Killing Elephants: Chapter I
If nine years of being Warden Commander had taught Solaryn Mahariel anything, it was that she was in no uncertain terms unfit to be a Warden Commander. Yes, she could do the job, yes she was good at it, but what did that matter? The emotional strain, the toll it was taking on her mental well being, was simply not worth whatever good she could convince herself that she had actually done.
Others admired her for her deeds. She was famous for her efforts alongside Alistair and Amarina in defeating the Archdemon, well respected for being an even handed Arlessa in addition to Commander, and well loved for dispelling the thaw in the aftermath of the blight. But these were not the things she remembered. She was instead predisposed to remember those who died because of her mistakes, the brutality she had had to exercise when first uniting the Arling to better face the darkspawn. A particularly dark incident came to mind in which she had forced an assassin to drink his own poison while the assembled Banns of Amaranthine had been forced to watch. She still hated herself for that.
So it was in part these self doubts that saw her standing upon the battlements of Vigil's keep one early morning, staring out at the waves crashing upon the Amaranthine shore at the absolute edge of her vision. She knew she had done some good, but she would be a liar to say that part of her wanted her Command to come to an end. Still, even if it did she had nowhere else to be. That notion did nothing to mollify her wandering mind.
She shook her head and looked down at her hands, in which she held a painted polychromatic orb designed to look like the night sky. It was a trinket she had come upon abandoned in the Brecillian Forest during the Blight, and had never let go of since. It was strange how something so simple had come to mean so much to her.
She heard the steps of feet in heavy armour and sighed deeply at Varel's approach. She was only partly bitter at him for tearing her away from her brief moment of peace. She wanted to yell at him and send him on his way, but the man was just doing his job, and she respected him too much to do him that disservice.
“I had not expected to find you here at this hour Commander.”
Solaryn looked over her head and gave a faint nod. “I couldn't sleep.”
“Of course.” Varel clasped his hands behind his back and was standing in a form of salute that Solaryn had always been too polite to say she found slightly aggravating. “Since you're awake Commander,”
“That's not my name, how many times have I told you that?”
“I'm sorry. Since you're awake Mahariel, I believe you'll wish to hear the report that came in during the night on the Bion Waren.”
She was sorely tempted to say no, but in all truth that wasn't a choice. The last thing she wanted to hear about was the former Nevarran Artist guild in the City of Amaranthine that had turned into a darkspawn worshipping cult, but she had to do something about it to keep the people safe. She gave a feeble laugh and looked back out at the sea. “It never ends does it?”
“Maybe one day Commander.” He waited for her to reply but when she did not he gave his report in full. “Nathaniel returned with the scouting party late last night, they were successful in locating their meeting place. It is in the remote estate of a wealthy farmer by the name of Mikhail Laydmaw, and they meet there once ever three weeks. The reports he gave on what they saw going on there are, unsettling to say the least.”
Solaryn leaned against the battlements of the keep with a heavy frown on her face and stared off into space for a few moments. “What of the leaders, Ravide and Riccitiello?”
“They remain as of yet unaccounted for Commander.”
She shook her head and looked over her shoulder at Varel. “When's the next meeting?”
“Three days time Commander.”
She gave a small nod and turned again to study the treetops of a nearby forest. “I want Oghren and Velanna waiting for them in addition to at least a dozen soldiers. Make sure they are on the move by nightfall.”
“Of course, Commander.” He did not ask what the soldiers were meant to do once they arrived, because her tone and who she had chosen to send had already explained it clearly. Neither Velanna nor Oghren had qualms with killing, and her tone indicated that no cult members were to walk away from the experience.
“Capture Laydmaw if you can.”
“Yes Commander.” Maybe he hadn't guessed exactly what she wanted, but of the rest of it he was still sure. There were to be no survivors. Were it not a darkspawn cult, and had he not seen how foul the darkspawn were and how much she despised them, he might find the decision heartless. As it was though, he did not pity the cultists. He followed her gaze which still lingered on the forest and gave a brief thought to what she might be thinking about. “Is there anything else you need Commander?”
“I need you to remember that my name is not Commander.”
“My apologies Mahariel.” He didn't have the best view of her face to see her reaction, but he could almost swear he saw the corners of her mouth twist into a smile at that.
“To give a more serious answer to your question Varel,” she said as he turned to leave her to her musings, “I would like for all other reports that came in during the night waiting on my desk in addition to breakfast within the hour. I'll not be too long.”
“You'll be avoiding the dining hall again?”
“As you wish then Commander Mahariel.” He was pretty sure she could tell that he only barely remembered to use her last name, but didn't care about that overmuch. More noteable to him was the way in which she had been becoming increasingly reclusive over the past several weeks. Granted, she had never been too sociable to begin with, but the way she had lately actively been avoiding people around the keep in favor of her own company was getting a little unsettling. One could not effectively manage a Nation's Grey Wardens, let alone an Arling, without maintaining regular contact with the world around them. He did not mention anything of it though, as he was sure she'd snap out of whatever was troubling her given time. Well, that and she did not like it at all when people got too prying, and the threshold for excessive prying was set quite low indeed.
