Fear & Surprise, Chapter Three

by artrald

Previous

Up

Enjoy this bonus update, because I was more productive than I thought I would be.

Next

*

It seems odd, now, that the events of the Sanctuary of the Ashes – an atrocity to beggar any in the War of Apostasy – could possibly have been greeted at the time as ordained, as a sign from the Maker or his Bride, even as some kind of blessing or sign of favour. Indeed, some scholars have even suggested that the widespread reports of these things are some hagiographic invention of later historians.

Luckily, in this latter case I am quite prepared and qualified to say with some confidence that they are not. I was not at the Sanctuary, of course, but I read those claims long before there would have been any motivation to falsify evidence for the benefit of future historians. They seemed, if anything, less sane then than they do today – to which all I can reply, as of course is common among historians of the end of the reign of the Ninth Divine, is that those were insane times.

The Morrigan
A History of Southern Thedas

*

I awoke lying on my back in softness, looking up at a wooden ceiling. Couldn’t hardly feel my hand, twitch of my fingers said it was bandaged up tight, and I was warm and dry and it was glorious, and for a long moment I lay there and wanted to stay forever.

“Good morning, my lord,” said a sweet husky voice that I wanted to get to know a little better, and I turned my head and the speaker was every bit as gorgeous. Olive-skinned, dark-haired, with gold at her earlobe and about her slender neck that said I was looking at a woman as far above my station as her face said she was out of my reach. “Did you sleep well?”

“Don’t tell me,” I said hoarsely. “I’m dead, aren’t I.”

Her laugh was as beautiful as the rest of her. “Quite the reverse, messere. We’re all very much alive; I’m told we have you to thank for much of that.”

Sitting up gingerly, I shook my head and it seemed to remain attached. “Blame Solas. I was just the poor bastard that fell out of the hole in the sky.”

“Indeed?” She raised an eyebrow. “Many people would feel blessed to be the only survivor of four thousand. But where are my manners? They call me Mynah, here. I do the odd piece of specialist work – or ‘did’, now, I suppose – for the Most Holy.”

I glanced at the lovely fine blue-and-gold gown she had on, definitely at the gown, though a man could never get tired of that sort of a view – “Nice, uh, habit.”

Her smile, just a touch confidential, absolutely that of a professional. Lucky I wasn’t here to buy anything or I wouldn’t be leaving with a shirt on. Although, mind you, losing my shirt just then seemed more than a little enticing – “Eldest daughter, ser; I am afraid that holy orders were quite out of the question.” She waited a moment more, her eyes searching my face for something that she evidently didn’t find. “Did you take some kind of almighty and unreported blow to the head?”

I blinked. “Sorry? If that was some sort of secret phrase, I’m afraid you’re talking to the wrong feller.”

A tiny, perfect frown. “Ah, well, no matter. Doubtless you would like to know the usual litany: where you are, what happened and so on?”

“Ah, now, I’ve had half of this one already.” I held up a finger on my good hand. “Hole in the sky.” Held out my other, bandaged hand. “Bit of the sky took a liking to my hand, so to speak, and I’ve no idea why. So I followed the big scary people in armour up the mountain and they helped me put it back.” Embarrased smile. “And I must have fainted when it went back.”

She shook her head, keeping her big lovely eyes on mine. “Not quite. It didn’t go back. The patch that you put over the breach up there-”

“Solas did that. I just, well, supplied the hand.”

“As you wish, ser. It still very much seems to have saved our lives. The demons, whether they are truly still here or not -” she shivered, elegantly – “they trouble us no longer. The hauntings and so on have stopped entirely, and the tear in the sky itself is no longer a little longer every time I look. But.” She fluttered a hand towards my bandaged paw. “The scar on your hand remains, or we’d have had that healed by now. The scar in the sky, likewise. The elf claims that it is only a patch, as if boarding up a window; the templars agree. This is a reprieve, only.”

“So can I, you-know. Do I go free, now?”

That sent both her eyebrows up. “I suspect that attempting to keep you prisoner for long would present more than a few difficulties; I think that showing you would be easier, perhaps, than telling. Do you feel up to getting out of bed?”

