One of the perks of a Hightown townhouse is that she’s finally in the middle of a different sphere of action. She has learned how to see and feel the thrumming of Lowtown and Darktown. Antiva, too, had given up its rhythms. But Hightown, while it is a walked path, a worked path, has always kept a few of its secrets.
Now it divulges them, vomiting up onto its gleaming pavement the violence of the tallest buildings.
She has a seat for the whole spectacle atop a mansion that faces onto the chantry courtyard. Hilgrud is somewhere down below, taking advantage of the crowd’s focus on the bloody (or soon to be bloody) mess in the center. Orsino’s silver hair glints in the too-bright sunlight, and if the knight-commander wore her hair uncovered, it would rival it.
Their voices spiral up, sharp and jarring. The crowd is all but silent. Athenril listens.
It’s a form of self-preservation, really. The qunari attack was bad enough, but she knows how to avoid a blow from a spear or a sword. A mage rebellion, though- chaos in the streets- she would prefer to be out of town if and when it happens. And Meredith’s martial noose draws even tighter around the city, templars stalking the streets to keep order.
Champion catches on the pointed tips of her ears, and she straightens. She hadn’t noticed Hawke in the crowd, but there the warrior is, striding out into the clearing in gleaming armor, chin lifted high. Hawke cuts a good figure, she decides, and edges closer to the alley between mansions, ready for a quick way down and out should the meeting turn violent.
She doesn’t need to hear the words, only the tone, and masses of bodies do a good enough job of dampening and muffling. There’s anger, but it hasn’t yet risen to fury. Carefully, she crouches on the tile and dangles a single foot. If - or perhaps when - the mages rebel, that fury will set the whole damn place alight, stone and people both, and maybe some will freeze and some will be zapped until they move only when zapped again. Hawke will no doubt be in the middle of all of it. And Bethany-
Not her concern. Not her job. She can’t afford to think like that and her mind is drawn ever towards it, and so she drops down instead.
She’s turning away to slip down the alleyway she’s landed in when the words reach her. Bodies are good at muffling sound, but stone is good at amplifying it. The knight-commander’s tone and meaning are unmistakable:
“I do not need you or anyone to tell me what my duty is, mage.”
Well, the woman has one thing right, at least - if it weren’t for how many swords she controls, how much reach she has.
Athenril banishes the thought. This is not her fight, and never has been.
Out, then. A signal to Hilgrud, quickly signed as she peeks out into the sunlight-blinded crowd, and then she begins her retreat. Her eyes flit over the center of the plaza. Later, she tells herself she marked no one, not even Orsino pulling back at last from the fray, not even Meredith who continues ever onward.
“Your Grace, he should be clapped in irons, made an example of-“
But she can’t deny that she marks Orsino being led off to the edge of the plaza, down to where the steps will wind away to the Gallows once more. His escort slows for a moment, likely to catch the sight of the lioness going against the lazy old sighthound of a Grand Cleric. She’s slipping back into the shadows, setting determination on her shoulders for the third time, when Orsino looks up and catches sight of her. His brow furrows a moment before one side lifts in question.
She hesitates, then takes her chance, slinking out into the sunlight until she’s close enough that she can watch the fray and listen to whatever it is he has to say to her.
“Bethany,” is the first word out of his mouth, and she stills, “wanted me to pass along her thanks for your gifts, the next time I saw you.”
“Then tell her she is welcome,” Athenril says. Hilgrud is making her way over in a wide winding circle, weaving through bodies and no doubt plucking half of Hightown’s wealth. Her tattoos itch. There is too much risk here, and not enough reward.
Orsino steps closer.
“She also asked me to pass something along to you in turn.”
“This is hardly the time.”
He shakes his head. “This is the only time.”
She tires of this war between flight and bravery (idiocy, foolishness), and perhaps that is why she hesitates long enough for him to come close. It isn’t acceptance, or curiosity - it’s exhaustion.
But she jumps when he kisses her brow, lips curling in a sneer.
“That is all,” he says, except for the feather-light touch of a phantom mouth against hers.
Worthy counts his coin in the open. It’s another quirk of Hightown, that those who do business here can do so without subterfuge. Everybody has a license. Everybody has at least the ear of the guard, if not the eye. If he wasn’t counting his coin he’d be cleaning his Maker-damned beard, and perhaps if she worked more closely with the dwarf then she’d smile and shake her head.
As it is, she jiggles her foot and waits.
This is the meet up point. Hilgrud should be here by now; the crowd has long-since dispersed, Orsino passing by without so much as a glance. She keeps an eye out for a head of dark hair and tries to look at ease as she leans against the shadowed stone.
Vomiting stone, she remembers herself thinking on top of that building. Clearly she’s becoming a poet.
“So this girl of yours-” Worthy says. He must have finished counting. “Same one? Dark hair, broad jaw?”
“That’s her,” Athenril says, words clipped.
“Damn, she’s been with you a long time.”
“Raised her from a nuglet.”
In that moment, she would far prefer another ill-advised “gift” from Orsino to listening to the man another second. She’d prefer vomiting stone and prowling lionesses. Raised her from a nuglet indeed, just like she sent along a kiss to Bethany nearly three years before, only now returned. They’re things she’d rather not dwell on.
Worthy’s waiting for a response, though, and she pinches at the bridge of her nose. “Yes,” she says.
“Then she’s probably still crawling around somewhere,” he says, and the man reaches up one of his long arms and clasps her shoulder. “You’re a hard line to get rid of.”
She grunts in response, then straightens at a scuff of boot on pavement. Her eyes seek out the source. Likely just another drunken noble, she tells herself, but there- dark hair, dusky skin, a flash of blue-
Athenril darts forward just as Hilgrud staggers fully into view, bruised and swollen but with a rather full coin purse.
She catches the girl’s elbow. Hilgrud wavers. It’s barely thirty steps to Worthy’s stall, but they take it slow. At least her bearded company has the decency to step off a moment. Raised her from a nuglet, Athenril thinks again as she helps Hilgrud sit on the edge of the table, shoving aside bits of metal worked with lyrium.
“What happened?” she demands when Hilgrud is able to meet her eyes, everything clear and well in their depths.
The girl shrugs. “I tried to steal from the Champion.”
Athenril’s lips thin. Shit. “Broken bones?”
“No. Just bruises.” Hilgrud looks herself over. “I’ve had worse.”
Something in her unwinds. “Good,” she says. And then she strikes the back of Hilgrud’s head, open-handed. “Idiot.”
Hilgrud flushes with her wince, then rubs at the spot. “I thought I could do it. Instead I got thrown on the ground and nearly crushed.”
“You’re lucky Hawke only bruised you, girl,” Athenril says. “How’d you get out of that?”
“Easy.” Hilgrud smiles, the small and lazy smile she picked up in Antiva and that goes well with the blue band on her arm.
“I told the Champion I was one of yours.”