[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 15
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Theron Mahariel ♂, Paivel ♂, Kallian Tabris ♀, Carver Hawke ♂, Cullen ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Colourful language, cultural identity, tradition, religion, blood magic
Notes: Theron tries to convince his clan to build on Sundermount. Cullen has a long talk with Carver about Merrill.
"It just doesn’t sound like a very Dalish thing to do," Ineria argued, crossing her arms and lifting her chin. She’d been fighting everything Theron proposed, since the Keeper’s death. "We’re a Dalish clan. We wander Thedas, like our ancestors did before us."
"We’re Dalish," Theron pointed out, untangling the fingers of the child sitting on his shoulders from his hair. "As in, of the Dales. Do you know what we did, in the Dales? We built a city so great the shem got envious. I’d say settling down is a perfectly Dalish thing to do. Besides which, we have no halla, and we’ve been living on the same mountain for almost eight years. There’s really no reason not to build here. There used to be a settlement, here, and that varterral is proof of it. Our people went to war with Tevinter on this mountain, and you know what? We’re back. We’ve been back for hundreds of years, and yet, we’ve never dared to try again. We’re in a good place for it — just far enough from a trade route to still use it, without inviting lost idiots; near a shem city that’s as close to aligned with us as we can hope for without a permanent settlement; the land is unarguably ours, as it has always been. There’s no reason not to."
"And if we settle here and the shem turn on us?" Ineria countered. "What happens then? We’ll have no easy way of escaping when they march on our camps. There is a reason we haven’t set down roots. It always ends the same!"
"And without our halla, you think we are any better off as we are?" Theron shot back. "We’ve already settled here, lethallan. There are weeds growing around our aravels’ wheels. You speak of not wanting to set down roots, by the roots are already there." As he spoke, he extricated the child’s fingers from his ear, where they had wandered after tangling in his hair… and after pausing in her mouth.
Ineria still shook her head. "Keeper Marethari would not have approved," she said, which to Theron meant she was out of arguments.
"Would she not?" Theron asked as a second child tugged at his sleeve. "We stayed here for years under her leadership. Or under the leadership of what we thought was her. She would have no room to argue, were she here, and I don’t know that she would."
Paivel balanced Paulla on his hip, as he watched the argument bounce back and forth. "Marethari is no longer our keeper. Theron is correct," Paivel pointed out. "And even when she was, near the end, she was already gone. You must remember she was my friend — we were children, together, before your parents were born. She was wise and gentle, and that’s why she came to be Keeper so late. Some of you remember her before Sarel died. But, even then, she was still kind. She still took an easy hand. No, this demon changed her — made a mockery of everything she stood for." He handed Paulla another bunch of berries and promptly regretted it as she mashed some into his hair and rubbed it in, no doubt ogling the colours.
"Then we’re supposed to trust this airhead?" another hunter asked, pushing his hair back. "This flat-eared halla-fucker?"
"You take that back! He never … manhandled my halla!" Maren complained, shoving forward to confront the hunter.
"Maybe that’s why we have no halla," Junar joked, getting elbowed by Maren for the comment, "they were all sick of the Shem Tamer."
"More likely they were sick of your bad jokes, Junar," Kalli replied with a sharp smile, and that, more than Maren’s elbow, shut him up. Kalli had a child wrapped around her knee, but both hands were free for punching. "You all know I would be the first to call my husband an airhead, but I’m not hearing any other solutions, just more whining. What are your ideas, then, Junar? Ineria? Fenarel? Sit on our thumbs and pretend we have any intention of going anywhere? Or does one of you have a halla up your ass? It would explain a lot."
Paivel cleared his throat, stepping in again before the elves she named could do more than bristle. "If you saw the work being done in Kirkwall’s Alienage, you might better see the appeal. Their buildings are of stone, but they honour the old ways as surely as we do. Or as we should. I can’t say I’ve ever had a home with a roof, a real roof, but I imagine it would be nice during the spring rains."
"Think of it — a defensible home, and one we haven’t got to chase the shem hunters from the edges of. We can have ramparts and palisades to do it for us. A few guards to circle the wall at night and chase off the idiots, so we can sleep a whole night through. You know how hard it’s been, these last couple of years, with them creeping up on us." Theron swung his arm out to gesture to the heavily wooded edge of the camp, and one of the Tevinter children leapt up to pull herself up onto that arm.
