This was done for the Dragon Age writing competition on BSN back in January. Didn't stand an icecube's chance in hell of winning, but I did it anyway. Thought I might as well throw it up here, even though it's rather pathetic.
Right. Now back to my ME fic.
The library was quiet that evening. Actually, it was always quiet, but tonight it was doubly so. Normally it would be home to several little cliques gossiping quietly in the corners and had become the unofficial meeting place for some of the fraternities within the Circle. The Libertarians would shoot withering stares towards the Loyalists; the Aequitarians would talk in a hushed but animated way and everyone would fall silent should a templar walk in. It was an interesting thing to watch for the templar on duty, it cut out the boredom of having to watch one of the quietest places in the Circle - though things did occasionally get exciting, if you classed the occasional raised voice and threatening tone between mages to be such. But there was hardly anyone present in the library that night and the reason was simple. It was absolutely freezing. Normally, several fireplaces would keep the temperature at an acceptable level - not warm by any stretch of the imagination but without them, the library might as well have been out in the courtyard. But thanks to an over-eager (or idiotic, depending on who was telling the story) apprentice who had gotten a fire spell wrong, all the fireplaces were now unusable and awaiting repair.
There was frost forming on the windows. On the inside of the windows. And the breath of those who chanced the cold came out in puffs of fine white mist. One of those who had decided to brave the sub-zero temperatures was sat in an isolated corner, surrounded by shoulder-high bookcases and wrapped in a thick blanket they had pulled over their head. Even so, they hunched over their book and shivered occasionally from the chill. The small candle on the table beside them sputtered and guttered as a frigid draught swirled around the corner, a regular occurrence when any one of the library doors was opened but only noticeable now that there was no heating to speak of.
With an angry grunt, the occupant of the blanket pulled it away from their head to reveal a shock of red hair, mussed from being smothered by thick wool for the past hour. The owner was a young woman who's cheeks were almost the same colour as her hair from the cold - by contrast, her lips were practically blue. She turned and frowned at the person who had just entered, not expecting them to be looking her way. Irritation was quickly replaced by surprise, her eyebrows shooting up into her mess of a fringe as she recognised the young man walking over to her. Moreover, she was surprised that he was approaching with a wry smile on his face. "Ser Emmaline, I was wondering where you had run off to."
She wrinkled her nose at the title and snorted, shoving a bookmark forcefully between the pages of her book. "I'm not a 'Ser' yet, Riffen, so you can dispense with that tripe," she shot back with a laugh, waving her free hand dismissively as she placed her book down with a dull thud. "I suppose congratulations are in order?"
"One of the youngest Enchanters in the history of this Circle? These things get around you know, the apprentices have been gossiping like old fishwives. They see you as some kind of hero." She was teasing, but she was genuinely impressed by the young mage's rise to Enchanter - and he was talented. Very talented. He was a Spirit Healer, a natural, though he himself admitted that he 'couldn't conjure a fireball if his life depended on it'. He was also a good friend, one that Emmaline cherished more than any other - but that friendship was also why she was alone. Mages and templars shouldn't be friends. That's what everyone told her, she should just have friends within the Order and keep the mages at a distance. That was easier said than done when all the other recruits had far more enthusiasm for the job than you did. And why shouldn't mages and templars have cordial relations? Would it not improve things? Nothing made sense to her anymore.
"Bah," scoffed the tall, blond mage as he slumped into the chair opposite and propped his staff against the wall. "It's hardly anything to crow about, it just means that I get the utter joy of playing teacher to the likes that tend to blow up fireplaces." She couldn't help but laugh at his sarcasm and the way he downplayed his position. He was always so humble, so kind. It was what brought them together in the first place. He was a freshly Harrowed mage when she first joined the Order and he was not without friends. She, on the other hand was an isolated new recruit that often challenged her superior officers on the way the Circle was run. It garnered her no favours and set her apart as a troublemaker even when all she wanted to do was learn. She suspected that was what drew Riffen to her, he had seen her having a heated (and rather one-sided) debate with the Knight-Captain over what should be done about a young elven boy who had slipped into the courtyard one night to play in the snow. The Knight-Captain wanted him confined to quarters for a fortnight and Emmaline stood up for the boy. It didn't do any good, the boy had still been punished the same - but it had been a costly rant to have for the new recruit. But she would have it again should the situation arise, no matter her punishment. The boy was eight.
Riffen had leaned forward, a soft smile on his face. He wasn't attractive by any stretch of the imagination, but he had such a kindness about him. And as a healer, his bedside manner was impeccable. "How are you, Emmaline? I haven't seen you in weeks, I thought you'd left the tower. It was only by asking Ser Digby that I knew you were here." He seemed concerned, his pale blue eyes searching her own with a compassion that she had rarely seen. But she frowned at him, even so. Enchanter Ivor Riffen -known by his surname by everyone because of Senior Enchanter Ivor - a mage that didn't hate the templars. It was no wonder he was being courted by the Aequitarians. Emmaline sighed, looking down at her fingers which played with the fraying edges of her blanket as if they had a mind of their own.
