|Fiona is a rather chilly, reserved character whose pragmatism can make it difficult to like her. But I respect her choices, |
and I pity the quiet pain she carries.
FIONA: The Warden you brought to Skyhold... his name is Alistair?
INQUISITOR: Yes. Didn't you meet him?
FIONA: No, there's...no point in that now. He seems a good man.
INQUISITOR: Yes, he does.
FIONA: It's not important. I'm simply musing on the clever tricks the Maker plays.
She has pale eyes and a slightly kittenish face, although when she was young, her eyes were reportedly darker. She is strong in the face of adversity, and is able to maintain an impressive coolness even in the face of torture or certain death. She does not expect to be liked, accepted, or forgiven. That's Fiona.
Most Dragon Age fans know the character of Fiona well, and most also have widely diverging opinions about her. Those who know her from The Calling, David Gaider's poetic journey into darkness about the Grey Wardens (and it also serves as a sneaky first warning of how terribly far they can be led astray), tend to like Fiona for her courage and unexpected vulnerability in the Deep Roads. Those who meet her in Dragon Age: Inquisition, meanwhile, often judge her harshly for her leadership of the mage rebellion in Ferelden and for the choices she makes there.
Depending on your choices in the game—most specifically, whether you support mages or Templars—Fiona either becomes an enigmatic and sorrowful presence at Skyhold... or she leads Corypheus's army against you, and you kill her (and most of her followers) at Haven.
As I noted above, we first meet Fiona in the Dragon Age novel The Calling, and when we learn about her upbringing, the only word for it is tragic. I'm talking, make-a-movie-about-her-and-then-cry-through it, tragic. It's breathtakingly sad. And that's just talking the first 15-20 years or so. It arguably gets worse afterward. Fiona can be chilly and off-putting, but there's ample reason for that: she doesn't trust people because, for her entire life, people abused whatever trust she gave them. I'm estimating that Fiona was born in 8:92 Blessed Age (give or take), based on the events of The Calling and later, of Inquisition.
Fiona eventually begged to be allowed to join the Grey Wardens, and was recruited by Commander Genevieve. She survived the Joining, alongside key later major players Duncan and Riordan.
|Fiona is a quiet figure when we encounter her in the Skyhold library, but there's also a subtle humor to her, and a gift for|
acceptance, that makes me pity her.
The Calling and Asunder
In the events of The Calling (9:10-9:11 Dragon Age), Fiona accompanies the group of Grey Wardens under Commander Genevieve who descend into the Deep Roads. During this mission, one fraught with conflict, danger and increasing awareness of the inevitable sadness of the fates of the Grey Wardens who have reached their Callings, Fiona becomes close to King Maric Theirin. The two are drawn to one another in danger and darkness, and they eventually become lovers. Later on, after death, loss, battle and redemption, both return to their lives on the surface.
Then, slightly unexpectedly, Fiona returns in 9:11 to speak to King Maric to let him know that she has given birth to his child, and to get his promise that he will tell the boy his mother was a human who died, hiding his real origins. That child, of course, is Alistair, who becomes a world-changing Grey Warden, and who potentially ascends the kingship and who is so integral to the events of Dragon Age: Origins during the events of 9:30-31.
It's ironic that in a story that centers around The Calling, Fiona is the only Grey Warden in history who will never have to hear it.
But her son will. If he lives that long.
The Quiet Rebel
In the next Dragon Age novel, Asunder (also by Gaider), it's the year 9:40, and as we backtrack slightly, we discover that Fiona has left the Grey Warden order because it was found that she could not be re-Tainted from further Joining rituals. This caused anger and resentment from the other Wardens, so she returned to the Montsimmard Circle of Magi, where she ascended rapidly to the roles of First Enchanter and then to Grand Enchanter (9:37 Dragon).
Fiona's return to the Montsimmard Circle marks the point when Fiona began to kindle her heart in earnest against the Circle system, and especially against the rampant abuses she witnessed by the Templars against imprisoned mages (and this wasn't even one of the worst). The same year, not long after Fiona was made Grand Enchanter, elected leader of all Circle mages in Thedas, she led a motion before the College of Enchanters at a Conclave (the first held to try to save off hostilities between mages and Templars) to dissolve the Circle of Magi.
What's interesting to note here is that when making her plea, Fiona directly addressed the inaction of Grand Cleric Elthina on behalf of the mages at Kirkwall, despite years of open corruption and abuse in the Circle there before the apostate Anders took radical action and destroyed it.
Fiona's motion was denied after a passionate plea by Senior Enchanter Wynne to maintain the Circle system, but despite this vote to maintain the system, the Templar order immediately disbanded the College of Enchanters in retaliation.
