It was chaos. In the very early hours of the morning. The Qunari had attacked, overrun the city. It had been pure pandemonium. So many people were dead and so much of the town destroyed, he wasn’t sure anything in Kirkwall would ever be the same. A sound caught his attention, the sound of something scraping on stone. He turned, headed in the dark corner, his hand on his sword. There was a stack of crates, scorched here and there, an arrow protruded from one and he saw a smear of blood in the shape of a handprint. “Whoever is back there,” he said, his voice hard. “Come out and I won’t hurt you.”
Cullen wondered if he’d imagined it. Or maybe it had been a cat. Cautiously he peered around the stack and his heart kicked up into his throat. His hand flexed on his sword and without a thought, he sent out a spell, preventing the attack he knew was coming. Only it didn’t come.
He recognized her as a Qunari Mage, the chains and the mask that concealed most of her face, her lips sewn together. She made a quiet sound, flinched away from him, pressing herself deeper into the small corner. He saw a flash of a gold colored eye through one of the slits on the mask and he saw terror.
What would the Templars even do with a Qunari? Kill her on sight. His grip tightened on the hilt of his sword. He knew killing her now would be merciful. More merciful than the Qunari had shown the people of Kirkwall.
“Knight-Captain,” a voice shouted and Cullen looked away from the Qunari. “Come quickly!”
The urgency in the other man’s voice had him quickly rushing away, forgetting about the hidden Qunari for several hours.
Cullen just wanted five minutes of peace. Knight-Commander Meredith and First Enchanter Orsino had been at each other's throats for hours. “Maker’s breath,” he sighed. He heard yelling, and the distinct sound of fighting. Hurrying his pace down the stairs he froze for a beat at the scene in front of him.
The Qunari mage he’d seen earlier had been dragged from behind the crates, he could see the trail of blood, and a small crowd was taking turns kicking and hitting her with a piece of wood fashioned into a club. The mage had curled up on herself. It was obvious she wasn’t lashing out, hadn’t used her magic. “That is enough!” he bellowed.
“But Knight-Captain!” a woman cried. “It’s one of those monsters! They killed my Toby!” Others cried their agreement and he saw one of the men rear back to hit her again.
“I said enough,” he snarled, drawing his sword.
The man went still, and the crowd fell silent.
“This is a matter for the Templars to deal with, not the public.” He stood his ground and after several long moments, the crowd dispersed. He stood there, over the woman for a handful of minutes longer. She hadn’t moved and he wondered if he’d been too late. Sheathing his sword, he glanced down, the mask had fallen from her face, and blood dripped from her lips and her nose as well as a gash on her forehead. But her eyes were open and she was watching him.
A merciful death, he thought. Though she didn’t deserve it, none of the Qunari who had rampaged through the city, killing without compunction deserved mercy. A mage, no less. But not once had she attempted to cast a spell. Was she even a mage? Or just bound in the trappings of one? Crouching down beside her, he glanced around. People were milling about, curious about the scene and what the Templar would do with the Qunari Mage. “Do you understand me?” he asked and she just blinked. One of her horns he noticed was broken. A large piece broke off nearly down to the base.
Cullen didn’t know a word of Qunlat. He thought of Hawke, the woman and her allies had dealings with them. But, Maker’s Breath, he knew she hated him simply for being a Templar. “On your feet,” he said, but she didn’t move, just continued to stare up at him. He was certain she’d been injured. The angry mob would have killed her had it gone on just a few minutes longer. Reaching out, Cullen wrapped his hand around her arm and tugged, carefully. “Up,” he said, as he stood.
The Qunari struggled to get to her feet, hindered by the chains that bound her wrists to the thick collar. Finally, she stood in front of him, blood dripping from her mouth, it painted her clothes and he wondered how much of it was hers, and how much the blood of innocents in town.
A private merciful death. Meredith would make a spectacle of it, he knew. An eager young recruit came running and Cullen clenched his jaw. “Knight-Captain, can I assist-”
“No,” he bit out. “I have the matter in hand. See to the injured.”
