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Wardens At The Gate [Group 1, Closed]

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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299
#1
((14 Haring, 9:35; Mid-day; Alongside Into The Underground ; Niamh , Sofia di Castelbuono , Cordelia ))

The skies were clear overhead, but the towering pine and spruce trees of the Gherlen Pass blocked enough of the sun that they no longer needed to wear the slitted leather goggles to prevent snow blindness. The snow-laden boughs above did have an annoying habit of releasing their burdens on the trail below, and enough had melted down the collar of Cauthrien’s winter gear that she was thoroughly uncomfortable. Breath of Warden and horse alike billowed in the chill air as they rode single file through the narrow path that had been broken, snowbanks rising to belly height on either side of the horses. Away from the shelter provided by the trees, the snow was deeper, and twice since entering the Frostbacks, they had heard the rumble of an avalanche, one unnervingly close.

Winter was a fact of life that every Fereldan learned to deal with, but most folk dealt with it by staying inside where it was warm as much as possible. Even military campaigns were traditionally halted in the winter months, armies and militias hunkering down in their camps or dispersing to their homes. Loghain and Maric had broken with this tradition in the rebellion against Orlais, leading their forces through the snows and falling upon a camp of chevaliers by night, scattering their horses to be gathered up for slaughter by the hungry rebels and leaving the surviving Orlesians to slog their way to the next camp on foot, grumbling about the ‘barbarism’ of the Fereldans, who had eaten much better than their foes for several weeks.

“Best you remember that,” Cauthrien warned her own mount, who flicked his askew ear at her to indicate his lack of concern.

Kill me and you walk home, boss.

“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled. Dragon had actually behaved the last few days, likely because, like the rest of them, he was too damn cold to do anything but keep going forward, but the first few days, he had taken the chance to plow through every snowdrift and bump every available tree with his shoulder or hip, sending snow showering down onto his rider. They’d been lucky with the weather; the only significant storm had found them at the northern end of Lake Calenhad, and they’d spent a wary two nights at the Spoiled Princess, waiting for it to blow over. Fortunately, the denizens of Kinloch Hold seemed no more eager to brave the weather … or perhaps they didn’t want to risk another conscription. Either way, no templars or mages looked in on them during their stay.

Ahead, the path widened as it joined a road coming in from the north: wagon traffic to and from the port at Jader, wheel ruts sunken into the frozen ground, and Cauthrien carefully guided Dragon onto the comparatively smoother path between the ruts. Soon enough, they emerged into the loose enclave of merchants, traders and vagrants that clustered about the entrance to Orzammar. Eyes turned to follow them, voices raised as their uniforms were recognized:

“Fine weapons, Wardens! Genuine dwarven craftsmanship much cheaper than they’ll charge you below!”

“If you’re huntin’ darkspawn, you’ll be needin’ good armor t’ cover yer arses!”

Cauthrien ignored them. Wade’s skill was a match for Orzammar’s finest, and well beyond anything these hangers-on would be able to offer.

“Oi! Big ‘un!” This was directed toward Aerion. “How’d you manage to rate six?” Cauthrien leveled a flat stare at the speaker, who gave her an unrepentant - and mostly toothless - grin. “If the Wardens be givin’ out harems, I might join up!” he quipped, then yipped as the Summer Sword left its scabbard. Dragon pawed the ground, ears laid back.

“I don’t think you could handle one of us,” she warned him. He swallowed hard, wide eyes fixed on the silverite blade.

“Jus’ havin’ a joke, m’lady,” he mumbled, backing away. Leaving him to the jeers of his mates, she turned Dragon forward again, sheathing her sword.

“Nicely done,” she congratulated him, patting his neck. He snorted and shook his head lightly.

All part of the service, boss. Picking on you is my job.

The guards at the massive stone and steel doors saluted respectfully as they drew their mounts to a stop. “Wardens,” the captain greeted them. “King Bhelen is expecting you. We’ll see to your horses.” He nodded toward a stable that looked to be half built of wood, half carved into the mountainside.

Cauthrien nodded and dismounted, untying her pack from the saddle and handing the reins off to the hostler who approached. “Careful, he bites,” she warned before turning to her companions. “Leave the horses, take everything else.”
 
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Niamh

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Grey Warden
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37
#2
Niamh pulled her cloak in closer, shielding herself from a small but biting burst of wind. She wasn't the only one who bristled at the weather; beneath her, Daisy gave a sort of annoyed whinny, tromping along careful atop the packed snow. The sweet-spirited mare had soldiered on admirably, only offering the occasional complaint or unwanted rearing. Niamh was not the most competent rider yet, but she got along well with her horse. If anything else, it was good to have another companion she got along well with. Especially since Pads was not joining her for this trip. He was simply too young and too jumpy to carry into the Deep Roads, at least for now.

She kept close to Siali, enough so that she might reach out to her partner if necessary. The trip was calm enough, with idle chatter that felt comfortable. Niamh reckoned that everyone was glad to finally be out doing something after getting snowed in for two days. She'd treated it mostly as a chance to sit by the fire with Siali but there had been an undercurrent of impatience to the affair. Well, except for that little mage girl. Poor kid seemed caught between putting on air and probably throwing at the mere sight of darkspawn. The thought made her look at her finger, where the hurlock had snapped down and torn bone and sinew. More than anything else, it filled here with a sense of determination. Not this time, she decided, and not to any of them so long as she had breath.

“Fine weapons, Wardens! Genuine dwarven craftsmanship much cheaper than they’ll charge you below!”

