Knight-Commander Greagoir looked out over the training grounds of the Grand Cathedrial in Denerim, observing as the young knights and recruits of the Chantry's Templar Order practiced their combat skills. There were only a dozen or so of them, which saddened the older templar. Back in his day, there would have been nearly four times as many young men out on that field. Times had changed in recent years, though, and word of some of his former colleagues' questionable practices had spread throughout Thedas and caused the people to begin to fear the templars more than they respected them. Gone were the days of young men traveling from far and wide to pledge their sword to the Maker's service. Nowadays, the recruits were more often than not pulled from the ranks of the orphans left to be raised by the Chantry.
With a heavy sigh, Greagoir reached up to scratch at his greying beard with one hand, his eyes focused on two young men in particular. Neither one of them was the most skilled with a sword, but they both showed definite promise. It reminded him a bit of himself when he was younger. He couldn't quite get a clear look at their faces, but one of them had dark blonde hair set atop his head in curls while the other possessed short-cropped hair which was light brown. He only needed a single knight, however, so he would need to decide between the two of them.
"Have any of our recruits caught your eye?" the Grand Cleric asked, joining him on the balcony outside her office which overlooked the training grounds.
"What can you tell me about those two over there?" Greagoir asked, pointing to the young warriors he had been observing.
"Ah, yes," the Grand Cleric said, nodding slightly. "Cullen is a valiant young man, one of our most promising young knights. He came to us from Amaranthine, seeking a better life. Seems things have not been going so well there, in recent years."
"He came of his own volition?" Greagoir asked, arching a dark eyebrow over one of his steel grey eyes.
"Yes," the woman at his side replied, letting out a light laugh. "Surprising, I know. It's rare we get volunteers any more. But Cullen wanted to dedicate his life to the service of the Maker. He was far too strong to let him simply sit around and recite the Chant all day, so I asked him to consider taking up the necessary training to become a templar. He has been a quick study, indeed."
"And what of the young man he is fighting?" Greagoir wondered.
The Grand Cleric sighed deeply, closing her eyes and shaking her head ruefully.
"Alistair is a lost cause, I am afraid," she informed him, opening her eyes to observe the young man in question. She watched him easily parry several of Cullen's thrusts before continuing.
"I daresay he is the stronger warrior of the two of them, but I would not recommend talking him with you back to the Circle," she advised the Knight-Commander.
"Why not?" Greagoir asked her, curious about why she wouldn't want him to have the better of the two fighters in his service. She turned her green eyes – which had dulled in color since the time she had been first appointed Grand Cleric during his own days at the Denerim Chantry – to look at him sadly.
"The boy was abandoned here by his guardian when he was ten years old," she told him. "He has never known his real parents, and I believe he may have been mistreated prior to his arrival here. He has... a sadness, a bitterness inside him, though you wouldn't know it by speaking with him. He constantly makes jokes, in an obvious attempt to conceal the emotional pain he has been dealing with for probably his entire life. It is this flippant attitude of his that is holding him back from reaching his full potential. Until he is able to heal the scars upon his soul, I fear he will make a poor servant to the Maker – or anyone else, for that matter. He hasn't even take his vows, yet."
Greagoir looked at Alistair, watching him fight Cullen. Now that he had heard of the young man's history, he noticed that the boy didn't seem to be putting his whole heart into the fight. It was almost as though he wanted to be defeated, but his natural skill was just enough greater than Cullen's to keep him from being able to get in a good shot. It was a shame the lad had so much inner turmoil affecting him. He would have been Greagoir's first choice, otherwise.
"I will take Cullen back to Kinloch Hold with me," he announced.
"As you wish," the Grand Cleric replied, regarding him with a respectful nod of her head before retreating back into the catherdral in order to prepare Cullen's belongings for transport to the tower.
Varia Surana hummed quietly to herself as her silver-grey eyes skimmed over the page of the tome in her hands, searching for the information she had been looking for all afternoon. Her mentor, First Enchanter Irving, had been adamant that she learn at least one minor healing spell in addition to her elemental spells. It would come in handy someday, he had told her, and she would thank him for making her learn it. The only problem was, she was terrible at any sort of spells related to healing or protection. Even her Arcane Shield was weaker than some of the other apprentices', a fact which she felt rather ashamed of since all of her other spells were powerful enough to do serious damage. She'd even killed a man with one of her spells, once, or so she had been told.
She had come to the library in the Mages' Quarters in search of a book that would help make learning the spell simpler for someone as inept at the healing arts as she was. Normally, an apprentice wouldn't be allowed in this particular library, but she was an exception. Sometimes, being the First Enchanter's student had its advantages – even if the other mages in the room were all giving her dirty looks. So far, however, all of the books she had found spoke of nothing but theory and practice of the healing arts. There hadn't really been anything about learning.
