Seat of Judgment

Alya perches awkwardly on the throne. Once, she'd thought sleeping on the ground was uncomfortable, but right now a hundred nights on the ground sound better to her than an hour sitting in this thing. She supposes that it does make her an even more imposing figure, as long as she can refrain from squirming. She is pretty sure that squirming is not what the gathered crowd is looking for from their newly appointed Inquisitor.

She is hardly listening to Josephine's recitation of Gereon Alexius's crimes. She knows very well what the man did, and worse, what he would have done. She remembers Cassandra and Sera trembling in their cells, the wear and despair on Leliana's face, the utter destruction facing them all. Was any punishment severe enough for the man who had done that?

Who would have done that. Is it just, to punish a man for the crimes he would have committed?

Does it matter? What he has actually done is more than enough to condemn him. And the man is hardly repentant. The only regret he has expressed is that he failed, that his son will die. The harm he has caused is nothing to him.

Alya stares at her hands. They are no strangers to shedding blood. Her axe has taken more lives than she can remember or count, biting mercilessly through flesh and bone. This, though, this is different. The great hall is no battlefield. Can she kill a man in cold blood? Who will she become if she crosses that line?

Perhaps imprisonment, or a sentence of servitude, would be the wiser course.

She considers the options. She's not sure why, but her mind drifts to memories of her parents' forge.

#

Alya is eight years old, and it is the first time she's been allowed to use the hammer.

Her father has heated a horseshoe until it glows white and placed it in clamps. She is vaguely aware that a horse ought to be here, but that her parents don't want her near a customer's horse. A missed blow could be too costly, both in coin and in reputation.

"See, you want to strike it here, to bend it into shape," he says gently.

Alya tries a tentative blow, misses the shoe entirely, and strikes the hammer against the ground, uncomfortably near her own foot.

Ten-year-old Dori laughs, but their father shushes her. "Try again."

Her next blow is better aimed. She feels the shock in her shoulders as the hammer connects with the shoe, but its shape doesn't change. She tries again, and again, without effect. Her shoulders ache, and her next blow is another miss.

Her mother speaks now, a bit impatiently. "You have to put more force into it, Alya. Too weak a blow, and nothing is accomplished."

Dori laughs again at that. "She can't hit it hard enough! She's just a baby."

"I am not!" Alya protests.

"You're very strong for your age," her father says. "I'm sure that you'll be ready soon." He reaches out for the hammer.

"No! Let me try again!"

"Give her the chance," her mother says.

Alya focuses her anger and frustration into the hammer, imagining her sister's laughing face in place of the horseshoe. She raises the hammer and gives it a vicious blow that breaks the shoe in two. One piece flies across the forge and sets the hay covering the ground on fire. Her mother rushes to smother the flames. Dori finds all of this hilarious.

Alya flushes with embarrassment, but at least she has proved Dori wrong. "You see, I am strong enough!" Alya says to her sister.

"More than strong enough," says her father. "But always remember, Alya... too strong a blow may do more harm than good."

#

She blinks. The assembly is staring at her, waiting for her word. She hopes they think her contemplative and thoughtful, not indecisive.

Her mother's caution comes to her mind. Too weak a blow, and nothing is accomplished.

She clears her throat. "I have made my decision. You served a monster, Alexius. There's nothing more to be said. You'll die now, by my hand." Some perverse impulse drives her to add, "Again."

The magister's eyes grow wide. "What do you mean, again? Inquisitor! Did the spell work?"

His words strengthen her resolve. If he lives, it's inevitable that he will try again, regardless of the cost. To himself, to us, to the world.

#

The arrangements take longer than she'd expected, and the sun has moved noticeably across the sky by the time she stands on the battlements beside the bound Alexius, holding an axe. The magister looks frantically from side to side, but makes no plea. Is that admirable? She is not sure, and supposes it doesn't matter.

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see the crowd that's gathered, full of familiar faces. Sera's eyes are wide and fixed on Alexius, her face taut with anticipation as she bites her lower lip. Cassandra's mouth is a straight line, her expression composed and unreadable. Cullen stands tall with a look of stern approval.

She had hoped Dorian would not be here, that he, like Solas and Vivienne, would opt to stay away, but he's standing at the back of the crowd. When she raises the axe, she sees him wince and raise an arm to cover his eyes.

The axe comes down. She is no eight-year-old with a hammer now. Her aim is true, and she is used to applying enough force to cleave through armor. The blade passes through Alexius's neck and clangs jarringly against the flagstones, striking sparks.

Too strong a blow…

Alya spares the headless body only a glance before she turns and strides away. Her hands are starting to shake, and she wants to be away from the watching eyes before they notice. Again, it's not what they expect from their Inquisitor.

Please let this be the only time, she finds herself thinking.

She fears that it is just the beginning.