The shout of merchants, hunters, refugees, and more snapped the elf from her reveries. Niamh looked around her to see a surprisingly well stocked but nevertheless makeshift market unlike anything she'd seen. It was caught somewhere between a proper city market and an Arlathvenn, where craftsmen and women would freely trade their wares from one clan to the other. The elf could help but grin at it all. She didn't know what was going to wait for them in Orzammar but if this was any indication, it would be plenty busy and exciting.

“Oi! Big ‘un!” Clearly meant for the burly Warden. Aaron, was his name? “How’d you manage to rate six? If the Wardens be givin’ out harems, I might join up!” Niamh raised an eyebrow, shooting a knowing look to Siali. She was about to speak when Cauthrien beat her to it.

“I don’t think you could handle one of us,” she said. Was that her sword as well? It certainly looked like her sword. The man noticed.

“Jus’ havin’ a joke, m’lady."

Niamh wasn't going to leave it entirely at that. She scowled at the man, tilting her head in faux wonderment. "It were a right shite joke then, aye?" Not a question that she really needed answers to. "Jog on!"

Her taunting done, Niamh was amused to see a group of dwaves offer a sort of formal salute to the hodgepodge group of Grey Wardens. It brought a sly smile to her face. Maybe Cauthrien was the type of person you saluted to but everyone else? Probably not. Niamh did her best not to let her amusement show lest she cause some type of diplomatic fuss, but she definitely would laugh about it later. Instead, she guided Daisy to the stables and happily dismounted. Riding was not her particular pleasure.

“Leave the horses, take everything else.” Cauthrien's words were swift and Niamh quickly gathered her supplies and pack. Turning away from the group, her gaze settled on the massive mountain and strange stone doorway at its center. Orzammer lay right behind it, and so did a trip further and further underground. Her mind balked at the notion.

"How'dya live under rock what dun show the sun what not go batty?" A fair question, doubly so that she was still sometimes afraid that the Grey Warden compound roof would fall on her head. Better to sleep in a tree or inside an aravel than under crusts of rock. "We really goin' under all that?"
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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Grey Warden
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71
#3
Sofia had sampled Denerim’s delights for only a week before she found herself once again trekking to unfamiliar lands. This time, at least, she had the benefit of travelling on a surface that did not lurch about as much as a ship deck, and she was properly attired against the cold. Although she would not need it so much once they got to Orzammar, she had been immensely grateful for the furred cloak she had picked up in the capital. Still, it was hardly a situation she was unused to. Healers were in high demand everywhere and she had spent about as much of her time as a Warden in a horse’s saddle than out of it.

She had been lucky with her mount. He was a lovely grey creature, a little dappled around the hindquarters, and reasonably well-behaved. Garalei would probably run for the hills at the first sign of a fight, but for simple transport, she could not have desired a better animal. Not all Wardens had such luck, she had thought, as she observed Dragon’s snappish behaviour.

Apart from getting snowed in at one point, their journey had been peaceable. She had made a point of being friendly with the other mages from the outset, particularly Cordelia, who was a new recruit; admired the figure of Aerion, while never letting her thoughts stray beyond distant appreciation; did much the same with Cauthrien; and made an effort to get to know the elven women who were also with them. Niamh was the more outgoing of the pair. Siali said little, but Sofia had caught the small gestures of affection between the pair and thought it adorable. Not that she would be so foolish as to say that out loud.

She had done better than the dwarf merchant currently making a ribald comment in Aerion’s direction, apparently under the belief that all these armed and armoured women surrounding him were his consorts. He was swiftly corrected, and Sofia snorted at how quickly his bravdo had deserted him – as well as Niamh’s comment.

They were greeted by the guards, and dismounted. In amongst the flurry of everybody picking of their possessions, Sofia picked out a small hand mirror from her satchel and made a few touch-ups to her appearance. This done, she turned to fully appreciate the sheer scale of the carved columns that supported the entrance to Orzammar. For a short people, dwarves knew how to think big.

“How’dya live under rock what dun show the sun what no go batty?” Niamh seemed a little perturbed by the prospect of going in. “We really goin’ under all that?”

“Dwarf engineering is second to none.” This pitched just at the right volume for a nearby guard to hear her. You never knew when it was worth flattering somebody’s ego, even indirectly. It was not that far different from spending time in the Circle, anyway. While there had been windows, they were usually high up, and it could be difficult to find a patch of sunlight to stand in. “And it will be well-lit in the city itself, from the lava flows.” She had been reading about Orzammar in preparation for the journey. Although she was being a little cavalier, she was excited. She had participated in numerous underground missions with the Antivan Wardens but this would be the first time she saw a proper dwarven city.
 

Cordelia

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#4
All things considered, Cordelia decided that traveling was not the worst thing. Yes, it was rather the culture shock to someone who had lived inside of a tower for the majority of their life and, yes, horses stank more than she recalled but the chance to truly see the world was undeniably intoxicating. For two nights, that had meant looking at the tower she'd called home from accross Lake Calenhad. A strange thing, if ever she'd experienced one. More often than not, it had meant roads and camps but there was enough variety in the sights and she was in good enough company that whatever anxiety she felt was quickly replaced by comfort.

The company was crucial, she decided. While she certainly felt the outsider of the group, she had held herself with due propriety and managed to supplement conversations with a dutiful relaying of historical facts and the occasional question that seemed to amuse the group. Sofia had proven her quick favorite, perhaps because they were both mages but also because she seemed to hold herself with the most grace. Cordelia was nothing if not silently judgmental and had not yet acquired a taste for her fellow Wardens jocularity. Sofia was both someone she could relate to and also someone she might aspire to emulate in some ways. They had talks about their experiences as mages, but the Antivan sometimes found ways to be brash and somewhat salacious in a way that amused her.

