After having been deprived of the movements and sounds of everyday life for so long the crowded hall soon becomes too much for Anders; to be hit with everything he has been without all at once is overwhelming, and he keeps his hands clamped over his ears as Karl leads him away, careful not to touch where it seems to hurt the most. He is still uneasy under his hand as if even a gentle touch like this itch, and Karl hopes it is only due to being unaccustomed to physical contact.
They settle in the Chantry in part because it is devoid of templar guards to allow for a measure of privacy, but most of all due to it being more silent than anywhere else in the tower; their only company is a brief visit by a young apprentice who prays with more intensity than any priest Karl has ever encountered. The dim light granted by the many lit candles is kinder to Anders’ eyes as well, and he avoids closing them even though it is clear they hurt, seemingly hesitant to even blink. Karl wonders if it is for the fear of if he closes them for too long the Chantry will be gone when he opens them again, replaced instead by the solitary dark, or if he wants to avoid even the soft darkness of his own eyelids after having been kept apart from all non-magical light for so long. He does not ask, either because he does not know how to or because he fears the answer being something darker still. To even speak at all is difficult when he is so unsure of where to start, and he finds himself missing the ease of sharing his thoughts on paper. While he was writing the letters he wanted nothing more than to speak with Anders directly, but with him next to him the words gets stuck in his throat; blocking each other, perhaps, because there are so many that wants out at once.
“It was a risky thing to do,” Anders says at last, having found the words which wanted out the most before he did, and Karl has to smile at the fond approval in his voice.
“That is not something I want to hear from someone who tried to climb out of the tower,” he laughs because really, Anders is not one to speak, and Anders laughs a tired brittle sound with him; had it not been for the smile playing at the edge of his lips Karl would worry more than he does. “Did you, really?”
They watch the flickering candles in silence as Anders loses himself in thought.
“I guess,” he manages at last. “Or I jumped.” He sighs and eases himself closer, and when their arms touch Karl can hear a faint crinkle of paper hidden in his sleeve. A risky thing to do, indeed.
And he cannot, cannot bring himself to ask if he means a different sort of jump than the opportunistic it was a quick way down kind. Instead he grasps his hand, and as their fingers lace together his eyes seek out Anders’ in hope of seeing the answer reflected there. Anders in turn must have read the question in his, because he answers it.
“Sometimes, I’m not really sure.”
But he clings to Karl’s hand like a lifeline.
They do not meet each other again until two templars unceremoniously drops Anders off at the great hall one noon far too long after the rumoured escape attempt; to Karl it does not feel quite as long as it has been, the letters having left an impression of conversation behind, but he has still counted the days up to a cruelly high number.
Anders seems almost unaware his time in solitary is over; he looks as dazed as if he has just been hurriedly and harshly risen from sleep and remains standing where the templars leave him, looking around the hall in bewilderment, seemingly not believing himself awake. Sure enough, Karl catches him absent-mindedly pinching his left elbow, and he has to smile. It is however a short, fleeting thing, since upon registering he is awake something in Anders seems to break. Karl is up on his feet and on his way to him before he has time to think, because seeing Anders look so lost and haunted does not leave him any time to do so.
As he places a hand on Anders’ back to lead him to a table to make sure he gets something to eat, he shrinks away from his touch and hunches his shoulders forwards as if it hurts. Of course.
“I am so sorry”, Karl whispers, but not as an apology for the unintended pain he just caused.
“It was worth a try”, Anders says with a voice gone rough from lack of use. He stumbles over his own feet even as he keeps his eyes steadily on them and the floor, still not quite used to taking so many steps at once. When Karl steadies him, careful to place his hand in a different spot this time, he does not flinch but if it is because he is touching a spot where it does not hurt or simply because Anders was prepared for his touch, Karl does not know.
“Even given how it ended up?”
“Of course”, come the words as an echo to his own thoughts, but strengthened and not so resigned. He turns his head upwards to look Karl in the eye, and the smile visiting his lips is brilliant to behold. “I got far enough to breathe outside air.”
“And that is worth so much?” The question is not meant to provoke, and for once it does not. There are more questions, forced back from the tip of his tongue because how many lashes for how many breaths of night air is not the right thing to ask at a time like this.
“Yes. If you think about some things”, he says with enough emphasis to tell Karl without words the letters made it to him safely and in doing so lifts an invisible stone from his shoulders, “some more, you might understand.”
He does not need to spell it out for Karl to know; some things are worth anything.
