"Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him…"
If it weren't for the helmet he adorned, Cullen would have surely had his ears clapped for yawning during the evening recitation of the Chant of Light. After a long day of praying, standing around, guarding, praying, observing, trying to look intimidating to the mages, and oh yes of course, more praying, it was hardly unexpected that listening to the Chantry Sister would cause him to think of his bed.
Oh no, Maker, he hadn't meant it like that, and blushed furiously at the thought. It was only that the droning chant exhausted him to no end, and after years of study and training, he could practically quote it in his sleep – and quite often did, if his fellow brothers in the Templar Order were to be believed. Like true brothers, they often enjoyed playing the occasional prank or telling false stories just to liven things up in the dreary tower, so whether this was indeed true was an unknown.
Cullen grimaced at his own incessant disinterest, again silently grateful for the cover his full helmet provided. Narrowing his eyes and straining his ears, the young man forced himself to get through this properly. Andraste would not be pleased with him, were he to ignore his evening prayers in favour of idle thought...
"…shall be named Maleficar, accursed ones.
They shall find no rest in this world
"So let it be," he chanted along with his many brothers from the back of the room. His superiors and the higher echelons of the Circle of Magi in Kinloch Hold were near the front, all of them on their knees before the woman, whose arms were raised as she blessed those in attendance.
"All men are the Work of our Maker's Hands,
From the lowest slaves
To the highest kings.
Those who bring harm
Without provocation to the least of His children
Are hated and accursed by the Maker."
Now came the verses to balance out the ones previous. Humbling himself, Cullen relaxed as he continued to kneel, hands resting one atop the other in reverence. Above all, it was imperative that he always remember never to harm a mage in his care without just cause. Be always watchful, be always wary, but be also gracious and merciful, as the Maker would.
Taking a deep breath, he looked up just as he was nudged by the man next to him, who had at some point during Cullen's musings removed his helmet. It had come time for their draught, a tranquil standing statuesque at the end of their row, his tray neatly arrayed with small doses of lyrium. One by one, the brothers passed them down the line until each Templar had in his hand the lifeblood of their Order, of what made them strong, steadfast, and true.
"All things in this world are finite.
What one man gains, another has lost.
Those who steal from their brothers and sisters
Do harm to their livelihood and to their peace of mind.
Our Maker sees this with a heavy heart."
"So let it be," they all mumbled in unison, heads bowed over their cups.
"Take heart, children of the Maker of all, and drink," the Sister permitted. As one, all templars present in the hall raised the lyrium to their lips and downed the glowing liquid like much-needed medicine. Though he had to admit it tasted awful, Cullen immediately felt a wave of calm wash over him. The lyrium's effects should have contributed to his exhaustion, but surprisingly, it usually accomplished the exact opposite. He felt rejuvenated, relieved, as if he'd felt the presence of angels beside him, giving him the strength and the submissiveness to do anything asked of him…
The Chant of Light was put to rest for the day. If the Sister recited every word of it, she would be up there for weeks without rest before finally finishing. Yet despite all that material to work with, somehow it always circled back to The Canticle of Transfigurations… No pun intended, he thought dismissively as the Sister slowly walked the length of the aisle, gently swinging her brass incense burner to cleanse their souls before then allowing them to depart quietly.
Resting his helmet beneath an arm, he fell in beside his brothers, automatically rising to make for their quarters and catch a well-earned, good night's rest.
"A word, Knight Cullen," the Knight-Captain nodded, catching his lumbering attention. Wordlessly, he was led from the others to the corner of the cold stone chamber, his features blank and slightly glazed over as the senior officer pursed his lips, staring at him critically.
Had he been heard yawning, regardless of not being seen? Oh Maker's Breath, surely he hadn't been so careless! Although his mind raced with nervous thoughts flitting to and fro behind his eyes, Cullen remained alert and steady, suddenly remembering to salute through the lyrium haze.