Niamh and Siali mostly came as a pair, the former launching into long stories and boasts without much prodding. It was nice to see how Siali's eyes lit up when Niamh talked; enough so that even Cordelia understood they were affectionate with each other. Cordelia did her best to offer them space, knowing full well from her time at the Circle how much could be accomplished with a few minutes solidtude. Of course, she had never engaged in such activities but she'd seen plenty of acolytes and students leave for five minutes and return pleased. If the two elves wanted to hold hands or kiss or whatever it was you did in such situations, Cordelia was happy to leave them the privacy.

Instead, she had kept close to Cauthrien. The Warden-Commander was resolute and stout in a way that kept the young mageling feeling safe. Each step on their journey was a step towards prospective danger. Cordelia has trained as much as possible but could not hide her worry. Cauthrien's steady presence and amiable, fact focused conversation was much to the young woman's liking.

They had ridden for sometime before coming to the apparent market and combination shanty camp that rested outside Orzammar. Cordelia knew enough from her history reading that many dwarves were exile to the surface or otherwise left to strike out on their own. She had not expected so many to leave and then immediate set up shop a few yards away. Between the dwarven merchants and traveling tradesfolk, there was a workman-like quality that the mage had not been expecting. When some ruffian yelled suggestively at the group, she simply held her chin up high and allowed her peers to excoriate the man.

By the time she'd dismounted her horse—a sable haired and reliable steed with the dubious name Blanket—Cordelia had finally truly grasped the sheer scale of the large, dwarven chiseled escarpment in the mountainside. Excitement swelled within her. What this was adventured were like? Was this what all those heroes in stories felt when they arrived in new lands? Still, whatever excitement she had was evidently not shared by all of her peers.

“How’dya live under rock what dun show the sun what no go batty?” Niamh said loudly, with clear concern. “We really goin’ under all that?"

“Dwarf engineering is second to none.” Sofia had stolen Cordelia's answer right from her mouth. "And it will be well-lit in the city itself, from the lava flows.”

Cordelia thought of all the dust and gloom that awaited her in the Deep Roads and frowned before dismissing it with a shake of her head. There were other things to think about. "Perhaps instead of jerky and such, we might find time for a proper meal?" The young Warden was not accustom to her newfound hunger. "There's time yet for us to appreciate the culture before whatever duty we must embark on, yes?"
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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Grey Warden
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#5
It took Aerion a moment to figure out the dwarf’s meaning, but when he did, the look on his face added a bit more haste to the hasty retreat. Niamh barked a sharp rebuke at the dwarf, and the looks that he got from the rest of the group were anything but warm.

The greeting of the guards was respectful enough, and there was a stable outside for the horses. "I do hope it's as warm as expected inside the mountain,” Mysaria remarked as she gathered her belongings from her horse.

“Some parts are,” Aerion replied. “Others feel colder than this mountain.” His rugged features were shadowed, tense; it was not hard to figure out why. Along with a group of Marcher Wardens, he’d spent weeks in the Deep Roads on a mission. He wasn’t eager to return, but he’d made no protest when he’d been selected.

“How long were you in the Deep Roads before, Aerion?”
Siali wanted to know. It would be her first trip below, and while Cauthrien had suggested that all of the Wardens do what research they could in the library, both on Orzammar and the Deep Roads, there was no substitute for experience.

Cauthrien turned her head as Roland and Lucian finally arrived. The pair had been bringing up the rear, the former templar giving the young warrior instruction on the theory of templar abilities. Roland likely wouldn’t have picked up enough to use on this mission, but hopefully he’d show a better aptitude for it than Cauthrien had. At some point, she was going to have to resume her training and damn the headaches; the Wardens needed the skills, and trusting volunteers or conscripts from the order was not a viable option.

“We’ll leave the horses out here,” she called to them. She did a double-take at the sight of Sofia whipping out a small mirror to primp, then resolutely clamped her mouth shut. Since she’d questioned the need for cosmetics on their second day out, the Antivan had made a point of checking her makeup regularly. She seemed steady enough apart from this quirk, and thus far, her fussing hadn’t slowed them down, but Cauthrien did wonder how she was going to handle the grime and gore of the Deep Roads.

"How'dya live under rock what dun show the sun what not go batty?" Niamh asked, eying the massive gates and the mountain looming overhead, doubt writ large on her features. "We really goin' under all that?"

The captain chuckled. “How d’you live out under this sky without fallin’ into it?” he inquired good naturedly, tipping his head upward with an expression of exaggerated concern. “It’s all in what you’re used to, but I think you’ll find Orzammar itself to your satisfaction.”

“Dwarf engineering is second to none,” Sofia stated confidently. “And it will be well-lit in the city itself, from the lava flows.”

“Indeed,” the captain agreed with an approving nod, pride strong in his voice as he continued. “A marvel two-thousand years in the making.”

"Will we be getting rooms,” Mysaria asked as she approached Cauthrien, “or will we be going straight to an audience?"

“Your audience with King Bhelen is at the eighth bell tomorrow morning,” the captain said in response to her questioning look. “He has reserved a block of the best rooms at Tapster’s for the duration of your stay.”

"Perhaps instead of jerky and such, we might find time for a proper meal?" Cordelia suggested hopefully. "There's time yet for us to appreciate the culture before whatever duty we must embark on, yes?" The newest Warden had spent the journey absorbing everything that she saw and heard, and was currently staring at the massive gates with an undisguised wonder that made her look even younger than she was … and made Cauthrien worry anew at the advisability of including her on this mission. She was a formidable fire mage, true enough, but the Circle had kept her from learning any combat skills that might aid her if she did not have her magic. Cauthrien had assigned Roland to stay close to the mages - and Cordelia in particular - during combat.

