Esteemed Champion of Kirkwall,
I write to you today, not as a Knight-Commander of the Templar Order, but as your fellow citizen of Kirkwall, in hopes of expressing to you my deepest and most sincere condolences regarding the death of your mother, Lady Leandra Amell. It was with great heaviness of heart that Her Grace lifted up your mother’s name during vespers this evening. Many of the faithful elected to leave remembrances for her at the Chantry memorial wall after the conclusion of service. I readily admit I knew of your mother only by her sterling reputation, but Champion, I feel obliged to tell you I believe her reputation to be well deserved.
Perhaps this letter shall come as some surprise to you, as our politics have often been at odds with each other. I caution you not to consider this letter an offered olive branch, as there is much between us that remains unsettled and much that still must be addressed. Yet I request that you take me at my word when I assure you that I grieve with you, as only one who has also lost a loved one to blood magic can.
From the bottom of my heart, Champion--I am most sorry for your loss.
With kind regards,
Knight-Commander of Kirkwall
Somewhere across the bay, a bell tolled the late hour. Meredith set down her quill and turned her eyes, unblinking, into the harsh glare of the sunset over the water.
The letter in front of her still required time for the ink to dry before she could neatly fold it, place it in an envelope, seal it, and send it out with a courier. She still had time to change her mind, to consign the letter to the hearthfire where it belonged. The fire was lit; she could toss it in at any time. Carefully so as to avoid smudging the ink, she lifted the letter from her desk to skim it one more time in search of any glaring errors, either of syntax or of logic. At a glance, she could discern none, save for perhaps the undue sentimentality that had crept into the writing despite her best efforts. It seemed unfair to lay the blame squarely at Grand Cleric Elthina’s feet, but Her Grace did have a knack for coaxing the soft thoughts and feelings from Meredith despite her protestations.
Elsa announced herself by rapping on the closed door three times. Still scrutinizing her writing, Meredith said, “Enter.”
The door opened to admit the Tranquil mage, whose unyielding neutrality proved to be precisely what Meredith required that evening. Elsa wordlessly offered her several reports authored by the Knight-Captain, and in exchange, Meredith proffered her the letter. “Read this,” she instructed, “and be quick about it.”
Elsa took the letter unquestioningly. Her eyes flicked across the writing. On a normal day, Meredith appreciated her silence. This evening, it rankled her nerves. “I would like for you to give me your honest impression of this letter.”
Mechanically, the mage replied, “It is a letter of condolences from yourself to Lady Brona Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall.” Elsa looked up from the writing to meet Meredith’s eyes. Hers were cool and emotionless, but hardly vacant. “It is kindly phrased. Should you require it, Knight-Commander, I will see to it that this is sent with the last of the post this evening.”
“That anything I have penned should be considered ‘kindly phrased’ would shock many, I suspect,” Meredith mused aloud, almost smiling, and leaned back in her seat. Elsa remained familiarly expressionless, and expectant, and Meredith realized she was awaiting instructions. She dismissed her with a wave. “Yes, Elsa. That will be all.”
The Tranquil mage dipped her head once. “Very well, Knight-Commander.” When she left the office, she pulled the heavy oak door closed behind her, leaving Meredith alone with the remainder of her tasks for the evening, and too much to mull over. She still had too much to mull over when she laid down in her bunk late that night, closed her eyes, and dreaded what demonic possession would do to Brona Hawke’s gentle hazel eyes. These moments of dreadful anxiety that plagued her in the moments before she finally succumbed to sleep had morphed from one-off occurrences into an established pattern.
For two days, life at the Gallows continued on as it always had, with work to be done and charges to oversee. The stress and tedium of her responsibilities, unforgiving as the weight of her armor, pushed thoughts of the letter, and of the Champion, to the margins. On the third morning, the air still crisp and cold and carrying with it the promise of a harsher winter to come, a courier approached her in the Gallows courtyard.
Meredith paid him little attention at first. The Gallows possessed a dedicated ministerial office that managed incoming and outgoing post, and doubtless, this courier would find his way there without her interference. She turned her attention away from him and towards the green recruits at their training exercises. But moments later the courier was at her elbow, and when Meredith turned a bewildered eye on him, he seemed to shrink like a mouse caught in an owl’s shadow.
