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Buongiorno, Buongiorno! [Closed]

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#1
[[OOC: 22nd Firstfall, morning]] @Cauthrien

The crew of the Grey Dawn were hard at work, throwing ropes around, running about the deck and, from the sound of it, dropping heavy objects on the timbers at regular intervals. The sounds crept through the decking to Sofia’s cabin, where she was trying to make herself presentable again. It was proving to be more of a task than she would have hoped. Four days on a storm-tossed sea, blown miles off course, had been deeply uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, and not least because she hadn’t been able to run a comb through her hair in that time. Fighting with the curls was like trying to brush a hedge, but she was gradually winning.

If that was a typical example of sea travel, she didn’t care for it at all. But at least they hadn’t sunk.

As she was arriving unexpectedly, it would be respectful to be properly turned out. She opted for the tailored Warden robes rather than one of her dresses, finally conquered the bird’s nest on her head, and added colour to her lips and fingernails before pinching her cheeks to try and bring some of the colour that had been robbed by hours of being thrown around like a toy between children. It would have to do. She checked her pack, picked up her stave, and headed above deck.

It was a hive of activity. Even though the docking part of the operation had been completed, the ship was now busy getting ready to offload cargo, and the captain was bellowing for somebody to fetch the harbourmaster so they could get on with it. He barely turned his head when Sofia thanked him for getting her safely to Ferelden (although it seemed as though the Maker had had a greater hand in that), offering only a curt nod that informed Sofia he would much rather she was gone. Sofia took the hint and went down the gangplank as soon as it was lowered.

She was not especially eager about this assignment. She had been so close to making her case for taking the role of Warden-Lieutenant when the orders had arrived, and moving from Antiva to Ferelden didn’t appeal. From everything she had heard, it was a land of greys and browns, the people rough and boorish. But it was only temporary. She kept that in mind as she started on her walk across the city, following the directions given to her by a city guard for the compound.

As usual, most people gave her a wide berth, but nobody ran screaming at the sight of the staff. She’d been concerned that there would be more of an issue, based on the increasingly stringent guidelines the Chantry was setting out, but it seemed not to be –

“You! Halt!”

Or maybe it was. Sofia turned, already prepping a smile, for the two templars who were approaching her with a suspicious glare. "Si, signores?”

The older of the pair approached, sword drawn. “Warden. Where is your companion?”

“Companion?”

“All Warden mages must be accompanied by another Warden when abroad in the city. By order of your own Commander.” His voice was tight and officious. He had a small, well clipped moustache. Sofia wanted to flick it off his upper lip like an insect. “This has been the rule since-”

Sofia pressed a hand to her chest. It was not a rule she'd known of, but she knew what they were up to. Whether there was a rule or they'd just made it up as an excuse to bother her, they wanted to cause some trouble, but there was one sure way to prevent them from being able to take it any further. “I am sorry, signor! The measure has not been adopted in Antiva as yet, and I am newly arrived. Perhaps you two could serve as my guards until I reach the Warden compound?”

That took the wind out of their sails. They had obviously been expecting more resistance. “Well. All right. But be warned, mage. Don’t let me see you out without another Warden again.”

“You have my word that you will not.” The templars were only doing their jobs, although these two were being irritatingly officious about it. None the less she smiled politely, and the rest of the walk to the compound passed without incident. Once there, she approached the guard with a wide smile. “Buongiorno, I am Warden Sofia Elena Ami Di Castelbuono. Of Antiva. I am here to see whichever Warden is in charge here.”
 
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Cauthrien

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#2
“Ser?” Joffrey’s tone alerted Cauthrien, and she lifted her eyes from the provisions list for the upcoming journey to Orzammar and felt herself tense. The Steward was not a man easily perturbed, but the concern in his expression brought her to her feet.

“What is it?”

“A new Warden at the gates, ser, from Antiva, she says. Looks to be a mage … and she was escorted by two templars -”

She was headed for the door before he was done speaking, telling herself that she could not act on the anger sparking in her chest, but imagining doing it anyway … which only intensified the throb of her pulse in her temples. She stopped just before she exited the building, drawing deep, slow breaths through her nose, holding them briefly and releasing them just as slowly through her mouth. Willing herself to calm before she opened the door, descended the steps to the courtyard, and crossed to the gates, her gaze taking the measure of the newcomers as she approached.

The woman wore Warden mage robes and carried a staff, holding herself with a self-assurance that did not seem the slightest bit dampened by the presence of the two Templars, who both wore the expressions of men trying not to look uncomfortable and failing miserably.

“Welcome to Ferelden,” she greeted the new arrival. “I am Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean.” Her polite expression cooled noticeably as blue-grey eyes shifted to the templars. “I believe it has been made clear that Grey Warden mages do not fall under your authority,” she informed them, making no attempt to keep the edge from her voice.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#3
Sofia suspected that the templars either did not or were not supposed to involve themselves in the matters of Warden mages from the look on the guard’s face alone. He pulled an expression like he’d just swallowed seawater as he eyed her escorts, but sent a nearby servant running for the Warden-Constable regardless. Then, having reassured her that the Constable would be along quickly, he fell back a step but didn’t take his hand off the hilt of his sword. Sofia watched his reactions curiously. Not a Warden, but surprisingly protective of them, it seemed. It spoke well of the people in charge.

He hadn’t exaggerated, either. Within minutes, a handsome woman strode out through the door with a worried-looking man in tow. The woman appeared less worried than stern, although she greeted Sofia in a civil enough manner. “Welcome to Ferelden. I am Warden-Constable Cauthrien MacLean.”

The name rang a bell. The training of her childhood had stayed with Sofia all her life and she had tracked the rise and fall of many noble families, and while she was certain she’d heard Cauthrien’s name before, she didn’t think it was from a family tree. She didn’t have time to think it over at length. Her attention was immediately diverted by the way the woman’s gaze hardened at the sight of the templars. “I believe it has been made clear that Grey Warden mages do not fall under your authority.”

