The entourage of Templars left them together outside the hallway for Meredith’s office, just Cullen and Hawke. “A secret moment alone,” Hawke teased to break the silence. “I’m flattered, Cullen.”
“Sirrah Hawke,” Cullen sighed, running a hand over his neck briefly. “You should know what to expect. First, you’ll meet with Knight Commander Meredith. Once she clears you, you’ll meet with Orsino. Then Templars take you to the mage barracks.” He rested one hand on the edge of his belt, looking Hawke in the eye. “That’s everything for today. I’m imploring you, please behave. Just for that long.”
He didn’t wait for an answer, which was lucky for Hawke, who didn’t have one that wasn’t snarky. Cullen led Hawke down the hall to the Knight Commander. Orsino caught only a glimpse of him before Hawke was out of sight, turning the corner into Meredith’s office.
“Knight Commander,” Cullen introduced their arrival. “Sirrah Hawke of Hightown is here to turn himself in as an apostate.”
Two windows nearly framed her desk, and a few elaborate torches dotted the walls — already lit despite it only being about midday. The walls were the dismal off-white he expected with a spotless Templar shield mounted on the wall behind her desk over two crossed swords. To think there was someone even less subtle than he was.
“Very well,” she drawled, not looking up from her desk at first. It gave Hawke a few moments to raise his eyebrows to Cullen in a preemptively sarcastic ‘oh boy’. He’d heard about her at great length from many in Kirkwall, and she was living up to all the terrible things he’d heard so far. All with just two words and steady indifference. She finally looked up, actually at Hawke directly. “Sit down.”
“No thanks, I prefer—”
She leaned forward, dropping an armored elbow on her desk while loose, light blond curls drifted to the front of her shoulders. Maker, he was spending too much time with Varric to be that poetic. “Sit. Down.”
“Yes, Knight Commander,” he answered cheekily and grinned as he sat. “It is quite a nice chair. Not as good as home, but—”
“You are here because you’re an apostate, and I am here to determine how much of a threat you are to the people of Kirkwall. Your comfort is beside the point,” she accurately insisted.
“Rght to the point, I like that,” Hawke observed. “Determine away.”
“Not only now, but throughout your stay in the Circle.” She rested the other hand on the sturdy desk, pushing herself to loom above him. “Despite your standing in Hightown, you will be treated like any other mage under our watch.”
“What an honor.” Hawke deadpanned, a grin at the ready, and he rested back in the chair. An added bonus to getting Merrill to safety was the ability to sass and generally irritate as many Templars as possible. Embarrassing Carver too, if he could. Practically his job as an older brother.
“You will undergo the Harrowing,” she continued, letting out a heavy breath. Being Knight Commander and a reputed bitch had to be tiring. “And Cullen will stand guard to prevent the outcry mages and nobles so adore.”
“I do love a good Harrowing.” Anders told him all about the Harrowing when they planned this scheme up. For Hawke, it was nothing to be worried about. “I meant outcry,” he corrected mockingly with a dismissive shrug.
“And should you pass, you’ll be under a probationary period supervised by a rotating guard,” she ignored him and nodded to Cullen, no doubt some sort of hint to make note of that for later. “I’ve heard of your charisma and your ‘good deeds’, and I won’t give you the chance to gather favors as leverage.”
Hawke had mastered a steady expression through game after game of Wicked Grace, though he often managed to lose to Varric or Isabela anyway. So he immediately recognized this sinking feeling of knowing he was about to botch this round. A rotating guard wasn’t part of the plan and it complicated that plan rather a lot.
Andraste’s ass, this didn’t go right.
“And here I heard the Circle was a dismal, isolated place. Sounds like I’ll always have—”
“Lastly,” she interrupted, “The Templars will issue tests and trials for you as we see fit, with or without notice. The threat of magic is ever present, and—”
“The Maker steels your heart against temptation, and He shall judge their lies, yes, yes, I know,” Hawke said with a casual wave of his hand. If he didn’t antagonize her at all, it would make Cullen back there suspicious, so Hawke would just chalk this attitude up to strategy. Definitely not because it was funny. “I have every faith you’ll do whatever you want. For the people, of course.”
The Knight Commander narrowed her gaze at him, eyes sharper than her Templar tiara. “Sirrah Hawke. I will remind you only once that your status in Hightown will not protect you here. I suggest you keep in that mind.”
She took her seat again, a silent dismissal as she returned to the paperwork on her desk. Cullen responded immediately, saluting as Templars do, and gesturing for Hawke to come along with him. And so off they went, this time to Orsino’s office. The First Enchanter was respected by many, the unspoken requirement for being a First Enchanter at all. Mostly, Hawke knew of him as a frustrated man trying his best, which made sense once you realized he had even less say than a regular First Enchanter was provided.