I couldn’t help but compare today’s awakening to yesterday’s. So tempting to fake something, lie back. But then, of course, the lovely Mynah would probably be replaced by one of the Divine’s other beauties: with the sudden urge to appear more of a man than a mouse, what came out of my mouth was “I’ll manage.”

She nodded sensibly; tinkled a bell that was on the bedside table I’d entirely ignored, and an elf appeared at the door so quickly that he must have been listening outside. “Assist his lordship to dress, if you’d be so good, Ned.” To me, “Your things, of course, were mostly ruined; we hope you shall forgive our efforts to make shift. Raven’s orders are to meet her in the Revered Mother’s receiving-room in the chantry the moment you awoke. I shall await you downstairs and be your guide, in case the blow to your head also took your memory of where that might be.”

Being dressed is a most peculiar thing. I knew every article, the order, the manner, the fashion, and tied up my own damned hose, thank you very much, your man doesn’t like doing that any more than you like them doing it – but this wasn’t my own quartered grey and yellow livery coat he was putting on me, this was a Fereldan-style cote-hardie in wool of a distinctly Trevelyan yellow, grey hose, grey gloves, grey belt, and what I very much recognised as his lordship’s third-best hat. It felt like dressing up in a costume, not like myself at all – knew enough to have him drag a brush through my hair, but the elf wasn’t competent to put it in anything more than a horsetail. I mean, I was very used to being the dresser, but far less so the dressee, if that’s the word. It felt like putting on a costume. It felt like playing pretend. It felt like why was I doing this? And I suppose that ‘because the pretty girl asked’ wasn’t the worst excuse I’d ever had for dressing up as a lordship. Nor, come to that, was this the first time for that one.

Anyway, I came down the stairs – it was an inn they’d put me in, apparently – and I swear to the Maker, every single person in that taproom bent the knee to me, every single one apart from Mynah, and she just had that coy little private-joke smile on, and the combination of the whole thing was enough to stop me completely dead gawping.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen anyone kneel down to his nibs, drew a complete blank – his father, I’d seen people kneel to, yes, but all he’d done was tell them to get up – “Please,” I said a little weakly, “you don’t have to do that.” And the people in that room indicated by their continued contemplation of the floor that yes, yes they did.

And Mynah smiled on. “Come on, now, get up,” she said, after letting it go on just another moment further. “You’re only embarrassing him.” And, well, they took her orders where they hadn’t taken mine. But they averted their eyes from me. What had they – I mean – weren’t these the people that Lady Cassandra had said were out for my head on a blunt stick?

She seized the crook of my arm before I could stick my foot in my mouth, chose one of the doors. D’you open the door for yourself, when being guided by a noble lady, or do you let her open it, or – I was saved by one of the elves, who managed to pull the thing open without really visibly appearing to look up at any point. But it was the same outside. Worse, perhaps. I don’t know who’d told them, but there wasn’t the usual work of a town going on or even the unnatural proceedings of whatever you’d call a place like this – it was like they were standing there for me specifically, like they were on some kind of parade, and everyone got a knee dirty as I passed.

“Uh, has someone dropped something?” I muttered out of the corner of my mouth as we passed.

“It has been three days, and there was something of an impromptu celebration of everyone’s continued life for much of that time, and the only thing worse for rumour than servants is a mixture of servants and soldiers,” came back a whisper that must have emanated from somewhere in Mynah’s vicinity. “They are here to see that you aren’t in fact nine feet tall with wings of golden flame, no doubt. We dared not have a Seeker stay with you, for fear they’d see as far as a vaguely religious style of dress and report that the Bride herself nursed you back to life.” And what might have been the corner of a puckish smile. “And after all, did you not have her name on your lips when you saved us all?”

“I-” I just about stopped myself from an outburst in the middle of the street before a bunch of people bowing and scraping. “I tell you, lady, if you were hurting that much, you’d be saying her name and all.”

