Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 11

The Qun Demands

Happily—or not, actually, as it made him furious—the Arishok already knew of Petrice’s prior misdeeds and did not doubt her involvement. That said rather a lot about his spy network considering how tightly the giants kept to themselves and how very noticeable they were among the human population. In the only display of emotion I’d ever seen from one of his race, the Qunari leader raged about the chaos that surrounded the compound.

The trap he’d set had been intended to catch the thief they had been chasing through the storm that had shipwrecked them outside Kirkwall four years earlier. They could not return home without the loot and the one that had stolen it. Now this elf and her shadowy supporter were inciting the citizenry against the Qunari as punishment for accepting converts from the human and elven residents of the city and still they could not leave.

He asked me how I stood the chaos of Kirkwall, no one knowing what role they were to fulfill. I answered that the constant flux offered opportunities, for good or ill; no one had to be locked into what circumstance made them. He responded with a lecture about the certainty of a role assigned by the Qun being better than having to make your own, that Qunari had choices as well: submit or die. There didn’t seem to be much to say to that so we sort of nodded politely and headed back to the Viscount’s keep.

When we’d left the Qunari compound Sebastian promised to talk to the Grand Cleric about Sister Petrice and explain how important it was to keep the peace with the Qunari, a funny pledge from a man still half-heartedly trying to wage a war. I thanked him anyway. I don’t know if he even kept that promise: the next step came so quickly that he may not ever have made time.

We’d reported to Dumar and gone back to our regular routines, such as they were, for a few days. I returned home from a morning spent inveigling Anders into taking better care of himself, feeding him baked goods while trying to jolly him out of his funk. As the years passed he had begun to swing more severely between frustrated sorrow and furious—but often disorganized—action. He would join us at The Hanged Man one night, sprawling in companionship with the rest, and then we wouldn’t see him for days.

I’d often find Anders as I had that morning, pale and exhausted but pacing restlessly around his clinic. He wouldn’t talk about where he’d been or why he was so filthy after these absences but always seemed pathetically grateful for my attentions. Somewhere along the line he had convinced himself that Justice’s presence made him unworthy of friendship and in such moods even a strong embrace could be enough to bring him near tears.

This last trip must have been particularly bad. The stench of the sewer still clung to his robes and something was smeared on his forehead as though he’d wiped a messy hand across it thoughtlessly. The spare bandages he habitually kept wrapped around his arms and legs had nearly all disappeared, a sure sign that people had been hurt badly enough that even his powerful healing skills had not been enough.

I knew it had to have something to do with Circle mages and Templars, given his obsessions, but I wasn’t going to pry. If he asked for my help we’d have a discussion about what he was trying to accomplish and the wisdom of poking an angry dog with a stick when its rope was already frayed. I half hoped he never would. He was a darling man and a dear friend but Justice forced him into danger more and more often. I’m ashamed to admit that I feared the spirit’s reaction if I refused.

So my morning had been spent in Darktown exchanging naughty remarks about filled rolls while getting those who helped around the clinic to fetch enough water that Anders could heat himself a decent bath. He let me cajole him into mowing down the stubble that threatened to bloom into full beard status so I wouldn’t have to groom that for him as well. I’d left when he’d started suggestively loosening the belt around his robes, waggling his eyebrows. I ordered the ladies to get the ragged things as clean as they could on my way. Brushing his hair was fine but I wasn’t about to stay and help him scrub anything.

I arrived home at midday to find another message from Viscount Dumar requesting my presence. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d embarrassed Aveline by showing up at the guard barracks fully armed and dressed for battle so I popped in to see her on the way. We walked across the keep as we chatted and found Seneschal Bran fidgeting outside Dumar’s office.

The viscount explained that, as a conciliatory gesture after their trap had caused the deaths of dozens of Kirkwall’s citizens, the Arishok had sent a delegation to suggest negotiating a more-lasting peace for the Qunari in the city. He clearly assumed I’d told the Viscount of his little tirade and had acted to quell concerns for as long as they stayed looking for whatever it was they had lost. Dumar had responded positively, knowing a good thing when he saw it, but the group had disappeared practically from the steps of his keep rather than returning to the compound from whence they’d come.

While I found the story interesting enough I wasn’t sure quite what I had to do with anything. It seemed much more a job for Aveline than me. Bran pointed out, however, that some of the guardsmen had to have been involved for the kidnapping of five very large men to have gone unreported at the time. Though he seemed at a loss as to where one would look for a crooked guard who likely had been generously paid Aveline and I both knew that The Hanged Man was the first—and likely last—stop in that investigation.

It took all of three seconds after we arrived that evening to determine which of the patrons we should target. As Isabela and Varric were already in the room we told them the story and the four of us confronted the idiot as he grandly ordered another round for his buddies. I doubt even a dive like The Hanged Man has seen a brawl quite as bloody as the one that ensued but, in the end, our young, soon-to-be-ex-guard friend was singing like a bird. A Templar had come to him with the Grand Cleric’s seal and more coin than he’d ever seen with a request to look the other way while the delegation was “redirected”.

