Duncan sends the three new recruits (Dafydd, Jory, Valorien) on a mission to hunt down some Darkspawn and retrieve some of their blood for the Joining ceremony. Alistair goes with them as observer, and someone to bail them out if they get in too deep of trouble.
The recruits fanned out past the crumbling end of the ancient roadway. Before them lay the Kolcari Wilds, a trackless wilderness full of dangerous beasts, tribes of barbarians, and of course, Darkspawn. Alistair waited to see how they would sort themselves out.
“I will lead,” said Valorien. He set out without waiting for any acknowledgement. Dafydd and Jory fell in behind him; they had no argument there.
“It was really uncanny,” Alistair told Duncan later. “He could hear — I don’t even know what, because the wolves weren’t howling, they just ran up on us. He could sense Darkspawn nearly as well as me. We were nearly ambushed; I couldn’t even see where the blighters were, but he heard them growling and warned us just before they sprang out of hiding.”
“The elves have highly attuned senses,” replied Duncan. “Their Hunters even more so.”
“He’s very skilled, very well trained.”
“Did he lead well? Did he have any trouble working with Ser Jory and Dafydd?”
Alistair shook his head, and began telling Duncan about another incident in the wilds.
At last, they found some ruins with more intact structure. They cleared the entrance and peered inside. “Jory, take point,” said Valorien.
“Hang on, why do I have to go first all of a sudden?”
“Because Alistair wishes to remain back and observe our skills. Yours is the strongest blade, and blades go first in confined spaces in case the enemy comes upon us suddenly.” The elf glanced at Dafydd, then back at Jory. “Dafydd will take point if you do not feel you can handle it.”
“I can handle it,” Jory growled. “All I want to know is — If I were an elf, would you still stick me up front?”
“Yes,” Valorien replied without hesitation. “When I Hunted with my partner, he was more skilled with blades and he went first.”
Dafydd said, “He hasn’t led us wrong so far.”
“All right. Just watch where those arrows are flying.”
Duncan nodded thoughtfully at this report. “He seems to have good leadership potential.”
“He might, except for the fact he seems wholly unconcerned about the welfare of any human. I don’t know as I’d trust him at my back, whether it’s the taint in him or just his racial prejudice.”
“He’s sworn an oath to serve as a Grey Warden, and I trust him to do that to the best of his abilities,” said Duncan, then he grimaced. “But as for the rest of the army; I’m afraid you’re right. I will speak to him about it.”
“Are you sure the Joining will cure him? What if it justs accellerates the taint?”
“I’m fairly certain it will work.” Duncan noted Alistair’s look of worry. “We will induct him last, just in case.”
There was a scratching at the tent flap. “Enter,” said Duncan.
Valorien ducked into the tent. He spared the briefest of glances for Alistair, and addressed Duncan. “Chief Warden.”
“I found this in the possession of a corpse in the Wilds.” The elf handed him a folded piece of paper, and Duncan smoothed it out on the table to scan over it.
“It appears to be a last will and testament. Why are you bringing this to me?”
“In case you wish to honor the dead man’s request.”
Duncan shook his head. “I don’t have the time or the manpower to spare to pursue this. He writes of a treasure in the Wilds, presumably near where you found him. Did you go in search of it?”
“He is not of my people. It is not my concern.”
“Your ‘people’ are the Grey Wardens, now,” Duncan told him firmly.
“I see. And since this man is not a Grey Warden, it does not concern you, either.”
Duncan sighed. “I will turn this over to the knights.” The elf nodded and turned to go, but the Warden forestalled him. “Wait! There is something I wish to speak to you about.”
“I am listening.”
“Valorien, I know your people have an ancient grudge against the humans — which is not without reason. And they have been enemies to you, yourself, for many years. But now we all face a greater enemy, and these men — these humans — are your allies.”
“I will fight beside them; I will defend them, as is my sworn duty.”
“That’s not enough.” Duncan drew a heavy breath before going on. “Think of them as resources. The more humans who die here, who are too wounded to fight, the closer the Blight comes to reaching your people, in your forests. Treat your weapons well, care for them, and you will be able to better defend your people.”
Silence fell in the tent while Valorien thought on these words. After a few moments, he focussed on Duncan once more. “You are a real hrelhekhen,” he growled. “I can see why I have fallen prey to your machinations.”
Duncan winced. “And what does ‘hrelhekhen’ mean?”
“I think you know what it means,” Valorien told him icily, then turned and swept out of the tent.
Duncan leaned his elbows on the table and rubbed his face. Alistair drew a hissing breath between his teeth. “Ouch,” he said sympathetically. “What was *that* all about?”
The Chief Warden sighed again. “I’m afraid I did not handle his recruitment very well.”
“But you brought him here to save his life!”
“I’m afraid he doesnt see it quite that way.”
“Look, I hate to bring it up yet again, but are you really, *really* sure we can trust this guy?”
“You have seen him in action, Alistair.”
“Yes, and he scares me. I mean, it could be like, ‘Okay, Valorien, go rescue these beleagured knights’ — ‘Oops, sorry, I got there too late and they’re all dead.'”
“He won’t do that.”
“Why, because of this line you gave him about using the knights as tools?”
Duncan shook his head. “No. He knows I was trying to manipulate him with that — that’s why he was so angry.”
“So this elf you don’t know — this *tainted* elf — promises to join the Wardens just to save his own life, and you’re going to take him at his word?” Alistair’s voice went up with incredulity.
Duncan picked up the will and folded it carefully. “He brought me this.”
“Because he doesn’t give a wet hurlock’s backside about some dead human?”
“He does care. He could have left this there, lost in the Wilds. He could have found the treasure and kept it for himself.” Duncan tapped the paper against his chin. “No, he *wants* to do the right thing, but his lifelong indoctrination of hatred won’t let him.” He stood and turned to his ward. “Give him time, Alistair.”
“We have precious little of that. But I trust your judgement.”
“Thank you, my friend. Could you take this to the knight-captain?” He handed over the will. “I will start preparations for the Joining.”