The bannorn of Dragon's Peak is quite the place in late spring, when the green of the fields starts turning gold, and a warm breeze makes you forget we’re so south that we get stuck in the snow every other winter’s day. That's why I chose Dragon's Claw to settle down: it’s a small village near the bigger cities, the perfect place to hide in plain sight.
It is true, I'm a blood mage, a maleficar
, but now I can finally tell I’m doing something good with my life.
My name is Jowan, but everyone here knows me as...
“Master Lewyn! Good morning!” Devin’s voice startled me. He’s a nice kid, one of the few who are never afraid of me, always tagging along while I do my usual rounds of the village to check on my patients and the elders. Not that the other villagers are scared
of me, but I can tell my being a mage unsettles them, even if I’m their healer. They are friendly and welcoming, but prejudices are hard to kill... and I of all people certainly can’t blame them for it.
Devin, though, is different. He is so interested in my work I bet he’d like to be a mage like me to become a healer himself. Little does he know, the poor boy... I do try to teach him some basics of herbalism and alchemy, though: the boy won’t become a healer but this place can certainly use a pharmacist the day I’ll be gone, by old age, Templars or countless other possible reasons.
“Hello Devin, how are your parents?” both his parents recently got a nasty case of the flu, it took all my limited knowledge to pull them out of Death’s grasp... sometimes I wish I paid more attention to Wynne’s lessons, especially since I pretend to be a healer sent by the Circle.
“Much better thanks to you. Mom sends you some cheese!” he said joyously while offering me a wrapped bag.
“There was no need Devin. It is my job to help them.”
“But they’d be dead if weren’t for you, wouldn’t they, master Lewyn?” he said it with such innocence I almost told him the truth...
“In time, they would have recovered, boy, I just sped up the natural healing process a bit.” well, I did say almost
I resumed my walk with him toddling along. “We're lucky you're with us, master Lewyn, the Circle doesn't send healers out often...”
“That’s because not many of them volunteer to go outside the Circle...” I chuckled, “Contrary to popular belief, most mages enjoy the peace and quiet of the Circles, and they live a content life behind their walls. ‘Normal
’ people are often scared of mages, but the contrary it’s also true.”
“Even after the King’s decree the Hero of Ferelden asked as reward for ending the Blight?” he asked tilting his head. I laughed.
after that decree: with the Templars enforcing the First Enchanter’s authority and not the other way around, the Tower is a better place to stay... or so I’m told. I haven’t returned there since the Blight.”
At the mention of the Blight the boy’s eyes brightened: “Oh, right, you fought in the Blight, didn’t you?”
I laughed: “I didn’t fight
, I just... helped people. I am a healer, not a battlemage or a knight enchanter like the Hero of Ferelden...”
I shook my head amused at the boy’s eagerness. He had to be around five when the blight happened, half of his life ago, so he was one of the few lucky persons in the village to not remember it well. And as any kid, he had an attraction for morbid tales of war and violence. I envy his innocence...
“I’ll tell you what: if you’ll help me sort these herbs I can tell you some tales from the Blight.” I suggested holding up my satchel. “I have to turn them into poultices before they dry too much.” Not that I needed any help, mind you, but both of us enjoyed the company.
Devin nodded eagerly: “D’you know about the Warden?” he asked me.Warden?
“There’s a Grey Warden in the village. He arrived this morning, says he’s looking for someone!”Crap!
“Yup. Do you think he fought in the Blight? With the King and the Hero of Ferelden?”
“I don’t know Devin, there were very few Wardens in Ferelden during the Blight...” I froze. The Warden was there, crested armor and all, and he definitely
fought in the Blight.
“You think I can become a Grey Warden when I grow up, master Lewyn? I’d like to be a healer, but I’m no mage, so maybe as a Grey Warden...”
“Why don’t you ask him yourself, Devin.” I nodded towards the Warden as he was approaching. Damn! I knew this existence was too good to last, and I didn’t deserve any peace, but... I just hoped Ewan would spare me the humiliation of exposing me in front of the whole village: I wouldn’t want them to think I tricked or cheated them just to use them as a cover...
As he approached us I saw him smile... well, that was unexpected. It wasn’t a triumphant smile, it had... pensiveness in it, like he dreaded to be there or... well, maybe it was wishful thinking, but he didn’t look like he came here to kill me or arrest me... Maker I hope not!
“Good afternoon, master Lewyn.” he said politely like we were long lost acquaintances.
“Warden... what brings you here?” I asked trying to mimic his tone.
“You, actually.” he said. His smiled opened and warmed up, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He glanced at Devin and crouched beside him, starting to talk to him. “You know Devin... your name’s Devin, right?”
“Yes sir Warden! How d’you know my name?”
“I heard you and Lewyn here talking.” he laughed, “I know it’s not polite to eavesdrop, but Lewyn and I are old friends.”
“Are you?” the boy’s eyes flew to me in awe with a hint of reproach, as in ‘you had a friend in the Grey Wardens and you didn’t tell me?’
“Yup. Lewyn and I were at the same school when we were your age.”
“But... Master Lewyn is from the Circle of Magi!”
“I know. I’m a mage too.”
The boy looked him over checking his medium armour and noticing the two swords sheathed at his sides. “Mages don’t use swords, not even Knight Enchanters. And don’t wear armour... or since you’re a Grey Warden is different?”
Ewan laughed. In fact I had noticed the last time we met in the forest he had given up robes and staves for armour and a two-swords fighting style... I hadn’t even recognized him at first.
