Penitents

Chapter 6 of Daughters of Andraste

“You up for a game of Wicked Grace, Curly?”

Cullen glanced up from his work table and fixed the dwarf with a severe look.

Varric Tethras - rogue, storyteller, and general pain in the neck - had been brought to Ferelden to tell the Divine about what had happened in Kirkwall. Cullen rather doubted that anyone would be getting a straight story out of the dwarf, as Varric was known for embellishment. Clearly, the dwarf was bored out of his mind with all this waiting, for he was pestering Cullen at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, Cullen had a very hard time ignoring Varric. The dwarf seemed to know just what to say to draw people in to unwanted conversation.

“My hair does not curl,” Cullen protested before he could think better of it. Varric just chuckled in response.

“Not since Leliana gave you that tonic,” the dwarf said, squinting at Cullen’s head. “You got a lot better at styling yourself since you left Kirkwall. I’m impressed. I would have thought Ferelden would turn you feral. But now you almost look presentable.”

“I almost look…?” Cullen caught himself before he rose to Varric’s bait. He ignored the dwarf one moment more, then couldn’t help but say, “I still don’t understand why you call me ‘Curly.’ Even if my hair did curl once, it doesn’t anymore.”

“Yeah, well, ‘Blondie’ was already taken,” Varric muttered darkly. He frowned at the floor, then looked up and said, more cheerfully. “So, Wicked Grace?”

“Varric,” Cullen said, with a weary sigh, “The peace talks begin in the morning.”

“Right. I got that. And?”

“And now is hardly the time for a card game.”

“On the contrary,” Varric said, easily. “You’re stuck in here, I’m stuck in here. Now is the perfect time for a game.” To illustrate this, he sat himself down on a nearby box, placed his hands behind his head and leaned back against the wall.

“I quite disagree,” Cullen said, looking down at his papers.

“Come on, what else are you going to do?” the dwarf asked. “Glower at the wall until all this is over?”

“I do actually have patrols to run, even from in here,” Cullen said. He flipped through his papers, looking over one report, then another. Neither was the one he needed.

“Patrols, huh?” Varric said, folding his arms over his chest. “Too bad you can’t be out there yourself.”

“Maybe I should send you to monitor the Pilgrim’s Path,” Cullen muttered.

“Ha!” Varric laughed. “As if Cassandra would ever allow that. Anyhow, I like it better here in Haven. It’s as far from the mages and templars as I can get and there’s even a tavern nearby.”

“Is that why you haven’t run away yet?” Cullen asked. “Too much work to flee through the mountains?”

“Eh,” Varric shrugged. “That’s part of it. Also, I don’t imagine that a certain woman with the title of Seeker would let me go missing for very long.”

“Good point,” Cullen conceded. Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast had gone to great lengths to drag Varric all the way here. She wasn’t likely to let him escape so easily.

“And hey,” Varric added, “I’m a sucker for plot lines full of doom and gloom. I just have to stick around and see the mess for myself. This Conclave thing isn’t going to end well, mark my words.”

That made Cullen look up at last. “Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Call it a hunch,” Varric shrugged. “Or, you know, literary expertise. I’ll tell you this much, if I were a mage, I wouldn’t come anywhere near this place. I’d suspect this whole thing was a trap.”

“If you were a mage, someone would have made you tranquil long ago,” Cullen muttered.

Varric blanched at this. “What?”

“That was a joke,” Cullen clarified.

“You know,” Varric said, cocking his head to one side. “Sometimes I’m not sure about you, Curly.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It just means that sometimes you’re alright. And sometimes, you’re scary. I once saw you knee a guy in the groin so you could question him about demons or some shit.”

“Did I?” Cullen asked. He looked up briefly in his search.

“He turned out to be an abomination, if that jogs your memory,” Varric told him.

It didn’t at first. Cullen supposed it was a testimony to the insanity of his past, but all those abomination attacks sort of ran together after a while. Then Cullen found the memory he was looking for.