"I…don't think I'm going to be here for much longer, Riffen." She finally admitted with a heavy heart, her brows knitting in consternation. She had been a recruit for a long time, far longer than any of the others she had entered with, and she knew her constant verbal battles with her seniors was what was keeping her down. She was also beginning to question herself and the beliefs that she once held in high regard. Since she was a child, battering her older brother with a wooden sword, her father taught her that mages must be controlled and that being a templar was an honourable future - far more so than the army career which she had set her sights on. He had made her recite the Chant of Light until she knew it off by heart, and she was so proud of herself when she joined. All a distant memory now, soured by the truth. The templars were nowhere near as noble as her father made them out to be; full of their own self importance, religious zealots or downright ruthless. And every one of them had a crippling addiction to lyrium, something which Emmaline had only been allowed access to on a few occasions, which she was grateful for. The longer she remained, the less she wanted to stay.
"With self belief, with authority, you know how it is." She tried to make light of it, to sound as if it really was nothing but something to laugh about. She could tell that Riffen didn't believe any of her jovial front, but she still looked at him with a questioning smile playing about her lips.
"So that's why you're hiding away in a freezing cold library when it's nearing curfew, reading a book on…" he paused, tilting his head sideways to read the upside-down title of her book "On Grey Wardens and Griffons, Andraste's ample backside, Emmaline - you're reading a collection of children's stories." He laughed as a blush caused her already rosy cheeks to put her hair to shame.
"Nothing wrong with kid's stories," she pouted, her face screwing up into a childish moue as he laughed at her choice of reading. "I never got to read any as a kid, I should be allowed to indulge during my off duty hours."
"And how does it look, a mighty templar reading a book of kiddies tales?" Subtly, he pushed the subject back towards his initial question, ignoring her feeble attempt to derail it.
In response, her playful expression fled and was replaced by one that merely showed how tired she was. "I don't want to be a 'mighty templar', Riffen. I might have once, but not anymore. Besides, after the way I've acted, I don't think the Order wants me anymore."
"What changed, Em?"
She studied him quietly for a moment, considering the question and wondering if he really wanted to know. He seemed serious, just a normal man concerned for his friend. The templars would have people believe that they are all dangerous people to be feared, master manipulators that would take over if they could - or run crying to the first demon to offer a whiff of power. Indeed, the Knight-Lieutenant had told her that it was fraternising with mages like Riffen that had skewed her opinions, that his sort only sought such friendships because it was beneficial to him. Emmaline didn't believe it for a moment. "The yawning chasm between propaganda," she held out one hand, palm up, "and truth." Holding out the other, as if weighing up each. "For so long I wanted to be a Templar because it was what my father fed me. When I told him I wanted to be a knight, I meant I wanted to be a hero in a tale. Then I wanted to join the army. I don't know exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew was that I wanted to join the Order."
"But you're not so keen now?"
"I have seen a failed Harrowing. I have seen the Rite of Tranquility. I have seen young children punished simply by staying up after curfew to read books. And my only friend here is a mage," she pointed at him in mock accusation, laughing when he did. "This isn't what I signed up for, Riffen. The whole thing is arse-about-face and you know it."
"So? What are you planning to do about it?"
She laughed again; such a bitter, resigned sound that even she had to wince at. Since when had she been so cynical? Was this was what the Order had made her? "I can't do anything, I'm just a failing recruit. But I don't think I am going to stay. If they don't kick me out soon, I'm going to walk out myself. I will miss you though, my friend."
"I think I'll miss you too, Emmaline. But what will you do instead? Do you still have the dreams of becoming a hero and joining the army, or are you jaded about that too?" She could see in his face that he wasn't happy with the news that he'd lose her. She remembered those times when they had talked for hours when she was supposed to be on guard duty in the most inactive places in the building as punishment. He was probably the closest friend she ever had, and it pained her that she would probably never see him again once she left. Another one of the injustices, she always believed that mages should be allowed visitors - even under close observation.
"I don't know, but I can't stay here. This isn't the life I wa-" she was cut off by a bell sounding off in the distance, signalling ten minutes to the start of curfew. With a sigh at the fact it wasn't meant for her and she could remain in the library for a few more hours before she had to prepare for her night patrol (another punishment), she took one of Riffen's cold hands in hers and rubbed her thumb idly across the back of it. "Whatever happens to me, I want you to promise you'll keep yourself safe, Riffen."
"Only if you do, Em." She frowned at him, mocking incredulity and squeezing his hand a little too tightly for comfort. He merely grinned, winking. "It's only fair, seeing as you're basically asking me to go out of my way to stay out of trouble."
"Rif-fen" She drawled out his name in a tired whine, exasperated by his antics. He merely laughed and stood, still holding her hand.
Without a word, he bent down and placed a long kiss on her forehead, leaving her speechless and agape. Squeezing her hand before he let it go, he picked up his staff and wandered away, turning before the door and bending into a half-bow. "Goodnight, Ser Emmaline. May the Maker guide your path, wherever it may lead."