Are we taking bets? (m!Surana, Blackwall)
“And I swear, she just threw down her staff and yanked the tooth out of that dragon's mouth and sauntered away like it was nothin'! Hell, it was nothin'!” The man's great black beard split with his wide grin and hearty laugh as he threw down his cards with feigned disgust, “Bah! Never trust a dwarf in cards!”
“Hmph! Damn right!” Oghren smiled with his own devious chuckle as his hands reached out to gather the assembled 'pot' of silver and copper coins from the middle of the card table. “Never bet against a dwarf in his cups. Ye'll lose everytime!” The red-headed dwarf laughed almost gleefully as he moved the pile of money right in front of himself, replenishing his dwindling stash, despite having boasted of his skill (or perhaps luck) just prior.
Nathaniel however just grunted and gathered up the cards, shuffling them easily in his hands as his gaze slid over to the bearded man before him. This warden didn't particularly relish this game of Diamondback, sitting here with Oghren, Sigrun, and Thom Rainier. Nathaniel wasn't exactly much of a social man in the best of circumstances, but this situation left even more to be desired.
He didn't approve of the Inquisitor being allowed to choose whether or not someone underwent the Joining. Or whether or not Wardens were exiled. The Inquisition, even for all its good, was a political organization, even if they didn't declare allegiance to any single nation. What right had they to say that Wardens were exiled from southern Thedas?
Nathaniel understood what had happened out there in the Western Approach. He'd read the reports. Heard the stories. He'd felt the Calling too, just like every other Warden, all over Thedas. But in Warden-Constable Howe's own opinion, this was a Warden crime, and therefore was a Warden matter to deal with. If a Blight broke out in Orlais, and there were no Wardens there to battle it, who then would Orlais or the Inquisition blame when darkspawn ravaged Val Royeaux?
Why then was Inquisitor Lavellan allowed to exile all of the Orlesian Wardens to the Anderfels, without so much as a by-your-leave from Empress Celene? The Dalish mage had tried to do the same with the Ferelden Wardens as well, by principle, but had thankfully been sternly rebuffed by King Alistair. The royal former-Warden knew exactly what happened when a country was too isolated during a Blight to allow that to happen.
To compound the insult of exile of more than half the Wardens in southern Thedas, the woman had then been allowed to tell Warden-Commander Surana that he 'must' give the Joining to Thom Rainier. Rainier, who'd posed as Warden-Constable Gordon Blackwall for five years, only revealing himself when the guilt of forcing an innocent man, his former subordinate in the Orlesian Imperial Army no less, to hang for his own crimes came to be too much. While Nathaniel supposed it was better late than never, certainly for the man that was spared the noose, it still didn't absolve Rainier of his crimes in Howe's eyes. Being a warden wasn't a joke. This wasn't a game of pretend one could simply stop playing when it wasn't fun anymore.
“Hey! You gonna deal or what?!” Sigrun's impatient questioning cut through Nathaniel's brooding. He snorted but dealt the cards, pale eyes focused on the bearded face of Rainier. Howe's 'poker face' was good, certainly better than most, but his steely gaze was clear and sharp just now, showing the 'recruit' just what he thought, even if his thin lips were kept in a firm line that was neither smile nor frown.
The card game however, would have to wait. The door to the dining hall of Vigil's Keep creaked open, the bright blonde head of Alim Surana poking through. His face typically serene face warmed with a small smile as he looked at the four who sat with cards and food at one of the long tables. “Thom? Come. It's time.” Despite the gravity of the situation, Warden-Commander Surana was nothing if not optimistic. He always was, no matter how many Joinings he oversaw, a feat that Nathaniel saw as impressive. 'I have to Nate, I just have to,' he'd explained once, when Nathaniel had questioned him about it, 'If I didn't try to look at the bright side of all this... I don't think I'd be able to get up in the morning. I can handle the disappointment if something goes wrong. But to go through life without some hope? Wouldn't be worth living.'
The smile had gone from Rainier's lips as he nodded, taking one last sip from his cup of mead before pushing back to stand. Sigrun raised her hand in a salute as he stepped back. Oghren belched loudly, though for him that was as good as wishing him luck. Nathaniel just nodded solemnly as Thom turned to join Alim, and the door to the dining hall closed.
