The boy stared at the plain wooden door before him, determined not to flinch under the heavy, mailed hand that tightly gripped his shoulder. The templar was standing right behind him, the sound of the armoured man’s breathing resounding in the boy’s right ear like thunder. With his free hand, the templar reached out and rapped a knuckle on the door, which swung open almost immediately. The boy’s jaw clenched as the hand on his shoulder forced him forwards, half-shoving and half-dragging him into the chamber. Once they’d crossed the threshold, the door closed itself with a slight creak.
It wasn’t the boy’s first time in the office. He recognised the bookcases lining the walls, recalled the heavy musk of old wood and parchment, and knew all too well the face of the old man hunched over the beautiful wooden desk in the centre of the room. Said man glanced up as the boy was forcefully brought into the room, a solitary grey eyebrow raised in mild surprise. The man’s thick beard was flecked with the dark hair that had once covered his head before it had turned to its current faded colour, and his face was as lined and worn as an old map.
“Knight-Commander Greagoir,” he said, his voice weary with age, “what brings you and this apprentice to my office?”
The hand gripping the boy relinquished him at last as the templar stepped forward, an accusatory finger entering the boy’s field of vision as the knight commander moved past him. Greagoir was a huge man, even for a templar, and his armour only made him appear even larger. He strode further into the room as though it were his own office and not that of the First Enchanter.
“This boy,” the templar growled in a voice that was used to commanding attention, “was in an altercation with one of my men.”
First-Enchanter Irving nodded, straightening himself up and moving around the desk as he approached. His eyes studied the boy’s face with no small amount of curiosity. “Yes, I can see your subordinate left their mark on him.”
“I recommend he be disciplined immediately,” the knight-commander continued. “As you’re aware, this is far from the first time this boy has had to be escorted to your office.”
“Indeed, it isn’t,” Irving agreed, “nor is it the first time one of your men has assaulted one of the apprentices.”
Greagoir bristled. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating, Irving.”
“Then I am to believe that the templar involved in this ‘altercation’ was similarly injured, if not more so?”
“Did young Amell lay a finger on this templar at all?”
Irving cut off the knight-commander once again. “Did he use any magic on the templar?”
The apprentice could hear Greagoir’s teeth grinding even from where he stood. “He claims the boy threatened to do so.”
“The boy has a name,” Irving gently reminded the other man. “I’m sure he would prefer you use it.”
Greagoir’s patience was noticeable wearing thin, judging by the strained tone in which he said, “He claims that Amell threatened to do so.”
“And what say you to these accusations, Callum?”
Hearing his forename spoken for the first time since entering the office, Callum Amell looked up from the fine carpet on the floor to meet the First-Enchanter’s gaze.
“Ser Porter had cornered Feyren Surana in the corner of the library. I intervened. He punched me.” Callum tapped the bruise on his face, just below his right eye, where his flesh had swollen from the impact of Porter’s gauntlet.
“First-Enchanter,” Greagoir said, not even sparing Callum a glance, “the apprentice had no right to interfere with a templar’s investigation into one of their charges.”
“With all due respect,” Callum said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, “the only thing Ser Porter wanted to ‘investigate’ is what lies underneath Feyren’s robes. Your man is the one who should be disciplined, not me.”
The knight-commander turned at last to look at him, his eyes burning with anger. His voice, when he spoke, was dangerously low. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner, boy.”
“Knight-Commander, please.” Irving had raised his hands and was stepping forward as he walked towards them both, coming to a stop between them. “You will not earn Callum’s respect, or indeed that of any headstrong young mage, using such aggression. I will ensure he is disciplined, provided you punish Ser Porter for his own transgressions.”
“Be reasonable, Greagoir,” Irving pleaded. “The boy is still only an apprentice. A gentle hand is the way forward with these things.”
Greagoir bared his teeth at the mage, but his expression soon settled into a scowl. “Very well. See to it that the boy does not escape his rightful punishment. I will...discuss this incident with Ser Porter.”
And without a word of farewell, the knight-commander marched over to the door, pulled it open and stormed out, not bothering to close it behind him. Irving sighed and waved a hand almost lazily, and the office door creaked shut once more.
“I apologise on behalf of Knight-Commander Greagoir,” he said wearily, kneading his forehead. “He sometimes forgets how youthful some of his charges are.”
“I’m not a child, First Enchanter,” Callum protested. “I’m old enough to receive my Harrowing.”