“Nug jerky is better than beef any day,” the captain told Cordelia, "but the meals at Tapster’s are excellent, and there is to be a banquet in your honor at the palace tomorrow night.”

Cauthrien nodded, her expression pleasantly neutral as she inwardly sighed with resignation. It was far from unexpected, and Maker knew, she was quite able to hold her own at state affairs, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

The massive doors swung open without even the faintest creak, and two of the guards led them inside. The warmth was almost immediate, wrapping about them like a blanket as they passed between the rows of massive statues in the likeness of the greatest of the dwarven Paragons. The ceiling was low in this corridor, but when the next, smaller set of doors opened just as soundlessly, Cauthrien let out a low whistle; the books had described it, but seeing it -

The cavern was immense, the upper reaches lost in shadow, while before them and to either side, the streets of Orzammar spread out. The architecture was all precisely cut angles and highly stylized sculpture, and instead of water, the fountains churned with molten rock glowing an incandescent orange that, along with massive braziers that somehow burned without smoke, provided more than adequate illumination.

And heat. Twenty steps in and Cauthrien paused to pull off her cloak and drape it across her pack. Forty steps and she was beginning to sweat, but taking off more was going to have to wait until she got to her room. It was all very orderly, very clean. No mud marred the stone pathway or obscured the detailed mosaics that had been laid every few meters, and no beggars sat in the shadows of the houses and shops.

Murmurs of surprise rose in the wake of their passage, and wide-eyed children waved eagerly. Grey Wardens were greatly respected in dwarven culture, and this was the first visit that had been made since Aedan Cousland and his companions had been instrumental in placing Bhelen Aeducan on his father’s throne.

Tapster’s was much like any other tavern Cauthrien had visited, albeit the first to have stalactites drooping from the ceiling. But the smells of ale and food and the sounds of raucous laughter and singing were familiar enough, and the smile of the dwarven woman who approached seemed genuine.

“Wardens, welcome,” she told them warmly. “King Bhelen has provided for your stay. Your rooms are on the second level,” she gestured to a set of stairs that led downward, “and a private dining area has been reserved for you. Meals and drinks are on the house.”

Paid for by Bhelen was likely more accurate, Cauthrien reflected. The Grey Wardens had put him on his throne, and he would not miss an opportunity to remind his political rivals of his ties to the order. “Everyone get settled in your rooms and get cleaned up,” she told the other. “We’ll meet down here for dinner in an hour.”
 

Niamh

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#6
“Dwarf engineering is second to none.” Whatever concerns Niamh had about heading underground, Sofia and the others were quick to assure her that there would be no problems. The dwarf captain naturally insisted that Orzammar was built well, but Niamh put more stock into the opinion of her fellow Grey Wardens even if that didn't completely abate her worry. Still, she did her best to put on a strong face if only to impress onlookers.

"Will we be getting rooms,” Mysaria asked as she approached Cauthrien, “or will we be going straight to an audience?" It was Myseria, one of the mages that Niamh knew less than she'd like. The elf made a mental note to engage with the woman. But before she could speak up, the other, tinier mage did that. Cordelia looked completely in awe of what she was seeing. Made sense, Niamh supposed. The world was far more exciting that the piddly little tower the mages were locked up in.

"Perhaps instead of jerky and such, we might find time for a proper meal?" Cordelia suggested. It was a good question. "There's time yet for us to appreciate the culture before whatever duty we must embark on, yes?

Niamh smiled, wrapping an arm about the tiny mageling. "Dunno much 'bout culture but I'know that there's bound t'be hard drink 'an roast summat or another," she said with a grin. "Best we snag sum so we dun face darkspawn on an empty stomach." She detached herself from Cordelia and sidled up to Siali. Her lover had been chatting with the gritty-looking but nice warrior fella. "'Haps we might find time to really rest 'an ease our travel aches, yeah?" Her voice was full of suggestion that she made no effort to hide. This was an adventure. Dangerous or not, what was the point if you didn't enjoy it?

The sights and sounds certainly made that easier. Orzammar was unlike anything that Niamh might have imaged, the massive caverns lit by fire and whatever molten such and such was nearby. It was actually much brighter than she expected, which made sense since she'd expected pitch black darkness. It was hot too, like lounging in a mountain spring for too long. If that spring also had fires under it. Whatever chill was found in the mountains began to dissipate quickly. The elf did her best to ignore it, enjoying the stares and whispers onlookers. It was as close to a heroes welcome as she'd ever been granted, and it would be a lie to suggest it didn't feel good. To go from tireless scout and scolded daughter to the sort of person that crowds gathered to see was something else. If only it hadn't cost her or her comrades so much, even before whatever battles came. With some ceremony, she eventually linked arms with Siali and it elicited a murmur within the crowd that brought a wide grin to her face.

After a spell of time, the group found themselves at their lodging. The place seemed little different than anywhere else they might have stayed on the surface, except with more rocks. But there was a hint of food on the air that made Niamh's stomach roar. “Everyone get settled in your rooms and get cleaned up,” Cauthrien said. “We’ll meet down here for dinner in an hour.”

