[ Master Post ]
Title: Assing it Up – Chapter 23
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cullen ♂, Cassandra Pentaghast♀, First Enchanter Tim ♂, Raleigh Samson ♂
Rating: T (L2 N0 S0 V0 D0)
Warnings: Sparring, politics
Notes: Trouble is stirring in the Chantry. Cullen makes a decision to reach out to as many former Gallows mages as he can find, and he’s got just the man for the job.
Tim looked up from his work to find one of the Tranquil standing in his doorway. "Yes, Elsa?"
"The Knight-Commander wishes to see you. He says to inform you it’s very serious," Elsa droned, unmoved by the expressed seriousness of the situation or much of anything else. "Is there anything you need from me, First Enchanter?"
"No, Elsa. Thank you. I’ll be along shortly." Tim pushed himself out of his chair, straightened his horns, and picked up his staff. "I trust he’s in his office?" he asked, but Elsa had already gone. "Tranquil," he sighed, and set out, up the hall.
Tim’s assumption was correct, which was a blessing really, as his knees were a bit creaky this morning, and he didn’t relish traipsing about the Gallows looking for the Knight-Commander. He’d barely started to knock when Cullen’s door swung open onto a face he didn’t recognise. The woman looked him up and down, her stare lingering on his horned hat.
"First Enchanter Tim?" she asked in an accent Tim couldn’t place.
Tim nodded. "That’s me."
"Come in, Tim," Cullen’s voice called out from inside the room. When Tim obeyed, the woman closed the door behind him, giving the knob a light tug to make sure it would stay closed. Inside, Tim found Cullen behind his desk, the lines in the Commander’s forehead deeper than he remembered them. "First Enchanter Tim, this is Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. She comes bearing some troubling news that I think you need to hear as well. Have a seat." Cullen gestured at the chair in front of his desk, which Tim sank into, knees crunching as they bent.
"Well, that sounds rather ominous," Tim said with forced cheer.
"You are familiar with the narrowly rejected proposal at the last meeting of the College of Enchanters?" Cassandra asked, picking up some papers from Cullen’s desk.
"Several, actually. I’ve got the minutes of the last meeting. Why?" Tim’s brow pinched in confusion.
"It seems someone in the Chantry took that poorly. Specifically the vote to split the Circles away from Templar control." Cassandra handed one page to Tim. "If you’ll look here, First Enchanter, it seems an order has been issued to disband the College of Enchanters."
"Disband? Oh, no, that’s terrible! I was looking forward to going to Cumberland, later this year. So much for my holiday." Tim examined the page in his hand. "Who gave this order?"
"That’s the problem," Cullen cut in. "We don’t know. And from the rest of the reports in that pile, not a lot of Circles are questioning it. It’s written the same as any other missive to come out of the Divine’s office, and the seal is correct, but we don’t recognise that signature."
"The commander, in Cumberland, insists the order has come down from one of the Divine’s advisers, but Justinia will not confirm the order came from her." Cassandra shook her head and gestured with the pages she still held. "This is being enforced like the Maker’s own word. It is not just the College of Enchanters, but meetings between any groups of mages from different Circles, now. I bring this to you and Cullen, because I have come to understand that Kirkwall is a little quicker to question blind orders, these days, and I am hoping to rally some resistance, here."
"Resistance?" Tim repeated, raising bushy eyebrows Cullen’s way. "Against the Templar Order?"
"Forgive me, Seeker," said Cullen, running a hand through his hair, "but if no one can find the origin of the order, maybe the responsibility lies with the Divine and her retinue. If the Divine speaks out, this ends before it starts."
"I have expressed a similar opinion to her Most Holy," Cassandra said. "But right now, you must realise that Kirkwall represents much of what both the Order and the Circles fear. A Knight-Commander who would issue an Annulment without sanction is a mage’s worst fear. And mages rising up to overthrow their templar guards is a templar’s. You managed to step in and bring about peace and civility in an impossible situation, but that’s not how many other Knight-Commanders see it."
