The Blight took Maerin many places across Ferelden. From the beautiful woods of the Brecilian Forest to the never-ending Deep Roads to the dirty back alleys of Denerim. They were all fascinating in their own right, but none of them hold a candle to the majesty of Skyhold.
The Inquisitor herself is Maerin’s tour guide of the grounds. Whether it’s because she’s being a good host or because she’s bursting with questions about the Fifth Blight, Maerin can’t tell. She enjoys her company regardless. She’s always had a sort of fondness for the Dalish, and seeing one in such a position of power is inspiring.
Along with showing Maerin where she’s staying and where the main facilities are (Maerin especially enjoys the Herald’s Rest tavern), Nailah has also been introducing Maerin to the Inquisition’s Inner Circle. They’re not as strange as Mae’s own companions were; no giant stone golems or Antivan Crows with an order to kill. So far, Maerin’s favorite of the Inquisitor’s companions is the Iron Bull. He’s nothing like Sten, despite both being Qunari. He lets her climb up on top of his horns just for shits and giggles. Sten doesn’t have horns, but even if he did, he’d never let her get close.
They leave the tavern shortly after meeting the Iron Bull, Sera, and Cole, and Nailah leads her towards the opposite side of Skyhold.
“Since my advisors are all occupied, Blackwall will be the last person I can introduce you to today,” Nailah says apologetically. “He is a Warden though, perhaps you know him?”
Maerin’s eyebrows raise. “You have a Warden in your circle? A bold move, considering.” The Inquisitor’s actions at Adamant had left a bitter taste in many mouths, but Maerin is personally grateful she had brought the Wardens into the Inquisition. Fereldan or no, they’re still part of her Order, and she would see them safe.
“Yes, I’m sure nobles everywhere are gossiping about my blatant favoritism and-slash-or my absolute stupidity at this very moment.” Nailah rolls her eyes. “I stand by my decision. Blackwall is a good man, and the Grey Wardens a good company. They were only acting out of fear and desperation.”
“You don’t have to defend them on my behalf, Inquisitor. I know they fucked up.” She pauses, uncertain. “Uh, pardon my language?”
Nailah laughs, waving a hand in dismissal. “It’s fine. My sister also has quite the mouth on her.”
“Does she? I think I’d like to meet her,” Maerin replies, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
“I’m sure you two would get along like a house on fire.”
They come up to a two-story barn with no doors, halting at the entrance. There’s a human man inside fixated on a wooden rocking griffon on the workbench. His dark hair is pulled back in a very sloppy bun, and he doesn’t notice they’ve arrived until Nailah knocks twice on the outside of the barn. He glances over at them, something awkwardly sharp in his movements when he sees Maerin, and sets his tools down. He turns to face them fully, still seeming a bit ill at ease.
“Inquisitor.” He inclines his head at Nailah. “Who’s your friend?”
Maerin has to bite the inside of her cheek at the exasperated disbelief on Nailah’s face. She steps in, arms crossed over her chest in an X, and bows slightly. “Warden Tabris, though some call me the Hero of Ferelden.” When she drops her arms, Blackwall’s face is ashen.
“I-- Oh, Maker, I apologize, my lady.” He copies her motions hastily. It makes Maerin laugh quietly. “I meant no disrespect. Warden Blackwall, at your service.”
“Quite the Warden you got here, Inquisitor,” Maerin says jokingly, looking to Nailah and then back to Blackwall, sizing him up. “He didn’t even recognize me.”
“I’m actually from the Free Marches, though I was passing through Ferelden during the Blight. I never had the honor of encountering you and your crew, but I did kill my share of darkspawn.” He’s softened up a little now, assured that he hasn’t offended her. “My orders were to recruit new Wardens, no matter the situation, so that I did.”
His words don’t sit right with Maerin, though she can’t determine why. Her eyes narrow imperceptibly. “Oh? I could’ve sworn I’d seen you before.” She definitely has never seen him in her life, but a little lie never hurt anyone. His facial expression doesn’t change at her remark, though a flicker of something akin to panic shines in his eyes. “What’s your story? I bet mine has you beat.”
