Sideline Wednesday: The Champion's Side, Chapter 20

Not long after Sebastian described the new tack some Chantry members were taking I received yet another summons from Viscount Dumar. The note arrived just before I returned, with ‘Bela and Fenris in tow, from another jaunt up the Wounded Coast. Fenris and I remained friendly in a stilted way that left much unsaid. He remained my strongest fighter, though, and I wasn’t about to let personal matters interfere with business.

That’s what I told myself, anyway. In truth, I couldn’t stay away from him. The lazy evenings drinking wine and talking, just the two of us, had ended but I invited him on jobs regularly and he still joined the group at The Hanged Man. The others seemed as determined as Fenris and I were to avoid our being alone. That eased the worst of the awkwardness most nights.

Some undertone to Dumar’s message that evening urged me to respond quickly. Instead of playing Wicked Grace with my Mabari as we’d intended we headed right back out the door and up the nearby steps to the keep. Seneschal Bran ushered us into the Viscount’s office immediately. His normal, snooty disdain carried overtones of anxiety, ratcheting up my concern another notch.

Dumar stopped pacing as we entered, sparing only a glance at Isabela’s exposed assets before turning away and beginning again. “Saemus has gone,” he began. He came to rest behind his desk and leaned on tented fingers as he spoke. “He’s converted, the Qunari have him.” The Viscount swept up a note that presumably contained this information and brandished it at me. “This is a disaster; I cannot have my own son join the enemy.”

He turned and started another circuit of the room. “This will ruin me. Go and get him. Convince him that he’s made a mistake.” He halted again and turned to us. “Please.” Though he couched his appeal in political terms I could see fatherly fear clearly in his eyes. How could I turn him down?

No sooner had we left the keep than ‘Bela found another excuse not to visit the Qunari’s compound. I accepted her flimsy reason but said, “We will talk about this later.” She had the good grace to color a little as she flipped her fingers at me and sauntered off on the imaginary errand. Fenris grunted a little, sharing my suspicions. One dodge I could accept as coincidence but she’d refused twice, now. Maker knew she had no objection to half-nude, muscular figures if the time she spent at the docks was any indication.

For the moment, I wanted another companion with me. The Arishok himself seemed to respect me and almost to like Fenris but that left a couple hundred question marks that would surround us. So we turned around and went back into the keep once more to fetch Aveline. I was often surprised that the Captain of the Guard agreed to the various pursuits I enjoyed. In this particular instance, however, I knew she would welcome the chance to get into the compound and judge the mood of the Qunari. And so she was.

The gate guard knew us, as did most of the others. Fenris nodded solemnly to a few of the men as though he recognized them but I could hardly tell them apart with their identical tattoos and haircuts. At least the Arishok need never worry about being confused with one of his officers. He was easily a foot taller and his horns three times as magnificent as any of theirs.

The Arishok regarded us with thin amusement from his low throne, an attitude I mistakenly took as gloating. Yet when I asked to see Saemus he leaned his enormous shoulders forward, right elbow on his knee, and stroked his chin. The black claws of his other hand were closed around a piece of paper that looked like little more than a scrap against the span of grey flesh. “Interesting,” he rumbled, gesturing with the paper. Clearly his years among humans had not made him more talkative. Sadly, I lost the battle of wills during which we posed silently, eying one another. I finally had to ask. “What?”

It’s possible that I imagined the little smile that flashed across his face. “Why would Dumar send both you and a note?” One of the minions fetched it to me and, sure enough, it was a letter asking Saemus to come to the Chantry to meet with his father. A signature was scrawled across the bottom, unreadable and, I presumed, a convincing forgery of the real Viscount’s signature.

“The Chantry? Crap.” Fenris and I shook our heads at each other as Aveline grunted a “hunh” behind us. For Saemus’s sake I could only hope that Petrice wasn’t involved in this situation. “We’ll take care of this,” I said, hoping to forestall any overreaction.

“Saemus came to us. We do not abandon our own.” The Arishok leaned back, placing both hands on his knees. “If you do not ‘take care of it’ we will.”

Shit, I thought as I nodded my understanding of his threat. Dear Maker, let Petrice have fallen in a well somewhere. I wasn’t much for praying but my gut told me divine intervention might be our only hope. The three of us strolled out of the compound with as much nonchalance as we could muster. The moment we were out of sight, however, the three of us exchanged a look that betrayed the situation’s urgency then ran up all four hundred and twenty-seven steps between the docks and the top of Hightown. A stitch in my side forced me to call a halt just outside the door. The last thing we wanted was to stand in the nave gasping while nefarious deeds unfolded around us.

