What Was Necessary
The evening was wearing on as Mahariel walked to the Chantry alone. She'd put on a finer raiment, of blue silk and silver thread, and tied her hair back in a loose knot, a compromise between the tight bun she'd worn as a warrior and the long, loose style she wore when she was trying to be no one. She went to the Chantry as the Arlessa of Amaranthine, as the Warden Commander. She stood straight as she ascended the stairs and carried herself with easy confidence when one of the sisters asked how she could assist the Dalish woman.
"Please tell the Grand Cleric that Warden Commander Mahariel would seek an audience with her."
The sister nodded with wide eyes and quickly hurried away.
Mahariel never referred to herself as the Hero of Ferelden; she didn't consider herself the hero of anything. That had been Alistair. He was the one who'd made the ultimate sacrifice. After that, Mahariel was small and meaningless. She'd controlled the Blight, but she had not ended it. All she had was what she did now. But the sisters were apprised of news from foreign lands. She knew just who it was who sought council with the Grand Cleric.
Mahariel waited patiently, admiring the fine construction of Kirkwall's Chantry. In Ferelden, they were so many simple, wooden buildings; barns practically. They had been adorned with absolute love and care, with fine embellishments and careful decoration, but the buildings themselves were humble. Even Amaranthine's Chantry could not hold a candle to the grandeur of Kirkwall's.
Frankly, Mahariel didn't understand it. Her Dalish roots superseded her continental understanding: to her, the gods and goddesses spoke through the beauty of nature, the miracle of life itself. They did not require grand constructs and special, assigned places to worship. The act of living and doing and learning was worship enough. But she could admire the work, the effort that had gone into the building. One could not craft a building so fine without a fine purpose in mind.
And compared to the squalor of Darktown just next door, it nearly made her sick. How many tithes did the Chantry receive? How many of them went to the poor? The fact that the house of worship was in Hightown said enough.
"The sister tells me the Hero of Ferelden would like to see me," said a gentle, wise voice from the staircase. Mahariel cast her gaze up and saw an older woman, completely grey with tired skin, but whose eyes were still bright and alive. For a moment, she thought of Wynne, and Mahariel smiled.
"Please, Grand Cleric. Call me Mahariel," the women met at the bottom of the steps and each gave the other a small but reverent bow.
"Elthina, then. Please, what brings you to Kirkwall?"
"Initially, a rest..."
Mahariel smiled. Grand Cleric Elthina was a wry old bat. "But I've never been one to leave well enough alone."
"Then you come to Kirkwall at a poor time; there isn't enough 'well enough' to go around."
Elthina sighed. "You've been speaking with the Champion."
Mahariel shook her head.
"You'd get along well, I think." The Grand Cleric folded her hands. "You are new here, so forgive me if I seem terse: believe me when I say I am doing all I can for this city. The mages are in no danger from the templars if I have my say. But I will continue to allow them to do their job."
"And the poverty in Darktown? Is there no aid that might be given?"
"I am to understand this would have been a request you would have made to the viscount?"
"Believe me, Grand Cleric. I am here because I have no one else to turn to; at least, no one else who I would consider as unbiased as you."
Elthina nodded, and lowered her voice. "Kirkwall could use someone like you; the Champion seems taxed even now. But I'm afraid I have no aid to give you except my support. I will continue to encourage both the Knight-Commander and the First Enchanter to remain civil, and as always, any citizen of Kirkwall is welcome to seek help within the Chantry." She looked around at the hollow building. "So few of them do anymore, though."
"I will remind them," Mahariel offered. It was all she could do. She had no doubt the Grand Cleric was enforcing the stability she promised, but Mahariel was not one to not choose sides. How long would the Blight have gone on if the Wardens had been unbiased? How many nations would have turned them away?
"Tell me child," the Grand Cleric's tone changed subtly to one of inquisitiveness, "if you would indulge an old woman's curiosity."
"Anything, Grand Cleric."
"Is it true what they say about you and the Urn of Sacred Ashes?"
Mahariel nodded. "Though what has become of it, I cannot say."
"That is probably for the best." Elthina turned toward the statue of Andraste, pensive.
"If you'll indulge my curiosity, Elthina?"
"Of course, child."
"Personally, what is your stance on the mage's plight?"
Elthina held her head high. "Andraste said that magic should serve man, not rule over him."
"She did not say that mages should serve man," Mahariel countered. "Is it not the case that magic only rules over mages because it is what they are forced to be defined by? They are either a member of the Circle or an apostate, and that is all they are allowed to be."
"A fair point, young hero. But until a better solution is found -"
"There will never be peace." Mahariel shook her head. "It doesn't sit well with me. Mages are people, whether or not a better solution is found."
"And it would seem Kirkwall agrees with you," the Grand Cleric submitted. "Perhaps your presence will aid us, Mahariel."
"I have no delusions of grandeur," the Warden-Commander insisted. "I have only ever done what was necessary."
"And that is exactly why I have faith in you."