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Caught Between a Rock and Another Rock

Mara Kerr

Active member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
41
#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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Canon Character
Grey Warden
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252
#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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Grey Warden
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Posts
41
#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
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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Posts
252
#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

Active member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
41
#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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252
#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

Active member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
41
#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
Canon Character
Grey Warden
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Posts
252
#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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Grey Warden
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Posts
41
#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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Cauthrien

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#10
Mara Kerr was a thief, and might possibly have been a murderer, but she was no coward. “It’s going to take more than a few guards for you to ever lay a hand on me,” she proclaimed defiantly in the face of Lord Tyndall’s threats. The noble was, unsurprisingly, unaffected by her bravado, but the words ‘King’, ‘bribe’ and ‘judge’ were enough to get his attention, and the look that he gave them both was downright murderous in the instant before he turned and barreled away through the crowd, his guards visibly hesitating and casting dubious glances between themselves before they followed.

The younger woman’s only experience on a horse had been folded facedown across one’s back, but she followed Cauthrien’s instructions, hanging onto the saddle until the Warden-Constable had settled in behind her. A tight fit, but the ride wasn’t a long one.

“I saw a portrait in the estate, Warden,” she began once Dragon had begun plodding toward the compound. “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…”

“It’s not unusual for nobles to commission portraits of their heirs when they are coming of age,” Cauthrien replied, unsure what Mara was getting at. “Where was it?”

“Is Lord Tyndall really his father?”

“Only his mother could answer that for certain,” Cauthrien said with a shrug, “and she’s been dead for over ten years. But I’d never heard any gossip that suggested that he wasn’t.”

“Also -” she could all but hear the questions tumbling over themselves in Mara’s head. “Also Lord Tyndall bribed a judge? And - and you were -” The click as name was matched with rumor was also practically audible. “Well, you’re certainly not the traitorous whore from the stories I’ve heard.”

Cauthrien snorted in amusement, but any reply she might have made was forestalled by a flicker of movement at the edge of her vision, on a rooftop that should have been empty. Instincts honed as a bodyguard to two kings kicked in, and she bent forward, pinning Mara against Dragon’s neck and swearing savagely as a crossbow bolt skated off the shoulder of her armor.

“Hang on!” She dug her heels into Dragon’s flanks, hoping the beast wouldn’t choose this moment to be contrary, and they seemed to be in rare accord: he surged into a gallop without protest, sending folk diving for the safety of the sidewalks. She didn’t slow him until they had thundered through the gates of the Grey Warden compound.

“Double the guard,” she snarled the pair on gate duty as she hauled Dragon to a stop. “I want someone on the upper battlements watching the rooftops. And send a message to Garrett to get his ass back here.” She held no illusions about finding the one who’d fired at them, but damned if Tyndall wouldn’t at least get a visit out of it.

She kept a wary eye turned upward as she guided Dragon around the perimeter of the compound, riding him into the stable before dismounting and helping Mara out of the saddle.

“You all right?” she asked, giving her a quick once over, finding nothing. Crossbows took time to reload, but there had been a chance of a second assassin that she’d missed. “Been a while since I’ve had something besides darkspawn take a shot at me,” she quipped dryly. “Still don’t like it.”

“Don’t go outside,” she warned her as she began unbuckling Dragon’s saddle. He’d raised enough of a sweat that he’d need to be wiped down before being left in his stall.
 

Mara Kerr

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#11
“It’s not unusual for nobles to commission portraits of their heirs when they are coming of age,” Cauthrien replied. “Where was it?”

“In the study…” She paused just long enough to recall the room. “On the ground floor...where I was caught by the guards.” She added a little sheepishly.

The Warden’s explanation did almost nothing to answer the question she was really asking: who would know of the link between father and son? It seemed they both were aware of how little the man had cared for the young boy considering the outburst they’d just witnessed, but apparently nobody had thought too hard about why the two hardly resembled each other. That, or nobody cared. Nobles were odd creatures. Packs of wolves made far more sense than even the smallest of noble families.

