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Caught Between a Rock and Another Rock

Mara Kerr

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
49
#21
It seemed the healer was a lot more perceptive than Mara had anticipated. “Here,” she said as she offered what was sure to be a smelly poultice sealed away in a little clay pot, “Rub this on your wrists and any other contusions morning and night. Come see me for more when you run out.” Mara took it with a nod and a soft mumble of gratitude.

Before they could head out to their next destination - wherever that was going to be - a man burst into the room. Foregoing any greeted he jumped right to the point.

“Did you really threaten to Conscript the whole sodding crowd?”

Cauthrien’s response was measured and calm, if a little indifferent. If there was any hostility or defensiveness within her, she held it well beneath a composed face as she discussed the events of the day with the newcomer. Mara took him in while they spoke, trying to sort out exactly who this man was and where he stood within the pecking order of this place. Considering his shiny uniform, steady stance, and those slight wrinkles around his eyes, she guessed he held some weight around here, perhaps a bit more than Cauthrien if they could banter so easily with each other.

“I need you to tell me everything that you remember about the night you were arrested.” Mara pulled herself out of her thoughts just in time to hear the demand. “And I mean everything.” The healer slipped out of the room, giving Mara the few seconds she needed to start putting words together.

“Rabbit was the one who told me about the job,” Mara began. “He’s an old friend, and he knew I needed a hit, a big one, to pay off the man that was blackmailing me. That’s a whole ‘nother story in itself and…” Seeing his expectant look, Mara realized when he said everything, he very well meant it. “Right, so I already had a bounty on my head from another robbery out in the Bannorn. I cut off my hair, kept my cloak up, did whatever I could to not look like the description, but it didn’t work. A man caught me - bounty hunter, highwayman, I don’t know. He never gave me a name, never got a good look at him. He just threatened to expose me, hunt me down, whatever, unless I paid him off in time. It’s not like I had piles of gold laying around, so I was desperate.

Rabbit told me about the estate. He’d been scouting it for some time, sniffing around like he usually does. He’s diligent like that. Anyway, he had the place mapped out - guard rotations, locked doors, the works. It was everything I needed to get in, get the goods, and get out. It was supposed to be simple, and at first it was. I got in no problem, followed the route we’d planned, and had the old man’s chest unlocked in no time at all.

I should’ve been suspicious from the start - it was just too easy. I’d climbed in from an unlocked window on the first floor next to an alleyway. I didn’t even have to go upstairs, just through a door and down a hallway, that’s it. Hiding a chest in a study isn’t exactly my idea of secure, but who was I to judge when I felt like I needed the gold more than he did. It was tucked away behind an old bookcase I had to climb over, but the locked popped open easily enough, and in no time I had more than enough to pay off that man.

I left the study, made my way back down the hallway, opened the door to the room with the window to the alley, and a guard was already waiting for me there.”
Mara had run the moment through her mind over and over and over again, thinking of any possible way she could’ve wriggled herself out of that room, out of the guard’s heavy gauntlets and despicable glare.

“It was a setup all along. The guard knew I was going to be there, and so did his partner - Rabbit tipped them off, I just know it. At that moment, I thought I could take the one guard. The other one surprised me - got in behind with a good kick to the leg to knock me down. She kept me on the floor while the other one checked to make sure they had the right person.” A small smile pulled at the edge of Mara’s lips. “I may have bitten his hand when he tried to pull on my pendant. Tasted awful and I didn’t break through the glove, but it sure as hell felt good.”

Mara let out a sigh. Remembering all of it, recalling all those details - she would’ve thought the weight keeping her shoulders down and her jaw tight would have lifted now that someone had finally listened to her story, but it didn’t. The weight moved lower, pushing the breath from her chest and making her stomach twist in all the wrong ways. She shook her head and found the right words to finish her story.

“The guards took me to Fort Drakon, locked me up for a few weeks, and next thing I knew I was being dragged out to the gallows. No trial, no inquiries. I didn’t even know there’d been a murder until the rumors made it back to my cell.” Mara looked down to see the pot of poultice shaking. No, wait, it was her hands, not the pot. She quickly placed the pot on the bed beside her before clasping her hands tightly together. “That’s all I know. Whatever anyone’s told you about me, it’s probably wrong. I’m not some wild, bloodthirsty murderer, I’m just...I’m just a thief, nothing more.”

