[Author's note: Templars are so very easy to hate, I just had to take up the challenge of creating a Templar who was "real". Her story begins at our DA "present" - the end of DA2, the world on the cusp of the Mage/Templar War - and proceeds as a flashback in her own words, so the following chapters are first person POV. So please, even if the first chapter seems awkward (and long), give Talita a chance to talk to you in her own voice in the following chapters (which are shorter and go much more quickly!). At least until she gets her first kiss :-) ]
[The world of Thedas belongs to Bioware.]
[Chapter 1 is background. If it seems too long, Feel free to skip to chapter 2 as the story of Talita's past, written in her own hand, beings in earnest.]
Chapter 1: Of Rats and Men
The woman lying on the pallet was bruised, but not bleeding. Rats sniffed and scuffled closer to the crude bed, hunger driving their bravery. Closer they crept, quivering with want, emboldened by the the stillness of her form. Her arrival had caused great excitement midst the starving vermin of the recently-abandoned keep, their food supply having dwindled alarmingly. But now, there would be feast. The leader of the pack raised itself up on hind legs in order to sniff at human skin, so tan and lean and smelling delicious. Just a nibble, a bite to ease the burning of its empty stomach…
At once the woman cried out and lunged angrily after the fleeing rats. She caught the largest one by the tail and bashed its head against the stone floor until it burst open. Shakingly, Talita da Motta, Knight Commander of Rivain, drew a breath and tried to still her frantically-beating heart. She tossed the dead rodent aside, wiped blood from her face with the back of her hand, and turned her attention to the door of her prison cell. Neither food nor water had been delivered since her arrival, and for the first time in two days, despair crept darkly into her thoughts. Her gaze returned reluctantly to the dead and bleeding rat. She shuddered. Not desperate enough to eat a raw, diseased rat. At least, not yet. She stepped carefully through the soiled and moldy straw and approached the door. For the hundredth time, she examined the lock, which was cleverly hidden behind a solid iron plate. "Stupid Antivan locksmiths…" she muttered. She closed her eyes as the squalid cell began to spin, and slumped against the reinforced door. Slowly, she slid to the floor.
"Maker forgive me," she whispered. "I should have known, should have been ready…."
But for what, exactly? Part of her mind rebelled at the thought. She'd been ambushed, by attackers who were still unknown to her. And her companions, what had happened to them? Andraste save her, she was not going to eat raw rat meat to stay alive.
Or would she? Her thoughts took refuge in darkness once more.
Some time later she awoke, cold and cramped against the door. There'd been a noise! Lantern light bled into the cell from under the sturdy door. Talita scrambled away from the door and clambered to her feet. She heard the unmistakable sound of a large key scraping into the lock of her cell door followed by the turning of seldom-used tumblers. The heavy portal opened, and she had to shield her eyes from the light.
"Ah, and there she is," came a smooth-sounding voice, spiced with a cultured Antivan accent. "I am sorry we could not return and see to your wounds before now, but deception was absolutely necessary. Even so, many of my people have died while luring your would-be rescuers away from this place."
"And I should... offer my condolences?" Talita asked. Her voice sounded weak and raspy to her own ears.
"I suppose not, given the circumstances. I thought you might wish to know that you have been missed."
Talita's eyes adjusted to the light sufficiently to make out the features of her jailor: he was tall, dressed in fine clothing, and he wore a slender sword belted at his waist. Three guards stood with him, two of them elves. All of them were male, armed and armored. Talita wished fervently for her own armor, but instead she faced them wearing nothing but her bruises and smallclothes. Embarrassment fed her anger and hardened her determination.
Crows. It had to be.
"What do you want?" She asked, coughing. Why have the Crows interfered with the Templar Order, especially now…" Talita's voice trailed off as political realization began to dawn.
Her captor smiled. "You understand now, yes? It is very important to some certain people that you do NOT reach the conference, Knight Commander. Your views are too…reasonable, for some. Your adversary does not want you to arrive and soothe inflamed tempers."
Talita arched an eyebrow. "So, why am I not dead?" she asked.