Somehow there was a hint of humour to her whisper. “That was my assessment, ser, yes.” And then we were before the village chantry. Seems strange, that the village right underneath the Sanctuary of the Ashes has a proper chantry, but I suppose that you can’t exactly come and hide up a thousand steps on a hilltop when the bandits come or whatever. It’s more a chantry does than just give everyone a place to sing. And the eye might see the thick stout walls and the big solid door and see a keep that just didn’t seem to have a lord to it other than the Maker, but you know. The eye sees all kinds of things. They’d clearly sent runners ahead of me somehow, because they hauled the big door open rather than opening the little one set into it.

And this one did stop me dead again. Because they’d got a dozen templars and probably twice as many other soldiers, and the chanters and the sisters all lined up, and from each one we got a salute or a bow depending on their armour and style. And you know, last week half of this lot were people who’d not have thought twice about throwing me their boots to clean. Deep breath. “Um.” Lovely start. “It’s, all of you, it’s really all right. I don’t want people to bow to me.” Slightly helpless glance at Mynah. “Uh, how do I get them to knock this off?”

Come on,” she said, quietly but audibly, and she steered me red-faced past the line of steel-clad men and women and past the ones in the flame-coloured robes and into the chantry proper, just in time to catch the end of an argument on the far side of the door to the receiving-room.

“…and may I remind you, Seeker, that you have no authority to render judgement without-” The speaker was an old man, dressed as a temple chanter, as one of those whose days and nights were spent keeping up the song in every Chantry – perhaps he was the Divine’s chanter, given the silken samite of his robe? Certainly his voice was a professional’s, resonant and powerful despite his age. He stopped dead and turned from his audience of Cassandra and Nightingale to look at me and Mynah. “Ah, the man of the hour.” Peremptory tone. “Seize him.”

Mynah took my elbow, gently, and Nightingale smirked. “Might I introduce,” said my lovely companion, “Chancellor Broderick, Guardian of the Keys and Châtelain of the Sanctuary?” Her smile was becoming increasingly patronising, seemingly wihout any movement of any muscle. “Lord Chancellor, may I present-”

“Maxwell Lionel d’Auchin Trevelyan, Warden of the Eastern Marches, Herald of Andraste,” he growled. I mean, yes, those were his lordship’s names, but he was the herald of who with the what now?

“If you say so,” said Mynah.

“That,” he said, staring fixedly at me under his heavy black brows, “is heresy of the blackest kind. We are the defenders of the Faith-”

We are, yes.” Slight stress on that first word; having seen Nightingale fight, her tone was enough to send a crawl up my spine. “And those words have never passed any of our lips but yours, Chancellor.” She used that title the way I’d call my lord and master ‘sir’ when he wanted something utterly unreasonable.

He glowered. “Guards.” At every door a templar, as if they’d been standing there all along. “The heretic is under arrest. Return him to his cell.”

There was a long and silent pause. There was a templar directly behind me. Mynah looked nothing but peaceful; I followed suit as best I could, which was to say I made it about as far as shifty; my shoulder-blades itched.

“It would seem,” said Lady Cassandra drily, “that perhaps the templars were unable to follow your directions. I must admit to being a little confused myself.” She met his gaze and might as well have struck sparks. “Could you perhaps by your words or actions indicate to them which man here might be a heretic?”

He looked from her to me and back, and for a moment I thought he was going to bluster and shout and try and claim authority he probably didn’t own. But no, he did back down. Turned and left, pushed past the templar on the side door, and the tension eased out of the room as he did.

“Thank you, gentlemen.” Cassandra nodded to the templars. “Cullen, I’ll be out to address the troops presently.”

“Seeker.” The templar directly behind me clicked his heels and I just about didn’t hit the ceiling.

“Well,” said Mynah as the holy warriors closed the doors behind them. “Les dés sont jetés, n’est-ce pas? You always did like to live dangerously, Raven.”

The tall, dark Seeker didn’t smile. Didn’t really get the feeling that she knew how. “I am not done yet. You briefed Trevelyan?”

She indicated me with a raised eyebrow. “I briefed him, if that’s what you mean. What’s my name, Maxwell, dear?”

