9:21 Dragon, Amell Family Estate, Kirkwall

There was a place Alaric knew, near the head of the great stairs, where some trick of acoustics made every word spoken down in the great hall clearly audible. A slender boy could conceal himself behind the oak armoire, never risking discovery so long as he kept very still, and listen to the mysterious business of adults.

Of course, at the moment it didn't take a trick of acoustics to make that business all too clear.

"Maker's breath, Damion, you know we can't afford a scandal right now," came a quavering old man's voice from below. Lord Fausten Amell, the Baron of Arkness. Alaric's grandfather. "The city is buzzing like a beehive that's been hit with a stick. Everyone expects my brother to be named the new Viscount, but for that to happen, he has to have support from the new Knight-Commander. Which means this family cannot appear to be in defiance of the templars!"

"This is my son we're talking about," said another, deeper male voice. Father's voice, rough with anger and unshed tears.

"Don't you think I know that? He's my grandson, the only one I have. I love the boy too."

A long pause. Alaric held his breath, fighting back hot tears of his own.

"I expected him to be my heir one day," said Grandfather. "Who knows, maybe he would have become the viscount himself in time, considering what a loss your cousin Gamlen seems to be. But none of that can happen now. You know that."

"Because I am his mother," said a new voice, low and feminine, full of bitterness.

"Revka," said Father reproachfully.

"You know it's true. My grandfather was a mage. Then none in my family for two generations, and you thought it was worth the risk. Now look at what I have brought you."

The sound of rustling cloth. In his mind's eye, Alaric could see his father moving to embrace his mother, though there would be no tears. There never were, with Lady Revka Amell.

"That's nonsense. You were worth the risk. You've brought me nothing but years of contentment and three fine children. This is the Maker's doing, not yours."

"Don't blame yourself, girl." Grandfather's voice sounded strange, as if he couldn't decide between tenderness and exasperation. "There's magery in the Amell family tree as well. Not in three generations, and never in the main line, but enough to tell the tale. This might have nothing to do with you at all."

"Perhaps," said Mother quietly. "But what if the girls show signs of this power as well?"

Sudden silence, from down in the great hall.

"You're right," said Grandfather at last. "Which is why we can't even think about hiding this. For one child, we might be able to sweep the truth under the carpet. We claim that the other boys didn't see what they thought they saw. We hire a tutor, to teach young Alaric how to conceal and control his talent. It's been done before, and it doesn't always end in disaster. But you have three children, and if the power shows in one, it may very well show in another. Then the lie will come unraveled, and it will be worse than if we had never tried to conceal it at all."

Up behind the armoire, Alaric sat quietly, thinking hard about what he heard. He still wanted to cry, he still felt a hard knot of hot terror in his gut. Yet, deep in his mind, he turned to a place where nothing lived but cold clarity. A place he had learned to go, whenever his emotions threatened to carry him away. A place where the voices that whispered in his dreams could not follow him.

That's what this means. I'm a mage. Clear as the sun in the sky.

Which means I can't be Father's heir. I can't go on living here. I'll have to go to the Circle, where they can teach me how to use the talent. Where they can teach me how to prevent the talent from using me.

I can go with my head held high, under my own power, or I can go screaming and clawing at the door-frames while the templars drag me away. I know which one I would rather choose.

Absolutely silent, making sure he never became visible from the floor of the great hall, Alaric eased out from behind the armoire and down the hallway to his room. The door quietly eased open, and then closed, cutting off the sound of ongoing debate.

Alaric stood still for a moment, looking around the room, his mind weighing and measuring what he saw.

Clothing would be of no use. Mages were given clothing to wear, to match their status in the Circle. No sense trying to take a favored game or toy, either. It was time to put away such childish things. Alaric's practice sword and belt knife would have to stay behind, so he could look as harmless as possible to the templars. Besides, those were things for nobles, and he wouldn't be a noble anymore.

Well, there's one thing mages will certainly be permitted to keep for their own.

There, on a single set of three shelves, rested some of Alaric's most prized possessions.

Books.

Alaric went to stand before the shelves, reading the spines as he had done so many times before. He soon realized that even most of these treasures would have to remain behind. The templars would probably not permit him to pack whole boxes.

Enough to fill my haversack, he decided. Four, maybe five if I pick the right ones.

Aveline, Knight of Orlais seemed an easy choice, if he wanted at least one book of tales of chivalry to console him in his banishment. He hadn't finished Genitivi's Tales of the Destruction of Thedas yet, and the templars could hardly object to a work by such a renowned Chantry scholar. The same went for his battered, much-read copy of The Sermons of Divine Renata the First.

