The old man had been a staple of Starkhaven’s chantry nearly as long as any one could remember. Initially a brother of the faith, he’d been allowed to stay when his failing health forced him to retire from his duties. He had no family that anyone knew of, and so now the sisters and the few remaining brothers took shifts caring for him, forcing him to eat daily and checking on him in the night to be certain he still breathed.
When spring came, they carried him to the gardens so he could have fresh air; and when winter fell the priests would take him to the upper balconies of the chantry on the rare occasion that it snowed, that he could watch the flakes settle along the banks of the Minanter. These little things seemed to make the old man happy.
It was after midnight one such winter evening, and the girl assigned to check on him knocked gently to announce her presence before entering. She wasn’t sure why she did it—he was always asleep at this hour—but it felt wrong to enter another’s room without doing so.
“Come in, lass.”
Freezing in shock, the girl recovered and pressed open the heavy door. “Maker’s breath! Serah, you cannot—”
The old man was not only awake, but was half-dressed in the finest armor she’d ever seen. It gleamed in the meager candle light, but the buckles on the breastplate seemed to elude his reach.
“Aid an old man, would you, lass?”
Confused, she nodded, and set the candle on the small table. As she helped with his armor, she noticed a crest on the underside of one of the guards—a chalice encircled by three stylized beasts. The old man chuckled then, a wheezy sound, as he noticed her noticing the mark of his family.
“Nearly five decades have I been serving the Maker here, lass, and I believe you’re the first to realize.”
Pressing one finger to her lips, he shushed her. “No need to go worrying anyone with such small details, hm?”
“But you died at the beginning of the war! They say you were in Kirkwall’s chantry when that apostate—”
The old man’s face grew pained. “I did die then, lass, in many ways. Fetch me my bow and help me to the sanctuary, and I’ll tell you the story.”
Finding a bow bearing the same sigil at the back of his closet, she returned to help him up from the bed. Together they made their way from the dormitories through the work rooms, from the work rooms to the gardens, and from the gardens to the main hall of the chantry. Once there, he kneeled before the statue of Andraste, bow across his knees, and hung his head.
“I was indeed in Kirkwall when the war began, lass. And when the Champion—a woman I’d always considered one of my only friends in that wretched city—defied me and refused to kill her lover, even though she admitted his guilt, I swore vengeance. I was going to return here, claim my father’s throne, and then return to Kirkwall to rain fire and blood on them all.”
The old man fell forward then, coughing, and the girl realized his gloved hand was covered in blood. She offered him a kerchief, which he took with thanks, and then continued his story. “But when I got here, the city was managing itself. My cousin may have been a fool, but he’d found good men to aid him—men my father had respected and who’d escaped the Harrimans’ slaughter of my family and their staff. I could not bear to destroy such peace, even in the name of vengeance. Elthina certainly would not have stood for it, bless her departed soul.” Another hacking cough took hold of him, and he was left with only the barest of wheezing breath when it was over.
“What is your name, lass?” he finally struggled to ask, his head still hanging heavily after the last fit.
“Well then, Dierdra, be certain that the Revered Mother not make a scene of my funeral, aye? Let my remains be burned like any other man’s.”
“But milord, when she sees this armor—”
“I know, lass. I’d like my remains interred with that of my family, but other than that, I’d like no public ceremonies or observances. Only you and the Revered Mother are to know that the man who died tonight was anything other than the Old Man of Starkhaven. Do you understand me, lass?”
“Yes, milord,” Dierdra nodded. His breaths were growing shallower and shallower and she feared for a moment that he’d passed.
“Dierdra, lass?” he said suddenly, coughing again. “Make sure this bow is quietly presented to my cousin’s current heir. It belongs in Vael hands.”
Gently taking the bow from him, she felt the old man fall forward. He was dead; that much was obvious. She clutched the bow of Starkhaven to her chest for a moment, before lifting her head in determination and leaving him in his last silent prayer as she retrieved the Revered Mother to deliver the Old Man’s last requests.