Interesting. They’d decided to push their luck, it seemed. The caterpillar-moustached one cleared his throat. “She’s new here. We thought that-”

Sofia turned towards him, and pressed her finger to her lips in a request for silence. Apparently taken aback by the gesture, he stopped talking.

“They were kind enough to inform me that Warden mages do not go unescorted in this city. As I did not have a companion, I requested that they fill the role until I was safely at the compound. After all, it is their duty to protect mages from those who do not understand their gifts, is it not?”

If glares could burn, Sofia’s skin would be sizzling right now. She responded to the glowering with a sedate smile before turning back to Cauthrien. “I am pleased to meet you, Warden-Constable. I am Warden Sofia Elena Ami di Castelbuono; I have been sent by my Commander to assist our Ferelden brethren in whatever capacity they may require.” She dug in the pouch at her waist and produced the letter of introduction. “I was originally bound for Amaranthine, but my ship was blown off course. So here I am.”
 

Cauthrien

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#4
The woman regarded her curiously, a flicker of recognition touching her face when Cauthrien introduced herself, but before they could get into that, there was the decidedly unwelcome escort to deal with.

They both shifted uncomfortably at Cauthrien's rebuke and one - apparently cheesy mustaches were standard Templar issue along with the fancy breastplates and the attitude - decided to protest. “She’s new here. We thought that-”

Before Cauthrien could cut him off at the knees, the newcomer had turned to him, raising one finger in a shushing gesture that - to Cauthrien’s surprise - silenced him.

“They were kind enough to inform me that Warden mages do not go unescorted in this city.” The Antivan accent rolled from her tongue as smoothly as silk, the graciousness in her manner no less polished. “As I did not have a companion, I requested that they fill the role until I was safely at the compound. After all, it is their duty to protect mages from those who do not understand their gifts, is it not?”

“That was always my understanding.” Cauthrien’s pointed gaze remained upon the templars, who looked even more uncomfortable even as they glared at the mage. “You have my thanks for seeing her here safely, gentlemen. I will convey my compliments to Knight-Commander Tavish.” That didn’t seem to settle them, which confirmed her suspicion that they had not been acting on his orders when they intercepted her. Small favors.

When they had gone, Cauthrien turned her attention to the new arrival. “I am pleased to meet you, Warden-Constable. I am Warden Sofia Elena Ami di Castelbuono; I have been sent by my Commander to assist our Ferelden brethren in whatever capacity they may require.” From her pouch, she retrieved a roll of parchment that she presented. “I was originally bound for Amaranthine, but my ship was blown off course. So here I am.”

Cauthrien accepted the missive and unrolled it. “As bad as the storms have been this year, you’re lucky that you were only blown off course,” she remarked as she scanned the message briefly before rolling it back up. “I take it Antiva is not having the same problems with the templars?” Given the insouciant attitude of a certain former Crow of her acquaintance, it was easy to imagine all of that nation being similarly laissez faire, including the Chantry. Which might actually be nice.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#5
Cauthrien adopted Sofia’s tactic, using perfect civility to make the templars as uncomfortable as possible. Her offer of commendation to the Knight-Commander did not elicit the pleased reaction that would have been normal, proving further that the pair had seen her walking unescorted and decided she was a ripe target for whatever frustrations they were carrying around that day. But Sofia had been in the Circle a full twenty-two years before she became a Warden; she was well-versed in dealing with them. And being a Warden gave her the bonus of being cheeky.

When the pair retreated, Sofia drew her fur-lined cloak a little tighter around her shoulders. “Such a warm welcome. I feel as though the temperature has dropped with their departure.” The guard who had been scowling at the templars snorted at her touch of theatricality.

But enough of amusing herself. She handed over the letter of introduction and presented it to Cauthrien, with a brief explanation of how she had ended up here rather than Amaranthine.

“As bad as the storms have been this year, you’re lucky that you were only blown off course.”

“I was aware that the seas around Ferelden could be rough, but I’ll admit it caught me off guard. Nonetheless, the crew of the Grey Dawn brought us safe to shore; I’d recommend them for future passages, should it be needed.”

“I take it Antiva is not having the same problems with the templars?”

Sofia chuckled sardonically. “I think you could find similar examples of that pair wherever you might be in Thedas. We do get the occasional zealous one – usually a novice – who makes a noise about the Wardens remanding all mages into their custody outside of a Blight, before being gently reminded that darkspawn are perennial. But no, it is not a common issue for us. I was surprised to hear that Warden mages are expected to have company here – they claimed it was due to orders from the Warden-Commander rather than their own laws. Is this so?”

She could imagine the pair making up a rule in an effort to interfere, but Cauthrien hadn’t indicated as such when she brought it up. So the rule did exist, but the question remained in who had decreed it in the first place. And if it was the Warden-Commander, what had happened to make it necessary.
 

Cauthrien

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#6
“Such a warm welcome.” Sofia watched the departing pair with a faintly whimsical smile, tugging her cloak more closely around her. “I feel as though the temperature has dropped with their departure.” Perkins, the guard on duty, gave an appreciative snort

“They’re good at that,” Cauthrien remarked with a shrug. The anger burning in her chest had largely dissipated, but a few coals still smoldered. Nothing she could act on without greater provocation than those two had provided, and she shouldn’t want such provocation, but with the deaths of two Warden mages unpunished, the hunger for payback lingered. Pushing it back down with the ease of long practice, she turned her attention to the letter of introduction. So far as she knew, Nathaniel had sent no requests for reinforcements to the other orders … and yet, Antiva had sent this particular mage as far from Antiva as it was possible to go, and at the worst possible time of the year for sea travel. So … a problem child, and one they would not mind losing. Potentially a concern, but without knowing anything about the leadership that had sent her, Cauthrien reserved her own judgment for the moment, opting only to comment on the storm that had driven the ship off course.

