A/N - property of Bioware.
She drifts into the Tower on a soft breeze at the height of summer. The evening air is balmy, heavily scented of flowers and water. The waves of Lake Calenhad gently rock the little boat that bears the small mageling-to-be and four Templar Knights. One of the Templars has pulled her into his lap, taking off his helm and gloves to pet her hair. She tugs at his beard with her tiny fingers as she sucks her thumb, and listens as the murmured conversation of the Knights flows around her.
She had been a frightened little wreck of a thing when they had finally found her, buried under a pile of rubbish in a back alley in Denerim. She had cried out when they uncovered her, tracing her touch on the Veil. Ser Merell had knelt heavily in his plate armor, and brushed the ragged hair from her gaunt, filthy face with all the gentleness of a father's care. Green eyes wide, tears welling, she wailed and threw herself at him, wrapping her too skinny arms around his neck, and pressing her cheek hard against his unforgiving steel shell. She led them to the still sparking corpse of a feral dog, and snuffling, eyes brimming, showed the kindly Ser Merell the vicious gash in her leg where it had bitten her, before she called down the wrath of the sky to make it stop.
They step over the threshold into the Tower, her bony little hand tucked into his calloused own, and Merell's hurried, hushed whispers to Ser Greagior make the Knight Commander sigh, but he nods. With a gentle tug, Ser Merell leads his waif to the dining hall, and sits her down for her first proper meal before sending her off with a woman mage for bathing and fitting of robes. She struggles briefly in the woman's arms, but Merell pats her cheek and gives promises to check in on her later. The frightened little girl subsides again, and the little mageling yawns. She nods, and snuggles into the mage's arms to be carried away.
He blows into the Tower on a winter wind, his armor frigid, cloak crusted in snow and ice. The tempestuous lake nearly capsizes the small boat, but Kester's skill keeps them afloat for the trip to the island. The cold wind bites at his cheeks, and he tucks the hood of his cloak tightly around his face. The stoic silence of the other three Templar Knights pleases him, unaccustomed as he is to conversation outside of tracking tactics.
He is eager for the journey to be over, to finally have a place to stow his gear, a bed to call his own that is not a bedroll in a camp, nor a cot in some barracks shared with dozens of other Templars, rotating in and out like seasonal workers. He holds no illusions that the Tower would offer privacy, but it would offer stability, and Cullen has come to find that to be something he craves.
They step over the threshold into the Tower, and are met by the Knight Commander himself. The four greet him with a synchronized salute, Ser Greagior nods in return, then gestures them to follow after him.
"Fourth floor, men. We all quarter there, though you'll find your posts all around the Tower. Eyes sharp, but keep your swords sheathed for now. I know some of you have been out hunting Maleficar for a while, but this is a very different kind of job." The Knight Commander glances at them over his shoulder. "These are all Circle Mages, as aware of the rules as we are. We don't need any unnecessary instances of violence or death. If you're feeling twitchy, be sure to let me, or one of your superiors know." He laughs. "We protect these mages from all threats, both within, and without."
Cullen is - surprised. Protective of the mages? He had not expected THE Ser Greagior, Knight Commander of the Circle Tower, legendarily ruthless in his pursuit of rogue mages, harsh in his punishments for breaking the rules, to be protective of his charges. In fact, he had rather expected that the whole Tower contingent to be on high alert, blades drawn, seeking Abominations in the shadowy nooks. He chuckles quietly to himself. It seems that the rumors might be a slight exaggeration after all.
"Don't mistake me, Sers. Abominations do happen. We do null and slay them, when they occur. But we do not strike down innocent mages, whose only crime is to irritate you, or, Maker forbid, frighten you." Ser Greagior leads them up another flight of stairs, and flings open the doors. "This is the Mages' quarters, as we've just left the Apprentice wing. As you can see, no Abominations, just this moment."
"Irving, would you care to meet the new Templars?" An older man approaches, beard grizzled and grey, and Cullen can feel the power in him, strong and tightly bound. "First Enchanter Irving," he gestures at the old man, "these are Sers Patrik, Cullen, Thian and Selwyn." He turns back to the Templars. "He is in charge of the mages, and has a voice in any decisions that need to be made regarding testing, Tranquility and Harrowing."