"Ah yes, there is the part which cost extra. MUCH extra," he chuckled. "We are also instructed not to kill you. And so, you are …our guest."
Talita folded her arms across her chest. There was an ocean of leeway between alive and not dead. She tried to guess what sort of torture the man would employ, what sort of amusements …
To her complete surprise, the Antivan lord bowed to her, then motioned a group serving elves forward. The guardsmen stepped back to allow them passage. One of the elves held a bundle of clothing, another a wash basin, another – Oh Maker, she thought, was that clean water, and food? She was so very, very thirsty…
Inexplicably, the first servant held a large book, bound with gold thread. Such a beautiful volume could only be one thing …The Chant of the Light. Why bring such a work of art into this place of filth and squalor, she wondered.
The Antivan read her expression. "The reason why I am the best at what I do, Knight-Commander, is because I understand people. You will make a vow, before the Maker, and upon Andraste's Chant itself, that you will not try to escape, at the cost of your very soul. Do this, and you will be allowed to leave this cell and join me in the estate above, back in the world of roses and light. If you will not, I have no choice but to leave you here, alone in the darkness."
Talita closed her eyes. How could she ever make such a vow? The Chantry was on the verge of self-destruction, her own order voting on succession from the Divine; the Qunari AND the Imperium poised to take full advantage of the chaos … how could she remain a submissive prisoner? She turned away, ignoring the pain of her thirst. "I …cannot" she said, her voice hoarse with the effort of it.
The Antivan stepped closer to her turned back. The hairs on the back of Talita's neck prickled as he leaned close. "I had expected as much," he murmured, the warmth of his breath feeling strange and invasive against her ear. "So let me add this: We have been paid to keep you from the conference, and we will. But we were not paid to keep parchment and quill from you. If you were to, say, write a letter, would it be my fault if you were to charm one of my servants to see it to the post rider? All would not be lost, then, yes? You can stay here in this horrible cell and stubbornly starve yourself to death, but how would that help the Templar Order? When the day comes and it is time for your release, what good will you be then if you are all weak and sickly? Take the vow, regain your strength, and wait for the day when the tables will be turned against your enemy."
Talita shivered. She hated his logic! She was not afraid to die, but dying here would serve no purpose … except to perhaps deny her Antivan host the money he would receive by keeping her alive. She wondered idly just how much money that was, exactly.
Silence settled in the dank room. One of the guards coughed nervously. The Antivan waited, standing so close she could feel the warmth of his body. She bowed her head. Finally, she gave in.
"I …I will make the oath," she said.
She heard the smile in his voice. "Yes, I knew you would."
A fortnight later Talita stood in the archway of the balcony overlooking the road below. A rider descended the lane from the estate, his bag full of the letters she had diligently drafted and rewritten after her host's careful corrections. It was his only stipulation about the missives; she could give no clue about her location or imply in any way what had happened to her. Even so, she had managed a few sentences where, she hoped, friends who knew her would know she was writing in distress. Other letters, addressed to attendees gathering at the White Spire in Val Royaux, remained direct and to the point, aiming to end the madness of the looming conflict before it could begin in earnest.
A serving elf entered the spacious hall behind her. Talita pretended not to hear him. He cleared his throat. "Don Luzio will see you now, Mistress," he said.
Talita sighed, and turned, feeling awkward in the ridiculous layers of petticoats and lace she was wearing. A true lady's dress, it was, drawn tight at the waist, displaying far too much of her bosom, and with enough material in the cascading skirts to make a dozen tabards. Having at last completed her goal of getting the letters to a courier, she felt suddenly at a loss. "Where is the Don?" she asked.
"He waits for you in the rose garden, Mistress."
"Déjà vu," she whispered to herself, remembering the Orlesian phrase.
The formal garden was inspired by those in Val Royaux, with geometrically shaped hedges and slanting walkways making patterns of diamonds throughout. Where the fountain would have been there was instead a simple, low pond filled with golden fish. Don Luzio himself held trimming scissors in his hand and contemplated a rose bush shaped like a heart.