“You can go now Varel.”
“Of course, my apologies. Commander.” He gave a brief salute then turned and left to attend to his other duties.
Solaryn let out a deep breath and slowly unclenched the hand that had grown white from clutching her painted orb tightly enough to tire her hand somewhat and shook her head. “Is it really so much to ask for you to call me Solaryn?” She whispered to the empty air around her. She could pretend not to mind well enough while others were around, but she absolutely loathed being called “Commander” or “Warden Commander” or any variation thereof. The fact that Varel insisted on doing so regardless of what she tried to get him to stop only infuriated her further. Even in private conversation he insisted on using the title.
She turned abruptly and started pacing along the battlements towards the main gate. The worst part of it though was that apparently she couldn't simply refuse to acknowledge the title because that would cause both doubts dissent amongst the various banns and wardens she was supposed to be overseeing, and she wasn't about to give reason for another civil war to ignite over something so petty. It was maddening though, like being in an enormous cage. She wasn't the Warden Commander of Amaranthine, she was Solaryn Mahariel. Yet all anyone else ever saw was Warden Commander or Commander of the Grey, and she had to live up to that name to keep the peace- even if it made her miserable. It was times like these that she thoroughly envied her friend and former warden companion Amarina. She was living comfortably with Alistair at the capital, probably without a care in the world while she was stuck making life or death decisions for those that followed her almost weekly, if not more often then that. It didn't seem right, what had she done to be stuck with this burden while the other two got to live out there lives happily as royalty. She sighed and tucked away the painted orb. She had walked this circle in her mind many times before, and never lead anywhere good. She didn't want to be bitter, but it was hard not to be terribly jealous.
She studied the ground before the front gate with a passive look on her face, perhaps remembering the welcoming she had received when she had first arrived at the Vigil. Had it been over by that tree where the darkspawn had piled a dead farming family? Or no, perhaps over by that one? She shuddered suddenly to realize what she was thinking, and just how desensitized to death it meant she had become. It didn't even cause her to bat an eyelash anymore, and she hated herself for that. Part of her tried to wave that hatred away by reminding her that that was just part of being the Commander, but was unsuccesful because she knew that, at the end of the day, she could have stopped being the Commander at any time if she had really wanted. She shook her head again and rubbed her eyes intensely, she had treaded this path many times before too, and much like the other it led nowhere good.
She sighed and slumped her shoulders as she turned to go back to her office to read the latest torrent of reports that had come in, but something caught her eye and she stopped in midstep. There was a ridge on the horizon that the road to the Vigil lead over, and someone had just rode over it at a fierce gallop on horseback. She squinted to try and make out the form more clearly, but it had come a good way further down the road before she was at last able to recognize the slender frame of Amarina atop the horse. She couldn't help but smile a bit when she realized who it was, despite her frustrations at her current position, visits from Amarina were a rare treat to be enjoyed.
She deliberated only briefly what she should do before heading back into the keep to return to her office. As expected her breakfast was waiting on the desk, as well as a good half dozen small stacks of reports. As much as she wanted to wait outside the front gate for Amarina, she needed to get what little work she could done before her friend actually arrived, and knew Amarina wouldn't mind if she wasn't waiting at the front door with open arms. Well, that and she wasn't exactly fond of the idea of waiting on people, on account of having too many never show up too many times before.
She stretched out a slender hand for a quill and opened the ink well nearly buried by reports and grabbed the first one to read it over. She carefully made various notations of important details in the margins as she did so, admiring the ink as it shimmered in the light of the room. She paused for a moment and smiled as she remembered that she could not even read, let alone write, before meeting Amarina. It was a shame though that her most common application of the skill was taking notes on reports she would rather never have to read because she would rather have never held her position as Commander in the first place. Oh well, it was life she supposed, and she didn't want to be in a bad mood over it when Amarina arrived.
As it turned out though, she didn't need to be. Amarina was in a bad enough mood for both of them and then several others, if the shouting from somewhere else in the keep was anything to go by. She frowned deeply and brushed some crumbs off of a report she had not yet read, making a note that the person who had brought the meal in would have had to have done so rather carelessly to accomplish this feat. She gingerly placed the quill into the ink well and set aside the report she was reading in order to wait for Amarina to come in. It wasn't a long wait either, Solaryn heard her name called several times and was utterly unsurprised when the door flew open and she found herself face to face with the friend she had first met immediately before becoming a grey warden all those years ago.
She wasn't a pleasant sight to behold either. Solaryn actually blinked in surprise at how bad she looked. Aside from the look of utter fury on Amarina's face, it was obvious that she had not slept in at least days. Solaryn gave some brief thoughts to what was wrong, but knew she wouldn't be able to get too far until the two of them had actually had a chance to talk some. Not quite sure how to begin the discussion she settled for the safest possible way she could think of.
“Hello Amarina.” She said calmly, effectively hiding how worried she was for her friend.