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The Griffon and the Raven, Chapter 41

Prompt: Judgment

Ravena stood in front of the throne in the Great Hall and stared hard at the gilded spikes at its back. This is just another judgment, you’ve done this before. Her advisors had praised her rulings in the past, calling her actions fair. She tended to show mercy and give second chances, or she gave prisoners over to the injured parties, should they be better suited to dole out justice than she. Never before had she executed anyone, no matter how badly she had wanted to, thinking of the greater picture instead of what she wanted for her own ends. This is just another judgment, you’ve done this before. There’s nothing different to this one than all the others.

But it was different. She sat at her throne and straightened her shoulders, putting on a mask of calmness she certainly didn’t feel as she pretended to listen to Josephine introduce their prisoner. The rarely worn clothing she had decided to put on that day chafed and made her feel uncomfortable in her own skin. She had chosen it because she didn’t want to confront this prisoner in something they’d seen her wear every day. She needed the more formal looking attire, the dark blue tunic with the multitude of silver clasps running down the front and the dark pants with their studded seams, as an extra layer of armor her usual casual cotton shirts and soft trousers didn’t have. Even her boots were different, the seemingly never ending laces creating that much more of a barrier to take refuge behind than her comfortable, beaten up pair she always wore did.

She looked down at the man with an air of indifference, even when her emotions were twisted up in knots. Each clank of the manacles at his wrists was a blow to her heart. Come on, Ravena, she thought, curling her fingers over the armrests of her throne. You knew it would be hard to see him like this. You just didn’t figure out that it would be this difficult.

She stared at him with her tongue glued to the roof of her mouth. She had spent the entirety of the trip back from Val Royeaux trying to figure out what to say at this very moment and words still failed her.

“How did you manage to get me here?” Blackwall asked, not looking at her as he broke the silence.

“My ambassadors and I went to the Empress with the intention of extraditing you into our custody. We were fully prepared to use her gratitude for saving her life in exchange for yours. It wouldn’t have been an even trade by far, but we decided to try.” That last was a low blow, and she felt a twinge of satisfaction when he winced at her words.

“And show the world that the Inquisition isn’t above bartering for criminals? That it’s as twisted and crooked as every other form of government?” He looked up at her and glared. “I was prepared to end this. I wanted to die, to pay for my crimes. You stole that choice from me by bringing me here.”

Her temper flared and the indifferent mask she had tried to wear clattered to the ground. “You’re one to talk about stealing choices,” she sneered. “Instead of telling me the truth from the very beginning, you ran away. My choices were taken from me before I even knew I had any.”

“Then you should have left me to hang!”

She quickly stood up and clenched her fists at her sides. “I couldn’t do that!” Her exclamation rang out in the hall and she was suddenly aware of the many nobles and soldiers who had gathered to witness the trial murmur amongst themselves. Regaining her composure, she sat back down and stared at Blackwall as coldly as she knew how. “As for bartering for criminals, as you so aptly put it, you needn’t worry. Much to our surprise, the Empress stopped us before we could even ask for your release. We didn’t do anything, she gave you to us. Apparently, Gaspard told her of your past military history and she came to the conclusion that you and your talents were worth more to the Inquisition alive than you ever will be to Orlais dead. As a token of goodwill, she also declared that should you help defeat Corypheus and survive, your name will be cleared and all charges dropped.”

Blackwall’s eyes widened in disbelief for a fraction of a second before narrowing. “Then I have no other choice but to stay here. It seems as if you own my life.”

She shook her head. “No, I do not.”

“Then what will you have of me?”

She was struck with an image of them sprawled out on her bed. She had been lying on her side, her head propped on her hand as he ran one large hand down to her hip, drawing her closer to him. What will you have of me, Love, he had asked her, his lips painting a path down her throat and his teeth pleasantly scraping against the pulse he found there. It seemed as if that moment was a lifetime ago: they had been two different people, he a noble Warden who had devoted himself to the Inquisition’s cause and she a woman who naively believed without a doubt that he loved her. Never in her wildest dreams would she have even considered that his actions had been carefully calculated as a way to hide from her who he really was. The fact that I ended up in your bed was merely a bonus. Blinking, she forcibly pushed aside memories of them: the laughter, the passion, all the sweet words – the lies – he had ever said to her and the seemingly sincere way he had always said how he loved her and drew upon an inner reserve of strength to get through this intact.