“I was aware that the seas around Ferelden could be rough, but I’ll admit it caught me off guard,” the mage admitted. “Nonetheless, the crew of the Grey Dawn brought us safe to shore; I’d recommend them for future passages, should it be needed.”

“Good to know.” Sea travel was seldom required, but when it was, it was generally an urgent matter on short notice; knowing a few reputable ships could come in handy at such times.

“I think you could find similar examples of that pair wherever you might be in Thedas,” Sofia replied when asked about the conditions in Antiva. “We do get the occasional zealous one – usually a novice – who makes a noise about the Wardens remanding all mages into their custody outside of a Blight, before being gently reminded that darkspawn are perennial. But no, it is not a common issue for us. I was surprised to hear that Warden mages are expected to have company here – they claimed it was due to orders from the Warden-Commander rather than their own laws. Is this so?”

That was an issue best not discussed so close to the street’ with a nod of approval to Perkins, Cauthrien started back toward the compound, gesturing for Sofia to accompany her. Joffrey met them at the top of the steps. “This is Joffrey Price, our steward,” she introduced them. “Joffrey, this is Warden Sofia di Castelbuono.” She wasn’t about to try to wrap her tongue around the whole of the moniker that the mage had unfurled, but she managed that part without mangling it over much. “Newly arrived from Antiva. Please assign her a room until we can get her to Amaranthine.”

“A pleasure, m’lady.” Joffrey dipped a neat bow. “I’d imagine the weather is cooler than you’re accustomed to. I’ll have a fire built in your quarters.”

“If you need anything and I’m not here, Joffrey is the one to see,” she told Sofia after he was gone, leading the way to her office, dropping the letter onto her desk and nodding toward the two chairs before the hearth, where a fire licked lazily at the logs. “The answer to your question is yes, the Warden-Commander requires all mages be accompanied by a non-mage when out and about. What your two escorts neglected to mention is that the requirement is in place to protect Warden mages from the templars. Wine?” She turned to the crystal decanter on a table behind her desk. “I think it may even be Antivan.” Joffrey had insisted that she keep something in her office to offer guests; she’d left the exact vintage to his discernment, only specifying that it not be too sweet.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#7
Cauthrien nodded, but it was apparent that this was a conversation to be had away from potential eavesdroppers. Instead she indicated that they should go inside, a decision for which Sofia was grateful. After her four days at sea, simply being dry was a novelty, but the cold still crept in through her clothes and pinched her face. She hadn’t argued her orders, simply accepted them, but she again wondered whyshe’d been sent south at a time when the weather was cruellest. If the Fereldan Wardens were being sent her as a gesture of goodwill, could that gesture not have waited until spring?

Still, it was one of life’s minor annoyances. She would be recalled eventually and in the meantime she would make herself useful. She’d always been good at that. No need to send herself back with a bad reference.

Cauthrien introduced her to the compound steward, shortening her name as she did so. Oh well. At least there was a room being arranged for her, and Joffery turned out to be a perceptive type of man. “I’d imagine the weather is cooler than you’re accustomed to. I’ll have a fire built in your quarters.”

Sofia smiled openly at him. “Grazie, signor Joffery. It would be much appreciated.”

With that they finally retreated from the courtyard and inside, where the chill air encroached a little less. It wasn’t far to Cauthrien’s office, and mercifully, to a fire. Sofia pulled her gloves off and tucked them under her arm as she warmed her hands properly, sighing a little in relief before taking the offered chair.

“The answer to your question is yes, the Warden-Commander requires all mages be accompanied by a non-mage when out and about. What your two escorts neglected to mention is that the requirement is in place to protect Warden mages from Templars. Wine? I think it may even be Antivan.”

“Si. Yes, thank you.” Sofia was frowning a little over this new information. She knew, deep down, that at least part of the reason she must have been sent without a request was because her Commander was curious about what was going on. Rumours had seeped northwards and likely Commander Maria wanted to know how bad the situation was. Wardens were supposed to enjoy total immunity from Chantry interference; for them to have been threatened so badly that they had escorts to protect them from Templars implied that things were much worse than gossip suggested. “What have the Templars done, that such a measure is required?”

She could handle having companions whenever she went out; she was used to being observed. Five years of being a Warden had yet to outweigh the life in the Circle. Besides, she liked being around people, so having an escort would not be an issue for her. But the reasons why – well, that was another matter.
 

Cauthrien

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#8
Sofia graciously accepted Joffrey’s offer of having a fire laid in her quarters and, upon entering Cauthrien’s office, made a beeline toward the fire, tugging off her gloves and extending her hands toward the heat of the flames as she sat. Winter had barely touched down in Denerim; the first snowflakes had fallen only two days earlier, and had not yet created the blanket of white that would lie undisturbed over all but the roads until spring’s thaw. The fancy cloak and gloves were likely suitable for what passed for winter in Antiva, but she would need proper cold weather gear before she spent much time outdoors here.

“Si,” she responded to Cauthrien’s offer of wine, immediately adding, “Yes, thank you.” Cauthrien poured two glasses and brought them to the fireside, handing one to the other Warden before settling into the other chair with her own.

“What have the Templars done, that such a measure is required?” she asked with a slight frown.

“You know of the incidents in Hossberg and Ansberg?” All of Thedas knew of the annulment of the mages’ circle at Ansburg, though the Chantry remained tight lipped on the reasons. Far fewer knew that an attempt had been made to annul th circle at Hossberg, in the Anderfels, and been thwarted by the intervention of the Grey Wardens. “That seems to have been the start of it. The Free Marches started sending some of their mages elsewhere to protect them from harassment from the Templars.” She took a sip of wine. “It started small here; minor harassments in the street, complaints when our mages used their magic for suspicious causes … like healing people in the market.” She made no attempt to conceal the scorn in her voice. “But it’s gotten worse; to date, two Grey Warden mages have been killed by Templars, with no satisfactory answers as to why.” Between Anders and Nathaniel, the Wardens had more than evened the score, but that was something that the Chantry would never know, and it did not cool the anger that simmered in Cauthrien’s chest whenever she thought of it.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#9
“You know of the incidents in Hossberg and Ansberg?”