Niamh nodded, again focusing on Siali. "S'pose ye might want a hand gettin' stuff t'yer room.."
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#7
Hunger prevailed, of course. They were directed to a tavern called Tapsters, and it was indicated that a feast would await them at the palace the next day. Sofia was intrigued – and more than a little delighted. Here was something new, and while she had read a great deal about dwarf culture, there was nothing to match being immersed in it. Today, the regular people at the tavern, tomorrow, royalty in the palace. And not one of the people they dined with on either day would be afraid of her or the other mages much more than they would anybody else who was armed. Dwarven resistance to magic was well documented.

Her happy mood was only improved as they entered the great entrance and she gazed up, and up, at the high ceiling carved into the mountainside, supported by columns so precisely cut that it could have been done with a sharp blade. And it was hot! Thank the Maker, it was hot. She happily shrugged off the hairy cloak, shaking out the last specks of frost from her hair. She felt a twinge of sympathy for the Wardens in full armour, though. That had to be uncomfortable.

Tapsters was first, although Sofia made a mental note to visit the Diamond Quarters and the market as soon as she was able. It took little prompting for her to go up and find her room; she just remembered her manners in time to pause before she took off. “I hear that they have heated water that comes out of pipes here.” This was primarily addressed to Cordelia, who seemed as though she would have the most interest in it, but she imagined everyone would like the idea. “You can have a bath without having to carry buckets upstairs.”

“That’s right, miss.” The waitress who had addressed their group as a whole beamed at her, although at least partly out of amusement as well as general good service. “I gather that’s not a regular experience for topsiders. Each room has a bath in the corner; if you need a little help getting it going, just call. For those of you too big for it, there’s sponges so you can have a bit of a scrub.”

Sofia didn’t care if she had to twist herself up like a cannoli, she was trying out the bath. It would certainly make a change from bathing in freezing water and much as she had enjoyed Garalei, she was ready to get the smell of horse sweat away from her.
 

Cordelia

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#8
Wonder conquered all of Cordelia's senses. All of her propriety strained against her overwhelming sense of excitement. It turns out that if you take a teenage mage out of the tower she'd been locked in most of her life—and subsequently throw her into one of the most exotic and bustling metropolises in the world—said mageling nearly bursts to the brim with curiosity.

And so it was that Cordelia Marie Lendon, who might have been Arlessa of Edgehall in another life, found herself striding with anxious energy next to some of the most respected warriors and mages in Thedas, a crowd watching them and assuming that even she was an important individual and not a novice. To spare her from her nerves, Cordelia kept close to her fellow mages, following closely in Mysaria and Sofia's wake. She admired the two women, and emulated their strides. Confident, assured, and experienced. They walked through the streets, making their way through heat and golden hues and into.... a rough tavern. Cordelia did her best to keep in good cheer. She did not find public houses overly amusing, given their propensity towards debauchery, drink, and excessively public displays of affection.

“Everyone get settled in your rooms and get cleaned up,”
Cauthrien said. “We’ll meet down here for dinner in an hour.”

Niamh gave a casual nod, inching towards Siali. "S'pose ye might want a hand gettin' stuff t'yer room.." The comment made Cordelia blush.

"It will be nice to get the dust of the road cleaned off." Mysaria, speaking to Aerion. Another suggestive and familiar turn of phrase perhaps. Cordelia marveled at how close some of her comrades were. It made her flush more. Thankfully Sofia chimed in.

“I hear that they have heated water that comes out of pipes here.” This was primarily addressed to Cordelia, who seemed as though she would have the most interest in it, but she imagined everyone would like the idea. “You can have a bath without having to carry buckets upstairs.”

Cordelia grinned, linger thoughts of dirt paths and sweaty travel nipping at her mind. "A bath would be quite good, especially before our duties," she say. "If we are to succeed, our minds should be clear and focused."

At that, she departed for her room and spent a fair amount of time contemplating the best places to arrange her books. That done, she took time to brush her hair once more and clean her face up. It would do no one any favors to arrive to dinner unkept. The Grey Wardens held a reputation and Cordelia intended to leave Dwarven opinion immaculate. Content, she made her way to dinner. The hall was well furnished and smelled wonderful.

"Is a royal banquet a normal custom for wardens visiting Orzammar?" Mysaria's question was a fair one. This seemed excessive, if certainly delicious.

“Didn’t the Warden help get the king in power? Could be he thinks he’s with us. Or sees us as with him, so wants to treat us well,” Aerion said. Cordelia wondered what the politics behind the feast were as well, but edged closer to the table.

"Is there... a ceremony? Or might we partake?" Cordelia felt guilty focusing on creature comforts but the journey had left her weary. "New as I am, I know there's naught worse than a group of Wardens hovering over a dinner table."
 

Cauthrien

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#9
The prospect of food was as welcome as it always was, but after two weeks on the road, the prospect of getting out of her armor and getting cleaned up a bit held greater appeal. Lacking Sofia’s near fanatical dedication to cleanliness, Cauthrien had foregone washing in the icy bodies of water that they had camped beside, and while there had been shallow bathing troughs available at the Spoiled Princess, the proprietor had moaned and groaned about heating and hauling water, and done it so slowly, that nobody had managed more than a tepid sponge bath.

The others seemed to share her sentiment, though perhaps not for the same reasons. Mysaria and Aerion, and Niamh and Siali, definitely seemed to be thinking of things besides baths, but after two weeks with little to no privacy, they’d earned the respite.

“I hear that they have heated water that comes out of pipes here,” Sofia remarked as she headed for the stairs. “You can have a bath without having to carry buckets upstairs.”

“That’s right, miss,” their hostess agreed with an approving smile. “I gather that’s not a regular experience for topsiders. Each room has a bath in the corner; if you need a little help getting it going, just call. For those of you too big for it, there’s sponges so you can have a bit of a scrub.” She was definitely looking at Aerion and Roland as she spoke.