After several moments of silence, Sigrun finally began to gather the cards again, “So... we takin' bets?”
– ** – ** –
“Join us, brothers and sisters.
Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant.
Join us as we carry the duty that can not be forsworn.
And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten.
And that one day we shall join you. ”
Those were the last words that Thom Rainier expected to hear. Not that he hadn't anticipated going through the Joining. He'd been prepared to do so years before. By the real Blackwall. But after the Warden-Constable's death, he hadn't thought that he really would. Too selfish, too scared to continue on to the closest Warden outpost. Too fearful of being accused of Blackwall's death. He'd wandered for years, under the name of one of the most honorable men Thom had ever met, always frightened that his past would come to haunt him, too scared to let anyone close. Always expecting that he'd die out there in the wilderness, alone.
But there he was, with the Commander of the Grey, the Vanquisher of the Archdemon, with his velvety, sotto voice intoning the words that had been spoken at every Grey Warden Joining for centuries. He'd never actually expected to be here. He'd never expected to make it out of that prison in Val Royeaux. The opportunity to make things right, to follow through, to regain his honor was more than he deserved. He took the chalice willingly, and brought it up. Many did not survive the Joining, he knew this. And if he died, he knew it would be justice, for all the wrongs he'd done to others. And so he drank, and darkness enveloped him.
What had surprised him more than undergoing the Joining however, was that he came out on the other side. That his eyes had opened once more, and in the firelight of the nearby hearth, could see the youthful, elvish face of the Warden-Commander, smiling down at him, cradling Thom's head gently in his lap. Was this the Fade? The Beyond, as Ellana Lavellan had called it? As his eyes struggled to focus, crossing slightly, Surana's tinkling laugh, like silver bells, rang out in amusement.
“You're awake! Good! I was worried you'd take too long, and I'd miss supper!” The elf mage's voice was full of mirth and warmth, nothing at all like the man that Thom had anticipated. And in his current waking befuddlement, only confused him more. Merriment was never something one associated with the 'grim Grey Wardens'.
Grunting lowly, Thom struggled to sit up, but managed it, and even got to his feet, with some assistance from Surana. The mage put one slender arm around the larger man's waist, letting him lean a little for support. “You'll get your feet in just a few moments, don't worry,” Alim explained patiently, not seeming upset about his status as crutch, “Undergoing the Joining is... well, it's rather like taking a good blow to the head. Makes you dizzy, blurry vision, nausea, shortened lifespan... all the fun stuff!”
Thom coughed and nodded, wheezing out a chuckle, “So I see...” Groaning quietly as he found his balance, he let Alim lead as they began to wander from the Main Hall, and back towards the dining one. “I s'pose I'll have some mixed reactions then, won't I?”
Rainier hadn't had much of a chance to speak with the Commander alone since he'd arrived at Vigil's Keep. Socializing with the other Wardens had been enlightening of course; many simply saw him as any other recruit, but some held some grudges over the things he'd done. Some because they'd known the real Blackwall, and Rainier had impersonated him. Others because his Joining was being forced by someone who wasn't a Warden at all. And a few because of what had happened all those years before, to Lord Callier.
Surana's slender shoulders shrugged, “Perhaps, but they'll come around, you'll see.” The elf's optimism was heart-warming at least.
“Are we takin' bets? There's a few that looked like they wanted to do me in themselves instead of letting the darkspawn blood do the job.”
“You'd be surprised. What you'd heard before, about the Wardens 'poking around prisons'?” Words straight out of Dorian's mouth, of course, “Well... they often do. Easily half of the Wardens I've met and recruited have been criminals of some sort. Thieves, murderers, apostates. I don't care about their pasts. I care about what they become.” Surana's warm smile turned to Thom again, “You learn to let go here. They'll let go of your past too, when you do.”
Thom wanted to believe, he truly did. But doubt gnawed at him, always. He paused in front of the dining hall door, glancing down at the blonde haired elf, “You can't know that though...”
Alim's nose wrinkled a little as his lips curved upwards in a grin, “Are we takin' bets?” And he pushed open the door.