The next morning the yard was abuzz with activity, mounts being readied by grooms, wagons filled with gear and food were being attached to lowing beasts of burden. The party of four Thrawn had initially envisioned for this trip had ballooned substantially. Not only did Sera and Varric join the party, but so did a contingent of senior mages and a stout company of Templars. The two groups eyed each other warily in the yard: the latter was not officially tasked with monitoring the mages… but old habits die hard.

The War Table meeting finished just as the caravan began to wind down the mountain road out of Skyhold. Pellaeon had hoped to talk with his superior as soon as possible, but between Thrawn playing peacekeeper with Mage and Templar and the obsession of Sera with stealing and wearing Pellaeon's battered grey captain's cap, it was not until just before noon Pellaeon found a lull long enough to catch, and hold, Thrawn's attention. He cleared his throat with a polite cough.

"Good morning sir, may I discuss some things with you?" Thrawn took a measured sip from his water skein, the effects of Bull's concoction still faintly echoing in his head.

"Of course captain, I assume you are wondering why the mission for the four of us morphed into a major expedition?" Another sip of water was taken before the skein was put away. "Solas appeared to me in the Fade about an hour after you three left my quarters: apparently, the Grand Clerics are closer to picking the new Divine than I would like, and one that is not on my short list of candidates. I am hoping the sight of mage and templar under our authority will boost our leverage in that choice." He paused and sampled some of the dried rations in his saddlebag before continuing. "The Dalish are moving, to what end Solas could not, or perhaps would not, tell me. He would only hint at them being stirred up by a third faction in the civil war that has embroiled Orlais"

Pellaeon's brow furrowed in concert with his mustache. "Is it wise, sir, to rely on such a…" he coughed into his riding glove, "enigmatic person such as Solas in regards to our political actions in a world we know so little about?"

The corner of Thrawn's mouth quirked. "You say 'enigmatic person' in the same tone Enchanter Vivienne pronounces 'style-less hobo'. I am aware Solas is not to be trusted, but his abilities make him quite useful."

Pellaeon snorted. "The Jedi were thought useful before they attempted to kill the Chancellor and overthrow the Senate at the end of the Clone Wars, I fear we trust too much in Solas and his mystical powers."

"I understand your hesitation, Captain, but our options are limited. Whatever phenomenon transported us to this planet had something to do with the crisis of the Elder One. Solving the crisis may uncover what, or who, caused our presence here. Illuminating the natives to the truth of the Imperial New Order is merely a bonus."

Pellaeon shifted uneasily in his saddle. "I understand that sir, but it would be of greater comfort if we had the wonders of established science at our call instead of this," he paused, lips curling in distaste "magic."

Thrawn chuckled. "I agree captain, but events conspire against us. Not only are we stranded with the only piece of advanced technology being the distress beacon we set off in Haven, but this nascent 'Inquisition' left most of its arms and supplies behind in the avalanche. We must make do with every tool at hand, regardless of our opinions on the matter. Besides, if you feel so strongly about the dangers of magic, why did you make the Mages our allies at Redcliff instead of conscripting them?"

Pellaeon wiped the dust that had been gathering on the front of his uniform. "I felt that were we to conscript them so recently after they had been tricked into servitude under magister Alexius it would breed ill will, and possible insubordination. This way they are a partner within the Inquisition until they can be fully absorbed. One can catch more flies with honey after all, sir."

Thrawn gave him a fatherly smile. "I see you've been taking my lessons to heart, good. No need to startle the horse while fixing the bit in its teeth." After this comment two riders caught up to the conversing leaders of the Inquisition and Thrawn welcomed them with a polite smile. "Ah, Grand Enchanter Fiona, Grand Enchanter Vivienne, would you join me for a moment, there is some matters we must discuss before Val Royaux." Vivienne's tone never shifted, but the tight satisfied smile at the Inquisitor's apparent blunder on titles resembled that of the cat after visiting the aviary.

"My dear Inquisitor, that was just what we wanted to bring up with you, especially the return of certain privileges and properties to the Circles once they are reinstated." she purred.

"What First Enchanter Vivienne means," interjected Fiona "is we would like to discuss the reforms necessary to prevent the abuses that began the war and the future enfranchisement of mages."

Vivienne raised her eyebrows "Of course my dear, reforms within the safety of the Circles." Fiona's demeanor began to resemble that of a cornered tabby, so Pellaeon wisely slowed the pace of his bay and let the Inquisitor deal with yet another round of politicking between the two mages.

Casting his gaze backwards he saw Varric had buttonholed Blackwall into hearing another of his tales about his time with the Champions, the accuracy of said accounts being suspect. Escaping the Blight with only Wesley the Templar dying was one thing, but to be saved by a talking Dragon that turned into a witch? Pellaeon twitched his nose at the preposterousness of it.

"Cap!" said a beaming Varric. "I was telling Hero here about the time Henry dueled the Arishok for Rivani, and he goes and tells me that you've set him up to duel for Ruffles? Why didn't you tell me, Cap?"

"Because, Master Tethras, you would make a spectacle of it. This is simply a gentlemen's quarrel over the recipient of their affections."

Varric slow smile disquieted Blackwall, who shifted nervously in his saddle. "Oh of course, just a gentlemen's quarrel. I'm sure Ruffles will love it when I tell her she's being fought over like a piece of meat. Yessir, she'll be speechless."

Pellaeon massaged the bridge of his nose, cursing when a low-lying branch took advantage of his distraction to nearly bean him on the head "What do you want, Varric?"

"Front row seats of course! And the opportunity to help teach Hero his swordplay."

"You," said Pellaeon as he eyed the dwarf "want to teach bladework to Blackwall?"

"Not bladework per se, more like streetwork."


Varric threw his hands into the air "Look, at most you've got six, maybe seven nights of practice on our way to Val Royeaux? How long do you think the Antivan has been practicing with his rapier? When life gives you the short end of the stick, sometimes you gotta trip a guy before pinching his purse. It will even the playing feel, maybe even tilt it in Hero's favour."

"Fine Varric, meet us by the scout's campfire after dinner, we'll find a quiet spot to practice." Pellaeon gave a reassuring smile to Blackwall, who merely grunted, eyes gazing off elsewhere. Varric laughed, and began whistling a jaunty tune as they continued the journey to Val Royeaux.


A.N: Phew! I'm back! It took a lot longer than I expected, but water under bridges and all that. Things (raps wood) should be coming quicker now, so buckle up and enjoy!

My thanks to Cyrania de Bergerac for her kind review, more reviews are always welcome