A/N…just filling in the time until DA2 gets released (ho hum, ho hum). Characters and world are the property of Bioware, except for Aunt Mildred. No one owns her…
Thanks to Roxfox1962 for beta-ing. Well, if you're sure…
Remembering Aunt Mildred
There were whispers in the shadows…Alyce made herself small. She was good at it, owing to fact that she was small, for her age or otherwise. People said it was because she was elven and wouldn't grow up properly, but Alyce knew what elves looked like and she didn't look anything like the ones she'd seen. Her ears were round and so was her face. Her eyes did not look like rare gemstones, but were just an ordinary, everyday grey which wasn't even a colour at all, but a vague description for a 'colour' that couldn't make up its mind to be blue or green. As for her hair…'mouse brown' did not do for the scarecrow spikes that rested on her head. Mice were pewter-brown and satin-sleek. It was an insult to mice everywhere to make that kind of comparison.
Aunt Mildred had taught her that looks were not important anyway. It didn't matter what the package looked like – it was the quality of the contents inside that mattered. It was just the sort of thing Aunt Mildred would say, because Aunt Mildred's eyesight had never been particularly good. When Alyce had first arrived, Aunt Mildred told her that looking at her was like looking through a stained glass window. These days all Aunt Mildred could see were shadows if the sun was bright enough; but the sun hurt her eyes and the drapes were always drawn. Her room where her aunt sat during the day was dark and cool, even when the fire was in the grate. Alyce wasn't good at chopping wood, so they didn't always have firewood to burn and no one used coal out in the country. She'd heard up at the Big House they did, but Alyce doubted she'd ever get the opportunity to see how it worked exactly. She thought coal was stuff that had already been burned and couldn't burn anymore. Perhaps it was magic…
Magic…she was sure she had heard the adults mention the word. Whispered behind Aunt Mildred's wing-backed chair, as though the elderly woman could not hear, but there was nothing wrong with Aunt Mildred's hearing. It had taken quite a bit of willpower on Alyce's part not to leap out and tell these people that a woman who claimed to be able to hear her cabbages being attacked by caterpillars at night would have no problem hearing ill-concealed voices barely two feet away. No, Alyce had held her tongue, remaining hidden under Aunt Mildred's china table, the barest tick of the cane held in still-young hands acknowledgement that her aunt knew she was there.
"…sent away…" The voices continued to talk in hushed tones. Alyce idly plucked at a frayed edge of the rug, catching only snippets of conversation because her hearing wasn't as good as Aunt Mildred's. She heard "It's not right…" and "She's a danger to the old woman…" But who was a danger to whom? And then the worst: "…it's the elven blood…The elven blood that's made her go bad…"
Aunt Mildred snorted in disdain, rapping her cane onto the wooden floor for attention.
"You people intend to stay here all day gossiping in my sitting room?" she demanded.
"We were just discussing the best option, Ms Amell," one of the women said in a wheedling, whining voice – the sort of voice that folk automatically used to address people above a certain age. Alyce could feel Aunt Mildred bristle.
"Best for whom?" She heard her aunt ask with a carefully measured dose of contempt. The cane came down hard on the floor. If it had struck stone, not wood, there would have been sparks. "If you people have nothing more to say to me, I'd like my sitting room and my air back, thank you."
Alyce clapped a hand over her mouth in time, stifling laughter that would have given her away.
"We will return."
The voice no longer held the pretence of courtesy and Alyce couldn't help shaking her head at that. If Aunt Mildred's visitors had not tried to 'be kind to the old woman', Aunt Mildred wouldn't have been forced to be Aunt Mildred at them.
After they had gone, Alyce crept out from under the table, placing herself on the red ottoman that stood always by the wing backed chair. It looked like a mushroom; and Alyce like a spiky-haired gnome on the top of it.
"What did they want, Aunt Mildred?" Alyce asked.
Her aunt snorted her opinion of her visitors, adding, "Chantry puppets," she spat. "Except you can sometimes count on a puppet being mildly amusing. Wouldn't know a joke if it leapt out of the ground and bit them on the…well, you know what I mean," she sighed. Her hand reached out, finding the top of her head unerringly. "You're a gift, child," she said in a voice both soft as feather down and hard as stone. "What you have is a gift. Don't you let some Chantry snake attempt to convince you otherwise."
Alyce frowned at her aunt. She had no idea what Aunt Mildred had meant, but she had been taught to be obedient, so she replied, "Yes Aunt Mildred," and then returned to the kitchen to prepare for their afternoon tea.
A week later, the Templars arrived in their big, shiny armour with Andraste's sword burning on their breasts. Alyce had seen knights before; in and around Highever, but the Templars were not the Teyrn's knights or the King's knights. These were Knights of the Prophet Andraste. Aunt Mildred could not have cared less; a man in a metal suit was a man in a metal suit and was just as likely to be in as much trouble as a washing bucket in a thunder storm.
Alyce thought she had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.
She made tea for them all; these large men looking awkward holding rose print tea cups smaller than their gauntleted hands, nibbling on shortbread and staring at the slices of lemon in confusion. Aunt Mildred never allowed tea to be served with cream. It was far too Orlesian.
"Have you spoken to the child?" one of the Templars asked Aunt Mildred, who raised her cane like a lance, preparing to charge.
"The 'child' is right here, Ser Greagoir," Aunt Mildred snapped. "You can tell her yourself."
