Chapter 1: Abomination
It was raining that day, that first dreadful day of my new life. Mother was cooking my favorite chicken stew, and I’d been told I couldn’t have any because the eggs were never gathered. I didn’t want to walk outside in the rain, and she was very angry.
I didn’t know why. I was a child, but there was no reasoning with Mother, not even from father. He had stopped her from shouting about how much of a brat I was and some other, well, let’s just call them expletives. He’d taken me, dried my tears, and told me I must mind my mother, even if she was over the top.
I had flinched, when he’d said that, of course, because it was my job to fetch the pot from the fire when it was boiling over and if I didn’t, she would shout. “It’s over the top, fool boy!” and then if I wasn’t fast enough, and the water or stew spilled, I would earn a shove or a hard slap. Then she would clean up and I stood there, trembling, until I was eventually sent off to bed without supper.
Anyhow, my father was a kind man, but he was certainly not the backbone of the family and Mother knew it. I had hated the rain then, I didn’t like to get wet, that was why I hadn’t gathered the eggs. It was too cold! I was a tiny little boy, small and fragile, even for my age. My raven hair was soft and puffy then, and my skin was pale from poor nutrition.
Father handed me a piece of bread, but then Mother rounded the corner to call him to eat and she hit him over the head with her wooden spoon, several times. I grew angry. Why did everybody who was nice to me always get hurt? Little did I know that would later become a regular pattern. Just my luck.
My hands grew hot and sweaty, and my blue-grey eyes narrowed. Mother returned my icy glare but then, I felt it. A strange power I can never describe to anyone who has never felt it before, one that I now know is both a gift and a curse. Sparks flew from my hands and Mother’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Stop it!” I cried. Over and over, I just wanted her to leave Father alone, he’d done nothing wrong and their loud fighting and shouting frightened me to no end. The fear escalated to anger and then the flames danced from my palms, not burning my hands somehow.
We all cried out in terror as the small blast (small to me now, of course, but it looked bigger then.) lit Mother’s apron on fire and she screamed even louder as she struggled to stomp it out. She put out most of the flames save for her awful temper and Father took me and quickly locked me in my room. He mut have blocked Mother’s way to the door because she was shouting, and he yelled back at her. They must have fought for hours, because I fell asleep after sobbing into my pillow for what seemed like an eternity.
The next morning, I awoke in the old shed where my father kept his tools, with not even the chickens or a cow for company. I tried the door but it was locked, and I was cold and hungry. I cried again, sitting at the base of the door hopelessly punching it with a backwards fist every few minutes. Eventually Father came for me, and brought me back to the house.
We barely made it to the front door before she blocked our way. Mother shouted, “You ‘eard me last night! I dun’ want that thing in my ‘ouse!”
“’E’s only a boy, and ‘e’s our son!” Father argued, squeezing my hand as a tried to squirm away.
“Demon child is no child of mine!” Mother growled. She looked me in the eyes. “You little abomination...should ‘of drowned ye, sickly babe! All I did for ye, an’ ye try’ an’ kill me in my own home! I’ll not ‘ave it!”
Mother never did let me back into her house, and I cannot say I blame her. That is also one bit of my past, (one of the few) that I do not regret. That day Father left me at the chantry, and the Templars came to take me away.
Abomination. That was the first time I’d heard that word, but it was certainly not the last.
Chapter 2: Bully
Three years after Jowan arrives at the Circle Tower, he has an unpleasant encounter with another Apprentice, but then the shy little Apprentice boy meets a bold new arrival, and they become unlikely friends.
I was concentrating on studying fire spells- there was just something wrong with the way I used to cast them, my aim was awful. As a young boy, I was supposed to be studying history, grammar and mathematics. The Chantry liked to educate us on important figures of the past, in Ferelden and the surrounding regions. As a nine year old I didn't really see a point in studying so hard for something I would never see first hand. Little did I know, that one day, I would be a monumental pawn in some of Ferelden's dirtiest political games. Looking back upon it now, I wish I'd paid more attention to my history lessons, but they were so boring...
"Jowan! Put that book back, it's too light to be your history book, lad. You want to score a good mark on the next evaluation, yes lad?" A stern Enchanter Torrin walked into the section of bookshelves I was nestled amongst, a strict tone about his voice was never unusual.
I looked up at him, eyes wide as saucers, and opened my mouth to speak. "Sorry, Master Torrin, I was just worried that-"
He crossed the room within seconds and tore the book from my hands. I was frantically trying to explain myself but I suppose I was so frightened about getting into trouble that I just burst into tears. He looked down at me with a displeased look crossing his stern features and he let out a deep sigh. "What's gotten into you, boy? You're in no rush to cast fire spells, or at least you shouldn't be! Your focus ought to be on your history evaluation on Thursday."
