"The threat is real!" The sound of a heavy gauntlet crashing onto a wooden table punctuated the impassioned declaration. "How many more of our brethren must fall? How many innocents will be corrupted? How far must this menace spread until the Chantry finally unshackles us?" Knight-Commander Eron, spokesperson for the Templars, rose, the clink and clank of his armor unheard over the buzzing murmurs of the attendees.
He strode forward, positioning himself at the exact center of the rounded chamber. Behind him sat the leadership from nearly every Order throughout Ferelden, Orlais, Nevarra, Antiva, Rivain, Anderfels, and the Free Marches. Their faces, to a one, resolute. Ahead, seated on a small replica of the Sunburst throne, Divine Beatrix III displayed no emotion as she rested a frail hand atop her walking stick. It was notable to all present the absence of the Right and Left Hands from their traditional places at her side. To Eron's right, mirroring the Templars in their clustering around multiple tables, sat the council of Grand Clerics, Revered Mothers, and high-ranking Brothers. To Eron's left, the seats normally reserved for the Grand Enchanter, First Enchanters, and the many Senior Enchanters, were poignantly vacant.
Despite his advancing age, Eron stood proud and unbending. His graying hair would have looked distinguished if not for the short tufts shooting off in all directions, giving him an almost feral appearance. "The mandate must be changed," he pressed.
The Chantry representatives all looked to Most Holy. She stared straight ahead, giving no indication she had even heard the Knight-Commander's demand. With great reluctance, Sister Kayva, personal secretary for the Divine, finally stood. "As it currently stands, Templars are to seek out apostates and bring them to the Circles. They are to track and retrieve escaped mages. The Order is to locate and eliminate Blood mages. This policy has served adequately for many an Age. Why should it be changed now?"
Eron ignored Kayva, instead directing his reply to the mute Divine. "Most Holy, these are unprecedented times. At your command, the Order sent half our numbers to stand with King Cailan and the Grey Wardens at Ostagar. Most of those brave Templars are now at the Maker's side, having valiantly given their lives to protect Thedas from the Blight. The handfuls who managed to survive are now too mangled in body and spirit to ever serve again. Despite the ocean of blood already spilled, we were bid to send out yet more Templars so they could bolster the defenses in Denerim, Redcliffe, Lothering, and elsewhere.
"Now we have too few Templars left to see to our traditional duties. Even with our greatly reduced numbers, the Order is still expected to keep the Circles secure, to seek out apostates, and to deal with the threat of Blood mages. We are stretched beyond our means. We are fighting a war on two fronts and we are losing both. And mages are exploiting our manpower shortages. That is why the proposition we put forth is a necessary step to combat the spreading danger. The current mandate may have served well for centuries but no longer. The threat of darkspawn is dire enough but now too many mages are choosing to live as apostates. Too many refused to return to their Circles following the battle in Ostagar. Too many are using the chaos of the Blight to attempt to escape from the Circles." Behind Eron, the other representatives of the Order were nodding in agreement.
His voice ringing with conviction, Eron continued, "We, the Templars, defenders of the faithful, holy soldiers of the Maker, propose that henceforth all apostates be named maleficar. As such mages not of a Circle will be executed on sight. In rare cases, particularly important apostates will be captured. Upon return to a Circle, they are to be made Tranquil without exception."
There was a rush of gasps from the Chantry audience. Clerics and Mothers turned to each other, whispering with agitation. Brother Piven of Rivain's Chantry surged out of his chair, momentarily silencing his compatriots. "It is not the policy which is at fault. It is the Order which is failing us. Is it no wonder that mages are desperate to be free from the Circles, from the iron-fist control of Templars?" Piven raised his arms imploringly. "Mages should be pitied -- instead they are feared. Mages should be encouraged in learning their craft -- instead they are imprisoned and treated as criminals."
A voice sounded from amongst the Templars. "Mages are fire made flesh and demons asleep. They should be treated thus!"