“I have discovered the secrets of the elven Arcane Warriors.” he whispered to him with a conspiratorial tone, “I can channel my magic to fight, to become stronger and faster.”
“Stronger? Can you use it on me, Ser Warden?”
“On you?” he blinked amused, “Why?”
“Well... me dad is sick, and I want to chop wood for him.” he asked with pleading eyes.
Ewan stifled a laugh: “I’m sorry Devin, but it doesn’t work this way... were you a mage I could teach you the spell, but I can do it only for myself... if you want, though, I can help you with the wood cutting.” he winked at him and ruffled his hair.
“Would you?” the boy was just as surprised as me.
“Please Devin, I bet the Warden-Commander has more important things to do.”
“Warden-Commander?” Devin’s eyes reached the size of a chicken’s egg, “You mean you’re the Hero of Fer...”
Ewan put a finger in front of his mouth and hissed a “Ssssh! I’m here incognito.” he winked again at him then turned back to me. “And don’t worry about it, Jo-Lewyn
.” he corrected himself blushing slightly, “It’s my duty to help.”
His smile finally reached his eyes. He definitely enjoyed me squirming. The bastard!
And so I found myself in the backyard of Devin’s place, with Ewan, shameless as always, chopping wood bare-chested while Devin attended other chores. After the nineteenth chop I had to ask him.
“What is all this about, Ewan?”
what?” he asked innocently.
. You appearing here
of all places, to begin with, and helping master Arthur with woodcutting.”
“I’m a Grey Warden, that’s what we do.” he shrugged.
“Chopping wood?” I asked skeptically.
“Helping people.” he replied dryly, “Did you ever wonder why I was recruited after I helped you escape?”
I shrugged: “I suppose that Warden... Duncan? Conscripted you under Irving’s recommendation. You were his favourite student and didn’t want you to be punished?”
“Not quite. Duncan offered me the crest because I helped you. According to him I was ‘a rare person who risks all for a friend in need’
“Yes, I know you’ve always been disgustingly altruistic...” I snorted. “But why have you come here? You said I brought you here, but I didn’t call you, and the last time we met...” I couldn’t finish the thought.
He sighed: “The last time we had the chance to speak freely, without grateful citizens and dead darkspawn around, I said I wanted to kill you, so I understand your suspicions, but believe me: I mean no harm and I won’t expose you.”Yeah, sure.
“You said you never wanted to see me again.”
“I lied.” he admitted, “Well, not quite lie... I didn’t want to see you there
I sighed nodding. I wouldn’t have wanted him to see me there either. Of all things I screwed up in my life, the whole Redcliffe incident was the one I was most ashamed of.
“I was angry at you for everything.” he started explaining, “I helped you escape your doom and you ran away on us, leaving Lily and I to face the consequences not only of our actions but yours as well. I became a Warden because of you, but as Duncan explained to Greagoir, it was not a reward, believe me. In the meantime you ended up in the hands of Loghain, the one who betrayed us at Ostagar, and you were sent to poison Arl Eamon, who at the time was the only human noble who could believe us and stand against our enemy. I barely escaped Ostagar, I witnessed the destruction of the Circle as we knew it at the hands of a blood mage, and fought undead storming out of Redcliffe castle all night long... and then when we managed to enter the castle, to find the very source of the evil that was decimating the only village on our side in all of Ferelden, and I found you
I lifted my eyes to meet his, expecting to find blaming and hate in them but there was nothing but melancholy “You caused all this.” he said eventually.
“So what do you want now?” I asked, “Revenge? My life?”
“No.” he paused as if looking for the right word, “An explanation. You caused all those things, but more importantly you also caused the good
things that happened in my life since then. Had I not been recruited I may have died in the Blight, perhaps turned abomination by Uldred, trapped in the Fade until I died or slain by the Templars in the Right of Annulment that was called upon Kinlock Hold and that I
managed to persuade Gregoir to recant, saving Irving, and Wynne, and Petra, and Kinnon, and Owain... I would never have become the Hero of Ferelden...”
He walked to me and put a hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t quite meet his eyes now: “I am not blaming you for what you’ve done
, Jowan - well, not all of it... but I feel bad for what you didn’t
That struck me: “I... didn’t tell you.”
He nodded: “You’ve always been like a brother to me, Jowan, perhaps I was closer to you than to Aed... I just want to understand why.”
“Why did I dabble in blood magic?” Maker, this was so embarrassing... “Because of you.” I finally admitted.
“Me?” he uttered surprised, taking a step back like I had slapped him.
“You were always the clever one, Irving’s star pupil, while I was just Jowan the retard who couldn’t learn a single spell.” I muttered. I felt bad in spitting all those venomous words at him, but also good for taking this off my chest. It was true, I was a jealous little twit, but I couldn’t help how I felt. “I’ve always been... weak. That’s why they denied me the Harrowing, I lacked the necessary willpower to pass it. As kids we always got into trouble, but while it was easy for you to get away with it since you were such a talented student, well... to me it was a nightmare.”
“Wait.” he put a hand on my shoulder again, forcing me to look at him. “Are you telling me you were... jealous
“I still am.” I admitted. Who wouldn’t be? The Hero of Ferelden, the Mage Who Freed the Mages, the Survivor of Ostagar, the Champion of the King... compared to his, my life disappeared like a Mabari lunch tasting of wasted space.
