“He believed in me even when I lost faith in myself.”
When they had entered the home of the famous Brother Genitivi, one thing Wynne could say with certainty she could never have expected was an imposter to greet them at the door.
And yet here they were.
She looked down at the dead body of the man who called himself Weylon, and sighed deeply.
To her left, she heard Tristan muttering to himself as he stalked to the door the imposter had been so keen on keeping closed to them. He tested the lock and found it unlatched. Without another word, he pushed the door open.
“Augh!” Alistair’s yelp was the first thing she registered, followed immediately by a stench so powerful it almost had her gagging.
“That’s—!” Leliana’s strained gasp was the next thing to reach her ears, but by then Wynne was already moving swiftly into the room, Aja close at her heels. She knew this smell, and it meant nothing good.
“Here he is,” Tristan’s voice led them around a corner and Wynne drew up short at the sight of a dirtied cloth clasped in his hand, a dead and rotting face revealed beneath.
“Oh, Maker,” Wynne breathed, hurrying forward. This close, the odor was nearly overpowering, and Wynne clenched her jaw against it. Behind her, she heard Aja gag and back away. Casting a glance at Tristan – his control and composure were admirable – Wynne reached forward to take the cloth from him and reposition it over the body.
“We will need to alert the chantry,” Wynne said solemnly. “We cannot leave his body here to rot.” His soul needed to be freed. It had already been days since he died, judging from the decay; any longer and his spirit would be lost to the Fade.
“Should we… move him?” Aja asked, her voice barely more than a croak. Wynne shook her head.
“No. I will go to the chantry and find the necessary aid.” She turned and cast a glance back to the covered corpse. “I do not wish to cause unintentional disrespect to the body by handling it carelessly.” She turned and nodded to the rest of them. “If you all would wait outside for me, I will return quickly.”
Without waiting for her answer, Wynne turned and hurried from the room, her heart beating swiftly in her chest.
A young boy’s very soul was at stake. Wynne could not afford to tarry.
The chantry responded quickly when Wynne told them of Weylon’s body, and soon after, the poor boy was being wrapped and moved by two lay brothers as the Revered Mother herself spoke the necessary rites and verses of the Chant.
They allowed Wynne to follow, and follow she did. The others said they would wait for her in the tavern. Wynne could not rightly say she blamed them.
When the body reached the chantry, Wynne stood back and allowed the brothers to carry it away. She bowed her head and spoke a silent prayer to the Maker, heart heavy with the fear that it may already have been too late.
“Excuse me.” Wynne turned to see a young sister, younger even than some of the Wardens, approach her uncertainly. She managed to summon up a smile.
“How can I help you?”
As though she couldn’t quite help it, the young girl cast a glance after the retreating forms of the brothers, before pressing her hands together and leaning in closer to Wynne.
“Is it true, then?” she asked in a hushed tone. “That is—is that Weylon?”
Wynne pulled in a deep breath and held the girl’s gaze.
The sister sagged. “Oh… Thank you. I… I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
Wynne inclined her head, and voiced the question in her mind before the girl could leave, “It’s no trouble. Did you know him?”
The girl hesitated. “…Yes, I did. We—we grew up here together.” Wynne nodded and gave the girl an encouraging look.
“Will you tell me of him?” It was certainly unorthodox, as there would be a proper time for remembrance, and the body had not even been committed to holy fire yet, but surely Andraste and the Maker would accept the gesture anyway.
And the way the girl’s eyes shone as she watched after the empty hallway where Weylon’s body had disappeared, the way her shoulders quivered as she held back tears… Wynne suspected that it would not be only for Andraste and the Maker to offer such thoughts.
The young sister let out a pitiful laugh, letting her head drop to her hands for a moment before she managed to pull some measure of composure over herself. When she looked back up at Wynne, she dragged a hand over her eyes and shook herself lightly.
“I’m sorry, forgive me,” she said, and Wynne had to smile at her perseverance. “I would be happy to—to speak of him. I… forgive me, I didn’t even ask your name.” She bowed her head. “I am Jayna—I mean, I suppose it’s ‘Sister Jayna’ now. It’s a bit difficult to get used to; I haven’t taken any vows, so—oh, I’m sorry! Your name, if I may, good lady?”
She bowed again, and Wynne chuckled lightly, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Be at ease, Sister, I understand,” she replied. “I am Wynne, of the Circle of Magi—” She ignored the slightly alarmed look that admission earned her. “—And my companions and I are searching for Brother Genitivi.” Her expression fell as she remembered the day’s events and continued, “Our search led us here, to his home.” Her eyes turned to the empty hallway. “Unfortunately, it seems we were too late to prevent this tragedy.”
Jayna winced and swallowed hard.
“I’ll bet he put up a fight,” she offered sadly. “He wasn’t one to take anything like that lying down. He was so stubborn.”
Wynne smiled, “I’m sure he was.” She gently squeezed Jayna’s shoulder and began to steer her away from that empty hallway. “Were he and Brother Genitivi close, if I may ask?”
Jayna nodded and reached up to rub at her arm. It seemed a nervous gesture.