Just as Mara sorted out who exactly had whisked her away from the Gallows, she felt the woman pin her against the horse’s neck. The whistle of the arrow was wrong, different. She picked up a barely-audible clank before the horse surged forward beneath her, forcing her to cling to the beast’s neck despite the Warden’s secure grip on her. She wasn’t about to take any second chances on a horse, especially when she was quickly growing certain that it wasn’t just any arrow that had (fortunately) missed it - it was a crossbow bolt. Too fast for her to pick up on, but also too slow to reload in time.

As they burst into the Warden Compound, Mara heard the Warden-Constable barking orders all while steering the horse around and about to the stables. By the time they were securely tucked inside and at a complete halt, Mara was sure her heart was going to leap right out of her chest. She’d been chased before - plenty of times - but never in the city. Never on horseback. Never with the threat of crossbows. She was grateful for Cauthrien’s help out of the saddle, but even more grateful for the convenient bale of hay nearby to sit on. Her legs wobbled beneath her as she stumbled the few steps to the seat and let out all the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding as she plopped down atop the hay bale.

“You all right?” It was an honest question, but one that drew an exasperated groan from Mara nonetheless. “Been a while since I’ve had something besides darkspawn take a shot at me. Still don’t like it.”

“Well, I’m here in the Compound,” Mara grumbled as she pulled her foot over her other knee to inspect her swollen ankle. “That counts as okay, I guess.” She wanted to snap, but she also wasn’t stupid. An ally, however weak the link was, was valuable. At a time like this, it would do her no good to insult or infuriate one of the only people who seemed to be on her side. Most people wouldn’t risk themselves to save a person once, let alone twice in a single day, so Mara held her tongue out of respect and, to a small extent, gratitude.

“Don’t go outside,” Cauthrien warned as she began to untack her horse. The beast’s glaring eye sent a chill down Mara’s spine. There was something about it that told her he wasn’t about to let her ride him again anytime soon, and she was more than fine with that.

“Not like I can go much of anywhere.” Her ankle wasn’t as bad as she’d anticipated. She turned on top of the hay bale, pulled her boot off and stretched her leg out to get a better look at the outer side of it. The skin was already blue and purple and angry at the touch, but nothing seemed to be broken. A sprain - painful, absolutely, but she knew she could recover in a few weeks at most.

Mara let out a sigh. A few weeks. Where would she be in a few weeks? The question used to excited her. The unknown always led to more adventures and travels far and wide, but now the unknown was dark, full of shadows and monsters and, worst of all, more walls. She’d traded one compound for another all with a forced hand. For a moment she struggled to breathe as panic set in - she could feel the walls of the compound forcing themselves around her, closer and closer and closer, locking her away from the world she’d only just started to truly explore. A hand clutched at the pendant at her neck, eyes squeezed shut as she held her breath and thought of evergreens and bubbling streams.

The scent of hay and sweat and manure and city yanked her back to reality with her first breath, and she coughed as the dust of the stables caught in her throat. If survival meant being tucked behind walls, then so be it, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. She grudgingly crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, letting the rough wood lightly scratch at her cheek as she watched Cauthrien groom her horse.

“So, what’s next?” It seemed a fair enough question to ask. “I’m assuming Conscription means more than putting me in a blue uniform and tossing me in front of Darkspawn, right?”
 

Cauthrien

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#12
Mara had taken no injury from either an assassin’s bolt or the wild ride, but that didn’t necessarily equate to ‘all right’.

“Well, I’m here in the Compound,” she muttered as she limped to a hay bale and sank onto it. “That counts as okay, I guess.”

The Grey Wardens had hired a young man to come in twice a day to care for the horses, but each Warden was required to spend time each day caring for their mount. Dragon seemed to enjoy being groomed; it was one of the few times that he seldom tried to bite, kick or step on Cauthrien. It was probably unnecessary, but the Warden-Constable warned her new conscript about stepping outside the stable alone.

“Not like I can go much of anywhere,” Mara observed sourly, peering at her swollen and bruised ankle with a resigned expression. A sprain from the looks of it. Muriel could heal it in a matter of moments, but Cauthrien had a feeling that full mobility might bring with it thoughts of escape. Best to let her endure a bit of discomfort until they could get a better feel for whether or not she was going to try to run.