Knight-Commander Eron nodded in agreement, as did many of his colleagues. His voice dripped with contempt as he addressed the assembly. "The Brother from Rivain shows his true allegiance. Magic exists to serve man and never to rule over him. He would propose that we forsake the wisdom of the Chant, that we ignore the growing threats to our very way of life. Further, he would insist that mages be coddled, and that we, the peacekeepers, the champions of the just, bow in subservience to them."
From the back row of the Chantry representatives rose the Revered Mother of Orlais' Valence Chantry. Dorothea, her blue eyes troubled, lifted a thick stack of parchments. "I believe Brother Piven is trying to express his concern for the recent changes to mages' liberties in the Circles. I share those concerns. When they were founded, the Circles were meant to be places of refuge where mages could learn to control their abilities in peace, with Templars offering them protection from dangers within and without."
For the first time, the unified front presented by the Templars showed signs that there fractures in their cohesion. Some frowned, others stared back with defiance, and a few glared disapprovingly at a select number of their comrades. Likewise, the Chantry officials could be delineated into three distinct factions: those who held some level of sympathy for the plight of Circle mages, those who clearly viewed all mages with distrust and contempt, and the third, and largest group, who showed their indecisiveness on the issue.
Dorothea rifled through the sheets of parchment in her hand. "Perhaps the cause of so many choosing to become apostates is due to changes to the rights afforded within the Circles. I hold here reports that in some Circles, mages are no longer permitted to receive letters from their families. I ask for an explanation of the reasonings for such a loss of basic privileges."
Eron remained defiant to what he felt was an attack on the honor of the Order. "Mages new to the Circles struggle to adjust, struggle to accept their new lot in life. It is an act of kindness that all contact with their former lives is removed. Once they have passed their Harrowing, they may, if they wish, resume correspondence with their families."
Brother Piven began sputtering. "Kindness? You call denying even a simple letter from home a kindness? If Kinloch Hold had bothered to send a representative, I would ask if they name no longer permitting mages outdoors for even one hour of exercise each week an act of deep compassion."
The Knight-Commander frowned, his eyes glaring witheringly at the strident Brother. "It is not for you to judge the actions of the Kinloch Order, for you know not of what you speak. If you had been privy to the reports, you would not question them, nor disparage them for their sensible steps."
"Then educate us, Knight-Commander," Piven challenged. "Tell us what could possibly warrant such deployable treatment. Tell us how this could possibly be a reasonable reaction by anyone other than a Templar."
Eron bristled at the insult. "Kinloch took necessary steps to deal with a growing number of dissidents. One mage tried to use the exercise period to stage an escape. Until new measures are in place, they cannot risk others being emboldened by his actions and making similar attempts."
The Revered Mother of Valence rose again. "So all are being punished for the actions of one?" Dorothea asked the Knight-Commander.
"No," Eron countered. "The Order of Kinloch is doing as it is charged. The first directive of the Templars is to protect the population from the dangers of magic. Would you have us ignore our Maker given duties and permit our charges to go where they please? Mages need the protection of the Circles, just as Thedas needs mages safely contained within them."
Brother Piven sneered contemptuously. "Typical Templar response. Trying to make the atrocities heaped on mages by the Order appear acceptable and sensible."
From one of the front tables Mother Laylen leapt to her feet, her dark eyes flashing with contempt. "You go too far, Brother Piven! We are all well aware of where your sympathies lie. Sympathies, I might add, that tread a hair's breadth from sedition. Daily the esteemed Knight-Commander and his fellow Templars face dangers untold to protect us from the menace of mages. Without them we would be awash with abominations, at the mercy of maleficarum. Tevinter," she spat, "in all but name."
She gave a deep, respectful bow to Eron, following with another bow, not as deep but no less deferential, for the other assembled Templars. She then turned to her fellow Chantry representatives, mirroring Piven's earlier posture by holding her arms out imploringly to the captivated audience. "Too often this august body has forgotten the truths to be found in Benedictions. Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. In their blood the Maker's will is written. We must trust the Order. We must unleash them from petty restrictions. As we put faith in the Maker so must we put our faith in His righteous soldiers."