“You...” Wow, Ewan was at loss for words for the first time since I met him. That’s quite a feat! “For Andraste’s sake Jowan! What you’ve done in the last five years is amazing! You’ve become a healer, for crying out loud, and I was in Wynne’s class too, so I remember it’s not an easy...”
“Don’t even start.” I cut him off, “Spirit healing is closer to blood magic than most people think. In both cases the mage channels energies directly from the fade with the help of a spirit... only blood magic requires body fluids and a demon.” I sighed, “Let’s face it, I’m a maleficar
, and I always will be.”
He smiled at me and bumped his fist against my shoulder. A rush of emotions passed through me as I remember how many times we used to do that when we were together at the tower. “Don’t say that.” he said, “You’re just
“Oh, thank you very much.” I replied with mocked indignation.
“Hey, one of my men is an abomination
.” he said grinning. I lost it and we both started laughing out loud.
“You’re kidding...” I managed to say through a fit of giggles.
“Nope... Justice abomination, long story.”
“Oh Maker... it is true what the Templars say, Grey Warden mages are all bad.”
“They’re just jealous because they can’t touch us.” he winked.
As the laughter subsided, he returned to the serious topics: “So... you didn’t tell me you were a blood mage because you were a blood mage because of me?”What?
“Er... yeah. Pretty much so.”
“But you didn’t tell anyone else, did you?”
“Well...” I hesitated. Ewan’s not going to like it
. “I have to admit you weren’t the first one I asked for help...”
“What?” he stared at me incredulous for a second then he started massaging his forehead like he had the start of a headache. “Oh no, Jowan. Tell me you didn’t. Tell me I’m wrong because even you can’t be so stupid...”
Well, he figured that out himself, apparently.
“Tell me you didn’t ask her
... don’t you dare say that name...”
Oh yes, he did figure out. “Eloise.” I confirmed with a sigh.
“Dammit!” he yelled at the heavens stomping a foot on the dirt. “With all the mages in the tower, the whole Templar-hating fraternities, Anders the escapist, me
... you went and asked for help from Eloise Surana
??” he shouted in my face.
I shook my head mortified. “She's a stick in the mud, but we were friends
“Jowan!” he cut me off, “Eloise had a crush on you since the day you said ‘Hello, I’m Jowan, you must be the new girl!’
” he said mimicking my ten year-old voice. Maker, did I really sound like that?
“You know I am not very good at those sorts of things...” I tried to defend myself.
“Speaking of personal relationships, tell me something you’re good at.” he growled. Well, the Arcane Warrior knowledge did include twisting the knife, apparently.
“Truth to be told, I thought she had a crush on Cullen.” I muttered.
“Cullen? The Templar?” he narrowed his eyes at me in disbelief.
“Sure. She was always teasing and touching him, giggling around him, acting silly... so I thought...”
“Jowan...” he sighed, “Eloise didn’t have a crush on Cullen, it was the other way around. And for the record: all the teasing and yanking his chain was because since the day she discovered how much of an awkward he was, she made her personal mission to make the shade of his blush match the color of her hair.”
“Well...” I mumbled, “The first words she said when I introduced Lily to her was a huge hint about how she felt...”
“Why What did she say?”
“I believe her exact words were... ‘This fat cow is your lover?’
He kept staring at me in disbelief for a fraction of a second then he burst out laughing. “BWAHAHAHAHAHA! I’d have paid
to see your face then!”
I frowned: this wasn’t funny. Ok, it was, but didn’t feel funny at the time. “Anyway she refused to help us... oddly enough she changed her mind, because after you left to go get the rod of fire from the repository, she returned saying she had decided to help us.”
His laughter came to an abrupt ending: “Wait... she what
“Yeah, she returned. Of course I told her we didn’t need her help anymore, you were onto it and she’d better keep low, I didn’t want her to risk exposure too... poor thing was so upset she started crying and stormed away mumbling something like ‘Jowan, forgive me’
“Great.” he said slapping his hand over his face, “After six years I know how we got busted...”
What? “What do you mean? You think...” oh no, how could I never have thought about it? Stupid as it sounds the thought never occurred to me... “You think she
“Jowan...” he sighed and started talking to me as I was a retarded kid, “You asked your... uh, ‘greatest fan’
to help you run away with your girlfriend. Seriously, what were you thinking?”
I was wondering that myself: “Maker I’m such a fool...”
“Can I kick your ass now?” he growled.
That sent us both into a new fit of laughter.
Meeting Ewan again, settling things with him, lifted a weight from my chest I didn’t realize was there. After we talked that afternoon, while he was chopping wood, the last six years were suddenly erased and we were back to where we left off when I fled the Circle. Later that evening, I invited him to my house: it was like he returned to visit me after some month, not after the whole five years we spent without even seeing each other. He told me that he considered me family, I felt the same way about him. He was the brother I never had, and I admit sometimes I felt jealous of Aed, his real brother, knowing they shared something Ewan and I didn’t.
“What does it feel like? Being a hero, I mean.” I asked him.
He rolled his eyes: “I don’t feel that special, truth be told. I had lots of help from many people... sometimes I think I don’t even deserve that title.” his eyes were clouded by a hint of sadness when he said that.
“You’re kidding, right? In less than a year you’ve stopped a Blight and a civil war almost single-handed!”
“I didn’t do it all by myself, Jowan!” he laughed.
