There was a thick feeling in her throat, anger and frustration trying to bubble to the surface. In an attempt to catch the conspirators, in the hopes that they would be the only ones that perhaps Hawke would come back to her with no news rather than the news she'd expected, she'd hoped to keep it at bay. The pacing and the worrying and the praying… was ineffective. What needed to happen was the same thing she'd been reluctant to do all her life. Even now, years later, even after she'd seen what her sister had wrought on this city. To have to make the choice for so many more lives than just her sister's--
She'd been better at this once. All the decisions had seemed so easy. She'd made her way through the ranks with calm, level-headed ease. The decisions that needed to be made to become Knight Commander had been simple. She'd seen first hand what her own poor decisions had led to. She thanked the Maker nightly for the chance to know, at such a young age, how to make the better decisions for her city. She had a lifetime to make up for the lives that'd been lost.
Now it felt like it hadn't been so long ago she'd stepped into her first set of armor. The way her nerves jangled, how easily she could find anger and fear and frustration, how quickly her vision swam when she was confronted with apostates… It felt as though she was still yet to undergo her first Harrowing. She'd attended dozens, hundreds maybe in her years here in the Gallows. She was no fresh recruit, no wide-eyed templar with hopes that the next mage she met could be different.
She sighed. Wasn't that exactly what she'd been hoping for? That this… Hawke, would be different? That somehow, his name, his title, made him different? How many noble-born mages had they dragged from their families in the name of control? And yet. Here they stood.
"That's what worries me
," she said at last. "You say it's not that different from the way Lothering felt. A circle should not feel as though it is attacked from within and without. It should not bear any similarities with rampaging darkspawn. And yet I find all my efforts cut off from within my own ranks.
" She gritted her teeth. "Mages will always bristle at their restraints. This is not that.
She frowned, the line between her brows drawing closer together as she stared at Hawke. His question hit too close to her own thoughts. He sat in one of the chairs as though he were calm, as though this were a simple conversation for her.
Her armor felt too tight. She straightened up, spine lengthening as her shoulder blades flexed back. She took off one mailed glove, letting the buckle keep it in place as she removed the other one. Her fists were gloved and her fingers stretched in the leather, cooler and less restrained.
"I didn't know. Not at first. Though I suspected quickly enough. At the time, it was only a matter of volume. As you said, you are from Lothering. Kirkwall was bleeding refugees and many-- most, I hope-- with magic, came to us
." She nodded towards the door, Orsino across the hall. "Others, without, asked joined my ranks. Or like with your friend, Captain Vallen, the guard. Those who can prove useful--
" Meredith shrugged. "We like those who can take care of themselves, who moderate and keep to themselves. You did that. At first
Taking a few steps, she turned and circled the desk, stopping behind her own chair on the other side. She looked at Hawke, this older, darker, bruised version of the mage she'd met years before. "You… helped, in your own way. I know from Cullen some of the ways in which you inserted yourself to the workings of Kirkwall. Mages came home, Templars found their way back to their barracks unharmed, cargo returned, menaces… managed
." She waved a hand in a vague gesture. "And, you were of age, far past the age we typically take in mages. It's… an unsafe practice to send a mage your age into the Harrowing chamber. It's not recommended. The other option, I'm sure you're aware of.
She sighed. "And whatever you've heard of me, that's not an option I take lightly.