With a frustrated sigh, she snapped the book in her hands shut and returned it to its proper place on the shelf. She then scanned the titles of the books on the upper self, and spied one that sounded particularly promising: The Complete Guide to the Healing Arts – Simple Spells to Advanced Arcane Techniques. She attempted to reach the tome, but her short stature prevented her from grasping it. Not about to give up – and knowing she would likely receive no help from the other mages in the library if she were to ask for it – she stood on her toes and once again made an attempt to grasp the book. Her fingers had just about reached it when a man's hand reached up and easily plucked the book from the shelf.
"I believe you were trying to reach this, my dear?" he whispered into her ear, his body unnecessarily close to her own as he handed the book to her.
"I take it you're out of solitary, then," Varia remarked after taking the book from him, doing her best to ignore his presence by opening the cover and looking over the first few pages of the text.
"I am," he replied cheerfully, stepping around her to lean back against the stack of books. "Miss me?"
"Not really," Varia said with an exasperated sigh. This entire thing was part of a cycle she knew well. He would escape the tower, get dragged back and thrown into solitary, and then once he was out he'd come straight to her and tell her how he almost died and blatantly attempt to bed her.
"Weren't you supposed to be in solitary for another two months?" she asked, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. He had lost quite a bit of weight since the last time she saw him, and his robes were hanging off his tall frame rather than being filled out the way they had been before he ran off from the tower this most recent time.
"They let me out early. I think they knew how much I missed you," he flirted with her, reaching out with one hand to tug playfully at one of the ends of the yellow ribbon she always tied into a bow in her hair. The first few times he had spoken to her in that tone of voice and smiled at her, it had made her blush uncontrollably and giggle like a little girl. Then she learned he was like that with pretty much every other mage in the tower – most of whom he had also slept with – and his certain brand of charm somehow didn't seem to work on her any more.
"So, what is the most enchanting elven apprentice in the tower doing up here in the mages' library?" he asked, attempting to look over her shoulder at what she was reading.
"First of all, I am the only elven apprentice in the tower," she corrected him. "Secondly, to answer your question, I am attempting to learn a healing spell."
"Well, then! You're in luck!" he told her, standing up straight and puffng his chest out slightly in pride. "I happen to be exceptionally skilled in that area. I'm sure I could teach you a thing or two – as well as a healing spell, if you like."
Varia sighed and closed the book in her hands, then turned to look at him, rolling her eyes when he winked at her.
"Anders, please. How many times must I repeat myself?" she asked him. "You know I'm not interested in you like that." She blinked when she noticed something in his right ear catching the light.
"What is that?" she wondered, pointing to it.
"Do you like it?" he asked her, grinning and turning his head to show off the earring. "I met this pirate from Rivain when I was hiding out at the brothel in Denerim. She said I'd look good with one, so I let her do it. I think it makes me look dashing."
"The First Enchanter isn't going to like it," she reminded him, shaking her head. "It's not regulation."
"I already know he hates it," Anders told her with a sigh, leaning back against the bookcase once more. "But at least he didn't insist I take it out. I think he figures that the templars could use it to drag me around by my ear or something. Anyway, have you heard the news?"
"What news?" Varia asked him, her brow scrunching up in confusion.
"Samson's gone," he told her, his voice dropping considerably in volume.
"What? Why?" Varia asked, whispering back. Samson was one of the few templars who didn't treat all of the mages in the tower like complete garbage. Him being gone was very bad news for them all.
"Greagoir decided he gives us too much leeway," Anders filled her in. "I hear he got sent to Kirkwall, to serve at their Circle and hopefully get 'straightened out.' Bloody shame he's gone. Having any fun is going to be a lot harder now, not to mention escaping. Oh, well... At least I know there'll be someone to watch out for Karl, now."
Varia couldn't help laughing. "I see. So, the only reason you care Samson is gone is because it'll affect your abilities to have sex and run away. You don't care a lick about the rest of us who are going to suffer now that he's not here to keep the worst of the others in line."
It was no big secret that a handful of the templars serving at the tower had been abusing their power over the mages for some time. The only person who apparently didn't know about it was the Knight-Commander, himself. Or, perhaps, he did know about it and either didn't believe it was true or was keen to overlook it. Varia could easily believe either scenario. Greagoir didn't exactly trust mages most of the time, and unless one of the victims actually came forward and reported the incidents, there was no real proof. Of course, all of the victims were scared to death of retribution should they come forward – and so nothing had been done to stop the abuses. Varia considered herself lucky that she hadn't been attacked, herself. She had seen the way some of the templars looked at her. She was an elf, something different and exotic for them to slake their lust with. Thankfully, her status as the First Enchanter's 'pet student' had apparently made her off-limits. It seemed none of them were stupid enough to risk incurring Irving's wrath.
