NaNoWriMo gave me the impetus to do this one-shot. A while back I read a story (whose title and author I cannot remember or I would credit him/her) that put forward the idea that Honnleath might be a sort of refuge for mages. That story gave me this idea.
"Is this Honnleath?" the woman driving the wagon asked. Matthias and Amalia looked at each other for a moment. She'd come upon them by the main road into town as they were surveying yet again the Blighted field outside the town boundaries for any signs of the Taint spreading or receding. Despite the fact that it had been over a decade since the land was Blighted, there were few signs of recovery. In fact, they'd just been debating whether the new green weeds along the verge were actually moving into the Tainted areas when she drove up.
"It is," Matthias said firmly. "Who are you, Mistress, and what is your business here?"
"My name is Rose Thornwell," she answered in a pleasant contralto voice. The spring sun was merciless in picking out the tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth, but she was lovely nonetheless, with piercing blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair that spilled in waved over her shoulders. She was also about four months pregnant, Amalia thought, judging from the size of the bulge beneath her sensible traveling gown. "I am interested in finding a small farm or house in this area to purchase."
"We're a bit out of the way," Matthias said repressively.
"I like out of the way," Mistress Thornwell responded with good humor. The silver-haired elf in plain clothing sitting on the seat beside her chuckled at that. There was a stirring in the wagon bed and a mabari suddenly rose, setting its huge forepaws on either side of the woman on the seat from behind. and craning its head around to be patted. "This is my husband Leto," she said, indicating the elf, who inclined his head, "and this is Briar," with a pat on the wardog's head.
Being Fereldans, the presence of the mabari was reassuring. Nonetheless, Matthias held to the hard line necessary for the village's survival.
"There are other places in the area that might be better suited to you, Mistress Thornwell. I know for a fact that there are two good farms for sale outside Serenfield. Nice land, no Blight at all."
Rose Thornwell merely smiled and turned her hand up. Fire danced upon it for a moment. "'Better suited'? I doubt that. Please don't make me give a bigger demonstration-that's not good for a pregnant woman. And if it makes you feel any better, the Hero of Fereldan recommended you and told me how to get here. Cyrill Tabris said to ask if Amalia still liked to play with cats."
Amalia saw her father visibly relax. "Well, that's a different matter than. But the decision to let you stay is not mine alone, Mistress Thornwell. We have a village Council."
"Could I meet with them?"
"Of course. In the meantime, I can guest you at my house. We've stabling for your beasts as well. You must be tired from traveling."
"You have no idea," Mistress Thornwell sighed and for just an instant, her face showed a profound weariness, almost despair it seemed. Then she brightened again.
"I am much obliged, Matthias. It's a pleasure to meet you and Amalia."
Matthias merely nodded. "Come with me. It's close to dinner time. We can give you supper and lodging for the night at the very least. I'll call the Council after dinner."
Amalia had just turned twenty-one the month before, so she was now officially a member of the Village Council. But she didn't feel it was her place yet to join in with the questions, so at first she just sat and listened. They were all crowded into what had been used to be Matthias' father's library in the old windmill. Rose Thornwell endured the interrogation with good humor-it was her husband who seemed to get annoyed with the probing questions.
"Did you escape a Circle, Mistress?" was the first thing her father asked.
"No. I've never been inside one. My father was an apostate and he raised and trained me outside of the Circle."
"That's quite the feat. Is he still alive?"
"Father was quite the man. But no, he died of an illness when I was seventeen. My only surviving family is my brother, who is a Grey Warden in the Free Marches." There was a murmur at that. Rose Thornwell smiled wryly. "Needless to say, I don't see much of him."
"Where are you from?" Coris Blaylock, the village smith, inquired.
"Most recently, we spent a little time in Llomerryn. Before that, I was in Kirkwall for over a decade. But I came to Kirkwall from Lothering. I'm Fereldan by birth."
"However did you avoid the Templars in Kirkwall for so long?" Moira Tirsden, the midwife asked. "Rumor has it that they're worse there than anywhere else."
"There was a mage underground there. And Fereldans didn't turn fellow Fereldans into the Templars, even if they were mages."
"She was lucky. Damned lucky," the elf said, speaking for the first time. His voice was deep and lovely. "Lucky enough for ten."
"Leto!" Rose said chidingly, but she was smiling as she did so. Matthias turned his attention to the elf.
"Where are you from, ser?"
"I met Rose in Kirkwall. Originally, I'm from Tevinter."
