Two Years Later
Sebastian held the squirming animal between his knees, the bleating sheep wriggling as he held it in a firm grip. One hand held the shears, clipping in a steady rhythm as he turned the animal to get the wool from it in one large piece. It was the last animal to be sheared that day, the farmers always appreciative of the extra hand. He found it calming, the work backbreaking but mind-clearing; he found answers to matters of state even as he grunted at his labors, his shirt long since discarded and his chest slick with the sheen of sweat.
A shadow falling across the animal made him look up, and a familiar sunburst on the woman's breastplate made his lip curl. He had met her before, long ago when he was still a lay brother of the Chantry. He finished his task before he spoke to her, tossing the wool into a bin to be cleaned and baled later. He turned, not offering any sort of welcome.
"I see you remember me, Your Highness. I'm flattered."
"I had a feeling you would find me. You wish my aid to help prevent a war."
"You are as astute as the rumors make you out to be."
"No, I am aware of what goes on beyond my borders, nothing more. I heard about the revolt in Nevarra. Someone heard about Anders's actions in the Chantry, as much as you tried to keep them quiet, and pulled a similar stunt in the Chantry there. This time, the culprit was not caught."
"Then you know that the Chantry needs your aid more than ever. We have called to all our faithful, asking them to aid us in this trying time and to support us in the coming battles. There will be an Exalted March, with a place at the Maker's side for those who fall in the battle for righteousness."
"I gave up my duties in the Chantry long ago, Seeker. I am a simple man, with simple wishes, and I do not involve myself in the Chantry's wars any longer."
"You were once one of our most faithful brothers, Sebastian. You have the power to inspire your country to help the Chantry do good works."
"I don't think you heard me," he said, his tone slipping into the icy reaches as he brought his full displeasure to bear on the Chantry sister. "I will not play with the Divine's political machinations. Had you aided me when I asked for troops to retake my home, I would gladly aid you now. But the Divine is after one thing and one thing only – the Divine's will. I will not be a party to that any longer."
"You have been corrupted by your blood mage, as I was told," said Cassandra, her lips tightening. "We will have to purge you as well."
He froze, his nostrils flaring. "What did you just say?"
"The mage you keep in your bed. She has corrupted you into weakness. Do not think that the Divine has turned a blind eye to what goes on in Starkhaven, your highness. She sees all, and She is most displeased. You keep mages on loose chains here, if they can be called chains at all. They live in the village, amongst the people, where they run the risk of corruption and contaminating of the common folk every day. Their own prince beds the so called "First Enchanter", and proclaims her his lawful wedded wife!"
He ground his teeth. "She is my wife, Seeker, and you will hold your tongue."
"Your marriage is not legal in the eyes of the Maker, whelp," she snapped. "You would destroy our very way of life with the heresies you both spew. I came here as a gesture of good will, to turn you back on the Maker's path. I see now that the corruption runs deep, and I must make my report to the Divine as such."
In a flash, he moved, slamming her hard against the wooden wall of the barn. The blow stunned her, and her eyes widened as his blue eyes locked onto hers, burning in an intensity he hadn't felt in years.
"You have threatened my people, my kingdom, and my wife in the same breath. You have spewed lies and slander across all I hold dear, and you expect me to take it because you work in the Maker's name. You care nothing for the faith you claim to have, for as you rode through here, you would have seen the Maker's splendor, all untainted by the Chantry. If you cross my borders again, I will consider it an act of war by Orlais."
"You have no allies who would support you in such a foolish endeavor!" she said, her eyes narrowing, scalding like coals in her face. "None would dare go against the mouth of the Maker himself!"
"The Queen of Ferelden counts herself as one of my allies, as does the King. Were I to go to war, they would stand beside me. You know how much Ferelden hates Orlais. You think they would not jump at the chance to humiliate you once again on the field of combat?" he asked, a feral smile spreading across his face. "I imagine I could rope more to my cause, including the mages you wish to go to war against."
He released her, stepping back and barking for his retinue. His two bodyguards stepped in, and he gestured to her. They hauled her to her feet, and he glared at her.
"Escort her across the border. If she attempts to return, kill her and send her head back to the Divine in a sack. She will learn that not everyone appreciates the yoke she places on us."
"You were once the most faithful of us, Sebastian. What has happened to you?"
"Nothing but the Maker's will. His hands have guided me here, and no one else's. You might consider that before threatening His children again."
He watched them drag the Seeker away, his arms folded as he stood in deep thought. The times were changing, and the winds of war were blowing. Would it be enough to stand with Celeste against the tide? He thought of her, waiting for him back at the keep, and knew that it would.
They would face it together, to the Void with the consequences.
A/N: At last. I hope you have enjoyed Aquila. This was intended to be an AU of the story Obeisance, which is still ongoing. You will see some of the plot points I touched on here in that story, when I pick it back up later next week.
Though it may not always go in the places you wanted it to go, or you may not agree with the characterizations, it's done, and it stands as it is. Thank you, Constant Readers, for sticking with me through this story. It has been long, and rough, but I have finished at last. (All while leaving myself open for a sequel, d'oh!) I've seen support for my writing, and criticism, but I would not have finished this without encouragement from Minfarshaw, one of the harshest betas ever and a screeching harpy of the finest magnitude, as well as the rest of the Sebastian Support Group on Facebook. (Especially to Diwa, who is drawing the first chapter in comic form as I type this. Six pages are done already, and you can see a sample and a link on my Livejournal.) You ladies are all wonderful, the very best of influences.
Also, to Illusionary Ennui, whom I beta for: if I can do it, you can finish Blessing. It will come, in time. (The rest of you should go read that while I take a break. It's good, and she could use your encouragement. Go read it nao.)
I have learned a lot while writing this, as I learn with everything I write. I will not compromise the story for anyone, not even myself, and I have to learn to remember that. Love it or hate it, it's over at last. Thank you again for reading, and I appreciate the comments and support I get. I also appreciate the criticism. Don't think I don't.
Fun Facts for this Chapter:
In Fine means 'the end'.