Kirkwall. College of Enchanters disbanded. Failed assassination attempt on the Divine. Rite of Tranquility investigated. Lord Seeker Lambert detains First Enchanters. Mages run for Andoral's Reach. Circle of Daismuid annulled. First Enchanters vote for independence. Nevarran Accord voided. Templars declare independence...and begin hunting mages.
The building chaos of three years created such unrest that Circles of Magi across Thedas started falling: most rebelled, a few dissolved. The inevitable occurred: mages fled, templars pursued, templars killed mages, mages killed templars. The violence spread across Thedas.
The Ostwick Circle stood against the chaos. Reputed as "a good Circle", moderate in temperament and loyal to the Chantry, Ostwick's First Enchanter and Knight Commander were encouraged when they received Divine Justinia's invitation to a Conclave at the Temple of Ashes. Two mages and two templars were handpicked to represent Ostwick Circle at a meeting that hopefully would bring a peaceful end to the Mage/Templar War. Twenty-four year old Evelyn Trevelyan led the group to Haven.
Born to a Free Marches Noble family, the ten year old Evelyn Trevelyan was perfectly calm when templars arrived at her family's estate fourteen years earlier. Her unaffected behavior struck them as odd and they questioned if she actually had magic. The small girl assured them she had magic and had known for several months. Despite her cooperation the templars gagged her, shackled her hands and feet, put a hood over her head then dragged her to a waiting cart. Her Chantry loyal family refused to send "tribute" for "preferred" treatment in the Circle. She was a blight to the family name and they would have nothing to do with her. When she arrived at the Ostwick Circle, she was treated as a common born mage.
Raised a privileged child, she resented her treatment at the Circle spurring a bitter resentment, a sharp tongue and plenty of trouble. Eventually she learned to keep her head down and mouth shut. She found refuge in scholarship and education. The First Enchanter eventually took notice of the quiet girl's intellect and sense. Evelyn was both the First Enchanter and the Knight Commander's first choice to represent Ostwick Circle at the Conclave.
The journey from the Ostwick to Haven took the party through the Free Marches toward the Port of Kirkwall. Along the base of the Vinmark Mountains a gang of rogue templars stopped their group and asked their destination. Before any of the Ostwick group answered the rogue templars attacked. The Ostwick templars were killed defending their charges.
Evelyn, considering circumstances, kept her hands at her side rather than reach for her stave. She begged her fellow mage to do the same. Disregarded her warning, a sword through the back ended his attempt to rain fire on his attackers. Evelyn offered no resistance and was knocked unconscious.
She woke next to a fire pit. Two templars across from the fire were drinking and talking. The templar sitting next to her, the only one wearing full templar armor, noticed that she was awake.
"You know," he said to his drinking friends, "I don't think this one is a Circle mage. She looks more like an apostate."
The youngest agreed, "Bet you're right. Templars respect good Circle mages staying where they should but she's runnin' round like an apostate."
The templar in full gear addressed Evelyn, "Do you know what an apostate is little girl?"
Foolishly forgetting an important Circle survival rule, don't cause trouble, she answered, "An apostate is one who has turned away from the Chantry. Unlike templars who abandoned the Chantry, I am not an apostate."
Loving that she isn't holding her tongue, the templar grinned, "Oh, we have a wise one don't we. Well, you're not where you're supposed to be and THAT is what we templars call an apostate. Time we teach this one a lesson in obedience."
They brought her to her feet. Fear shut down her attempt to remain silent. "Please, just return me to the Circle. I'll be no trouble for you."
Two men held her in front of the older templar. He held her chin as he explained her situation. "See there, she admits she isn't where she should be, she is an apostate. We no longer answer to the Chantry. Templars are on a holy mission to rid Thedas of every filthy apostate we find."
Without warning his fist struck her jaw throwing her to the ground. “Get the shirt and tie her to the tree. Andraste met the fire, let's see if this one can meet the whip."
Pleas for mercy fell unheard as they dragged her to a tree. One pressed her face into the bark while the other tied her to the tree.
As the daughter of a noble family, she only knew verbal punishment. No one raised a hand, belt or stick to any Trevelyan child. At the Ostwick Circle a templar delivered her first physical punishment: a fast backhand for an unruly remark. The Chantry holds rights to a mage’s life but templars wield control and discipline.
The first lash sliced deep into her tender skin sending a paralyzing shock across her body. Felt like all the air in the world rushed into her lungs. Her whole body froze as the second lash ripped across tender skin spreading blood across her back. She choked on air refusing to exit her lungs.
The third she gritted her teeth. The fourth a scream issued against her will. By the seventh lash sounds from her mouth were deep guttural deformed noises that lasted to the next drop of the whip. On the tenth she involuntarily urinated. By the fifteenth her fingers ran red with blood from gripping rough bark. By twenty she stopped screaming. Eyes unable to focus, blurry figures swayed about like a dream.
From the templars' view she was a body slumping against a tree, the back bloodied, bits of flesh hanging.
End the whip or her life she prayed. The crisp crack of the whip continued. Pain seared forever into memory. Forever an apostate.
When the whip stopped she didn't notice. She didn't hear the templars screaming. She didn't understand the silence.
She fell from the tree trunk like a rag doll. Hands picked her off the ground and wrapped her in rough cloth. She'd be dropped in a shallow grave, but she no longer cared as long as the pain ended. Mercifully, the world turned grey, then black. Her eyes shut surrendering to the Maker.
The aroma of cooking food confused her. Eyes opened. She puzzled at a dusty dirt floor in front of her. Pain flooded across her back causing teeth to grit. A deep guttural growl woke every inch of her body. She tried to lift herself. Her body defied her wishes and she remained face down on scratchy material.
A warm hand gently touched her arm. A soft voice spoke, “Easy, everything is okay. You're among friends. You’re safe.”
