Written for BioWare’s Dragon Age Asunder Writing Challenge.
Benedict liked his name. It meant ‘blessed’ and, though some might consider him more ‘cursed’, he thought his name represented optimism on the part of his parents. In a way, the day of his birth, they had given him three gifts, life, a name and hope. As he grew into a child they gave him love and faith.
Shortly after his eighth birthday, as Benedict sat and waited for the templars with as much patience as a small boy could muster, he pondered his newest gift with fright and awe. The villagers were afraid of him, and secretly, Benedict was afraid of himself.
“It is a great gift,” his father said. “But you must learn to use it wisely.”
A small book appeared in his father’s hand, one Benedict recognised. A thumb perpetually stained with grime moved across dog-eared pages and selected one seemingly at random. Benedict knew, however, that his father’s choice was never random. Though barely educated, he could read and tally the number of turnips he dug from his lord’s fields, Benedict’s father knew every page in that book by feel and he always seemed to know the appropriate Verse.
“All men are the Work of our Maker’s Hands,” he read.
From the lowest slaves, to the highest kings, Benedict continued silently.
Later, much later, when Benedict drew that same book from a pocket of his robe, he reminded himself that his father never chose a Verse at random. He’d meant to encourage that day, to assure. He had also meant to warn. His father did not know about the Fade, he did not know about abominations and bargains with demons and spirits. He simply knew about being a good person, about being the best one could be, about having faith.
Despite the fact he gave them no trouble, the templars did not like him. They did not trust him, he realised later, though, at the time, it felt as if they’d rather he cowered or struggled. His staid demeanour, uncanny in a boy so young, perplexed them. His unwavering faith seemed to annoy them. They let him keep the last of his father’s gifts, however, that small, well thumbed book of Verse.
Benedict soon learned he was supposed to be terrified, all the time. Sometimes he feared himself and his fellows, but he remembered to be brave. He had a purpose, one he embraced with as much dignity as possible. His peaceful, almost cheerful aspect won him few friends. The other children thought him strange, perhaps already possessed.
Before coming to the tower, Benedict had spent the bulk of every day in his own company. His father worked the fields and his mother washed things, endless streams of crockery and linen. Benedict burbled to himself in a basket set in the corner of the washroom, from a shelf low to the ground when he could sit, from a fencepost in the field when his legs were long enough to dangle. When not silently watching his parents’ toil – he quickly learned to save his questions for supper time, which did not really suit as they were often too tired to answer properly – the young boy watched over himself. Sometimes he took off on adventures, sturdy, then lanky legs carrying him across fields and into the shadows of the orchards. Sometimes he nested in a hayloft and, lulled by the warm, almost spicy scent of straw, he would let his mind wander and adventure across Thedas, his journeys powered by imagination alone.
His fantasies were simple ones, usually stories extrapolated from selected verses of the Chant. He frightened himself, sometimes, imagining the corruption of the Golden City. Other times he put himself in the picture, usually as a warrior clad in plate. His weapons differed, but they always shone, the product of his diligence, and they were always just. He fought for right; he did the Maker’s work, even when he did not quite understand what that entailed.
As his eighth birthday approached, he began to harbour a secret wish. He frequented the chantry to spy on his ambition, tall men and women in gleaming armour, the Sword of Mercy etched upon their breast plates. As a templar he could better serve the Maker! He could attain the education his father desired for him, make his mother proud.
The Maker, however, had different plans for him.
Trusting in his creator, Benedict accepted his fate and embraced his studies with the same diligence he might have applied to a different path. By himself, the top bunk almost as cozy as that corner of the hayloft, he continued to tell himself stories, imagination now fueled by row upon row of books. He still daydreamed about being a templar, sometimes, though he knew his dream would never come true. Then, when sorrow plucked at him, he pulled out that small book and comforted himself, reminded himself he, too, was the work of the Maker’s hands. He had a purpose, possibly a great one.
The placid, yet cheerful demeanour that had disturbed his fellows in the beginning soon drew them to his side. In Benedict’s company they found solace, acceptance, humour and unquestioning friendship. He was not the most talented of the initiates, but he seemed the happiest. Failure inspired him to try harder and success brought with it a whoop of joy – and the accompanying frowns of attendant enchanters and wandering templars. His friends discovered he had doubts too, behind those happy smiles, and they embraced his apparent normalcy. Benedict never shared his dream; it seemed silly to dwell on something he couldn’t have. Instead, he encouraged others and, in turn, they encouraged him.