Mara saw her knuckles turning white as she tried to keep her hands from shaking. Maker, how did she end up here? She couldn’t bring herself to look up at the pair in the room, all uniformed and fancy and disciplined and probably ready to tear into her story until even she would forget the truth. She’d heard rumors of it before, of guards that could make you admit to crimes you’d never committed so long as they’d talked you in circles first. Cauthrien didn’t seem the type, but there was no telling what the man was capable of doing. His interest in her story was the first time anyone had asked for it in full, but it made Mara wary. She’d know soon enough if he was here to help, or if he was there to twist her story into something it wasn’t.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
316
#22
Mara regarded Garrett warily - trust in any kind of authority was plainly not something that would come easily to her - but when he instructed her to tell her story, she complied, taking a few moments to gather herself, eyes focused in the past.

“Rabbit was the one who told me about the job.” Cauthrien saw the Guard-Captain’s bushy brows climb halfway up his forehead at the name, but he said nothing, letting Mara complete her account without interruption, his blue eyes focused on her in a hawklike stare that had caused more than one suspect to trip over their own tongue and let telling inconsistencies slip in.

Mara never faltered, nor did she try to paint herself as totally innocent, admitting past crimes and her own reason for entering the estate with a matter-of-fact candor that had none of the defensive bluster that Cauthrien had seen when someone was trying to conceal their guilt in a crime. And her story made sense: no inconsistencies, no layering on of details that marked a probable fabrication. Small wonder that Tyndall had resorted to bribery to ensure her execution: even if he had not been involved in his son’s murder nd genuinely believed her guilty, the details would have snarled up an impartial trial.

“It was a setup all along,” Mara concluded, betrayed anger touching her voice. “The guard knew I was going to be there, and so did his partner - Rabbit tipped them off, I just know it.”

Garrett nodded, not surprised in the least, and let her finish her tale. A bit more emotion crept into her voice as she spoke of Fort Drakon and the discovery that she’d been accused of murder, and she set the jar of salve aside to clasp her trembling hands together tightly. “That’s all I know,” she said, her eyes downcast. “Whatever anyone’s told you about me, it’s probably wrong. I’m not some wild, bloodthirsty murderer, I’m just...I’m just a thief, nothing more.”

“I’m inclined to believe you,” Garrett told the young woman. “Your story fits the evidence, for one thing. There was no blood in the study; not a drop. None in the hallway or on the stairs down from the second floor. None, in fact, in the bedroom, save for the lake soaking into the sheets and a few spatters from the vessels in the throat spurting after they were cut. No bloody footprints, no bloody handprints. Whoever cut that boy’s throat from ear to ear as he slept was a professional who knew how to kill without getting bloody.

“I knew your father,” he went on, one corner of his mouth slanting upward slightly. “Professionally, you might say. I won’t say that I approved of all his choices, but I liked him, for all that. He was a thief, true enough, but he was no assassin, and I don’t believe that he raised an assassin, either.

“I’ll try to track down Rabbit,”
he went on, adding pointedly, “and I’d recommend that you don’t. That one looks out for himself, first and foremost, and if he didn’t sell you out for coin, he did it to preserve his own skin. You’ll be safe with the Grey Wardens, but I suggest that you don’t stray from the compound alone until I’ve had the chance to sort this out.”

“You said something on the ride here about a painting that you saw,” Cauthrien spoke up as the memory, temporarily shunted aside in the excitement of dodging crossbow bolts, reasserted itself. “What was it again?”
 

Mara Kerr

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
49
#23
“I’m inclined to believe you.” Mara waited for a but…, but it never came. The man just continued on. “Your story fits the evidence, for one thing. There was no blood in the study; not a drop. None in the hallway or on the stairs down from the second floor.” Mara listened as he explained evidence she’d never been told before. She knew the basics, of course - the boy’s throat had been slit - but no one had told her about the peculiar lack of blood. They’d simply called it a professional job and, since she was quite the professional criminal herself, decided she was certainly skilled enough to pull off something like that.

“I knew your father,” the man said with a faint hint of a smile. That usually went one of two ways - either Mara was in deep trouble or she’d have some big shoes to fill. Neither seemed palatable at a time like this. Even so, his reputation turned in her favor, for the man had quite the respect for her father’s thieving and non-murdery nature. Rabbit, on the other hand, had quite the opposite reputation. The man was well-aware of her ex-companion’s slippery nature and made sure to warn her to stay with the safety of the Wardens. The thought came as little comfort to her.