Ashalle moved to remove the elflet, as Theron’s shoulder strained. "And think of how hard that’s been on the children, waking up like that every few hours. We have a rare chance here — one of our own is a baroness, now."
"And besides, Hahren Paivel’s right. The buildings there are beautiful. I helped design some of them." Theron grinned and resisted the urge to flinch at the increasing puddle of drool in his hair. "You’d have to see them to believe, but… In dwarven stone with perfect joints do statues of our own gods rise, carved into the building-sides and dancing round the vhenadahl, the tree that keeps their faith. Their houses rise up, high as hills, and gardens hang from every roof. A wonder, there, of fruits and grains and herbs for every common use for all elvhen in need. They have a place for telling tales, engraved with heroes and with gods from Garahel to Ghilan’nain, Lindiranae to Tanaleth, their stories on the stone. The mages keep their cisterns clean, and though we lack that magic touch we will not be wanting always with all the new Tevinter blood. Let us build the future!"
"And my airhead husband can also do that, at the drop of a hat," Kalli muttered, "which I’d like to see the lot of you manage."
"Just because he can string some pretty words together doesn’t mean they’re the right words," Ineria grumbled. She threw up her arms. "But fine. What I say clearly doesn’t matter. I pray Mythal watches over us, because I don’t want to one day be standing over the ruins of this new ‘home’, saying that I’d warned you." She stormed off, away from the crowd and towards her aravel.
The child on Theron’s shoulders applauded, and Theron reached up to take her hands, shushing her while trying to keep a straight face. "It won’t come to that," he assured the crowd. "Dirthamen and Mythal both guard this place and us in it. This spot was chosen for us, and we will do our gods proud. But first…" He pulled the child off his shoulders and set her on the ground, nudging her towards Kalli. "I need to talk to the Alienage’s craftsmen."
"You wanted to see me, Commander?" Carver asked, stepping into the room and closing the door.
It was a slow day. They’d really all been slow days, since the Circle had opened up. Most of the time, there were a few templars in the tower, and the rest were hanging around the new clinic or the Gallows market, or serving as escorts for groups of mages working on various projects in the city. Carver had spent most of his recent months training new recruits, with Samson’s help, and reading Cullen’s heavy histories of the Order. It was up to the Knight-Vigilant to interpret Chantry law and instruct the Order in which parts to follow, but Cullen had an eye for sending some very interesting clarification requests, and Carver and Keran were checking the validity of the assumptions.
"It’s about Merrill," Cullen groaned, leaning back in his chair to stare at the ceiling as he rubbed the back of his neck. "You know I’m quite fond of her. Saving my life tends to have that effect. But, the fact remains that she’s a blood mage, and I— I can’t let that go. I’d be critically remiss in my duties, especially now that she’s a noblewoman."
"But, the Circle isn’t taking prisoners, any more," Carver pointed out, squaring his shoulders. "Unless you’re going back on your word, Commander, and I didn’t take you for the sort."
"No, no. I don’t want to— to lock her up! I’m proposing a compromise." Cullen sat up again, holding up his hands. "What if we just take a phylactery. It’s simply a preventative measure. In the event anything goes horribly wrong — if one of the demons she’s hunting gets the better of her, somehow — we’d at least be able to find her and stop her. If nothing bad happens, it just sits in a drawer, and we pretend it’s not there. But, she is using blood magic, Carver, and whatever she’s using it for, it’s traditionally associated with demons and abominations and hideously deformed Tevinter magisters. I can’t afford to be caught flat-footed, here, whatever I think of her, personally. And I do know she promised not to do it again, but in the world we live in, it doesn’t carry any weight." Really, he disapproved a lot more thoroughly, but he was trying to be as tactful as possible, while still protecting the city. Pissing off Carver was not going to improve the situation.
Yet, for all his tact, Carver still looked moderately pissed off. "You want to take her phylactery?" he said, arms folding across his chest. "You want to take a sample of her blood so that you can use it to magically track her should something go wrong? Because she’s a blood mage?"
"That is the idea, yes," Cullen replied, eyeing Carver warily.
"Am I the only one who sees the irony in that?" Carver addressed the room as much as Cullen, even though they were the only two present. "Using blood magic to rein in a blood mage?"
Cullen straightened in his seat. "That’s not what —"
"Then what would you call it? It’s blood magic, Commander, and that makes you a hypocrite."
