Ugh. I hate Alrik so much. I feel like I need a shower after writing this. Ick.
Previous drabble: Search and Rescue.
“Tranquil!?” Carver blurts, suddenly losing the ability to modulate his voice. Outside Knight-Captain Cullen’s office, the ambient chatter of recruits and administrators falls eerily silent.
Carver’s used to shouting over people—in crowded taprooms and ship holds, around gurgling smugglers and hurlock heads—but that’s different than shouting at people, or about them. That’s just not his style—Carver had always considered himself the strong, silent type, too aloof and controlled for emotional outbursts. Best to leave the talking to other people: men like his brother, who enjoyed the sound of their own voice.
But there’s a first time for everything—although Cullen’s pained expression makes Carver wish that his hadn’t been directed at his superior officer.
Carver grimaces by way of apology and tries again. “Captain, no—I can’t—I can’t recommend,” he swallows his heart back into his chest and forces himself to speak slowly, calmly, and not to shout again, “th-the brand. Not in good conscience—“
“I don’t like it any more than you do,” interjects Alrik, who sits in the chair next to Carver like a cat on a ledge, waiting for its nightly saucer of milk. His voice is calm, pleasant, and his watery blue eyes shine placidly. “However, Innley was of Starkhaven—a rebellious lot, all of them. An example needs to be set.”
“Bollocks,” Carver grits through clenched teeth. His hands grip the armrests of his chair, fingernails digging into the plush velvet. “Innley came back on his own. How much better of an example could he set?”
Alrik shakes his head sadly. “If we forgive this insolence, he will just try again,” he says, speaking directly to Cullen, as if Carver weren’t in the room. “He has demonstrated the true character of his spirit.”
“How can you—?” Carver can’t summon the right words in trade tongue to finish his thought, perhaps because he’s not sure that the thought itself is expressable; it’s just a jumble of frustration, and heat, and anger. This entire conversation is unspooling in his gut like sour beer. He can’t help but remember Bethany, who feared the brand more than anything, more than spiders or darkspawn or the Circle itself. After their father explained what Tranquility was, she had nightmares for weeks, waking up sobbing in the night, inconsolable, until Carver would dance their jig or, on very bad nights, crawl onto her bed and make her dolls Remigold across her pillow until she calmed down.
“The brand isn’t meant to be a punishment, Ser Alrik,” says Cullen.
“This isn’t about punishment,” Alrik replies smoothly. “This is about mercy.”
The older Templar leans his elbows on the armrests, hands steepled before him, appearing distant and collected, as if they were all discussing the weather or the Viscount’s tax policies. “Innley, and others like him, are like dogs hurling itself against their kennels. If we allow this to continue, eventually the poor man will inadvertently kill himself.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Carver snarls, his short-lived patience at an end. Maybe he’s not so much the strong, silent type after all. “Captain, he didn’t ask to be freed. The Underground did it anyway.”
Alrik smiles at Carver like he’s a child, or perhaps a particularly fascinating accounting table. “But he took the chance to run, Ser Hawke,” he says, as if this explains everything.
“What else was he to do? They just left him there, no way to get back.” Carver shifts in his seat, barely able to remain sitting. “Should he have just waited for the Tal-Vashoth to come? Evet’s Marauders, maybe?”
“Nevertheless, he saw an opportunity present itself, and he seized it.” Alrik turns back to Cullen. “Make no mistake, Captain, that sort of opportunism spreads itself like contagion. Now that Innley has had a taste of apostasy, he won’t stop until he reclaims it. He will make new opportunities, and stir discontent among the magery, until none of his fellows are happy again.” Alrik’s icy eyes flicker to Carver briefly. “I—appreciate Ser Hawke’s idealism, but misery is not a kindness, Captain. You must allow mercy to prevail.“
Carver cannot think of a proper retort, so he decides to glare at Alrik until he can. Problems were so much more easily solved in the Athenril days, with a fist or a pommel, and rarely any shouting.
Something about Alrik unsettles Carver, though he can’t quite figure out exactly. Perhaps it is simply that cool, clinical air—Alrik is known for his brilliant mind for numbers and probabilities; it’s likely why he offered to lead the Templar-Formari Relations Committee—a job nobody else wanted, because it meant dealing with tranks all day.
He’s a smart man, experienced, pious, a lifer in the Order. If anyone should give guidance about the benefits of Tranquility, surely it should be him. And yet, Alrik has something of the snake about him, slithering and untethered.
Carver knows there are darker rumors too, although he’s only heard whispers, really, as nobody seems willing to repeat them in the presence of a Fereldan. Rumors don’t necessarily mean anything, of course; nastiness is the way of the Gallows sometimes. With so many people crammed into so small a fortress, words are bound to go rotten now and then. Indeed, as a Fereldan and perpetual outsider, Carver’s been the subject of quite a few stories himself, including a few rude ones about how mabari truly keep their owners warm at night. It doesn’t help that some of the rumors about his past– particularly the ones about him once smuggling lyrium – are true.
But sometimes when Alrik smiles—and it’s always the merest twitch of the lips, and nothing more—Carver wonders just what exactly it is that others say about the man behind closed doors.
Cullen nods once, curtly, and folds his hands before him.
“Thank you. I’ll take both of your positions under advisement,” he says.
Carver looks from Cullen’s tight-lipped gaze to Alrik’s smirk and back again. “Captain,” he says, fighting back desperation. “You can’t be seriously considering this.”
“I said,” a muscle in Cullen’s jaw pops, “I’ll take it under advisement, Templar. Dismissed.”
Carver glares at Cullen one last time, and then stomps out of the office, out of the administrative wing, out of doors completely, not stopping until he’s reached the main courtyard, face bare to the sunshine and the scant clouds up above. But the harsh slant of light doesn’t feel quite as warm as he’d hoped; indeed, it doesn’t much feel like heat at all. Only illumination, vision, color without meaning.