“Now,” he snarled and the recruit nodded before saluting him and quickly scurrying away. Cullen knew the back-ways through town and after numerous offers of help, he had escorted the Qunari to the Wounded Coast on the outskirts of the city. She had gone with him, without resistance, utterly silent. Get it over with, he told himself. “Kneel,” he said, his hand going to his sword grip. She didn’t react. Just continued to stare at him with haunted golden eyes. “I said,” he ground out, and though she stood a full head taller than him, he gripped her shoulder and pushed. “Kneel.”
She hit her knees in the soft sand, a slight wince crossed her face before she blinked and stared up at him, not a single emotion visible.
“You slaughtered hundreds of people.” He withdrew his sword, stepped back and held the point to her throat. The Qunari did, but had she? What did it matter, she was a mage. Mages could not be trusted. This one in particular. She held his gaze until Cullen felt distinctly uncomfortable. Was that her magic? Casting with only a look? But then her eyes slipped shut and she arched her head back, pressing the delicate skin of her throat to the tip of the blade. A trickle of blood seeped from where it broke the skin.
Cullen jerked his sword back, a deep frown on his face as he looked at her. Did she want to die? He wondered, long silent moments passing. The water lapping at the shore was the only sound, aside from the blood pounding in Cullen’s ears. Her brow drew together and she opened her eyes, stared up at him and he could see the confusion in her eyes, it mirrored his own, that he felt down to his soul.
Not to be trusted, he reminded himself, grip tightening on the pommel. Just get it over with and return to the city. But instead of finding her throat, his sword found its way back into its sheath. “Andraste Preserve me,” he said quietly. There was a cave a little farther up the beach, one he knew Hawke had recently cleared out. Helping the woman to her feet, he led her down the beach. Both grateful and hating the fact that she had not spoken a word, yet followed him willingly.
An old lantern that still held oil, hung from the wall in the cave. He lit it and then turned back to the Qunari. Her pale silver hair was matted with blood. What she needed was a long hot bath. What she needs is a quick death, that little voice in his head yelled.
The chains that bound her were thick and heavy, looping from each wrist to the wide collar that fit around her shoulders. He had no idea how to release them without a key. Absently, he rubbed his hand over his mouth as he looked at her. What was I thinking bringing her out here? Sparing her life?
She kept watching him, gold eyes seeming to see everything. Cullen grit his teeth. “This was a mistake,” he said whirling around and storming out of the cave. He barely made it ten feet when he realized she was following him. “No,” he snapped, reaching his hand out. She flinched, stumbling backward into the sand.
Cullen withdrew his hand. She still watched him, but there was a wariness in her eyes and he could see the faint trembling of her shoulders. Was it pain? Or fear? “Stay here,” he said, though he imagined she didn’t understand common tongue. Or maybe she just couldn’t speak. Her lips had been sewn shut. He’d heard tales of some mages having their tongues cut out.
He left her there in the sand outside the damp cave, knowing that he hadn’t done her any favors. The entire trek back to the city he told himself that he needed to go out there and just kill her before someone else found her. Cullen didn’t believe anyone else would simply spare her life, or end it without brutality.
Word spread fast. He’d barely made it through the Chantry door when Knight-Commander Meredith was there. “Knight-Captain,” she said. “I hear there was one of those,” her lip curled into a snarl. “Qunari mages still alive.”
Cullen straightened his shoulders. “Yes, Knight-Commander,” he said. “There was,” he said, emphasizing the last word.
Meredith pursed her lips. “I don’t believe that was your decision to make, Captain. It should have been questioned and then publicly executed.”
He felt the bile rise up and burn the back of his throat. He could imagine the torture she would have endured. You should not be so concerned, he mentally berated himself. “I apologize, Knight-Commander. I believed that after what the people of Kirkwall suffered, that it would be best handled quietly.”
“People want their revenge.”
“And one lone mage isn’t going to sate that. Again, I apologize. If you feel I need to be reprimanded in some manner for making the decision-”
Meredith cut him off with the wave of a hand. “It’s done, I’ll assume you disposed of its body?”
Cullen thought of her, the fear he’d seen in her eyes as she had stumbled and fallen into the sand. Killing her would have been a kindness. “Yes,” he lied.