Here's the somewhat arbitrary and weirdly lighthearted description I wrote for this chapter: "Anders learns a bit more about what it means to be a Grey Warden. He's still not sure he likes it, but at least he manages to get in a bit of flirting while he's stuck there."
That pretty much sums it up, but it's just odd. Odd how I never seem to make the descriptions match the tone.
Anyway, I was told via review that the original iteration of this chapter is where I noticeably settled into the story and found my "pace". I hope I didn't ruin that with the revisions. On a suggestion, I once again added in some interruption and added material with Hawke. I promise that's not going to be an every chapter thing. I don't think it comes back up again yet to the point where I'm done revising, and I'm just starting chapter 10, so hopefully it's not going to get old. Other than that, I honestly don't have a lot to say about this, other than the fact that it's short. It's sort of the Grey Wardens 101 chapter. Character development. Setting the stage. Stuff like that. That's all I have to say about it, really.
Here it is: Chapter 2: The Commander of the Grey
The Commander of the Grey
I awoke in an unfamiliar room after vivid nightmares of darkspawn and darkness and evil. The foulest taste I had ever known clung to my mouth and my stomach rumbled with the feeling that I could eat the entire castle. My robes—torn and splattered with blood, darkspawn gore, and Maker knew what else—were soaked through with sweat. I felt horrible and was sure I looked worse, but I was alive. I stumbled to the small basin in the corner and groaned as I examined myself in the small mirror. Sweat and blood matted my disheveled hair. My face glistened with remnant sweat in the late morning light. I splashed it with cold water, tied my hair back, smoothed my robed, and headed out in search of food. And some answers.
Warden-Commander Cousland greeted me outside my room.
"Commander." I winced as the authoritative title rolled off my tongue. She didn't appear the type to demand formality, but I thought it best to feel out the situation if I was going to be stuck in it.
"Call me Josephine, please. We're family now, Anders and I've never been the sort of girl who went in for fancy titles."
Good. My judgment of her had been correct.
"Okay then, Josephine. Where can a man get some food around here? I'm starving."
She laughed. "I should have warned you about that. I'll show you to the kitchens." She started down the stairs and I followed her. She'd changed into a loose tunic belted over soft pants. As we walked, I let my eyes wander over her smooth curves. I figured I may as well enjoy the sights .
As I followed her through the meandering corridors, eyes fixed on her backside, I found my thoughts drifting. What did it mean to be a Grey Warden? I knew they fought darkspawn and defended the people during a blight, but we weren't in a blight, so what were we all doing here? How voluntary was our service? Was I free to leave whenever I wanted? Could I make the Wardens my shield from the Templars until I destroyed my phylactery and then vanish into the Ferelden countryside no questions asked? I doubted it, though the King came and went as he pleased. If he could leave the Wardens, could anyone leave?
When we reached the kitchens, she set a heaping plate on the table in front of me before tucking in to one of her own. After I had eaten enough to take the edge off my hunger, I wiped my mouth, and spoke. I needed some answers.
"I have some questions. About the Wardens."
She nodded. "I thought you would. I know I did. Loads of them. I had poor Alistair completely frustrated for the first few weeks. Apparently, when you join under normal circumstances, you get a formal training period in order to adjust, but those of us who join during a blight don't get that luxury. I suppose I'll need to start doing that as soon as we solve this latest darkspawn business. Provided there's not something else taking up my time." She sighed.
"For now, let me give you the basics. You already know about the appetite increase. That won't go away. We keep the kitchen well stocked; feel free to help yourself whenever you need. I presume you also know about the nightmares. Those will get worse before they get better. You're tainted now, which means you have darkspawn blood in your veins. It helps us sense the darkspawn. It also helps them sense us. That's what the nightmares are, the darkspawn communicating with us. One final thing..." she trailed off, her face set in a grimace, a sad softness in her eyes. "You've got about thirty years to live. Sorry. The taint kills everyone eventually; we just manage to fight it off for longer."
"WHAT?!" Hawke screamed at Anders, interrupting his story again. "Why did that never come up until just now?"
Anders shrugged. "There was never a good time to come out and say 'Oh, by the way, love, in about twenty-five or so years I'm going to go crazy and turn into a darkspawn unless I head down into the Deep Roads and let the monsters kill me before that happens."
Hawke glared at him. "So you just let me go on thinking that we were going to live happily ever after, well into old age and die peacefully beside one another in our sleep? Sure, that seems like a fair trade."
