As We Are
Thrask sat by the fire, gazing into the coals, his mind not far away but years in the past. He didn't notice when Grace sat next to him, cross-legged on the sand. Too far gone in his thoughts to hear her until she spoke.
"I don't think they will find us," she said, touching his arm to alert him to her presence. "We are very well concealed."
"Hm? Oh!" He blinked, returning to the present. "Oh, I agree. And I have my men on a watch rotation. We should have ample warning, don't worry."
Grace tilted her head at him, eyes curious but keeping silent.
He smiled. "I was simply thinking of my daughter. She would have been... twenty-one? Twenty-two?" He frowned. "Has it really been that long?"
"That long since what?" Grace asked, a note of sympathy in her tone.
Thrask blinked at her. "Oh. Forgive me. You didn't arrive at the Gallows until after... Well. My daughter, Olivia. She was a mage."
Grace eyed him, her face half in the firelight, half in shadow. "That must have been awkward for a man in your position."
"I didn't join the Templars until she went to the Circle. She was five years old and had set the bedclothes on fire because of a bad dream. I was twenty-four."
Thrask sat Olivia on his lap, cuddling her and wiping her tears with his thumbs. "I'm sorry, Papa!" She clutched at his shirt and sobbed. "I'm sorry I ruined the blanket!"
"Shush, sweeting. I'm not angry with you." Olivia quieted and rubbed her face on his shirt. "But." Thrask paused and swallowed, trying to keep his voice even. "This means that things have to change for us."
"Change?" she whispered. As if saying it softly would keep it from happening.
Thrask nodded as he looked around their tiny apartment, which seemed so empty since his wife passed in the last chokedamp. "Yes. Olivia, you are a mage. That's how you set the blanket on fire. And now you have to go live in the Circle."
"No!" Olivia wailed.
Thrask shushed her gently. "The Circle is a very nice place, Olivia. It's like a castle! They have sturdy walls and a good roof, so you're never cold in the winter and you always have shade in the summer. They have plenty of food to eat. And you will always have shoes." He stroked her back, feeling her calm in his arms.
She sniffled. "Really?"
"Yes, really," he smiled and kissed her hair. "But that's not even the best part, sweeting. Do you want to know what the best part is?"
"The best part is that you get to learn!"
She looked up at him, cheeks stained with tears though her eyes were cautiously hopeful. "Learn? Learn what?"
"Oh, all sorts of things," he said with honest joy. His daughter was going to be educated in a manner he could never have afforded, Maker be praised.
"Like how to read?"
"Yes! Read and write and do sums. And how to use your magic to help people."
"How? Mother Marta says that mages are cursed." She said sullenly. "I don't want to be cursed, Papa! Make it go away." She curled her fists, clinging to him.
He held her tighter. "Mother Marta is wrong," he said, with all the conviction in his heart. "Your magic is a gift that the Maker gave you when you were born. He wouldn't have cursed you as an infant. And I love you, no matter what."
Olivia sniffled a few more times. Thrask held her, trying to memorize the little things. The weight of her on his lap. The feeling of holding her in his arms. The smell of her hair. The sound of her voice.
"I don't want to go," she said finally.
His heart twisted. "Sweeting, you must. Only they can teach you."
"You can teach me!" she protested. "You're so smart, Papa!"
He smoothed her hair. "I can't, sweeting. Not about your magic. But they can. And they will. And you will be a wonderful mage."
"I don't want to!" she said again, tears threatening once more.
"But why?" he asked, his throat tightening. He fought off his emotions. He couldn't let her know how it tore his heart.
"Because," she hiccuped, "because you won't be there, Papa!"
He blinked rapidly. "I know, sweeting. I know."
"And I don't want to go anywhere without you it's scary!"
He fell into silence, thinking.
He was just a journeyman blacksmith. They wouldn't hire him as a quartermaster or smith in his own right. But maybe if he offered to apprentice himself to the master smith. He'd be willing to repeat his apprenticeship if he could see his daughter.