“Oh,” he said, wincing. “Right. The business with Wilmod.”

He cleared his throat, then resumed his search through the reports. Cullen didn’t want to dwell on that picture of himself, not when there was so much work to do.

“And now you and Cassandra and Leliana just stand in corners and whisper all the time,” Varric went on. “It creeps me out. What are you people up to?”

“Business for the Divine,” Cullen said vaguely.

“Yeah, and that’s not evasive at all.”

“The Divine’s business is none of your business, Varric,” Cullen told him.

“See, this is why the whole things feels like a trap,” Varric said, wagging his finger at Cullen. “Not to mention, the location isn’t exactly inviting.”

“We’re in the middle of the mountains,” Cullen replied. “There’s only so much you can do to make the place livable.”

Case in point, Cullen presently lived in a tent, the better to set an example for his men. It was damnably cold, too.

“It’s not the village,” Varric said. “It’s the temple itself. You know, the one that guarded Andraste’s sacred ashy remains? Fire, fire, ashes, and fire? Oh, and did I mention the fire? If I were a mage, I’d go running in the other direction. It all sounds so…burny.”

“Burny,” Cullen repeated. “I’m quite certain that is not a word.”

“Sure it is,” Varric said, curling his fingers and considering his nails. “I just made it up.”

Cullen rolled his eyes. “And where would you have suggested we hold this, Varric?” he asked, though he knew he should just ignore the dwarf. “The Hanged Man?”

“Oh, so you can joke about Kirkwall.”

“This is neutral ground. Justinia herself has blessed it as such.”

“The most sacred site of the Chantry is neutral ground?” Varric laughed. “Dare to dream, templar.”

“I am not a templar,” Cullen said. His words came out so harsh, he surprised even himself.

“Not anymore,” he added. Blast it, he thought, looking down at the table. Where were those reports? Varric was quiet for one blessed moment, then he opened his mouth again.

“You know,” he said. “I think we should hold this whole thing in the Deep Roads.”

Cullen snorted.

“Yeah, that’s what we ought to do,” Varric went on. “Just dump all the mages and templars in there and don’t let them out until they’ve stopped arguing.”

“Yes, and dumping mortal enemies into a darkspawn-filled cavern is decidedly better than inviting them to a temple,” Cullen replied dryly.

“Damn right,” Varric nodded. “Haven is cold, remote, and did I mention the cold? It’s the ass end of civilization.”

“Your complaints have been noted,” Cullen said. And summarily disregarded, he though to himself. Just then, Cullen found the report he was looking for, and not a moment too soon. Lieutenant Ruvena walked up the table and saluted.

“Ah, good,” Cullen said, without really looking at her. He snapped the report out in her direction. “Take this to Sister Nightingale,” he said. “I’ll be down to check on the recruits shortly.”

“Uh,” Ruvena blinked. “Yes, sir.” She took the paper, saluted again and walked away. Cullen turned his attention back to the table.

“Well that was smooth,” Varric said after a moment.

“What?” Cullen asked.

“I think she was hoping for a longer debrief, commander,” the dwarf said, slyly.

Cullen frowned. “Who?”

Varric rolled his eyes. “All those reports pouring in, and yet he’s still totally oblivious,” he muttered. “So, cards?”

Before Cullen could refuse - again - a horn blew in the distance. He tensed, immediately associating the sound with battle. But then the Chantry bells began to chime a familiar melody. Cullen recognized it as the Canticle of Transfigurations. It was an interesting choice to begin the prayers, he supposed. A line from this chant had started this whole mess:

Magic exists to serve man and never to rule over him,” Varric sang softly. Cullen stared at the dwarf in astonishment.

“Did you just sing?” he asked, blinking. “The Chant?”

“What?” Varric shrugged, looking away quickly. “I’m familiar with it. I know a lot of drinking songs, too. Anyhow, we’d better clear out. People are going to want to pray in here now.”