“Yes?” she said shortly.
The courier’s mouth worked like a fish’s for a moment, but words did eventually come out. “Knight-Commander, I have a letter for you.” His hands shook a little as he held out a sealed envelope. “It’s from the Champion of Kirkwall. She requested I hand it to you myself.”
“I see.” The rush of feeling that descended upon her then defied description, and she quieted it with a slow, disciplined exhalation. Still, it roiled and shivered under the veneer of calm she wore on her face. She took the proffered envelope and dismissed the courier with an idle hand gesture, and turned on her heel to exit the training grounds at a brisk walk.
The Knight-Captain came up to her in confusion before she reached the door. “Knight-Commander,” he began, “if I may have your feedback on the recruits’ training regimen before you depart--”
“You may not,” she interrupted him curtly, already grasping the door handle. “Continue as you were, Cullen.” He balked at her dismissal, but didn’t argue.
She strode down the Gallows’ brutalist stone corridors like a gale off the sea, and wordless, mage and templar alike hurried out of her path lest they be stepped on. Meredith wasn’t oblivious to them, but they registered in her thoughts only as bits of peripheral noise. In her hands, the envelope burned at her fingertips with the words it could have contained. When she reached her office, she offered up one last prayer of thanks to the Maker that Orsino was not waiting for her with another litany of grievances. She slipped into her office, closed the door, and latched it firmly behind her.
That last action--locking her office door--seemed in retrospect to be so unnecessary, and yet she’d done it without a second thought, without even questioning the necessity of the action. She frowned and stepped back from the door for a moment, a troubling disquietude tugging at the back of her thoughts. But now that she was alone, she couldn’t focus on anything except the letter. Breaking the seal, she pulled out the neatly folded piece of parchment, unfolded it, and began to read:
Please let me begin by stating my appreciation for your transparency regarding where we stand with each other, as I think a different sort of person might have chosen to leverage these unhappy circumstances to take advantage of me in my grief. I can tell that this was not the intent of your letter, and I thank you for the kind words that you have offered in regards to the death of my mother. It is clear to me that your condolences come from the heart, and so in the same spirit, I wish to offer you my sincerest gratitude. I would also like to extend an invitation to you.
After my mother’s passing, my Uncle and I had little time to make arrangements for more than a simple funeral pyre. The Qunari uprising put many of our other plans on hold, but now that the city has, more or less, returned to normal, I have arranged to have my mother’s ashes scattered into the sea. I invite you to attend a small, semi-formal gathering of my mother’s friends and loved ones at the Wounded Coast, a week from this date at sunrise. Please don’t concern yourself with the security of the gathering, as Guard-Captain Aveline Vallen will be in attendance with a full retinue of guards, both as part of a small ceremony, and to provide us with protection.
If you choose to attend I would ask, as a personal favor, that out of respect for the gravity of the occasion we all leave our politics behind in Kirkwall. Please respect the other apostates in my circle who will be present to pay their final respects to my mother, and I will make sure that they afford you the same courtesy.
I do hope you will attend, and look forward to seeing you.
Meredith realized belatedly that she’d read the entire letter while standing in the middle of her office, and so made herself cross the room to her desk. She sat down, leaned forward in her seat, and read the letter again, and then a third time, and still was no closer to understanding the combined rush of outrage and elation, and guilt, that she felt at reading the Champion’s words. The outrage she could understand; how presumptuous of the Champion to suppose that she was in any position to negotiate how a Knight-Commander of the Templar Order chose to deal with maleficarum? Perhaps she could even parse the elation, for she knew that on some level she had hoped to further their correspondence. But the guilt? There was nothing to regret, or to be ashamed of, in her actions. Was there?
Abruptly, she folded up the letter, tucked it with uncharacteristic gingerness back into its envelope, and set it down on her desk. She leaned back in her seat and drummed her fingers on her armrest, more full of nervous energy now than she had been as a green recruit swallowing down her first lyrium infusion. Then, she picked up her quill and another sheet of parchment, and penned a response:
Esteemed Champion of Kirkwall,
I thank you for the invitation to attend Lady Leandra Amell’s memorial ceremony.
Her quill hovered over the parchment for a moment.
I write to you today to inform you that I understand and accept your terms, and will be in attendance. Please convey my kind regards to your uncle.