“Past tense,” Mara interrupted. It had taken a moment, but it clicked into place nonetheless. “You’re using past tense with my father.” She looked up at the man, whom she just realized had never said his own name, but she moved on with her question anyway. “Do you know? I haven’t told many people, and even less have found out on their own, but do you know that he’s...well, gone?” It was hard enough to admit to herself, even almost half a year later, yet it was harder still to say it out loud. Even now the right word for it all still wouldn't fully form on her lips.

“You said something on the ride here about a painting that you saw,” Cauthrien changed the subject deftly. There was more information Mara could give them. “What was it again?”

“Oh, that?”
She’d worried her concern wouldn’t be taken seriously at all, but here was another opportunity to express a theory that was already starting to take hold in her head. “The painting - it was new, still smelled fresh. It looked like a young man: golden hair, green eyes, bit of a sharp nose. He was around my age, and I just assumed he was the son of whatever manor I was in at the time - Lord Tyndall’s, obviously. When I saw Lord Tyndall today, though…” The image of the sputtering man, however ridiculous, still sent a chill down Mara’s spine. “He looks nothing like his son. Nothing at all.”

“Now, I know I don’t take much after my father, but we at least share some similarities. I also don’t know much about nobles and their odd families. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that that boy wasn’t Tyndall’s son, not by blood, anyway. Is that common knowledge, or am I wrong?” Mara looked between the two, searching for an answer even she couldn’t be sure they would know. Whatever the answer would be, it was far better to know than to spend the next few weeks pondering over it endlessly until it tired her.
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
316
#24
Mara listened to Garrett, her expression making it plain that she was hearing the bulk of the details for the first time, but she displayed no real surprise until the guard captain mentioned her father.

“Past tense,” she spoke up abruptly. “You’re using past tense with my father.” She regarded Garrett intently. “Do you know? I haven’t told many people, and even less have found out on their own, but do you know that he’s...well, gone?”

“I guessed,” he replied simply. “He spoke of you in the past. No details,” he added, smiling faintly. “He was quite protective of you, and it was plain that he loved you.” The smile faded. “When he did not appear to bail you out or break you out after you were arrested …” He trailed off, shrugged. “I am truly sorry.”

He didn’t ask for details, likely assuming that the death had been associated with illegal activity and the less that he knew, the better. Remembering a comment that Mara had made on the ride over, Cauthrien asked her about the painting she’d seen.

Again, the younger woman seemed surprised that her input was being sought. “The painting - it was new, still smelled fresh. It looked like a young man: golden hair, green eyes, bit of a sharp nose. He was around my age, and I just assumed he was the son of whatever manor I was in at the time - Lord Tyndall’s, obviously.”

“That was him,” Garrett confirmed, and Cauthrien nodded. It fit her memories of the boy at court when he’d been younger, and she could guess easily enough what Mara was thinking.

“When I saw Lord Tyndall today, though…” Mara went on, frowning slightly. “He looks nothing like his son. Nothing at all. Now, I know I don’t take much after my father, but we at least share some similarities. I also don’t know much about nobles and their odd families. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that that boy wasn’t Tyndall’s son, not by blood, anyway. Is that common knowledge, or am I wrong?”

“Not my area of expertise,” Garrett admitted, looking to Cauthrien. It had been some years since she had been abreast of the goings-on at court, but this she remembered.

“There were rumors when the boy was born, apparently,” she confirmed, “but Tyndall doted on his wife, and would hear nothing of it. She was killed during the Blight, when darkspawn attacked Tyndall’s bannorn … that’s what he claimed, anyway, and nobody questioned it at the time.” She met Garrett’s gaze. “Maybe he found proof, either then or now?”

“If then, why wait so long to kill the boy?” the guard-captain mused, but he had the look of a hound on the scent. “He wouldn’t have been the first to use the darkspawn to cover a murder; I doubt we’ve caught even half of them, and proving that now would be damn near impossible. But the boy …” He smiled grimly. “I definitely need to find where Rabbit has holed himself up.” Blue eyes returned to Mara. “Any ideas on where he might be, or anything else that you can remember?”
 

