A DWARF ENTERS, STAGE LEFT, AND SWAGGERS TO A CHAIR PLACED CENTER STAGE
You know, someone told me once that people like stories. I'm not sure if I believe him, but, since I can't resist telling them, are you ready for a new one? Well…let me be honest, this is a tale as old as time. It’s got all the things people like – drama, uncertainty, not a small amount of danger, and let’s not forget the great uniter: love. I mean, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You want to hear the loooove story. But before we get to that, I should fill you in on a few things.
Now, before I start, if you’re familiar with the Fifth Blight you might have already heard some of this story. However, you might not know all the twists and turns, and that’s where the fun begins. I have felt the winds of change blowing harder, these past few years, and I think this might soon be uncommon knowledge. For better or for ill, well, that’s for the Maker to decide.
The year is 9:36 Dragon. The Fifth Blight, an invasion of Darkspawn from the south of Ferelden under the leadership of their Archdemon, an enormous decaying dragon, has been over for five years, and the nation is healing. Oh, sure, there was a famine, and the population certainly hasn’t recovered. But the bodies of darkspawn no longer taint the ground where they fell, and the country and cities have recovered much faster than in any previous Blight. Of course, since the shortest previous Blight lasted for 12 years instead of just one, that isn’t really saying much.
The capital city of Ferelden, Denerim, has also shed most of the Blight’s detritus. King Alistair has ruled well, and the city is rebuilt and thriving with trade. The alienage, once a veritable prison and slum for the elven residents of Denerim, and the place from which elves were rounded up and sold into Tevinter slavery by the usurper Loghain Mac Tir, has been abolished and elves are allowed to integrate with the citizens of Ferelden if they so wish.
The final remnants of the Archdemon, who fell in fire and fury upon Fort Drakon and was slain by the Hero of Ferelden, the mage Warden Cousland, have been carted away by the darkspawn’s great enemies – and the great defenders of the people – the Grey Wardens. That very Hero has become the Warden-Commander of Ferelden and has done much to rebuild the Grey Wardens from their stronghold in Amaranthine, despite many setbacks.
Great changes have also occurred in the greatest power of Thedas, the faith of the Maker and his bride, Andraste: the Chantry. Divine Beatrix III, the former leader of the Chantry, finally succumbed to the mental fragility of old age and was succeeded by Divine Justinia V two years ago, in 9:34 Dragon. Many changes have been made, not least of which is the appointment of a new Left Hand of the Divine (also known as the Divine’s Spymaster). At this time, no one knows who this mysterious figure is, but the new Divine’s policies on improved custodianship of mages are sweeping across Thedas at an exciting rate. The former Divine’s Right Hand, Cassandra Pentaghast, has kept her post and, as a Seeker of Truth (we’ll get to them in a minute) and thus an experienced overseer of templars and mages alike, has not opposed such changes.
You see, the only free mages in Thedas exist in three places: in the far north-western Tevinter Imperium, where they rule under the auspices of their own Black Divine (a strange Chantry, indeed, that is headed entirely by men instead of the women who oversee ours); among the Grey Wardens, who are permitted to conscript and recruit a limited number of mages due to the mystic nature of their mission against the Darkspawn (although the Chantry chafes and campaigns against a mage becoming Warden-Commander); and lastly as the Keepers of the Dalish elves, mage leaders and elders who are tolerated by our Chantry only because the templars can’t find them. As for city elves and humans with magic… well, they aren’t so lucky.
Yes, mages can be powerfully destructive, and their connection to the ethereal power of the Fade leaves them with an opening for possession by the forces therein. They may also, often in extremis, indulge in blood magic, a use of blood sacrifice to fuel devastating spells. The blood used is often not from a willing victim. Those facts, and the Maker’s commandment, “Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him,” have long been used by the Chantry to justify the sequestration of mages within Circles of Magi. These Circles are academies of education, bastions of learning, homes of enlightenment, and impenetrable, inescapable prisons for life.
At the direction of the Chantry, the militant Templar Order oversees the Circles with a steel grip: mages are not permitted to leave without a chaperone, to see their families, to marry, or to have children. To prevent mages from escaping the Circles, their blood is stored within phylacteries, which permit a templar to track down the mage at any distance, across land and sea. If the mages of a Circle is seen as too corrupt to bring back under the purview of the Templars, the Grand Clerics (or, if they are unavailable, the Knight-Commanders of the Templar Order) reserve the Right of Annulment, which gives the templars permission to purge all mages in that Circle.
Templars themselves ingest lyrium, the magical mineral that naturally infuses the blood of mages and fuels their spellcasting. Mages use lyrium potions to replenish their internal stores, while dwarves and tranquil use it to make magical runes. Templar recruits are given lyrium from a young age in order to “develop their talents,” which involves exerting their will over mages to allow the temporary suppression of a mage’s connection to the Fade, also known as a ‘Holy Smite,’ among other skills.
I have heard from multiple sources, however, that lyrium consumption is addictive and mind-altering to non-mages, making templars feel bold and empowered while chaining them to the source of their lyrium – the Chantry. There are rumors that as Templars age their minds and bodies begin to deteriorate at an accelerated rate. However, those who are cast out from the Templar Order often become beggars, thieves, or worse to obtain the lyrium that will feed the addiction the Chantry gave them in the first place. That’s what we dwarves call a lose-lose situation.
