[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 21
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Nathaniel Howe ♂, Bran Cavin ♂, Aveline ♀, Cullen ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Politics and arrests
Notes: Seneschal Bran gets a very cranky letter from Starkhaven. Aveline and Cullen attempt to enjoy a business lunch.
8 Wintermarch, 9:38
I feel it is in all our best interests that I warn you to expect an invasion, this spring. Prince Sebastian is rather intent on bringing his army to bear in the last week of Guardian, when the frost has broken. I keep insisting that mid-Drakonis is a much better idea, if he insists on an invasion, but he actually intends to drive a march through the marshy wetlands in the wake of the frost. I understand that he spent a good deal of his life as a Chantry brother, and may have missed out on some of the finer points, but honestly, the Marches haven’t changed that much since he was twelve.
I do, of course, continue to discourage any assault on the city of Kirkwall, not least because he is both incorrect and going to lose that fight. I’ve been to Kirkwall. I’m very aware of what your people are capable of, and I’d venture nearly any of them would be a more suitable ruler for this half-burnt wreckage of a city. (Dumar couldn’t have been this bad. However much the fool he was, he must have had more sense than this.)
I am of the opinion that our focus should be on rebuilding the aforementioned wreckage, as I have told Prince Sebastian often and at great volume. He assures me that once justice has been served, Starkhaven will be made new, grander than it ever was. I have, in turn, informed him that serving justice is best left to the Hawke family, but he failed to see the wisdom of this statement.
I can only assume the Prince plans to rebuild Starkhaven out of clay, after destroying her largest trading partner, but perhaps it is giving him too much credit to assume he has a plan at all. I have heard that Kirkwall’s rebuilding is going much more smoothly and sanely, and it is my deepest regret that I am unable to see it, or perhaps my second deepest regret, next to eating Starkhaven cuisine.
Hoping this letter finds you well and in better spirits than I am,
This was not the first letter Bran had received from Warden Howe, nor was it likely to be the last. The man had kept him apprised of the situation in Starkhaven, since Sebastian’s threats began. Of course, the letters also kept him apprised of the whims of Starkhaven’s nobles, the poor quality of Starkhaven cuisine, and the Warden’s waning patience with Starkhaven and its prince. He could hardly argue with the last.
He took a moment to knock off a quick note to Viscount Hawke, before beginning his reply to the latest missive. ‘Starkhaven threatening to invade when the frost clears. Source is extremely reliable. I’ll ensure Aveline is prepared, if you deal with the Council.’ Anton wouldn’t bring it up, of course, unless the army actually began to march. It was best to keep the nobles from having the time to argue over the best response to something like this, particularly when it might yet pass without incident. They were half likely to suggest invading Starkhaven, first.
11 Wintermarch, 9:38
A pleasure, as always. Thank you for your quick notification of the prince’s murderous intent. We’ll keep an eye out, when things start to warm up. From your descriptions, though, I am left to wonder how it is that Starkhaven is such a popular tourist destination.
As always, your efforts to make the Prince see reason are deeply appreciated, and I understand well your frustration. You will remember our Council of Nobles — with the deepest fondness I am sure — and its new members. The Viscount has suggested to me that the council should hold its meetings at a round table, in the future, considering that it is already talking in circles. That said, the Viscount is up to the task and, as you have been informed, the city is slowly recovering.
As for the cuisine, my deepest sympathies. I have been to Starkhaven many times and know its horrors. My wife and I will have to have you over for dinner, the next time you are in Kirkwall (preferably without Starkhaven’s army).
Hoping this letter finds you in good health if not in mood,
"You know, it’s hard to keep calling this the ‘Captains’ Lunch’, now that you’re Knight-Commander," Aveline joked, taking a bite of the best pork pasty in all of Kirkwall, as they walked through Lowtown. "I’d have to be getting lunch with Ser Thrask."
Cullen laughed, taking a bite of his own pasty, pork on this end and apples at the other. "At least as Commander, I can actually make it to lunch."
Aveline swallowed and started to smile, before her attention was caught by something across the plaza. "Hey!" she shouted, pointing at a pickpocket, who promptly took off running, only to trip over a broom.
"Thanks, Tyrone," Aveline called out, making her way over to where the owner of the Nevarran restaurant kept hitting the thief with the broom, every time he tried to get up.