Cullen salutes the mage as he would a priest, right fist to left shoulder, lacking the plate banging of the military salute. At Ser Greagior's nod, the other Templars follow suit, and the First Enchanter nods, a slight smile nearly hidden by his beard.
"I would imagine, Greagior, that your men would appreciate keeping the introductions brief. It is cold outside, and they have been on the road for some while now." Irving turns to lead them through the Mage's quarters, around the bends in the corridor to yet another set of stairs. Cullen can hear whispers and movement in the rooms, and an occasional head is bold enough to poke out of a door, gaping at the unfamiliar faces before quickly hiding away again, often to hushed giggles. The Tower feels lived in, the cold stone warmed by breath and sound.
"The Great Library, the center of learning for generations of Circle Mages." Irving plays tour guide now, as he leads them into the towering stacks of books. "We've cleared out the apprentices for the moment. We don't always get the best reactions from Templars fresh from the hunt when a spell is cast, even in practice. However, this is where you'll get the most excitement in your guard duties, outside of the sparring grounds." His grin is infectious, and Cullen can't help but smile in return.
"You must have fireproofed the stacks, then, if you let them cast spells around the books." Irving and Greagior both turn, startled, to look at him. "Um. I dislike seeing books destroyed," he shrugs. "It would be a shame, but obviously, it has been thought of, and handled."
"Indeed," Irving murmurs, thoughtful. "We do not mind if you feel the urge to read any of the books that catch your eye, so long as they remain in the Tower. Just let the Librarian's assistant know which you borrow, if you do."
Cullen tosses his pack onto the bed with a relieved sigh. It is larger than he is expecting, with solid shelves separating the two halves of the room. He had briefly met his only roommate, Ser Bryant, as he headed off to his watch. Bryant had explained that they tried to stagger shifts, so that the two would rarely be in the room at the same time, offering the illusion of privacy. The bed is actually a bed, complete with mattress and pillows, which Cullen soon discovers were just a shade too soft, but far better than a cot, let alone the cold ground.
The Tower is not what he is expecting. From all he'd heard, it is a horrible place to be stationed, often ending up the last place a Templar is sent, a life sentence locked away with evil mages. He'd often doubted that Circle mages were evil, as such, but the idea of magic in the hands of so many in one place is a little intimidating. Cullen's skills have been praised, both Templar and fighter, and noticed by the Grand Cleric herself, which makes him wonder what he could have done to end up in the Circle Tower.
He shrugs out of his armor, strips off the padding, and grabs a towel off the pile someone had kindly left on a shelf. He heads down the corridor to the communal bath. He is shocked to discover a gravity shower system as well, another surprising luxury, one rarely seen outside palaces. He washes out his clothing as best he can in the shower. No telling when he'd get a chance to do laundry, or where he is to do it, and he is too tired to figure it out just then. Soon, squeaky clean, a little confused, very exhausted, slightly damp and with only a towel knotted around his hips, Cullen steps out into the hallway, and is promptly jolted.
A small body bounces off of him, hitting the floor in a flurry of tangled robes and limbs. A second body comes hurtling around the corner, shouting "Damn it, Surana, you can't chase that blasted thing through here! They'll kill you!" The second body belongs to a mage youth, black hair hanging in his eyes. He tugs frantically at the arm of the would-be battering ram, which, when Cullen focuses his gaze on it, resolves itself into one very surprised, slightly shocked elven girl, her long red hair done up in many tiny braids, her mouth hanging open as she gapes up at him.
He tilts his head to the side, bemused, as he looks from the tall skinny boy, not far from being a man, to the girl sprawled on the floor, not far from being a woman. Both are, he deduced by way of the blue robes, mage apprentices, too young to be Harrowed mages. He reaches down to the elf, who hesitates, eyes wide, than grasps his hand, allowing him to pull her to her feet. She hurriedly straightens her robes.