Cullen squared his jaw, felt a headache pressing at his temples. "Carver, so help me, I’m trying to find a compromise! Most commanders would have had her made Tranquil or killed, and not just commanders like Meredith. I don’t want that to happen, nor do I think it should. But where there’s blood magic, there’s demons, and we need to be prepared for that."
"It’s Kirkwall, Commander; there are always demons." Carver squared his jaw right back at Cullen.
"And that isn’t helping your argument. I know there are always demons. That’s the point. We have, as we have had for centuries, a higher rate of abominations in Kirkwall than anywhere in Thedas, and it’s at least partially because this is Kirkwall — and I was down there with you, so I know this isn’t just rumour. I know what we fought down there. And if your girlfriend is practising magic that makes things like that more likely to try to get to her, I’d think you’d want to protect her, too." Cullen rubbed his face, reached for his cup, and set it down again, upon realising it was empty.
"Protect her? How does this protect her? It makes her a target!" Carver shouted, throwing his arms out in exasperation.
"She spends a lot of time alone, Carver. And that’s no one’s fault. That’s — most people do. But, wouldn’t you like to be able to find her, if there’s a chance the demons came for her? Because they will, Carver. They just will. I don’t know why — ask around, some of the mages have probably read the latest theories — but, if this is a magic she uses — if she’s using blood in her magic — they are going to come looking for her, and I really doubt they’re necessarily going to stop at ‘tempting’." Cullen sighed and looked through his desk drawers, hoping for something to take the edge off, before this headache got any worse. "I know what they did to me, and if she’s attracting them, she’s in danger." She would also be putting everyone near her in danger, but that wasn’t really going to be a selling point, with Carver. "If you can find her, you can help her. You’ve fought demons with her, before. But, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of anyone winning alone, and definitely not after those things … get into your head."
"She knows what she’s doing," Carver insisted. For all that he was a smart lad, he could be mulishly stubborn, but there was the barest shift in his expression, a widening of the eyes that told Cullen that some of his words had landed.
"There’s such a thing as being too confident, particularly when demons are involved," Cullen said and — ah. Anton had left that bottle of whiskey here. Perfect. "The fact that you both are so sure worries me as much as anything. And yes, the phylacteries are technically blood magic, but it’s one, heavily supervised spell. It will be kept here, under our protection. No one is going to touch it or her without my and your express permission. It’s not like I’ll be shipping it off to Orlais or something. It’s to keep her safe."
Carver pursed his lips. Not convinced, not yet, but Cullen had, at least, planted the idea in his head. "So is that your policy, then? Phylacteries for blood mages, even if they’re not in your Circle? What about the other mages? Are we going to keep making their phylacteries ‘just in case’?"
"I don’t even know what’s happened to all the ones we had," Cullen sighed, sloshing whiskey into his cup. "In all the mayhem… Some of them are gone, some of them are broken. I can’t tell the difference between those. There was a river of blood in the vault. I’ve made no move to inventory them or replace them." He paused. "I’m … not even sure if we can. There was a team that handled that, and I think most of them left. More than that, I think Meredith actually had several of them executed as blood mages. So, to be entirely honest, any talk of phylacteries is still extremely theoretical. It was just the best answer I had to something that’s very likely to become a problem for us and for her, if we don’t address it. The Divine nearly ordered an Exalted March on this city, Carver. I’d like to avoid that, and if it comes out that there’s a completely unregulated blood mage serving on the noble council of the city, we’re all going to die. The rest of it… the rest of it we can probably fudge for a while. Damage to the vault. Indexes destroyed. We’re … ‘working on it’. We’ve got bigger problem than Loyalists and Aequitarians whose phylacteries may or may not still exist."
Carver wiped a hand over his face. Just when he thought they had taken care of the important things, more problems arose. "Well, I’m thinking, maybe, it’s best to get the whole phylactery business squared away before deciding on Merrill. And do you know what else we should do before deciding on Merrill? Ask Merrill. And talk to the enchanters about the phylacteries. We’re supposed to be working with them, aren’t we?"
"We are," Cullen agreed wearily. The whiskey burned its way down his throat, but it eased the tension in his forehead. "I simply thought I might run an idea or two past my lieutenant. I am trying to help Merrill. You have to know that."
Carver grunted something that could have been acceptance. That was, at the very least, how Cullen planned to interpret it.
"Please consider what I’ve said, Carver. For her sake and ours."