Satisfied that he had been properly addressed, the Knight-Captain saluted in turn and relaxed, thereby allowing Cullen to also be at ease – at least outwardly.
"I have a sneaking suspicion it slipped your mind today, Knight, but I'm afraid I must remind you of your duties."
Had he possessed the ability to furrow a brow, Cullen surely would have done so. Instead he stared forward, trying his best to recall what he had apparently forgotten. "I have… guard duty at the Tower entrance," he slowly remembered through the fog clouding his mind. As the words left his lips, a part of him crumbled, yearning for nothing more after the monotony of his day than the dreamless slumber only lyrium could provide. Instead though, the draught had given him new life, and he took the news in stoic silence.
Having caught on, though, the man smirked and laid a hand on the junior templar's armoured shoulder. "Believe me," he sympathized, knowing that he could get away with such things while Cullen was somewhat incapacitated, "I know how you feel, my boy. There are far better places we'd rather be than staring at an unwavering door for four hours straight, but we all must sacrifice equally. It's your turn, Cullen. It won't be so bad, and time will pass quickly; you know that. Besides, it'll be an easy shift. Nothing interesting ever happens here," the Knight-Captain smiled, patting his pauldron before joining the others in their sleepy departure.
Moved to obedience, Cullen wordlessly complied, peering down at the helmet in his hands before placing it back over his head.
"Duty calls," a voice from behind him rumbled. Turning on his heel, he came face-to-face with his commanding officer, Knight-Commander Greagoir. After Cullen instinctively saluted, the Knight-Commander glibly returned the gesture, his helmet resting under his arm casually. "You're with me tonight, Cullen. I'll meet you there once I have a word with First Enchanter Irving about our agenda for tomorrow."
"Yes, ser. Thank you, ser," Cullen replied in a flat monotone. He noticed the irksome twitch on Greagoir's lip as he'd spoken the elderly mage's name, but knew better than to mention it, instead turning to make his way through the halls on his own.
The two men were not exactly tolerant of one another, though at times the respect they held for the other's position was apparent. Not today, however. They had suffered setbacks after an apprentice nearly burned down the library with a spell that went awry two days prior, and the clean-up was taking longer than anticipated. Irving was adamant that his pupils be allowed to study around the tranquil as they tidied, and Greagoir had argued that if it hadn't been for the unskilled pupils, this wouldn't be an issue in the first place. Both had concerns, but rarely if ever gave ground in a confrontation.
All these lifeless recollections ticked off in his mind like a metronome, his boot steps marking the time perfectly against the stone floor. Stone as far as the eye could see. Cold, ancient, protective walls… He was confident enough to call them home, now. Only three years had Cullen lived here, but they were years of discipline, diligence, and righteous determination. He would serve the Order in any capacity they deemed necessary. And tonight, he would serve as guard to the most protected door in all the Hold.
At least the Knight-Captain was right: nothing interesting ever happened here.
And he was at least satisfied with that knowledge.
As luck would have it, he wasn't alone with the Knight-Commander, which was reassuringly fortuitous. Though he respected his superior, the man was downright intimidating to be near for any given period, and he feared the consequences of any mistakes made in his presence. Not that Cullen believed his training so minimal as to be riddled with errors, but at times his nerves got the better of him. Having others around both above and below his rank guaranteed that the focus wouldn't be solely on him, tonight.
Dear Maker, it's too quiet in the halls… Andraste's eyes, stay awake, Cullen. Don't slouch. Don't yawn. Distract yourself with your studies of the lesser-known verses. Yes, good thinking… me. Frowning in consternation, he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath, eyes and ears trained on anything that dared to move in the middle of the night. 'The deep dark before dawn's first light seems eternal, but know that the sun always rises.' Not fast enough. He failed to suppress a wry smile before remembering his face wasn't visible beneath the heavy steel helmet, anyhow.