She removed saddle and blanket, wiped the sweat away with a rough towel, then took a brush to his coat. Dragon stood like a king receiving his due homage from a vassal, eyes half-lidded. From the corner of her eye, she watched Mara watching her.

“So, what’s next?” she wanted to know, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed defensively over her chest. “I’m assuming Conscription means more than putting me in a blue uniform and tossing me in front of Darkspawn, right?”

“Right,” Cauthrien confirmed, starting to turn to her, then jerking her arm instinctively as Dragon responded to the pause in her attentions with a nip, teeth scraping over chainmail. “You ought to know by now that doesn’t work,” she chided him smugly. He snorted and shook his head, but she went ahead and finished the task at hand, then led him into his stall and gave him fresh hay and water.

That done, she drew a rolled bandage from the pouch at her hip and crouched in front of Mara, taking up the injured foot in her hands. “Just a sprain,” she confirmed. “This will stabilize it enough to get you up to the infirmary where we can get a poultice and a better wrap on it.” She positioned the ankle and began winding the bandage around it. “After you’ve been through the Joining, you’ll be trained,” she spoke as she worked. “We don’t use anyone as darkspawn-bait. We fight them, together.” In Cauthrien’s experience, thieves tended to be solitary creatures to whom trust was an alien concept. Better to start introducing her to the notion now.

“What training have you had?” she asked as she tied off the bandage. From the look of her, she hadn’t been swinging a greatsword, but hopefully she at least knew how to fight with her fists or a knife. If not, well … Cauthrien would work with what she had.

She stood and stepped back. “How does that feel?”
 

Mara Kerr

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#13
It seemed Cauthrien was about to answer her question in full when her horse suddenly decided to have an attitude. Mara watched as the woman deftly handled the creature, scolding him for his nippy behavior before leading him into his stall for a well-deserved meal. An ache began to squeeze at Mara’s chest as the thought of Duff drifted into her head. She ticked the days away on her fingers, stopping when she realized she’d gone beyond her physical digits. A few more - nearly two weeks she’d left him. Twelve days on his own in the wilderness. By now he probably thought she was either dead or had abandoned him. Even as she sighed, though, she resolved to find a way out as soon as possible to check in on him. This place had to have a hole or two she could sneak through.

Mara shook the thoughts of Duff away as Cauthrien returned, crouched in front of her, and began to examine. “Just a sprain,” she observed before she pulled out a bandage and began to wrap it. “This will stabilize it enough to get you up to the infirmary where we can get a poultice and a better wrap on it.” Mara opened her mouth to protest that she could handle it herself but thought better of it. This was one gift horse whose mouth she knew better than to open.

“After you’ve been through the Joining, you’ll be trained. We don’t use anyone as darkspawn-bait. We fight them, together.”

“Together?” Mara raised a brow. That sounded too sweet to be true. “Tell me, how well does that work out for your Conscripts?”

“What training have you had?” There was little time to contemplate the question as Cauthrien tied off the bandage and inspected her work. Mara’s head tilted to the side, shuffling around her memories into something that would at least sound like some kind of training.

“I just...learned. I was taken into the wilderness when I was barely a teen and never quite left. I can track animals, hunt, set straps, make simple poisons - whatever it takes to survive out there, I can do it.” She raised her hands and gave a halfhearted shrug. “I’m good with a bow, if that’s what you’re really asking.”

Cauthrien took a step back and indicated at Mara’s ankle. “How does that feel?”

Closing her eyes, Mara gripped the edge of the hay bale and pushed herself up. She wobbled for a moment, waiting for her body to answer her dare. Slowly she settled her foot on the ground, wincing as it flared beneath her. She blinked, tested it again and found that with the right balance it wasn’t all bad. Tolerable was what she needed, and it was exactly where she was at now.

“It’ll do,” Mara answered as she propped herself up against the wall. Her gaze drifted over to the other woman before she added quietly, “Thanks.”
 

Cauthrien

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#14
Mara allowed Cauthrien to wrap her injured ankle, but didn’t bother trying to hide her skepticism at the promise of training and camaraderie in battle.

“Together?” she inquired with one eyebrow lifted. “Tell me, how well does that work out for your Conscripts?”

