If one's home is a cage.. is it less of a home?
Or is it less of a cage?
I ponder the question as I look down out of the barred windows of my office down into the courtyard of the Gallows. The sight is a familiar one, though not always from this angle, as my quarters have moved from room to room as I advanced through the Circle's hierarchy. Though my years have started to creep up on me, graying my hair and weakening my body, I can remember the day I arrived as clearly as ever. For a boy of nine turned over to the templars after a human had bought me in Ansburg and decided that a combustible slave was not worth his trouble, the bronze statues that still greet newcomers were possibly the most terrifying thing I'd yet seen. Elven faces stared out from the centuries, eyes and mouths wide with horror while they struggled to stand, barely clothed and shaved, while their monstrous guards looked down on everyone below with a warning gaze as if to say 'never forget, this is your fate'..
Even so, the Gallows became a sort of home. For so long I did not see the walls and the bars as imprisonment but as protection. It was to keep the outside world away from me, away from their 'knife ear' insults and slavers chains and especially away from their fears of rampant magi, not to keep me in. But still... More than the templars and slavers and even the possibility of becoming an abomination, those frozen faces had haunted my childhood dreams.
At least until recent times. Now more immediate things lurk in my reverie.
Movement catches my eye. Down in the courtyard, a pair of young mages are running around. Strange. But as soon as I think that, the realization of how odd that thought is occurs to me. In my apprentice days, it was not terribly uncommon. Youngsters of all ages had once been able revel in what little freedom they had on sunny days, to play with balls and hoops or simply sit around and gossip as both humans and elves are wont to do. The sad sight of the statues could be ignored then; all too often, a senior mage had to be summoned to help someone off one when they had gone up on a dare before realizing they were too scared to come back down. It had all been under the eyes of the Templars, of course, but it had still been allowed. It was normal.
How long has Meredith's rule gone on, I wonder sullenly, that I've forgotten what normal really is.
Meredith. There was a time, when I had first taken on my role as First Enchanter and spokesman for the mages, that I had imagined her and I speaking as equals to further better the situation of templars and magi alike. I was so optimistic when I started. I thought I could do better. Now I can barely even think her name without feeling a prickle of paranoia at my skin, as if she has become the Flemeth of the north, able to appear at the mere mention of her name. And I know I'm not the only one with such superstitions; some of the newer apprentices, the ones not yet adjusted to the constant eyes of the templars, have voluntarily elected to take meals in their cells rather than even risk the chance of passing her.
How has it come so far that our children, our students, fear to walk in what should be a sanctuary?
I close my eyes to think when the door slams open.
The dwarf messenger balks when he sees my three-headed staff pointed in his direction. I can only imagine he would have needed new trousers if I'd actually done any magic. "F-f-f-first Enchanter!"
With a sigh, I lower my weapon. I really have become paranoid if old hinges can put the fear of the Maker into me. "My apologies. I was... startled."
"You really should get that door fixed, you should," prattles the dwarf. The little braids in his beard quiver as he continues to shake. Apologetic, I offer him a sweet and some coin in return for his quick service. In return he calms down and gives me the letter he was sent to deliver before turning to go. The papers are stained with smudged fingerprints... I dare not consider what substance they're stained with. The stench of it marks it as coming from Darktown. Breaking the wax, I read:
I've done it! I have found the last piece to my puzzle, and I can finally finish my work. I have enclosed my results, some diagrams, the profits of my efforts. Your contributions will not be forgotten, not by me nor by history.
Guilt gnaws at my gut. His 'efforts'... I know what his 'efforts' have been. Even locked up in this tower like a criminal, one hears about the going-ons of Kirkwall. And templars like to talk more than they think they do; I have heard about the mysterious murders of helpless women. It did not take me long to figure out who was doing them and why... but when I had finally confronted the maleficar and his crimes, my rage at yet another mage sullying our image was swept away by the horrified fascination of just what he was able to accomplish. How could I stop his research when he was piercing through death itself? What if we needed his knowledge someday?
All my better instincts tell me to burn the letter or bury it and never see it again. If people were to discover it, there would be no saving us. Especially if the Champion were to realize what hand I had in their mother's death... But it's my logic that compels me to carefully file it away in the secret drawer of my desk where even Meredith will not think to look.
Just in case, I tell myself, trying to ease my discomfort at the knowledge of what he is doing and how. The means will only justify the end... and I do not yet know the end.
But the end is coming, and at long last I can see it. It's coming, in whispers and glances and tightened breath for now, later with swords and blood and death. Maybe the threat was always here. Maybe what I thought was my home was never really my home at all. Maybe it was always a prison, only now the cells have begun to shrink and we can finally see the bars that had always been around us. We have become like the slaves of old, hands outstretched for some sort of help that will never come, to serve as examples to frighten those who come after us. Worse yet, maybe I am to blame for this suffering, for needing people like Quentin to prepare for the inevitable. Maybe my efforts were crippled and corrupted from the start.
Maybe I could have seen this coming.
All I ever had to do was look out the window.
Orsino and Meredith are property of Bioware and EA Games.