"She has not been prepared?" This Ser Greagoir exchanged a look with the other Templars.
"If I had my way, she'd stay," Aunt Mildred sniffed. "There's nothing wrong with my niece."
"All mages must be trained," Ser Greagoir began, to be cut off abruptly by Aunt Mildred's cane striking the ground.
"Leashed, you mean!" she snapped angrily. "Strip the sugar off it, young man. I may not be in the prime of my youth, but my brain still works well enough. I know what you people did to my brother's wife. I'd be a cold-hearted fool to let the same thing happen to my last living relative!"
Alyce could feel the Templar's eyes on her, but she only had eyes for Aunt Mildred. She had never seen her aunt so angry and upset before and instinctively, she reached out for her aunt's hand, finding her own being gripped in a vice-like hold. Alyce was young, but she was not so young that she couldn't understand fear when it radiated so intensely from someone she knew as well as Aunt Mildred.
"She will be taught how to control her magic," Ser Greagoir told her aunt. "Would you risk her turning abomination? At the Tower she will be surrounded by her own kind; she will be looked after."
"Bollocks!" Aunt Mildred seethed, gripping Alyce's hand so tightly it brought tears to the girl's eyes. "You call it what you want. A prison's a prison, no matter how many flowers you plant around it!"
"Ms Amell," Ser Greagoir began in the same, wheedling voice that the foolish woman had used on her aunt a week ago. "Please, try and be reasonable…"
"Reasonable!" The cane came up in an arc, sweeping the tea things from the table. It happened so quickly, no one had time to comprehend what was happening; the tea and tray of shortbread froze midair. Alyce extended her hand and plucked the teapot out of the air, placing it gently out of reach of Aunt Mildred's cane. The tray of shortbread soon joined it. When she turned back, Aunt Mildred was shaking her head. Blind or not, her aunt had known that what she had done had been wrong…
"No, no, no…foolish child…!" Alyce found herself being pulled forward, and enclosed in a bony embrace that smelled like cabbages and sweet roses. When next she spoke, her voice was once more itself; hard and unrelenting as she addressed the Templar.
"I know that we will be given no choice in the matter."
"You're not afraid!" Aunt Mildred snapped, releasing Alyce. "Don't pretend this isn't just your job you're doing and that you actually care…" She sat back, her cane beating out a staccato of annoyance. "Hmph," she told the Templars. "What will she need to take with her?"
"She will be provided with everything she needs, Ms Amell," Ser Greagoir assured her.
"I doubt it," Aunt Mildred sniffed. "Well," she waved her cane towards Ser Greagoir. "If you're going to take her away, do it now and be done with it."
Alyce stared at her aunt, jaws agape. "Am I to be sent away?" she asked in a small voice.
"Apparently so, niece."
Just like that? "Why?"
"Because the Chantry says you're a vile creature to be feared, girl; a danger to good, Maker-fearing Fereldans," her aunt told her, annoyance turning every word into ice chips of sound. Alyce began backing away, the backs of her knees bumping the edge of the low table, rattling the tea things. She shook her head, unable to understand. Then she looked into Aunt Mildred's pale, unseeing eyes and saw the pain there; the bitterness and the fear. The Chantry says…not I say…
"What are you all doing, standing around like a bunch of statues?" Aunt Mildred gouged a chip out of the floor as she glared at them all. "Take her to your prison!"
Ser Greagoir placed his cup and saucer carefully onto the table. Out of habit, Alyce began piling up the cups and plates for their trip to the kitchen's wash basin. She found a heavy hand on her shoulder and looked up into Mabari-brown eyes.
"We should leave now, as your Aunt commands," Ser Greagoir told her, eliciting a snort of scorn from the wing-backed chair.
"Go now, niece," her Aunt told her. "Do as you're told, before I lose my temper."
Alyce half-smiled at her Aunt. Stretching up on tip toes, she kissed Aunt Mildred's powdered cheek. She found Ser Greagoir's hand on her shoulder again, this time directing her towards the sitting room door. They surrounded her; tall men enclosed in cold metal and swishing skirts of purple and gold, herding her out of her home, Aunt Mildred's disapproving features and tapping finger no longer visible. It was only once they were outside that she was able to look back. The cottage looked as it always did from the lane, with its overgrown garden and worn stone path. The drapes were drawn and all was silent, except for a lone raven, cawing in the elderly oak.
The Templars were unhitching their horses, preparing to leave. Alyce stared at her home, then tugged on Ser Greagoir's skirt.
He looked down on her, his expression unreadable.
"Will I be able to come back?" she asked him.
"That would be for the Maker to decide," the Templar informed her.
"But who will make Aunt Mildred's dinner?" she persisted. "Who will pick up her cane when she drops it? Or help her up the stairs to her bed?" She gave him a fierce look. "Who will look after her when I'm gone? Or makes sure she doesn't burn herself on the stove? I don't want the local peddlars to cheat her out of her gold" she said.
The Templar looked helplessly at his colleagues. "Perhaps…your neighbours?" he asked, uncertainly.
Alyce shook her head. If the nearest neighbours had ever thought of helping her Aunt Mildred, they would have done something by now, but they hadn't. "Then...I will…I will think of something," Ser Greagoir informed her.
"Promise?" Alyce asked him, hope burning in her grey eyes.
"I…" He shifted his gaze imploringly to the nearest Templar, who could only offer a shrug. "I promise I will try," he told her.