Blackwall shrugs, arms crossed. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear about some wayward Warden who was lost in the weeds for a few years. We were all thieves and criminals at some point, right?”
Another mental tick on the “this guy is suspicious” board. “True. But the Inquisitor mentions that you’re in her Inner Circle. You must know a great deal to have such a high ranking position.”
“I suppose I know enough,” he says. “My strength lies more in my blade.”
“It sounds like we don’t have to worry about you giving away any of our closely guarded secrets then.” She’s joking, of course. At least that’s what she wants them to think.
Nailah groans at that. “That’s for sure. I’ve tried asking him about the Wardens because there’s no documentation on them hardly anywhere, but the man doesn’t budge!” Her hands go to her hips. “It’s admiring, but very frustrating.”
Someone shouts Nailah’s name from across the way, and all three turn to see a mirror image of the Inquisitor waving wildly at them. Her vallaslin are different, as is her hairstyle. Mae reduced that this must be Nailah’s twin, Adelais.
Nailah waves back with just as much enthusiasm before looking over her shoulder at the Wardens. “I should go see what she wants. Maerin, are you coming?”
As if she would pass up the opportunity to meet another gorgeous warrior woman. “Of course. Perhaps we could speak more later, Warden Blackwall?”
“As you wish, Hero.” He crosses his arms and bows, and the two elves go on their way.
Maerin takes the first opportunity possible to escape to the rookery. Nailah had shown her where it was during their initial tour of the grounds and she’d already reunited with her dearest bard, Leliana. Now it was just a matter of getting Leliana to let Maerin use one of her ravens.
She approaches Leliana with a rolled-up letter in hand. “I need a raven.”
“...Why?” Leliana asks, eyebrow arched. Their lack of greeting is commonplace, as they can both already tell when the other is around due to living with each other for a year with their rogue senses.
“To send a letter to Alistair.” Maerin shakes the letter in question like a soundless rattle.
Leliana puts a hand on her hip. “I assumed you had been in constant contact with him already, despite having otherwise vanished from society. Is that not the case?”
“I wouldn’t say constant contact.”
“Then why are you so desperate to send this letter to him?”
“Because I love him dearly and he’s most likely worrying himself sick wondering whether or not I arrived safely?”
“I imagine the king of Ferelden has many other worries to attend to.”
Maerin scowls. Leliana’s third degree is killing her. “You used to be a lot nicer, Leliana.”
Leliana finally relents, chuckling and reaching over to ruffle Maerin’s hair. “I am only joking with you. Of course you can use one of my ravens.” She holds out her hand, and Maerin relinquishes the letter. Leliana whistles, high and clipped, and a raven with dark red eyes lands on her outstretched arm. She ties the letter to the raven’s leg and sends him off towards the opening in the roof.
Maerin’s shoulders go slack with relief. “Thank you.”
“It is my pleasure.” Leliana turns away from the railing when the raven disappears from view. “How has your stay in Skyhold been?”
Maerin hums thoughtfully, now sitting on the edge of the desk. “It’s intimidating. It’s beautiful. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a soldier.” She bangs her heel against the side of the desk with every item she lists off. “All in all, it’s certainly a step up from camping in the mud and waiting to be ambushed by whoever happens to come along.”
“Ah, weren’t those the days? Sometimes I find myself missing the way Barkspawn would growl in his sleep, or the sound of Shale’s rhythmic stomping around the perimeter.” There’s a fond smile on her lips, a rarer sight as time goes on. “But Skyhold has served us well so far. I pray that it continues to do so.”
“This fortress combined with Lavellan’s leadership is a force to be reckoned with. I believe the Inquisition will pull through.” She hops down from the desk. “I should be off. Wardens to visit and all that. If you hear from Keeva, will you let me know?”
“Assuming you don’t hear from her before I, yes. I will also be sure to have Alistair’s response sent to you as soon as it arrives.”