“I know that, everybody knows that. But who in the world would ever think a group of ten people may stop a Blight?” I smiled at him, “We all know about your companions: King Alistair, Sister Leliana, the Sten of the Bereshaad, Senior Enchanter Wynne, Shale the Last Golem, Oghren of Orzammar... the Company of the Fifth Blight. You are all considered heroes, but it was you who ended the Blight, who dealt the final blow to the Archdemon... not to mention what you did afterwards, when you saved Amaranthine...”
He shifted uncomfortably on his chair scratching his neck. The Ewan I remembered would have laughed and boasted about his successes, exaggerating them to downplay his embarrassment with mock pride... what happened to him in all these years?
I tried to change subject without looking like I was doing it: “The people in the village keep asking me if and how well I knew you when I was in the Tower...”
“What do they know about you?”
I sighed: “As you might have noticed I use a false name... well, my father’s name actually, but I thought West Hill was far enough for nobody to make the connection. I told them a very sketchy tale: that I was a Circle healer and I was sent to help the refugees during the war... Not that it was a complete lie, after I left Redcliffe that’s what I did.”
“And after the war?”
“I settled here as local healer. I claimed I was sent by the Circle, and the local Templar, Ser Scott, never investigated it... partially thanks to you and the King’s decree that gave the Circle independence within the territories of Ferelden. Besides, I healed him after a rough encounter with a dragonling, so he thinks he owes me and even if he suspects anything he covers for me.”
He smiled proudly: “I take it you did a lot of good here. Saved many lives...”
I ducked my head, embarrassed: “I did, I guess. But doing good things is a sort of... compensation
for me... it makes me feel better about what I did to you, Lily and Arl Eamon.”
He nodded pensively: “Connor claimed he summoned the demon reading some book of yours...” he murmured.Book? What book?
“What do you mean?”
“I had the chance to talk to him before we entered the Fade to free him from the demon. He claimed he found a way to tear the Veil reading one of your books...”
I frowned. I didn’t have books about blood magic, and he should have known that: First Enchanter Irving removed them from the library and in any case apprentices weren’t allowed access to them unless they had the permission of three senior enchanters and a Templar supervising their reading... I did have some books but they were about... “Oh, I understand... he must have read my book on Spirit healing. It makes sense given his task to heal his father...”
“Spirit healing?” he asked perplexed.
My frown deepened: was he thinking I was making it up? “Remember what I told you about Spirit healing? It’s about channeling the energies from the Fade with the help of a benevolent spirit...”
His eyes widened as he understood what I meant: “That must be it: instead of a benevolent spirit, his desire
to heal his father attracted a Desire demon... makes sense...” he shook he head, “I’m sorry I thought... well, never mind...”
Guilt washed over me. “You thought I still used blood magic after I fled the Circle, didn’t you?”
“I... yes.” he admitted.
“You were right.” I admitted in turn.
“Hey, I was on my own, I was hunted and there was a Blight going on, as you may have noticed! I had to defend myself from darskpawn and Templars, and blood magic was the only thing I was sort of good at!”
“I suppose... But now you quit it completely
, right?”I... uh... oh Maker.
I put on my best imitation of puppy eyes I could manage.
“Jowan...” he groaned, dropping his face on his hand.
“WHAT? I know blood magic is dangerous, but you know what a twerp I am when it comes to magic! When I run out of mana, blood magic is the only thing that keeps me going, there’s no lyrium available here, you know! And don’t worry, I always managed to keep it from the local folks...”
He growled: “Jowan... I don’t care. You don’t need to justify yourself, I got over the fact you’re a blood mage, but blood magic...”
“...Is dangerous, I know.” I cut him short, “And I can be possessed and...”
“...And it’s traceable
“Templars have ways to track down blood magic... and blood mages. They don’t have your phylactery, but if you keep spreading your blood around they won’t need it. Blood magic has a distinct mark, just like the Blight. And just a Grey Warden can feel the darkspawn... a skilled Templar can feel you
Oh shit. He did have a point... “But they think I’m dead, don’t they?”
Devin’s voice interrupted our conversation: “Master Lewyn! Master Lewyn!”
The boy rushed in my small house panting: he look totally panicked: “Hurry master Lewyn! There’s a Templar in the village, he’s angry and he wants to see you!”
“Me?” I started to panic too, but Ewan just smiled.
“My, Devin, calm down... Templars always do rounds to check on mages...”
“Not this one.” he shook his head vigorously, “He looks like a madman, Ser Scott is trying to talk him down, but he already threatened to kill ma’am Lenora... just hurry, please!”
I turned to Ewan completely freaked out. “What am I gonna do?”
He frowned “Let’s see this Templar...”
He turned me around and gently pushed me towards the door. After a minute of hesitation, though, I felt his boot connecting to my butt.
We crossed the village following a panicking Devin, until I spotted the unknown Templar arguing with Ser Scott in front of the local chapel. There was a small crowd of people forming around them, all of them were trying to figure out what exactly was happening. The Templar had strange armour, somehow different from the ones I remembered in Kinlock Hold, it looked lighter and more comfortable. I understood why it looked different once I got withing hearing range: Ser Scott was complaining about jurisdiction. The Templar wasn’t Fereldan, apparently.
“This isn’t Kirkwall, Knight-Captain. Our healer has every right to be here unless the Circle revokes his permission, and even if that happened it would be my
duty to escort him back, not yours.”
“You misunderstand my intentions, Knight-Lieutenant...” the other said, “I just want to see him. I believe we’re old acquaintances.”Old acquaintances?
I didn’t know anyone in... Did he say Kirkwall? Let alone a Knight-Captain Templar...
