The Irony

This fragment occurs after Morrigan's offer to save the Grey Warden from death using her ritual

"But I don't accept at all," returned Alim in his soft, grave voice, a limpid smile on his lips, holding firm against her continued insistence that she accept his offer. He held up a hand, precluding her further argument with his decision. "My mind is made up, Morrigan, and my reasons are my own."

On that flat refusal, Morrigan flounced off, and Alim was standing in the doorway, looking after her retreating figure in quiet contemplation. Without even turning, he spoke aloud, "You can come out now, Wynne."

Thus addressed, the older woman moved into the firelight. "I am proud of you, Alim," she spoke, her voice genuinely warm and affectionate. "You were right to reject the foul ritual that the witch was proposing. Few would be brave enough to make your choice ,,,,."

Alim's smile had broadened during her speech, and when she mentioned his bravery, he burst into a peal of bitter laughter.

Startled by this surprising bout of laughter from her student, she paused, looking uncertainly at him, wondering whether the prolonged strain and hardship of the past few months had driven him over the edge. "Brave! Me?" choked the warden, trying to get his laughter under control.

"Why, yes," began Wynne tentatively. "Few would refuse a chance at life ...", causing her student to burst into fresh paroxysms of bitter laughter.

"Brave for making a virtue out of necessity? Brave when my own cowardice has led me to this plight?" wheezed out Alim, fighting to regain control.

"Necessity? Cowardice? I don't understand." Wynne was nonplussed by her student's words.

"Yes, an unfortunate necessity. A honourable death in battle is the only recourse left me, I am afraid" returned Alim recovering his composure, his gentle, limpid smile returning to his lips. "It is either that, or being put to death ignobly by Anora's executioner or finding her assassins' poniard in my back. All that assuming that the taint does not get me first." He continued, almost as an afterthought, "And I have been left with this unpalatable choice of alternatives only because of my own cowardice."

"Anora wouldn't dare ...," began Wynne fiercely, only to come up against the cynical smile that played on Alim's lips.

"I am afraid she would," returned Alim sadly. "She will never forgive the elf who promised her her father's life, and then stood by indifferently when Alistair butchered the Teyrn. I was not brave enough to stand up to Alistair and restrain him from killing Loghain," sighed the Warden, as he continued, "I read it in her eyes, and she will never rest until she has brought low both Alistair and me."

"Do you think Alistair's life is in peril?" queried Wynne alarmed.

"I would not give an obole for his life," returned her student carelessly. "He must have been mad to butcher her father and then plight his troth with Anora on the altar of the Teyrn's barely cold corpse. Throw into the balance her ability to plot and intrigue, and well – you can compute for yourself his chances at living another year. However, Alistair is no business of mine, now. He will do what he must and take the wages of his sins."

Wynne argued heatedly, "All that is no reason for you giving up. You could still live tomorrow in the battle and continue your life!"

"It would matter little, I am afraid, Wynne," remonstrated Alim gently. "You forget the taint. Elven constitutions were never meant to bear the taint, I fear. The corruption spreads faster in us, and once infected with the taint, we have only a few months before we succumb to it. From my own calculations, I estimate that I have less than two months before the taint overwhelms me. I have known it for a long time now."

Wynne stepped back from the elf in shock. The whole horror of what was done to grey wardens in the Joining hit her like a bucket of cold water. Until that moment, she had regarded the title of grey warden as an exalted rank, a honour that allowed them to serve the people. She had little recked of the personal cost for them. Not until her student had casually informed her that he had little time left in the world did she realise that the most promising mage on Thedas was literally dying on his feet. An elf was supposed to live a long time, and here was the greatest success of Circle of Magi in recent times dying because he had been infected deliberately with the taint ...

"All this became necessary only because I was never brave enough to do what was right," murmured Alim absently, almost to himself.

Wynne looked questioningly at him, and he explained, "When Jowan confided his fears in me, I went to Irving to intercede on Jowan's behalf. I pleaded with him, but when Irving commanded me to help him trap Jowan and Lily, I was not brave enough to stand up for my friend. Tell me, Wynne, was the poor boy evil for falling in love with an Initiate? Or did he deserve the rites of Tranquility because he had foolishly dabbled in a little blood magic out of curiosity? Did either of them deserve death for falling in love?"

Wynne stood mute and unspeaking, and Alim continued in the same gentle tone, "Then, when I was condemned by Greagoir and Irving because I had obeyed my orders too well, I was not brave enough to stand up to them, and tell them they were wrong. I had only obeyed the orders of Irving, Wynne, and yet, I was the only one condemned. Surely, Irving shared the guilt, if not more, since the plot was his?"

Alim paced about the room languidly, explaining, "I accepted the punishment they imposed and went with Duncan to become a grey warden. When Duncan killed Jory for wanting to back out, I stood by because I was too cowardly to intervene. Was the poor boy wrong for wanting to back out? He had been enticed with promises of glory and riding griffins grandly into battle, and here he found out that the only glory came from the dark taint," Alim chuckled bitterly. "Naturally, he wanted to back out. Any sane person would want to. But no – for that crime, they killed him shamefully, while I stood by as indifferent as the griffin banner that fluttered overhead. Had I stood up to Duncan and Alistair, I could easily have brought them low and forced them to let me and Ser Jory go. You well know, Wynne, that with my powers coercing Duncan and Alistair to acquiesce in the new developments would have required no great effort from me. Yet I did not. I was too cowardly to do so and both I and Ser Jory paid the price of my cowardice."

He continued in the same gently weary tone, "From then on, what happened was inevitable. I agreed to Anora's plots, and Eamon's schemes, acquiesced in the execution of the teyrn, in despite of my promise to Anora to save him. Why? Because I was too cowardly to stand up to Alistair, and tell him of my bargains with Anora. And now, because of my cowardice, all paths are closed to me, and all hands are against me. The only path open to me is an honourable death in battle." Alim's lips quirked in a cynical smile, "And I choose that because I am too cowardly to choose the others."

He stopped pacing, and turned to face Wynne, "I am an elf and I have a little Sight left me from the olden days. I have seen a little of what is to come tomorrow, Wynne. For me, death, whereat I rejoice. For Alistair and Anora, a glorious victory that should cement their rule. For Ferelden, woe and tears, as tomorrow's victory shall be dear bought!"

Wynne stepped back from him, almost as if she had been slapped, as he lapsed into his half humorous, half cynical vein that was his habitual attitude to those about him . "I suppose they will make some speech at my funeral praising my bravery. It should provide my ghost a few minutes of amusement at the irony."

Wynne was looking in mute horror at her student, but he crossed the room and gently hugged her for a moment, "You have been a very good teacher and friend, Wynne. Thank you for that." In that instant, she saw the real elf that lurked behind the placid and polite mask – a man who had transcended his bitterness and rancour, and risen to self mastery and inward peace, a creature who had made peace with the world and had already bidden it farewell. The next instant he had let go, and left the room, leaving Wynne alone. A cold draught from the open window made her shiver.