Varric nodded to the the nave of the Chantry, which was quickly filling. One by one they walked in, placed a fist over their hearts, and then knelt on the stone floor.

“I have work,” Cullen said, keeping his voice low. “If you’ll excuse me, Varric.”

As quietly as he could, Cullen gathered up his papers and headed out of the Chantry. Varric looked after the commander for a moment, then turned and considered the petitioners on their knees.

“Nah,” Varric muttered to himself. With a shrug to no one in particular, he too wandered out of the Chantry. The snow had begun falling again, in light flakes that seemed unconcerned with how long it took them to reach the ground. All around him, the bells’ music filled the air.

“The mountains make a better chantry than the Chantry,” Varric observed to himself. And as he headed toward the tavern, the dwarf sang softly:

O Maker, hear my cry.
I dwell without fire,
I live without light.
O Creator, hear my prayer.
The night is long,
The way is dark.
O Andraste, guide my feet,
As sure as you once walked.
Though all before me is ash and snow,
Still let the Maker be my might.


Though all before me is ash and snow…” Kate sang softly.

“What?” Robert asked, giving her a strange look.

“Snow,” Kate said, holding up her palm. A small flake rested there, quickly melting against her skin.

“What about it?” Robert asked.

“It’s part of the chant,” Kate said, looking down at the droplet left behind. “But it also occurs to me that this is the first time I’ve seen snow.”

Another flake fell on her hand, and Kate watched that one melt, too.

“You’ve seen snow,” Coll snorted. “Mythal’s tits, Kate. You can make snow.”

“Yes, but I made it. Not the Maker,” Kate returned.

“You’ve seen snow before, haven’t you?” Robert asked, looking somewhat troubled by that notion. “I mean, you’ve seen it on the Vimmark Mountains, right?”

“I suppose,” Kate replied. “But that was at a distance. This is entirely different. It’s…” she looked about, then gave a wistful smile. “It’s beautiful.”

“Right,” Coll said, grabbing Kate’s hand, “Snow is pretty, and you have other things to worry about. So this would be the part where you turn that scholar’s brain of yours toward other things. Like the peace talks? Remember those?”

“Of course I remember,” Kate said, letting her hand drop. “I was just appreciating…never mind.” She sighed. “Yes, the peace talks. I won’t let you down, Coll.”

“I know you won’t,” the elf replied, but she still looked concerned.

“Don’t worry about me, Coll,” Kate said, trying to lighten the mood, “Worry about keeping yourself entertained for the weekend.” She waved a hand at the village in general. “I don’t think they have a library here.”

“No,” Robert agreed. “But they have a tavern.” He nodded toward it with a grin.

Just then, a dwarf in a red shirt opened the door and walked inside. A round of ‘Hey!’s and ‘Varric!’s greeted him, and Kate heard music playing before the door swung shut again.

“You see?” Robert said. “Bawdy songs and Ferelden ale are much better than a library.”

“Says you,” Coll sniffed. But then she smiled a bit and added, “‘Course, it’s been a long while since I had a pint. And I do know some good Dalish drinking songs.”

“Are they naughty Dalish drinking songs?” Robert asked, raising a brow.

“Filthy,” Coll replied. “How’s your elvish?”

“Non-existent,” Robert admitted. “Kindly translate the good parts for an ignorant shem, will you?”

“I think you ought to stay alert,” Lysette said, frowning at them both. “Getting drunk seems like a poor idea. Especially if you’re trying to impress the templars, Lord Trevelyan.”

Kate pursed her lips to avoid laughing out loud. Robert was not interested in impressing any templars - save perhaps, Lysette herself. But Lysette had not responded to Robert’s flirting over the past few days. Of course, Lysette hadn’t responded to Colleen’s flirting, either.

“Stay alert?” Robert laughed. “Where’s the fun in that? Besides, this place is crawling with guards. They hardly need my help keeping order. What do you say, Coll? I’ll buy you a drink. Can you manage a full pint? Or should I make yours a half?”

