Beta Read:A huge thank you to the awesome Cariel for beta reading this for me and for helping me clean up the disaster that this piece once used to be!

Author's Notes: I blame Karebear for this piece as it was her thoughts on Greagoir (his person and views of the Circle, etc) that awoke the muse and inspired me to write this tale. Heaven help me there is certain to be more on the way. Scene takes place some time shortly after the events of DA:O 'Broken Circle' quest.

Also this tale was mildly inspired by Assemblege 23's song 'The Cruelest Year'. Incidentally, the title is the same as this fic.

Disclaimer: Bioware owns all. I just play in it every once in a while...

Greagoir stood in silence, his face and body behind a mask of armour, as the flames of the funeral pyre consumed what was left of the fallen victims of Uldred's madness. Templars and mages alike stood side-by-side all around the funeral pyre, a circle of life, paying homage to the dead. The mages' presence at the wake had been a personal decision, one Greagoir knew the Chantry would have never approved. Though dedicated to duty, the Knight-Commander did not have the heart to deny the mages the right to mourn or at least pay respects to their fallen compatriots. They had suffered and lost as much, if not more, than their Templar guards. To deny them such rights would be wrong; even the Chantry could not deny it.

The corpses of both mages and Templars had been piled together neatly on a bed of straw, wood, and stone. Bodies broken, some beyond recognition, intertwined as flesh armour and bone was devoured by the inferno. Only ash and remnant bone would remain of the lives that had once been solely under his care. It was a silent reminder that some lines should never be crossed, no matter how desperate the situation.

The high priestess's voice was clear and concise, yet void of emotion as she spoke the words of the Transfiguration 10 and the Canticle of Benediction. Blessings, benedictions, and warnings served no purpose for the dead, Greagoir grimly mused. The tradition of the funeral rites had always been meant for the living, despite what some might believe. It was a warning to undo mistakes before they transpired and a blessing for those whose broken hearts needed closure. Greagoir did not know which situation best described him.

The Knight-Commander was familiar with making difficult decisions, the sort that would cost lives no matter what choices he had made. Sacrifice the few in order to save the many was a mantra every Templar had to learn. After a lifetime of training and enduring hardships, the old warrior once believed he was ready for anything. Then Uldred's vengeance was unleashed on Kinloch Hold and everything changed. So many innocents had been lost to the old mage's madness. Most who had survived were damaged, many beyond repair. The thought weighed heavy on Greagoir's mind, as did the guilt that demanded he should have done more in spite of knowing he had no other option.

The high priestess's words echoed in his head as he thought of the many young souls lost to Kinloch Hold, now known to Thedas as the Circle Tower. The ancient stone walls had a way of eroding even the strongest amongst them, be it either mage or Templar. Immediately, he was reminded of Cullen, the son he loved but never had, broken and lost to the horrors endured in Uldred's magical prison because he had ordered a lockdown of the Tower. Greagoir then thought of Anders, the other son he both loved and had broken in the name of duty.

Duty demanded that a Templar protect the world from mages, just as it was a Templar's duty to protect the mages from themselves. In the end, who was really protecting who? Far too many lives had been consumed and many more would suffer the consequences of a system that was broken beyond repair. Yet it was all they had to fight against the corruption of magic, so he tried to serve it as best he could.

As the flames of the funeral pyre reached towards the night sky Greagoir wondered, as he far too often did, if it really was worth the price paid. His weary eyes then fell to the poised form of his grudging best friend, First Enchanter Irving. He knew the old mage felt the same way. As leaders to the Circle's divided factions, neither could afford to openly mourn or show any display of such emotions. Those who served beneath them looked up to them for strength and guidance now more than ever before. It was in the name of duty and compassion that they both would carry the burden of their loss forever hidden.

The funeral drew to an end and Greagoir watched as everyone departed for the Circle tower until only First Enchanter Irving remained. With a heavy sigh, Greagoir relinquished the confinement of his helmet as the old mage watched on in silence. Both Templar and mage stood across from one another in silence as the flames consumed the last of the fallen souls, before departing to the Circle Tower.

The remnants of the funeral pyre remained untouched.