“Great. I appreciate it.” With a wave, Maerin heads out. “See you, Leliana.”
My dearest Maerin,
Thank you for gracing me with the reassurance that you’re alright. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Alistair, I always send you letters.” Yes, that’s true, but I miss having you by my side. Even if what you’re doing is vital to the Grey Wardens and Thedas as a whole. Letters are a poor substitute for the real thing, but you’re doing what needs to be done. I’m overwhelmingly proud of you.
Now, enough of the mushiness. You asked of a Warden Blackwall? I’ve never met him, but I remember Duncan mentioning him once or twice. A big, bearded man, always good for a laugh. Arl Eamon tells me he was very much against Loghain, especially his decision to close the borders. I don’t know where he’s from originally, but he was stationed primarily in Val Chevin. One of his most important duties was recruiting new Wardens. That’s about all I know of him, however. He’s notoriously an isolated person. I could have some people search for information on him, but I don’t know how long it would take or how much good would come of it. Still, just say the word and it will be done.
(Beware, I’m going to get mushy again! Try not to cry.)
I’ve said it once already, but I miss you dearly, my love. I pray that you come home soon, though I know that’s not exactly possible. Be safe, I beg of you. The reports of what the Inquisition has faced are troublesome at the least. I worry what they have ahead of them. Please, Mae, if you plan to stay with the Inquisition, please promise that you’ll take care of yourself first and foremost. Ferelden can’t lose its hero, and I can’t bear to lose my heart. Come back home to me. I love you.
The letter makes Maerin want to turn tail and run back to Denerim, and she holds it to her heart for several seconds after she finishes reading it. Then she carefully rolls it back up and sets it on the dresser in her guest room, shaking herself from her heartsick stupor.
Alistair’s doting words aside, he’d given her enough on Blackwall to reaffirm her suspicions that the Warden in the Inquisitor’s Inner Circle isn’t quite telling the truth. It’s a mystery she intends to get to the bottom of.
Which is how “Warden Blackwall,” if that is his real name, finds the Hero and Warden-Commander of Ferelden knocking on the barn walls asking for entrance. He glances at her from the corner of his eye before welcoming her in, hands busy on his rocking griffon.
“Forgive me if I don’t greet you properly, Hero,” he says. “My hands are a bit full.”
“Not a problem, Blackwall.” She strolls in, looking around. “And please, you don’t have to call me that. Maerin’s fine. Or Tabris, if you’d rather.” She stops next to his table, leaning against the wall with her hands in her pockets.
“How about just Warden-Commander?”
“Anything’s better than Hero,” she says. Try as she might, she can’t sense him the way she can sense other Wardens; her senses have been all kinds of screwy due to Orlais’ false Calling and the fact that Skyhold is full of Grey Wardens.
“Very well. May I ask what brings you out to my neck of the woods?” His hands never cease, constantly finding new parts of the griffon to tinker with. Maerin wonders if it’s so he can avoid direct eye contact.
“I’ve been talking with the Adamant Wardens. It’s been too long since I’ve really had the chance to talk to others in my Order. You may not have joined from Adamant but you are still a Warden, so I would like to talk with you as well.”
The screwdriver in his hand clatters to the tabletop, but he snatches it up quickly. “Would you mind if I kept working on this?”
Maerin notices that. “Not at all. I won’t take much of your time.”
“Alright. What would you like to know?”
“How did a Grey Warden come to be in the Inquisitor’s Inner Circle?”
“Inquisitor Lavellan, on suggestion from Sister Nightingale, sought me out back when all of this was just starting. As I was told, the Wardens had all but disappeared after the explosion at the Conclave. She was hoping I had some information on that.”
Maerin remembers hearing about that, knows now that the Orlesian Wardens had fled because of their involvement at the Conclave. “I take it you didn’t?”
“Correct. I hadn’t had contact with any Warden for months. I prefer to work alone.”
Maerin frowns. “Then how did you end up here ? With the Inquisition?”
“They thought the Wardens were involved. I had to find out for myself. You’d have done the same, would you not?” He spares a look her way, pausing in his craft.