"Never off duty, are we, Captain?" Cullen sighed, before stuffing the rest of his pasty into his mouth and getting up to follow. If the thief wasn’t a mage, he wasn’t his problem, but Cullen always enjoyed watching Aveline put the fear of the Maker into Kirkwall’s criminals.
"Guard-Captain," Tyrone greeter her with a curt but respectful nod. The pickpocket groaned, and Tyrone smacked him one more time with the broom.
"Mercy!" the thief whined, but Aveline showed none of it when she picked him up by the collar.
"Mercy? I was having lunch with a friend. And it was a good lunch too. If you want mercy, don’t try stealing right in front of the guard captain. Or Tyrone."
Tyrone nodded in grim agreement, while Cullen continued to chew.
"Is there no way to keep track of them?" Cullen asked, eyeing the thief, as Aveline chained the man to a decorative rail.
"I’ll send a runner," Aveline assured Tyrone. "He’ll be picked up soon enough." She looked back at Cullen. "Keep track of them for what? We have logbooks — we know if they’ve done things like this before. This one here’s a repeat customer. We’re not going to be as nice, this time."
"I don’t know," Cullen muttered. "It might be nice to be able to find them, if they do get away from you."
"Your mind’s still on the mages, isn’t it?" Aveline asked, sighing as she spotted the rest of her lunch where she’d dropped it, Lowtown’s dogs already on it. "Unfortunately, out here in the real world, we don’t have a way to do that."
"Don’t we?" Cullen asked. "The phylacteries… the way the Order keeps track of mages… that doesn’t just work on mages, you know."
Aveline squinted at him, looking him up and down. "Phylacteries?" she repeated. "You use their blood for that, don’t you?"
The thief whimpered, eyes wide. "Blood?"
Both Captain and Commander ignored him. "Yes," Cullen answered, "and it’s… Frankly, it’s a topic that keeps coming up this week and something we need to address soon. That is, phylacteries in general and what we’re going to do with them, not… phylacteries for criminals. Though the more I think about it, the less I hate the idea."
"I don’t know," Aveline said, looking askance at the thief as he fiddled with his chains. "That seems a little… Tevinter to me."
"Even if the criminal weren’t just a pickpocket? What if he were a murderer?"
"I’m not!" the thief protested, only to be ignored again.
"Where do we draw the line?" Aveline asked, picking through her pouch for coins to get something else to eat. "I mean, if we start here — if we start with killers or slavers, where do we stop? Why do we stop?"
"I ask myself that every day. With mages, the answer used to be simple — because demons. But, in Kirkwall, you might as well demand a phylactery for everyone in the city, if demons are the problem. I heard all about the Harimanns, and Keran’s… definitely provided some insight. What is it that makes a mage deserving of that, but a common criminal isn’t?" Cullen shrugged and wandered toward a small cart in the corner of the plaza. "They have the best candied persimmons, over here. I’ll buy."
"Candied persimmons are hardly a full lunch," Aveline grumbled, but followed, anyway. If Cullen was buying, she could still get another pork pasty. "Mages are dangerous," she insisted. "It’s just the way things are."
"You’re right," Cullen agreed, paying a few coins for a stick of candy-coated persimmon quarters. "Mages are dangerous. Foreign leaders threatening to invade our city are dangerous, too. And muggers. And the Coterie. And any man with a sword or a knife to his name. The Qunari rained fire on Kirkwall, once, with no magic in it. So, yes, mages are dangerous, but they’re really not alone in the dangers they pose, and stabbing a mage will make them just as dead as anyone else." Except in the case of Anders, he recalled, but it was best not to speak of that or even admit it had happened.
Eyeing Cullen’s treat, Aveline decided she might go for that candied persimmon first after all and maybe have another pasty for dessert if she was still hungry. A bit backwards, but that looked tasty.
"Still," she said, taking the stick offered her and stepping back to let Cullen pay, "the potential for abuse is there. Why has this only been used for mages for so long if it’s a viable solution? We can’t be the first to have had this thought outside of Tevinter."
"Because you need magic for the phylacteries to work," Cullen replied, a persimmon quarter between his teeth. "And you know how most people react just to the thought of magic." Cullen took a moment to chew before continuing. "As for abuse, there would, of course, be laws about it. We’d place the idea before the Viscount and the Noble Council and let them hash it out. But just imagine being able to hunt down a criminal the moment a crime is reported. If nothing else, just knowing that we can find them should put the fear of the Maker into them."
