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"For centuries we have watched and waited for the darkspawn to return. In peace... vigilance. In war... victory. In death... sacrifice. This is what it means to be a Grey Warden." -Duncan
The Grey Wardens are the defenders from darkspawn and blights. These elite warriors can stop the blights because they share the same taint as the darkspawn. It is because of this taint that only a grey warden may slay an Archdemon. However there is more to a blight than just an Archdemon. The legions of darkspawn require an army as well. To gather such an Army the Wardens have treaties with the Mages, Human kingdoms, Dalish Elves, and the Dwarves of Orzammar. Wardens also have the right of conscription demanding anyone from a lowly beggar to a high prince to join there ranks. However it seems that for the most part the right of conscription is only used in cases that would benefit the individual being conscripted, such as Alistair. The Grey Wardens are highly regarded as well as thought of as excellent warriors, mages, and rogues.
The Grey Wardens were formed during the First Blight. Dwarves, elves, and humans fought the darkspawn for 90 years in brutal battles but were unable to quell the darkspawn horde. Battle-hardened veterans from the armies of the Tevinter Imperium came together at Weisshaupt Fortress in the Anderfels. They held the first Joining, a ritual that involves drinking Darkspawn blood to have the taint of the darkspwan, allowing them to better fight the darkspawn and kill the Archdemon. They called themselves the Grey Wardens and cut all ties and previous associations to dedicate themselves to eradicating the darkspawn. They would accept any person deemed skilled enough to join regardless of their race, background, or criminal record. As the order made a name for itself fighting the darkspawn they received money, recruits, and supplies to help in their mission. The Grey Wardens rode into battle on griffons and served to raise morale and turn the tides of battles. The Wardens were instrumental in turning the tides against the darkspawn and in 100 more years of fighting the humans met the bulk of the darkspawn horde at the Silent Plains. The Archdemon Dumat was slain by Grey Wardens and the darkspawn army was routed.
The next three blights were handled relatively easier than the first despite the Grey Warden headquarters at Weisshaupt being beseiged by darkspawn during the Second Blight.
After the Fourth Blight it was 400 years until the next blight. During this time people came to believe that the blights were over and the darkspawn were going to remain in their underground tunnels. The influence of the Wardens waned considerably and griffons became extinct. The Grey Warden order was expelled from Ferelden by King Arland following an attempted uprising by Sophia Dryden. While they were allowed back into Ferelden by King Maric 20 years before the start of Dragon Age: Origins they had a light and tentative presence in the country.
During the Fifth Blight two Grey Wardens stopped the blight after the slaughter of all the other Grey Wardens in Ferelden during the Battle of Ostagar. This lead to the renewed renown of the order.