“That’s why I’m here now.” She sighs, rubbing her eyes wearily. “Warden-Commander Clarel fucked up. She had a worthy goal, but she was wrong in the way she chose to achieve it. I may be the Fereldan Commander of the Grey, but I should still be here to oversee the Orlesian Wardens as they come back from this tragedy. At least until they are able to replace Clarel.”
He nods and goes back to work. “They are lucky to have you, in any case. Things could have gone south for them very quickly had Inquisitor Lavellan exiled them.”
Maerin looks at him sharply, though he doesn’t see. She decides not to comment on how he others the Orlesian Wardens from himself. “I am grateful for her. She has saved many lives, as well as the reputation of the Order. The least I can do is stay and offer what help I can.” She stretches her arms over her head, then idly starts moving around the barn. “But I didn’t come down here to talk about me. You mentioned you were in Ferelden during the Blight?”
“Aye, I was. I didn’t hear about Ostagar until a few weeks after it happened. I’d only been in Ferelden for about a couple of days at the time, looking for potential recruits.”
With her back to Blackwall’s, a cunning smile spreads across her face. As soon as Loghain Mac-Tir had taken the throne, he’d closed Ferelden’s borders to other Wardens. There’s no way Blackwall could’ve made it into Ferelden after that, unless…
She’s wandered over to the painting on the far wall of the barn, of some sort of beast and a woman all in white embracing each other. “How did you take the news of Ostagar? Of what Mac-Tir had done?”
Blackwall’s hammering stops abruptly. She can feel his eyes on her back. “I’d have wrung his neck with my own two hands if given the chance.” The anger in his voice is genuine. It also matches what Alistair had said of Blackwall in his letter. “As for how I took the news, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I doubled my efforts in conscripting people for the Wardens, but not many took me seriously.”
“I imagine so. Alistair and I jumped through many hoops to get people to listen to us, and we’re actually Fereldan. I’m not surprised they didn’t listen to you.”
Blackwall rests against his work table, palms down on the surface. He watches Maerin’s back. “You Fereldans are indeed a stubborn lot.”
Maerin looks over her shoulder. “Careful who you say that to. Some are just as likely to pull a knife on you as they are to laugh and agree.”
“I sincerely hope you’re the latter.”
When she pivots to face Blackwall head on, she’s tossing a dagger back and forth and spinning it in her hands. She’s stone-faced long enough for Blackwall’s eyes to widen, then she breaks into a grin and sheathes the blade. “I’m Fereldan, but I’m not a crazy Fereldan.”
Blackwall surprises her by laughing and asking, “Is there a difference?”
“Oh, you do have a sense of humor! I was beginning to wonder if Duncan was lying about that.”
“Duncan?” There’s a brief pause where they just look at each other, then Blackwall seems to snap back to reality. “The previous Warden-Commander? I didn’t realize he’d talked about me.”
That pause was the last nail in Blackwall’s metaphorical coffin. Maybe she should be outraged that this man has presumably stolen the real Blackwall’s identity, but he doesn’t seem to have any malicious intent towards the Inquisition or the Grey Wardens. She thinks he genuinely wants to help. She also thinks it’s absolutely hilarious that no one has found him out yet, given his awful ability to keep a cohesive story. Thankfully, she knows how to school her features to where she doesn’t give away just how entertained she is.
“Well, I heard it second-hand from Alistair. I only know he mentioned you were funny. And that you had a kickass beard.”
Blackwall strokes his beard absentmindedly. “It’s unfortunate I’m unable to return the sentiment in person. He was a good man, to be sure.”
“He was. Saved my life, helped me become who I am today. I owe him a great deal.” She clears her throat, looking away. “Anyhow, I’ve taken up more than enough of your time.” She looks back to Blackwall and holds out her hand. “It’s been a pleasure, Warden Blackwall.”
He shakes her outstretched hand. “The pleasure is mine, Warden-Commander.”