"Hmm?" she muttered, not even aware that Anders had been talking to her the entire time her mind was wandering. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about how bad things are going to start getting around here."
"You can say that again," Anders agreed. "Samson was the only one who kept those animals in line."
"And now they're free to going back to the way they were, doing whatever they please to us," Varia remarked.
"I don't know why he never reported them. He knew what they had done, and he just let them go right on like nothing happened," Anders said, his voice suddenly sounding more bitter than she had ever heard him. "I'm guessing he didn't want to lose his job. That's human nature, right? Do what you have to in order to survive. Let templars get away with beating and raping us, if it'll allow you to keep your bloody job."
"He couldn't prove any of it, Anders," she reminded him. "All of it happened before he got here. And while he was here, he did everything in his power to prevent it from happening again."
"You're right," Anders acquiesced. "It's just... I'm worried. For you, for everyone else."
"Shouldn't you be a bit more worried about yourself?" Varia wondered. Anders turned his brown eyes upon her, his usual cheeky grin back in place.
"Don't worry, sweetheart," he assured her. "I can take care of myself."
Anders winced, hissing a bit at the sound of his name being yelled so loudly that it literally bounced off the walls of the library and reverberated in his ears. He turned his head slowly and saw one of the Senior Enchanters – who had become his own mentor after he had shown an aptitude for the healing arts – storming directly toward them.
"There you are!" She said once she stopped in front of them, wagging a finger at the tall, blonde mage. "I have been looking all over for you!"
"Oh, Wynne," Anders addressed the woman, leaning closer to her and smirking at her. "If you wanted me that badly, why didn't you just say so? I've been locked in that cell all by myself for so very long, you know. And I daresay you're quite attractive for a woman your age."
Varia bit her lip to keep from laughing or even smiling. The look on Wynne's face was not one of amusement, and she didn't want to make things worse for Anders by making it seem like she found his usual shenanigans at the expense of the older mage entertaining.
"You were supposed to be helping me prepare healing poultices to be sent to Denerim for the Chantry and the King's Army," she reminded him through clenched teeth. "Instead, here you are, flirting and cavorting around with the First Enchanter's apprentice."
Anders and Varia both sighed and rolled their eyes, but for entirely different reasons. Anders, no doubt, hated that Wynne was putting a damper on his celebration of being freed early from solitary confinement. Varia, on the other hand, was just annoyed. All everyone knew her as was 'the First Enchanter's apprentice.' None of them ever bothered using her name, except for the few friends she had within the tower. Even the majority of the other apprentices called her by that stupid title – though most of the ones who did so did it behind her back in derisive tones, due to their jealousy over her special treatment. Their attitude was what had caused her to give up on making any more friends after the first couple of years following her arrival at Kinloch Hold. She had Jowan, who had been her best friend since her second week at the tower, and that was enough.
"Can't I at least have a little fun before I'm forced back into slave labor?" Anders asked Wynne, crossing his arms over his chest.
"No," Wynne answered, then reached up and grabbed him by the earring hanging from his right ear. Anders yelped and swore as she began dragging him off, and Varia waved at him.
"I'll be back soon, you little elven minx," he called to her, his usual charm lost amidst the additional yelling and swearing that followed the statement.
Varia chuckled quietly to herself and hugged the book Anders had retrieved for her to her chest, then began to make her way back to the First Enchanter's office in order to do some quiet studying. She had just walked past Owain at his post outside the storeroom when the large oak door at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the Apprentices' Quarters opened and the heavy sound of amored footsteps began echoing through the halls. She stopped in her tracks and turned curious grey eyes to see what was going on, and saw the Knight-Commander ascending the stairs with a much younger man following behind him.
Must be Samson's replacement, she thought to herself, taking a moment to look him over. He had short, dark blonde hair that curled wildly atop his head and green eyes which were wide in wonder as they took in his new surroundings. His skin was tanned, and he had the rugged good looks of someone whose family probably worked the land.
He turned his head suddenly and their eyes met. He smiled at her, and Varia turned her gaze down to the book in her hands as a blush crept up her cheeks, embarrassed at having been caught staring at him.
"Hello," he greeted her when he walked past her in Greagoir's wake, most likely making their way to the Templars' Quarters on the upper floors of the tower so he could get settled in.
Varia blinked and muttered her own greeting in return, surprised that he would willingly show friendliness toward a mage. Maybe she and Anders had been wrong. Maybe this new templar shared the same view of mages that Samson had. She had no idea how strong he really was, but he looked like a capable warrior. He was young, though, and some of the older templars weren't likely to take him seriously. Even so, she couldn't help hoping that maybe things around the tower wouldn't end up being so bad from now on, after all.