Mother Laylen pointed first at Piven and then at Dorothea. "Where is their concern for the people? We are gathered here to discuss how to defend ourselves and the general populace, yet they are trying to mire us in inconsequential issues and divert our attentions from what truly matters. The Blight is burning its way through Ferelden. Citizens and lands are being Tainted. And now mages are using the chaos and terror to defy the Chantry, refusing to submit to the Maker's will. Apostates are spreading their malevolence throughout the lands, yet these two would have us quibble over such irrelevant details as letters and exercise. I say to you, too many valiant Templars have joined the Maker's side in their battles to protect us from the dangers of magic. We must empower the Templars. We must give our holy army the means to combat this growing threat. We must approve their request. We must name all apostates as maleficar."
As impassioned as her speech was, Laylen's words had little effect on the Chantry council. Those that distrusted mages on principle were all pounding the tables in support. The clear majority, though, was not swayed.
A Nevarran Sister finally spoke. "Ser Eron, while I sympathize with the burden of your duties and the state of affairs the Order now faces, I feel that what you propose is too extreme. While I do believe that it is the Maker's will that mages should be safely contained within the Circles, I cannot support condemning all apostates to a Blood mage's death sentence." She looked around to find that the greater part of the Chantry council supported her position. "There must be another way."
"And what of the Blood mage threat?" asked Knight-Commander Eron, his voice becoming strident with an edge of desperation. "Have not the events at Kinloch Hold taught ..."
His words immediately cut off with the booming strike of Most Holy's walking stick on the marble flooring. Her steely eyes pierced his. At first Eron remained recalcitrant, matching her glare with one of his own until, finally, he contritely lowered his gaze. Quietly, he murmured, "My apologies, Most Holy."
Brother Piven gave a disdainful snort. "I believe we of the Chantry council should give careful consideration to removing Knight-Commander Eron from his position. Lyrium has clearly addled his brain. He sees Blood mages behind every shrub, under every stone, and now," his voice dripping with scorn, "plotting in Kinloch Hold. Clearly this is nothing more than a ludicrous rumor conjured up in the mind of a raving lunatic."
Immediately the chamber was in pandemonium. Templars roaring with outrage. The Chantry Sisters and Brothers shouting their astonishment and distress. Privately, many of them shared Piven's estimation of Eron's continued ability to lead the Templars but proper decorum dictated it should have been voiced in a closed session. For a second time, the room filled with the boom of Divine's walking stick pounding against the floor. It took her several attempts but soon the room settled.
"It is no rumor, nor the ravings of a lyrium-addled mind," Divine Beatrix firmly announced. "A group of Blood mages did attack Kinloch Hold. If not for a Grey Warden's interference, it would have fallen to their control. It will be quite some time before the Order will be able to restore it to even a partially functioning Circle." The Divine's words had an immediate effect with council member and Templar alike, rippling through the audience with lightening speed. The Chantry advisors, nearly to a one, gibbered in fright and growing panic. Even amongst the Templars, there was unease. It was clear that the majority of them had been kept in the dark about the current state of affairs and were demanding an explanation.
Dorothea, one of the few who remained calm following the startling revelation, asked, "Why were we not told of this?"
"Just the mention of a lone Blood mage incites paranoia." Divine Beatrix disdainfully looked around at the frightened delegates. "Imagine the hysteria that would occur if word got out that maleficar are organizing, are getting bold enough to attack Templars in the very seat of their power. We would return to the days before the Circles were established. A crop fails, a druffalo grows ill, it must be the work of a wicked mage hiding in the village. How many would be falsely accused and found guilty on supposition alone, burned alive on a pyre?"
The Divine rose from her throne, looking first at the Chantry council and then the Templars. "It could be that this was an isolated case or it could be the first move in a much larger campaign. I have dispatched my Hands and the Seekers of Truth to Kinloch Hold to ascertain the full extent of the threat. Until more is known, I felt it best to not disclose the attack. There is too much panic in this chamber; we do not need the panic to spread to the streets as well." Her gaze flick towards the entrance of the assembly room. "But it seems it is the Maker's will that we need not wait any longer for the report."