Composed now, the elf appraises him. At Cullen's raised eyebrow, she blushes. "My thanks, Ser Templar, for your hand up." Her words are formal, but her voice is a touch breathless. "I regret to say, I do not recognize you, and this is a most…uncomfortable welcome to the Tower. My apologies."
Cullen bursts out laughing. Her demeanor is at complete odds with her choice of phrasing. The elven girl is nearly twitching now, trying desperately to seem composed, but the mischief in her bright green eyes is unmistakable. The boy, hiding behind her as best he could, is stark pale with fright, but unwilling to leave his friend to the unknown mercies of a new Templar. At his laugh, the girl relaxes, and starts gesturing behind her back, shooing the boy out the way they had come.
"If you happen to see a Mabari pup, Ser, could you kindly direct him to the apprentice wing? The little rascal wanted to play, and seems to have led us too far astray." She is backing away now, being pulled by the boy, who seems desperate to make an escape. Cullen nods, and she turned and scampered for the stairwell. "My thanks, Ser…"
"Cullen. And you are welcome." He grins and shakes his head. Just as she flees around the bend, the girl turns back to flash Cullen a brilliant smile and his breath catches. The smile transforms her from pretty to stunning, her vulpine features softening into sheer beauty. Dazed, Cullen finishes the trek to his quarters. He hangs his garments to dry on the windowsill, and falls into bed, thankfully devoid of dreams.
A cold nose in the crook of his neck pulls him halfway from slumber. Share the blankets? It is cold! The pup cocks his head, apparently trying to work out the best way to con his way under the pile of quilts. With a snort, Cullen lifts the top edge, and the pup wriggles in, settling its chilled furry body against his side.
"She wants you back in the apprentice wing, you know," he mumbles, too asleep to do more than inform. The pup smells surprisingly of fresh mint. Not very dog like at all.
The pup huffs. You're warmer. She can feed me in the morning. If you ask nice, maybe she will feed you too?
"I'm sure we'll work something out." His face hits the pillow again, and the warm rumble of breath lulls them both to sleep.
Neria closes the door to the fourth floor quickly, letting it bang shut. The laughter she had been holding in bubbles out, and she slumps against the wall. It is late enough that there is no one in the Great Library, but early enough that her howls of mirth won't wake anyone. The Templar standing guard does poke his head around the corner to check, but seeing her, smirks and returns to his post.
Jowan is livid. "Why, by Andraste's flaming smalls, would you chase that bleeding mongrel into the Templars' quarters! We could have been killed! We could have had our heads cut off with no warning!" He fumes, face turning red as she continues to laugh. "Maker's mercy, Surana, that is one of the new Templars you ran headlong into. Not one of your 'friends'," he hisses.
"Ah, you heard Greagior's speech earlier." She snorts, calming to occasional chuckles. "They know not to kill us for no reason. And anyway, he laughed. He's fine. But Maker save me, did you see him? Ser Cullen, I mean." She grins up at Jowan. "I've never seen a man who looked like…well, like that!"
Jowan grimaces. "You know, it comes from being all…Templar like. With the swords, and the training to kill us!"
She starts giggling again. "And the way he acted, you wouldn't think he is standing in the hall in nothing but a towel!" She puts the back of her hand to her forehead and sighs dramatically. "Now why can't I give my virginity to him?"
Rolling his eyes, Jowan grabs her wrist and drags her toward the stairs to the next level down. "Because, hmmm, let's see. You're a mage. And he is a Templar? That seems reason enough to me."
Neria's mirth stills suddenly, her face gone blank. "I know," her whisper is quiet, almost lost even in the silence of the Great Library. "That is reason enough for you." She lets the blissfully unaware Jowan lead her to the apprentice wing.
She leaves him at the door to his dorm with a smile and a pat on the arm, and makes her way to her own, shared with seven other apprentice girls. She quickly tidies up the mess left from bathing Sabbi, the Mabari pup one of the visiting Templar Knights had left in Tranquil care, sent out to run errands for the Grand Cleric to places that would not appreciate an exuberant pup. Sabbi is wonderfully clever at getting into places he shouldn't, and getting her into places she shouldn't be. Owain is not jealous of his care, and Neria helps with the pup at every opportunity, including bath time. She had to admit, the mess was worth being rid of the stench of whatever he had rolled in that morning.
