Title: The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Three
Game: Dragon Age: Origins
Summary: Varia Surana thought her life had already been mapped out for her. She would be a mage of the Circle of Ferelden, studying and perfecting her craft. However, an unforseen series of events sends her headlong into a world thrown into chaos by the King's death and an impending Blight.
Pairings: Cullen/Surana; eventual Alistair/Surana
Characters (This Chapter): Jowan, Cullen, Varia Surana, First Enchanter Irving, Knight-Commander Greagoir, Duncan
Disclaimer: Dragon Age characters, settings, and any dialogue taken from the game ©BioWare. Varia belongs to me.
Content Warning: Mage Origin Spoilers; Overall game spoilers; Adult language; Mild violence; mature content in later chapters
Chapter Three: The Warden's Arrival
Jowan stared blankly at the page before him, trying his best to concentrate on the words of the tome but failing miserably. His stomach was churning itself into dozens of knots, just as it often did anymore during his waking hours, and for the first time in weeks the reason why had nothing to do with himself. He had gone to speak to Varia as soon as he woke up, knowing he had very little time left to escape the tower before his fate was sealed, only to discover her gone from her bed. One of the other female apprentices had informed him that First Enchanter Irving had roused her in the middle of the night and taken her away no doubt to undergo her Harrowing.
He had been jealous, at first. He knew she'd always been more talented than him and would likely pass her Harrowing before he did, but now she would have the assurance that she would never be able to be made tranquil. She would get to live the rest of her life to the fullest at least as fully as a Circle Mage was allowed while he was set to become nothing more than an empty shell lacking every last vestige of humanity. His jealousy soon turned to concern, however, when the girl he had spoken to told him that Varia had been gone most of the night. All of the apprentices knew that the longer you took for your Harrowing, the less likely it was that you would come back. He couldn't lose his faith in her, though. She was talented and she would pass the test. She had to. He needed her help too desperately for her to die at the hands of the templars right now.
He heard the sound of the door at the top of the stairs opening and looked up from the book he had been trying to read to take his mind off things, and the frown on his face deepened. Cullen carried Varia down the stone steps, her body limp in his arms. Jowan immediately stood from his chair and walked up to the templar, ready to throw a few choice words at him, but the other man spoke before he even got a chance to say anything.
"She's fine, Jowan," Cullen assured him, having seen the accusation in the apprentice's eyes as he approached him. He knew that Jowan was Varia's best friend, and really hadn't been surprised at all that he had been in the reading room closest to the stairs which led to the upper levels of the tower, waiting to find out her fate.
"Then why does she look like she's dead?" Jowan demanded, pointing to her chest, which was barely moving. Cullen sighed.
"The Harrowing is extremely taxing on a mage's body," he explained. "How long she'll remain unconscious, I cannot say. Perhaps she will awaken in a few minutes, maybe it will take several days. Each mage is different. I can tell you this, though: Hers was the quickest and cleanest Harrowing I've ever seen. Your friend is, indeed, very talented and brave."
Jowan scowled at him. Of course he would say things to compliment her like that. The two of them were constantly having romantic trysts in isolated alcoves and hidden corners. The only reason Jowan's hadn't gone to Irving to expose his perfect little pupil's indiscretions was because Varia was the only real friend he had and he didn't want to risk losing her by getting the two of them into trouble. Besides, he had Lily now. What the two of them did together was no longer of consequence to him, even if he was still jealous of the templar for capturing the heart of the girl he'd been pining for.
He heard the First Enchanter's voice calling his name and looked up to see the elder mage descending the stairs, looking older than he usually did. He had probably been worried sick about Varia's Harrowing, too, despite the way he was always telling her how confident he was in her abilities as a mage. Even the most promising of apprentices could fail if faced with too difficult a challenge, after all.