Nearly the entire gathering jumped in surprise as, with the deadly grace of a man used to stalking and striking from the shadows, the Left Hand moved forward to kneel at the feet of Divine Beatrix. He reverently kissed her outstretched hand before rising. "Your Perfection," his heavily accented Antivan voice thundering in the hushed room. "I regret the necessity for interrupting the conference, but my report cannot wait. I humbly request you call for a recess so I may apprise you of the situation privately."
The head of the Chantry settled back on her throne. "That will not be necessary. They will need to know soon enough. Proceed with your account."
The Left Hand hesitated. "Forgive me Most Holy but I do not see the Knight-Vigilant. He will want to hear this."
The Divine shot him a scathing look. "He is assigned elsewhere at the moment. I will, of course, see that he receives a missive about all that transpires here."
"As you wish," he said with a bow. "The situation is as we feared, Most Holy. The conspiracy reaches far beyond the walls of Kinloch Hold. Blood mages have already infiltrated many of the Circles. Their plan is to convert as many mages and enthrall as many Templars as they can. Once preparations are complete, the mages, in a coordinated attack, hope to overthrow the Templars, and use the Circles as bases of operations. They then will move on to their main objective -- the complete obliteration of the Chantry by assassinating or enthralling every high ranking member."
Panic gripped the assembly. Many of the Chantry advisors dropped to their knees, hands clasping frantically together, prayers pouring from terrified lips. Equally so, the Templars were agitated, fiercely demanding more information. The clamor soon became deafening.
The Divine rapped the floor with her walking stick for a third time since the conference had commenced. "Everyone calm down! Such distressing noise! Conduct yourselves in a manner appropriate to your esteemed stations." The response to her firm order was nearly instantaneous. The crowd settled with strained composure, looking at her with expectation. Addressing the Left Hand, she said, "If you would continue."
"It is to our benefit that the mage Uldred grew impatient and made his move prematurely. Had he not, we would have been caught unaware by this threat." He turned to address the Order representatives. "I have dispatched Seekers to each of the Circles to investigate and interrogate any suspects. They will remain to provide support and travel with your patrols so we can locate the main conspirators."
Instead of being reassured, the Templars grew even more pensive. Eron stepped forward, his face fraught. "With our decimated numbers, we can barely rally enough men to properly guard the Circles. How can we, fettered as we are by an old, ineffectual mandate, hope to be victorious? We will lose men if we must first determine who is mage and who is maleficar. I beg you. Name all apostates Blood mages. If not, all could be lost."
Between the Left Hand's report and Eron's impassioned entreaty, there was little doubt the proposal would pass.
The Divine's expression was impossible to read as she instructed, "Kayva, call for the vote."
Her personal secretary nodded, moving to stand in front of the Chantry folk. "On the proposal of hereafter naming all apostates maleficar with all the penalties that entails, signify approval by ..."
"I object." Brother Piven leapt to his feet. "Most Holy, how can we vote on such a monumental issue without input from the mages' council? Should they not be here?"
She gave him a steely stare. "Because I chose not to invite them. Do any here doubt they would oppose this measure?"
"Enough Piven!" Most Holy testily snapped her fingers at Kayva. "Proceed."
Before the Sister could call for the vote, a Knight-Corporal from the Ostwick Order leapt to his feet. His handsome, chiseled features were marred by a haughty sneer. "You are all fools! Why are you so willing to annihilate useful commodities?"
Eron turned in outrage. "Travis you were invited to observe only. You have no standing to speak to the council. Sit down!"
Most Holy eyed Travis speculatively. "I wish to hear what he has to say. Let him speak."
The Knight-Corporal moved to stand before the Divine, bowing respectfully before saying, "Your Perfection, as Knight-Commander Eron stated earlier, we are at war on two fronts, wars we will surely lose if we obliterate our most powerful arsenal. There is a way we can suppress dissention in the Circles, compel apostates to return to where they belong, and for those who still refuse to return to the Circles, turn them completely loyal to our cause."