Kate just groaned. “Please don’t break my friends, Robert,” she begged.

“Go on with you,” Coll said, frowning from one Trevelyan to the other. “You shems think that just because you’re bigger, you can hold your drink better. You’re about to find out how wrong you are, boyo.”

“Alright,” Kate said. “I take it back. Colleen, please don’t break my cousin.”

“I’ll take it easy on the lad,” Coll said, patting his arm as if he was a child in pinafores. Kate sighed and shook her head.

“And you asked me why I wasn’t taking them to the peace talks,” Kate said to Lysette, waving a hand at the other two.

“I was going to go to the Chantry for prayers,” Lysette replied, frowning. “But if you want me to stand guard over them in the tavern…”

“No, no,” Kate said, quickly. “They’ll be fine. Sick in the morning, but otherwise fine.”

“Go on and pray to your maker, Lyssy,” Coll assured the templar. “Robbie-boy and I will be fine.”

“Yes,” Robert agreed. “Say a prayer for all of us. And as for you, Kate, you’d better get going. The sun will be setting soon.”

“I suppose I should…” Kate said. She trailed off, looking up at the mountains beyond the wooden walls. On the way here, it was easy enough to forget about the coming Conclave. Robert and Coll had done their best to distract her, to make her laugh. But now that they were here, she could no longer ignore the real reason for this pilgrimage.

“Maker watch over you, Lady Trevelyan,” Lysette said, solemnly.

Maker watch over us all, Kate thought. She shivered, but she pasted a smile on her face.

“Enjoy Haven,” she said, brightly. “I’ll find you when this is all done.”

Lysette gravely shook Kate’s hand. Coll gave Kate a ‘you’ve got this’ sort of look and a quick hug. Robert gave her a cheeky grin, but it came off a bit queasy.

“Be careful,” Robert said. He wrapped his arms around Kate, and because he was so much taller, she found her cheek squashed to his chest.

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him.

“I meant be careful on the hike up,” he said, releasing her. “I have this notion that you’ll get distracted by the snowflakes or the view or something and plummet to your death.”

“I will not,” Kate protested.

“Almost did twice on the way up,” Coll said, hiking a thumb over her shoulder.

“Just keep your eyes on the path,” Robert said. “You really should have gone with Ser Ira. He’s a bit grim, but he could have kept you on your feet, at least.”

“I wanted to see you all settled first…” Kate trailed off, then shrugged. “Well.” She smiled weakly, and then, having nothing else to say, she turned and walked away.

Kate reached the end of the street before she looked back, but her friends were already gone - into the tavern or the Chantry or wherever they’d wandered. And suddenly, Kate felt very alone. The air seemed colder, the snowflakes more brittle. Kate turned and walked on.

She plodded past the quiet smithy, past the empty stables, and up the narrow path. Along the way, she spotted a few nugs, rooting around in the frosty underbrush. Kate resisted the urge to blast the nugs. It wouldn’t do any good to compromise the peace talks, all for the sake of eliminating some vermin. The thought almost made her laugh.

As she came around the next corner, Kate spotted a great stone gate. On the other side was a narrow bridge, and the words “Penitents’ Crossing” were carved over the massive doorway. The name was quite fitting, Kate thought. She felt awfully penitent and meek at the moment. It didn’t help that she was running late.

Kate hurried through the archway, and was just about to set off across the bridge when someone cried:

“And where do you think you’re going?”

Kate gasped in alarm. She whirled around, only to find that the bridge wasn’t as vacant as she had previously thought. A man stood behind her, with a paper-strewn table at his side. The man wore a cleric’s tunic and one of those silly-looking sunburst hats that marked the brothers of the Chantry. An armored woman stood beside him. She was a few inches shorter than Kate, but with much more muscular arms and legs and she wore a sword at her hip. Upon her breastplate was emblazoned the symbol of an eye, with lashes like flames.

