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Under Good Regulation

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“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride -- where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” - Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen



~~~


Elizabeth Trevelyan eyed her father over the top of her book of Orlesian poetry, wondering what he was so cheerful about. Lord Trevelyan often joined his wife and daughters in the parlor after dinner, but he rarely displayed such good humor while doing so. Even when the young servant, Doris, handed him a report on the fighting--which was, by all accounts, getting much too close for comfort--all he did was smile.

“I daresay Ferelden is officially the center of the war now. This war, anyhow.” He turned to his wife with a gleam in his eye. “Out of the pot and into the fire, wouldn’t you agree, my dear?” he asked.  

“Oh Lord Trevelyan!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know how you can make jokes at a time like this. Why did we ever come to Ferelden? If only you had listened to me, we’d still be safe in Ostwick. Instead we’ll be murdered by templars or apostates or worse, Orlesians, in the middle of nowhere.” Elizabeth and her elder sister Jane shared an amused look.

“That isn’t true, Mama,” said Mary, the middle of the five Trevelyan daughters. “The real fighting won’t come this far west for a while yet.”

Lady Trevelyan scoffed. “Well, I don’t believe a word of that.”

“It’s what Blackwall told me,” Mary insisted.

The two youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, laughed. “Oh, Blackwall, of course!” Lydia said. “Tell me, Mary, when we’re your bridesmaids, will we have to wear grey?”

“Hush,” Elizabeth warned them. Recently, Mary had been training with a man called Blackwall, a Grey Warden recruiter. He was helping some of the younger people in town learn to fight, provided that they would consider joining the Wardens once he left. Like most things in life, Mary had thrown herself into the training completely, and most of her stories now revolved around Blackwall or Grey Warden history. She was as religious as she was serious, and Elizabeth had always thought she might join the Templar Order one day, but that option was currently off the table. 

Mary shot a glare at her sisters before continuing. “He says that the fighting is just as bad up in the Free Marches.”

“Do you think you could convince Blackwall to come stay at the house?” Lydia teased. “I'd so like to meet him. And it would be fun to have our own guard, wouldn't it? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about some templar coming to kill poor Lizzie.”

Elizabeth snapped her book shut, letting out her breath. “Poor Lizzie is sitting right here, and is quite capable of defending herself,” she told Lydia. She considered adding that most templars she knew would not kill an enchanter who wasn’t even part of the rebellion, but the thought of discussing Circle politics with her family made her head ache. Instead, she turned to her mother. “Mama, I thought you were the one who wanted to move here in the first place.” Lady Trevelyan’s family was from Ferelden, and according to the letters Jane had written Elizabeth, she had insisted they leave Ostwick immediately after the disaster at Kirkwall, declaring the Free Marches no longer safe. Elizabeth joined them at Longbourn sometime later, after the White Spire fell and the war began in earnest.

“Nonsense!” Lady Trevelyan scoffed. “I would never suggest such a thing. I was determined to stay in Ostwick.”

“Well, my dear,” Lord Trevelyan said, “if that’s the way you feel, I suppose we should give up our lease and return to Ostwick immediately. Packing up the place and saying our goodbyes should take -- well, let’s see. What would you say, Doris? Two weeks? Three?”

Elizabeth could tell he was teasing, but somehow, after nearly thirty years of marriage, their mother missed it.

