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Walking in Circles

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The apostates are always hooded and bound.

The hood stinks of magebane, and the steel cuffs are edged with cloth, so there will be no chance of wounds. This is not a kindness—rather, it is to keep a mage from bleeding. Such a thing may be a weapon in the right hands.

Evelyn Trevelyan watches from the safety of one of the courtyard alcoves; it is common to see the newcomers or runaways be returned to the Circle, and the templars do not seem to mind the audience. Rather, they relish the opportunity to show mages what happens if they try to escape.

This templar all but shoves the hooded figure to the ground. Evelyn grimaces in sympathy. She has fallen onto those cobblestones before and still remembers the shock jarring through her bones. “I think it’s a man,” she says. 

“Two coppers says it’s Fitz,” says Kinnaird. “That mad bastard’s never managed to stay away longer than a month.” His heavy Starkhaven accent overlays the words.  

Evelyn lets out a derisive snort. “I would take that wager, if I knew you actually had coin.”

“Fine,” says Kinnaird, unashamed, “two shifts in the scullery, then.”

Evelyn grins and takes his hand. “All right, then.” She laughs. “If you wish to spend more time washing dishes, who am I to stop you?”

Kinnaird gazes at hooded figure. “What makes you so bloody certain?”

“I am a keenly observant individual,” says Evelyn loftily. “Also, Fitz is about a head taller than that man there.”

Kinnaird squints at the hooded man. His mouth twists in disappointment. “Damn.”

“That’s what you get for being too eager,” says Evelyn. “My next shift is tomorrow, by the way.” She turns her attention back to the courtyard, just in time to see the apostate try to rise to his feet.

Evelyn winces. That is a mistake.

A templar reaches down, puts a gloved hand to the apostate’s chest and smites him. The figure jerks, his body twitching as he falls to his side. The templar yanks the apostate’s hood from his face, no doubt hoping to blind him with the bright sunlight. He gives the apostate one last hateful look, and then he strides into the fortress, likely to get the proper paperwork. 

With his hood gone, Evelyn gets her first look at the apostate.

An elf. 

He is visibly shaking, an aftereffect of the smite. He stares after the templar and then glances about himself as if looking for escape.

It is useless, of course.

The Ostwick Circle is a fortress. It must have been a military outpost long ago, for it was built out of the rocky edges of a coastal cliff. The only way to approach is a long and winding road, and the fortress itself is protected by two high walls. It is a perfect place to keep unwanted intruders out—or to keep people in.

People do manage to get out, occasionally. Fitz, in particular, is infamous for it. But no fresh apostate could manage it; and if he tries, he will likely end up injuring himself.

“Definitely not Fitz,” observes Kinnaird.

Evelyn responds by elbowing him in the side. “How do you manage to wake up every day and not put your robes on backwards?”

“Simple. My name is sewn into the back collar.”

Evelyn looks back to the elf. He is not young, not like the usual elves that are brought in from the alienages. And she can see none of the tattoos that might mark him as Dalish. He has managed to push himself upright, but even from here Evelyn can see him wavering.

On impulse, she glances at the fortress’s main doors. It is a two minute walk to the Knight Commander’s office—no one will come for the elf for at least a few more minutes. For one pained moment, she looks between the door and the elf, then a flash of defiance burns through her. She has allowed herself to be caged, to be bound, but she will not be made into a coward.

She steps into the courtyard.

“What do you think you’re doing?” hisses Kinnaird. “Andraste’s ass, Ev. Get back here.”

She ignores him, hurrying across the cobblestones. The sunlight feels hot and strange on the back of her neck. At the sound of her approach, the elf looks up. His head is shaven and his features sharp. He is not what Keldra would have called handsome, but something about him is undeniably striking. He could be anywhere between thirty and fifty; Evelyn has never been a good judge of age.

One of his eyes is blackened and it looks as if one of the templars struck him across the face. He wheezes, trying to drag air into his lungs. She knows the feeling.