Alas, there will always be templars that take the most oppressive approach possible toward mages or those who abuse their positions of power and take… liberties. The Seekers of Truth, therefore, are another Chantry force, selected from the young templars before their first dose of lyrium and trained separately to watch the watchers and enforce the Chantry’s will upon mages and templars alike. However, individual Circles of Magic are overseen by Knight-Commanders of the Templar Order that determine the majority of the treatment of the mages at their mercy – the Seekers cannot be everywhere.
The Chantry’s policies and teachings have long convinced the common populace of the dangers of mages, and this is reflected in their treatment of mage children, who are often abandoned to the templars as soon as their magic manifests. Mages outside of a Circle, whether they are outside it by birth or by escape from the Templar Order, are branded as apostates and have no peace from templars or the mage-hunters who roam the countryside, searching for rumors of apostates living freely. Those unfortunates, upon arrival at a circle, are often slain or forced into an engineered conflict with a Fade demon called the Harrowing, about which little is known outside the Templar Order themselves. The process is, however, variably fatal for the mage in question.
Apprentice mages are all forced to go through the Harrowing in order to advance to the position of Enchanter and leave their apprenticeship – and childhood, such as it is – behind. As an alternative to the Harrowing, apprentice mages may elect to take the Rite of Tranquility, wherein they are severed from the Fade during the application of a lyrium sunburst brand to their forehead. They no longer may access the gift of magic, nor do they dream or feel any emotions whatsoever. Thus, they are purportedly resistant to possession. They also lose the passion required for inventive thought, rendering them capable only of logical thought and the manipulation of lyrium into runes and enchantments. As mages cannot either make runes nor enchant items, the Tranquil are a major source of income for the Circles and the templars. Nothing can go wrong with that arrangement, right?
It is a little-known fact that the Chantry has mandated the Rite of Tranquility for all mages, no matter their age, who are alphas or omegas. Due to potential tensions with the families of the mages involved, especially if they are of noble birth, this is a very closely kept secret within the Templar Order and the upper echelons of the Chantry. The Rite requires the assent of the First Enchanter of any Circle in which it is performed, unless the Knight-Commander is too powerful or the First Enchanter is too weak to prevent unregulated usage. As you might imagine, horror stories abound of the abuse of this ritual.
There are dark tales of templars running amok everywhere, but no Circle seems more oppressive than the one in my home city of Kirkwall, in the Free Marches across the Waking Sea to the north of Ferelden. Following the Qunari invasion of Kirkwall, Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard stands as the unopposed martial ruler of Kirkwall and, at this point in time, the only other force within Kirkwall is the free mage Champion of Kirkwall, one Marion Hawke. But that is a completely different story, and although it’s one of my favorites, all you need to know is that tensions between mages and templars are high and getting higher across the Waking Sea.
But, back to our story! In Ferelden, the mages are enjoying an upswell in popularity. The sources of that change are manifold, but it all comes back to the Hero of Ferelden, the mage and Grey Warden-Commander who conquered the Fifth Blight in one year. She was a former apostate mage who had been illegally raised outside the Circle by her noble parents, the Teyrn and Teyrna of Highever. After Arl Howe usurped the Teyrnir during the Blight, she would have been captured or slain upon detection by Howe’s forces, templars, or mage-hunters had the Grey Wardens not conscripted her to their cause.
The longest-standing Circle of Magi in Ferelden is the Circle Tower, in the ancient fortress of Kinloch Hold. It is isolated on an island in the very northernmost part of Lake Calenhad, accessible only by a ferry that is crewed and monitored by the templars. The Circle Tower was home to several of the most powerful mages in recent history, not least of which is the Archmage Wynne, who is now a major voice in the College of Enchanters who meet and discuss the business of mages with each other and with the Chantry. During the Blight, Warden Cousland traveled to the Circle Tower, defeating a mage revolt spurred by the Usurper Loghain that caused many casualties to mages and templars alike. She also recruited Wynne to accompany and aid in her quest against the Archdemon.
Due to her actions at the Circle Tower, Warden Cousland also secured the support of the loyal Circle mages to aid her fight against the Archdemon during the Blight. Templars, always reluctant to allow mages beyond their reach for any reason, accompanied those forces to Denerim to fight the oncoming Darkspawn army. Mages and templars fought bravely together to protect the evacuating populace.
Many mages became casualties of the Darkspawn’s last push, and the people of Denerim shared accounts of their bravery and sacrifice with the returning refugees, who spread those tales across the country. King Alistair, the Warden-Commander’s former companion and a former templar himself, has announced policies that pay lip service to the Chantry’s rules but favor sympathy for the rights of mages.
Many templars also died in the battle of Denerim, not least of which was Knight-Commander Greagoir of the Circle Tower. Greagoir’s successor, a gruff old templar by the name of Nedley, took over the Circle Tower and began to improve policies toward mages. I met him once, he’s a decent guy! Things are changing, my friends, and I think that the Chantry and mages will be at the center of that change.
More freedoms have resulted in better relations between templars and mages at the Circle Tower, and the rates of successful Harrowings have increased while the number of mages made Tranquil have decreased. In fact, Nedley was so successful that he was ordered to the capital by the Divine herself to establish a new Circle there, the first Denerim Circle in over 600 years! At his departure about two years ago, the Divine nominated his chosen successor, Nicole Rayleigh Haught, to succeed him as Knight-Commander of the Circle Tower.
This is her story.