Mara Kerr

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
49
#25
“I guessed,” the man stated plainly. Mara’s eyes narrowed, doubt prickling at her nerves, but she wasn’t about to question someone that was starting to lean towards her side. “He spoke of you in the past. No details. He was quite protective of you, and it was plain that he loved you.” The smile on the man’s face dropped before he continued. “When he did not appear to bail you out or break you out after you were arrested …I am truly sorry.”

“I…” There wasn’t much she could say to that. Apologies had come from everyone who’d puzzled out what happened to the clever Sylvain Kerr, but the truth of it all would disappoint them. Mara had made a point of keeping her mouth shut on that, allowing the mystery around the strange Orlesian man to grow so she could further shroud herself beneath it. The best she could do was accept the apologies and live - the latter always the most important part. “Thank you, ser.”

The conversation moved on to the strange painting in the study. As Mara described her theory to the pair, she tried to read the expressions on their faces. Either they were well-versed in hiding their thoughts, or they thought little of her idea in the first place. While the man had little to say on the matter at first, Cauthrien seemed well-versed enough in the life of nobles to trifle with Mara’s theory.

“If then, why wait so long to kill the boy?” Now the man looked interested. Mara’s spirits lifted a little at someone finally taking her seriously. “He wouldn’t have been the first to use the darkspawn to cover a murder; I doubt we’ve caught even half of them, and proving that now would be damn near impossible. But the boy …I definitely need to find where Rabbit has holed himself up.” His sharp eyes turned back to Mara, sending a sudden jolt through her that made her remember to sit up straight. “Any ideas on where he might be, or anything else that you can remember?”

“If you want Rabbit, you’re anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours behind him. I would put my money on the former, though - he’s not the type to stick around where he can get caught,” Mara explained. She could already see him weaseling his way into a caravan, making up this or that to get hired on as a scout just enough to get him to another city where he could disappear with more than he ought to take. “My father gave him his name - said you’d never know where he’s gonna pop up next, just like a rabbit. He certainly lives up to that name. I doubt he’ll return to Denerim anytime soon. He might head for the coasts. If he’s scared enough, especially after today, he may even try to sneak out of Ferelden. I’m a loose end for him, and if he can’t cut me off, he’ll just try to get as far away as possible.”

It was a grim thought - an old friend wanting to kill her seemed to be the kind of thing that happened to real criminals, not petty thieves like her. She’d gotten too deep, though, bit off more than she could chew and now here she was, way in over her head and soon to be ass-deep in Darkspawn, Maker willing. If those monsters didn’t get her, Rabbit would eventually find an opportunity. He’d done it once before; he could do it again with the right tools. Even with the promise of security from the Wardens, Mara didn’t like the thought of spending her years looking over her shoulder, waiting for the moment Rabbit would make a move.

It was a big if, though. If Rabbit stayed in Ferelden. If he decided she was worth the effort. If he was even still alive. All those ifs had to line up like a line of twinkling stars, but he was only one man - a damn clever man, but a man nonetheless. He could be found. He could be arrested. He could be brought to heel, and if Mara ever had the opportunity, he could be made to suffer just like her. Her jaw tightened at the thought, at throwing him in a cell and letting him rot and bleed for what he’d done to her. She would find him, one way or another.

“I would try Amaranthine first, then Highever if you can’t catch his scent,” Mara suggested. “He won’t go to the Wilds - he’s never been good at surviving far outside of cities unless there are trade routes for him to leech. If he wants out of Ferelden, he’ll try to find a ship as soon as possible, but not one here. People know he’s been here recently, and it’ll be too easy to track him at the docks.”

“If you do end up finding him,” Mara took a deep breath, “I want to know. I want to speak to him, and I want him to suffer.” Her grey eyes locked on the man’s face, deathly serious. “He doesn’t get to run away like none of this happened. Not this time.”
 
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Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
Staff member
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
316
#26
Proving that Lord Tyndall had anything to do with the murder of his son - or not son, if the rumors that had been rumbling since the boy’s birth had any substance - was going to be a daunting task, but Garrett’s blue eyes were steely with resolve as he asked Mara about the one known as Rabbit, and she confirmed that the name was no coincidence. He wasn’t going to be easy to run to earth.

“I would try Amaranthine first, then Highever if you can’t catch his scent,” she offered. “He won’t go to the Wilds - he’s never been good at surviving far outside of cities unless there are trade routes for him to leech. If he wants out of Ferelden, he’ll try to find a ship as soon as possible, but not one here. People know he’s been here recently, and it’ll be too easy to track him at the docks.”

