Summer in Kirkwall was sweltering. Lowtown was the worst, a bowl of humidity and dirt and glaring yellow stone everywhere. The hexes prevented even the suggestion of a breeze. Most activity halted mid-morning and didn't start up again until the shadows began to lengthen in the afternoon.
Priana and Bethany spent the days laying mostly naked on the floor of their bedroom while Bethany conjured tiny ice crystals at intervals and sprinkled them across their bodies.
"This," said Priana, "is unbearable. Make a blizzard, Beth."
"No," said Bethany. "Mother would throw a fit if she knew I was doing so much as this."
"Urgh," said Priana.
"Remember that one summer in Lothering?" asked Bethany. "Da made that stuff, said some Orlesian had taught him."
"Oh, the summer we had the cow?" Priana smiled. "I remember. Poor cow. Eaten by giant spiders is no way for anything to die."
"Why must you remember the horrible things?" Bethany demanded. "I was thinking about cream and ice and sugar and you had to bring up Buttercup's gory death."
"I'm terrible," said Priana. "I'm a terrible human being and could you make some more ice, please? Pretty please? With cream and sugar on top?"
Bethany sat up. "Yes," she said. "Why don't I?
"Well, go on," said Priana, closing her eyes.
"No, I mean, why not make the cream thing?"
"Um ... because we can't spend money on frivolities while we're saving for the expedition?"
"Oh, come on," said Bethany. "We could ask Varric to chip in. And Isabela, she's always got coin. We could make enough for everyone and have a party!"
Priana looked up into her sister's eager face and just could not say no. Bethy never asked for anything, so wound up in guilt for the way their family had lived, always on the run, everything centered around her protection. "Alright," she said. "Alright, let's do it."
Bethany squealed a bit and bounced.
"But not right now." Priana spread her arms out along the floor. "Ice," she pleaded. "Maker, ice, please. I'm melting into slag over here."
The equivalent of a bucket of snow burst into being and fell in a soft thwump on her head.
"Oh, Maker, Priana, I'm sorry, I was a bit excited, here, let me ..."
Priana sat up, swiped a handful of snow off her head and dumped it down her sister's cleavage. Bethany shrieked and leapt on Priana, trying to simultaneously prevent her from doing it again, and also get some down her trousers.
"Maker's mercy!" shouted Leandra from the next room over. "How can you be rumpusing in all this heat!"
Bethany did the pleading. Priana knew her limits and getting money out of Varric was definitely beyond them. Isabela had gone in immediately, always willing to try something new. Varric eventually coughed up a sovereign and pointed them toward a farmer's market in Hightown that usually had fresh cream and other such delicacies.
"Eggs, cream, milk, fine ground salt, honey," Bethany mumbled to herself, peering at the list Leandra had given them.
Hawke carried the basket and kept an eye out for templars, pickpockets, and anyone who looked likely to pinch Bethany's bottom.
"Serrah Hawke!" A flash of white and silver to her left became Sebastian Vael, prince presumptive of Starkhaven. "How lovely to see you here. What brings you ..."
"Up amongst my betters?" she asked, with enough of a twinkle to take the sting out. He'd paid very well indeed for the removal of Flint Company and if there was one thing Varric had hammered into her head, it was make nice with the money. "We're shopping." She tilted her head at Bethany, who was bargaining ferociously over eggs. "This weather is the perfect time for an old family recipe."
"Something to make this heat more bearable?" He smiled and she noticed, not for the first time, his vivid blue eyes. "How do I winkle this recipe out of you, serrah? I've never grown accustomed to the heat in Kirkwall, I confess. Starkhaven is all hill and heather."
Priana opened her mouth to make some easy pleasantry and shut it again. Mother was about to start her campaign to reclaim the Amell estate, and the soon-to-be prince of a neighboring state might be of use. "Why not stop by the Hanged Man this evening and try some?" she said. "We've arranged for a private room, just a little get-together. I know my mother would love to meet you."
He looked slightly taken aback but recovered beautifully, sweeping a little bow to her. "I would be delighted. Until then. Serrah."
"Your highness," she responded, with a little mock-curtsey.
"Just Sebastian, please," he said, holding his hands out in protest. "Good day."
"Who was that?" Bethany asked as she came up.
"You remember Vael," said Priana. "We killed all those mercenaries for him a month or two ago."
"Oh, right. I didn't remember him so ... shiny."
Priana cast a sideways look at her sister. "Roll your tongue back into your mouth, Beth, he's a Chantry Brother."
Bethany punched her in the side. "I can look, can't I?"
"Look all you like," said Priana. "I invited him tonight."
"What?" Bethany dragged her off up against a wall, glanced around, and then hissed, "I can't cast in front of him, he's in the Chantry!"
"So make the ice beforehand," said Priana. "Stop acting so suspicious!"
Bethany let go of her, cheeks red. "I just - I can't -"
"Beth," said Priana. "If he so much as looks at you sideways I promise to ram a dagger right up his arse, alright?"
Bethany grimaced at her. "You are the crudest person I know."
"Nope," said Priana. "Isabela is." She slung her arm around her sister's shoulders and steered her toward the long staircase back down into Lowtown's fetid depths.
"She wears it better," said Bethany. "Ugh, get off me, it's too hot to touch."
"Maybe we should invite that Dalish girl," said Priana. "Merrill. We said we'd visit and I haven't been yet."
"Oh, and Fenris!" said Bethany.