Kate shrank back a bit. This woman was a Seeker, she thought, nervously. The Seekers policed the templars - or they had done so once. But according to rumor, the Seekers had left the Chantry and gone off hunting mages. And if there was a Seeker here

Kate swallowed. Maybe this Conclave was a trap, after all.

“The temple is off limits to anyone but delegates to the peace talks,” the cleric told her, oozing condescension. “All others must stay below in Haven.”

“I am a delegate,” Kate said.

The man snorted. “You are?” he asked, clearly unbelieving. “A templar recruit, no doubt. But you still can’t come in here.”

“I’m a mage,” Kate said, digging into her satchel at once. “I have papers and everything.”

The cleric gave her a withering glare, then turned his attention to the woman at his side.

“Seeker Pentaghast,” he practically sneered, “I warned you about this kind of thing. If you don’t set a limit on when the delegates arrive, they will be trailing in from now until Wintersend.”

“Well, I hope the talks don’t go on that long,” Kate said, giving a little chuckle.

Both cleric and Seeker turned and glared at her. Kate swallowed. Oh, she thought. So neither of them had a sense of humor. Good to know.

“Sorry,” she said, quickly. The Seeker turned her attention back to the cleric.

“All delegates are invited to attend,” she said. The woman had a thick Navarran accent and rather obvious disdain for her clerical companion. “The Most Holy would not close doors on the penitent faithful. As much as you love your lists, Chancellor Roderick, they mean little in the face of the Divine’s mercy.”

Chancellor Roderick glowered. Kate would never dare to provoke an armed woman in such a manner, but then, her sense of self-preservation was far stronger than her sense of pride. The cleric turned his attention back to Kate.

“Who are you?” Roderick asked her loftily.

“Um, Kate?” Her voice came out a bit squeaky. “Of Ostwick?” She cringed to hear how she’d managed to turn a single statement into two questions.

“That would be Lady Katerina Rosella Trevelyan, correct?” Seeker Cassandra asked.

Kate did a double take. “Have we met?”

“No,” the woman returned. “But I know of you. Your templar - Ser Ira, was it? He mentioned you’d be along shortly.”

Roderick rolled his eyes and turned to the table beside him. Kate saw that all the papers were neatly stacked, with a rock to weigh down each pile. The cleric reached out and made a little note on one of the lists before him.

“Right,” Roderick said, crisply. “Papers?” He held out his hand to her.

“Um, yes,” Kate said. “Right here.” She handed her letters over. Roderick examined them with brusque efficiency.

“Yes, yes,” he muttered, as he read through the letter from the Circle. “As official as we can expect in these times.” He turned his attention to the other letter - the one bearing the seal of a horse with it’s mane flying. His expression softened at little as he read that letter.

“Hmpf,” Roderick sniffed. “I’m glad to see that some of you mages have ties to the right sorts of people. We need all the Loyalists we can get.”

Kate felt a flare of anger at his words. This man knew nothing of her, and for him to presume…

But years of learning to hold her tongue kept her from saying what she actually thought. Instead, she said:

“I am so glad you approve.”

The cleric ignored her. The dark-haired Seeker, however, stared at Kate more intently than ever.

“Go on then,” Roderick said, waving a hand at Kate. “The mercenaries at the temple will see you to your quarters.”

“Um, thank you,” Kate said. She didn’t like the word ‘mercenaries’ very much, but it was a great deal better than hearing that templars would be squiring her about. Or Seekers, for that matter.

Roderick said nothing in response to this, but the dark-haired Seeker nodded shortly. As Kate turned away, Cassandra said:

“Maker guide your path.”

Kate looked back. “And yours as well,” she said politely.

With that, Kate turned and walked away. A long, winding path lay before her, all ice and mountains and wind. With a shiver, Kate drew her coat closer about her shoulders, and headed up into the gently drifting snow.


Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. She prayed that she might refrain from doing bodily harm to Chancellor Roderick, at least for one more day. The man probably didn’t realize how many prayers she’d said on his behalf.