“As well as it does for any other Warden,” Cauthrien replied evenly, “which is to say that if you pay attention to your training and follow orders in combat, I stand a good chance of being able to keep you alive. Don’t pay attention or don’t follow orders …” she shrugged. “I’m a soldier, not a miracle worker.” She took her duty as an officer seriously, but she needed her subordinates to do the same.

Her question about prior experience was met with an uncomfortable squirm. “I just...learned,” Mara mumbled. “I was taken into the wilderness when I was barely a teen and never quite left. I can track animals, hunt, set straps, make simple poisons - whatever it takes to survive out there, I can do it.” She shrugged uncertainly. “I’m good with a bow, if that’s what you’re really asking.”

“It’s a place to start from.” Just how good she was could be determined over the next few days, once she was steadier on her feet. Finishing the wrap, she stood and backed up. Mara pushed herself gingerly off of the hay bale and upright, shifting her weight cautiously onto the injured foot.

“It’ll do,” she conceded, adding, almost inaudibly, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Cauthrien told her as booted footfalls outside announced Captain Tanner’s hurried arrival.

“What happened?” the grizzled soldier demanded as he strode in, pale blue eyes flashing between them.

“Someone took exception to my most recent conscription,” Cauthrien told him, nodding toward Mara. “Took a shot at us with a crossbow on our way back from Drakon. Garrett should be back here soon; send him up to the infirmary when he arrives. Nobody else gets in without my say so, and keep an eye on the rooftops.”

He nodded curtly. “Count on it,” he promised, spinning on a heel and stalking back out, glaring balefully at the tops of the walls as he went.

Cauthrien motioned Mara to the door of the stable. “Stay between me and the compound,” she instructed the younger woman “and if I tell you to run, don’t look back and don’t stop until the door closes behind you.” The precaution was likely a needless one; already the additional guards were on top of the battlements of the compound, with a few more actually walking atop the outer wall itself. But it didn’t hurt to be prepared. They made it inside the compound without incident, and Cauthrien paused in the vaulted vestibule to let Mara rest a bit. “The infirmary is on the second floor,” she told her, “but we can take it more slowly.” It seemed a bit early to worry about assassins inside the compound. “Or would you rather eat something first?” Rations at Fort Drakon tended to be on the sparse side, and Cauthrien doubted that impending execution did much for the appetite.
 

Mara Kerr

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#15
“As well as it does for any other Warden,” the Warden-Constable responded, “which is to say that if you pay attention to your training and follow orders in combat, I stand a good chance of being able to keep you alive. Don’t pay attention or don’t follow orders …I’m a soldier, not a miracle worker.”

“That wasn’t...exactly what I meant,” Mara mumbled. It was too early to be worried about other Wardens, yet she couldn’t help the thoughts creeping into the back of her mind. “It’s just…” She squeezed her eyes shut, her lips set in a firm line. Someone was going to say it eventually. It might as well be her. “Even with a clean slate, people don’t just forget. I’m not a murderer, but pretty much everyone seems to think so, and that doesn’t go away with a uniform and a...a - I don’t know, a noble purpose, I guess.”

She sank back against the wall as she let Cauthrien finish wrapping her ankle. Just after she stood up and tested her balance, the sound of approaching footsteps snapped her attention to the door of the barn. Her hand reached for a bow that wasn’t there, so she did the next best thing she could think of and pressed herself into the shadow of the wall as a grizzled soldier stormed into the room.

“What happened?”

“Someone took exception to my most recent conscription.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Mara muttered under her breath. Cauthrien explained the situation to the soldier before calmly giving him instructions to secure the Compound. The soldier left with a nod and a curt confirmation, leaving the pair to sort out what to do next.

“Stay between me and the compound,” Cauthrien said as she gestured towards the door, “and if I tell you to run, don’t look back and don’t stop until the door closes behind you.” Mara gulped down the butterflies in her throat and made herself small. She gritted her teeth and bit back the winces and grimaces that threatened to break her calm façade as she kept pace with the Warden-Constable until they made it inside. The pause within the safety of the doors was appreciated with a few deep breaths and a silent nod towards the other woman.

“The infirmary is on the second floor, but we can take it more slowly. Or would you rather eat something first?”