His office was dark in a comforting, library-esque sort of way. Books sat stacked on most of the flat surfaces and Orsino was waiting for them when they came in. “Knight Captain,” he greeted Cullen with a civil nod, standing. “And you must be Garrett Hawke. Tales of your expedition have reached even here. Though I’m sorry you can no longer reside in your estate, I hope you find comfort among your fellow mages.”
A soft chuckle came instinctively, and Hawke smiled. “No need to be so formal, Orsino. Rest assured, I’ve fallen asleep in worse places among more dangerous crowds than this.” The looks he got from Cullen and Orsino alike were at once curious for details and praying to the Maker he wouldn’t go into it. And for now, he’d spare them the story. Stories, if he were to be honest. “The Circle is plenty fine for me.”
“Well, I am glad to hear it,” Orsino tried to moved from the subject for the sake of everyone present, only slightly awkward about it. “You’ve spent most of your life outside of the Circle and practicing magic out there is an entirely different creature than practicing it here. I’ll represent all Circle mages to the Templars and if you have any questions those in Circle can’t answer, that’s precisely what I’m here for.”
In a split second, the energy between Cullen and Orsino became charged and Hawke pretended not to notice. He would definitely win the bet with himself as to what it was about, though.
“And if you see or experience anything untoward, come to me immediately. We’re mages, not prisoners or slaves, and—”
“First Enchanter,” Cullen warned, mostly how one might try to stop a sibling before they pissed off their parent too much. “We’ve discussed this at great length. Any true infractions by the Templars against mages will be dealt with swiftly and seriously. We are here to protect you.”
“Yes, of course.” Orsino steepled his hands on his desk, lowering himself to sit. The venom in his voice could have killed a lesser man, but Cullen gracefully appeared not to notice. With the word “true” in front of “infractions”, Hawke could guess that his momentary blindness to that instigation was one of few mercies Orsino and the other Circle mages got.
The sooner Merrill is out, the better.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip was bland and went by in a blink. Cullen passed him off to other Templars, and he was escorted to his room (a cell that made Gamlen’s hovel look like a dream, so he wouldn’t be writing home about that). The Templars explained that he was to change into the rather disappointing Circle robe left on his cot while they waited outside to collect his clothing from home.
Hawke avoided robes all his life for two reasons: they looked like his grandmother’s nightgown and it screamed ‘I’m a mage, arrest me’. Now he learned a third reason, which was that they looked absolutely ridiculous on him especially. Rather freeing in the nether regions, at least. When they had his nicer clothes from the estate to send home to Mother, the Templars left him be. Probably to pawn his clothes.
And just as he expected, he found Merrill squirreled away in a pile of books in the library. He was several feet away and hadn’t said a word when she popped her head up, eyes delighted but her expression fraught with worry. She leaped up and tossed her arms around his neck.
“Oh, Hawke!” He hugged her back, relief washing over him. As a blood mage, she was in even more danger here than any other mage within the Circle. Hawke would be lying (to himself for a change) if he said he hadn’t feared the worst. “Thank you for coming. I’m so sorry to get you mixed up in all this, I… I’ve made a mess of things, haven’t I?” She took a moment to step back, wringing her hands for a glimmer of a second before answering herself for him. “I have.”
“Lucky for you, I’m here to make an even bigger mess,” he joked and she breathed a laugh, tucking her hair absently behind her ear. Good to know he could get her to laugh, however half-hearted. Hawke took a seat on the bench near the windowsill she’d been sitting on before, which she returned to now. They had to look boring to keep talking about matters like this, and they both knew it.
He grabbed the nearest book, something about protective spells, and opened to a random page to point out some line about spell radius. All part of the rouse, but it helped to know what he was looking at if someone did come along to question them. “There’s a small wrinkle in that plan, but it won’t change a thing for you. It’s just like it said in the letter.”
“Clever code, by the way,” she chimed, trying her hand at changing the subject to distract herself. It wasn’t working. “It wasn’t yours, was it? Didn’t seem like you, so—” She forced out a sharp sigh, snatching up a book of her own to keep up appearances. “What did you mean, for me?”
“Dear old Meredith is keeping an extra close eye on me,” he explained and did his best not to notice the almost pained look she gave him. “Can’t be worse than darkspawn. The point is, you’ll be safe and I’ll be right behind you. Metaphorically.”
“Thank you, Hawke,” she replied, tilting her head down to the open book on enchanted items but peering up at him with bright, mournful eyes. “I know you will.”