“With all due respect, old acquaintances my ass. I don’t know how you do things in the Marches, but you don’t threaten old ladies to get to a mage, who’s neither an apostate nor a maleficar
. I don’t care if you’re technically my superior, you’re so out of jurisdiction I can kick your nuts and get a promotion out of it.”
“Of course you could...” the Knight-Captain said and ran his sword through Ser Scott’s torso.
I froze unable to process what just happened before my eyes. It just didn’t make any sense! Did a Templar just stab... no, ran a sword through
another Templar? Blood was everywhere, I heard many people screaming horrified while the Knight-Captain was yelling in a sing-song voice “Yoo-hoo? Is there a healer in the village?”
He had to be either a madman or a psychopath. I had to be careful, but Ser Scott was about to die...
“Did he... kill him
?” I heard Devin cry.
“Not if I can help it!” I growled by pushing aside some men that were equally paralyzed in shock and started running towards the two Templars.
“No! WAIT!” Ewan yelled, but I ignored him. I reached the body of Ser Scott as the Templar turned to me.
“I’m a healer let me through!” I spat at him. He just grinned... did his face look familiar? I remembered this face... younger, not so rugged, without the eyebags and the beard, the red-gold hair combed and curly, not tangled and messy... no, he couldn’t be...
“Oooh, that’s a surprise.” he said.
“C-Cullen?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Is that you?”
Ewan hopped at his side, hands on his swords, but Cullen must have felt him, because he pointed his own sword at Ewan’s throat without even turning. “Let Lewyn
heal him, Cullen.” he said, “If he dies you’re in big trouble.”
That had Cullen turning to Ewan with a smile. I got my chance and kneeled before Ser Scott starting a spell to halt the blood loss and mend his flesh.
“Trouble? There was a covenant of apostates right under his nose, the Fereldan order should thank me for doing his job.”
“We’re not apostates, and even if we were you couldn’t arrest us. You’re out of jurisdiction, Greagoir and the other Knight-Commanders wouldn’t appreciate what you’re doing, especially after you tried to kill a Knight-Lieutenant.”
”, he growled, “assisted this maleficar
during his escape, and supported blood mages during Uldred’s rebellion.”
“I’m a Grey Warden.”
“You may be an abomination for all we know, and to me you’re as good as one.”
I glanced up while still casting my spell on the wounded man. I was about to stabilize him, but the sparkle of madness I saw in Cullen’s eyes almost broke the spell I was holding. It was frightening. There was something there, he looked... possessed.
“Lewyn is not a maleficar
.” Ewan said out loud, I believe mostly for the townsfolk’s ears.
“But his name is not Lewyn, right.” the other grinned.
I grimaced. He didn’t want to just kill me, he wanted to expose me. “Cullen... don’t.” Ewan murmured, but he ignored him.
“His name... his real
name is Jowan.” he shouted. “Wanted maleficar
and known blood mage. He fled the Circle using blood magic with the assistance of the so-called Hero of Ferelden here.” he waved his sword at Ewan, “And I’m here to execute him!”
Ewan grabbed the hilts of his swords, but I stopped him. I looked around and everyone was staring at me with horrified expressions.
I felt Cullen grabbing my hair and yanking me up. Thankfully I had healed Ser Scott enough that common medicine would have finished the job just fine.
“Oh, this is a dream come true, Wintersend came early for me this year...” the Templar hissed, “I always wanted to be the one to be the one to find you, Jowan... I always wanted to kill you...” he added with a whisper in my ear.
Adrenaline rushed through me as he brought his sword to my throat. I didn’t want to die, but I was unable to think of anything... he was a Templar and he wanted to kill me, what could I do? I had no magic left in me after the spell I had cast to save Ser Scott...
“Cullen, let him go!” Ewan commanded while he was unsheathing his swords. I had never seen them out of their scabbards: one of them looked like it was made of bone... dragon bone, perhaps, as it was flaming, while the other had an electric aura and was made out of a metal I had never seen before, with veins of glowing material running through it, like silverite with lyrium veins. They looked lethal and well made, probably perfectly balanced, but heavy... I guessed if it wasn’t for the “Arcane Warrior magic” he mentioned before he’d never be able to swing them as he was now: Ewan was toned and strong for a mage, but he certainly wasn’t a warrior... Cullen must have known that too, since I felt my skin tickle as he was tapping into lyrium-based energies.
“Stay out of this, Grey Warden, your magic is useless...” he grinned as Ewan’s arm faltered suddenly under the sword’s weight. “...Including your Arcane Warrior magic.” he added with a laugh.
“I don’t need Arcane Warrior magic to kick your crazy ass.” Ewan growled.
“Is that so?” Cullen laughed. I would have laughed too: without spells and barely able to lift his weapons I didn’t see him as a threat to Cullen anymore, Mighty Warden as he may be, Hero of Ferelden and all. “Well, let’s verify this after I give this maleficar
what he deserves...”
“Cullen, wait!” he said letting his weapons fall. I didn’t understand, what was he trying to do?
“Wait? Why? Haven’t I waited long enough?”
“This is not a matter of duty, and you know it only too well... this is about her
. You’re just jealous
of this maleficar
. Killing him wouldn’t change her feelings.”What? Who in the Maker’s boogers’ name is he talking about?
Then I remembered what he said earlier: Eloise? Really, Ewan? He’s holding a sword to my throat and all you can do is bring up kindergarten issues?