“And yet you remain an apprentice,” Irving pointed out. “Perhaps that is due partly to this constant antagonisation of the templars? If I’m not mistaken this is your third time in my office for similar incidents in as many months.”
Callum frowned. “It’s not my fault. The templars have no right to act the way they do.”
Irving sighed, resting a soothing hand on the same shoulder the knight-commander had been gripping only a few minutes before. “I’m afraid they have every right, Callum. But the templars are here for the protection of both us and the common folk of Ferelden – you must treat them with respect.”
Callum eyed the First-Enchanter with exasperation. Did he really believe what he was saying? Callum had been in the Circle of Magi for over a decade, but in that time he’d seen enough misery caused by the templars to last a lifetime. And Irving had been in the Circle for much, much longer. How could he be so ignorant about the suffering of his fellow mages at the hands of the Chantry and its soldiers?
Irving must have understood the look in the apprentice’s eye, for he sighed again. “I understand how you feel, my boy, I truly do. But when you get to my age, you’ll learn that some battles cannot be won by aggression. Patience and good faith is what leads to change in this world.” The old man smiled, and his eyes twinkled. “I see a bright future ahead of you, Callum. Please think before you throw it away. The last thing you need is to give the templars something to hate you for.”
It was the same old tune as always. A templar would overstep their bounds, Callum would try to stop them, and then the templar would lash out. And every time Callum would wind up back in the First-Enchanter’s office to receive a finger-wagging and a condescending lecture. Maker, it was so exhausting.
“I understand,” Callum replied, deciding to do what Irving wanted, as ever. The First-Enchanter’s smile brightened, and he patted the boy’s cheek fondly.
“Good. Now, run along back to your studies. I understand you have quite the aptitude for spirit magic. If you realise that potential, I’m certain your Harrowing won’t be far-off.”
With one last smile, Irving turned his back on the young mage and strolled calmly back to his desk, where he resumed his perusing of the massive tomes that lay upon it. Having been dismissed, Callum silently left the First-Enchanter’s office, shutting the door behind him.
“I am so tired.” Callum’s eyes were glaring at the words on the opened page of the book before him as though attempting to scrutinise each letter individually. He knew he was supposed to be studying, but his anger and frustration at everything that had happened were making it difficult for his mind to focus. “Every day it’s the same ordeal. The templars make our lives hell, and we don’t get to do anything about it!”
“Keep your voice down!” Jowan hissed from beside him as he cast a nervous glance around the room. Fortunately, they were in relative privacy – only mages and fellow apprentices were nearby, and nobody seemed to be taking any interest in the two apprentices hunched over their tomes together.
“And the First-Enchanter is useless, too!” Callum continued, obliging his friend by keeping his furious voice low. “Don’t give the templars anything to hate you for, he says. I suppose it’s my fault I was born a mage, then?”
“He’s got a point, Cal,” Jowan muttered. “They’re going to be watching you like a hawk from now on, and it’s not like they didn’t have it out for you before. You’ve got to stop mouthing off to the templars like that.”
“You think I should’ve let that bastard have his way with Feyren?”
“Well, no, but...” Jowan slumped in his chair, his mop of hair falling over his eyes. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to see you end up like Anders. He acts like he’s the same, but deep down I can tell that he’s changed. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to spend a full year in solitary confinement like that.”
“Me neither,” Callum murmured. “But that’s just another example of the templars’ cruelty. No matter what I do, they’re always going to suspect me of wrongdoing – just for being a mage. I might as well act out if I’m going to get in trouble anyway.”
Jowan smiled weakly. “By that logic, you should probably take up blood magic, too.”
Callum chuckled. “For all the templars know, I already have! Those fools can barely tell the difference between spirit magic and blood magic.”
Jowan made an uncomfortable sound in the back of his throat, but didn’t reply. Callum was still angry, but he found it hard not to empathise with the other apprentice. Jowan had been his friend ever since his arrival at the Circle – it was understandable for him to be concerned. The two had been practically inseparable since they’d first met: in fact, people often assumed the two of them were brothers. The fact that the two of them looked so much alike, with their dark hair, skinny frames and pale skin, didn’t help matters. Only Callum’s wide, blue eyes and shorter hair were enough to differentiate them, although Jowan insisted that Callum was the handsomer one – something Callum attributed to his friend’s inferiority complex. Callum, on the other hand, believed that Jowan was the wisest of the pair: he knew when to keep his mouth shut and never snapped at templars. Jowan had been at the Circle before he had arrived, a fellow meek and awkward young boy who Callum had quickly bonded with. But in the years that had followed, Callum had grown more bold and stubborn while his friend had remained more-or-less constant in temperament. Jowan had stuck by him through everything, no matter how many times he’d gotten them into trouble. For that, Callum was grateful. Jowan was far from perfect, but his loyalty made him the best friend Callum could have asked for.