The moment before I lift the quill I always find myself at a bewildering loss for words, so uncertain of which ones to put down. Not because I do not have anything to say; it is in fact quite the opposite. There are many things I would like to tell you, but my thoughts have been rather jumbled together as of late and difficult to sort out. Yet I shall endeavour to coax some of them out of the knot they seem to have tangled themselves into.
Writing things down, I have found, is somewhat similar to whispering those so-called sweet nothings in the ear of a lover you have your arms wrapped around while your breaths slow down together in how intimate it is. Quill in hand, I constantly find myself longing to say things I would not otherwise, and once I have started to move it across the pages it is difficult to will it to stop (and stop it I must, at some point, lest I write something down we will both come to regret). Recently, I have also found myself yearning to listen to some things I used to shy away from, and I have allowed myself to dwell on memories I kept under much tighter lock before. Such as the ones of what the sky looked like in the Anderfels just before dawn during midwinter, or how gentle spring rain used to feel against my skin, and what it sounded like when wild autumn winds tore the last leaves of the year from the trees. I still force thoughts like these away before the burden of loss grows too heavy to bear, but when I have the strength to carry the longing they may bring I allow them to linger.
Life goes on and things change; some much too quickly, and others not nearly quick enough. But change they will; do not forget this. Even as you are in a place where I cannot wrap my arms around you as I wish and most changes must be hard to notice, believe me. I have felt them, and more will come.
How strange it feels to put quill to paper with the intent to pen a letter; it is not something I have done since my ill-advised attempt to re-establish contact with my family so long ago. I never arranged for it to be sent, and there are times when I wonder if I should have. I suppose I feared not receiving a reply far too much to put myself at risk of having nothing but their silence, and the pain I would have felt then. Seeing as they never wrote me, the decision to leave well enough alone was likely the right one to make. I assume they do not even know where I am, now, and… what a strange thought that is. They would not have been informed of my transfer, after all. At the time, I did not dwell on whether to think of it as right or not; it was merely a fact.
But that was then, and this is now. This is a letter I fear sending more than I fear the lack of a response, which I know is not able to arrive at all. Unlike my last letter, however, this one is not written with the hope of an answer in mind, and I think of some things differently now than I did then. To know what to write, though, is more difficult than I thought. It is not at all like speaking, not with words written down being so much more permanent (but do not let these particular ones be) than spoken ones. I feel myself consider every word so carefully, but even so, nothing I write feels quite right. Few things do, these days.
It is not right for you to be alone where you are now, but I can do as little to change where they decide to place you as I could to change where they decided to place me. In the end, I have reasons to be glad they put me where I am, though I shall never be glad for where they have you now. I wish there were things I could do to comfort you, things I could say to ease your loneliness. Things are not as easy as that, I know. There are no magic words to dispel solitude, I suppose. If I find them, I will write them down for you to read later. I… keep you in my mind. You are not forgotten. Please keep me in mind in turn, and do not forget your place is not where you are now. They will let you out, and you will have better days than these.
Karl delays his journey down the tower long enough to be able to pass the serving girl on the way as she makes her way back up, and it is not until after she smiles and nods at him in a silent all clear that he realises he has been holding his breath.
This is not a small rule to break, and unlike sneaking into a storeroom to misuse it for a tryst, not one that will be seen as relatively harmless in the eyes of anyone who might catch him in the act. He has never had to endure any punishments harsher than a figurative slap on the wrist, but if he is ever to be truly punished for anything it seems likely it will be this. Arranging for a letter to be smuggled to someone in solitary confinement is a far sight worse than passing lewd notes during lectures, and, he finds, a lot more exciting as well. It is enough of a thrill to make him feel slightly light-headed, and it is not all due to fear. After having spent so much of his life bowing his head down and not fighting against anything, this one thing feels… not only right, and good, but freeing, and it is wonderful heady feeling almost frightening in its intensity.
Is this why Anders is not content with escaping but insists on breaking all manner of small rules almost as a matter of principle once brought back and confined once more; to be able to cling to a small piece of freedom? Or do the heavy walls of the tower simply itch so much that he cannot help but act out in any way available with little or no thought behind it, and even less understanding of why?
If so, no wonder Karl’s question of what would you have me do was met with a sorrowful admission to not know.
He wonders if the rule broken with the letter sent is the answer, and if it will help at all.