“Long as it’s hot water, that works fine for me, miss,” Roland replied amiably, and she looked him up and down with an appraising eye.

“I could come and help scrub, if you’d like,” she offered with a sultry smile. His cheeks pinked up a bit, and he shot an abashed look toward his commanding officer.

“Aahhh … no thank you, ma’am,” he told her, still polite. “I think I can manage.” He’d spent enough time in the rough company of Breaker’s crew that it could have rubbed off on him, but even when she’d first met him in a cell in Fort Drakon, there had been a streak of chivalry that had only grown with time, along with an instinct to look out for those younger and weaker that had made him an ideal mentor for new Wardens.

Her laugh was bright and free of malice. “If you change your mind, just ask for Corra,” she told him as they all headed for their rooms.

Cauthrien’s room was decently sized, with everything but the chair at the desk carved into the stone itself, though the bed at least had a stuffed leather mattress upon it. The tub did indeed have hot and cold water piped up through the floor, and if it wasn’t quite long enough to allow her to stretch her legs, it was deep enough for a soak that drove the last of the chill from her bones. That done, she dressed in clean clothes, pulled her hair neatly back and returned to the dining area they had been given.

Food was already on the long table: bread and butter, plates of dried meat and fruit. Mysaria and Aerion arrived first, the mage giving a rueful laugh as her stomach spoke up. “You would think I hadn’t eaten in a week,” she said as she seated herself in the chair that Aerion had pulled out for her. The big man settled in his own chair and reached for the dried meat as the others began to wander in and more food was brought: trays of roasted meat, tureens of soup, bowls of vegetables and a great many types of mushrooms prepared in a variety of ways.

"Is a royal banquet a normal custom for wardens visiting Orzammar?" Mysaria wondered.

“Didn’t the Warden help get the king in power?” Aerion spoke up between bites. “Could be he thinks he’s with us. Or sees us as with him, so wants to treat us well.”

"Is there... a ceremony? Or might we partake?" Cordelia asked, eying the growing spread with interest. "New as I am, I know there's naught worse than a group of Wardens hovering over a dinner table." The young mage had been visibly discomfited by her new and unladylike appetite, but she was far too practical to simply ignore it and risk blunting her own efficiency.

“Dig in,” Cauthrien advised her with a grin, taking her own advice. She recognized perhaps half of the items on the table, but made a point of taking a sample from each of the unfamiliar dishes while giving the turnips a wide berth. One basket of bread appeared to be made from wheat flour; the other was a somewhat worrisome grey in color but turned out to have a pleasantly chewy texture and an earthy, nutty flavor that went well with the butter.

“I wouldn’t look that gift horse in the mouth,” Siali responded to Aerion’s musings as she filled her own plate, Niamh seated beside her. “If it makes the mission easier, so much the better.”

“Exactly,” Cauthrien agreed, keeping the open doorway in her peripheral vision and her voice pitched for the table only. “The Wardens were instrumental in putting King Bhelen on the throne, but I doubt it’s only gratitude behind his honoring us with a banquet. He wants to be seen as being allied with the Grey Wardens, and that could work in our favor. After we eat, you’re free to explore the city; I’d recommend staying in pairs, at least, until we get a better idea of the climate here. I know that not all of the dwarves are happy with the changes the King has made.” She broke off as Corra appeared.

“Would anyone like a drink?” she asked. “We have fifty-two types of ales, seventeen types of mead, and a dozen imported wines.”

No cider. Damn. “Mead, please,” Cauthrien requested.

“What’s good?” Roland wanted to know, his interest plainly piqued by the number of offerings.

“Well, Valenta Red is known as the Paragon of ales,” she suggested brightly.

“I’ll try that, then.”

“Red wine,” Lucien spoke up. After Corra had taken all their orders and left, he glanced at Roland. “I heard that dwarven ale is made from shit they scrape off of cave walls,” he warned the younger man.

Roland shrugged. “I’ll try anything once,” he replied with an easy grin. “Nug’s pretty good,” he added, spearing a piece of meat on his fork and swiping it through the gravy before popping it into his mouth.

Once she was sure that the waitress was out of earshot, Cauthrien continued. “Keep your ears open if you’re out and about for anything that might give us an idea of how things stand here. We’ll meet here for breakfast before the audience with the King.”
 

Niamh

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#10
Niamh had decided that, if nothing else, the dwarven propensity toward grandeur wasn't so bad. She had gathered they were a boastful people who enjoyed making grand statements, and that was evident in everything around her from the bustling streets to even their rooms. The elf knew some of this was a kind of political theater and that there were certainly unsavory things to come, but she enjoyed how bold everything had been so far.

Of course, Niamh had found a brief moment of solace with Siali as well. Given what was to come, with ceremonies and possibly even battles, it seemed smart to take advantage of their comforts while they still could. They eagerly did so, eventually making their way to their meal. Niamh was quick to sit down and eat, focusing on her meal and keeping close to Siali as she could. There was talk of politics, which she very deliberately did not comment on. Whatever the King was try to achieve with his grand displays, the immediate result was a warm meal and decent drink. In her book, that was a good thing. There would be plenty of time for intrigue and darkspawn, the latter of which she was eagerly awaiting a rematch with.

Idly, she flexed her bad hand and looked at her injured pinky. It was such a small thing in retrospect, but the sting against her pride remained. If they were to somehow deal with troubles in the Deep Roads, which seemed likely, it offered her a chance at some honest to goodness payback. If that also meant dealing with nobles and kings, she was quite alright with it. The elf left her thoughts simmer, content to gnaw on strange breads and glug rich wines. Still, an air of uncertainty persisted.