Right, no more mucking about. Cullen was disappointed at how easily distracted he had become by his own thoughts. Despite not having made a single betraying sound for hours, nor even a twitch in the wrong direction, it was disconcerting that he was behaving so boyishly. Once more with reverence, he started again. 'A learned child is a blessing upon his parents and onto the Maker' –
The large, looming doors cracked open, which was highly unusual, since they were more or less guarding against anyone getting out, not in… Unless he'd imagined it? No, the unmistakable screech of damp wood grinding past stone reverberated through the whole lower level, and his fellow templars straightened slumping shoulders, raising their heads to better view the front. Maker, what time was it? This was far too ridiculous an hour, for those escorting new mages to the tower would never arrive so late when they could just as easily stay at the inn on the banks of Lake Calenhad until morning.
Losing patience with the unknown intruder's lack of appearance thus far, Greagoir sighed heavily and stormed over to the door, which had been left ajar as concerned mumbling could be heard outside.
As soon as he was less than five long strides from swinging it wide on its rusting hinges, Kester the ferryman stuck his grey hair inside, eyes widening when they immediately rested on the aggravated Knight-Commander. "Oh, Greagoir" he fumbled nervously, stepping inside before peering back out at whatever – or whomever – lay beyond the main door. "Mighty surprised to see yourself up and about!"
"Likewise, Kester, likewise," the elder templar nodded cautiously. "I trust you have sufficient cause to be disturbing the Circle so late at night?"
"Eh…" The ferryman seemed unsure of himself, though by the look on his careworn face, it was obviously pressing enough to warrant a visit. "I asked the men outside whether it was appropriate, and they seemed a bit worried they'd cause a kerfuffle, so I came to ask you – " Before he could prattle on further, the exasperated Knight-Commander shoved past him and had a look at the doorstep for himself.
"What the – " Greagoir cut his shout off and tactfully lowered his voice, though it was apparent a debate of some kind was raging outside. He was gesturing wildly, shaking his head in either confusion or refusal, and Cullen forced himself to remain at his post in spite of the urge to race forward and satisfy his curiosity. Horrocks, another templar near Cullen of similar ranking, took a careful step forward, his hand on the hilt of his longsword in anticipation of a fight.
The door burst open without warning, though, and all hands flew to their weapons defensively before immediately lowering, along with their jaws.
"Revered Mother," one of them gasped and, as if in a trance, they all bent a knee to her, shock rolling over them like a wave of confusion.
"Get up, fools," Greagoir grumbled impatiently, gauntlets crossed over his heavy steel chest plate.
"They still serve the Chantry, don't they, Knight-Commander?" the Revered Mother bit curtly. She sounded as though she were at her wit's end. "They know their place is on their knees."
"Then why does the Chantry come unannounced? This is the most unorthodox thing I've seen since you allowed the dwarven merchants to deliver our lyrium to us themselves!"
"They were not unprotected. Even without the cutthroat band of mercenaries accompanying them, they received the Maker's Blessing. He was watching over them, as He watches over us all."
Snorting derisively, their commanding officer was having none of this. "You didn't leave the quaint safety of Lothering to preach the Chant of Light to its most diligent observers, I presume."
Her robes swished as she turned and narrowed her eyes in his direction. "I would hardly come all this way just to relieve a Sister of her assigned position." At the clearing of her throat, four Brothers and Sisters whom had accompanied the Revered Mother on her journey stepped inside in single-file, one Brother lagging noticeably behind his contemporaries. "I've come to relieve myself of one of my charges."
"We don't require the services of another scribe," Greagoir argued heatedly, looking as though he wanted to shove them out the door this instant to be rid of them. Greagoir was often territorial of Kinloch Hold, and he wasn't about to give ground. "Many of our tranquil are perfectly suited to the task."
"This Brother was already receiving training as a templar by those stationed in my Chantry," she clarified loftily. "The boy has promise, but he lacks…" She searched her mind for an accurate description before snidely deciding on, "respect for his superiors. I prayed for many weeks upon our dilemma, and have decided to leave him with you, Greagoir. Perhaps you can assess whether he's even suitable to the Order to begin with."