The stone floor is much colder in the evenings, making it uncomfortable to get around in thin indoor shoes; a subtle discouragement for walking around instead of immersing oneself in a more proper past time like studying. As late as a month ago he would not have been thinking about how much colder it must be deeper down in the tower, but now he does as his right arm stretches out to let his hand touch the cool wall beside him and trace the outline of stone smoothed by ages as he walks.
How many steps does it take to walk all the way around a solitary cell, and how many rounds would it take before a finger drawn along the walls like this would chafe? Has Anders been pacing from wall to wall, or has he kept himself curled up in a corner, trying to not think of how few steps of his would fit in each direction? Does he close his eyes to pretend that is the reason for the darkness, and does he cover his ears to keep any whispers out?
Karl does not need to think about any of the hows or whys of it, yet he does simply because Anders has to. Anders has to live the answers to those questions, and it is not fair that no one considers them more. It is not fair to lock anyone away for that sort of torture to play itself out and then forget. Someone ought to think about what is happening between these walls, no matter which floor it happens on. Him alone merely thinking changes nothing, not on a larger scale, but to not close his own eyes in the face of these dark things feels right.
Carefully making his way to the kitchens when he should not feels right. Looking as if he belongs instead of sneaking towards his goal feels right, as does reaching it. Talking uncharacteristically sweetly to a serving girl feels… a touch wicked, to be entirely truthful, but still right. Placing a carefully folded note under a dinner bowl with too meagre contents feels right. The smile he gives her as she prepares to carry the tray away might be a bit too warm, judging by the way her cheeks colour, but in the face of this success he cannot not smile as he does.
Just as he keeps Anders in mind while he is down there, Karl is going to do what he can to remind him of that there is an up here.
When the change does come, it is because it is forced. Anders has been skittish and wild-eyed for days before he is dragged kicking and screaming through to tower with a templar at each side and one behind, just out of kicking range. It brings the memory of their first meeting to mind, but it is somehow more heartbreaking this time even though he is older, because despite his greater age there is something so much more fragile about him now; perhaps due to the fact that this time, he knows what he has to fear, and his usual defiance is tinged with desperation.
“What happened?” Karl asks the templar trailing behind them before he can stop himself, his worry too apparent in his voice. It is of no use, of course; he is waved off without a word of answer, only a simple order to stand back. And he does, his feet guiding him backwards without him needing to tell them to, but his eyes remains on Anders writhing furiously in their grasp. The image of it burns behind his eyelids when he close them.
The procession is followed by rumours of an escape attempt made by scaling the tower walls, and as daft in its recklessness as it is, it is almost the kind of thing he can believe a frantic Anders capable of trying if backed into a corner.
Karl eventually becomes frantic himself in his search for answers when Anders does not reappear for days, his heart beating too quickly and thoughts racing, occasionally colliding with each other. Such a long absence can mean one of three things; death, most likely either as a result of a failed Harrowing or being executed, getting transferred to another Circle, or having been sent down to the dungeons.
He refuses to consider the possibility of death and as there have been no transfers lately, solitary is the most likely option. Hoping for it to be where Anders is because it would mean he is still close by is dangerous, and proves he cares for him too much to pretend to himself he does not. It matters less than he thought it would, but that might change once he is no longer living in worry. To randomly ask around in his search for answers of his whereabouts would be too risky, and so the days while he waits for the right person to ask move so slowly he half expects them to come to a halt. When he finally encounters Irving, who provides him with most of the answers he has been looking for in a sympathetic, concerned voice, time does stop for a bit and for a while he forgets to breathe.
He knows what solitary could do to Anders, alone in the cramped darkness.
And one heartbeat later, he can almost feel the tower’s hold on him loosen.
For all the Chant of Light names his magic a gift from the Maker, there are few places where he feels as cast off as he does in the Chantry. There is something about the statue of Andraste locked up with the rest of them that somehow makes the room feel smaller, and when he looks up at her eyes he somehow understand Anders’ hatred of enclosed spaces better.
She looks sad, and almost disappointed, but not in him despite his doubts. He can believe in Andraste as a good person who lived long ago and did her best to make the world a better place and he can believe someone created said world, and it seems to be enough for her even if there are times when he recoils from the priests’ interpretations.
Unlike him, Anders still believes, or at least tries to, and when he is submerged in his own darkness he clings to the Chant in their old tongue like a lifeline and repeats verses as if he is attempting to will them into truth.
“Den som visar ånger och har tro, orörd av världens mörker, skall känna sann frid,” he whispers into his clasped hands, and seated next to Karl the too-thin arm resting against his own is shaking.