"Yes, First Enchanter?" Jowan addressed him, making sure to keep his tone light even as he crossed his arms over his chest while stepping aside to allow Cullen to return Varia to her bed in the female apprentices' quarters. There was no actual proof that Irving had ordered Jowan's upcoming sentence, himself, but he sure as hell hadn't seemed to fight it very much a fact that had caused Jowan to begin feeling quite hostile toward his best friend's mentor.
"When Varia awakens, will you please send her to see me? We have a guest who is due to arrive soon and I would like for her to meet him," Irving requested, his brown eyes not quite making contact with the younger man's gaze. Jowan's stance became less guarded against him when he suddenly realized the reason for this was because Irving genuinely felt guilty for what was about to be done to him. Jowan silently nodded in agreement and gave the First Enchanter a small bow when the older man thanked him and followed in the direction Cullen had gone, most likely heading to the tower's entryway in order to greet the guest he was expecting.
With a heavy sigh, he made his way to the female apprentices' quarters to check on Varia. He doubted Cullen would be stupid enough to try anything during the middle of the day, when someone could easily walk in and catch them in the act, but he needed to make sure that was the case. He'd be damned if he let that bloody templar ruin everything she had worked so hard to achieve. His hands clenched into fists at his sides as he strode purposefully through the library and toward the apprentices' quarters, not even bothering to speak to the others who asked him if Varia was okay instead simply answering their questions with a short nod of his head. As he reached the doorway of the large sleeping area she shared with the other female apprentices, he saw Cullen exiting the room.
"She began stirring when I placed her back into her bed," the templar informed him, a sigh of relief escaping his lips. "She should wake up soon. You might want to be there when she does. The Harrowing isn't a very pleasant experience, from what I understand, and she's probably going to need a friend to talk to."
"So why aren't you staying with her?" Jowan asked him. While not everyone was privy to the exact depth of their relationship, most of the mages in the tower at least knew that Cullen had become a sort of protector to Varia shortly after he first arrived to replace a templar who had been sent to serve in Kirkwall. Very few people knew why that was the case, but Jowan did. He knew far too well. It still sickened him to think about what had very nearly happened to her.
"I have to go on my morning rounds," Cullen replied, and Jowan didn't miss the note of disappointment in his voice. "I know you'll take good care of her, though. Maker be with you."
"Right," Jowan muttered as the other man bowed to him slightly before heading off to patrol the upper floors, no doubt to watch the mages who worked and studied there like a hawk just waiting to pounce upon its prey the prey, in this case, being any mage who looked as though they might be stepping out of line even the tiniest bit.
Pushing aside his resentment toward the templar, he stepped through the doorway of the large room where the female apprentices slept and made his way over to Varia's bed. Cullen had said she would be awake soon, and to him it could never be soon enough.
Varia felt like she was going to be ill. The room was spinning, and she hadn't even opened her eyes, yet. She knew she was back in her own body and no longer in the Fade, though. She could no longer feel the thick magic in the air around her as she had during her Harrowing, and she could smell the distinct scent of elfroot with the faintest hint of sage underneath. There was only one person she knew who smelled like that.
"Are you all right?" she heard Jowan ask her, and she felt the bed under her shifting as he sat down beside her. "Say something, please."
"Stop shaking the bed before I throw up on you," Varia groaned, opening a single grey eye and looking up at him.
"Sorry," he apologized, carefully getting back up while she pulled herself into a sitting position on the bed. "I take it Wendell wasn't exaggerating every time he got sick, then?"
"No, I still think he was exaggerating," she replied, sitting quietly for a moment before slowly standing from the bed. "It's just... Well... I can't exactly tell you, but allow me to say that it's rather appropriate that they call it the Harrowing."
"You really can't tell me anything?" Jowan asked, sounding disappointed. "Not even just a little, tiny bit?"
"You know I can't, Jowan," she reminded him, sighing a bit and reaching up to rub the kinks out of her neck. She had probably been laying on that stone floor in the Harrowing Chamber for several hours, and now her body was protesting its mistreatment the only way it could.