I blinked. “Uh. Mynah?”

She spread her hands. “We have an impostor. Need I say more?” (I froze, on general principles.)

“You clearly want to.” Cassandra gave me a look not entirely distinct from the first time she clapped eyes on me.

“My family and his are partners in business.” Mynah’s smile had faded entirely. “I’m wearing family colours and symbols, and especially given where I’m wearing the latter, I cannot believe that Viscount Trevelyan’s son is sufficient of a dolt to fail to remember the name of someone with whom a match was once a reasonable-”

It suddenly clicked. I actually bowed, it was automatic. “Lady Montilyet. I’m so sorry, I -”

She stopped in midstream and coloured slightly. “Or perhaps he can. D’you care to venture an opinion, ser?”

“Dolt I might be, milady, but lord I’m not. I’m Harry Osten, manservant to his lordship-”

“Not this again,” Cassandra growled. “Varric told me you’d got him going as well. Knock it off.”

“You are quite certain?” said Mynah.

“You are not the only one who goes to balls. I met this man five years ago; from what I recall, he was too busy attempting to see down my décolletage to avoid treading on my toe.”

I ducked my head. “And as I told you, milady, that wasn’t me. I mean, it sounds just like his nibs, but-”

“Enough.” The steel in Cassandra’s voice was an end to all possible arguments. “Do you have a hole in your left hand?”

I waved the offending appendage.

“Then if we are done with trivialities – Nightingale?”

And as I was deciding how much I wanted to protest being branded a triviality, the redhead produced from nowhere a scroll of parchment. White ribbon. Red wax seal on that: an ornate one, the rayed sun of the Chantry with a disc of gold leaf embedded. Mynah put her hand over her mouth. “You did say you weren’t finished living dangerously – you seriously plan to go forward as we are? Before we are ready?”

“Do you see another way?”

Mynah looked away. “As I said, the die is cast. The Chancellor might only be a man, but he has the ear of half a dozen canonesses. You do realise that you have just asked the two last remaining pillars of the Maker’s Chantry whether they are with you or against you. You do realise-

“With ‘us’, Mynah. Against ‘us’.” Cassandra took the parchment and unrolled it onto the Revered Mother’s desk. Official flowery handwriting on it in Orlesian. Quill and ink right there. “Before these witnesses, I receive the final order of the Most Holy Justinia. To go from this place and gather to me those loyal people whose service to the Chantry I deem necessary. And in the light of the abandonment of the Accords of Nevarra, to revive the names, styles and duties of the Inquisition of Andraste. Our remit, to end the war. By whatever means. Witness my hand this fourth of Molioris, fortieth year of the Ninth Divine, Cassandra Pentaghast of Nevarra.” And she signed the parchment.

Nightingale shook her head. “How does one tell, if one is insane? How does it feel to be a heretic?” She took up the pen. “Witness my hand and so on, Seeker Leliana Nightingale.”

“Do let me know when you find out, dear.” Mynah took the quill in turn. “And I’m quite sure, Max, that you’re looking over my shoulder purely to establish what my first name actually is.” I adjusted my gaze quickly – her signature was quite illegible – come on, Harry, you heard this once, one in three –

“…Lady Josephine Cherette de Montilyet?”

“Antivan family, not Orlesian, but given my accent you’re forgiven for splitting the difference.” She offered me the quill, and a tiny amount of mirth sparkled in her eyes. “Do you wish to become part of history, my lord?”

“You expect me to sign his name?”

“You expect me to believe that the man you say you are has never done that before?”

My mouth flapped for a moment like she’d pulled the rug out from under me – “… You want a warrant from the, uh, from the actual White Divine with a forged name on it?”

Cassandra scowled at the both of us. “I’m glad that somebody is finding humour in this bloody situation. What I want is a warrant from the White Divine with three witnesses, and if you were a mabari hound I’d be taking a pawprint. Sign the damned thing.”

I signed, and I pretended not to notice Mynah expressing with a single eloquent gesture that I had once again quite handily proved that I wasn’t Lord Trevelyan.

But I signed his name anyway.

*

Next