“I feel that part is a bit… unforgiving. I do not think it is possible to be completely unshaken by all darkness.” Karl does not sigh, because such a thing would not make anything better, but he cannot help but feeling sad. It is too much to ask of someone, to have them look at all the sorrows of the world and not ever shiver before any of them.
“No peace for us, then?”
“I am not sure,” Karl hesitates, because when Anders’ mood has begun to twist and turn it is difficult to know what will make it worse and not. He bends down to press a kiss upon his temple, in part to give him time to collect his thoughts, and in part because it feels… right. “Not if what we have to repent for is existing. I would like to think that is not what the verse means, though.”
Back in the Anderfels, before he knew he was a mage, he never thought about it because he did not have reason to. That changed.
Here, he has never done anything to fight back, because he has not had reason to.
Perhaps that, too, is about to change.
The person he has become. What an odd thought it is, to have as a mage. People outside might get to lead their lives in a way as to build them up to a point where they can look back on it all and think of what kind of person they have ended up as, but a mage will not because a mage is not truly a person. A mage is a Fadewhisper away from turning into a nightmare ripped from the very Void, a danger to fear and not much else. And so the moment flame dances around your fingertips in the night or frost crystals forms in the air as you breathe out, the moment you move an object without needing to guide it with your touch or close up an open wound and stroke its scar from existence - from that moment forward what you are is a mage, and whatever it is a mage is, it supersedes all else. There is no other way to be viewed with the Chantry seemingly believing them to be as much a Blight upon the land as any of the true ones if not more, no matter how much the Chant itself calls magic a gift of the Maker, and it hurts. It hurts to hear the Chant spoken against him; to have words which once meant comfort and hope taken from him, first to be relearned in a new language far from home, a place where comfort and hope would have been needed the most, and then later to be flung back in his face as proof of his own unintentional wickedness.
He never questioned any of it back in the Anderfels, where they were all pious and the words of the Chant fell as naturally from his lips as snow would from harsh winter clouds. Here in Ferelden not everyone bothers to clasp their hands in prayer before the evening meal, and the verses gets stuck in his throat often enough to have caused guilt to settle around his heart.
He still does not precisely question it, he tells himself because just as a mage is not permitted a place in the world in the same manner a full person is, it is not his place to question the matters of religion. Doubt, however, is another matter, one that eats away at his sleep and leaves him feeling as drained in the morning as if he had been hit by a templar’s spell, and his own prayers have been an afterthought rather than the framework of his daily routine for far longer than he cares to think of.
What he does care to think of as he lies on his back in the darkness, coaxing a spell wisp to drift upwards to reach the full height of the ceiling in a pale imitation of the rising moon, is what a waste of a gift.
If the opportunity to break free ever presented itself, Karl wonders if he would dare take it. He knows he could not go about it like Anders, who pounces on every last chance to get away and then makes the rest up as he goes along; he would need to plan ahead, and to be completely honest the thought of planning an escape frightens him because there is so much more to it than aimless running. If he could even get away from the tower, where would he go next? And when he got there, what would he do to get by? The tower has made him a scholar, and as much as it suits him to be one he has no idea how needed they are outside. While he could learn how to do something new it would not be without attracting attention, because what manner of adult does not even know how to handle an axe to chop wood with? When he was forced to leave his home he had been far too young to use one, and the same is true for most mages.
Anders, though, would know, and in a way it is a funny thought that there are areas where Anders’ knowledge of things so vastly exceeds his own. He has gotten so used to it being the other way around during the years they have spent together, Anders’ late arrival to the tower leaving him with years of knowledge to catch up to. Karl started helping him out early on, being from the same far-off land and thus understanding said land’s words because helping someone in need of such harmless help felt natural. No one had to order him to for the Circle’s convenience; they would sooner have had to order him not to. At the time he thought it was the teaching which came naturally to him; later, when calming down a homesick and despairing Anders, it seemed as if it was the helping part itself.
Now when the days feel so much darker despite the tower not letting in any less light than it did years ago he is plagued by thoughts of what if. What if he did not wish to help someone out of the goodness of his heart, but only to feel meaningful? He did gain something from it, after all; suddenly having a place, and making a difference to someone for the first time.
On lighter days he can think of it as for what it most likely is; friends helping each other in their own way. But on the days when he catches himself staring at the windows of the dining hall and thinking of what an escape actually entails, he doubts, and is unsure of what it is he truly wants to escape.
If he could run from anything, he might run from the person he has become.