"Th-Thursday?" I stammered, realizing that it was Tuesday night and I didn't have a clue who the targets of the Exalted March were, and I definitely couldn't recite the Chantry's writings on them. "I thought it was next Monday! I asked Algernon and he said-"
"Algernon. That boy is a mischievous one, to put it kindly. Your test is Thursday, Jowan. I do hope you are ready by then, my boy. Algernon and I will have a talk, but I am disappointed that you did not ask me when the test was if my instructions were unclear."
"Sorry, ser." I said sheepishly as I stood up from my chair. He strode off towards the Enchanter's offices and I slunk back towards the apprentice's dormitories. As I rounded the corner, I heard a familiar snicker.
"Ol' Torrin was havin' a grand old time making you squirm, little twerp."
Algernon. I tried to ignore him and slip past, thought if I'd just mind my own business he'd leave me alone. It was the first time he'd called me that. He wasn't a whole lot older than me, maybe a year or two, but he was bigger, bulkier and taller. He was also very over confident when he interacted with the other apprentices, especially the girls. He thought he was the Maker's gift to everyone's life, and I was coming to realize that he wasn't. He'd arrived from the city of Denerim a few months after me. I had been too young to understand a lot about him, how city people spoke and acted was very different. Everything seemed hurried, but what would I know? Things might have been very rough for him in the city. But I still didn't understand why he felt the need to take out his troubles on others.
"Hey, twerp!" Another, taller shoulder touched mine. Great.
"What do you want, Algernon?" I asked, sounding annoyed.
"Fire spells?! I really hope you're joking! They'll all laugh, the Temps, they'll have to throw you in the lake! You're gonna burn yourself up-" Some of the other apprentices, including a few girls my age, started to giggle.
"Oh, look, he cried!" One of the boys my age pointed out.
"Ohhh what a baby! I bet he still wets the bed!" An elven boy laughed alongside the others. He had been nice to me in the past, but I guess he got caught up in the moment. Doesn't everyone?
"Shut up, knife ears. You'd be one to talk!" Algernon said, laughing and clapping the elf roughly on the shoulder. The other kids laughed but the elven boy said no more.
I started to walk again, faster this time.
"Where are you going, twerp? Back to your cradle?"
I'd just about had enough when another apprentice began approaching rapidly from the front of me. The others went quiet and looked on as it became apparent she was angry and she had heard just about everything. She was tall for an elf with a lanky build just like mine and black, wavy hair tamed by a ponytail. Her emerald eyes sparkled with spirit despite the frown on her angular features. She was new and I had only seen her in passing. I didn't remember her name at first, by the Maker, I wouldn't have pronounced it correctly because everyone except for her said it wrong, even the Templars.
"Baby, knife ears, you've got a name for just about everyone, don't you Algernon? Well, I've got a name for you, shem. And a special delivery." Then she slipped past me. I turned around just in time to see her slam Algernon into the wall and spit in his face, only succeeding because she had the element of surprise on her side. Everyone gasped, and stepped back. We knew how bad a temper Algernon had, and none of us wanted to get involved.
"Why you little knife-eared brat!" Algernon said, almost in disbelief.
"Call me that one more time, shem, and you'll get a snowball to the face."
"There ain't no snow, its the middle of spring!" Algernon laughed triumphantly as he raised his arms defensively towards her. "Walk away, elf. We both know you can't win this fight."
Then suddenly, there was a chill in the air and we all felt it and the others started to whisper. "That's where you're wrong, shemlen."
Before anyone could say anything in response she channeled her mana into a little compact snowball and thrust it into Algernon's face, and it hit him as hard as an arrow striking its mark. He screamed as he flailed with the snow in his eyes and all over his face. Some of the other children stared, others couldn't contain themselves and began to laugh and applause. The elven boy he'd belittled was standing next to me now and he elbowed me in the side. "Not so tough now, is he?"
Of course all the elves were happy to see our age group's most racist and brash boys taken down a few pegs, but it was only a matter of time before Enchanter Wynne stepped into view. "Boys and girls!" she bellowed.
Everyone went silent and our fun was pulled to a screeching halt. "All of you, get to your classes, now!"
Algernon was bull-faced now and the new girl was fuming. I would have been content to go to my Orlesian language class, but of course two templars who'd heard the ruckus came running from their posts, and the new girl and Algernon were pulled into a nearby empty classroom. I followed Wynne and the Templars. "Enchanter, wait!" I tugged on the older woman's sleeve.
"Not now, Jowan, dear. Can't you see we've got an incident to deal with?"
Once we were all in the classroom, Algernon guided to a chair and not-so-gently coaxed to sit and the new girl to another chair across the room, the new elf spoke. "Yeah, let him talk, Enchanter. He's a good witness! Although last I checked putting a flat-eared prick in his place isn't a crime against no Chantry laws!"