“Keep your ears open if you’re out and about for anything that might give us an idea of how things stand here," Cauthrien said. "We’ll meet here for breakfast before the audience with the King.”

Niamh nodded. But that left questions about how much the Wardens were being granted and where they could and could not go. Mysaria wondered aloud to that end. "Do you think they would let us into the Shaperate?" Niamh didn't really know what that was but it sounded important. "I don't have anything specific I'm looking for, but I would love to see how they organize and catalog things. If we can, if any of you would like to go with me, I'd be happy to have you along. If not, I'd definitely love to visit the Chantry here. I'm curious about how well it's doing here."

"What about them fights," Niamh asked. "Ain't there some place what there's fightin' matches? We allowed to fight too?"
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#11
The bath was small, but divine. Of course mages had the advantage of being able to heat water faster than those who needed to warm it over a fire first, but it was still an expenditure of energy and having to only turn a tap for warmth was something like a miracle. She wondered at the system behind it. The dwarves were given best access because of their proximity to the lava flows, but could something similar be made for those further away? You would need something to conduct the heat extremely efficiently, and it would be difficult to regulate how hot the water could be made.

She whiled away some time in the bath with these thoughts as she soaped herself down, scraping free every fleck of dirt she could find. Feeling a few pounds lighter for the removal of sweat and grime, she donned a dress with a griffon picked out on the front in silver thread, tied back her hair with the silver clasps, reapplied her cosmetics and went downstairs to eat.

Most of the others had got there ahead of her. The couples sat together, and everybody’s plate was piled high. As she took her seat next to Cordelia, she glanced around in case there was any etiquette to observe first. Although it was rare for such a thing to get between a Warden’s appetite and a hearty meal. As they ate, Aerion expressed the concern that the king might be expecting something more than lay within the parameters of their mission. Handsome and sharp. Mysaria had chosen well.

Cauthrien confirmed Aerion’s thought. “The Wardens were instrumental in putting King Bhelen on the throne, but I doubt it’s only gratitude behind his honoring us with a banquet. He wants to be seen as being allied with the Grey Wardens, and that could work in our favor. After we eat, you’re free to explore the city; I’d recommend staying in pairs, at least, until we get a better idea of the climate here. I know that not all of the dwarves are happy with the changes the King has made.”

The server approached with a suggestion of drinks. Cauthrien chose mead rather than ale, which amused Sofia quietly. She wouldn’t have thought the other woman would like something that sweet. Lucien had other thoughts behind avoiding the ale. “I heard that dwarven ale is made from shit they scrape off of cave walls.”

What a tactful man. Sofia attempted to divert any scowls that might have drawn their way. “Lichen. We attempted to brew ale out of it without a recipe, out of curiosity, when I was younger. I don’t know how dwarven ale tastes, but I can confirm ours was atrocious. I was tasting soil at the back of my mouth for a day.” She turned to the server, who was looking amused. “A dry white, please.”

Once the waitress had gone, Cauthrien leaned in. “Keep your ears open if you’re out and about for anything that might give us an idea of how things stand here. We’ll meet here for breakfast before the audience with the King.”

Sofia would have nodded if she hadn’t had half a leg of…something or other in her mouth. Nug? It tasted good, and she wouldn’t question the origin unless it killed her.

The other Wardens had various priorities on what they wanted to see while getting the maps. Mysaria was interested in the Shaperate; Niamh, the matches. Sofia was intrigued by both, but she would pick one to start with. “I’d join you, Mysaria. I imagine they have a great deal of literature here that would not make it far once it went above ground.”

Not least, she would be intrigued to see what the dwarven taken on lyrium was.
 

Cordelia

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#12
Cordelia was well and truly focused on her meal, the ache of the road lingering in her muscles. Perhaps she could have been given more time to acclimate to the Grey Wardens, but duty didn't wait for familiarity to settle in it would seem. The young mage kept relatively quiet as their meal pressed forward. There was enough to learn simply by noting what her fellow Wardens felt was important. For the moment, it was the true sentiment of the King and the dwaves. Whatever pageantry there had been, even Cordelia knew that Orzammar was a city of intrigue. Knowing where they stood and what to expect was important, and the others were wise to prioritize it. She did not say that though, content to eat and leave talk to heir commander.

“Keep your ears open if you’re out and about for anything that might give us an idea of how things stand here. We’ll meet here for breakfast before the audience with the King.” Cordelia was not the best judge of what might be amiss, stranger as she was to dwarven society or really anything outside of the Tower. But she nodded nevertheless.

That left them with some time to decide where to go. Mysaria expressed interest in the Shaparate. Cordelia's features perked up in interest. "If we can, if any of you would like to go with me, I'd be happy to have you along. If not, I'd definitely love to visit the Chantry here. I'm curious about how well it's doing here."

“I’d join you, Mysaria," Sofia said. "I imagine they have a great deal of literature here that would not make it far once it went above ground.”

"I would rather like to go as well," Cordelia added. "There might be old histories that aren't in our own library. They are worth looking for on its own rights."

"What about them fights,"
Niamh asked. Cordelia suppressed a smile. The elf was kind, but also a woman of simple pleasures. "Ain't there some place what there's fightin' matches? We allowed to fight too?"

“Yeah. And me too.” Siali said, eating a slice of meat. “I think we’d get a better sense of how people feel about the King and the Wardens generally there rather than in the Shaperate. Although I’m going to check that out later too.”