"I will be there, sweeting," he said firmly. "I'll go to the Circle with you. You don't have to be afraid."
"So you only became a Templar after you discovered Olivia was a mage?" Grace asked, astounded.
Thrask chuckled softly. "Yes. Knight-Commander Guylian found use for me beyond smithing, Maker be praised. You have to understand, things were different back then. Back when Viscount Threnhold was still in power. Meredith had just been promoted to knight-lieutenant when I took my own vows."
"I was still an apprentice when the revolt happened. The Starkhaven Templars didn't tell us very much about it." Grace stared into the fire, the light flickering over her tattoos.
Thrask frowned at the dark memories of chaos and blood and death. "It doesn't bear repeating," he said.
Grace nodded. "And after?"
"After? Things changed."
"She can't be serious," Thrask said, looking from the furious Samson to the equally-shocked Emeric. "She's throwing you out?"
Samson growled, fists clenching and unclenching. "Meredith's always been a little cracked. Now she's in charge, gets to stomp all over us with her holier-than-everybody boots." He began to pace.
"Maybe one of us should talk to her," Thrask said. "Convince her to see reason."
Emeric shook his head. "Better you than me."
Thrask nodded. Emeric's relationship with Mharen was already the subject of rumors. Any plea he made for mercy was not likely to improve things for Samson. "Then I'll go. She's still our comrade. She'll be more reasonable once she's calmed down, you'll see."
The other Templar snorted derisively. "Maker watch over you in your task, Thrask," he sneered.
Thrask squared his shoulders and marched to Meredith's office, expecting to find her somewhat calmer than what Samson had described. But as he stood at attention in front of her desk, he realized that, for once, Samson had accurately described the situation. Meredith's eyes were still alight and her jaw clenched tight with fury. "Speak," she said in a low, dangerous tone.
Thrask took a deep breath. "In regards to Ser Samson, Knight-Commander-"
"Samson." She sliced the air with the edge of her hand. "He is no knight in my order. Not any longer."
"Surely his offense was not so great as to strip his commission!" Thrask protested.
"You forget your place, Templar." Meredith snarled. "And you are on dangerous ground."
"Yes, Knight-Commander." He squared his shoulders. "But surely Ser Samson deserves a second chance. He is a good Templar. Knight-Commander Guylian himself gave Samson his sun shield!"
Meredith stood and turned to look out the window. "Guylian was a permissive fool, more concerned with wealth and power than the very real danger that mages pose to the rest of the population. His foolishness nearly cost us the entire city. I will not allow such things to go on under my command. You say Samson deserves a second chance? Samson has been conspiring with this mage for years to communicate with this woman. Maker only knows what sort of schemes and sedition they have planned. How many escapes they have orchestrated. How many deaths they have caused." She turned to face him, fury burning in her bright, piercing gaze. "Mages are cursed, Thrask. And every Templar under my command would do well to remember that. We must be ever-vigilant against them. To forget their nature is to shirk our duty, to fail in the holy duty placed upon us by the Maker Himself."
All Thrask could think of was Olivia, with her happy smiles and her trusting gaze and the way her small hand fit so neatly in his. "Yes, Knight-Commander."
Meredith turned to look at him, the fury subsided, though her eyes were still cold. "If I had been knight-commander when you entered the order, I would have seen to it that you were shipped off to Hossberg before the ink was dry. This nonsense about remaining at your daughter's side is as dangerous to you as it is to everybody around you. However, since then, you have proven yourself to be... sensible enough. So as it stands, I tolerate your continued presence here as a courtesy. Do not give me cause to regret this, Ser Thrask. Or you may find yourself wintering in the Anderfels permanently. Understood?"
Thrask swallowed and nodded. The thought of being sent so far away from Olivia was too great to imagine. "Yes, Knight-Commander," he managed to say.
Meredith sized him up, eyes cool and appraising. "Dismissed." She waved her hand as if brushing away a fly.
Thrask hurried out of the office and did not look back.
Grace's eyes glittered in the firelight. "So did you stop seeing your daughter?"