Jowan though. That is a different story. Her best friend nearly since the day she arrived, at least among the mages, he follows her into tight spots, but usually is trying to get her not to go in the first place. He feels she takes the good will of the Templars for granted, and while she does to an extent do just that, she knows them far better than he, simply for having taken the time to know them as people, not deadly décor.
She sighs to herself. Many of the mages perpetuate that themselves, hushed whispers about how this Templar is glaring, he must be looking to kill someone. Neria knew exactly why Ser Bran had been scowling that day. The supply shipment had been delayed by a storm, and the dining hall was out of sugar, and Ser Bran despised unsweetened coffee in the morning. So going without had given him a headache, and made him grouchy. Since that day, Neria had taken to pilfering a bit of the sweetener every so often, so if that occurred again, she would be able to keep the jittery Knight sweet. No pun intended, yes? She rolls her eyes at her own thoughts.
Not every mage in the Tower is scared spitless of the Templars, and not every Templar is hostile and overbearing. Some had been here for many, many years, and understood that this is simply the way of life for Mage and Templar both, so no point creating a hostile prison. Neria would far rather a home, with a family she loved, so that is what she created for herself.
Neria could only remember bare wisps of a home before the Tower. A father who loved her, and whom she worshipped, but she recalled missing him a lot. A mother who sang to her, but she could not recall the words, only a momentary whisper of a tune. The rest of her childish memory revolved around the gnawing hunger in her belly, the burning pain in her leg, and the metallic taste of lightening.
She fingers the scar on her leg before she slips into her nightshift. A reminder of where her talents lay, the reason she had torn lightening from a stormless sky, the reason she had come to the Tower. Surana had struggled to learn the gentler healing arts, and has some base skill, but her control of the elements is peerless. She far surpasses the other apprentices in the Primal abilities, though her stamina is not what it could be. Ah, with practice, she will be able to maintain longer, and juggle more spells. She hates using lyrium to boost her energy, but she finds that she can't power the larger area spells properly without it. There is much work yet to be done to train her mind.
She shakes her head, and forces her thoughts to more frivolous matters. This new Templar that she had run headlong into is certainly a work of the Maker's art. The mages were all soft and sluggish compared to the Templars, but even the other Templars she had glimpsed had lost that keen edge honed by living in the greater world. In time, the easy life of the Tower Templars dulled them all. They need not spar as hard, nor suffer without, as they might outside the Tower.
While the comment of gifting her virtue to this man had been a giddy, half hysterical joke, said mostly to stir Jowan, Neria is willing to admit to a touch of wistfulness. His hand had been warm in hers, calluses rough against the soft, soft skin of her own. His powerfully built body had been tautly muscled, and he moved with a grace that spoke of familiarity with heavy plate and unpredictable battle.
She laughs softly under her breath as she climbs into bed. She knows it is a silly desire, but she can't shake the image of his bare chest from her mind, nor his thickly muscled legs, glimpsed through gaps in his towel. He has not yet grown into himself completely, still lanky, lacking the bulk he will develop, but well defined. She wraps herself in her blanket and happily dreams of this new beautiful not-quite-boy-Templar.
Cullen falls into line with the other Templars to be given a new pouch of lyrium dust, marked with the Circle's insignia, a twined enchanter's staff and the down pointed sword that marks the Templars' armor. His stiff new clothing leaves much to be desired after years of wearing worn-in field gear, but at least he has room to move. His old clothes are tattered from too long on the road, and tight as he begins to grow into himself. He rolls his shoulders. Since fourteen, he's been chasing after Chantry business, a life of tracking and fighting, with little time to himself. For the last two days, he'd done nothing but settle in, and now it is time to get back to work.
"This will see you through the week. If you need to be away from the Tower for longer than that, we will provide you with what you need. We can't have our warriors dependant on the kindness of strangers, even if they are Chantry priests." The Quartermaster winks at the new Templars, and his smile is infectious. The general mood of the Tower seems to be content, as though most who live here feel it is home. Cullen smiles wryly. He had not expected to feel so welcomed, so at home himself, in the Circle Tower.