Maerin smiles, crossing her arms behind her back. “The world likes to forget that the Wardens serve an important purpose. Use your position in the Inquisitor’s circle wisely. Keep doing us proud.”
Blackwall bows his head. “I intend to.”
She nods in satisfaction, turns on her heel, and makes her way back towards the castle.
As soon as Maerin hits the first flight of stairs leading up to the castle entryway, she’s sprinting for the rookery. Leliana is sitting at the desk at the top of the spiral staircase, scribbling away at whatever report she’s sending out this time, when Maerin slams her hands down on the opposite side of the table.
Leliana drags her gaze up to Maerin’s expression of barely contained delight, then puts her quill down with a sigh. “Yes?”
“We need to talk,” says the elf, skirting around the column beside the desk and making a beeline for the balcony door. When Leliana doesn’t immediately follow, Maerin persists. “Leliana, come on , this is important .”
That gets Leliana out of her chair, though not with any sort of urgency. The two women convene on the balcony, Maerin double checking that the door is securely shut before she launches into her reveal.
She gestures dramatically towards the barn below them. “Whoever that man is, that’s not Blackwall. I’d wager he’s not even a real Warden.”
Whatever reaction she’d hoped to elicit, it doesn’t come. Leliana merely nods. “You would win that wager.”
Maerin stares at her, bewildered. “Are you saying you knew ?”
Leliana smiles, and there are more secrets in that smile than should be possible. “My dear friend, of course I knew. Who do you take me for? I’m the Inquisition’s spymaster. It is my duty to know the people involved, especially those in the Inner Circle.”
“So I did all of that detective work for nothing?”
“Not for nothing. You gained valuable experience, no? How to gather information, what tells to watch out for, how to manipulate conversations?”
Maerin makes a face. “I don’t care for any of that, I just wanted to tell you something you didn’t already know.”
Leliana makes an amused sound. “You will have to try harder than that, I am afraid.”
“So why have you not told anyone?”
The redhead folds her arms on the stone barrier of the balcony. “I have had my eye on him from the moment he entered Skyhold. He is always ready to offer his assistance. He holds no ill will towards the Inquisitor, her sister, or really anyone else in Skyhold. He is a skilled warrior, and his presence in the Inner Circle allows us the advantages of a Grey Warden influence. Overall, I see no reason to out him. Yet.”
“And if that were to change?” Maerin presses a hip into the barrier, one arm resting on the surface. One could almost say she sounded anxious.
“I assure you, I will deal with him carefully.” Leliana tilts her head to meet Maerin’s eyes. “I know how much the Grey Wardens mean to you, and I know Adamant was a blow to the way Thedas views them. I will not let this be another stain on their reputation, if that is what you’re worried about.”
Maerin gives her a lopsided smile. “You got me. Even ten years later, you can still read me like an open book.”
“The years may not have been always kind to either of us, but it does me well to know that some things never change.” She straightens, hands behind her back. “I am glad to have you around again, Maerin.”
“The feeling is mutual. I feel like I haven’t stopped moving in years. It’s always a joy to see my old friends again, no matter how hectic life gets. But, if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important letter to write.” She moves for the door, but Leliana steps in front of her.
“Perhaps this is unnecessary, but I feel I should remind you that no one else knows about Blackwall’s identity. If anyone in Skyhold were to find out, I would be forced to have Cassandra root out to source.” Her eyes glint in the evening light.
If Maerin didn’t know her well enough, she would mistake the playfulness in her eyes for danger. “Cassandra is more than welcome to interrogate me anytime, if you catch my drift.” She winks and Leliana recoils ever-so-slightly, clicking her tongue.
“You are a naughty person, you know that? What would Alistair think?”
“He would agree! Have you seen Cassandra?”
“Indeed I have.” She moves to the side, allowing Maerin access to the door. “Go on, then. Go write your letter. Bring it back to me when you are done, and I will have it sent out.”
“You’re the best, as always,” Maerin says, scooting past her and bounding for the stairs. “Bye, Leliana!”
“Until next time, my friend.”