"Commodities?" Brother Piven repeated in stunned outrage. "Arsenal? You speak as if mages are nothing more than tools to be used."
His contempt more than evident, Knight-Corporal Travis countered, "Every person is a tool, some more useful than others. Mages are simply highly specialized ones -- powerful and effective weapons. It would be moronic to kill all apostates when every mage is desperately needed."
Most Holy cocked her head, thoughtful as she scrutinized the Templar before her. "And just how do you propose to generate such a miraculous result?"
Travis snapped his fingers and four Ostwick Knight-Templars strode forward from the back of the hall. As they spread out passing out sheets of parchment to everyone present, Travis took one and personally presented it to Divine Beatrix.
Around the chamber, there were gasps and mutters of disbelief. Piven leapt to his feet, so livid he could barely speak. "This ... this ... is a disgrace. What you intend is bondage, to enslave mages to Templars! Andraste freed slaves. You desire to create them. And through Blood magic no less," he spat.
"And why shouldn't we?" Laylen countered. "Have you already forgotten the conspiracy we just heard of? Maleficar have attacked Kinloch Hold. They are planning to enthrall Templars, to overthrow the Circles. They want to enthrall or kill us. We who are the Maker's faithful servants! Why should they not suffer the same fate they wish to inflict on us?" She raised her fist holding the parchment that had been distributed. "Blood magic is approved for the purposes of creating phylacteries so that Templars can track mages who escape from Circles. This is no different -- ultimately it is about protecting us from the menace of magic. If mages will not submit to the will of the Chantry, I say they must suffer the consequences."
Mother Laylen turned to Most Holy. "I move that we institute the Knight- Corporal's proposal. We must empower the Order so they may confront and overcome this latest threat."
Before the Divine could respond, Dorothea reentered the debate. The Revered Mother who would one day become Divine Justina appeared troubled. She, who was a master of The Game, had quickly concluded that there would be no stopping the passage of the proposition. Paranoia was gripping too many. For now, she could only try to lessen its impact, wait until calmer minds prevailed, work in the shadows to change people's minds about this travesty. "What of Grey Warden mages? What of mages who have not yet reached their majority? They must be excluded from this 'Claiming'."
Most Holy nodded her agreement. "Kayva, amend the proposal as follows: First, mages who are also Grey Wardens shall be exempt from the fate of Claiming. Second, in the case of apostates, mages who are under their majority shall not be subjected Claiming. Instead, they will be captured and brought to the nearest Circle. Does this meet your approval, Dorothea?"
The Revered Mother lowered her chin in a brief nod. "It will for now, Your Perfection. I also have concerns that there are no measures to protect a Claimed mage. As written, a mage who is Claimed will be at the complete mercy of the Templar who Claims them."
"You speak the truth, Revered Mother," Knight-Corporal Travis said. "A Claimed mage can expect the same mercy we have always shown, which is more than they intend for us. The only difference will be that the Order will now have the means to control dangerous mages and bring apostates back into the Maker's grace. Is this not a far better proposition than wholesale slaughter?"
Dorothea said nothing as the assembly room erupted in fists pounding against tables to express their support for Travis' words. The Revered Mother, knowing there was little she could do to sway her compatriots, instead turned back to Most Holy. With a firm voice, she said, "I also ask that there be a moratorium so that apostates may make the choice of turning themselves into a Circle before the mandate goes into effect."
"Agreed. Should the proposal pass, it will not go into effect until two month hence. Any apostates wishing to turn themselves into a Circle or to a Templar will face no reprisals. Thereafter, any apostate having reached their majority and not a member of the Grey Wardens shall face Claiming as a repercussion. Should no Templar desire to Claim the apostate, the sentence of Tranquility or death shall be imposed. Kayva, you may finally take the vote."
In the records of the Chantry, the vote was recorded as follows: passed with one opposed and one abstention.