Not too long after this, in 9:38, while Felix was making the trip back to Hossberg from the university with his parents (going home for a visit during the winter holidays), hurlocks attacked their party, killing Livia and wounding Felix, also infecting him with the Blight sickness (a slow death sentence).
|Alexius's use of time magic means that Fiona's perception of choice is simply an illusion. In reality, he can continue to shape events over and over again until she agrees to his terms—simply because she has no other remaining options.|
|Alexius has spent incredible energy, vast amounts of magic and money, as well as countless lives and futures, in order to save his son. It's understandable. And grotesque.|
Here's the deal: I like and pity Fiona. She has had a terrible life by any standards. She fought bravely when asked to do so by her country, joined an organization offering a limited lifespan, a guarantee of a terrible death, and with a 1-in-3 chance she wouldn't survive the initiation.
She then had a momentary glimpse of love that was (of course) impossible to sustain (given his, ahem, kingship), was kicked out of the Grey Wardens for something that she had zero control over, then finally seems to have achieved a little freedom and happiness as a mage. But that, too, was an illusion.
She spends the rest of her youth in attempting to provide better lives and just outcomes for her fellow mages, until we meet her in the early events of DAI. And Fiona then again tries to take action for justice but all her choices are circumvented, all her power taken away. She reaches out and tries to join the Inquisition, but her visit is literally removed from time itself by Alexius, using additional time magic, so that she is further cheated of any knowledge or awareness of that choice.
Then we go to Redcliffe. And I've seen many, many people who hate her for agreeing to serve Alexius and Tevinter. Who blame her for conscripting the mages to them.
I understand this. But I don't share it. Because she's been used, and her mages herded into a trap from which there is no emergence.
A Stacked Deck
When Fiona agrees to join Alexius, she is already the visible and open victim of his enchantments and time manipulations. We are blatantly shown that Alexius has the ability to shift what he needs to, to get what he wants. Time magic, for instance, has already completely erased Fiona's outreach to us in the Inquisition. It has removed the help we could have provided there. It has further driven her and her contingent of mages into an inescapable narrow space as they attempt to avoid full-on warfare.
Keep in mind—these aren't the mages wreaking havoc across Thedas. Nor is Fiona advocating violence. These aren't the mages murdering civilians and stealing goods, glorying in death and destruction, burning villages. These are, rather, the mages who peacefully voted to govern themselves, only to find themselves at the center of an armed conflict. These mages have not lifted arms against anyone and simply wanted to remove the requirement of perpetual imprisonment, control, and surveillance, of life under the eye of a Templar. Keep in mind that a mage cannot maintain family contact. A mage cannot have a long-term relationship in the Tower or give birth to a child they can parent. A mage can be executed at any time with zero repercussions. They have no agency over their lives, bodies, or choices. They can be tortured with zero repercussions. Raped. Put in solitary confinement. Abused. Made Tranquil for, say, turning down a Templar's advances (and then subsequently giving said Templar a future of unlimited access to a compliant and empty body for his enjoyment).
If this sounds gross, it is. It upsets me. It should upset anyone. Yet Fiona's mages aren't out there burning down Ferelden. They're holding votes, speaking in calm voices, trying to use the system to change the system. In return, they have been driven from place to place to place. Each potential path of safety has disappeared.
Plenty have criticized Fiona for choosing to serve Tevinter. But I'd make an alternate case: That she has only done so when she literally had no other options left.
Because of the time magic.
|My favorite thing about Fiona is that she has zero apologies or justifications to make about her actions. She is calm, flat,|
and accepting of any outcome. She does what she can and then accepts the reality that follows.
Alexius's use of time magic is why I believe that Fiona has no actual free will here, only its illusion. We're even given proof firsthand, as I noted before, when her attempt to reach out to us is erased completely as if it had never happened.
Alexius's goal here is to remove her hope. To make sure Fiona believes she has no options. To make sure she does what he wants her to do. And I think a case can be made that Alexius is methodical and careful, and that he does what he needs to do repeatedly to reinforce her perception here, and so he is able to make these small tweaks to the timeline with ease. And cruelly, in which case, each attempt she enacts to save her mages is met with a new obstacle until all that is left is indentured servitude (that is really more slavery and captivity).
As my eagle-eyed reader Teresa further points out here, "If you talk to some of the NPC mages in Redcliffe," she notes. "There are rumors of a 'massive Templar army' coming to wipe them out, and also rumors that Arl Teagan was going to kick them out to protect the 'muggle' residents of Redcliffe if that came to pass. All of that was thanks to Alexius manipulating time to plant agents in the ranks." I love this observation and it's one more way to emphasize the insidious ways in which Alexius is actively seeking to remove agency from the mages' choices. Fiona is therefore not only contending with the time manipulations Alexius is constantly enacting against her and the mages, but with the very real power of propagandized terror, as Alexius expertly scares the mage population in Redcliffe into the realization that he and Tevinter are their only hope.
In other words, Alexius has removed every other branch from Fiona's path, from the path of the mages, that might have led her anywhere else but to Alexius and Tevinter.
The Fear that Drives Fiona
Let's look back and remember that Fiona is the victim of enslavement and hellish abuse as a child. She refused to take that abuse forever, and eventually and righteously killed her abuser, even at the potential price of execution.