“No, we can -” A low grumble from her stomach rudely interrupted Mara’s answer. She glared down at it, cursing its betrayal even as she struggled to remember the last time she’d eaten anything substantial. Something about waiting for a trial that never came could do a number on one’s appetite. “Some food will do, I guess,” she relented grumpily. “Lead the way.”
 

Cauthrien

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#16
“That wasn’t...exactly what I meant,” Mara responded to what Cauthrien told her, looking uncomfortable. “It’s just…” she crushed her eyes shut, clenching her jaw as she gathered her words. “Even with a clean slate, people don’t just forget. I’m not a murderer, but pretty much everyone seems to think so, and that doesn’t go away with a uniform and a...a - I don’t know, a noble purpose, I guess.”

Before Cauthrien could say more, Captain Tanner arrived, and after confirming the increased security measures with him, it seemed prudent to get Mara into the compound and out of the reach of any more crossbow bolts. The younger woman was plainly all too aware of the reasoning behind the instructions she was given and obeyed without question, keeping pace without stopping until they were inside. She started to refuse the offer of a meal, but her stomach made its desires known as loudly as any Warden’s gut.

“Some food will do, I guess,” she grumbled, looking moderately mortified. “Lead the way.”

Cauthrien nodded and headed for the dining room. It was late enough that dinner was being served and the first few Grey Wardens were filtering in for the evening meal. The others gave them space, though there were some curious looks. By now, word of the conscription - and the attack - would have made the rounds. Cauthrien left Mara to select her own food and focused on filling her plate with herbed pork, roasted potatoes and carrots, stewed squash and beans, a thick slice of rye bread with butter, a bowl of bread pudding that looked to have blackberries involved, and a mug of cider.

She led them to a corner table, letting Mara select her chair, then settling across from her and letting her eat for a few minutes before speaking, using the time to take the edge from her own appetite. She hadn't eaten since lunch.

“Roland beat a man to death,” she began calmly, nodding toward the muscular young man sitting a few tables away. “Linn stabbed a member of the guard who also happened to be a bann’s bastard son.” The one-eyed elf sat with her back to them, giving no hint that she was aware of the scrutiny. “Both of them were murderers, both condemned to death, both conscripted … and both are now Grey Wardens. Then there’s me.” She took a drink of her cider. “Not to be arrogant, but I’m fairly sure that I’m more notorious than the three of you put together. It’s taken time, but I’m seen by most as a Grey Warden now, rather than the traitor who left King Cailan to his death and stood by while Loghain Mac Tir nearly destroyed the kingdom.”

She mopped her bread through the juices on her plate, took a bite. “Once conscripted, your debt to society is considered paid by your service as a Grey Warden. If you dedicate yourself to that service, then a year from now, the only one who will remember you were anything but a Grey Warden will be Tyndall - and he will not be permitted to act on his hostility.” She suspected that things would be coming to a head with Tyndall well before that year was up, but now that he had tipped his hand, she would be ready for him.
 

Mara Kerr

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#17
Mara had never seen so much food in one place outside of festival days. Her eyes widened for just a second before she shook her head and remembered to look grim and quiet. She didn’t want to be here, even if there was an endless mountain of food waiting for her. Sticking close to Cauthrien, she kept her plate modest and only picked familiar foods - bread, stew, some cheese. The fruits were too much, and a pastry would seem childish. Staying simple was the best way to prove to herself that she wasn’t taking advantage of this strange turn in her life.

As she settled down across the table from Cauthrien, she started to pick up on the looks Wardens were giving them. Most were curious - innocent glances to see who the new girl was. Others downright ignored them. There were a few, though, that made Mara lean over her plate a little too closely. Some were full of pity, one was absolute distaste. She had no idea what that one’s problem was, but she made herself small lest they look her way again.

“Roland beat a man to death.” Cauthrien’s statement snapped Mara out of her twisting thoughts. “Linn stabbed a member of the guard who also happened to be a bann’s bastard son.” She went on to explain how they’d been Conscripted and grown into fine Wardens before adding that she herself had outgrown her pre-Warden reputation, however notorious it was. Mara had finished half her plate by that point, but the conversation suddenly dulled her appetite.

