Amaranthine Exchange

Chapter 5 of Daughters of Andraste

Kate walked through the busy streets of Amaranthine, gazing up at the stormy sky. It was rather hard to tell, she reflected, whether standing within the walls of a city counted as being out of doors or indoors. There was no roof over her head, but with all these high buildings about, she felt as though she was standing in a Chantry.

A very crowded, very dirty Chantry, Kate added silently. The cobblestones were smeared with mud and it seemed as though the locals used the alleyways as their trash bins. Kate found it astonishing that so many people could live in one place, and yet none of them had bothered to tidy up.

But ignoring the mess, what really struck Kate as odd about this city was that she was in it. She was walking through this port like a normal person, wearing normal clothes, with no attendant guard of templars or family members to watch her - and no one cast her a second glance.

Well, that fellow did, Kate amended. As she walked by a bakery, a man came out with a loaf of bread in his hands. He stopped in his tracks and stared at Kate, his eyes trailing down her legs and then back up her body to her head. The man cocked his head, smiled at Kate, and saluted with his sourdough.

Kate just blushed and looked away. That was odd, she thought. Was the man actually trying to make a pass at her? Outside of a bakery? They hadn’t even been formally introduced, for Andraste’s sake. Flushing to the roots of her hair, Kate hurried to the end of the street, turned a corner, and ducked out of sight.

Putting that awkward moment from her mind, Kate continued on, following the instructions she’d been given by one of the sailors. Just one street further into the city, Kate spotted the building she was looking for. The structure resembled a large house, and above the door was a sign bearing a painted lion and a gilded crown.

Kate walked up to the door and raised a hand. Her fist was an inch from the door before she stopped herself. With an inward chuckle, she let her hand drop. One didn’t knock at inns, she reminded herself. One simply walked inside. Kate took a breath, then pushed the door open.

So this is an inn, Kate thought, as she let the door swing shut behind her. It was…

Well, it was disgusting, really. The floor in the common room was about as clean as the street outside - maybe less so. There seemed to be a sticky film over all the tables and since the lanterns were unlit, the only light came in from the high windows above. Considering how stormy it was today, Kate might as well be inside of a cave.

In the shadowy corner by the cold fireplace, Kate spied a movement. She cringed as she realized it was a nug, rooting among the ashes. Kate curled her lip in disgust. Nasty creatures, nugs. She’d kill the thing on principle, but that would probably alarm the guests.

Of course, Kate thought, looking around, it wasn’t like there were any guests standing about. Where was everyone? It was mid-morning, after all. She had heard that taverns were busy places, but maybe that wasn’t the case. Kate walked to the bar. There was a counter with kegs behind it, and beside that was a short flight of stairs that led up to a hallway. The hallway was even more cave-like than the common room - a square, narrow hole leading back into darkness and flanked by a few doors.

Kate frowned. She didn’t want to wake anyone, but she was in a bit of a hurry.

Feeling foolish, Kate called out, “Hello?” Her voice fell heavily into the quiet. Not even the nug responded to her query. There was long silence. Kate was about to call out again when she heard a thud. Kate heard shuffling, then murmuring.

“Hello?” she called again, a little more loudly this time. Almost immediately, a door down the hallway opened. A woman walked out, tugging heavy-soled shoes onto her feet. Her auburn hair was down about her shoulders, and she held a piece of cloth in her fist. As Kate watched, the woman unfolded the cloth - an apron, Kate now saw - and began tying it about her waist.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Kate took a step forward. It seemed someone worked at this inn after all. But before she could address this person, the woman reached the top of the stairs and finished with her apron. She gazed down at Kate with a sultry smile.

“Lookin’ to wet your whistle, stranger?” the woman asked. “Or are yeh lookin’ for a warm bed?” She strutted slowly down the stairs, giving Kate a wink for good measure.

Kate blinked in surprise at the second blatant come-on she had received that morning. Did all Fereldens flirt this outrageously, she wondered?