Sofia nodded, sombre now. Most of the world knew of that, now. Poison had been running from those wounds ever since, seeping into everything that cared to accept it. The templars, empowered by their slaughter, were acting more and more as they pleased. At least in areas where there wasn’t a solid Knight-Commander to take things in hand. The bad feeling had crept into the Free Marches; that she’d known. What she hadn’t known was that the harassment had had much more lethal consequences here.

Anger served little purpose for mages. It either caused rash action or putrefied within and beckoned demons. Sofia had found that for her purposes within the Circle, well-reasoned discourse would usually hammer out a positive end far more effectively than violence. A method not extended to darkspawn, naturally. She was not blind to the safety her parents’ influence and contributions had afforded her, nor to the abuses against people without her privileges; she knew she had more leeway than most. Still, rage was not an emotion she entertained if she could find some other way of expressing her feelings.

She entertained it now, wine and the chill forgotten as she stared at Cauthrien. “Killed? And with no knowledge of who did it? Is not the King of Ferelden a Warden? Why has he not hauled the Knight-Commander before him to demand an explanation?”

Agitation skittered along her limbs, and a low surrussus of whispers began in her ears. She needed to be calm, to be logical. She took a deep breath, holding up a hand. “Apologies. I know that to put too much pressure on the Chantry or its representatives is to invite trouble from further afield. Few people desire an Exalted March.” Except those with something to gain, of course. There was always somebody behind religious fervour whose desire to whip it into a frenzy had little to do with righteous belief.

She fixed Cauthrien with a frank stare. “Is there anything being done about it? That would also happen to evade oversight by the Templars?”

Honest Andrastian she might be, but her interpretation of the scripture was that the Maker was all for just desserts against those who had sinned against His children. Murdering mages for being who they were fell squarely in that category.
 

Cauthrien

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#10
Sofia had heard of the incidents in the Anderfels and the Free Marches that had been the first indications that something had been amiss, but if Weisshaupt had passed on the report that Nathaniel had sent of Maya’s death, it hadn’t filtered down to her level. And the situation with Anders could not be put upon a piece of paper that might be intercepted and read by anyone.

“Killed?” Anger flashed in the blue eyes. “And with no knowledge of who did it? Is not the King of Ferelden a Warden? Why has he not hauled the Knight-Commander before him to demand an explanation?”

Before Cauthrien could speak, she had lifted her hand in a forestalling gesture, drawing a slow breath through pursed lips, visibly controlling herself.

“Apologies,” she said after a moment. “I know that to put too much pressure on the Chantry or its representatives is to invite trouble from further afield. Few people desire an Exalted March.”

“Aye,” Cauthrien nodded. “That’s the rub, all right. We’re outnumbered any way you look at it, and there’s enough unknown about the incidents that we can’t pin them down. The first was a mage on her way to the Deep Roads -” No need to explain the reason for that to another Warden. “Two templars claim that she attacked them first. Which is possible, though only barely. She’d been abused in the Circle, had a history of hostility to templars that predated her Joining, but I don’t think she would have struck first. No witnesses, though.” She shrugged.

“The second one … Weisshaupt doesn’t even know yet; it’s not safe to send it in a letter. A Grey Warden mage - one who had escaped from the Fereldan circle repeatedly before he was conscripted - was lured into an ambush by a group of templars holding a grudge.” She drew a breath through her nose, huffed a sigh, feeling her jaw tighten. It was still fresh enough to sting. “He turned abomination, slaughtered them all before he died. Evidently, the templars acted without the knowledge of their superiors; the Chantry does not know that the mage in question was a Warden, and we need to keep it that way. The King only recently pressured Kinloch Hold into returning the phylacteries of Warden mages.” She offered the other Warden a thin smile. “They conveniently forgot that obligation after the Blight, when the order was being rebuilt in Ferelden. They’d likely try to use it as an excuse to hold onto them again.”

“Is there anything being done about it?” Sofia’s gaze held a hunger that Cauthrien knew well. “That would also happen to evade oversight by the Templars?”

“Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” Cauthrien replied, swirling the wine in her glass, watching the firelight caught in the claret. “The templars here in Denerim have been told that I’ll take heads first and ask questions later if any harm comes to a Warden mage, but I’m not willing to risk the damage being done. We might be able to fix dead -” Her free hand lightly traced the scar at her throat that was proof enough of that, “but no guarantees, and not a damn thing to do if they’re made Tranquil.” She shook her head morosely, taking a drink of wine. “Safer to just have the escorts, but they can’t require you to have one.” She gave the mage a pointed look. “Any of them give you any more of that shit, you let me know.”
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#11
It had been a while since Sofia’s will had been tested so strongly. For templars to murder a Warden mage was so shocking that it took a great deal of control to bring her temper back to heel. At least she could take solace in the fact that Cauthrien was clearly as angered by the situation as she was; not to mention frustrated by the lack of responses available to them. When she went into the details it was even more infuriating. One mage murdered on her way to a more righteous death. Another, deliberately lured into an ambush and as direct consequence panicked into turning into an abomination.

“Evidently, the templars acted without the knowledge of their superiors-” Sofia allowed a small sound of disbelief to cross her lips – “the Chantry does not know that the mage in question was a Warden, and we need to keep it that way. The King only recently pressured Kinloch Hold into returning the phylacteries of Warden mages. They conveniently forgot that obligation after the Blight, when the order was being rebuilt in Ferelden. They’d likely try to use it as an excuse to hold onto them again.”

Sofia pinched the bridge of her nose. “Why do templars not expect mages to be antagonistic towards them, with such behaviour?”