“Well!” she said, flustered. “I--That is to say, that seems rather hasty.”

“No, no,” Lord Trevelyan continued, “you are right. It is time that we return home.” He gave another mock sigh, but was unable to keep his eyes from smiling when they met Elizabeth's. “What a shame it is that we will be so far away. I suppose we won’t be able to send one of the girls to the Conclave after all.”

Half a second passed before anyone reacted. Even the eldest two were caught off guard. Then Lady Trevelyan shrieked happily, drowning out excited questions from Jane and Mary. Elizabeth, however, froze and remained silent.

“Our girls? The Conclave? Why Lord Trevelyan, you can’t mean--!” His wife was breathless.

“Ah yes, how careless. It must have slipped my mind!” he said. He began flipping through the letters in front of him. Finally he found a folded parchment and held it up to her. “Here we are. A note. The Chantry has asked us to send a representative from our family to Haven at our earliest convenience.”

“Divine Justinia herself will be there!” Mary exclaimed.

“Chantry nonsense,” Lydia muttered.

“Oh girls!” Lady Trevelyan said as she grabbed the invite. “What excellent news! Why, think of all the important nobles who will be there!”

“Some of the not important ones, too, I imagine.” Lord Trevelyan said wryly. “After all, we are invited.”

She ignored his remark. “We must send Jane, of course. She is the eldest, and by far the prettiest.” Lady Trevelyan had always shown a preference for Jane and Lydia, for while all five girls had inherited their mother's golden hair, only those two daughters had inherited her large, blue eyes. 

Lord Trevelyan's eyebrow twitched in amusement. “I did not realize that prettiness would be a factor. Why is that, my dear? Will the mages and Templars see Jane and be so overcome with admiration that the war will end?”

“Maker, Lord Trevelyan! Don’t be silly. There will be all sorts of nobles there. I’m thinking of her meeting a husband, of course!”

“How ignorant of me,” he agreed. “Of course the Divine’s intent in organizing a war truce is Jane’s marital status. Very well, if your only requirement is that the daughter we send be single, then I would prefer to send Lizzie.”

"Lizzie!" her mother exclaimed. "But, Lord Trevelyan, you know as well as I do that she could never marry anyone in the South, and--"

Elizabeth had not yet moved, but she interrupted her mother before the conversation could go further. “I’d prefer to stay at home.”

Her father seemed surprised. “But wouldn’t you know people from your Circle there?” he asked.

Elizabeth paused before answering. “I’m not sure that they would be pleased to see me,” she said finally. After her circle fell, Elizabeth had decided not to join the mage rebellion, instead returning to live with her family. 

“Then Jane it is,” their mother said triumphantly, as Jane sent Elizabeth a sympathetic look.

Lord Trevelyan’s eyes lingered on Elizabeth. When he faced his wife again, he smiled. “As you wish. Though I suspect that Lizzie would have brought back a far more interesting report for me.”

“Lord Trevelyan!” his wife chastised, though she still was grinning. 

“Oh, Jane will be attentive, I admit,” he said. “But she is far too generous, you know. The Divine will be the kindest creature, the food will the most delectable, and the mages and templars will be the nicest people she's ever met.” He stood, taking the invitation from his wife and inserting it into his book. “It seems, my dear, that we will have to put off returning to Ostwick until after the Conclave.” He bid his daughters goodnight and left for his library.

Elizabeth frowned after him. She could see the jealous pout on Mary's face, who had not been considered by either parent, despite being the most religious of all the sisters. Another time, she may have tried to comfort her sister, but her mind was already elsewhere. She stood and followed her father.