"So much for friendship," Jowan grumbled, then looked at her, his dark blue eyes turning sad for a moment. "I'm glad you're alright, though. When I heard the other apprentices talking this morning, saying you'd been gone most of the night, I got worried."
"You worry too much, you know," Varia scolded him, reaching out to gently squeeze his upper arm. "About everything."
Jowan scoffed and turned away from her, crossing his arms over his chest as his face scrunched up in mild disgust.
"That's easy for you to say," he told her, sounding bitter. "You've passed your Harrowing and now you get to go live upstairs in the fancy mages' quarters. I'm still stuck down here, and I don't know when they'll take me for my Harrowing or even if they'll take me for it."
"Relax, Jowan," she told him in a soothing voice, stepping closer to him and rubbing his back in a comforting manner. "I'm sure they'll come to get you any day, now."
"For my Harrowing, or to make me tranquil?" he asked, turning his head slightly to look at her.
"No one is going to make you tranquil, Jowan," Varia assured him with a smile.
"You don't know that," he said quietly, then let out a heavy sigh and turned fully toward her. "I've been here longer than you have, remember? I've been practicing magic for a full three years longer than you. No matter how much I try, I never get any better at it. I'm at my wit's end."
"Listen, just because I'm going to be sleeping upstairs from now on doesn't mean I plan to stop helping you," she informed him. "I promise I will continue to give you lessons every day, until they finally decide to take you for your Harrowing."
"I appreciate it," Jowan said, though he didn't exactly sound appreciative. He still sounded sad, and Varia was about to ask him what else was bothering him when he continued to speak.
"I was supposed to inform you when you woke up that the First Enchanter wishes to see you, right away."
"What for?" Varia wondered. It seemed odd that her mentor would ask to see her the very moment she woke up after having just gone through the Harrowing. Surely, he must know how taxing it had been on her body and mind. Perhaps he simply wanted to congratulate her on succeeding, but he had been so confident that she wouldn't fail that there was really no need for such a sentiment which meant it must be something else, and that 'something else' must be important.
"He said he was expecting a visitor, and that he wanted you to meet him," Jowan informed her. "That's all I know. You're to go see Irving in his study upstairs. You had better not keep him waiting."
"Right," Varia agreed with a slight nod of her head. "We can speak more later, if you like."
"I'll come find you in a bit," Jowan told her, then left the room to go back to his studies in the library.
Varia went to the small washroom off the sleeping area and checked her reflection in a looking glass above one of the small vanity tables where the female apprentices were permitted to keep their cosmetic items. Irving wanted her to meet a guest of his, and any guest of the First Enchanter was bound to be someone important. Therefore, she thought it would be appropriate if she looked her best.
Her hair was a mess, and so she untied the yellow ribbon she used to hold it up and allowed the golden locks to tumble down around her shoulders. She had just sat down and picked up a brush to run through her hair and smooth it back out when one of the female apprentices a girl named Miranda who had become a bit of a friend of hers peeked around the corner and grinned at her.
"I heard that Cullen's in love with you!" she said in a sing-song voice.
Varia's hand stopped mid-stroke as she was brushing her hair, and she willed herself not to blush as she looked up at the ginger-haired girl, carefully keeping her expression as neutral as possible.
"Where did you hear something like that?" she asked, wondering just how many people had already heard this rumor.
"Well, I didn't hear those exact words, per se," Miranda said, stepping the rest of the way into the room and leaning against the wall next to the vanity where Varia was sitting. "I did, however, overhear him talking to Jowan as he was carrying you back to your room earlier."
"He carried me back down here?" Varia asked, and this time she couldn't help the blush that colored her cheeks. Miranda giggled at the sight.
"He did," she confirmed, kneeling down next to her and lowering her voice. "He had you cradled in his arms like you were his bride. Honestly, I'm quite jealous."
"It's not like you would have been able to enjoy it, if you had been in my position," Varia told her. "I was unconscious, after all."