That was neither here nor there, and she wanted to know if there was a solution on the way. One that might avoid Chantry scrutiny. At the very least, it had been made clear that the Warden-Constable would brook no further attacks, but that was the most that could be done for now. “Safer to just have the escorts, but they can’t require you to have one.” The look she gave her was unambiguous. “Any of them give you any more of that shit, you let me know.”

Sofia nodded. “I find overt civility – even friendliness – from a mage can throw most templars from an intent towards abuse, at least in the moment. They expect or want fear, and are wrong-footed when they don’t even get open defiance. But it is good to know that if that does not deter them, I can report it.”

She took another draught of the wine, finding the warmth and the loosening affect of the alcohol a comfort. It was also quite a good vintage. Her father would have approved, she thought wistfully.

“I spent twenty-two years in the Circle. I won’t deny that my family’s influence guaranteed me a safety that perhaps I might otherwise have not enjoyed, but I did see examples of what some templars tried to get away with.” Her lips thinned. “I will not be giving the ones here any excuses to latch onto.”

And Maker help the templar who openly attacked her. A smite might rob her of her magic, but it couldn’t knock a dagger out of her hand.
 

Cauthrien

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#12
Sofia listened with visible indignation as Cauthrien spoke of the growing antagonism of the templars toward the Warden mages, and the two deaths to date, then amused Cauthrien somewhat by lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose in a gesture she’d seen from Nathaniel more times than she could count.

“Why do templars not expect mages to be antagonistic towards them, with such behaviour?” she demanded incredulously.

“I believe that they count on precisely that response,” Cauthrien answered in a level tone. “It gives them the justification that they need to do as they wish. Abuse them until they try to run or fight back, then use that as proof that mages must be kept under guard. I have never seen a Grey Warden mage lose control of themselves or their magic.”

“I find overt civility – even friendliness – from a mage can throw most templars from an intent towards abuse, at least in the moment,” the other woman observed, nodding thoughtfully. “They expect or want fear, and are wrong-footed when they don’t even get open defiance. But it is good to know that if that does not deter them, I can report it.”

“Can and should,” Cauthrien encouraged her. “I’ve got my eye on a couple of templars in Denerim that like to push things. Not the two that you met,” she added. “Being friendly seemed to work well enough with them, but it won’t with all of them.”

“I spent twenty-two years in the Circle.” That caught Cauthrien’s attention, but she let Sofia continue uninterrupted. “I won’t deny that my family’s influence guaranteed me a safety that perhaps I might otherwise have not enjoyed, but I did see examples of what some templars tried to get away with.” Her mouth tightened into a grim line. “I will not be giving the ones here any excuses to latch onto.”

“Some don’t need excuses,” Cauthrien informed her. “I had one take offense at a Grey Warden mage healing an injured woman in the market. But the less cause you give, the easier it is for me to hold Knight-Commander Tavish’s feet to the fire when one of his dogs slips their leash.” She paused, then added, “How did you come to be a Grey Warden?”
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#13
Cauthrien reiterated her encouragement of reporting any and all abuses by the templars, and that not all templars would wait for even the tiniest excuse before starting in on a mage. One violation of their rules, apparently, had been healing a woman in the marketplace. Sofia sucked her teeth. In Seleny, doing such a thing would have earned her nothing more than a narrow stare. Apparently Fereldan Templars felt a little more comfortable in confronting the source of the agitation, regardless of how the magic was being used. It was better to behave and then whatever harm was paid out could be paid back double.

At least, that was what she gleaned from the Warden-Constable. She decided she liked Cauthrien; while not a mage herself, the woman obviously took the interests of her Warden mages to heart. Now she eyed Sofia. “How did you come to be a Grey Warden?”

“Ah, that is a bit of a story.” Sofia made herself a little more comfortable, cupping her glass between both hands. She was beginning to thaw out at last. “When I was in the Circle, I had some ambitions. First to be a Senior Enchanter, and then, maybe one day, the First of the Circle. It was agreed I could ascend to Senior when I had proven I could be trusted to go on trips outside the Circle and behave responsibly – with an escort, of course.”

The story of her life, it seemed. It was a good thing she liked company as a general rule.

“I had been on a few and had almost gained the trust of my superiors when a message from a local chapter of Grey Wardens arrived, requesting a healing mage for an expedition they were carrying out into the Tellari swamps. It was not predicted to be a heavy undertaking, but they wanted to take extra precautions. I was given permission to accompany them. Once we got there it became fairly apparent that they had slightly underestimated the number of darkspawn lying in wait.”

Sofia’s gaze was on the other woman’s face, but her inner eye was turned on the memory. She could see the filthy creatures erupting from under the earth, dragging one scout screaming in pain to the ground; his comrades had fought the darkspawn far back enough for her to start attending to him, and she had not noticed for a few seconds that for the first time in years, nobody hovered at her shoulder. “My handler decided he had not signed up for this, and fled. The last I saw of him was the sunlight shining off his beautifully polished armour as he bolted back towards civilisation. And then the darkspawn caught up with me. I had no combat spells at the time, so I resorted to trying to keep it away with my staff, but it managed to claw me several times before the Wardens killed it. Nothing deep, but – it was enough. The burning in my blood started not half an hour later.”

A draught of wine cleared her throat. “I later found out that it had been made clear to the Warden in charge of the expedition that there would be consequences if I died. When I became delirious, he panicked and ordered me taken to the nearest outpost to be Joined. I don’t remember much, beyond somebody holding a cup to my lips, telling me it would ease the pain. And then, the agony and the song.” The beautiful, terrible song. “I was, as you can probably understand, extremely angry when everything was explained to me after I woke. But it did not take me long to discover how much freedom being a Warden gave me, and that alleviated it somewhat. In the end, the story given to the Circle and my family was that the Wardens had been so impressed with my healing abilities and my bravery after the Templar ran for it that they conscripted me the moment the battle was over.”
 

Cauthrien

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#14
Folk came to the Grey Wardens in a variety of ways, whether they were conscripted or volunteered. It seemed unlikely that after two decades in the Circle that Sofia had been seized by the desire to become a Grey Warden. In fact, as it turned out, she had aspired to leadership among her fellow mages, and volunteered to assist the Wardens as a means to further that ambition.