"Well a knife eared slut needs to know her pla-" Algernon shouted, trying to stand up but his Templar escort held him down by his shoulders, telling him to stay seated.
Meanwhile Wynne's face went red. "Would both of you be quiet? And as for your language! You should both be ashamed!"
As everyone settled down, the Senior Enchanter's gaze returned to my face, which was filled with worry, and I remember being about to burst into tears for the second time that day, when Wynne shook her head at me. "It's all right, dear. Go ahead and tell us what you saw."
"Don't worry. You won't get into trouble as long as you tell me the truth, Jowan. Remember that the Maker knows what went on in the corridor just now, even if the Templars and I don't. Good things come to those who are honest."
"O-okay." I said, a little more confident. "The new girl," I pointed at her in my exasperation, but Wynne took my hand and lowered it.
"It's rude to point." she reminded me. Then she nodded for me to continue.
"Sorry, Enchanter. I don't know her name. But she saw Algernon being mean to me, and he called another boy knife-I mean, a bad word...you know, for elves. I don't wanna say it, it's mean." The dark haired girl smiled. Her eyes softening for the first time...ever, since I saw her, and I kept going. "They started to argue and she pushed him into the wall and spit on him, then he looked like he was gonna hit her. I think that's when he called her that mean name and then she warned him that if he called her that again she would put a snowball in his face. H-he told her she 'couldn't win this fight' and that it's spring and then told her to go away. But then it got really cold and then we all saw her hand move and throw a snowball into his face."
"Well, that wasn't very nice, and you know that, don't you? Not only Jowan, but all of you should know. Fighting amongst ourselves, name calling and using magic to hurt one another are very, very serious problems. They rarely occur here, but I want you all to learn instead of suffer. Jowan, I hope you do not learn from the example of these two Apprentices' rash actions today. You are dismissed, thank you for telling me what happened. We will take it from here."
Wynne gestured for the templar holding the elf by the shoulders to escort me out. The Templar was a female Knight called Rosemary and she placed one hand gently on my shoulder, guiding me from the room as Wynne had determined the one Templar was enough to keep peace in that classroom. "Come along, dear. Whose lecture do you have next?" she asked me as we left the room.
"I have Orlesian with Enchanter Lucille. They're not gonna be too hard on that new girl, are they? She was trying to protect me and the others."
"I am sure that they will be fair given the situation, but remember that she raised her spells to a peer with no regard to our rules. Our rules are designed to keep you all safe. Imagine if that snowball had missed and hit you instead."
"It didn't-" I began.
"But it easily could have. My point is that her intent was good, but she could have resolved the situation a little more...diplomatically."
I asked her what that meant.
"Diplomatic means using words and using them well, to avoid violence. Many successful mages thrive if they are good with their words."
"Algernon wasn't good with his. He used them to hurt people, and I think they hurt more than that snowball." I said thoughtfully.
Rosemary chuckled at that and rubbed my shoulder lightly. "I didn't say he was. But two wrongs do not make a right, Jowan. Remember that."
After classes were done for the day I ran into the elven girl again.
"Hey," she smiled at me.
"Hullo." I said softly. "Sorry about Algernon, he's nothing but trouble."
She actually laughed, and when she stopped the small smile lingered on her face. "He hasn't changed a bit. I'm from Denerim as well. That's about all the two of us have in common, but we knew each other. He and his friends used to throw rocks at my friends and I."
"Why didn't you run away from them?" I asked simply.
"We only had so far to run. I lived in the Alienage. My best friend, Estelle and her cousins Soris and Shianni lived closer to the fence than I did, but if I went to visit them and play in their yard we'd get rocks, garbage and rotten fruit thrown at us if Algernon and his friends were around. I was happy for a while once the Temps got him, but now they've got me too. I never imagined I'd become a mage. At least I'm not living poorly anymore, but the bad news is I've got to put up with people like Algernon. Anyway, thanks for what you said to Wynne. You really saved me a lot of trouble. I don't think they'd have believed me."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because I am an elf?" She said as if it was really obvious.
"That doesn't matter here. You are a mage. And so are the rest of us kids. The Templars and the Chantry don't care if you're an elf as long as you follow the rules." I explained.
"All right, fair enough, but forgive me for not trusting anyone." She laughed bitterly. "I did break a rule, after all. For your sake, and then you stuck up for me. No shem's ever done that for me before. Thanks kid. I was going to say you owe me one, but forget it. You're all right...Jowan, was it?"
I nodded, a small, slightly proud smile tugging at my lips. "Yeah. What's your name?"
"Fen'Asha. Fen'Asha Surana. And whatever you do, don't try to shorten it to anything. Just don't. Got that, and we'll be fine."
"Sure. Can we be friends?" I asked, shyly peering up at her face.
Those mossy eyes softened a little. I could tell she wasn't used to smiling as of late, and after what she'd apparently been through, I couldn't say I blamed her.