~~~




“Enter,” his voice echoed from behind the door as she knocked. He looked pleased to see her when she slipped in the door. “Ah! Good evening again, Lizzie. Have you reconsidered? Jane will be upset, but I daresay she’ll recover.”

“No,” she said. "I haven't." At times, it was difficult to remember that her family had no true concept of how brutal the war had become. “Father… I do not think you should send any of us to the Conclave.”

“What?” Her father’s brow tightened, and he stood, placing his book on his desk. “And why not?”

“A gathering that large of templars and mages right now…” she shook her head. “Violence could break out.”

Her father scoffed at that. “What, in front of the Divine? No one would dare.”

“This whole thing started at a chantry,” she reminded him.

“A chantry in Kirkwall,” he replied, speaking the last word as if the town’s name had a bitter taste.

“Please, Father. I... I don't think it's safe."

His eyes softened and he sighed. “Lizzie, I know things must have been difficult for you in the circle. But that's all over now. This is a chance for peace. Besides, a girl like Jane needs to go out and meet people. This war has kept her at home too long. It will be good for her, you must know that.”

“Father--," she began.

He sat back down and opened his book again, interrupting her. “I'm afraid I've made my decision, Lizzie.”

“Father, I truly think that you--”

“This discussion is over. Goodnight.”

She sighed, shutting her eyes. As she left, she closed the door behind her. 




~~~

 


Later that evening, she went to Jane’s room. Her sister greeted her and Elizabeth slipped under the covers for warmth, wondering if she should mention her concerns. If she revealed the extent of how she felt, Jane would stay home out of respect for her, and while she hated the thought of Jane alone in a room of mages and templars, she didn't want to sway her sister against going, if that was what she truly wanted to do. 

“Why do you even want to go?” she asked instead.

Jane smiled. “I would love to meet the Divine. You know how much I respect her. And it would be nice to be around other people for a change.” She played with the end of her braid thoughtfully.

“And…?”

“And… I would like to meet some of them,” she admitted slowly. “The mages and the templars, I mean.”

Elizabeth gave a short laugh at that. “Denny and I left that good of an impression?” Denny Barris was Kitty’s childhood friend who'd joined the Order.

“No, not like you two, you’re both so reasonable,” Jane explained.

“So … you want to meet unreasonable mages and templars,” Elizabeth said, confused.

“Well…,” Jane hesitated. “I thought if I could just talk to them. Maybe get them to talk to each other….”

It clicked and Elizabeth began to laugh, covering her mouth. “Jane. You want to go so you can personally end the war, all through the power of love and kindness.”

Jane blushed furiously. “No! I mean… well… not end the war, but maybe make a few of them see.” She looked abashed. “Oh, it does sound silly, doesn't it?”

Elizabeth shook her head . “No. Most people are going with a dozen ulterior motives, and here, you just want to try and save the world.” She sighed, fondly leaning her head on her sister's shoulder. “You really put the rest of us to shame. They should make you Divine.”

“Lizzie!” Jane shoved her, trying to look offended, but she couldn’t hide her laughter. “You’re too much like Father, you know,” she said. They sat in silence for a few moments, Elizabeth on the verge of speaking, but finally she changed her mind.

“I’ll let you get some rest," she said. She kissed her sister on the forehead and climbed out of bed. At the door she paused, but she decided her father was right. She should not let fear rule her life any longer.



~~~



Three weeks later, Lady Trevelyan clutched her handkerchief to her brow, shaking her head. “I told Jane not to go to the Conclave. I begged her! She refused to listen! And now… she’s dead.” Her chest shook with sobs.

Elizabeth bit back her first reply. Arguing with Lady Trevelyan about what she had or hadn't said was useless. “We don’t know that she’s dead,” she insisted instead.

“Doris said ‘no survivors’,” Lydia said, her eyes wide. Kitty was behind her, weeping quietly. “And the explosion… that thing in the sky…”

“Doris wasn’t at the Conclave, was she?” Elizabeth said firmly, while trying to ignore the eerie green sheen that colored the room. They had all felt the ground shake and heard the windows shudder when the giant hole had appeared. “If there were no survivors, then how would we even know what happened in the first place?”

That thought quieted her younger sisters, but not her mother, who wailed again into her arm.

“Where is your father?” she exclaimed, lifting her head. “He should be here for me, that cruel, cruel man. This is as much his fault as hers! He wanted her to go. My sweetest, darling baby!”

Elizabeth hesitated, and then lied. “I don’t know where he is.”

When her mother realized that her grief was not going to get her husband’s attention, her wails began to cease. “I suppose we’ll have to arrange a funeral,” she said between her lingering sniffs. Her mother seemed to perk up at that thought, to Elizabeth’s horror. “And I suppose no one would refuse an invitation. Even our cousins the Dalrymples would not dare.”

Elizabeth felt a ball of anger in her throat and swallowed it, burning her chest and stomach as she did. She stood and took a deep breath.