“Once conscripted, your debt to society is considered paid by your service as a Grey Warden. If you dedicate yourself to that service, then a year from now, the only one who will remember you were anything but a Grey Warden will be Tyndall - and he will not be permitted to act on his hostility.”

“He’s not the only one I’m worried about.” She scooped some stew up with her spoon before tilting it and letting the broth drip back into the bowl. “I’m not a murderer and...I don’t know how to explain all this. I’m not ungrateful for what you’ve done today - it’s a lot more than most - but I’m not like Linn and Roland. Sure, I’ve broken the law a bit.” She paused, letting the spoon drop back into the bowl. “Okay, a lot, but not murder. Petty theft shouldn’t make me a Warden, though. It’s just…”

She stopped, but she knew full well the words about to come out of her mouth were childish. Her father would have scolded her, told her to think before she spoke, but even when she did the words usually found a way to twist themselves enough to weasel their way out. Today was no different.

“I’m coming in here with a reputation I never earned. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but nobody is going to believe me over guards and a judge. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was here because I’m a thief, but murder? All this, it’s not...fair.” There it was. Mara pushed her food to the side, her hunger sated enough to not cause further embarrassment. She crossed her arms over the table and rested her head atop it, the day finally catching up to her.

“The sooner we get this Joining business done, the better,” she mumbled. “Then we can all shut our mouths over this fiasco and try to forget about it.” She closed her eyes. "Really try."
 

Cauthrien

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#18
Mara seemed awed by the spread that Tobias and Cressa had provided; most non-Wardens were at first sight. But she kept her selections to a minimum, eschewing any of the sweets, then followed Cauthrien to a table. The other Wardens knew that she wanted to be left alone with the new conscript for now, but they were understandably curious, and their glances clearly unsettled Mara.

She wasn’t going to lose her misgivings over a single meal, but Cauthrien pointed out other conscripts who had done well for themselves, and tried to reassure her that Lord Tyndall would not be allowed to harm her.

“He’s not the only one I’m worried about,” the other woman replied, toying with her stew. “I’m not a murderer and...I don’t know how to explain all this. I’m not ungrateful for what you’ve done today - it’s a lot more than most - but I’m not like Linn and Roland. Sure, I’ve broken the law a bit.” Cauthrien raised an eyebrow, and she laid down her spoon to concede, “Okay, a lot, but not murder. Petty theft shouldn’t make me a Warden, though. It’s just…”

She paused, searching for the words, and Cauthrien waited, giving her the space to find them.

“I’m coming in here with a reputation I never earned,” she complained. “I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but nobody is going to believe me over guards and a judge. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was here because I’m a thief, but murder? All this, it’s not...fair.” She nudged her half empty plate and bowl to the side and dropped her head wearily atop her crossed arms.

“If the world were fair, a great many things would be different,” Cauthrien told her, not unkindly. The girl seemed sincere in her proclamations of innocence, but she would be far from the first criminal to be able to wear that mask convincingly. It was for that reason that she didn’t normally conscript any prisoner who didn’t acknowledge their crimes; Garrett’s gut feeling was the only reason they were here, and she would let him see to the investigation, but however it ended, Mara would be a Grey Warden. If it were otherwise, she would have a flood of requests from convicts expecting to be permitted to try to prove their innocence and walk free. “You can beat yourself bloody against the unfairness and never budge it an inch, or you can figure out what you can do with what you have.”

“The sooner we get this Joining business done, the better,” Mara’s muffled voice rose from the shelter of her arms. “Then we can all shut our mouths over this fiasco and try to forget about it. Really try."

“It’ll be a few days,” Cauthrien told her, finishing her own meal and leaving it to Mara whether she did the same or not. If she survived the Joining, this would be one of the last times when eating was a choice. If she didn’t …. Cauthrien wouldn’t dwell on that; it fell under the ‘life isn’t fair’ banner that would drive you insane if you let it. “When you’re ready, we can head up to the infirmary.”

Muriel was waiting for them in the infirmary, her healer’s eyes sweeping over them both. “Heard you had some excitement,” she remarked to Cauthrien.

