Do not ask me to explain how the Dragon Age elastic time works, because I have driven myself bugnuts over and over trying to figure it out. Things happen when I say they happen, and take how long I say they take. And if I don’t say exactly, it’s because… time is elastic in Thedas.
The Assassin on the Trail
Ferelden was a huge country, compared to Antiva. Zevran began to wonder if they would even be able to find two Grey Wardens in the vastness of it all, or if they would just criss-cross the land aimlessly searching for months. If the Wardens left the roads, they could vanish. Hopefully, they weren’t that smart. The assassin wondered what he would do in their situation, not being owned by anyone and his entire order being destroyed. Disappearing sounded very enticing. But then again… what would he do with himself in obscurity? Killing was all he was good at. Well, killing and whoring, but killers earned more respect than whores. The Wardens, it seemed, just might try to rebuild their order, starting at Redcliffe.
First, the assassin and the Black Wolves would have to pass through Lothering. It was unlikely they could pick up the Wardens’ trail there, as that doomed village was due to be sacked any day. They didn’t make very good time; the refugees flooding east on the ancient highway had slowed the progress of the wagons. When they came upon small groups setting up camp for the night, the mercenaries dispatched them and loaded their paltry goods onto the wagons. Zevran chafed at this robbery, but the damned mercs were making a tidy profit along the way. And even more when they sold back some of the foodstuffs to other refugee groups, who were desperate enough to pay anything for a moldy half wheel of cheese or some leather-tough strips of dried meat.
At last the road was clear, and they drove the oxen hard. Lothering was a ghost town, picked clean like a corpse left to the crows. There was evidence of darkspawn in the half-eaten corpses strewn in the Chantry yard, and some of the strange, twisted-bone totems standing in the fields. A bleak miasma clung to the ground, like a dark fog. The mercenaries kept alert, with arrows nocked, as they moved to get the wagons around a break in the ancient Tevinter highway. They hauled the wagons up the ramp to the west side of the highway, crunching over strewn bones.
As the third struggled up the slope, the oxen began lowing. One of the rear guards spat a curse. “Darkspawn!” Several dark humanoid shapes loped across the sward towards them. The guard loosed an arrow at them, with no effect.
“Leave it!” Zevran snapped at the men pushing at the wheels of the last wagon. “And stop wasting your ammunition on those things. Run!” He leapt into the back of the second wagon. Hannah and her older brother were already taking the reins of the first wagon, getting the panicked oxen to run in the same direction.
Only two of the Black Wolves didn’t heed him; the rest raced for the two wagons pulling out. “That’s half our gold,” screeched one of the dawdlers. The last wagon slipped sideways off the ramp and the back wheel wedged firmly in place. The oxen screamed in panic and flailed their hooves, trying to run.
“You’re going to get eaten!” one man shouted back, leaning over the back of the wagon and extending a hand to those running close behind. They hauled them up, but didn’t slow down for the two stragglers.
The rear guard got his head split open by a tall Darkspawn with an axe. The twisted creatures swarmed over the cattle, ripping bites out of them while they still kicked and screamed. A few moments later, the same thing happened to the last man running after them. “So much for them slowing down for that,” grumbled one of the Black Wolves next to Zevran. The man nocked an arrow and let fly. It hit the target, but the Darkspawn kept on coming. Others began firing. They brought down two.
Zevran shook his head. He fished down under the tarp and came up with a clay jar filled with oil and sealed with wax. With his firestriker, Zevran lit the rope fuse. He stood up in the jouncing wagon, keeping his knees loose so he didn’t get thrown. He lobbed the grenade into the mob of pursuing Darkspawn, and it exploded into a fireball, dismembering several and setting the rest on fire.
The big human turned to him. “What was that about wasting ammunition?”
“What? One grenade?” the assassin scoffed. “Better than the two dozen arrows you were throwing at them.”
They got several miles out of the spooked oxen, stopping only at full dark. The beasts and wagons looked ready to drop and fall apart, but hopefully they would hold together until the assassin could set up an ambush. There wasn’t any sign of further Darkspawn pursuit, thank the Maker. The Black Wolves set up a quick camp, and one of the more handy fellows did some repairwork on the wagons.
The next day, they caught up to a garrulous dwarven merchant plodding along with his little donkey cart. He was heading to Redcliffe, he said. They traded news from Denerim with him, and he claimed the Grey Wardens had saved him and his boy back in Lothering, and so he was following them. Apparently, the Wardens tolerated him in their camp at nights, and he knew a lot about them and their plans. Zevran tried not to grin like a cat with the keys to the canary cage. He could hardly believe his luck. Well… no, truth be told, he’d always been extremely lucky and was glad of it. Still, it always managed to surprise him.
The dwarf confirmed Howe’s speculation that the Wardens would seek allies in Redcliffe. He even gave them directions on which fork in the road to take, and best of all, there was only one road in and out of Redcliffe. The assassin thanked him graciously, and they whipped up the oxen, sensing their prey close at hand.