"That seems to settle it at the moment," Cordelia observed. "We split up and learn what we can from each location, yes?" She paused. "But are we not to survey the Deep Roads as well? I... can't say I know much about what that will require or what I should do. Advice is welcome."
 

Cauthrien

Warden-Constable of Ferelden
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#13
Cauthrien found that she was not the only one concerned that King Bhelen might have ulterior motives for the treatment he was extending them, but there also seemed to be little point in worrying about it. Either they would be able to do what he wished them to, or they would not; the Grey Wardens were not political tools, and if he thought to use them in that manner, he was going to be disappointed. With time left in the day for exploring, she advised the others to keep their ears open for any information that might provide clues as to the current political climate.

Mysaria expressed her intent to investigate the Shaperate and look in on the Chantry that Aedan had helped into existence.

"What about them fights," Niamh piped up. "Ain't there some place what there's fightin' matches? We allowed to fight too?"

Aerion, who had been looking decidedly unenthused about Mysaria’s plans, perked up. “I'd like to see that, too. It was the… Proving Grounds, I think you called it?” Roland and Lucian both looked interested, and Siali declared that she would go, as well.

“It is,” Cauthrien confirmed. “From what I’ve read, the area is open at all hours. You can participate in pick-up bouts, but under no circumstances are you to let anyone draw you into an actual Proving match.” She glanced about, meeting the eyes of each of them as she went on. “The dwarves take Provings very seriously; there are different kinds, and some of them are to the death. If anyone has a problem with you refusing, send them to me.”

“I’d join you, Mysaria,” Sofia said. “I imagine they have a great deal of literature here that would not make it far once it went above ground.”

"I would rather like to go as well," Cordelia spoke up. "There might be old histories that aren't in our own library. They are worth looking for on its own rights."

“I think I’ll start in the Shaperate, as well,” Cauthrien decided. There was a greater risk of problems arising at the Proving Grounds, but Siali would be present there. She was an officer now; might as well treat her like it.

"That seems to settle it at the moment." Cordelia seemed pleased with the neat resolution. "We split up and learn what we can from each location, yes?" She hesitated, looking uncertain. "But are we not to survey the Deep Roads as well? I... can't say I know much about what that will require or what I should do. Advice is welcome."

The waitress returned with a heavily laden tray and began doling out beverages with no hesitation. Roland took a drink of his ale and choked, his eyes bulging.

“ ‘S good,” he wheezed. “Jus’ strong.” He took a second, more cautious sip. Cauthrien sampled her cider and found it pleasantly cool and not too sweet.

“We won’t enter the Deep Roads without reason,” she told Cordelia. “I expect that we’ll be invited on a sortie or two with the dwarven forces, at the very least, but if anyone tries to convince you to go without the rest of us, you are to refuse. We go together or not at all.” She finished her meal and drink, then pushed her chair away from the table and stood. “I’ll be leaving for the Shaperate in half an hour,” she told the others as she left.
 

Niamh

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#14
“From what I’ve read, the area is open at all hours," Cauthrien noted when Niamh asked about the fighting matches. It made Niamh raise an eager eyebrow in curiosity. "You can participate in pick-up bouts, but under no circumstances are you to let anyone draw you into an actual Proving match.” Niamh didn't quite understand the difference but she nodded nevertheless. “The dwarves take Provings very seriously; there are different kinds, and some of them are to the death. If anyone has a problem with you refusing, send them to me.”

"I ain't fightin' no such 'an such to the kill," she said quickly. "But iff'n there's a chance to test me mettle and metal, it seems right fine that I get me arse there and show them folks what a Grey Warden ken manage. Ain't as though some brawler is gonna give me a run worse than the darkspawn already have." She held up her bad hand, face plastered with a cocky grin. " 'sides, I got a few more fingers yet 'fore I'm useless."

“I think we’d get a better sense of how people feel about the King and the Wardens generally there rather than in the Shaperate. Although I’m going to check that out later too.” Siali was practical as always, and Niamh loved her for it.

She turned to Siali, the start of an idea forming in her mind. "Lass, we could fight as a right pair, we could!" Her eyes wandered to Aerion. "Yer as sturdy as any halla, bigg'un. Ye could join too, knock 'em hard so their sense-gone 'an I'll kick 'em from behind as they are!"

That seemed plenty exciting, enough so that Niamh had to hold back from standing up and heading there right away. It was the better of the two plans, she decided, listening in as the mages and Cauthrien discussed something more scholarly.

“I imagine they have a great deal of literature here that would not make it far once it went above ground.” That was Sofia, who seems a good sort.

"I would rather like to go as well," Cordelia spoke up. It was good to see her loosen up, if only slightly. "There might be old histories that aren't in our own library. They are worth looking for on its own rights."

“I think I’ll start in the Shaperate, as well,” Cauthrien decided. Niamh grinned as the little mage seemed please with herself, but kept a kind gaze on her once her thoughts began to wander.

"But are we not to survey the Deep Roads as well? I... can't say I know much about what that will require or what I should do. Advice is welcome."

“We won’t enter the Deep Roads without reason,” Cauthrien told Cordelia. “I expect that we’ll be invited on a sortie or two with the dwarven forces, at the very least, but if anyone tries to convince you to go without the rest of us, you are to refuse. We go together or not at all.”

"Fightin' ain't easy, pup," Niamh offered to Cordelia. "But ya ain't gotta be alone, and there ain't none here who wouldn't give their all for ya. It's a right shame ye ain't safe in yer tower but ye've got true family here."

“I’ll be leaving for the Shaperate in half an hour,” she told the others as she left.

Niamh looked at Siali. "Right then, shall we?"
 
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