Life in the Tower was not idyllic. Watchful eyes watched and wicked voices whispered. Rumour and superstition caused schisms and often it seemed fear scented the air more than the odor of dust and dry parchment. Initiates, apprentices and sometimes mages disappeared and the Tranquil were not what Benedict would call tranquil. Perhaps within they were; but without they served as a reminder of what awaited the weak, the less staid, the unjust. Benedict tried to assure himself that even those who served had a purpose, that the Maker spared them for a unique role. Curled into the corner of his bunk, however, he wondered what happened behind those empty eyes.
“Do the Tranquil daydream?” he asked one of his instructors.
The elder mage, a woman with a sharp gaze, shook her head. She never answered aloud, though Benedict asked the question twice more. In his search for an answer, amongst equally silent rows of books, he stumbled upon the truth and understood why she’d shaken her head.
In his sixteenth year, blood magic seemed to infect the very stone of the Tower. Mages fell to demonic presences, visages twisted with evil – or despair. Abominations and shades stalked the corridors. Clutching his small book of Verse in one hand Benedict did his duty, as he saw it. He fought beside his brothers and sisters and he tended those who fell. So many died and each loss weighed heavily on his heart. Once, just once, he railed at his fate.
“I am not blessed, I am cursed,” he whispered to the shadows.
“We’re all cursed,” answered a voice, choked with sobs.
Benedict gathered the other apprentice, his closest friend, into his arms and held her close as the battle raged over their heads. He felt like a coward, hiding in the dark. But they had lost too much ground.
“Our deaths would serve no purpose,” he whispered.
In the dark, he shunted aside envy for the templars with their sturdy armour and just swords. In blackest envy were the demons born. The templars fell as well, their purpose, their fate, different from his.
A hero saved them, one not clad in steel. Benedict never met her, but he listened to the stories as he helped restore order. In the echoing hallways, among the mysterious stains, the stench of death and singed piles of books, new stories were welcome, particularly those filled with hope and optimism.
Benedict became a man before he became a mage and supposed that was the right way of things. One would help him attain the other, or so he hoped. His future no longer lurked, it loomed, and the dead eyes of the Tranquil took on a new aspect; the watchful gazes of the templars acquired a new weight. He found a corner of the chapel better suited than a bunk which no longer accommodated the length of his legs. There, he pondered the small book that seemed every day as if it would fall to pieces, the binding creaky, pages brittle. Yet, it withstood every touch, remained intact. Benedict tried not to guess the span of its life; a book should remain eternal, not expire when its owner no longer required it.
His thumb found one page more often than not.
“I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Fade,” he read quietly. “For there is no darkness, nor death either, in the Maker’s Light, and nothing that He has wrought shall be lost.”
He would still have a purpose after, he told himself. If he failed this test, the Maker would find another use for him. Benedict embraced this hope, he trusted it. He trusted his faith.
If his optimism annoyed his fellow apprentices, they did not show it, except perhaps to express their envy. Benedict would shake his head at that, encourage them not to envy him.
“We are all the same,” he said. All the work of the Maker.
His time came and it seemed Benedict held his breath throughout that long, silent trek to the top of the tower. The templar at his side respected his silence, or reveled in it. Benedict prayed. He felt selfish in his prayer and tried to remind himself that if Tranquility and a brand awaited him, he would not miss his dreams; he would not know he missed them.
He felt selfish in his prayer because he did not expect Tranquility, but his Harrowing.
Pride is not a fault, he told himself. With the proper expectations, it would not invite temptation, allow a demon to gain a foothold.
Outside the door to the chamber, Benedict patted the pocket of his robe and keenly felt the absence of his most valued possession. He had given it to her, his dear friend, his cherished one. It would not help him navigate the Fade, it would be lost if he became Tranquil, it would be burned with his remains if he failed. And so he gave it to her as a gift.
“I’ll keep it safe until your return,” she told him.
Knowing most of the verses by heart, he turned to his companion, a tall man encased in silverite, the Sword of Mercy emblazoned upon his chest.
Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter, he offered silently. “Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just,” he finished aloud.
The door opened and Benedict went to meet his fate.
As always, thank you to BioWare for letting me play in their sandbox. Setting and passages of the ‘Chant of Light’ belong to them. Benedict and his fate belong to me.