“Lydia, stay with Mama for a moment,” she said and she left the room before her sister could reply.



~~~

 


She found her father on the stone bench by the river, as she knew she would. He was carving a stick into a point with a dagger and he paused, glancing sideways but not up at her. She could see the sorrow in his slumped posture.

“I’m sorry about Mama being… herself,” she said.

Her father shook his head, not speaking.

“We still haven’t heard for sure,” she said. “Until she’s found…”

“That could take months. Years,” Lord Trevelyan replied in a broken voice, staring at the sky. “The amount of destruction that this caused…." He sighed. "I find it very difficult to believe anyone could survive that.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “We don’t even know where she was for sure. Surely there were people in the villages, too.” 

“Where? Haven? According to Doris, the place is being overrun by demons,” he said, finally meeting her eyes. Elizabeth felt her buried grief lurch at the sight of him. He'd aged ten years since that morning. 

“Doris wasn’t there.”

“I should have listened to you,” her father said. “This is my fault.”

“Don’t say that,” she insisted.

“You warned me…”

“Father,” Elizabeth said softly. Something in the sky caught her eye. She saw a raven swooping towards them. It passed the river and glided lower, aiming for the house, near enough now for Elizabeth to see the note firmly tied to its leg.

Before she could even speak, she was running, following it. When it did land near the gate, she grabbed it, careful not to injure its wings. With trembling hands, she undid the note.

“Lizzie?” her father asked. He was right behind her.

Elizabeth did not reply, scanning the letter, and then she let out a startled laugh that turned into a sob, caught in her throat. For a moment she thought her legs would give out beneath her. “Jane’s alive,” she said. But she kept reading, her joy giving way to confusion. “But she’s injured. And they… oh, Father!” She met his eyes, panicked. “Father, they think she’s responsible!”

“What?” her father asked.

“She’s a prisoner,” she explained, her eyes returning to the letter. After a moment, she handed it to him. “I have to go to her.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes.”

"Lizzie," he said, sternly. 

Elizabeth stared him down. “She’s wounded, unconscious, and surrounded by strangers.” When her father opened his mouth to argue, she held up her hand and produced a small flame. “I’ll go without your leave if I must. You know you won’t be able to stop me.” His lips thinned, but he didn’t argue further. After a moment, he turned back to the river, hiding the expression on his face.

"Go then," he said.



~~~

 



An hour later, Elizabeth was on her horse and making her way to Haven, a Circle staff strapped firmly on her back. She leaned down, urging the animal to move faster. Normally, the journey would take a week, as it had for Jane, and would require two stops to change horses. However, she used gentle magic to maintain a faster pace than usual, and planned to take a more direct, if less convenient, route.

Using her magic so freely felt strange. Lady Trevelyan and Mary were distrustful of mages, so she’d used it at little as possible at home, only using it to read in bed from time to time, or curl her hair. But with Jane in danger, she threw caution to the wind. At first the power flowed slowly, like a riverbed that had been dry too long, but soon the horse seemed to fly as he galloped towards the gaping hole in the sky.

Several hours later, she realized that she was very out of practice. The Veil seemed to tug at her, and not just because it was weakened. She was drinking from a well that could and would run dry if she let it, so she eased back. Immediately, the horse slowed, now constrained by the physical world, and she cursed.  While she’d hoped to make the journey in two days on this road, she reconsidered now and concluded it would take at least three, perhaps four. The horse would need to rest, and she would need to allow her mana to replenish in the evenings. Disappointed, she pressed on.

On the second day, something strange happened and she heard another distant explosion. At first, she panicked, assuming that things had gotten worse, but then she realized her magic was flowing more easily and she chanced a glance up at the massive tear. The lightning had stopped and the swirling clouds looked less like a tempest, more gentle, like the rest of the sky. She breathed, not daring to feel relief. Even if it was safer here, that did not mean it was safer at Haven, and her mind was still on her sister.

