw your other leg over.” It was a simple few steps, but Mara took a deep breath anyway before letting herself be swung up into the saddle. Cauthrien settled in behind her, steadying the pair and pointing the horse in the right direction.

“I saw a portrait in the estate, Warden,” Mara started again. “The paint smelled fresh - if that makes any sense - and it wasn’t even hung up yet. The man looked young, around my age. If that portrait was Lord Tyndall’s son…” She looked over her shoulder at the Warden, wondering if anything she was saying made any sense.

“Is Lord Tyndall really his father?” It might’ve been common knowledge to nobles and nearby townsfolk, but Mara knew next to nothing of the estate she’d been tasked with infiltrating. Any information was another step closer to sorting out this mess.

“Also -” There were a lot of also’s. So many questions, and hopefully just as many answers. “Also Lord Tyndall bribed a judge? And - and you were -”

It was like the tip of an arrow snapping into place. Cauthrien. That Cauthrien. Mara hadn’t heard much during the Blight - running away to Orlais had that kind of effect - but she’d heard enough. For a traitor-turned-Warden, she certainly didn’t appear as monstrous and wicked as the stories.

“Well, you’re certainly not the traitorous whore from the stories I’ve heard.”
 
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