“Don’t try to force it,” she says quickly. She kneels beside him and places a hand on his chest, calls what little healing magic she knows. She is unskilled with healing, but perhaps she might ease his discomfort a bit.

The elf’s eyes flick up and he regards her with distrust. “Don’t try to force your breathing,” she says, by way of explanation. “It’ll make it worse. Try holding the breath in your chest for a moment, then let it out.”

The elf does not speak, but after a heartbeat, he does as she advises. She feels the expansion of his lungs, the rise of his chest, and she calls gentle magic to her hand. At once, his wheezing eases. He breathes more normally, and when he looks at her a second time, it is with a wary bewilderment.

“We don’t have much time,” Evelyn says, letting her hand fall to her side. “When the templars take you in there, you’ll be stripped and your possessions seized. They will not be returned to you. Do you have anything that you wish to keep?”

His eyes rake over her, but he does not answer.

“Anything at all?” she says urgently. She glances at the gates, then back again. “Tell me now and I’ll take it for you. It’s the only way…”

The loud clang of the door makes her flinch, but she does not look away from the apostate.

The elf’s face hardens and he speaks for the first time. “My bag. They took it—there is an artifact—” His voice might be pleasant to listen to, in other circumstances, but his throat sounds raw, and every word is dragged between clenched teeth.

Evelyn grimaces. “I’m sorry. I can’t do anything about that. But if you have anything on you, anything you’re attached to…”

The elf’s gaze darts to something behind Evelyn—the approaching templar, with her luck. But she does not turn around.

The apostate seems torn for a moment, then he glances down at himself. His bound wrists flex, as if he yearns to reach for something. “The pendent around my neck.”

She did not notice it before—it is… well, it looks to be an animal’s jaw on a leather cord. Far more crude than the jewels that most people try to keep, but to each his own. She can hear the clank of the approaching templars and one of them calls out, “Mage? Get away from him now.”

Hastily, she reaches down, hopes that her hunched form will hide her actions, and maneuvers the cord from around his neck. She tucks the bone into her sleeve just as the templar’s fist closes around her collar.

She is yanked upright with such force that her teeth click together. “What are you doing?” snaps the templar.

It is Grieves—of course it is Grieves. Pale-skinned, with blonde hair going gray at the temples. Revulsion rolls through her stomach but she forces herself to look down, to be the good little mage. “I thought he might be hurt,” she says. “I wanted to see—”

Grieves backhands her. “That is not your concern.”

She half-expects the blow, but it still hurts. She staggers back; the taste of copper floods her mouth.

The elf makes a sound. A furious little snarl that is quickly silenced by Grieves settling one booted foot upon his back. “Leave us, Mage Trevelyan.”

Evelyn walks away, refusing to wipe at the blood on her mouth until she is out of Grieves’s line of sight. She will not give him the satisfaction of seeing any pain on her face.

Kinnaird stands at the fringes of the courtyard, all but bouncing on the balls of his feet. “You are daft,” he snaps. “What were you thinking?” He helps her into the shadowed alcove, murmuring a healing spell. The throbbing in her lip fades and she gives him a smile in thanks. Kinnaird has always been adept at healing; without his aid, she is sure there would be far more scars on her body.

“What happened out there?” asks Kinnaird, his hands still on her shoulders, as if afraid she might go running into the courtyard.

Evelyn pulls the necklace out of her sleeve. The jawbone pendant is brown, smooth with age, and she cannot sense any true power to it. Perhaps it is simply an old keepsake.

“He didn’t want the templars to have this.” She tucks the pendant into her robes.

Kinnaird frowns at her. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he says. “Grieves doesn’t need any more excuses to come after you. You should keep your head down.”

Evelyn turns back to the courtyard. The elf is being dragged between two templars—Grieves and Ser Clacher, by the look of it. The elf must have been smote a second time, for he looks barely conscious.

“He’s about to enter the Circle of Magi,” says Evelyn. “He deserved one last kindness.”