 


~~~

 

By the fourth morning, she was exhausted. She packed up her tent and bedroll and rejoiced to think that she would be at Haven within a few short hours. She only hoped that her sister was being treated fairly. If she were too late--

They may have executed her already.  

The thought caught her off guard. A distinct chill in the air made her head jerk up. She spotted movement behind the trees. A Terror, and it had already seen her. For a moment, she worried she was in the Fade, but then she remembered Doris saying that the Breach had brought demons with it.

It hunched its back and shrieked at her. She drew her staff with one hand, then slammed it down, tugging on her weakened mana to make fire. Though the demon tried to step away, its gangly legs were too slow and it burned, crying out in agony. She didn’t relent, pushing harder and gritting her teeth as her mana whined at her, begging her to pull back. The demon leapt towards her and she was too slow to move away. She yelped, pain shooting through her chest where its talons hit her. She gripped her staff tighter and whacked its head, scrambling away when it toppled over. Swinging the staff toward it, she brought a new wave of fire, this one brighter than the last, and watched it twist in the blaze and then collapse. This time, it didn’t get up and she took in a deep breath.

The fight scared off her horse. With her adrenaline no longer keeping her steady, the pain from her injuries was excruciating. She tried to reach out to him with her magic, but there was nothing left inside her, and she ended up limping around her camp in circles before she could finally find him. With a scratched voice, she spoke soothing words until he let her place her pack on his back and climb up herself. She did not even try to heal. When the horse broke into a trot, the pain doubled, so she reluctantly slowed him to a walk, slumping forward to support herself on his neck.

Those few short hours that she had estimated that morning became the whole day. The magnitude of her injuries seemed to cork her mana. She wondered, with a shudder, if she was subconsciously keeping herself alive.

As the light faded on the Frostbacks, she came upon the gates of Haven. She knew that she would not be able to get off the horse. It was difficult to even sit up straight.

A guard was posted, and he looked over the wall, surprised. The guard called out to her; she tried to compose herself and reply, but all she could do was cough wetly.

“Stefan!” the guard exclaimed, turning his head back to someone Elizabeth couldn’t see. “Get the Seeker!” Then he disappeared from view.

How long the Seeker took to arrive, Elizabeth could not say. She knew who it must be--the Right Hand of the late Divine, Cassandra Pentaghast, a Seeker of Truth and, according to the letter, the person who had imprisoned her sister.

The gate eventually groaned open and a figure strode out with a firm hand on her pommel, but her sword sheathed, much to Elizabeth’s relief.

“Who are you?” the woman demanded in a heavy accent.

She composed herself as much as possible. “Elizabeth Trevelyan,” she managed to say. The woman relaxed slightly when she heard her family name. She was followed by the first guard, who carried a torch in his hand; Elizabeth heard his sharp intake of breath when the light fell on her bloody tunic. The effort to talk weakened her, and she felt herself slip from the horse.

The ground was frozen solid and provided a sharp reminder exactly where and how deep her injuries were. Darkness swirled at the edge of her eyes. Stupid girl, she thought to herself. It would do Jane no good if she died. She heard the Right Hand barking orders and after a short time, felt herself being lifted by strong arms. Dazed, she opened her eyes to see a human man with a beard looking down at her with concern.

“Take her to the Herald’s hut,” she heard someone say. Herald? she wondered vaguely. The hole in sky was very close here and she focused on it, trying to keep herself from passing out.

A door opened, and then she was inside.

“What is it?” a new voice said. The chest she was pressed against rumbled in response and she was placed on the floor, on a carpet. Her last name was spoken at least once, and then a new face appeared above her, an elven man with cold blue eyes. He knelt to touch her. As his fingers touched her face, she felt the reassuring pressure of healing magic surround her. It was cold, like fresh mountain water. She closed her eyes. The healing magic was followed by a brush against her mana.

“You are a mage,” she heard the voice say with some surprise. She opened her eyes again to see the blue eyes looking at her with confusion. "Do you have no healing skills whatsoever?" She couldn't reply. He turned to the other man and said something.

She struggled to speak but choked. He brushed her empty mana again and understanding came to his eyes.

“Ah,” he said.

“My sister,” she was able to choke out. “Jane.”

The bearded man stepped into view.

“She’s going to be alright,” the other man said. All the tension in her left, and she finally let the darkness overtake her.