Callum sighed and dragged his eyes back to the book that was still open before him on the table. Try as he may, there was no way he could derive meaning from the words that seemed so jumbled and disorganised through the fog of irritation that clouded his thoughts. Callum groaned, slamming the book shut with a heavy thud and sinking back into his chair.
“You’re not giving up already, are you?” Jowan sounded bemused. “I thought you said you were planning on brushing up on as much conjuration theory as you could today?”
Callum rubbed his eyes blearily. “That was before I saw Porter stalking Feyren in the library...” When he removed his hands and blinked his eyes open again, he caught sight of a familiar face crossing the chamber. A dark-skinned elf in apprentice robes was strolling by, their pointed ears sticking out from a mop of messy, brown hair. They made eye contact with Callum, and the person changed course halfway across the room, making for the table where Callum and Jowan were sitting. Callum smiled back at Feyren as he drew near, but the elf’s expression shifted into a wince as he took in the injury on Callum’s face.
“He got you good, didn’t he?” Feyren tapped his own cheek, indicating the same location Porter had hit Callum.
“I’ve had worse,” Callum said with a shrug, trying not to think about certain memories from his life before the Circle. “Has he left you alone since then?”
Feyren nodded as he sat down on the edge of the desk. “Last I saw of Porter, he was being brought in to speak with Greagoir. Looked very miserable.” He grinned at the thought. “Doubt he’ll be coming near me or anyone else any time soon.”
Callum exhaled a relieved sigh. “Good. It was worth it, then.”
“I owe you,” Feyren said, clapping Callum on his left shoulder. “Normally, a coward like Porter wouldn’t bother me, but...” He shook his head. “The way he cornered me where he knew I couldn’t get away, and when he started grabbing onto me...Maker, I just froze. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been there.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Callum reassured him.
Feyren raised an eyebrow. “Not even for old times’ sake?”
“I’m not listening,” Jowan announced, shoving his head underneath his book. Callum snickered, and even Feyren laughed along. Although relationships and intimacy were forbidden within the Circle, it was no secret amongst the apprentices that Feyren and Callum had shared plenty of private moments together over the years, although things had never extended beyond the occasional bout of physical intimacy deep in the secluded corners of the tower. That was all any of them could ever afford, when the templars were watching them all so fervently for any signs of dissent. Mages weren’t allowed the ‘luxury’ of love or sex, and so all affairs within the tower walls had to be carried out in seclusion. Just one more injustice to add to the list of those perpetuated against mages.
“I appreciate the offer,” Callum informed him, “but I didn’t help you because I was looking for a ‘favour’.”
Feyren sighed. “How did I know you’d say that? Well, anyway, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“Stuck inside this tower, for the rest of your life?” Callum suggested.
Feyren grinned, giving Callum a wink of farewell as he hopped off of the desk and walked away. Jowan counted to three before he emerged from underneath his book, coughing and spluttering as he inhaled dust from the old tome’s ancient pages.
“That’s what you get for being melodramatic,” Callum said, trying not to breathe in any of the dust himself as he laughed.
“Speak for yourself!” Jowan managed to say in between coughing fits. “I’m not half as melodramatic as you are!”
“What does that mean?” Callum demanded, feigning offence.
“Remember what you were like when you had that crush on Anders? Seemed like all you could do was talk about him.”
“In my defence,” Callum said, interjecting before his friend could remind him of that dark period of his life,” “he’s very pretty.”
“You’ve said that about half the boys in the tower,” Jowan pointed out. “And nearly as many girls.”
“I just have so much love to give!” Callum said, holding his hands over his heart and faking a swoon that made Jowan burst out laughing.
“Now, see, that’s what I’m talking about.”
Callum shrugged as a way of conceding the argument. He was right, of course. Callum was nothing if not passionate – as much about the things he loved as those he hated. He dived into his studies when it came to spirit magic or the ethereal, but had less enthusiasm when it came to the more mundane aspects of magic. That was why being trapped in the Circle was so stifling for him; there was a whole world outside the tower doors just waited for him to explore. The idea of not having templars breathing down his neck and threatening to torture him or his friends at every opportunity was an added bonus.
As it so happened, a spark of inspiration came to Callum later that very afternoon. A commotion drew him and Jowan out to the corridor, where a small procession of templars was marching alongside a group of older mages. Callum recognised one or two senior enchanters among their ranks.