“A mage in merc’s clothing,” the clerk said with a sneer. He directed his glare at the red-haired young woman who trudged away from them. “Most of them look more like they came from an alienage than from a Circle,” Roderick went on. “It’s like they’re trying to look pathetic, the better to sway Justinia’s sensitive heart. It’s likely to work, too.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes heavenward. Many of these mages had been living on the run for months, she thought. She didn’t support the rebellion in the slightest, but she did feel sorry for the mages involved. Many of them had been tossed into this war against their will.

Although, Cassandra thought, looking after the red-haired mage, that young woman didn’t seem to like the Circles much. Roderick might have missed the fire in the woman’s eyes when he called her a Loyalist, but Cassandra had not.

Yet again, Cassandra wished she could be up at the Conclave, the better to keep Justinia safe, should the rebels try anything foolish. But the Most Holy had decided to leave her bodyguard behind in Haven. It was most frustrating. And dealing with Roderick only added insult to injury.

“I’m going to prayers,” Cassandra announced suddenly. Roderick frowned at her.

“Aren’t you supposed to be guarding me?”

“I am guarding the bridge,” Cassandra returned. “And as there are seven other guards within shouting distance and nearly all the delegates have arrived, I assume you will be able to manage.”

Without waiting to hear his further complaints, Cassandra headed through the stone archway and down the path toward Haven. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to go to the training area and smack something with her sword. But Cassandra figured that during the prayer hour, she ought to at least try and settle her mind.

But surely a bit of food wouldn’t go amiss, she thought. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was little wonder she was so grumpy. With the bells ringing the Canticle of Transfigurations over her head, Cassandra strode off toward the tavern.


“You know,” Colleen observed, glaring into her glass, “This isn’t much fun without Kate around.”

Robert agreed, but he didn’t want to say so out loud. He felt he ought to at least pretend this was going to be an amusing weekend.

“You go out drinking with Kate often, then?” he asked, trying to steer the conversation in another direction. Colleen laughed.

“Go on with yeh!” the elf said. “As if we ever could while in the Circle. The templars don’t drink - well, not on duty, anyhow. And you think they’d let mages have spirits? Of either kind?” Coll laughed at her own joke, then stuck her nose back into her glass.

“Oh,” Robert said. He considered that, then asked, “So what’s it like in the Circle? I mean, what’s it really like? Kate doesn’t talk about it much.”

“Quiet,” Coll shrugged. “Lot of books. Boring, really. I don’t usually mind it, but everyone’s awfully serious. Kate’s one of the few who laughs.”

Robert paused with his glass halfway to his lips. That sounded familiar. Hadn’t he said something like that once before?

“Not that Kate’s always makin’ dumb jokes,” Coll added. “But she sees how ridiculous it all is.”

“It is pretty ridiculous,” Robert agreed.

“Sure is,” Coll said.

They lapsed into silence, each drinking slowly. The tavern music lilted over them, and everyone in the place seemed to be in the same quiet, contemplative mood that they were. Only the dwarf in the corner spoke with anything resembling enthusiasm.

Just then, the door opened and a short haired woman walked in. Robert cocked his head. Pretty women walking into a room always caught his attention. And she had an especially nice-looking figure from here. Though, Robert thought, she did have awfully short hair. What was with this trend of women cutting their hair short? He didn’t care for the fashion at all.

The woman walked to the bar - Robert watched her hip-swinging swagger with interest. She carried herself as if she were the deadliest person in the room. Robert had to admit, it was a good look. As she spoke to the barmaid, Robert studied the way the woman moved.

Most women he knew were nobles. They were always trying to float gracefully through rooms, or whatever it was they taught them in finishing school. Robert thought it made them look like someone had gracefully shoved something up their asses.

Then you had types who knew they were sexy and wanted everyone else to know it as well. Sorcha was like that. Robert knew a lot of women who were like that. They were usually his favorite type, too.