“Oh, yes,” she replied, warming to the topic. “Weylon was given to Brother Genitivi as an apprentice when he was just out of boyhood. I think he was in his thirteenth year, then? He was an orphan at the chantry before then.” Here, she paused and took in a shaky breath, her voice wobbling. “We used to play together. He… he would always visit me whenever Brother Genitivi was away. I—I remember—” Abruptly, Jayna cut herself off and lowered her head. Wynne moved her hand to the girl’s back and pressed gently.
“It’s good to hold to the happy memories of him,” she murmured, and Jayna nodded, perhaps a bit too aggressively to be convincing. But she pulled herself up and attempted to continue.
“Brother Genitivi was not happy about the arrangement at first,” she explained. She paused again, but this time a small smile came to her face, and a breathy laugh escaped her lips as she remembered. “He was stubborn too, just as stubborn as Weylon, the old fool. Said he wasn’t some wet nurse set to look after children, he had ‘important research to contend with.’ Something like that, anyway.” Jayna laughed again and shook her head.
“Weylon got it in his thick head that he had something to prove,” she went on. Wynne swallowed past a sudden lump in her throat. Oh, she knew that type. “It was all he talked about every time I saw him! How he was going to prove that he could be useful, how he was going to show Brother Genitivi how smart he was.
“And I didn’t doubt him for a second.” Jayna turned to Wynne, her eyes glassy with tears, and misty and faraway. “Weylon was always so clever. He was the smartest boy in the abbey, no matter what anyone says. Always knew the Chant and the history books better than anyone.” Again, she paused, and wiped at her eyes with shaking fingers.
“Wasn’t long before he and Brother Genitivi were thick as thieves.” She looked up at Wynne and offered a weak smile. “Weylon always had some great story to tell of the archives he and Brother Genitivi had visited, or some odd village they saw in their travels. This was the first time in a while that Brother Genitivi left Weylon in Denerim.”
The smile fell from her face
“…He’d been visiting me while Brother Genitivi was away, but—but then he stopped these past few days.” Jayna’s eyes went wide and her skin blanched. She whirled to face Wynne with a terrified and urgent expression. “I-I thought it was just because he was busy, or-or preparing for Brother Genitivi’s return, but—” She choked and the words stopped.
“I should have known…!”
This, Wynne could not let stand.
“Listen to me, child,” she said gently but firmly, turning to take Jayna’s shoulders in a sure grip. She waited until she had Jayna’s anguished gaze locked with hers. “None of this is your fault. You could not have known, as we could not have. Things could always have been different, yes, but to dwell on this will only compound your doubt and grief, and give you no answers besides. The blame for Weylon’s death falls squarely on the shoulders of the one who took his life. Do you understand?”
For a long moment, a heavy silence hung between them, and Jayna stared at Wynne. Facing the girl as she was, Wynne could see every shade of the shock and grief and pain in her eyes. It came as no surprise to her when Jayna released a broken whimper and leaned forward into her hold. Wynne allowed it, whispering gently into the girl’s hair, rubbing her back, supporting her as she released the first wave of grief.
“He—he said he wasn’t going to take—his vows b-because he… he wanted—” Her hands gripped the folds of Wynne’s robe and she pressed her face hard against Wynne’s shoulder.
“It-it’s not fair, w-why would—why would the Maker do this!? How is this part of any stupid plan!?”
Wynne pulled Jayna closer and continued to murmur useless platitudes. This pain would not be soothed away, she knew, but sometimes just the sound of a gentle voice, the presence of one who could withstand the onslaught and offer support, was able to help, even just a little bit.
Wynne could only hope that her presence could do so for Jayna.
They stayed like that for several more minutes, until Jayna’s harsh sobs had quieted to shaking breaths and faltering hiccups. Wynne said nothing, and didn’t rush her. And when Jayna stiffened and pulled away, Wynne let her go with only a reassuring smile.
Jayna seemed not to see it.
“I, uh—I apologize for my outburst,” she mumbled. “Thank—” Her voice broke and she cleared her throat. “Thank you for… listening.” She bowed hastily and made to turn away.
“A moment, please, my dear,” Wynne said before she could flee. Jayna froze and directed her gaze somewhere in the vicinity of Wynne’s left ear. Wynne gentled her expression. “Keep your heart open to Andraste and the Maker. Your grief is pure; to hold it inside will only taint it, and turn it to bitterness.”
Jayna stared at Wynne a long moment. Eventually she swallowed and averted her eyes, clenching them shut.
“I…I will try.”
And then she pulled away from Wynne, and this time Wynne didn’t attempt to stop her. “I… I should go speak with the Revered Mother about—for… on the subject of Weylon’s… of his ashes.” She hesitated and turned back to Wynne, eyes still lowered. “If you find Brother Genitivi, tell him—tell him we will keep Weylon’s ashes here for him, should he—” She swallowed and looked up.
“He will want to say goodbye.”
With that, Jayna turned and hurried away.
Wynne remained long enough to say a final prayer for the departed, then left to find her companions.
None of them felt like staying in Denerim for the night.