"Are you a mage?" The elf looked slightly startled at the question.
"No. Though my sister is. So there is magic in my bloodline."
Farrin Marsh, one of the local farmers, seemed to feel that something wasn't right. He was a mage, as was Moira.
"You look awfully well-off for Kirkwall refugees. From what little we've heard, most of them who got back didn't have much more than a chamber pot, and that was the lucky ones."
For the first time, Rose seemed discomfited. She fidgeted with the folds of her skirt for a moment. "All right, you've got me," she said at last. "There was a house in Hightown called The Blooming Rose. I worked there for a number of years. Kept my head down, my magic hidden and did what I was told. Had a big repeat clientele. I didn't drug and I didn't drink and I saved back my share of the money and my tips."
"You were a whore," Farrin said flatly.
"Yes!" Rose shot back. "And it was the pretty smart thing to do, as it turned out! Fereldans couldn't make much of a living anywhere else. There was a mine the Champion had a share in and she made the other owner pay a living wage, but still, times were hard. The Rose, it weathered all that went on better than any other business in Kirkwall. It was always open. The Qunari didn't touch it when they attacked the city and it stayed open even after the Chantry blew up." She looked around the room defiantly. "I was a looker, and I'd had enough offers from those who thought they were doing me a favor and a few threats from those who wanted to take it for free. Why shouldn't I get paid for the privilege? My mother died from the chokedamp, and my brother certainly wasn't around!"
There was no answer and she softened a little. "Besides, I met Leto there. He was a bouncer." She smiled at her husband, who gave her an oddly shy smile back.
"Is the baby his?" Mistress Tirsden inquired.
"It is. I was done with the trade after we left Kirkwall. We got married quite properly in Llomerryn."
That seemed to be a point in her favor, judging from the approving murmurs around the room.
"Did you ever meet the Champion?" Eiric Rousell asked eagerly. He was another of the farmers, a non-mage of middle years.
Rose smiled at his enthusiasm. "I saw her once, in passing, when she came in looking for one of the other girls during an investigation. Idunna turned out to be a blood mage, who tried her tricks on the Champion. The Champion killed her without so much as turning a hair. I didn't cry any tears over it, I can tell you-Idunna was evil to us other girls, quite the bully."
"What was she like?" Amalia found herself asking. "The Champion, not Idunna." Mistress Thornwell turned her attention to her and smiled.
"Middle height, nothing particularly extraordinary, though she moved with great energy. Always carried this monstrous big staff, right out in public. Overcompensation, if you ask me."
Her husband snorted what sounded like a suppressed laugh through that long, patrician nose of his. "Definitely overcompensation," he agreed.
"What sort of magic do you have, Mistress?" Matthias asked, determined to get the questioning back on course and away from gossip about the legendary Champion. "And how much training in it?"
"Obviously, I can't do anything much now," Rose said, "But when I'm not pregnant, I've got a little bit of Primal, a little bit of Elemental, a little bit of Force and a basic Healing spell. I'd be up for learning more Healing if you've got someone who teaches that and of course I'm willing to teach anyone who wants to learn my sorts of magic."
Amalia's father frowned. Aside from Amalia and the midwife, who was a strong healer, most of Honnleath's mages were very minimal talents, the sort that Templars tended to Tranquil because although they were technically mages, they had no really useful, trainable gift. "Primal? Elemental? Force? That's battlemage stuff. I should know, my father was one."
"As was my father," came Rose's mild response. "He was a mercenary battlemage for years. You teach what you know, and sometimes facility with certain schools of magic is carried through the blood. I've got Father's gifts and he gave a good grounding, though I never used it. But I'm certainly not up to Father's level. I'm just saying I could give someone basic training in it, if that is where their talents lie."
"And with all that training, you decided to earn a living on your back instead?" Farrin's sarcastic question came.
Rose gave him a wide-eyed look. "Hello? Do you know what sorts of people I'd have been working for, if I'd gone that route? Carta, Coterie, smugglers, mercenaries! The life expectancy for a mercenary battlemage isn't a long one. Father made sure I knew that. He was lucky-he died of sickness, in his bed. He trained me for my own safety-you can't hide your magic if you don't have complete control of it, as I'm sure some of you know. But he never wanted me to take up the trade."
That seemed a plausible explanation to Amalia, and her father as well. "You should know," he told the Thornwells, "that we all cooperate here. You've got a nice, strong team and we take turn and turn about doing the farm work. We'd be expecting you to let us use them. Do you have a problem with that?"