"True," Miranda conceded with a sigh. "But still... Just the thought of having him hold me close to him in those strong arms of his... Maker, it would be so wonderful."
Varia smiled a bit and returned to brushing her hair. Miranda wasn't the only other female apprentice who had developed a crush on the young templar. They all knew that he and Varia had a close friendship, as well, and they often bugged her for information about him. She always gave vague answers to their questions, preferring to let them use their imaginations to fuel their fantasies about him however they pleased. However, it seemed that his recent actions were about to nudge their fantasies about him - and, more importantly, about the two of them - a bit too close to the truth of things.
"So, what did he say about me?" she asked nonchalantly as she finished brushing her hair and began pulling it up into her usual hairstyle.
"Oh, just that your Harrowing was the quickest he'd ever seen and that you're talented and brave and blah blah blah," Miranda told her, waving it off with her hand. "It wasn't so much what he said as how he said it, though."
"What do you mean?" Varia asked, holding her hair in place with one hand and picking up the long, satin ribbon to tie it back into her hair.
"It didn't really sound like he was praising you," Miranda explained. "It sounded more like he was enraptured by you."
Her hair fixed, Varia sighed and turned to her friend, then grasped both of her hands in her own.
"Miranda, you're a dear friend," she said with a small laugh. "However, I think you've let these fantasies of yours go a bit too much to your head. Cullen and I are friends, nothing more. He helped me out once when I was in trouble, and now he feels like he needs to look after me sort of like a big brother. That's all it is."
"Can't I at least pretend he's in love with you?" Miranda whined. "It gets so boring here in the tower, I need something juicy to daydream about."
"I'd rather you not," Varia replied, shaking her head.
"Spoilsport," Miranda said, pouting, and stood up from her spot next to Varia's stool.
"Here's an idea," Varia suggested as she stood and began walking out of the female apprentices' quarters with the other mage. "Why don't you pretend that Cullen is in love with you? I'm sure that would make for much more titillating daydreams, yes?"
"You do have a point, there," Miranda agreed, grinning. "By the way, Varia congratulations on your successful Harrowing."
"Thank you," Varia replied, and the two of them parted ways. Miranda went to instruct some of the young initiates on the history and purpose of magic, while Varia made her way to the stairs leading to the second floor, where Irving's study was located.
She couldn't help noticing, as she passed through each of the reading areas along the way, that Jowan was nowhere to be found.
"Many have already gone to Ostagar Wynne, Uldred, and most of the senior mages! We have committed enough of our own to this war effort!"
"Your own? Since when have you felt such kinship with mages, Greagoir? Or are you simply afraid to let us out from under Chantry supervision, where we can actually use our Maker-given powers?"
Varia's pace slowed considerably as she approached the open door of the First Enchanter's study. Apparently, Irving and Greagoir were having one of their arguments again. But instead of it being about the usual things like how to best punish an apprentice who talked back to a templar or what to do with a certain mage who kept escaping the tower over and over again they were talking about some sort of war. Varia knew she should probably just leave and let them finish their conversation, but Jowan had said her mentor wanted to see her immediately after she woke up. Taking a breath and hoping that Greagoir wouldn't throw a fit at her for interrupting, she stepped forward and quietly walked into the room.
"How dare you suggest--" Greagoir shouted in response to Irving's veiled inference that the Knight-Commander knowingly and purposely repressed the mages of the Ferelden Circle.
"Gentlemen, please!" stated a man Varia had never seen before, who had positioned himself between the Knight-Commander and First Enchanter. He had dark features and wore unusual robes covered in leather straps and strategically-placed pieces of plate. Even more unusual than his armor, however, were the sword and dagger strapped to his back. The weapons themselves were quite ordinary, but the fact that he was allowed to possess them within the tower was odd. Normally, visitors were asked to relinquish their weapons to the templars before being allowed past the entry hall.
"Irving, someone is here to see you," the man informed the First Enchanter in his deep voice.
"You sent for me?" Varia asked, cautiously stepping farther into the room.