Brother Genitivi insisted on accompanying them to the temple.
“I understand your desire to see this through, scholar, but with your injury—” Gundhram had started, his tone low and reasonable. Brother Genitivi shook his head, agitated, and shot the Warden a glare.
“Maker damn this injury, it will not keep me from completing my work!” he declared, raising his voice for the first time since they had found him. His eyes were glazed and fogged with pain, and his skin was pale and sallow, and his body quivered with the effort to stay upright, but there was no mistaking the determination on his features.
His expression contorted as he shifted his weight and he met Gundhram’s harsh eyes readily.
“I have devoted years of my life to this research,” he very nearly growled, tone hard. “Weylon died for it. I will not allow his sacrifice to be in vain; I will not allow all that—that we have accomplished thus far to be for nothing. No, I’m going with you. With or without your blessing.”
Gundhram stood in silence for a moment, scrutinizing Brother Genitivi, taking his measure.
He turned to Wynne and nodded in wordless question. Wynne returned the gesture.
“I will tend to him as we go,” she offered. “He will be well, Gundhram.” Gundhram raised his chin, shot one more long look at Brother Genitivi, and nodded.
“Very well,” he agreed, and gave a cordial bow. “We welcome your expertise and wisdom, scholar.”
The tension bled from Brother Genitivi’s shoulders, leaving only relieved exhaustion, and the heavy bow of fresh grief. Wynne approached the scholar.
“Shall we go, Brother?”
Progress was slow as Brother Genitivi guided them up the slope to the temple, and Wynne knew that the others were chafing somewhat with the pace they were forced to set.
But the good brother was determined and stalwart in his own way, and from that determination came an impressive effort to keep on his feet as often and long as he could.
They only had to stop and rest two times. Brother Genitivi was silent during the first rest, but during the second rest, while he sat alone with Wynne as the others moved ahead to scout the road, he voiced a hesitant question, meek and small, “Did you… Weylon’s body, did you—see to it?”
Wynne inclined her head, “We did, Brother. I watched as they bore it to the chantry, and the Revered Mother herself oversaw the proceedings. His soul may find its way to the Maker now. He is at peace.”
Brother Genitivi said nothing in response, only released an unsteady breath, shaking and weak, as he lowered his head and pressed at his forehead. His shoulders shook.
“…There are none so deserving of a place at the Maker’s side as Weylon.”
The words were spoken softly, and Wynne had to lean forward to hear them at all. She thought back to Jayna’s grief, how it had seemed to be no difficult task to coax it to the fore; the young girl had seemed to want not to be alone, to want to have someone to share in her grief, and when she had spoken of Weylon to Wynne, the act had seemed to help her to an extent.
Brother Genitivi was different.
He was pulling inward now, sucking the grief and pain further into himself, somewhere dark and deep where he would never be able to reach it when he needed to, but would never be able to ignore it either.
Wynne knew that would only make things worse.
“He pulled me back, you know. From the darkness. He always had faith in me. I have never been deserving of such faith. Imperfect creation of the Maker’s that I am.” His face darkened. “As imperfect as the Maker Himself.” Wynne watched as the brother’s jaw clenched, as his eyes narrowed and pressed shut, as the grief clawed at him.
“Nothing could pierce that shroud for a time,” he muttered. “Not the Maker, not Andraste. They were as nothing to me.” Tears pooled at the corners of his eyes. “But Weylon wouldn’t let me waste away. He brought meals for me, books; he even continued some of my research for me.” His lips quirked ruefully. “Nearly mucked it up entirely.”
He broke off and pressed his hand to his eyes. Wynne said nothing and waited in solemn silence as he sucked in one slow breath after another.
Finally, he raised his eyes to hers. “And what of the ashes?”
“I have been assured that the chantry will keep them for when you return,” Wynne replied. “It was believed that you would wish to pay your respects once you had gone back to Denerim.”
“Thank you,” Brother Genitivi nodded, almost absently. Then his face darkened once more and he chuckled. “Maker-damned irony, isn’t it? We had discussed before this what Weylon should do in the event I perished on one of my journeys, or even at home. I even left a part of myself in Denerim should the worst happen.” He reached to his thinning hair and ran a hand over the mussed strands. “Symbolic, of course; not like burning a few strands of hair would—” He clenched his lips tightly around the thought and left it unfinished.
“He was so young, I never—could never have thought I would need to—”
Suddenly, Brother Genitivi halted his words and began to push himself hurriedly to his feet. He wobbled on his injured leg, and Wynne gasped in alarm, surging up to steady him.
“Brother, I know you’re impatient, but you must be careful—”
“Enough of this waiting,” Brother Genitivi wouldn’t meet her eyes, and the tension had returned to his shoulders and back. “We’re very nearly there. We should keep moving. I am eager to see what awaits us.”
He pushed away from Wynne, moving forward in a slow ungainly hop-step in the direction the others had gone. Wynne watched him for a moment, and a nearly overwhelming sense of sorrow washed over her.
Maker, keep him in Your sight… I fear Weylon’s may not be the only lost soul in need of guidance, after all this.
She pressed her lips together and followed after him.