“A bit more than usual,” Cauthrien replied with a faint smile, getting an exasperated huff.

“I suspect you would say differently,” she addressed Mara with a gentle smile. “I’m Muriel. If you’ll sit there, I’ll have a look at that ankle.”

“It needs a poultice and a better wrap,” Cauthrien offered, wanting to head her off before she could use her magic to heal the injury. Limited mobility might be the only thing that kept Mara in the compound and away from Tyndall’s lackeys.

“Most likely,” Muriel agreed with a touch of asperity in her voice, “but I’ll check myself, if it’s all the same to you.” Cauthrien held up her hands in mock surrender; never argue with a healer. “Any other injuries?” she asked Mara as she knelt and took up the injured foot.
 

Mara Kerr

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#19
“If the world were fair, a great many things would be different.” Mara resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She’d heard the same words from her father on many occasions, yet it never made her feel better. Stating something so obvious wasn’t supposed to be a comfort; it was a reality check, one that only served to make Mara more uncomfortable. She wasn’t some kind of warrior for justice, but that never stopped her anger when injustice was dealt upon her.

“You can beat yourself bloody against the unfairness and never budge it an inch, or you can figure out what you can do with what you have.”


Mara’s eyes narrowed at that. After all her years of unfair this and unfair that, the one thing she’d never learned was to just let it go and move on. She already knew this particular day was going to bite her, and it wasn’t going to let go for a long time.

“It’ll be a few days,” Cauthrien said of the Joining. So many questions popped into Mara’s head of what was to happen to her until then, but the Warden quickly answered the first before she could say it. “When you’re ready, we can head up to the infirmary.”

“Right, well, I’m done here, so I guess now is good.”
It was slow going to the infirmary. Her blasted ankle protested with each step, moreso now that the heat of the chase and the distraction of a hungry stomach were gone. The wrap only did so much to keep it calm, but Mara’s jaw remained tight as she kept her head held high and her arms at her side. No showing weakness here, not in front of any of these people. A few days was a lot of time for them to decide she wasn’t worth the Conscription, and until she was properly Joined she knew she would feel the shadow of the gallows threatening her every move.

“Heard you had some excitement,” the healer greeted the pair.

“A bit more than usual.” Cauthrien’s reply was met with a huff from the healer and widened eyes from Mara.

“I suspect you would say differently.”
The healer turned to Mara with a smile that made her drop her surprised expression in favor of something blank and unreadable. “I’m Muriel. If you’ll sit there, I’ll have a look at that ankle.”

“It needs a poultice and a better wrap.” Looking around, Mara could see a wide array of potions and implements on the shelves, and there was probably more stowed away in the cupboards and drawers spread about the room. It was far better supplied than any healer she’d come across - the obvious advantage of belonging to an organization such as the Wardens.

“Most likely, but I’ll check myself, if it’s all the same to you.” It was obvious who really ran the show in this particular room. “Any other injuries?”

Had she taken off her tunic and examined herself, she knew she would’ve found plenty of bruises, many from the guards, some from her own foolish attempts to find a way out of her cell. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected some kind of abrasion on her left side from her fall or something else - it was hard to recall properly. Most obvious of all, though, was her wrists. She tugged her sleeves over the rope burns left behind from the gallows and adjusted herself to a more comfortable position as the healer began to undo the wrap Cauthrien had done for her earlier.

“I’m fine, just the ankle’s all I’m worried about,”
she replied. It didn’t take long for Muriel to inspect the wound, rub some poultice into it and wrap it all back up. By the time she’d finished, Mara felt the tension in the rest of her leg slipping away. Walking would still be challenging, she could already tell that, but at least she wouldn’t have to grit her teeth and swallow back as much pain as before.

“There we are, all done,”
Muriel said as she stepped back from Mara to take in her work. “Keep off it as best you can - I’d rather not see you back in here again so soon.”

“Right, I’ll try.” Mara pulled herself up from the bed and took a cautious step forward. So far, so good. It wasn’t unbearable, but she knew she was going to have to take the healer’s advice to heart. Keeping off it was her best bet for getting back to normal. After a few more steps, each a little stronger than the last, she turned back to Cauthrien. “So where to next?”
 
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