Talita's gaze was unwillingly drawn to the Antivan's skillful hands as he pruned around a half-opened rose. The thorns of the rose were curved and barbed and seemed as vicious as the rose was breathtaking. One by one, the dangerous barbs were skillfully trimmed without undue harm to the stem. At last, he cut the stem at the proper length. He turned to his guest and his eyes warmed with pleasure as she approached.
"The dress is perfect, my Lady. It is even more stunning than I'd imagined,"
Talita curtseyed in reply, but did not smile. It pleased the "Don" (she wondered if he really WAS what he was claiming) far too much to parade her about as if she were his latest paramour. She'd promised not to escape, nothing further.
To her bewilderment, Luzio offered her the rose. She stared at it a long moment before reluctantly accepting it. He smiled. "Like this rose, Talita, you are beautiful addition to this house," he purred.
The symbolism was not lost on his guest. "Now that you have removed the thorns, you mean?" She moved to return the rose to him, but he caught her wrist deftly, but gently.
"Is that so bad, really?" he asked.
She yanked her wrist away, anger smoldering behind her closed expression. Luzio smiled. Abruptly, he changed the subject.
"Unfortunately, I must leave you, Knight-Commander. I hope you will continue to enjoy your stay. I assure you, you will be safe here."
"Safe?" Talita asked.
"Yes. There are … unpleasant rumors that half the people who are trying to find you are actually out to silence you… permanently. You may not believe me, but getting captured by my people may have been for the best."
"Who is behind all of this, Luzio? Tell me, before you leave," she paused. "Please."
Luzio hesitated, "I …cannot, you know this."
Luzio continued, "Before I leave, however … a… demonstration, so that you can believe we will keep you perfectly safe here."
The Don motioned and one of the guardsmen approached. He held a burlap sack which squirmed.
Talita schooled her expression and ignored the feeling like ice beginning to form in her stomach.
Luzio nodded, and the guardsman reached into the sack and removed a large, brown hare, holding the creature by the nap of the neck.
"You see," Luzio explained, taking a small vial from his pocket. "There are times when my… hobby…becomes most useful…"
The Antivan Lord dipped a small needle-dart through the cork of the vial. The guard offered the hare and the Lord pricked the creature's ear with the dart.
The effect was immediate. The hare began to screech and twitch violently. It wriggled out of the guard's grasp and fell to the grass, writhing and foaming.
In less than a minute, it was still and glassy-eyed.
"As you can see, Talita, your enemies would be foolish to search for you here. All of my guardsmen have crossbow bolts treated with this extract. Even a near miss would be fatal." Luzio carefully tucked the stoppered vial into his coat and reached with his other hand to hand catch Talita's wrist again. Her eyes narrowed as she watched the master assassin lift her hand, the one holding the rose, to his face. His eyes never leaving hers, he inhaled deeply. "Perfection." He murmured.
Talita ignored both his innuendo and the implied threat of the poisoned weapons. "I will keep my vow, Luzio. But I ask you to reconsider returning my weapons to me, for practice. And decent clothing. If it is as you say, and I will someday be free from this place, then I cannot allow my skills to fade—"
Luzio laughed, then. "You are a Knight-Commander of the Templar Order, Talita da Motta. A few months of ease will not diminish you in any way."
"Then what am I to do?" Talita snapped.
"You have paper, and ink," Luzio replied thoughtfully. "Write!"
She blinked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Write? Write what? I have sent the letters—"
"Write about what it means to be a Templar," he answered as he turned toward the estate. "By the time this is over, you may be the only one who can."
An hour later, Talita sat before neatly-stacked sheaves of fine paper. "Write, he'd said. But …what, exactly? What could I write? Who would want to read it? I'm a horrible writer!" She jumped to her feet and paced the drawing room. No, she would not! But what else was there? She needed action, not a chair and a quill! She needed to escape, to get herself to Val Royaux before it was too late-!
Sighing, she returned to her chair and lifted the quill pen. She was a Templar, protector of mages, servant of the Chantry, defender of the people. Given the very real possibility that she would not leave this estate alive, what would she want the world to know?
(And so, the REAL story begins ... in her own words! Read on!)
(Any comments, disputes about world of Thedas facts, etc are so very very welcome!)