“I, um, no,” Kate said, clearing her throat. A thought suddenly occurred to her. Perhaps she had wandered into the wrong sort of establishment by mistake.

“This is the Crown and Lion, is it not?” Kate asked.

”‘Tis,” the woman nodded. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh, good,” Kate said. She was in the right place, then. “I’m not looking to stay,” she went on, as politely as she could. “Rather, I’m looking for someone. A guest of yours, or so I understand.”

“What kind of a someone?” the woman asked, suddenly wary.

“Lord Trevelyan,” Kate replied.

“Lord?” the woman snorted. “Do we look like the kind of place that serves lords?”

Not at all, Kate thought, dryly. But she kept this comment to herself. Obviously, her dear cousin had not thought to introduce himself by his title.

“His name is Robert,” Kate tried again. “Tall, lanky man in his late twenties? Dark complexion, gold eyes…”

“And a honeyed smile that will make a woman gladly drop her small clothes,” the tavern keeper finished with a sigh.

Kate pressed her lips into a thin line and refrained from replying. It seemed that Robert was here after all. Kate had heard several women say the same of him over the years. And good for Robert, she supposed, but Kate really didn’t want to hear the details of his bedroom prowess. To Kate, he’d always be her younger cousin, the goofy boy who’d followed her around the manor with jam on his face.

Besides, this woman’s praise was the most ridiculous thing Kate had ever heard. A smile to make a woman’s small clothes drop? Preposterous. A smile was a mere spasm of facial muscles. Lips and teeth, no matter how healthy, could not exert gravitational force. And they could certainly not exert a force so specific as to target only the unmentionables of the female population.

But Kate did not say all this aloud. Instead, she just said: “Can you tell me which room he’s staying in?”

“Here now,” the woman said, her smile fading as she placed her hands on her hips. “Who are you? You’re dressed like a merc, but you talk like a…” Her eyes suddenly went wide.

“You’re not his wife, are you?”

“No,” Kate shook her head. And Maker preserve whatever woman decided to take Robert on, she added silently.

“I’m his cousin,” Kate explained. “He was supposed to meet me at the docks over an hour ago, but I imagine he forgot.”

“You’re his cousin?” the tavern keeper asked, doubtfully. She looked up at Kate’s red hair, then back to her freckled face. “You don’t look a thing like him.”

“My mother is from near Highever, his mother is from Rivain,” Kate said, reciting the explanation that she and Robert had given a thousand times in answer to that question. “Look, I’m kind of in a hurry here, so if you could just wake him, miss, er…”

“Sorcha,” the woman replied. “And he didn’t mention no cousin. Didn’t mention no docks, neither.” Her eyes narrowed even further.

Kate sighed. Of course Robert hadn’t. It was, after all, the reason that Kate had been placed in charge of all the travel details. She was completely unfamiliar with the outside world, but, unlike Robert, she could at least get out of bed in the morning.

“Miss Sorcha,” Kate said, as patiently as she could. “I really need to find Robert. If you could just…”

A noise in the hallway caught Kate’s attention. The door that Sorcha had walked out of opened once again. Robert came hurrying out, carrying a bag, his bow, and a quiver in one hand, his boots in the other.

“Katie!” Robert shouted, loudly enough to wake the whole inn. “You’re here!”

“Good to see you Robert,” Kate returned. “I was just wondering where you were.”

If Robert caught the censure in her voice, he didn’t seem to care. He bounded down the steps into the common room and dropped his luggage at Kate’s feet. He then swept her up into a hug, spun her around once, and set her down. Now a bit dizzy, Kate couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s good to see you,” Robert said, grinning down at her.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” Kate grinned back.

“Haven’t I?” Robert asked. “I’m told I’ve grown even more handsome over the past year.”

Kate snorted. She wasn’t about to encourage her cousin’s vanity, but it was true. Even though his clothes were a bit wrinkled and his jacket was unbuttoned, Robert was still the handsomest Trevelyan by far. In fact, with Robert, it seemed the more casually he dressed, the better he looked. Kate on the other hand, suspected she looked a bit like a weather-worn fennec.