She was still able to forge a path for herself. She became a Grey Warden, proudly risking her own life simply to join the order, and then to do her part against the Darkspawn. When the time came, she stood true. It's also worth noting that she was the leading voice against the Architect, in the events of The Calling.
When she realized her situation after the fact, she could have taken many actions. She was after all pregnant by the King himself. Yet she simply kept his secret and still managed to quietly, politely, let him know the outcome later on, in a way that would not jeopardize his political standing, and that would provide protection and a future for her child.
Then no matter what she had done, or how heroically... she was kicked out of the Grey Wardens simply for overcoming the Taint. She rejoined the Circle system, pragmatic to the end. Only to find that this, too, was a room without an exit.
Ultimately, I can't blame Fiona for becoming a voice for the mages. I can't blame her for becoming a voice against imprisonment. Everything we know about Fiona already tells us that she was willing to do so no matter what the risk to herself.
The fact is that some Circles, many Circles, were hell on Earth. The White Spire. Kirkwall. Even Kinloch Hold wasn't exactly a bed of roses, given that it put Anders in solitary confinement for over a year. Add in to this a system that included the forced removal of mage children from their families, imprisonment, distrust, constant scrutiny by people who can kill or imprison you at any time (Anders, for instance, and the repeated solitary confinement I mentioned), and let's not forget the daily, ongoing threat of harassment, rape, violence, or Tranquility.
I'll close my defense of Fiona by noting that her fears of retribution were justified. The Right of Annulment was carried out on 19 different Mage Circles through recorded history through DAI (942 Dragon), with many many being shown later to have been staged or manufactured by corrupt Templars. That's the slaughter of thousands of imprisoned mages by their captors. Look at what Anders went through. Look at what Wynne went through—even if she supported the very system that victimized her, she herself wasn't allowed to fall in love. She wasn't allowed to keep her child. And that was in a "nice" Circle!
I just find this so upsetting. I've talked a lot about how much I hate the Qun, which doesn't allow romantic attachment or even familial bonding. That removes children from their parents and raises them in a communal setting to become what will be most useful to the system. Well, the mage Circles are just as barbaric. Sure, some Circles were evidently okay, but to me the whole system is fatally flawed (and by DAI hopelessly corrupt). Even Cullen seems to know it at that point (even if Viv remains pointedly, deliberately, blind).
|In the end, whether the mages win or lose, Fiona is unmoored from the world, a woman without a friend, a home, or a place.|
And she's okay with that. Because it's the price that was required.
In the end, Fiona can only choose from the options available to her in DAI. If she has no options? Servitude to Tevinter begins to look pretty damn good. So I deeply pity Fiona and respect her for trying to stand up for a population of people who lived their entire lives as captives with zero power over their own bodies, lives or choices. She's not violent. She's not waging outright warfare. She tries to use politics, to use the civil and peaceful choices her government has ostensibly provided. In doing so, she's trying to protect people she cares about; people locked away to be wielded as weapons, people hated by the populace and victimized by their 'protectors' over and over again.
I think the most terrible aspect of Fiona's choices is that even in Skyhold, it's like her options are ended. There's nothing left for her. She admits in conversations with the Inquisitor that she is no longer the Grand Enchanter. She doesn't seem to know what she is, just that it's all over. She has no plans, no hopes, no anything. And if poor Alistair is a Grey Warden left in the Fade, she simply and poignantly disappears without a word.
What's ultimately most tragic to me about Fiona is that she's totally, brutally focused on outcomes. She joins the Grey Wardens because it allows her the greatest access to action and honor. She finds momentary solace with Maric yet immediately understands its transitory nature and never attempts to use that against him (even bearing his child in secrecy). She has no reaction at all to losing her status as leader of all of the mages of Thedas beyond a few moments of wry humor in the Skyhold library. Even in the alternate future, her body slowly transforming into Red Lyrium, she's only focused on how you can fix things.
In Peace, Vigilance
Fiona never comes across as a warm person to me, exactly. She's rather cold, detached, and difficult to access. Perhaps her damage has made her understandably slow to trust others. Perhaps that abuse has also made her careful about those she lets into her life. Perhaps there's another Fiona, a warm and giving person underneath the quiet mask, that we'll never get to see, only given to us in a rare glimpse, as a gift in prose by the talented Gaider. But all we meet is the quiet, accepting public servant—the mage who does what she's required to do no matter what the cost:
In War, Victory.
In Peace, Vigilance.
In Death, Sacrifice.
Ultimately, I think she did the best she could. It's terribly sad and yet appropriate to me that Fiona lived up to the Grey Warden motto even when they kicked her out. In the end, whether the mages win or lose, she is alone, adrift, and unmoored from the world—a woman without a friend, a home, or a place. And she's okay with that. Because it's the price that was required.
It seems to me that if life has taught Fiona anything, it's that everything has a price. She recognizes this, and pays. She's just so used to paying it, she no longer even asks herself if it hurts.