Mistress Thornwell shrugged. "I rather expected something of the sort, from what Warden Tabris said. Leto and I are hard workers too. Admittedly, I'm not up for anything heavy now, but I grew up on a farm, and we're both willing to do what we can."
More murmurs of approval. Matthias got up.
"Does anyone else have any further questions?" There was a long moment of silence. "No? Then you take Master and Mistress Thornwell back to the house, Amalia and make them comfortable. We'll wait for you to come back before we debate the matter."
"I brought cakes," the midwife said. "And I'll run and fetch some hot tea."
Once Amalia had returned, the tea and cakes and argument began. As might have been expected, Farrin was opposed. He was one of those mages who possessed a bit of a puritanical Chantry streak.
"You're not honestly asking us to take a whore in, are you, Matthias?" he demanded.
"Why not?" Matthias shot back. "Berk was a pick-pocket, and Travis worked for those smugglers up in Amaranthine. You didn't object to them."
"That's not the same!"
"No, it's not! Smuggling and thieving are sins, but they're not carnal. You've seen her, with that pretty hair and those eyes. Mark my words, she'll be twitching those hips at every man in the village and we'll see marriages breaking up over it."
"I don't think that's likely, Farrin. She's married now, with a child on the way."
"That never stops a whore."
"It sounds as if I ought to be more worried about your intentions towards Mistress Thornwell than hers towards the village. You certainly seem fixated on her appearance."
Farrin Marsh's face turned purple. "Well, I never!," he practically gobbled. "You've got some nerve, Matthias! I might accuse you of being tempted as well, you being a widower and such. It makes as much sense!"
"Women don't have the choices men do in times of war and difficulty, Farrin," Moira Tirsden put in, "Not being big and strong like you fellows. I know we've got the odd battle-maid in Ferelden, but those are few and far between. There's been plenty of girls of good nature who've had to sell themselves for survival's sake, or to help their families. And quite frankly, unless you've suddenly developed lady-bits between your legs," Farmer Marsh sputtered at this, "I don't see that it's your place to be calling Mistress Thornwell down for her choices. You don't know what she faced in Kirkwall."
"Besides," Amalia said eagerly, "you heard her. She's married now, with a baby on the way. And I think she and her husband really love each other. You can tell from the way they look at one another."
"Pah!" Farrin Marsh snorted, but he subsided.
"They have a nice team," Blaylock said. "I looked them over. Young and strong. The Thornwells would be an asset to the community just for that. And the husband-I'll warrant he's stronger than he looks. Elves often are."
"I take it that none of you have objections to Leto Thornwell based upon the fact that he's an elf?" Matthias asked almost sternly. Heads shook all around. Mages tended to ignore racial differences in the face of the mutual curse of magic and there were a lot of mages in Honnleath.
"Besides, didn't Mistress Thornwell say she was raised up on a farm?" Patience Murray asked. "At least she's not city folk. She'll be bound to be useful too, once the baby has come."
"Ah, but she said she was from Lothering," her husband Ricard Murray, who was the recorder for the Council, noted. "There's no real way to check on her story. Lothering's obliterated."
"She said the Hero of Ferelden vouched for her and told her how to get here," Matthias said. "That's a point in her favor."
"Can we prove that?" Master Murray asked.
"I'm satisfied. She gave me a phrase the Warden had given her, something that only he and I would have known about."
"Well, if the Hero says it's all right," Blaylock declared, "it's more than good enough for me."
"Not to mention the fact that Amalia's Primal and Elemental need training and none of us are any good at that beyond basic meditations," said Mistress Tirsden.
"Matthias, tell me you don't want a whore training your little girl! No telling what she'll pick up beyond the magic!" Marsh rumbled.
"I'm not worried about that. My butterfly has a good head on her shoulders." Matthias sent a proud smile his daughter's way. Amalia smiled back and ducked her head. "But it is true that she needs to acquire a bit more control. If there aren't any more questions, I suggest we put this to a vote. Show of hands-do we let Rose and Leto Thornwell live amongst us? Those in favor, raise your hands."
Amalia got to deliver the verdict. She hastened home before her father, to find Rose and Leto seated in front of the fire. The elf was reading a book, his finger following the words, while Rose was sewing on a tiny gown for her child. It did not seem to be going well, from the way her brow was furrowed and she looked up at Amalia with obvious relief at being interrupted. That relief became a smile that answered Amalia's as the young woman said, "Welcome to Honnleath!"