Robert looked Kate over once, then frowned and confirmed her suspicions:

“And you, Kate…” He cocked his head to one side, then just gave up on a compliment. “Well, truthfully, you look dreadful, Katie, but I’m still glad to see you.”

Kate laughed. Leave it to Robert to say exactly what he thought.

“Why thank you, Robert,” she said.

“What have you done to your hair?” he asked, frowning at her.

“I sense that you dislike it,” Kate said mildly.

“It’s a bit short,” he sniffed.

“Well, clearly I didn’t cut it for you,” Kate replied. “It’s easier to take care of this way.”

“And the freckles?” he asked, nodding at her face. “Those have gotten worse. I thought you mag–” he caught himself, then said: “I thought you fine ladies spent all your time indoors.”

“You know I’m outside whenever I get the chance of it,” Kate replied. “Anyhow, it’s not as if you’re one to talk about freckles. You have some too, you know.”

“Ah, yes, but on me they’re boyishly charming and devilishly attractive. Or so I’ve been told.”

With this, he glanced over his shoulder. Sorcha had resumed her position behind the bar, and he gave her a knowing wink. The woman smiled, then returned to wiping a dirty glass with a greasy cloth. Kate rolled her eyes.

“At least let’s find you something suitable to wear,” Robert went on. “I mean, what is that exactly? A mercenary’s coat?”

“It is, actually,” Kate replied. “I thought it helped me blend in.”

“If you’re trying to blend in with a pack of vagabonds,” Robert said, teasingly. “And is that blood on the cuff? How many templars have you been killing, Katie?”

“I…” The question came at her from no where, and Kate choked on the answer. Behind the counter, Sorcha looked up in alarm.

Robert realized his mistake at once. “I’m sorry, Kate,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean…”

“I know,” she said.

They stood there for a moment, awkward silence between them.

“We should probably get going,” Kate said. “We have a boat to catch.”

“This early?” Robert asked.

“It’s a boat,” Kate told him. “They sail with the tide - whether or not we’re aboard.”

“So you’re saying we have no time for a pint,” Robert said, slowly.

“No,” Kate said, fighting an exasperated laugh, “We must go now.”

“Alright then,” Robert said. He reached down and pulled on his boots, then picked up his things. Robert walked to the bar and leaned over to give Sorcha a peck on the cheek.

As he did this, Robert handed Sorcha a small bag of coins. The pouch disappeared quickly into her pocket, and the woman handed Robert a small brown package in return. This he tucked into his bag.

“Thanks for everything,” Robert said with a wink. He then turned to Kate and waved a hand at the doorway.

“Lead on,” he grinned. Kate tried to say goodbye to Sorcha, but the woman had turned away. So Kate pushed through the tavern door and on to the city street. Robert stepped outside, looked up at the cloudy sky above, then smiled.

“Lovely day for a trip, eh?” he asked.

Kate also smiled. “Well, I think so,” she replied. “I love stormy days. But our other traveling companions aren’t all that thrilled with the weather.”

“Companions?” Robert asked. “You mean we’re going with some more mages?”

It occurred to Kate that of all the people she knew, Robert was the only one who would ask that as a genuine question. There was no hint of worry in his voice at all.

“My friend Colleen is coming along,” Kate replied, setting off down the street. “I told you about her.”

“The Dalish?” Robert asked, falling in step beside her.

“Ex-Dalish, yes. And a couple of templars will be with us, too.”

“Templars?” Robert’s nose wrinkled. “Eh. I hope they like to play cards. Not much else to do on a boat.” He paused, then asked, “Is your Dalish friend pretty?”

Kate laughed, “As if you could handle her.”

“Hm,” Robert said, thoughtfully. He paused, then asked, “And you, Kate? Did you ever handle her?”

“No!” Kate protested. “Honestly, Robert.”

“Well,” he said, “One hears things about Circles and their, um, extracurricular activities.”