"I don’t really give a damn how other Knight-Commanders see it," Cullen said, spreading his hands. "They weren’t here."
"Indeed," Cassandra agreed, "but rumours spread, and everyone feels the impact of what happened here."
"And everyone’s heard what happened here." Realisation broke across Cullen’s face. "Tim? Have we finished an inventory of the remaining phylacteries?"
"Nearly. The vault’s almost cleaned out and reindexed. Why?" Tim looked up from where he was angling the page he held in a beam of light from the window, trying to get a better look at the quality of the ink and the edges of the seal.
"Because I need a list of everyone who left us, and all their phylacteries. I need to send someone out to bring them back, before this gets any worse." Cullen rubbed his face. "Isabela. I can have Carver ask around the docks. She’ll know where they went. But, they have to be given a chance to come back. An escort, if they need it."
"I thought you meant to let them run free, Commander," Cassandra pointed out, studying Cullen’s face.
"I do, but it would be shameful for me to offer them freedom without also offering safety, in dangerous times. I don’t want them dragged back in chains. I want them located and offered a safe way back to Kirkwall. I will make room in the budget, somehow. But, I will not have my mages stranded in foreign lands with no way to get back to a city that will protect them." Cullen’s voice was firm. "If we expect them to take care of us, we must take care of them, in exchange."
Cullen found Samson on the training grounds, leaning back against the wall and loosening a few of his armour’s straps. The sweat pouring down his face said that he’d just finished sparring, and he was still catching his breath when he saw Cullen approach, his march and the set of his shoulders all business.
"Ser Samson! Might I have a word?"
"Of course, Knight-Commander," Samson replied, managing to sound only a little suspicious. The last time Cullen had pulled him aside like this, the topic hadn’t been a pleasant one. "You might even get two words, if I’m up for it. What can I do for you?"
"I might need to ask a favour of you, Raleigh. And a rather large one."
A sigh pulled out of Samson, and he rested his head back against the wall. "If you’re looking for someone to clean the latrines, I hear the Hawke boy has a knack for it."
"Not that kind of favour, though I’ll keep that in mind," Cullen drawled. "This is… I suppose I should start at the beginning. Have you heard about the College of Enchanters?"
"Do you mean, do I know of them or have I heard about what happened?" Samson huffed. "For such a large building, rumour travels fast, Cullen. Is it true? Has the Chantry disbanded it?"
"If by ‘the Chantry’ you mean ‘some faceless individual using the seal of the Divine’s office’, then yes. It’s bad, Raleigh. Nobody’s quite sure what’s going on, but the College won’t be meeting in Cumberland, this year." Cullen sighed and watched one of the other matches, for a few seconds. "I need you to go get some of our mages back. Nothing violent. Just a guaranteed way back to Kirkwall, if they want to come home. I don’t want to see any of ours starting problems because they can’t get on a boat."
"Political bullshit, then," Samson scoffed. "You want me to go get back some of the mages we let out, so they don’t make us look bad while this mess is going on with the Chantry."
"I want you to get them back so they don’t end up dead or Tranquil. And yes, because I’d really rather not have some Kirkwall backed mage panicking because they’ve realised they’re in trouble, and burning down a port, somewhere. That’s not going to look good for anyone — them, us, or the Grand Enchanter." Cullen dug a thumb into the base of his skull and took a few deep breaths. He had no idea how Anton handled this political tripe day in and out, because he was sure one of these days his eyeballs were just going to fall out from the headache it gave him. "I don’t know who else I can trust with this. It’s delicate, and it might get dangerous, and you’re one of the best trained templars I have left. And I know the Sword on a man’s chest isn’t going to stop you from taking his head off if he gets in your way."
Samson groaned and closed his eyes against the sun. "Are you sure you don’t want me cleaning the latrines?" he quipped before opening one eye to look at Cullen. "I was just getting comfortable here, you know, being a real templar again."
"I know," Cullen said with genuine regret. "I’ll make it up to you."
