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What Stays and What Fades Away

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Markham, 9:14 Dragon Age

 

“That her?”

She didn't like this Templar, was the sister’s first thought. Greying hair held back in a severe bun, she eyed the little girl like something distasteful and possibly dangerous. The downward curve of her mouth spoke of a permanent expression of disapproval.

“Yes Ser, that's the child.” Solona was blissfully unaware of the Templar’s regard, curly brown head bent over her game of cloth dolls.

“You let her have toys?” The woman's eyes narrowed. “Why is she talking to herself?”

“It’s what children do at that age.”

“That,” the woman said, gesturing with her sharp chin, “is not a child, Sister. It’s a temptation to evil, and a danger to all around it. A mage is fire made flesh, and a demon asleep.”

Blessed are the peacekeepers. The sister schooled herself to calm. “She’s shown no sign of magic.”

“Yet. Five children, Sister. Remind me how many have been transported to Circles?”

“Four, Ser Templar. But - “

“And this the youngest. It’s only a matter of time.”

The sister’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Where will you take her?”

“Ferelden, as you well know. It matters not where, she won’t be there for long. Another orphanage, until she’s moved to the tower.” The Templar sniffed. “Were it up to me, we’d take her straight there. Better yet, lose the little abomination overboard on the crossing.”

Shocked, the sister glanced at the junior Templar accompanying the hard-faced woman. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, but the tiny shake of his head reassured her - they were tasked with delivering the babe to Ferelden, and would be held accountable if she didn’t arrive in one piece.

“To think what that family has fallen to.” The older Templar looked almost regretful. “They were nearly rulers of Kirkwall, now look at them - criminals, wastrels and apostates all.”

“Will you change her name?”

“Why bother? The name Amell means nothing in Ferelden.”

“Didn’t Lord Aristide’s daughter run away to Ferelden?” The sister regretted her words as the Templar fixed her with a steely gaze.

“If the apostate Hawke hides in Ferelden, the Order will bring him to heel. And the whore who shelters him will meet the same fate as this one’s heretic father.” Her gauntleted fists clenched and unclenched. “Now. Bring the girl. We will not make the ship wait.”

The sister crouched down next to little Solona. “Are you ready to go, sweetling?” The child regarded her with solemn blue eyes, before raising her pudgy arms. She picked her up, breathing in the smell of her softly curling hair. Solona spared a glance for the dolls abandoned on the floor, then popped a thumb into her mouth. Such a placid child - at least she wouldn’t give the Templar cause to be cruel, if the woman needed any excuse.

A moment’s hesitation and she passed her to the younger Templar, tiny fingers curling in his tabard. “Her things.” It was a pitiful bundle, smallclothes and stockings, a spare smock.

“The child can’t walk?” The senior Templar blinked, incredulous.

“Of course she can, Ser, but - she’s two years old.”

“They won’t coddle her in the Circle.”

All the more reason to coddle her now. Thankfully, the man broke in. “She’ll be slow, Ser. We’ll never make it to the docks in time, even if she can walk that far.”

Lips thinned, the woman hesitated before nodding. “We’ll take her from here, Sister. You need not fear for the safety of your charges any longer.”

I fear for only one of them, the Sister thought, and she’s in your hands now.

“Walk in the Light,” she replied, hand extended in a blessing she hoped would also reach the child. Wide blue eyes watched her over the Templar’s shoulder, until the Chantry door swung closed behind them.

Maker, watch over her. Keep her safe, keep her strong. What you have created, no-one can tear asunder.

 


 

 

Kinloch Hold, Dragon Age 9:17

 

Two robes, taken up at the hem. Smallclothes and a nightshirt, thin leather shoes. A cheaply bound book with pages of blank vellum, in which she practiced her round, childish handwriting. These things were hers, and nothing more - although in truth, even the robes would be taken away when the hem could no longer be let down, replaced with larger robes of identical cut and colour. Given to a smaller apprentice if one came along, but for now she was the smallest.

It suited Solona to be small. To be small was to be beneath notice, and to be noticed was never good. Not in the Tower, where the Templars were always watching. Not in the Chantry orphanage, where the older children had whispered and pinched, where they had finally surrounded her crying “Mage! Mage!” until the Sisters had come and locked her away, and soon after the Templars had arrived to transport her, on horseback and finally over the lake, to the Circle.

It was a circle, corridors going round, round, up and up. Endless stairs that made her small legs burn. Adults in robes, talking over the top of her head. “How old is she? Where is she from? How strong is she?”

Not very, she could have told them. She couldn’t carry a bucket of water on her own. She was from the Chantry, next to the marketplace where the other children were permitted to go sometimes, kindly strangers giving them a copper to spend on a sweet or a spinning top. She watched it from the window, the Sisters keeping their raggedly dressed charges in an orderly line, discouraging small fingers from grasping at fruit or scraps of lace. She wouldn’t have taken things from the market stalls. She would keep her hands tucked in her skirts, keep out from under the feet of the busy men and ladies of Amaranthine. Amaranthine, that was where she was from. Near the ocean, she glimpsed the glittering blue-green water when she rode out of the city gates, face pressed to a Templar’s back.

Here all the children were treated the same - none of them could go outside. If anything her magic was a disappointment to her fellow pupils, more of a spark than a storm. But at least they weren't afraid of her - “baby” was less of a barb than “demon” or “abomination”. As for “mage”, here it wasn't even an insult.

So she listened, practiced, kept making round, childish letters on the blank vellum until she could form sounds and words, until the books in the great library proved to hold a world bigger than the tower, bigger even than Amaranthine and the glittering ocean. Until she knew how powerful a spell needed to be to get by in her lessons without attracting the jealousy of her peers or the attention of the Templars. Until the robes were re-hemmed and re-hemmed and finally replaced, until she could take the stairs two at a time, but only when nobody was watching. Until the orphanage was a dim memory, and the Circle was home.