The four of us said “Petrice” at the same instance, the name sounding more like an obscure curse. I gave Aveline a little lecture about hiring men dumb enough to believe that the Grand Cleric, paragon of neutrality and inaction that she was, would ask him to shirk his duty for such a dastardly deed, then off we went to the Chantry.

It was quite late by the time we arrived and the candles at the feet of Andraste’s offensively overdone statue provided most of the light in the vaulted nave. I asked a young sister to fetch the Grand Cleric but, rather than the gentle face of the old woman, I turned from my contemplation of the enormous incense braziers to find the scornful face of my least favorite Andrastian herself.

She hadn’t even opened her mouth and already I wanted to bash her with my shield. The contemptuous look on her face was clearer than any words. “Petrice,” I said, my tone half a step shy of actual spitting. “We’re here to see Elthina.”

Mother Petrice,” she corrected. “I would hardly have the Grand Cleric disturbed to meet with the likes of you.” Her derision drew her upper lip almost into a snarl. “Whatever you want will go through me.”

“You know very well what we want, Petrice,” I responded. I would never give her the satisfaction of using such a lofty title as Mother. “A Templar used the Grand Cleric’s seal, and a great deal of money, to secure the cooperation of the city guard in the kidnapping of a Qunari delegation to the Viscount.”

She looked nonplussed for a moment, naïve enough to think the money would have bought silence. “Ah, a pause that says you knew. What a surprise,” I said sarcastically. “The Grand Cleric will know of this if I have to stand here during services and shout it from the faithful.”

“Stubborn”, she hissed at me. “Fine, I will tell you what I know of this. My former bodyguard, Varnel, has assembled a group of zealots who wish to make an example of these delegates. They rally tonight and you will find the heathens there.”

By the time she’d protested that the Templar must have taken the seal while still assigned to her and then explained how to get to the meeting place we barely had time to make our way through the undercity before the gathering started. I narrowed my eyes at her before I turned to leave. “You will answer for this, Petrice,” I said, pointing up at the statue looming over us. “Andraste is my witness, I will make you.” She gave me a prim smile. “You’d better hurry or you’ll be too late.” I snarled as we left but she was right about that if nothing else.

We burst into the cavern to find Varnel, still sporting his long-skirted Templar armor, pacing before the five Qunari, their weapons still bound in their sheaths as they had been as a sign of good faith when they’d appeared before the Viscount. Varnel was spouting some nonsense about them being the harbingers of Kirkwall’s destruction by the unfaithful but as we spilled into the room he stopped abruptly. A surprising number of people stood around the rough stone floor and all of them turned to us.

Before I could speak Petrice stepped out of the shadows behind us. To her credit she wasn’t even breathing hard, despite how quickly she had to have run to catch up to us. She neatly and very publicly laid the blame for the whole event at the Templar’s feet, accusing him of stealing the Grand Cleric’s seal and acting without Chantry authority. I had no doubt the seal would, indeed, turn up missing when anyone went to look for it.

Seeing himself betrayed but still a fervent believer, Varnel drew his sword and slashed open the throat of the Qunari nearest him. We could not reach him through the throng before he’d killed all five. None of them made a noise or even moved to dodge the Templar’s blade. By the time the second hit the ground Petrice had vanished once more.

“Bastard!” I screamed, torn for a moment between chasing her and visiting vengeance on him. I had no reason to love the Qunari but no one deserved execution as part of a religious maneuver. The Arishok had sent these five to ease tensions and fanatics had turned Dumar’s acceptance of his gesture into what amounted to a declaration of war. I was ashamed to be Andrastian in that moment, weak though my faith was, and a wash of sympathy with Anders’s constant rants about the Chantry and the Order filled me.

Varnel had to die but we’d never have attacked the others, foolish sheep that they were, had they not come at us. Few were armed with more than their knives and what rocks they found to hand. Aveline and I used our shields to bash some heads, aiming more to disable than to kill, but the sheer number of people forced us to use our swords as well, if only to protect ourselves.

Isabella used the hilts of her daggers as much as the blades but Varric had no such option. He stayed back to snipe those who had actual weapons and used Bianca’s stock on anyone who got too close. Thankfully most focused more on protecting Varnel than pursuing the dwarf.

Aveline and I waded through the idiots with Isabela watching our backs. The fierce determination on the Captain of the Guard’s face mirrored my feeling that the rogue Templar must pay the price for the blatant murders, courts be damned. He threatened the stability of her city, everything she—and I—had worked so hard to accomplish over the past four years.

Such careful fighting extended the battle interminably. Finally we closed with Varnel, the four of us making short work of the asshole. The surviving cultists fled. Aveline went to fetch the Viscount while the rest of us sort of stood around, stunned at the turn our day had taken. Those who were able began crawling away. We let them go. Anyone left alive when Dumar and the guardsmen arrived would be taken to the dungeon and, with luck, would spell out Petrice’s involvement, presuming that the Arishok did not lose what little patience he had and attack immediately after this slap in his ferocious face.

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