"If it isn't our new sister in the Circle," Irving greeted her, holding his arms out in a welcoming gesture. "Come, child. There is someone I wish for you to meet."
"This is...?" the dark-haired man asked, looking her over with a critical gaze.
"Yes, this is she," Irving stated proudly.
"Well, Irving, you're obviously busy," Greagoir said calmly, though Varia could still feel the tension in the air between the two older men. "We will continue our discussion later."
"You can count on it," Irving told Greagoir as he left the study, then let out a sigh and turned back to his former apprentice. "Now, then... Where was I? Oh, yes! Duncan, this is my student, Varia. Varia, this is Duncan, of the Grey Wardens."
Varia's eyes went wide when Irving made the introductions. A Grey Warden? Here? She wasn't even aware that they existed any more. Surely, the fact that one had come to visit the Circle of Magi meant that something dire was going on outside the tower walls.
"Pleased to meet you," she greeted Duncan, suddenly remembering her manners.
"There is a war brewing to the south," Irving explained to her. "No doubt you overheard Greagoir and I arguing about it when you first arrived. Duncan is here to recruit mages to join the King's army at Ostagar."
"May I ask why?" Varia wondered. "Greagoir said we've already sent quite a few mages."
"Mages are uniquely equipped to battle darkspawn," Duncan explained.
"Darkspawn?" Varia echoed, her voice rising slightly in pitch and her face going pale. "Then that means..."
"I'm afraid so," Duncan replied, knowing what she was thinking. "There is a large army of darkspawn that has been moving through the Korcari Wilds. I fear that it may be a sign that we are about to bear witness to another Blight."
"Duncan, you worry the poor girl with talk of Blights and darkspawn," Irving chided him. "This is supposed to be a happy day for her."
"Yes, I almost forgot," Duncan said, turning back to Varia. "Congratulations on passing your Harrowing. Irving tells me you set a record for the shortest time taken to complete the ritual. That is quite commendable. However, these are troubled times and I fear there is no room for levity in this situation."
"On the contrary, we should embrace moments of levity," Irving countered, "especially in troubled times."
Duncan did not argue. He simply nodded respectfully to the First Enchanter. Irving then returned his attention to Varia, smiling proudly at her.
"You have passed your Harrowing. Your phylactery has been sent to Denerim. You are now officially a mage within the Circle of Magi. See? I knew you wouldn't fail."
"Thank you, First Enchanter," Varia said, blushing a little.
"Come, child," Irving instructed, making his way over to his desk. "I have your new robes, your staff, and a ring bearing the insignia of the Circle. Wear them proudly, for you have earned them."
"Thank you, First Enchanter," Varia said once again, accepting the items from him and bowing to him in respect. Her eye caught something sitting on his desk, though, and she looked up at him with a puzzled expression on her face.
"First Enchanter? Why do you have a pile of books on Blood Magic sitting on your desk?" she asked as she slid her new ring onto her finger.
"Ah," Irving said, picking up the books and carrying them over to a bookcase against the back wall of the room, where he deposited them on an empty shelf. "It has been brought to my attention that someone may have been dabbling in the forbidden arts. I removed these books from the library on Uldred's recommendation in order to prevent others from falling prey to the same temptation."
"Who's practicing Blood Magic?" Varia asked, recalling a conversation she had recently overheard between two of the male apprentices on the subject.
"Never you mind, child," Irving gently admonished her. "They will be dealt with, soon enough. Now, would you kindly see Duncan to the guest quarters? I have a matter I must attend to."
"Certainly," Varia agreed, bowing once more to the First Enchanter before walking over to Duncan.
"Shall I show you to your room, Ser Duncan?" she asked him.
"Please, just Duncan will be fine," he told her with a chuckle.
"Very well, Duncan. This way, please," she instructed, taking a moment to secure her staff at her back with the spell Irving had taught her before leading him out of the First Enchanter's study.