He hesitated, having selected three books already, and Genitivi a rather thick and heavy volume at that. So many choices, even if he left all of the children's books and manuals for noblemen behind!

Then his hand rested, as if by chance, on a little-read volume, bound in green leather with a small clasp.

Alaric remembered when the book had arrived, on his tenth birthday. A gift from Cousin Leandra, sent from wherever she lived in exile with her apostate husband. Maker alone knew where she had found it, or why she had thought to send it back to Kirkwall, to a boy she had never met. A Partial Grammar and Lexicon of Ancient Elvish, by the great philologist Johann Tollk├╝hn. Difficult going for a boy, even a boy with a scholarly bent of mind. Although the idea interested him: to learn even a little of a language so ancient and mysterious that even latter-day elves could no longer speak it well.

I only have room for one more book, and it has to be a small one. This will do.

He closed the haversack, careful not to harm the closely packed books, and slung it over his shoulder.

Out in the hallway once more, he walked to the head of the grand staircase and began to descend. The adults in the great hall remained embroiled in their argument. Only Mother noticed his arrival, her shadowed eyes glancing his way.

Just in time. At the door: a sudden pounding of fists on the thick wood.

"Open!" came a booming voice from outside. "Open, in Andraste's name!"

All at once, the adults fell silent, even Baron Fausten looking small and afraid.

"You'd better open the door, Father," said Alaric. "The templars must be here."

That earned the boy a sheaf of wide-eyed stares, which he did his best to return with a look of bland confidence.

"Son . . ." began Father.

"It's all right, Father." Alaric managed to smile. "It's better this way, for me and for the rest of the family too."

Heavy boots pounded on the expensive marble floor. A squad of templars entered the great hall, their visors down to render them faceless and intimidating, weapons sheathed but hands on sword-hilts. At their head marched a fierce-looking woman in full armor, no helmet on her head, only a scarlet cowl over long wheat-blonde hair. Her eyes were blue and as cold as glacial ice.

"Knight-Commander Meredith," said Grandfather, his voice strangled almost to a whisper.

"Lord Fausten," said the woman, with a microscopic nod. "Lord Damion, Lady Revka, I am here for your son."

Dead silence in the hall, for just an instant.

Then Alaric spoke up. "I'm here, Knight-Commander."

The blue eyes snapped to his face, assessing him in an instant. "You are young Alaric?"

"That's right, my lady. I'm the mage."

Mother gasped, the sound so quiet that Alaric could barely hear it.

"You understand what must happen?" demanded the Knight-Commander.

"Yes, my lady." Alaric's voice cracked, and he cursed the bad luck that caused it to happen at just the moment he most wanted to sound brave and adult. "I'm to go and live in the Circle. I'm ready to leave now, if it please you."

For just an instant, Alaric saw something in the fearsome woman's eyes, something he remembered and treasured for years to come: a flicker of respect.

"A sensible lad," she said, her voice still flat and cold. "Your family should be proud to have raised a son with such courage."

Alaric nodded, acknowledging the praise. "May I bring this? It contains only a few books."

The Knight-Commander made a small gesture with her chin. One of the templars approached, took the bag from Alaric's hands, opened it and made a quick-but-thorough inspection of its contents. "As the lad says," he reported, a Ferelden accent in his voice. "Books. None of them on the proscribed list."

"Very well. Take a moment to make your farewells," commanded Meredith.

Alaric turned to his family. He shook his grandfather's hand, then his father's. His mother refused to bend or to weep, proud as always, but she swept Alaric into her embrace one last time.

"I will love you always, my son," she said, and then she held him at arm's length to look into his eyes. "Always remember, you are an Amell. Wherever you may go, live up to that name."

"I will, Mother." Then he turned away, clenching his jaw against the tears that threatened to spill from behind his eyes, and went with the templars.

He never saw his parents again.


Author's Note: Careful observers will notice that this scene isn't quite compatible with the lore regarding the Amell family. Most interpretations of Leandra's in-game dialogue and the relevant codex entries suggest that Revka was an Amell by birth, that her first child was born right about the time the templars arrested and executed Viscount Perrin of Kirkwall, and that the child was discovered to be a mage in infancy.

Unfortunately, that would make Revka the only case I can find of a high-born woman not taking her husband's family name after marriage. It would have the Human Mage Warden born only nine years before the beginning of the Fifth Blight. It would be the only instance I can find of a mage child being discovered that early in life. Finally, it would pose difficulties in reconciling the chronology with the ages of Leandra Hawke's children as of the start of the Blight.

As with many continuities designed by committee, inconsistencies often turn up in the Dragon Age setting. The Amell family background suggested in this story is my attempt to come up with a narrative that's as consistent as possible with all the evidence.