The Blight had ravaged the land for months; the armies of the great kings amassed for one last stand. As the sun burst through the clouds that boiled and churned in the dark sky, it illuminated a vast seething horde of darkspawn with the Archdemon at its head.
It was then—when courage seemed to fail and all lost to death and despair—that the Grey Wardens came.
They arrived with the beating of wings like mighty war drums and stood before the armies of men. The Grey Wardens, grim and fearless, marched forth, ever between men and the encroaching darkspawn. They formed a shield of their own bodies and held that line until the Archdemon was dead and the last darkspawn lay trampled in the dirt. Then, demanding neither reward nor recognition for their sacrifice, the Grey Wardens departed. When the clouds rolled back and the sun shone full upon the blighted ground, the great kings knew that they had lost no men, that none of their blood had been spilled.
This is a tale about no battle the Grey Wardens have fought and yet about them all. They have always defended us from the darkspawn, taking losses so we do not have to.
—Adaptation of a Grey Warden legend
The tale outlined above is widely told, although subject to regional variations. Free Marchers might substitute "great kings" for titles bestowed in their given city states. In Ferelden, the implied army of Wardens is sometimes replaced with two—representative of the national heroes who fought and defeated the Archdemon at Denerim during the Fifth Blight.
The "beating of wings" is a reference to the griffons the Wardens are said to have ridden into battle. Although griffons went extinct long before the recent Blight, they still appear in numerous stories; sometimes serving as a metaphor for the Wardens' unrestrained courage, but also employed to please an eager audience.
—From Tales of the Wardens by Sister Manon