“How Ferelden’s Circle got those rumors going, I will never understand,” Kate muttered. “Besides, you know I prefer my studies to lovers. And Coll prefers… Well, I’ve never yet understood her choices on that score, but to each her own.”

“Preferring studies to lovers,” Robert shuddered, as if Kate had suggested something vaguely dangerous. “You know Katie, I’ve never understood how you can be so accepting of people and at the same time remain such a prude.”

Kate gave him a warning look, but Robert continued all the same.

“I’m just saying, Katie,” he told her. “You’re so damn picky…”

“Robert,” Kate said, cutting him a glance. “I am not taking pity on some stupid friend of yours…”

“Who said one of my friends put me up to this?” Robert asked innocently. Kate just raised a brow.

“Alright,” he said. “But the way they badger me is abominable.”

“The way they go after women is abominable,” Kate replied sharply. “They’re only interested in me because I can’t trap them into marriage.”

“Freddy begged me to introduce you to him,” Robert corrected. “And I agreed because didn’t want you to be bored during that house party.”

Kate snorted. “You wanted to court that Antivan widow and Freddy was competition. You guilted him into attending to me instead. Don’t twist this around, Robert.”

”‘Court’ an Antivan widow,” Robert sniffed. “I would never…”

“Seduce, then,” Kate said. “Look, I know for you seduction is all in good fun. But I’m not like you, alright? I get…” She was about to say ‘hurt easily,’ but managed to keep this to herself. Instead, Kate settled on saying:

“Not all of us like waking up in strange beds, Robert.”

“They’re not strange,” Robert replied. “Often they have very nice, soft, squishy women in them.”

“Like your friend Sorcha?” Kate replied. “Today you woke up in a strange bed and you nearly missed our boat.”

“But it worked out,” Robert replied. “It always does. And besides, I needed Sorcha. Needed her to, er…” He broke off, then quickly glanced away.

“Yes, Robert?” Kate said, looking over at him. “What was in that package? Or was all that coin in payment for services rendered?”

“No,” Robert frowned. “Sorcha’s an old friend, Kate, not a whore.”

“Ah,” Kate said, tightly.

“Well, yes, you’re right,” Robert admitted, “that’s not much of a distinction. But Sorcha isn’t in that business. She’s just someone who can get me things I can’t find elsewhere. If you take my meaning.”

“So she’s a smuggler?” Kate said, eyes wide. “Really?”

“Maker’s breath, lower your voice, Katie.”

“Sorry,” Kate whispered. She paused then said, “I always wondered how smugglers operated. I wish I’d been able to ask her some questions.”

“You do research on that, Kate,” Robert warned her, “and you’re likely to get your throat cut.”

“Likely,” Kate grimaced. “Still, it’s fascinating. Do all smugglers feature nugs in their establishments?”

“Nugs?” Robert asked, confused.

“Never mind,” Kate replied. “So, what did she sell you?”

“Er, nothing,” Robert said, quickly. “So! We’re off to the Conclave, are we?”

“That’s the plan,” Kate said, allowing the change of subject.

“And it’s going to be held in, um… Denerim?”

“Did you read anything of the letter my parents sent to you?” Kate wanted to know.

“I read enough to know that you were coming to collect me, and that I had time to visit the Crown and Lion. The rest was all boring tripe that I ignored.”

“Of course you did,” Kate shook her head.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” Robert said. “I know enough about it to be worried.”

“Worried?” Kate frowned.

“Aren’t you worried?” he asked her. “You do realize that this could all be a trap, don’t you? The Divine, the peace talks. Everyone is whispering about what the other side might do to take advantage.”

“Oh, I know,” Kate sighed, still walking along. “Believe me, we’ve discussed the possibility at length.”

“And yet, you’re still going,” Robert said. They walked under the city gates now, the low opening over them for a moment like a cave. Kate shrugged and shook her head.

“Even though it could be suicide?” Robert pressed.