I could hear Aveline breathing deeply beside me. Though Fenris leaned against the wall looking nonchalant I could see his chest heaving under that pointy breastplate. At least I wasn’t the only one suffering from our mad dash. When I could stand upright again I tugged open the ornate door. How some of the frail older sisters managed the thing, looming fifteen feet high as it did, I couldn’t imagine. Perhaps that was why they so seldom left the Chantry.

The night’s gloom filled the long entry beyond the door. Only the guttering candles from that morning shed any light at all. The vaulted space beyond was flooded with moonlight from the vast window behind that stupid, giant, gilded Andraste. I could dimly see a figure kneeling near its feet but caution warned against calling out to it. With the two people I trusted most watching my back I advanced, crossing that exposed area to the stairs. By then I could see the spiky shape in which Saemus habitually wore his hair but nothing in the Chantry moved; no sister took a trip to the privy; no postulant woke late in a pew in the upper reaches; no restless brother patrolled the aisles. The form knelt, motionless.

We approached the man and I recognized his clothing as well. If this was not Dumar’s son it was a convincing decoy. Yet he did not stir from his awkward position, a mockery of prayer with his hands trailing to the ground to either side and his head bent to his chest. I put a hand on his shoulder and the precariously-balanced body toppled, exposing the wound hidden by shadows. Poor Saemus was dead.

Sure enough, in the next heartbeat Petrice appeared below. “Murder in the Chantry!” she shrieked. “These sympathizers defile our holiest place by killing one who came to repent!” A herd of people emerged from the sets of doors to either side of the entry to bunch around her. I was only surprised that the lot of them managed to avoid coughing long enough for her to play out her ruse.

“You stupid, blinkered cow. You’ve killed the Viscount’s son. That’s a new low, even for you.” There would be no misunderstanding here. Let the fools choose their sides clearly. As I spoke I pulled my sword from its sheath and set my shield. Aveline did the same beside me and I could hear Fenris slide that enormous two-handed blade from its place on his back, a long metal scrape of menace. “You’re going to answer publicly for this if I have to put you in a cell in pieces.” Perhaps I should have let the Captain of the Guard make that threat but I was too furious to care just then.

“I’ll not have you spouting your Qunari filth in this holy place. These people are here to defend their faith, starting with you,” she snarled. Her sheep brandished clubs or pulled pathetic knives as they rushed the stairs on both sides of the dais. The bitch ran, again, while we fought our way through the idiots she had convinced of our threat to the Chantry. The sound of hilts thwacking foreheads and gauntlets smashing into people filled the silence as we tried desperately to avoid killing them. We needed at least some of them alive to testify against her and anyone complicit in this murder should answer publicly. It was the only help we could offer Dumar at this point.

Petrice revealed the extent of her scheme as we put down the last of her flock: she all but shoved the Grand Cleric to the foot of the stairs near where we fought. “You see, your Grace?” she said, her tone so acid I half expected to see it score the rail beside her. “Traitors attacking the very core of the Chantry. They deny the Maker and kill in the name of the heretics.”

As ever, Elthina spoke placidly. “And you diminish him even as you assume his side. There is death in every corner, young Mother, as you predicted all too well.” Petrice attempted to protest that Saemus had come to repent and been murdered by me but in her next breath she betrayed herself. “It's no longer a matter of heathens squatting on the docks. People are leaving us to join them!”

Elthina shook her head sadly at the veiled admission. She turned back to me, nodding to Aveline. “The young Mother has erred in her judgement. A court will decide her fate. The Chantry respects the law and so must she.”

Petrice stood stunned for a moment. “Grand Cleric?” she whimpered, then, stronger, “Grand Cleric!” Elthina purposefully turns her back and started up the steps, dismissing the pleading woman she’d so recently promoted. It was the most decisive thing I ever saw her do. She’d made no more than half a dozen risers before an arrow shot from one of the same doors from which the crowd had burst and buried itself in Petrice’s chest.

Elthina paused as Petrice thudded to her knees, wide eyes staring unbelievingly at the fletching that protruded. Then the Grand Cleric’s foot fell resolutely on the next step and a second arrow flew to meet Petrice’s forehead. As the Mother fell dead at my feet a Qunari stepped from the shadows beneath the wooden steps to the upper levels. “We take care of our own,” he said, then melted back into the darkness.

Elthina gave no sign she had heard a thing. She continued upward, though I doubted she would return to her bed and a blissful sleep. The Petrice’s body had sunk into a position that echoed the one in which she’d posed the Viscoun’t son above, a fittingly penitent posture though the Maker knew she deserved no more mercy than she’d shown.

I sent Aveline to fetch the Viscount and more guards to arrest those who remained alive. Fenris and I left Petrice to stand in silence over Saemus’s body until the others arrived. There seemed nothing more to say. The Qunari obviously had known as well as we had how badly things would go in the Chantry. Both Petrice’s influence and Elthina’s final rejection would be reported to the Arishok.

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