A pair of knees appeared in front of her. Floor now knees. “Where am I? Who are you?”
The knees explained, “You're in a cave, our hideout. We’re mages, like you.”
Pain, floor and knees. She didn't trust mind or eyes. Her hand touched the knee. Knee is real. “The templars? Did you rescue me?” Her hand caught a bit of cloth covering the knee, she needed to hold something real.
“The templars are dead. Technically, other apostates rescued you, brought you here. I’m treating your wounds. I’m a healer, and if there are to be introductions, that’s what everyone calls me.”
Talking distracted her from the pain. “Healer?”
His voice reassured her, “Nicknames are safer in case anyone gets caught. Lay still, I'll ease the pain.”
She stared at a pair old leather shoes as he sent healing magic across her body. Warmth passed across the back easing the pain. This was not typical healing magic. He was a spirit healer.
"So, who are you, besides being very unfortunate to run across rogue templars and very fortunate we found you."
“I'm Evelyn, from Ostwick Circle, I'm on my way to the Temple of Sacred Ashes for the Conclave. I need to go."
The treatment complete, he sat on the ground so she could see him, head to toe. He was more than thirty years old. Unkempt brownish blond hair, short bushy beard hadn’t a decent cut in probably forever. His old mage coat covered some very worn clothes. His eyes were gentle and kind.
A wrecked body prevented her impulse to grab hold and drag him close. Her hand settled for a fist curled around the edge of a coat.
“You can't travel. I've closed the wounds properly but they need more healing. They'll tear open if you travel too soon.”
“How soon can I travel?”
“Couple of days. If you stayed another week I could reduce those scars. Bastard tore up your back: Layers of damage. That much scarring takes time to heal properly,” he said. "You rest and I will be back with food and water.”
"No!" Panic exploded and she clutched his coat tighter, "Please don't leave."
"You're still in shock. You're trying to ground yourself, reconnect. I understand, I was tortured. Torture isn't just about pain, it's meant to leave you helpless, isolated. It's terrifying. Breaks you from safe connections, leaves you vulnerable. That's how it works." He knows very well how that feels. He was patient. He waited for her to let go of the coat, he let her choose.
Her hand reluctantly let go. "Come back." He's right. Alone feels terrifying.
Two days later, her physical wounds safely healed, she prepared to leave. Her cave dwelling friends provided her with traveling clothes and provisions. Healer sat with her and shared a final morning meal. “Still heading to the Conclave?”
“I'm not going back to the Circle, but I can't survive out there alone. The Conclave offers sanctuary to mages who attend so I'll be safe there. My family has connections to the Ostwick's Chantry so there is a chance my brothers will be there. I can't hope my parents will take me back but maybe one of my brothers will help. What about you? Ever thought of leaving here? Go to the Conclave with me.”
He smiled at her kind offer but his eyes hinted a regret. “Some of us will always be apostates. Criminals wanted by the Chantry. Executed if caught or worse, made tranquil, a mindless, unemotional mage. Some things cannot be forgiven. Healing is my penance. Maybe I help you so you can save the world.”
"Save the world, huh?" That made her laugh. He made her laugh often in the last few days. Free from the Circle she felt no restraints from investing in a friendship. In her brief stay they grew close. She wished he would go with her.
"What’s wrong? What is this very serious look on your face?” He asked.
“Ostwick's reputation as a good Circle was a front. Things happened there just like other Circles. It was not a home to me. I lived in an unending limbo. I am so grateful that you took care of me. You made me feel safe and welcome. I've not felt that way in a long time."
"I'm curious, if you don't mind me asking, how did you survive in the Circle?" He asked.
"I did everything wrong at first: complained, bickered, argued, pushed. Templars pushed right back. This mage, a year ahead of me, was about the same. He defied everyone. He disappeared one night but a few weeks later he was working in the library, and he was tranquil.
"I'm good at sizing up what's right in front of me, reading a room. What happen to him drew a clear picture of where I was headed. I had to change to survive. I learned to be 'small' and unnoticed. I stuck my nose in a book and never looked up. Eventually, the right person, the First Enchanter noticed me, encouraged my studies. I gained his trust, became his scribe, record keeper, helper: I found a protector. What about you, how did you survive?"
"Besides a talent for escaping, I learned that sexual favors go a long way in the Circle." He replied with a small smirk
"Great maker! Not a path I could take, I knew mages who did and would never fault them. I avoided Templars who looked for those kind of favors, I just couldn't... didn't want...well, let's just say I have this ridiculous hope to fall in love someday. It's stupid, I know."
"I don't think so. I was in love. It was wonderful. Our time was brief, but it meant everything."
"I escaped. He did nothing wrong but love me. They punished him, they made him tranquil."
Her response burned with venom, "Maker, I hate them! The Chantry, the Circle, templars. How are they allowed to say I can't love someone? Who gave them the right to say I have no future? I hate them for making us believe it’s true.”
"Don't dwell on what you can't have. You have an opportunity to get out there. If things don't work out, you can always come back to us."
"Do I get to know your real name?”
“It’s a name you don't need to know.” His chin scrunched, regretful to say that.
“Someone knows it.” She replied.
“Perhaps. Parents. The templars who dragged me to the Circle. I refused to tell anyone. My little act of defiance. My new name carries a price. I won't have trouble fall on those around me.” He explained.
“What if I want to send a message? Be nice to hear from you now and again.”
“Don't. We can't. I'll keep this memory of you to cherish. This must be like the Circle. This was brief, with a time limit. It began when you found me and it ends when you leave.”
“Hard not to worry about you.” she said.
“Don't worry about me. Worry about you.” He reached out and hugged her, held her tight. Once again, he was loosing someone special. He sent her on her way with the hope she'd be okay.