“What choice do I have?” Kate asked, her voice rising. Beyond the gates, the houses grew thinner, giving way to hills and fields, and the road before them wound down and to the left, headed for the sea. Kate started to walk down the path more quickly, but Robert grabbed her elbow to stop her.

“What?” Kate said, turning to look at him.

“Alright,” Robert said. “I’ll ask you this just once and then leave it alone. How bad was it? Honestly, Katie.”

Kate looked away sharply. She closed her eyes against the memories and shuddered as a long sigh left her.

“That bad?” Robert murmured.

“It could have been worse,” Kate said, her voice cold as ash.

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad,” Robert said, sounding angry. “The rumors we heard…” He frowned. “They say…”

“Please don’t talk about it,” Kate implored him. “I don’t think I could explain it if I tried.”

“But now you’re going to the Conclave,” Robert said. “Explain that to me.”

You’re going to the Conclave, too,” Kate returned. “Explain that to me. Did you really just agree to come because my parents told you to? What did they say to convince you, Robert?”

Robert gave her a one-shouldered shrug and a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You don’t think I came just for the pleasure of your company?”

“You once called Ferelden ‘the land of mabari and mud and mighty bad food’,” Kate said, folding her arms over her chest. “So, no. I don’t think you’re here for me.”

Robert scowled and looked over Kate’s head. “I got in trouble with your father,” he said. “And don’t ask me how. But what about you, Kate? You’re going just because your Circle told you to? I never thought of you as a Loyalist.”

“I’m not!” Kate protested at once. “I’m just…” She sighed, letting her arms drop. “I’m not a rebel,” she said again. “I’m not for the Circles either. All I know is that people died, Robert. Mages killed other mages. Templars killed other templars. And each side has been killing the other. This can’t be right. None of this is right.”

“And what do you think the Divine is going to do about it?” Robert countered. “You really think she can stop this?”

“I have no idea,” Kate said, honestly. “But she’s the only person who’s willing to try. Well,” she amended, “she’s the only person with any real influence who’s willing to try.”

Robert nodded, considering that. “So what will you be pushing for?” he asked her. “The end of the Circles? All the mages to return home like good little prisoners?”

“No. Well, I don’t know.” Kate’s brows furrowed. “I honestly don’t know,” she finished, weakly.

“Come on, Kate,” Robert said, frowning at her. “This is your chance to get free of it all.”

“And how many people are going to die in the process?” Kate wanted to know. “When innocent people are getting slaughtered because of this war…” She shook her head.

“Forget about all of them for a minute,” Robert said, folding his arms over his chest. “What do you want for yourself, Katie? Do you ever think of that?”

Kate looked up at the misting rain. She did think of that. But she never allowed herself to voice her wants aloud. As a mage, it was simply too dangerous to articulate one’s desires. It gave the templars too much leverage. So Kate had learned to keep her feelings hidden. And even now, even though it was Robert asking, Kate couldn’t speak her longings aloud. So instead, she shrugged.

“Don’t you want to be free to live your own life?” Robert asked her.

Kate gave a bitter laugh. “That sounds lovely. But I hardly know what that would look like anymore.” She shrugged, helplessly. “I really don’t know, Robert,” she said. “We’re not children anymore, thinking we could just run off and live as pirates. I have no idea what would be best for myself, much less all the other mages in the world. I’m hoping that the next few days of travel make it all clear to me.”

“What? You hoping the Maker will suddenly up and speak to you? Andraste herself will send you a sign of how you, personally, can stop all the fighting?”

“Oh, that would be nice,” Kate said, giving a sad little chuckle. “But no. I would settle for a coming up with an opening statement that doesn’t make me sound like I’m a boot-licking Chantry apologist or a red-handed blood mage rebel.”

“Opening Statement?” Robert repeated. “Let me guess. You’ve already written it out.”

“Eleven drafts and counting,” Kate said with her usual smile, the kind that curled one half of her mouth and dimpled one cheek. Then her smile grew sad and she looked off down the path.