The two of them walked in silence down the hallway toward the guest quarters. Varia chewed her lip nervously and fussed with her new robes in her hands, wondering if she dare ask the question that was on her mind. She had finally decided that she would be better off keeping it to herself when Duncan suddenly stopped walking.
"It seems you have something on your mind," he commented when she turned to look at him.
"I was just curious about something," she told him, then shook her head. "Really, it's nothing important. Just a stupid question."
"Are you sure?" Duncan asked. "I will be happy to answer any questions you may have, if I am able to provide an answer."
"Well," Varia began, then hesitated a moment before continuing. "I have a feeling I know why Greagoir and Irving were arguing when I arrived. They fight about the same things all the time. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing Greagoir doesn't want to let too many mages get a taste of the freedom we're denied by being made to live here at the tower."
"You would be right in that assumption, I'm afraid," Duncan told her, sighing a bit. "Greagoir serves the Chantry, and I daresay that they merely tolerate magic. It is their fear that if mages are allowed to use their full power, they will insist on the freedom they have been denied for so long."
"And what is your opinion on magic, if I may ask?"
"Magic is an invaluable tool," Duncan said, lowering his voice to prevent any nearby templars from hearing him and having him thrown out. "It is especially crucial for helping to fight the darkspawn. In fact, when it comes to those mages who have been allowed to join the King's army, I am counting on them to unleash their full power upon the darkspawn and that, in all honesty, should be the main concern of the Chantry: whether or not we are able to defeat the horde and prevent another Blight."
"I thought you said before that the Blight was imminent?" Varia asked, recalling his previous comment on the subject.
"I believe it is," Duncan clarified for her. "However, the King believes that if we are able to defeat the darkspawn horde before it spreads from the Wilds, we will be able to head off the Blight and stop it before it even gets started. Perhaps he is right. I cannot say. All I know is that if this is truly a Blight, we will need every able-bodied soldier we can find to fight it including mages."
Varia nearly pointed out to him that mages are hardly 'soldiers,' but then she recalled her duel with Valor in the Fade. She hadn't been restricted in the use of her powers, and had defeated him easily. Surely, mages who were no longer under the scrutiny of templars could unleash a comparable amount of power upon the darkspawn and defeat them, as well.
"Come, let us be on our way," Duncan stated, and the two of them continued toward the other end of the curved hallway to where the guest quarters were.
"Here we are," Varia announced once they had reached the room that had been prepared for Duncan. "If you require anything else, please do not hesitate to let someone know. I hope you enjoy your stay here at the tower."
"Thank you," Duncan told her, bowing graciously before retiring to his room to rest.
Varia sighed and turned around, then nearly jumped out of her skin when she found Jowan had been standing right behind her.
"Don't sneak up on me like that!" she scolded him, slapping his arm.
"Sorry, but I really need to talk to you," he told her, sounding panicked. "Are you done with Irving?"
"For now, I suppose," she replied.
"Good," Jowan whispered. "Remember earlier, when I was worried about not having taken my Harrowing yet? Well... I know why I haven't."
"Why are you whispering?" she asked him.
"Just... please, Varia. Come with me. I need your help."
Varia's brow furrowed as she took in his expression. She hadn't noticed it earlier because her mind had still been a bit hazy from her Harrowing, but Jowan looked terrible. His hair was a mess, and he had dark circles under his eyes. He likely hadn't slept much if at all the previous night. Something was bothering him. Something very bad, considering how desperate he had sounded when he pleaded with her to help him. She nodded quietly for a bit before speaking.
"Alright, Jowan," she told him. "You know I'll help you you're my best friend, after all."
"Good," Jowan said, letting out a relieved sigh. "Follow me. It's not safe to discuss this out in the open."
Varia hesitated for a moment, then began to follow him back the way she had just come. He was acting rather suspiciously, which bothered her. She would hear him out, though, because he was her best friend and had been there for her whenever she needed him for the past thirteen years. The very least she could do was return the favor by hearing him out about his problems.