“Carver, don’t take that.”
“I’ll do what I want.”
Hawke reaches for the tarnished shield but her brother jerks away, nearly overbalancing into Bethany. Their sister shoves him back, before smoothing out an imaginary wrinkle in her newest traveling robe, and finally giving them both a eleven-year old’s copy of their mother’s favorite imperious frown. Not that anyone notices.
“What are you bringing it for, anyway? I thought you were in love with the broadsword.”
“I’m taking that too. Oh, shut up!” Carver scowls when Hawke laughs, shoving at her, but she dances away, out of his reach. “It will help me build up strength to carry them both. Right, Father?”
“You’re just going to get tired halfway there,” Hawke says, “and I’m not bringing it back.”
“I’m not either.” Bethany says, hands loose around her staff. The newly-polished wood glows in the light of the hearth, though her hands still trace invisible pattens against its side, and she scowls when she catches Hawke watching.
“What? I fixed it. It’s not like you can even see I carved anything.” As if Mother hadn’t had her scrubbing every inch of the house for even knowing that word.
Bethany pulls the staff a little further out of harm’s way, her pout leavened with a heavy dose of suspicion. “… hex you.”
“You’ll have plenty of chances for that today, dearheart.” Their father laughs, ruffling Bethany’s hair as he turns from the fire. “And you,” he points at Hawke, though his eyes are smiling, ”stop teasing your brother. It’s good for him to push himself if he wants to. One day he might want to join up with the King’s men, and then he’ll have to carry his world on his back, and be able to march forever.”
“Yes, Father.” Hawke says, but sticks her tongue out at Carver anyway, at just about the same time he does. He’d spent most of the night hard at work with the shield and some of Mother’s spare paints, and now a proud if somewhat lopsided mabari is stretched rampant across its surface. Hawke leans over, as if taking in the fine details.
“It looks like a lumpy sheep.”
“It does not!”
“Baaaa. I’m Carver’s mabari!"
Carver pushes forward, ready to bash his menacing orc of a sister into submission, but Hawke grabs the edge of the shield instead, spinning him around, his momentum nearly crashing him into Bethany again, who leaps back with a yelp, clutching her staff tightly. Behind her, the fire reacts to her alarm, blazing up, and their father lets out a slight hiss of surprise that’s also half a chuckle as he turns to stare at them in exasperation.
“I’d have an easier time raising dragons, I swear. Quiet now, all of you, before you burn breakfast and wake your mother.”
“Ages too late for that, love.” The soft call from the other room, their mother’s slender arm just visible from beneath the blankets, giving them a weary wave. “Are you heading out, then?”
“I’ll be back tomorrow, before dark, with whatever’s left of our children.”
He smiles, and they all grin back. It will be a perfect day, Bethany taking care not to knock her staff against the doorway and Carver trying to eat his egg-and-toast with his shield forever slipping off his shoulder. Hawke shoves her gloves into her back pocket, so she can bite down into the center of her own slice and lick the yolk off her fingers. It’s well before dawn, her breath fogging up the morning air, but she still feels warm all the way through, boots crunching against the thin rime of morning frost as they move out of Lothering to the woods beyond.
Most of Bethany’s lessons happen at home, or in the barn with the door firmly closed and Hawke and Carver with buckets of water at the ready. With the two of them around, their sister’s had what Father says is a decade’s worth of practice at healing magic in the span of a sixmonth, everything from Carver falling from a tree and breaking his nose to Hawke falling from the same tree and breaking her leg to Mother giving herself a nasty nick with the axe she sharpened so they could cut the damned thing down for good.
The tree is still standing, Father suggesting it would find some final way to stagger across the field and cave the roof in if they dared to threaten it further. It works as a fair marker for the westernmost corner of the hold anyway, and it’s more fun for the four of them to salute it as they pass by. Always important, Father says, to honor a worthy opponent.
Healing magic is Bethany’s strongest gift, and for a while it had seemed that was the end of it, until the summer day Carver had knocked her into the pond and she’d thrown out her hands, sliding across a good foot of ice instead of falling in. Working with the elements is simple, useful magic, and they all know it pleases Father that she has shown no further talents. He can avoid the details of other spells he’d learned in the Circle, forms of magic far more dangerous and complicated than flinging fireballs. Of course, Bethany still has to practice her aim, which means going where no one can see them do it.
The Wilds stand as their training ground, if not quite as wild as those in the far south - all the times they’ve come out here and Hawke still hasn’t seen any witches or demons or even some sort of magicked-up woodchuck, though their father is quick to remind them to be cautious, even so. Other than birds and foxes, there’s only the occasional Chasind hunter about. At times, the wildfolk might trade off an extra rabbit or two, or watch Bethany and their father if they’re in the middle of some fancy bit of spellwork, but the Chasind don’t care much for what mages do or don’t do, and so the Wilds are theirs to roam freely.
It’s much warmer with the sun up, this one of their last chances to get some practice in before winter sweeps in, and Hawke lopes a little ahead of the rest of her family, looking forward to snowshoes and ice fishing and jars of summer jam on warm bread straight from the fire. It’ll soon be time to take in the last of what needs to be jarred up for the winter, and that’s less fun, but Mother had said some new elves had moved into one of the outbuildings on the other side of the city, and she ought to bring them a welcome gift. It always paid to be the first to knock at a door - her father’s thinking - whether it got slammed in his face or not.
He sings while they walk, a collection of Ferelden marching songs and some of the prettier Orlesian hymns and a few Antivan ballads they’ve all agreed not to tell Mother they’ve ever heard. Father’s been everywhere worth going, even out of Ferelden, and Hawke’s dreams are full of the places he tells tales of, lands over the sea and far from Lothering - Wycome and Llomerynn and Kirkwall, where everything is stone, where Mother had been a great lady in a great house. He keeps maps of all the places he’s been, and Hawke likes to trace paths along the roads and waterways, imagining those vast, unknown spaces, full of wonders. Lothering is small, but all kinds of people pass through, the town a proper way station on the way to Denerim. The new knives she got from her last nameday even came from an fancy Antivan merchant, along with nearly new bracers that almost made her patchwork armor look all of a set.
Very soon now, Mother will have to let her go out alone for more than overnight trips, and deeper into the woods, following the Chasind hunters on their long hunts. It’s not like Hawke doesn’t know wide swaths of the countryside already, but it’s important to learn more, and the game she can bring back will be far more profitable than anything she’s taken so far. A few good hunts and she’ll be able to buy all the equipment she needs, with any luck maybe even a nice sword for Carver, if only to see how long he’ll have to fight with his pride before he’ll accept it. She really does need to stop teasing him. One of these days.
“That shield looks mighty heavy, Carver.”
He sticks his chin up proudly, shifting it a little higher on his back.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”