“What’s going on?” he heard Jowan ask from beside him. A nearby apprentice named Keili piped up.
“They’re being allowed to leave the tower on official business.”
“What sort of business?” Callum wondered aloud, only for a voice to answer him from behind him.
“Senior Enchanter Uldred told me that he and the others are being called south to combat the Blight.”
The word was echoed in whispers around the group of mages and apprentices who had gathered to watch the procession. Some sounded excited, others afraid. Callum stared back wordlessly at the mage who had spoken – a young man named Niall with dark eyes and a gentle voice.
“Is it true?” Jowan asked, trying to mask the fear in his tone with incredulity. “There’s really a Blight happening?”
“The last Blight was Ages ago!” someone exclaimed in a scoff.
“Perhaps it is the Maker’s way of punishing us mages for growing too reckless?” Keili mused.
“Whether it’s really a Blight or not,” Niall continued with a shrug, “King Cailan’s asked specifically for a contingent of mages from the Circle, according to Uldred.”
Callum didn’t linger with his peers to listen further to their discussion. The best way to learn the truth, he decided, was to speak to a senior enchanter in person. Callum ducked past the outstretched arm of a templar, ignoring the noise of protest the armoured figure made, and strolled casually down the corridor until he had caught up with the procession. At the tail end was an older woman with light grey hair tied back in a tight bun. She turned when Callum called her name.
“Senior Enchanter Wynne!”
She blinked in surprise, but before she could respond, Callum felt a mailed hand clamp down hard on his shoulder, not for the first time that day.
“And just where do you think you’re going, boy?” a voice drawled, ringing like metal in Callum’s ears.
Callum would have made to pull out of the templar’s grip, but Wynne held up a hand as though to calm things.
“Peace, ser. This young apprentice means no harm. Likely, he is curious about my leaving the tower. Surely a momentary conversation is not out of the question?”
The templar holding onto Callum grumbled, but reluctantly released him. Callum winced as pain flared in his shoulder again, but he crossed the corridor to the senior enchanted unimpeded.
“Callum, my boy,” she said with a polite smile, “what ever is the matter?”
“Is it true that you’re being asked to fight the Blight?”
She sighed. “Rumours travel quickly as ever inside these walls. But you are mostly correct. Darkspawn gather in the south, and the Grey Wardens speak of a Blight brewing there. His Majesty has called for a small group of mages to aid his troops in the battle to come.”
“And there’s no way I could...” He tried to persuade her of his meaning with his eyes, but the senior enchanter knew better than to be swayed.
“Could what, child?”
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “...Come along?”
Wynne exhaled through her nose as though chuckling. “Come now, Callum you’re still an apprentice. The king requires Harrowed mages – enchanters, even – to fight the darkspawn.”
Callum had been expecting as much for an answer, but was disappointed nonetheless. It must have shown on his face, for Wynne laid a hand on the side of his face and cupped his cheek fondly.
“A potential Blight is no trivial matter. I know how badly you would like to leave the Circle, but a battle with darkspawn is not something one should be keen to take part in. I do this because I have been asked to, not because I would like to. I must hold my own duty over my simple desires.” She patted his cheek gently. “You’ll understand in time, child. Until then, have patience.”
And with that, Wynne turned away from him and rejoined the enchanters. She disappeared behind a corner and was lost from view, the heavy sound of footsteps dying away soon after, but her words echoed in Callum’s mind long after she had departed.
Wynne thought him a child, just as Irving did – just as they all did. Well, he’d just have to prove them wrong. He was old enough now to undergo his Harrowing: all Callum needed to do was work hard enough to convince them he was ready. And then, once he was Harrowed, he’d have his way out.
“Move it, robes,” a rough voice grunted from behind him, and Callum was abruptly shoved out of the way by a heavy, mailed arm. The templar who had tried to stop him from talking to Wynne barged past him, glancing back at Callum with a grin that was barely visible beneath his helmet. Ordinarily, Callum would’ve been furious, and maybe even have shouted a few choice words at the brute. But the spark of hope in his heart warmed him like a fire, drowning out all else. Before long, he’d be free of this prison, with no templars to abuse or attack him. Maybe Jowan could come along too, once he’d been Harrowed himself. The idea of freedom was enough to make Callum want to skip with joy.
Life wouldn’t be easy outside the tower walls, but Callum was sure that, with Jowan beside him, the two of them could face up to anything – even the Blight.