“We need to keep walking,” she told him. Robert nodded, and they set off again. A few steps later, Robert sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

“This is a shite excuse for a reunion,” Robert said.

“It is, rather,” Kate agreed.

They walked on in silence for a moment, then Robert said:

“Speaking of family reunions, your parents were quite insistent that I keep an eye on you.”

“Oh?” Kate asked, “They told me the exact same thing about you.”

“Huh,” Robert said, almost smiling again. “Funny how they seem to think that neither of us can take care of ourselves.”

“True enough,” Kate said. “But they made all the travel arrangements and sent aid to the Circle, so I’m rather grateful for their overbearing nature at present.”

“Did you see them before you left?”

“Briefly,” Kate said, remembering back to that afternoon. “Just before I got on the ship to cross the Waking Sea.”

It had been an awkward meeting, too. Kate had wanted nothing more than to hug her parents. But duty and honor mattered more than reassurance to the Trevelyans. Her family would never risk displays of affection in such a public place as the Ostwick docks. Kate had just listened as they handed her the travel papers and explained the trip details. As she’d gone to leave, Kate’s father had reached out his arm. Kate thought he was going to shake her hand, but instead, Bann Trevelyan just handed his daughter an extra pouch of coins. Kate’s mother had looked back as their carriage pulled away, however. So that was something.

Ah, family, Kate thought with a sigh. No one else could make her feel quite so much like a child inside.

“My parents wrote the letters of introduction,” Kate told Robert. “I have yours in my pack, by the way.”

“No doubt it’s some bit of drivel that will make me sound like I’m an Orlesian debutante, out to beg a dance at my first ball.”

“Yes, that’s about right,” Kate smirked, thinking of her own letter. “They make us sound respectable, well-mannered…”

“And boring,” Robert grumbled.

“Five minutes in your company ought to disabuse anyone of the notion that you are either respectable or well-mannered,” Kate replied.

“Thank you for that,” Robert replied, half-smiling at her. He paused there, then his face darkened.

“So, they’re sending us off as their tithe, aren’t they? Their own personal donation to the Holy Chantry.”

Kate frowned at that. “I wouldn’t call it that,” she murmured. “I think they mean well.”

“They’re cowards,” Robert said, harshly. He hiked his pack higher on his shoulders and his strides lengthened. “All the Trevelyans are.”

Kate had nothing to say to that, not at first. She just sped up to match his pace. At last she ventured: “They do care, Robert. They’re just…” she shrugged, not knowing how exactly to explain it.

Robert slowed, almost to a stop. He ducked his head, then looked up.

“And I guess I’m about to prove a coward myself,” he said, scowling. “That’s what it feels like, anyhow. The thing is, Kate…” He took a deep breath, then ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. “I’ll be joining the templars once the talks are over,” he said, flatly.

“What?” Kate stopped short. “But I thought…”

“It’s decided,” he said, harshly, turning to face her. “Father won’t let me wiggle out of it for another year.”

“I thought you were too old to join,” Kate protested.

“I hoped I was,” Robert said. “But with the chaos, it seems they’ll take anyone these days. Even a rogue like me.” He tried to smile, but failed.

“If I’m lucky though,” Robert went on, “the mages will get their way and the Divine will disband the Order entirely. That’ll solve my problems.”

“And if they don’t?” Kate pressed.

Robert shrugged.

“You don’t have to join,” Kate told him.

“What else am I going to do with myself, Kate?” Robert said, raising his hands in the air in exasperation and walking on. “Your father has been pushing for this for years. And now my father’s joined him. I’m something of a disgrace to the family name, in case you hadn’t heard.”

“That’s absurd,” Kate said, firmly.

“Yes, well, I may have pushed it too far,” Robert glanced away. “Anyhow, that’s not the point. The point is, everyone’s sick of the youngest son of the youngest son bringing so much scandal down on our house. Either I make a man of myself and join the Order or I’m cut off.”

“Father would never do that,” Kate said, shaking her head.