Anders rolled his eyes. "Hawke. We fight bandits on the Wounded Coast, mercenaries on the streets of Lowtown, the Coterie in the shadows of Darktown, the blighted Arishok in the middle of the Viscount's bloody keep, and Maker-forsaken dragons every time we go out to that cursed mine you got talked into buying. What in Thedas makes you think we were all going to live happily to old age? Chances are something will eat us long before then. I didn't think it was an issue."
Hawke's face crinkled into a sullen pout. "Well, it is an issue."
Anders closed his eyes and sighed. "Now you know. I've got about twenty-five more years to live. I better make them count."
"That's not so bad then," I told the Commander. "Raging appetite, terrible dreams, thirty-year death sentence. I don't see why more people aren't showing up to join."
"I'm sorry, Anders. I really am. It's not easy turning people into the same monsters you're forcing them to fight, believe me."
"Hey, I'm an apostate mage on the run from the Circle. Odds were good I was going to die soon anyway, right?"
She said nothing, so I continued my questions. "Is that all Grey Wardens do, then? Fight darkspawn? We don't have some higher purpose or anything. I mean, the darkspawn aren't always around, are they? What happens in the downtime? Gardening? I always wanted a garden..."
"I wish I knew. I've been a Grey Warden for over a year now, and all I've done is kill. Kill darkspawn, kill people, kill, kill, kill. I have to believe that this will all end sometime. Perhaps I am wrong. Ever since I joined, it's all I've known." I saw loss, longing, pain, and sadness in her eyes. I saw worry lining her beautiful face. Worry that shouldn't exist. I didn't know this woman's past or how she became a Grey Warden, but I knew that no matter the reasons they weren't fair. She should be happy, living a frivolous life without a care in the world. She shouldn't be commanding a misfit army against evil monsters.
I leaned back in my chair. "What would you do, then? If you didn't have to be a Grey Warden, I mean."
She gave an amused smile. "I don't have to do anything."
I hadn't expected such a frank answer. I stammered for a bit as I tried to regain my bearings. "I meant...that is...No, I suppose you don't. It's just...doesn't anybody ever leave the Wardens?"
"Why? Are you planning on leaving? You just got here."
"To be honest, I've never liked the idea of being trapped somewhere. That's why I kept running away from the Circle. I couldn't stand the thought of spending my entire life trapped within those stone walls, Templar eyes fixed on my every move. Honestly, you'd think after my seventh escape, they'd give me credit for trying and just let me go."
"Seven escapes. That has to be a record, right?"
"My dear, I hold all sorts of records at the Tower. I'm infamous, as it were."
"Are you thinking of escaping the Wardens, too?" Her tone now held the authority I expected from a commanding officer.
I wondered if she could read my mind. If the darkspawn could talk to us through our dreams, could we communicate that way as well? I shuddered to think about it. "I...I just...well, not right this instant I'm not."
"Good." She smiled, relaxing her posture. "I need you. We don't have a proper healer now that Wynne's gone back to the Circle. Tell me, why did you keep escaping, anyway? I mean, I get the whole freedom from oppression business and all trust me, I really do, but the Circle had to hold something good for you. It must have been easier to be under guard inside than hunted outside, at the very least. Isn't there anything, or anyone, that you miss when you're gone?"
I shook my head. "Friends are a liability in the Tower. Once the Templars find out who your friends are they have yet another way to control you. Those mages who do form close friendships are watched even closer than the rest. Just in case we're plotting to overthrow the Tower or team up to summon a demon, I suppose. Besides, no one wants to be friends with the man who got outdoor exercise time taken away by trying to swim to Redcliffe."
She laughed. "You did not!"
"Sure did! Nasty things in that lake." I paused, thinking. "No, you know, I think the one thing I miss about the tower is my cat. Sometimes he was the only person I would see for days on end. Except for him not being a person. Still, I liked him." I leaned forward and propped my chin in my hand. "Ah. Poor Mr. Wiggums."
She raised her eyebrows at me. "You called your cat Mr. Wiggums?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Everything. Anyway, why 'Poor Mr. Wiggums'?"
"Oh. One day he turned into a rage demon and I had to kill him. I didn't even know demons could possess a cat. Must be all the lyrium in that damned place. Ah, well. At least he took out a few Templars before he went down."
She erupted into laughter. After several minutes, tears ran down her face and she held her side as she managed to choke out. "You are hilarious. The best thing, is that I don't even know if you're kidding or not."
I grabbed her hand across the table and kissed it. "My lady, I'm always serious where demons are concerned." I waggled my eyebrows and stared into her eyes, trying to read her, trying to see some hint of the person inside. She met my seductive gaze for a brief second before pulling her hand away and walking from the room, her face emotionless once again.