Cauthrien listened as she told a tale of a threat underestimated, the ghost of remembered horror touching her features. The Warden-Commander had seen enough that she could readily imagine the scene: a few darkspawn suddenly becoming a horde, all of them intent only on slaughtering everything within reach. Her eyes narrowed and a disgusted sound escaped her when Sofia told of the cowardice of her templar ‘guardian’, though she was hardly surprised. Cowards, the lot of them, unwilling to face an opponent that they could not render helpless with their powers.

The rest of the story unfolded much as might be guessed: attacked by the darkspawn and injured, then tainted, the poison spreading in her blood leaving only two options: death or the Joining. Even without the threat of the Circle’s wrath, it would have been an easy decision.

“I was, as you can probably understand, extremely angry when everything was explained to me after I woke,” Sofia concluded, sipping her wine. “But it did not take me long to discover how much freedom being a Warden gave me, and that alleviated it somewhat. In the end, the story given to the Circle and my family was that the Wardens had been so impressed with my healing abilities and my bravery after the Templar ran for it that they conscripted me the moment the battle was over.”

“I can’t imagine that the Circle was much happier with that story,” Cauthrien observed wryly, her expression hardening as she added, “What penalty did the templar face for his desertion?” A slap on the wrist, most likely, she reflected cynically.

“What have you been told of the fifth Blight?” she asked. She assumed that Weisshaupt had informed the leaders of each nation’s orders of Aedan’s actions and the potential consequences, but she had no idea if that knowledge had been shared with the lower ranks.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#15
Cauthrien appeared unimpressed by the templar’s behaviour, as Sofia would have expected. Everybody to whom she had related her story had reacted poorly to that piece of information. Templars were trained to battle demons, but a few shrieking genlocks had apparently been too much to take on. Even with several Grey Wardens standing in the way. In the end, only darkspawn had made it through to her, and it had been enough, but she had not been clad head to toe in armour. Ser Osbourne should have been able to at least keep it at arm’s length with his sword, but instead he had bolted for his life. Not that it had made much difference. She wrapped up her tale with the story that had been put about to explain her sudden conscription.

“I can’t imagine the Circle was much happier with that story.” Cauthrien’s eyes narrowed. “What penalty did the templar face for his desertion?”

A grim smile touched Sofia’s face. “Nothing official. But he was found dead not long after the Wardens and I returned to the Circle to report the change of circumstances. The Knight-Commander even made a point of showing me his body before I went off with the Wardens again. Apparently he’d been set upon by fanatical opponents of the Chantry.” She spread her fingers. “His corpse was…not in good condition. He died suffering. Whether it was true, or the fury of the Commander at having one of his templars show him up had brought it on him, I did not care to speculate for long.” She sipped her wine. “It may well even have been my family, or a collaborative effort. There were a lot of people unhappy with his desertion.”

Had she had less influential relatives, his punishment might not have been so severe. But it was certain that the Commander’s rage when she had filled him on Osbourne’s actions had not been done in pretence. By doing so, Osbourne had made the entire chapter of templars at the Antivan Circle look as cowards. He would have felt some reckoning, that was certain.

And now onto more current matters. “What have you been told of the fifth Blight?”

“Enough to know there might be a fifth-and-a-half Blight, depending on what happens a result of Aedan’s actions.” Sofia had been as taken aback as anyone about the news. The Hero of Ferelden had been truly that; not just ending a Blight within a year and with it barely brushing another country, but also managing to turn the tide of a civil war and avenge the death of his family. That he’d placed another Warden on the throne had been a little dubious, but given the further bloodshed it had prevented, understandable. And then to learn that the reason for his survival was his contract with a mage and the knowledge that the Old God’s soul would not die after all – it had turned everything sour.

Thank the Maker it was not common knowledge.

“He is – seen somewhat unfavourably by the Wardens in our chapter, now. I gather our Commander was not meant to spread the information to everybody within our order, but he did so on the basis he wanted none of us to be caught off guard by it.” Sofia frowned. “Have any conclusions been drawn about what the end result might be? Other than the archdemon manifesting a second time – why this woman might have wanted to perform the ritual in the first place, that is?”
 

Cauthrien

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#16
Sofia seemed surprisingly free of bitterness with regards to her unplanned Joining; the greater freedom given to Grey Warden mages played a role, but the fact that the templar whose cowardice had led to her becoming tainted had not escaped punishment (a welcome surprise to Cauthrien) had likely further soothed the injustice.

“Nothing official,” she remarked, a mirthless smile curving her lips. “But he was found dead not long after the Wardens and I returned to the Circle to report the change of circumstances. The Knight-Commander even made a point of showing me his body before I went off with the Wardens again. Apparently he’d been set upon by fanatical opponents of the Chantry. His corpse was…not in good condition,” she added, seeming untroubled by the revelation. “He died suffering. Whether it was true, or the fury of the Commander at having one of his templars show him up had brought it on him, I did not care to speculate for long.” She lifted her wineglass to her lips, her expression mildly thoughtful. “It may well even have been my family, or a collaborative effort. There were a lot of people unhappy with his desertion.”

“If your family influenced it, Chantry politics are very different in Antiva than they are in Ferelden,” Cauthrien informed her, sipping at her own wine. “They play no favorites here, at least not in terms of wealth or social status. And they certainly haven’t offered to let any of their mages assist the Wardens, escorted or otherwise. The King only recently convinced them to follow the custom of the rest of Thedas in turning over phylacteries of circle mages who join the Wardens, in fact. That one got what he deserved, though.” Lucien was currently the only templar that Cauthrien didn’t consider a bastard. “Are there many with templar training in the Antivan Wardens?” she asked. “We’ve only got one. He’s turned out well enough for all that he was conscripted, and we really need more to counter emissaries, but -” she broke off, shaking her head dubiously. “I don’t know that I’d trust any that we conscripted, and even less if one volunteered.” She shrugged. “I’ve tried the training, but I don’t seem to have the aptitude for it; trying to touch the Fade gives me a splitting headache. Lucius - the templar we conscripted - says that lyrium would help, but doesn’t recommend using it. He’s weaned himself off of it.” Realizing that the Chantry encouraged - required - its guardians to become addicted to a substance that would destroy their minds had given her a modicum of sympathy for templars, but not enough to outweigh the fact that most of them seemed to be assholes.