“He’s an insult in the eyes of the Maker!”Oh, thanks a lot, Cullen...
but what was Ewan doing? It looked like he was trying to piss him off... or buying some time. But why? Was he expecting someone to come to the rescue? Or should
I do something?
“You’re pathetic!” Ewan laughed, “You wave around your Knight-Captain insignia, but you’re nothing more than a naïve fool who failed even at being useless!”
Ok, pissing him off sounds more like it...
“Don’t you dare!” Cullen growled yanking my head backwards and pushing his blade against my throat. I felt strangely at peace, then, like I accepted my fate and my death...
“Oh, Cullen...” Ewan smirked, “Don’t you see? You just made a mistake not even the youngest rookie would have made... only an idiot would hold a maleficar
so close to him while he’s covered in blood
I felt Cullen hesitate, losing his grip on my hair. His sword lowered as if in disbelief, as I felt his body remove its pressure over my back. I got what Ewan was looking for: for me to use blood magic, exploiting the one Cullen himself spilled when stabbing Ser Scott. It could work. It had
...Then I saw Devin’s face, still hopeful despite he had learned the truth about me. I understood: it was one thing to hear your friendly neighbor mage was a maleficar
, another thing to actually see it yourself. No, I...
“No, don’t make do it...” I whispered, I don’t know if I was talking to Ewan or to Cullen, “Please...”
“Oh sh...” I heard Cullen gasp. He had finally realized he was standing in a pool of blood, a portal I could use to unleash unspeakable horrors over him...
“JOWAN, FRY HIM, DAMMIT!” Ewan shouted.
I did it.
Feeling the dark power of the spilled blood around me, I channeled into a burning energy and sent it right through Cullen’s body. I heard him scream in pain: the Blood Wound spell was the most powerful I ever cast, mainly because I had the most blood in hand I ever had. Ser Scott’s blood. Blood Cullen spilled, and now I was returning to him the same pain he inflicted over my Templar friend tenfold.
Thinking about it like that helped, surprisingly. I didn’t feel bad. It didn’t feel good either, but I knew I wasn’t doing something completely wrong.
I burned off all the blood in the square with this, and I felt Cullen collapse over me, throwing me off balance. We both fell to the ground, and all my strength rushed out of me with the adrenaline. I was exhausted.
Ewan rushed to me, helping me up while the crowd around us was keeping its distance. Devin was also trying to reach me, but his father was holding him in place.
“Are you all right?” he asked me.
“I must heal him...” I croaked.
“You did, Ser Scott’s out of...”
“No, not him.” I said, “Cullen. I hit too hard, he’s gonna...”
“Wait.” Ewan grabbed my shoulder and turned me to him. I squirmed, trying to get out of his grasp and he rested his forehead against mine, forcing me to look at him. “Listen to me for a second. If you heal him now he’ll try to kill you again. I don’t know what he sniffed or smoked or how much lyrium he has in his blood, we must take him away, move him where he can’t hurt anyone else...”
I calmed down: he was making sense. I nodded and he helped me up. As we were lifting an unconscious Cullen to carry him away, all the townsfolk were looking at me disgusted and frightened... who could blame them after the little show I put up?
Apparently Ewan: “And remember this, you all...” he shouted to the crowd making them startle, “This man is the same one who saved all your asses at least once or twice during the last five years. He’s still your healer and you all owe him your lives one way or the other... including today
...” he shifted Cullen’s body over his shoulder so he was carrying the majority of his weight. I sighed as I was still too weak to carry my share of the armored warrior. “Try to remember that too, when you think of ‘Jowan the Maleficar’
. He and master Lewyn are one and the same, remembering only the dangers and horrors magic brings is too convenient.” he finished as he started towards the town borders.
I had so little possessions of my own, it took me barely a few minutes to collect them as we were leaving the village. All I owned fit in my satchel: alchemy supplies, a few books a couple of changes of clothes and some food. Five years of my life in a half-empty bag, talk about pathetic
We had reached the outskirts of the Brecilian Forest when Cullen started to come to his senses. Ewan dropped him to the ground without much care, I tried to be gentler, but it was Ewan who held the head part...
Cullen moaned as I stretched my back: “Ouch, he’s heavy...” I whined.
“And the armor doesn’t make him lighter.” Ewan scoffed, “We should have stripped him in the village.” he said as he started keeping away all the remaining weapons the Templar had on him.
“Good idea... why didn’t we?” I asked. Why do good ideas always come a minute too late?
“Because there were kids and ladies looking.” Ewan smirked and I chuckled.
“I’m getting too old for this kind of thing.” I whined.
“Old but powerful.” Ewan laughed nervously, “You weren’t kidding when you said you were good at blood magic. I’ve had my share of fight with blood mages, starting with Uldred, but I’ve never seen something like this...”
He sounded genuinely impressed, but I wasn’t in the mood: “It’s not something I’m proud of.” I said frowning. “And you’d better leave before he wakes up.” I added nodding at Cullen.
He blinked at me “Leave? Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to be associated with me more than you already are. You’re the Hero of Ferelden, you can’t fight a Templar to save a blood mage.”
“Nonsense.” he scowled.
“Seriously, Ewan, you’ve already exposed yourself too much. I’m tired of exposing people to danger for what I am, it’s time I face the consequences of my choices...”
He scoffed, “Do you think I’m afraid of the crazy rogue Templar who plays the badass-maleficar
“Maybe you’re not, but I am. He’ll be pissed off when he wakes up, and I don’t want you to...”