“I will have nothing of you, nor do I want anything from you in return. You have your freedom: your life is your own to make of it as you see fit. Stay and fight Corypheus as part of the Inquisition, leave and head to the Wardens to join the order you pretended to belong to, or run away and hide like the coward you professed yourself to be. You argued that I stole your choices from you, so I’m giving them back.” She couldn’t help but notice that many of the soldiers who had gathered to witness the trial nodded in approval of her ruling. Blackwall had helped train and had gained the respect of so many of them, taking them from green recruits to the men and women they were today. Absently, Ravena wondered how many of them still respected him after learning the truth, but she squashed that worry under the heel of her boot. It doesn’t matter, she thought. Making sure that he is well-liked is not my responsibility any longer. Standing up, she looked towards Josephine and Raoul to signal that the trial was over. Josephine nodded and Ravena couldn’t help but see that her ambassador wore a relieved look on her face. Raoul’s face was more guarded, but she could tell that he was angry. She had always had a knack for sensing how he was feeling for as long as she could remember, and it seemed as if their past habit of knowing what the other was thinking or feeling had slowly returned after being apart for so long. Raoul might be angry, but that anger wasn’t directed at her or her decisions. His ire was directed more at the man in chains in front of her and Ravena felt a rush of affection at the fact that for the first time in years, Raoul was willing to stand up for his sister’s hurt feelings.

It was petty of her, but she hoped Raoul would give Blackwall, or Thom, or whatever the Void he decided to call himself, a beating the likes he’d never seen. It wouldn’t make her feel better, but it might give him an inkling of how much she was currently hurting.

She slowly stepped down from the dais and made her way towards Blackwall. “Release him,” she quietly ordered the guard at his side. There were a few quiet clicks and the manacles around Blackwall’s hands loosened and were taken away. Addressing Blackwall as he silently rubbed at his wrists, she attempted to make her last words to him as formal as she possibly could. “Do what you will, Thom Rainier. Your life is your own and it is of no consequence to me now.”

He looked down, his brows drawn together. “My lady, I…”

And that was when her temper well and truly snapped. “Do not call me that,” she hissed, voice low enough for only him to hear her and eyes narrowing. “You lost that privilege once you told me your true feelings. Yet I must thank you for that. You were right; I was a fool to believe you ever loved me.”

“Ravena, please, let me expl…” He reached for her, but she jerked her arm out of his reach. He flinched at her movement as if she had backhanded him. Had they not have had the audience around them, she just might have done so.

“I might have been a fool once, but I learn from my mistakes.” With that, she turned away from him and strode purposely out the hall and down the stairs, her head held high.

She walked without a true destination in mind, wanting only to get away from the whispers and the many eyes in the hall. Sagging against the stone wall of one of the towers still under construction, she took a grounding breath and stared at her shaking hands. She played the recent events back in her head as she always did after a judgment, wondering if she had done the right thing. Pushing away from the wall, she opened the heavy wooden door and went inside, her mind lingering on the hurt expression in Blackwall’s eyes when she had withdrawn from him.

Once she was certain that she was alone in the tower, the strength she had relied on for the past few days failed her. Ravena leaned her back against the door and slid down with a muted thud, her legs giving out as she let out a strangled sob. Since learning the truth, she had commanded herself to not cry, to show a strong front so that no one could use the incident against the Inquisition. She put the needs of the many above her own, but she was only human, no matter how divine people wished to depict her. She would continue to place the needs of the Inquisition above all else, but she allowed herself this one moment of weakness, this one moment of selfishness, to bury her face in her hands and pour her broken heart out.

She suddenly thought about the words Cole had said to her in the Emerald Graves when Blackwall had been gravely injured. You would survive, he had told her. It would hurt more than anything you had ever experienced, but you would endure.

Ravena wiped at her wet cheeks and leaned her head back against the door. Yes, she would endure. Just like before when Simon had left her, she would throw herself into her work. She would devote every waking moment to moving closer to defeating Corypheus without a thought of after to distract her. She might need some time before she could even look at Blackwall without feeling the sharp sting of betrayal, but she would survive.

She had to.

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