Cullen's mouth dropped open in astonishment. He'd never heard of such a thing in all his years of training. Judging by the vein protruding from the Knight-Commander's neck, he obviously felt similarly. "You think I oversee a boot camp instead of a Circle of Magi?! If your regiment saw fit to recruit him, then they are responsible for training him, not me!"
"They didn't recruit him. He was given into our care several years ago and I have done all in my power to see him properly humbled before the Maker. Alas, he is ill-suited for a life of piety, and Ser Bryant offered to see if he had any promise in the Brotherhood. Unfortunately, there was only so much our facilities could accommodate."
"Nevertheless, what is carried out within these walls does not include dealing with the village refuse! Do you have any idea the kind of danger an unready recruit poses to those under my command?!"
The Revered Mother turned her eyes back to Greagoir then, accusation dripping from her tone. "I've noticed that not once have you seen fit to refer to me with the respect you are bound to give without question. Shall I call upon the Divine to ask for a pronouncement of some sort? Would that quell your blasphemous refusal to do as you are told? I daresay your attitude is precisely the one I seek to eradicate from the boy."
The Knight-Commander was pinned by her ultimatum: either take the unwanted boy, or face a reprimand from the Clerics. Of course he did not want to have his name mentioned in Val Royeaux under such circumstances, but the Tower was not a place that could afford to take in templars who were untrained in dealing with the reality of what their duties demanded. Cullen thought that the best the Knight-Commander could hope to do in this situation was to confine the Brother to a room until another place more suited to deal with the problematic upstart could take charge of him.
Sparing a glance toward the Brothers, he tried to guess which of them was being so unceremoniously dumped into their laps. Doubtless it was the young man in his mid to late teens, scowling to himself quietly at the back of the odd procession. He didn't have the look of a Chantry Brother, nor did the unkempt, blond-haired youth seem hardened enough to even be considered a junior recruit yet. Perplexed, Cullen looked to Horrocks and shook his head, to which the templar simply shrugged in equal amounts of sheer bafflement.
Rubbing his nose between thumb and forefinger tiredly, Greagoir sighed out his frustrations, appearing calmer as he lowered his hands. "Very well, Your Holiness," he relented, much to his men's surprise, "I will see to it that he is properly dealt with. But when I deem him ready to return, you shall expect to see this man again in Lothering, under Ser Bryant's command."
Nodding in satisfaction, the Revered Mother raised her chin. "So long as he is befittingly disciplined for his position, I will accept your offer of aid to one of our Maker's beloved children." It wasn't an offer at all, but the way she had phrased it implied this would be her official record of how the matter was dealt with, should the right people come to inquire about the case. "Now, if your hospitality still extends to myself and my escorts, we require a room for the night before departing at daybreak."
Hearing that his services would no longer be necessary, Kester anxiously bowed and left the chamber, closing the noisy double doors in his wake as he gladly vacated the small island in the middle of Lake Calenhad.
"Of course, Mother," Greagoir submitted reluctantly. "I will see to it personally that you are given ample quarters." And with a slight bow not quite low enough to be deemed appropriate, the Knight-Commander escorted the silent procession to the doors leading to the hall, his men left to do nothing but resume their posts. It had all happened so fast that the templars were left thoroughly speechless, not knowing what to think of the unusual display that had played out.
The entryway again falling into overbearing silence around them, Cullen was left to wonder what in Andraste's name was so unseemly about the mysterious Chantry Brother that had forced even someone as genteel as the Revered Mother to abandon all hope and rid herself of his very presence in her Chantry. Well, whatever ill qualities he possessed, Cullen was sure they would all find out in very short order who this man was, and just what had spurred a woman of the cloth to act outside of normal parameters.
It seemed the Knight-Captain had been wrong after all... Something of interest was most assuredly on the horizon.