Thrask smiled sadly. "No. But my duties were changed so as to make it harder. And I knew that showing even an inkling of favor toward her would have us both punished. Olivia was still quite young at the time, but even she realized how things were different with Meredith in charge. As bad as things were for us, they were much worse for the mages."
Grace was quiet for a time. "That is not so unusual a tale."
Thrask shook his head. "It is not, to the shame of us all. And as vigilant as I was, or as I tried to be, I still missed it when she tried to warn me." He frowned at himself, at the guilt he would never overcome. "And that is my shame alone."
The courtyard was pleasant during certain times of the year. Spring and autumn, when it was sunny but not too hot, the mages and Templars alike would congregate in their free time to wander about, enjoying the gentle breezes from the bay.
It was during these times that Thrask would seek Olivia out and speak to her, not as a Templar but as her father. In hushed tones, in the open where he could see who was close enough to hear, he would ask about her studies, her friends, her hopes and her fears. And for a few moments, he could feel like they were still a family.
There were still walls between them, boundaries that they couldn't cross because of duty or fear of retribution. He could not hug her, so he touched her elbow. And sometimes she asked questions he could not answer.
"Please, Father," she said, apprehension clear in her eyes. "All I want to know is if it's soon."
"I can't answer that, Olivia. You know that. Please don't ask me again." Thrask felt the familiar heavy weight of his daughter's disappointment settle on his shoulders.
"What if I don't survive?" she asked. "Or worse, what if I'm made Tranquil? They made Elsa Tranquil. She wasn't even a blood mage, she was just too spirited!"
"I'm sure the knight-commander had her reasons for that decision. Reasons, might I add, that she would not have with you." Elsa had been a spirited apprentice, often given to pranks and larks. Not anymore. He gazed at his daughter, wondering if he could bear to see the same change in her.
Olivia shifted her shoulders. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
He couldn't tell her the truth. "I was just thinking about how proud your mother would be if she saw you today."
Olivia stared at him. "Why are you doing this to me? Why do you keep pretending like we're some happy, normal family? We're not. What would mother be proud of? That I'm never going to leave this place? That I'm never going to have my own family? That you're my jailer? Would that make her proud?"
"Olivia! Calm yourself!" He wrapped his fingers around her elbow. Cullen, Meredith's latest Fereldan attack dog, was watching them across the courtyard. The man was too jumpy by half for Thrask's taste, especially when it came to his daughter. "Your mother would be proud of what an intelligent, lovely, and brave young woman you are, no matter where you were or what you did." He pulled her a little closer, dropping his voice. "I know things are bad now, Olivia. Believe me, I know. But things weren't always like this. And it was better before Meredith was here. And it will be better again when she's gone."
Olivia yanked her arm out of his grasp, lips twisting bitterly. "If you think Meredith is the only thing wrong here, then you're even more of a fool than they say you are."
Thrask watched her, speechless, as she turned and walked away.
"That was the last time I saw her," Thrask said, the ever-present ache in his heart waxing at the thought of her death.
Grace nodded and started to say something, but was interrupted by a frantic Alain.
"Ser Thrask! Enchanter Grace! I'm sorry, it's just that we... we forgot something." He met eyes with Grace, and Thrask noticed something pass, wordless, between them.
He shook off his Templar-trained paranoia. Meredith was wrong. Mages were not any more inherently untrustworthy than any other person. "Do what you need to do, Grace," he said, waving her off. "I'll be here with the patrol."
Grace looked back at him, and in the firelight her eyes were dark and unreadable. "I will." Was all she said before standing and leaving with Alain.
Watching the two mages, his old instincts began to make themselves known. He fought the urge to move closer, to listen to their hushed conversation, discover what they were planning.
He brushed off his intuition, feeling sick at himself. Serving under Meredith for so long had infected him with her paranoia. Mages were not cursed. Mages were just people. And mages like Alain, like Grace, and like Olivia were good people.
Thrask smiled to himself as Alain and Grace hurried into the shadows.
Good people. And his friends.
Many thanks to Solitae and Tjadis for the betas!