She was saved the necessity of a lengthy expository on Aedan by the fact that the Antivan Warden-Commander had informed his subordinates of his actions.

“He is – seen somewhat unfavourably by the Wardens in our chapter, now,” Sofia told her, and Cauthrien snorted. “I gather our Commander was not meant to spread the information to everybody within our order, but he did so on the basis he wanted none of us to be caught off guard by it.”

“Every Grey Warden should know,” Cauthrien opined. “Too much secrecy set the stage for the current situation. It’s one of the first things we tell our recruits after the Joining.” Her lips quirked in a sardonic slant. “You can guess how well it’s received. He’s not well thought of among the Wardens here, either, but we keep up the myth of the Hero of Ferelden for the rest of the kingdom.” She considered her words, then added, “And he was a hero, to bring the Blight to a close so swiftly with only one other Warden to help him … but he was also something of a selfish ass, though that didn’t emerge fully until after the Blight.”

“Have any conclusions been drawn about what the end result might be?” Sofia asked with a frown. “Other than the archdemon manifesting a second time – why this woman might have wanted to perform the ritual in the first place, that is?”

“None,” Cauthrien admitted ruefully. “I never got the opportunity to speak with him about it, but those who did say that he seemed convinced by her assurances that the child would pose no danger. Assuming that she would tell him the truth … and that her assumption was correct. It may have simply been wishful thinking on his part, though. Evidently, he loved her, and thought that by giving her what she wanted, he could convince her to stay with him. As to why she wanted to do it -” Cauthrien shook her head. “No idea. Presumably, she thought there was power to be gained; power that she could control. I don’t know whether to hope that she was right or wrong,” she concluded somberly. A naive fool or a powerful maleficar was not a reassuring set of options, given the stakes. “All we can do is remain vigilant. So far, there have been no hints of anything amiss.”

She paused, frowning slightly. “Though there have been recent incidents of darkspawn surfacing in Denerim. Only twice so far, and not many, but -” She sighed, draining the last of her wine and setting the glass aside. “Whether it’s simply part of the Thaw or the start of something more, I don’t know.”
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#17
Cauthrien seemed a little sceptical that Sofia’s family would have been protected from the results of their retribution by their influence alone. It was not something that would have flown in Fereldan; in fact it appeared that the templars here were so zealous in their duty that not only did they not volunteer mages to the Wardens, but they had actually been keeping hold of Warden mage phylacteries. Sofia’s lips thinned at that. One of the first things she had done as the realities of her new freedom had sunk in was crush the little vial under her heel.

On a related note, the Constable wanted to know about the numbers of templars in the Antivan Warden ranks. Sofia decided this was a fair exchange of information. She would talk about her former superiors and gain information in turn. “To my knowledge, there were no more than a dozen ex-templars in our ranks. The Chantry like to let go of them almost as much as they do mages and it can be tricky to arrange the lyrium they need. Most of them were there because they’d disgraced themselves in the eyes of the Chantry somehow and joined as atonement.” Or cowardice. She knew of one who had been convicted of horrible abuse of the mages in his charge, to the point where even the templars couldn’t turn a blind eye. Rather than be executed he’d volunteered for the Wardens and without other templars lining up to join, the Commander had opted to make use of his rare abilities. Thankfully, Sofia had only met him the once, and she felt a brief surge of relief that with this new placement she was unlikely to encounter him again.

“It is impressive that this Lucien managed to remove himself from the lyrium. I have seen templars who were temporarily deprived of their supplies for a misdemeanour. It did not appear to be a pleasant experience.”

She’d been sympathetic, at the time. Their suffering had been visible and the ones she knew had committed crimes light enough to forgive. She knew she would not always feel so.

Speaking of crimes that were definitively not light enough to forgive, the subject turned to Aedan Cousland. His crime – and his fate – were common knowledge now. Less known was what the end result might be, although there were doomsayers aplenty. The Hero of Ferelden might have set them up for something worse. Although what could be worse than a full-blown Blight?

“All we can do is remain vigilant. So far, there have been no hints of anything amiss.” Cauthrien paused. Sofia did not like the pause. “Though there have been recent incidents of darkspawn surfacing in Denerim. Only trice so far, and not many, but – whether it’s simply part of the Thaw or the start of something more, I don’t know.”

“There have been a few in Antiva. Although whether they’re the usual for times outside of a Blight, I am unsure. I spent a great deal of time travelling between the more remote locations, lending my healing where I could. Our Commander believed in fostering a good relationship with the local people by having us help out with things outside our normal duties.”

Not that she had minded. True, she had had to get used to the fear with which she was regarded outside of the Circle, but it was easy to turn that fear into relief given a chance. Common people feared mages, because they were never given an opportunity to know them as anything other than the scary stories the Chantry spun for them. They were quite forgiving about it when a service was being provided.
 

Cauthrien

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#18
“To my knowledge, there were no more than a dozen ex-templars in our ranks,” Sofia reported of the Antivan Wardens. “The Chantry like to let go of them almost as much as they do mages and it can be tricky to arrange the lyrium they need. Most of them were there because they’d disgraced themselves in the eyes of the Chantry somehow and joined as atonement.”

“A dozen,” Cauthrien marveled softly before admitting, “I don’t know that I’d be comfortable with that many, particularly those whose behavior had been poor enough that the Chantry didn’t want them.” She supposed that such undesirable behavior could include being too kind to mages, but she would be instinctively suspicious of any who showed up making that claim. “Did any of them give you any trouble?”