"Aveline, Mother, you, me, Fenris, Merrill, Sebastian, Isabela, Varric, Anders ..." Priana counted on her fingers.
"You forgot Gamlen," said Bethany.
"No, I didn't," said Priana.
They all assembled in Varric's rooms that evening, as the sun was finally beginning to sink below the edge of the Lowtown walls. It was surprisingly bearable in there, due to the amount of ice that Bethany had been conjuring all afternoon, even with everyone jostling semi-politely for sitting room.
Priana sat with her mother at the table and surveyed the lot. A motley bunch, if ever there was one. Anders and Fenris hovered on opposite sides of the room like a couple of cats trying to decide if they were going to fight or not. Merrill burbled away to Isabela, who laughed and chucked her under the chin. Sebastian sat by Priana's mother, listening with well-bred patience to some tale of her privileged Amell youth. Aveline leaned by the door in uniform, eyebrows raised. Bethany was in the little back room, stirring the mix with magic, coating the sides with ice. Priana had tried some before she'd begun freezing it, and it was just as creamy and good as she recalled.
"Pri! It's done!"
Priana leapt to her feet and went back to begin ferrying out the bowls.
Their money had stretched only so far - there was enough for a generous dollop each, and no more, and Priana noticed that Bethany had taken the last, and smallest serving, which she switched with her own when Beth was looking the other way.
Everyone dipped spoons.
"Andraste's sweet bouncing tits," said Isabela. "This might be better than sex."
"Watch the mouth, Rivaini," said Varric. "There are ladies present. Which is not to say you're wrong. What's in this again, Hawke?"
"Secrets," said Priana, smugly.
Merrill said nothing at all, only sucked at her spoon with a blissful look on her narrow face, eyes shut to savour the taste more fully.
"I haven't had iced cream since my youth," said Sebastian. "Where did you manage to get the ice?"
"Oh, we have ... sources," said Priana.
Anders cocked an eyebrow at her and she winked at him. He knew what Bethany had been doing in the back room.
"Just like Malcolm's," said Leandra with a reminiscent smile. Bethany beamed with pleasure and kissed her on the cheek.
Fenris put his spoon on the table and swiped his finger along the sides of the bowl to get the last traces. Aveline eyed him, struggled a moment with her sense of propriety, and then followed suit. Soon everyone was licking their fingers and grinning at one another.
"Nice one, Beth," said Priana, nudging her sister gently.
"It's nice to see everyone get along," said Bethany. "If only because they're too busy to talk."
"Mm," agreed Priana.
Bethany and Leandra began to gather up the bowls and spoons.
Priana caught the last drop on her fingertip and brought it to her mouth. She regarded it fondly, head tipped a little to one side, then put out her tongue and wiped the drop slowly across her tastebuds, eyes closing at the fleeting, ephemeral sweetness. She licked her lips, sighing a little.
There was a small silence before she looked up to see five sets of eyes fixed on her.
"Well," said Isabela. "Want my last drop too, sweet thing?"
Fenris and Anders only went on looking, wearing identical, stunned expressions.
"It's rather hot in here," said Merrill faintly.
"Thank you for the treat, serrah Hawke," said Sebastian, standing abruptly. "Mistress Amell, good folk." He nodded somewhat stiffly and left.
"That man is a prat," said Aveline.
"Easy on the eyes, though," said Isabela.
"I'll be heading along home," said Leandra. "With your sister," she added, giving Bethany a quelling look when she opened her mouth to protest. "Please don't be too late," she said to Priana, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"You know me, Mother," said Priana.
"Yes. I do." And she was gone, amidst a chorus of respectful farewells.
"Well," said Varric. "I can't possibly offer anyone anything of Corff's to drink after that taste of the sublime. Shall we play cards, instead?"
"I - brought this," said Fenris, unexpectedly, producing a tall, thin bottle.
"What is it?" asked Hawke, coming forward to take it and brush the dust away.
"My - Danarius used to drink it with desserts," he said. He shifted awkwardly. "It's sweet."
Hawke handed it to Varric, who examined the label and then carefully uncorked the bottle and sniffed. "It's pear brandy," he said. "Smells fantastic. Why is it that the worst scum have the best taste?"
Priana found herself in between Fenris and Anders, Isabela across the table and Merrill next to the pirate.
"Cheers to the Hawke sisters!" said Isabela. "For showing even such jaded souls as us a new delight."
"Here, here," said Varric.
Anders walked her home afterward, since she was slightly squiffy on brandy. "Thank you," he said, as she stood on the first step of the stairs up to Gamlen's building. "It's been a while since I - had iced cream."
"Did they make it in the Circle?" Priana asked. "Don't tell Bethany that, she'll run off to the nearest templar in a heartbeat!" Excellent. Foot, do introduce yourself to mouth. "Um, bad joke."
He was actually smiling at her, though, a crooked, half broken sort of thing. "Bad jokes are better than no jokes, in my opinion," he said. "You should have heard some of the garbage that used to tumble out of my mouth."
"No joking these days?" she asked.
"No jokes, no iced cream ..." For some reason he tugged briefly on an earlobe. "No lots of things, really."
"Well, stick with me," said Priana. "I'll show you the good life. There might be puns, even."
"See you around, Hawke," he said with a wave and turned away.
"Bye," she managed.
She watched him, scruffy and tall and how had she not seen how gorgeous he was? til he rounded the corner and was gone.