“It won’t be the first time I see a retarded Templar rise and shine, and I know what he’ll want.” he added showing me a small leather pouch with the Chantry seal on it.
I was about to ask what it was when Cullen started to wake up with a moan.
“Here we go.” Ewan chuckled and knelt beside him.
“Be careful.” I told him.
Cullen lifted his head and croaked “What... what happened?”
“Hello sunshine.” Ewan mocked him. “Did you sleep well?”
“This... this is... where is...” Cullen asked still unfocused, searching frantically at his belt with his hands.
“Looking for this?” Ewan asked him showing him the pouch. He opened it and I felt the contents inside.
“That’s Lyrium!” I exclaimed. “Why does he...?”
“Templars develop their ability by consuming lyrium.” Ewan explained, “Alas, it has the side-effect of being quite addictive... isn’t that so Cullen?”
Cullen clawed at Ewan’s arm trying to reach the pouch. “Give... give it to me.” he hissed. His eyes looked even crazier than before, but he didn’t look threatening at all, he looked... miserable. Pathetic. Ewan shrugged him off effortlessly and stood up as Cullen crawled towards him.
“No, no Culley, that’s a baaad idea...” Ewan said shaking his head.
“It’s a bad idea not handing it over, mage!” he growled as he was charging a smiting, but instead of summoning the usual strike of holy force, his fist hissed and popped a small cloud of white smoke.
“Withdrawal.” Ewan explained. “Your power are inhibited, Cullen, it looks like lately your willpower was replaced by lyrium... a shame, really.” he shook his head.
Cullen started panicking and grabbed Ewan’s tabard with both hands: “Please, give it to me, I’m sick!”
“Sick? Of course you’re sick, but what you feel now is you getting better. See, the funny thing of all this is that you need lyrium to develop
your powers, but you don’t need it to maintain
them. Ask King Alistair: Templar powers are similar to magic, they depend on your will. But the chantry keeps giving you lyrium... because
it’s addictive. It’s the perfect method of control: the chantry controls the lyrium trade so they control the Templar order. Otherwise you could claim your independence and separate magic enforcement from theological zealots... why should a warrior bow to a chantry sister, otherwise?” Cullen started sobbing, his face glistening with tears and snot, “Yes Cullen, they lied to you. But I promise it will be better in a couple of days. In the meantime I’ll keep this.” Ewan said securing the pouch to his belt.
The scene was heart-breaking: “Ewan...” I said, “He’s really sick, couldn’t you...”
“Sick?” he turned at me with anger, “Of course he’s sick. I don’t know what demon pissed on his breakfast, but the last thing he needs now is more lyrium. Ask Ser Scott!” he turned to Cullen again and growled “You disgust me. What in the name of the Maker were you trying to accomplish tonight? You almost killed a fellow Templar, scared the Fade out an entire village and exposed the only blood mage in Thedas who was trying to redeem himself. You must be proud of yourself!”
“Maker’s mercy!” I threw myself between him and the Templar, shielding Cullen from all the venom he was spitting at him, “Stop torturing him! He was just doing his duty!”
“His duty?” Ewan laughed, “His duty is in Kirkwall. He was transferred years ago, after he attacked a group of apprentices in the library along with their instructor, one of my Wardens! And you know what he got out of it? A promotion
. He has nothing to do with Ferelden or you anymore.”
“Then why did he come here?”
“That’s what I want to find out.” he glanced at the Templar who was now reduced at a sobbing lump of armor and limbs. “He looked crazed... unfocused. Probably under the influence of something... or someone. I refuse to believe otherwise: the Cullen I used to know wouldn’t act like he acted today.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” I admitted.
I remembered Cullen from the Tower, he was one of the youngest recruits, about our age and, as all the young Templars, an idealist. There are three types of Templar recruits: the most common are the ones who join the order because they have no other talent but fighting and don’t know the right people to become a squire or a guard nor enough money to afford the equipment needed to join the army. Then there are the ones who join just to slay mages, either for a personal vendetta or because they think we’re all abominations and our powers are sinful. Cullen was of the third type: real believers, those who consider their mission to help mages in helping mankind and stopping those who try to rule it, those who don’t condemn us all for our power but judge each mage for our actions, those who consider us people first, and mages as a consequence of our humanity. He wasn’t the man I had seen that night. Something had changed him.
My thoughts were interrupted by Cullen’s lament: he had grabbed Ewan’s leg again and he was pleading with him with unintelligible words: “Pleease...” was the only thing I deciphered.
“Oh, COME ON!” Ewan shouted in frustration before pushing him away, “Get a grip on yourself, will ya!”
I sighed and shook my head. “I’ll go fetch some wood for a fire...” I announced, “I don’t think my presence will help him, and we need a fire anyway if we’re gonna camp here for the night.” I glanced towards the village: we were far away but I could still see some the torch lights shining through some windows in the distance. “Try at least not to be too much of a jerk to him, though. That won’t help him either.” I added before turning to the forest and walking away.
When I glanced back, I saw Ewan sitting by a sobbing Cullen, his hand hesitantly caressing his head in a soothing manner.
I wondered again what had they experienced to change so much in those five years.
Both of them.
“Are you feeling better?” I asked Cullen handing him a bowl of soup I had managed to put together with the food supplies I had at hand. Luckily, Ewan was well stocked for traveling, but my pantry was almost empty and mostly filled with perishable food, so I decided to put it all together and consume it before it got spoiled.