Some women just looked tired all the time, some clearly didn’t care. And a very few managed to be adorably clueless. Kate was definitely in that category, Robert thought with a chuckle. She probably didn’t realize how many of his friends had fallen for her I’m-cute-but-have-no-clue-that-I’m-a-woman walk.

But the way this woman moved was something else entirely. Robert took another drink, still watching her closely. She was like nothing he’d ever seen, really.

The woman turned around then, and leaned against the bar. Robert nearly choked on his ale. His eyes went wide, and he set his glass down hard enough to make ale slosh out onto the table.

“I’ll be damned,” Robert murmured.

“What?” Colleen said, frowning at him. She turned around, then cocked her head. She snorted, then turned back at Robert with an approving nod.

“Well-spotted, Trevelyan,” she said.

“She’s…” he murmured.

“Pretty,” Coll agreed, turning to look at the woman again. “I can’t decide if I enjoy having you around for your scouting abilities, or if you’re a bit more competition than I like.”

Robert would have laughed at that if he hadn’t been so stunned.

For Coll was absolutely wrong. The woman wasn’t “pretty.” “Beautiful” didn’t work either. “Exotic” was closer, but still not right for describing the woman’s face.

“She’s perfect,” Robert muttered, scarcely aware he was speaking aloud.

Forget the short hair, he thought. More hair would just get in the way of those stunning, up-turned eyes. Her nose was perfect, Robert thought, her jaw was perfect. Even that scar on her cheek was perfect. She was just right - every inch of her. She carried herself like a queen, too, all proud shoulders and rustic armor and a sword at her hip. And damn it if her confidence wasn’t drawing Robert in like a physical force.

Void take me, he thought, shaking his head. She was amazing. He hadn’t been this struck by a woman in… Well, not in months, at least. Maybe not even in a year.

“Get yer eyes back in your head, Trevelyan,” Colleen said, snapping her fingers in his face.

“I saw her first,” Robert said, quickly.

“Yeh saw your grave first, then,” Colleen snorted. “Did you not notice the tunic she’s wearing?”

“Tunic?” Robert repeated. He’d been too caught up in studying the curve of the woman’s jaw to notice her tunic.

“She’s a Seeker,” Coll hissed.

Robert nodded reverently. “And Maker, let me be found.”

“You’re mad, you are,” Coll laughed. “We’re supposed to stay out of trouble, aye? Still,” she added, thoughtfully, “I wonder if that cute barmaid fancies elves.”

“A Seeker?” Robert murmured, an idea suddenly occurring to him.

“I know,” Coll said, taking another drink. “I’ll go order us some food. And if I just happen to flirt with the pretty barmaid while I do so…” She grinned to herself.

“A Seeker! Robert said, pounding his fist on the table.

Colleen, the Seeker, the barmaid, and everyone in the entire tavern turned to stare at him.

Robert flushed. He hadn’t meant to say it quite so loud.

“Uh…” he muttered.

In that same moment, the Seeker looked at him, and their eyes locked. Robert felt the world stop spinning for a moment.

Then the Seeker stiffened, spoke to the barmaid, and strode away. The world started spinning again, this time a little more quickly. The rest of the tavern turned back to their conversations with nervous laughs.

“Must be a templar,” Robert heard the dwarf mutter from the corner. “No one does ‘touched in the head’ quite like the Order.”

“Mythal love you, Robbie-boy” Coll chuckled, leaning forward across the table. “Here Kate talked about you like you were a worldly one. But you go just as moony as the next lad, don’t yeh?”

Robert didn’t bother to respond to this. The Seeker was getting away and he had to talk to her.

“I’ll be right back,” he told Coll. “Order me something.” He tossed a few coins onto the table.

“You’re mad,” Coll protested. But Robert wasn’t listening. He hurried to the door as quickly as he could, shoved it open and walked out into the cold. And all the while, Robert grinned.

He’d thought coming to the Conclave was the end of his life as he knew it. But having seen that Seeker, he realized it just might be a new beginning.

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