"It’s not the worst idea I’ve heard," Aveline replied, which Cullen took as praise. "But that wouldn’t be a conflict? The Order — or at least the mages — enforcing city law?"
"Are they enforcing it?" Cullen asked, somewhat rhetorically. "Because it looks like they’re just providing tools for enforcing it. You don’t say a smith’s enforcing the law, when he makes shackles for the guard."
"But, can you… how do they work? Would guardsmen be able to use them?" Aveline nibbled at the edge of a persimmon slice. "If they require magic, there’s no way my guards are going to be able to do anything with them."
"Magic is necessary to make them, not to use them. As far as I know, with a little training, anyone can use one, once it’s made — and that’s another danger of them. Another reason we keep them in vaults, and not just on a shelf. What if the Crows end up with the First Enchanter’s phylactery?" Cullen shook his head. "It’s a consideration you’ll have to make. Where would you keep them, and how would you protect them? Under what circumstances can they be taken out? Who can get them and who can use them? You don’t want to see this in the wrong hands, but in the right hands, it could be a very powerful tool."
"If you’re trying to sell me this idea, Cullen, that’s not how to do it," Aveline muttered around a mouthful of candied fruit.
"I am merely offering another option," Cullen insisted, gesturing with his stick of fruit. "That pickpocket right there. You said it wasn’t his first offense. If we hadn’t been sitting right here, would you have caught him?"
"Probably not," Aveline grumbled. She pulled the next wedge off of the stick with her teeth, and the two of them moved away from the cart and around the plaza.
"And if we had seen him, but he’d managed to get away?"
"I would have given his description to my guards and to any local shopkeepers he’s likely to affect."
"You would wait until he slipped up and the right person saw him?"
Aveline sighed. "Yes. Which usually wouldn’t happen until long after the incident is forgotten. Or… well. Maybe not with this idiot." She glared back at said idiot, and he tried to shrink in on himself.
"With a phylactery, meanwhile — which you would have because he’s already committed a crime — it would lead you right to him, saving you valuable resources and man hours.’
"It’ll never get past the Council," Aveline muttered, "but I can see the appeal. And paying less people to do more work is probably a worthwhile principle, as far as the nobles are concerned. Safer streets without having to hire another ten guards. Instead, we can hire a couple of mages. Hiring mages still isn’t going to make anyone happy. It’s a weird thing to say, too."
"We are fortunate people, because there are mages to hire," Cullen noted, around a mouthful. "How’s that warmer working out?"
"It’s great. The bedsheets haven’t caught fire once, and I don’t have to worry about leaving it there and going to work. Donnic loves it." Aveline paused. "It’s still not the same thing. That’s something personal. This is something civil."
"No, it’s not the same, but it’s a selling point. We use magical products in other places — things enchanted by the Tranquil, one-shot spells from the mages. They’ve changed the way we live, and I really think it’s for the better, even if that’s only because my back doesn’t hurt and my toes aren’t cold. It’s the little things." Cullen shrugged and nibbled chips of the candy that was still stuck on the stick. "Can’t let it make you complacent, but definitely take advantage of a good thing, while we have it. Might not be long, with all that shit going on in the College of Enchanters. The Grand Enchanter’s really pissing some people off, this year, and I mostly agree with what she’s saying, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the specifics. She’s taking too big of a step, too quickly, but she’s on the right path, I think."
"I’ve heard about that," Aveline said, toying with the last wedge on her stick. "People are always weird around magic, but the tension is higher than usual. Whether or not the Grand Enchanter is on the right path, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the politics turned bloody."
Cullen shrugged and rolled his empty stick between his fingers. "You saw what happened here. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but…"
"But what if it does, and the Order suppresses a rebellion? Where does that leave Kirkwall and its new system, phylacteries included?" Aveline chewed on the end of her stick and shook her head. "It’s all too much of a mess."
"Hey, at least we’re in Kirkwall. We’re prepared for a mess. It’s everyone else I’m worried about." Cullen chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "But, really, this city’s survived so much, it would take an Exalted March to make a dent."
"That’s not as unlikely as you’re implying," Aveline grumbled.
"No, but if the College starts shearing towers off, nobody’s going to get hit with the full force of it," Cullen pointed out. "Certainly not us."