“Not talking to you, maleficar
.” he growled in response. I sighed: I wasn’t expecting him to hug me and tell me he was sorry, but I hoped we could start over on a civil basis...
“If I were you I’d try to be more civil.” Ewan remarked, “Jowan may have hit you hard and with blood magic, but he saved Ser Scott - and you, from a lot of troubles. Besides had he not stopped you, you may have done more things you’d be regretting now.”
“I’d rather die than eat something a blood mage cooked.” Cullen hissed. There was still a spark of madness in his eyes, but he looked more focused, as if whatever had turned him crazy was subsiding as the lyrium withdrawal progressed.
Ewan grabbed Cullen’s bowl and set it beside his, “If you’re not hungry, then I’ll eat it. We Grey Wardens are famous for our appetite and I can’t stand seeing food go to waste.” he said dryly.
“You changed, Ewan.” I said.
“We all did.” he clipped.
I sighed. I didn’t mean to voice my thoughts but I was thrown off balance by his behavior: when we were in Dragon’s Claw he acted just like the Ewan I always knew, perhaps more mature, but still my friend. The person that was sitting in front of me now was different: hardened, unsympathetic... oh, damn it, he was acting like a Mabari bitch with fleas!
“I don’t know if I like it.” I admitted.
“Well, you should think about what made me change, then.” he snapped.
I bowed my head, not in shame but in comprehension. He wasn’t accusing me, we were over this, but I knew he had seen and done things during the Blight and after I couldn’t even begin to imagine. He was my friend Ewan, but he was also The Warden
, the Hero of Ferelden, the Survivor of Ostagar who killed the Hero of River Dane in a duel, the Defender of Amaranthine... how many battles, how many losses, how many years of a Grey Warden’s life can a smart, joyful, crazy prank-lover apprentice live through before turning into the man I was dining with? Thinking about it, even the fact that enough of him survived so I could still see him under the layers of the hardened leader he had become was quite a feat!
“Oh yes..,” Cullen scoffed, “Poor Warden! Betrayed by his maleficar
boyfriend, recruited by the bad Wardens... he saw horrible things to become the incensed Hero everyone in Ferelden praises.”
“Fuck off, Cullen.” Ewan muttered with his mouth full.
“I should have killed you when I had the chance, during your Harrowing.” he mumbled.
“And then who would have saved your sorry ass from Uldred?” Ewan remarked.
I had to stop this conversation before things got out of hand: “By the way, what happened to Eloise?” I asked trying to drive the subject over other topics.
“Jowan...” Ewan tried to warn me but I ignored him. Yes, I knew Cullen had a crush on her, but maybe talking about her was a pleasant topic to him... unless...
“Was she at the Tower when Uldred started the revolt?” I asked in a whisper.
“I didn’t see her.” Ewan whispered back, “But maybe it’s better to...”
“She died at Ostagar.” Cullen deadpanned. We both stared at him in disbelief: Eloise dead? That couldn’t be! I hadn’t see her in years but I could remember her just fine: her minute figure, her contagious laughter, her maroon hair and green eyes that seemed to be too big for her face, even for an elf...
“She wasn’t at Ostagar!” Ewan stated. He was looking at Cullen curiously, as if he was expecting him to go nuts any second, perhaps he thought he was having some withdrawal-induced hallucination?
“She was.” Cullen insisted, “She left with two other mages a day or two after you and that Warden... Duncan. Irving had managed to persuade Greagoir to support the king’s request for more mages in the army and she volunteered. She never returned.”
Ewan scoffed: “Then I’m sure she didn’t die in the battle: there’s no way they could make it in time for it.”
Cullen’s head snapped up to look at Ewan in the eyes for the first time since I returned with the wood. “The trip from Kinloch Hold to Ostagar is usually a week long,” Ewan explained, “Duncan made me do it in five days. We got there in the morning and the battle started the same day at dusk, she had to be still in Lothering when we fought.”
“You mean she didn’t fight?” Cullen whispered in disbelief with a faint hint of hope in his voice, “Why did she never return then?”
“Why was she supposed to?” I thought out loud, “She never liked the Cir...”
Ewan coughed cutting me off. Woops
, I didn’t realize I was talking, and certainly suggesting his school sweetheart turned apostate at the first chance she got is not a good way to calm down a crazy Templar...
“Maybe she was cut off by the Blight, that’s why.” he offered, “It took at least two days for the news to reach Lothering, and by the time she and the other mages reached Ostagar they would have found the place only overrun by darkspawn. Or maybe they joined Loghain’s platoon: they probably encountered them as they were travelling south while the army was moving north... or maybe they assisted a group of surviving soldiers: Eloise was a good healer, so maybe...” he shrugged, “There’s plenty of reasons. The fact she didn’t return doesn’t mean she’s dead or turned apostate, she may have even gone abroad and joined another circle in Nevarra or Orlais...”
“I... I see.” Cullen studied his feet for a moment pondering Ewan’s words. “Some mages did that... a lot of Fereldans came to Kirkwall, some mages... Knight-Commander Meredith accused them of apostasy, but they always claimed they fled the Blight, not the Circle...” his stomach let out a loud roar and he glanced at Ewan’s feet, where his bowl of soup was still sitting untouched. “Are you really going to eat that?” he asked in a small whine, ogling the food.
Ewan smiled and passed him the bowl: “Here. You must be starving.”
Cullen took the bowl and whispered a “Thank you.”
We just sat there eating, the popping of the fire and the rustle of the tree branches the only sound in the night.