"Now gentlemen, to your duties. You four, stay here. Greagior wants to talk to you." The Quartermaster leaves the room, leaves them standing to wait. Cullen settles into the at-ease stance, settling back on his heels.
Ser Thian sidles up next to Cullen. "What do you think of the place? It's a far cry from what I'd been led to expect, thank the Maker."
Cullen grins and nods. "That it is. I was fully expecting to walk into hell, but this place isn't half bad. Maker's breath, but I'll be glad to not bathe in cold rivers anymore."
"And have you seen the women? Maker protect us, the robes-" He breaks off as Greagior enters, straightening into an attentive stance. They all follow, and the four Templars salute as the Knight Commander faces them.
"Now that you've had a chance to settle in, I'm going to introduce you to your charges. You were each sent here to oversee a specific mage who, for one reason or another, needs a more watchful eye than is typical. We've two with us just now, and we need constant vigilance, so you'll partner up, and split watch, twelve hour days. Two days a week, you'll be relieved of duty, but you'll need to be ready to react to a call up at a moment's notice. Your assigned mage will unfortunately have either the strength or the cunning to get around all the Templars currently stationed here." Greagior shrugs. "Sometimes, we just get one who needs special care, but these two are both too important to the Chantry priests to consider for Tranquility." The door behind him opens, and two girls are ushered through.
Cullen snorts in amusement. The skinny little flame haired elven girl who had tried to run him down is one of the special charges. The other is a strikingly beautiful human girl, with storm grey eyes and silver hair that curls around her shoulders, but Cullen can't pull his gaze off the little elf. Those bright eyes that had been brimming with mischief the other night are filled with apprehension now. She meets his eyes, and shyly ducks her head, a faint blush creeping across her cheeks. His smile is very small, the flush of color lights up her features almost as beautifully as the smile he had been dreaming about did. Even the pointed tips of her ears turn red.
"Patrik and Cullen, this is Neria Surana." The elven girl-mage steps closer with a nod. "She will be your charge until further notice. Thian and Selwyn, this is Solona Amell, who will be your charge, again, until further notice." The human girl comes forward, her movements bold, touches each of her new Templar guards on the arm.
"A pleasure to meet you, gentlemen. But I've studies to be about, so if you'll be so kind as to choose who has first watch?" Her voice is cordial but her eyes are cold, her disdain for the Templar soldiers apparent. Cullen's chin tilts in appraisal, certainly un-envious of his fellows who are to watch that girl.
Cullen turns his focus back to the elf, who is still having trouble meeting his gaze. With a chuckle, Cullen turns to Ser Patrik. "If you don't mind, I'll take first shift. We can trade off at midnight and noon, so I'll be on a couple extra hours today. Does this suit?"
Patrik nods. "I'll meet you outside her room at midnight then. And my thanks." He grabs Cullen's forearm in farewell, and Cullen returns the gesture, then watches him walk out. The other two have left already, trailing after the human mage. Only Greagior and Neria are still in the room. Cullen turns to face his new charge, but Greagior catches his eye with a gesture, and leans close.
"Take care of her, Ser Cullen. She is very special to us all." With that, he leaves as well, leaves the two alone.
"Did the pup find you? I tried to send him some time early morning, but he insisted on sleeping somewhere warm, and I'll admit I was too tired to bother with much of a protest."
"Oh, yes." Subdued and quiet, so he has to strain to hear her response. "He came to find me for breakfast." She peers up at him, glances away, looks back. Maker, is she shy? She'd had no trouble before, once she'd gotten over the shock of catapulting into a half naked stranger.
"Yes, well. I'm sure you've much to do, so lead on, milady." He smirks at her, and she blushes even harder. She is mumbling something about the Maker and the Fade, and turns on her heel, waving him to follow. "I wouldn't mind a sparring session, to let us both get a grasp on what we're up against, when you've a spare hour or two."
Stopping abruptly, she turns to face him, though he nearly bumps into her, so she finds herself craning her neck to look up at him. She inhales deeply before stepping back with a nod.