“It is impressive that this Lucien managed to remove himself from the lyrium,” the mage remarked. “I have seen templars who were temporarily deprived of their supplies for a misdemeanour. It did not appear to be a pleasant experience.”

“It wasn’t easy for him,” Cauthrien agreed. “If we’d been in a Blight, I don’t know that we would have had the luxury of allowing him the time that it had him out of commission, or the time that it took him to get the control of his abilities back to something close to what they had been with the lyrium. He says they’ll never be as strong without it, but -" She shrugged. “He is effective enough.” She wouldn’t require him to take it again, and neither would Nathaniel, but if the need arose, they would not stop him if he chose to resume using it.

Sofia took the news of darkspawn appearing in Denerim in stride. “There have been a few in Antiva. Although whether they’re the usual for times outside of a Blight, I am unsure. I spent a great deal of time travelling between the more remote locations, lending my healing where I could. Our Commander believed in fostering a good relationship with the local people by having us help out with things outside our normal duties.”

“We’re trying to do the same,” Cauthrien told her, “but we’re hampered by our numbers. We’ve barely two dozen in the whole of Ferelden, but we offer aid when we can. Right now, though, we’re likely to be headed for Orzammar soon. I’ve sent a letter to King Bhelen Aeducan asking about maps of the Deep Roads beneath Fereldan territory. We’ve a couple of surface dwarves at headquarters in Amaranthine that think that we might be able to block off the tunnels beneath the major settlements with some well placed explosives.” She grimaced and shook her head. “Without good maps, though, we risk either missing some tunnels or collapsing parts of the city into the Deep Roads, which wouldn't endear us with the local people. I’m hoping the dwarves have those maps and will be willing to share, but I expect there will be a trade of some sort involved.”

She paused, then added, “I’m taking volunteers, if you’re interested in going.” Mysaria had already agreed to go, but another mage with healing ability would not be unwelcome.
 

Sofia di Castelbuono

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#19
Thankfully the Fereldan Wardens showed the same foresight as her former Commander. If the order was allowed to lapse into obscurity again, next time they might not be lucky enough to have two Wardens close enough to the epicentre to stop it. Next time, the Blight might succeed. Better that the Wardens keep themselves going though being overtly charitable while surreptitiously continuing their search for the sources of the darkspawn. Unfortunately down here they were hampered by being short on numbers, but time – and a recruitment drive or two – would help.

“Right now, though, we’re likely to be headed for Orzammar soon. I’ve sent a letter to King Bhelen Aeducan asking about maps of the Deep Roads beneath Fereldan territory. We’ve a couple of surface dwarves at headquarters in Amaranthine that think that we might be able to block off the tunnels beneath the major settlements with some well placed explosives.” A good solution, but Cauthrien had concerns. “Without good maps, though, we risk either missing some tunnels or collapsing parts of the city into the Deep Roads, which wouldn't endear us with the local people. I’m hoping the dwarves have those maps and will be willing to share, but I expect there will be a trade of some sort involved.” She paused. “I’m taking volunteers, if you’re interested in going.”

“Of course!” As if that was even a question. “I’ve been into the Deep Roads a few times, but nowhere in Antiva is close to an actual community. It’s all collapsed thaigs and darkspawn and trying to stop deepstalkers eating your supplies. I’d love to go there, get a sense of what the Orzammar dwarves make of the Wardens.”

She knew her reaction was a little too much on the side of excited. “Not that I wouldn’t be taking it seriously, mind you. I know it’s a mission. But I have only met surfacer or expelled dwarves before now. They seemed to quite like it in Antiva – apparently our climates have similar heat to what they have in the cities beneath ground. I’d be fascinated to do some research on the history of the cooperation between us and them while I’m there, if there’s time.”
 

Cauthrien

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#20
“Of course!” Sofia exclaimed at the prospect of going to Orzammar. “I’ve been into the Deep Roads a few times, but nowhere in Antiva is close to an actual community. It’s all collapsed thaigs and darkspawn and trying to stop deepstalkers eating your supplies. I’d love to go there, get a sense of what the Orzammar dwarves make of the Wardens.”

Cauthrien nodded, pleased with the other Warden's enthusiasm. “I’ve never been there myself … I don’t think any Wardens have visited since the Blight. We’ve recruited a couple of dwarves, but I suspect they’re not representative of the general population.” To put it mildly. A drunken berserker and a member of the Legion of the Dead, both of them outcasts from dwarven society before they had been Joined. Neither of them had any real interest in returning to Orzammar.

The new arrival, on the other hand, seemed keenly interested. “Not that I wouldn’t be taking it seriously, mind you,” she assured Cauthrien. “I know it’s a mission. But I have only met surfacer or expelled dwarves before now. They seemed to quite like it in Antiva – apparently our climates have similar heat to what they have in the cities beneath ground.” Which might partly explain the warm-blooded northerner’s interest in the place, as well, though she'd be far from the only one to welcome a respite from the long Fereldan winter. “I’d be fascinated to do some research on the history of the cooperation between us and them while I’m there, if there’s time.”

“There should be time,” Cauthrien agreed. “If we’re lucky, all that will be needed is a few hours of research in their Shaperate.” She wasn’t holding her breath on that one, mind you. “And if we have the chance to do any healing while we’re there, it wouldn’t hurt.” Most of Orzammar would know nothing about the lyrium trade agreement that Nathaniel had made (and Sofia would not be informed of it any time soon), but tangible gestures of goodwill would leave their own impression.

“You’ve learned some offensive magic, then?” she asked. “What schools are you trained in?” She’d learned enough about magic from talking to Anders and Muriel that she didn’t sound like an utter idiot when discussing it, and she’d made a point of learning what the differing schools of study could do. Magic was a weapon like any other, but to make effective use of it, a commander had to know its potential as well as its weaknesses.
 
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