“He was pretty angry last I spoke to him. I suppose I could manage well enough without the money, but I don’t much fancy the idea of never speaking to anyone in the family again.”

“I’d still speak to you,” Kate said, immediately.

“And that does me so much good when you’re off in the tower all the time,” Robert said, bitterly. Kate blinked at the vitriol in his voice.

“So you’ll throw yourself on the mercy of the templars instead?” Kate asked.

“It’s time I started doing something with myself.”

Kate frowned. That sounded like something her father would say, not Robert. Her fears were confirmed when Robert added:

“Anyhow, that’s what the package from Sorcha was all about. Lyrium is more expensive than I thought.”

“Lyrium!” Kate exclaimed, then caught herself and hissed: “Lyrium? Are you insane, Robert? You don’t want to get caught buying that stuff from smugglers.”

Robert just shrugged. “I figured I’d better have some on hand,” he said. “I know the other templars rely on the Chantry for their supply, but if the war drags on, it might get hard to come by. Better to be prepared, right? And if I don’t join the templars, I’ll sell it to one of the knights at the Conclave. Make a little coin.”

He spoke as if this was simply practical thinking. Kate shook her head, trying to make sense of this news.

“You know that once you start taking that stuff…” She broke off, not wanting to voice all the terrible changes that happened once templars got addicted to lyrium. It made them stronger, true. It gave them the ability to counter spells and weaken the presence of magic. But the more a templar took, the more mad he or she became.

“Please don’t do this, Robert,” she begged him.

“Don’t worry, Kate,” he said, quietly. “We’ll still have time together at the Conclave before it all begins.”

“And then after, the Chantry owns you for life.”

“At least I’d belong,” Robert muttered. “Right now, I don’t fit anywhere.”

Kate blinked at that. It wasn’t like Robert to be serious or feel sorry for himself.

“Robert…” she began.

“Don’t mind me,” he said, holding up a hand. “I’ll be fine. Anyhow, you have bigger things to worry about. Like how we’re going to survive traveling in that old thing.” He pointed down the hill, to where the docks had now come into view. “Maker’s arse,” he said, “Don’t tell me that’s our ship.”

“Just to West Hill,” Kate said, absently. “Then we take a barge up the canals and then another ship across Lake Calenhad.”

“And then a proper carriage, I hope?” Robert asked.

“It’s the Pilgrim’s Path, Robert,” Kate told him. “Once we reach the landing point, we’re expected to walk up the mountain to Haven.”

“Unnatural,” Robert replied, shaking his head. “Travel on foot? That can’t be what the Maker intended.”

Kate tried to match his smile, but she failed. Robert always picked himself up rather quickly. But would he continue to do so after this, Kate wondered? Would he still laugh so easily as a templar?

Kate quickly turned her head away and looked out at the sea, feeling worry and sorrow drop into her, like one stone after another. She drew a breath, then, with forced brightness, said:

“So. Mage and templar, off to the Conclave together?”

“I suppose so,” Robert said. “And after…”

And after, Kate thought, there would either be peace, or the two of them would be on opposite sides in this war. But she couldn’t bring herself to say that, so she didn’t. Robert didn’t say it either.

“And after it’s over, I’ll buy you a drink,” Kate said gamely.

“Just the one drink?” Robert grinned. “I hope it’s a damned big glass. After a forced pilgrimage, I’ll need it.”

“Fine,” Kate replied. “I’ll buy you a whole round. And then we can play a game or two of chess.”

“Oh, not chess!” Robert laughed, and shook his head. “I’m terrible at chess.”

“Exactly,” Kate replied. “And if you’ve been drinking, you’ll be even worse.”

“Wicked Grace,” Robert said, naming his favorite card game. “With a few drinks in me, we’d be equally matched.”

“Alright then,” Kate agreed. “Peace talks first, then drinks and a game of Wicked Grace.”

“Now that,” Robert said, smiling, “almost sounds like a reason to go to the Conclave.”

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