“As it happens, I’m better at tracking in cities than in the Wilds,” Garrett told her with a lopsided smile. “I’ve never had much luck getting information from squirrels and jays, but I’ve eyes in Amaranthine and Highever both. You’re far from the first one Rabbit’s screwed over to benefit himself, and I’d imagine he’s fast running out of friends in this world. Someone’s seen him, and it’s past time that he’s the one to get sold out for a change.”

“If you do end up finding him, I want to know,” Mara said, drawing a steadying breath. “I want to speak to him, and I want him to suffer.” She faced Garrett with her face set in fierce resolve. “He doesn’t get to run away like none of this happened. Not this time.”

The guard-captain exchanged a glance with Cauthrien, and at her nod, nodded slowly in turn. “Aye, I’ll let you speak to him, and you’ll likely be called to testify. He’ll face justice,” he promised her, “and as an accomplice to murder, he may escape death if he can give us proof of Tyndall’s involvement, but he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.” He quirked a sardonic grin at the Warden-Constable. “And that’s one that I don’t recommend conscripting, by the way.”

“So I gathered,” Cauthrien replied dryly.

Garrett looked back to Mara, sobering. “I’ll find him. If you hear anything of his whereabouts, the Warden-Constable can get word to me, but don’t you go out looking for him. If what we’ve been discussing is the truth of it, Tyndall would like nothing more than to catch you both together and tie up all the loose ends in one bloody knot.”

“That’s an order, Warden-recruit Kerr,” Cauthrien added her own authority to that of the Guard-Captain. “As a conscript out of Drakon, you’re restricted to the compound until after your Joining unless accompanied by a senior Warden, and after that, you’re not to try to find this Rabbit on your own; leave it to Captain Garrett. Understood?” She didn’t want to confine the young woman to one of the holding cells in the basement, but she would if she had to.
 

Mara Kerr

Prominent member
Grey Warden
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
49
#27
“As it happens, I’m better at tracking in cities than in the Wilds. I’ve never had much luck getting information from squirrels and jays, but I’ve eyes in Amaranthine and Highever both.”

Had Mara not been so infuriated and terrified all at once, the man’s joke would have drawn quite a laugh from her lips. Instead, the best she could muster was a small twitch of her mouth, the barest hint of a smile. It was reassuring to know that he had access to plenty of resources - with enough eyes and ears out there, surely one of them would spot a Rabbit on the run. Hopefully. More than anything, though, it was good to know that she could have time in front of him, spill all the words she’d wanted to scream at him since the moment the ropes had first burned into her wrists. He would know what he’d done, so long as his luck ran out.

“I’ll find him. If you hear anything of his whereabouts, the Warden-Constable can get word to me, but don’t you go out looking for him.”

“Excu- but I can-” Mara tried to interject.

“If what we’ve been discussing is the truth of it, Tyndall would like nothing more than to catch you both together and tie up all the loose ends in one bloody knot.”

That thought was enough to shut Mara’s mouth. The image of the sputtering man, livid and thirsty for blood, filled her head, making her stomach twist and her face pale. She knew what men bent on murder could look like - this one was worse.

“That’s an order, Warden-recruit Kerr.” The title paired with her name was enough to snap her back into the moment. Like a sharp slap, she remembered she wasn’t just a wandering huntress anymore. No longer a prisoner, no longer a thief even - a Warden. Its weight dragged heavy in her thoughts, pulling her away from the endless skies, the one moment of freedom she’d glimpsed falling off the gallows. Had it really only been a few hours? Maybe less. Her fingers curled tight around the pot of salve in her hands, a weak attempt at grounding herself in a moment she never could have imagined.

“As a conscript out of Drakon, you’re restricted to the compound until after your Joining unless accompanied by a senior Warden, and after that, you’re not to try to find this Rabbit on your own; leave it to Captain Garrett. Understood?”

More walls. She closed her eyes and willed herself to find any other scent besides beyond dust and dirt. Not even the barest hint of trees caught her attention. Instead, she felt the walls closing in around her, constricting her with each shallow breath until she felt she might suffocate. Her eyes flew open, but nothing had changed. The walls were still there, sturdy and somber, and the Wardens waited expectantly for her response.

“I understand.”
 
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