"I’m sure," Samson sighed in a way that said he doubted it. "But yes, I’ll do it. Someone has to, and if any of them recognise me, they’ll at least know I’m not just there to turn them in. If they don’t recognise me, though, I’d rather not get kicked in the teeth. Are you just sending me?"
Cullen chewed on his lip, leaning back against the wall next to Samson. "I was thinking of possibly sending a mage with you, in case something goes wrong. Would that be a terrible idea?"
Samson shrugged. "Depends on the mage. And you tell me. You were my roommate for how long?"
"I meant would it be a terrible idea to send a mage, not just someone with you in general, though now you’re making me second guess that. You snore, you know. Or at least you did."
"Your wheezy breathing wasn’t exactly sweet music, either, Commander."
Cullen cleared his throat and looked back toward the shouting and clanking of swords. "Yes, my wheezing. Terribly sorry about that."
"Soprano wheezing," Samson muttered. "Don’t know how you didn’t wake Meredith with it."
"Well, fortunately for you, my operatic wheezing will be staying here, in Kirkwall." Cullen spared his former roommate a dirty look. "Any mage you’d work best with?"
"I really want to say Keran’s girl, Ella."
"Raleigh…" Cullen sighed.
"No, not like that. She’s marked Tranquil. Nobody’s going to look twice at her." Samson huffed. "But, no. I’m not asking for her. Not for something I’m not sure we’re coming back from. I’m not going to be responsible for that. How about that little asshole blood mage who keeps throwing ice in Carver’s face?"
"Alain? You think?" Cullen asked, wincing as one of the recruits misjudged and took a ringing strike to the top of the shoulder.
"Sure. A former blood mage and a former former templar. He and I both seem to have a knack for making bad decisions. Maybe we’ll even each other out."
"Or get both of you killed," Cullen sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "But all right. I’ll ask him. That might even be for the best, since I’m not entirely sure Anton has forgiven him for his involvement with that mess with Cormac. I don’t suppose it’s around here, flinging ice at Carver’s face?"
"No, they usually do that in the afternoon," Samson said. "The swearing would have given it away, otherwise. Swearing followed by Alain saying ‘sorry’ every five minutes." Samson looked much too pleased by the memory, only to frown at the pair sparring directly in front of him. "Look alive, Marlein!" he called out. "Shield up! You know better than that."
"Sorry, ser," Marlein grumbled, lifting her shield arm up. She deflected the next blow, her face grim and determined. "Arm’s getting a bit tired."
"Tired arm’s going to lose you a head," Samson barked, with an apologetic glance at Cullen.
"No, no, don’t mind me. You’ve got this in hand." Cullen crossed his arms and watched Samson, amused. "And this is another reason you get to go out for this one."
"So I stop barking at the recruits?" Samson scoffed.
"No, because I know your head’s not coming home in a box without the rest of you." Cullen eyed Marlein more closely. "Hold!" He waited until the last strike terminated in a dull clank and stepped up. "Either that’s not your armour, or you need better armour."
"What?" Marlein scowled and looked up at Cullen. "It’s my size. I got it from the quartermaster when I joined."
"It’s not your size. It’s also why your arm’s tired. Go get measured for something that actually fits." Cullen paused and glanced at Samson. "Was Meredith not fitting armour for the lower ranks?"
"I couldn’t tell you. I’d been wearing mine a decade and more by the time she started … getting difficult." Samson shrugged and took a closer look at where Cullen’s eyes had been. "You’re right, though. Good eye. Cannons are too wide, and it’s probably too broad in some other places, too. It’s not natural to stand like that. You’re hauling more metal than you need, Marlein. You get a good fit, this is going to be like dancing."
"I was never any good at that either," Marlein muttered.
"Well, not in that armour!" Samson laughed.
"Look, that’s too big. And Maker only knows what it’s made of. What was Meredith thinking, cutting costs like that? No wonder she lost so many men! I’m going to have to go through a decade of recruits and check everyone’s gear." Cullen groaned. "You, though, Raleigh. You get to miss all the excitement."