She buys the egg from the merchant because he assures her that it's a griffon egg, the last of its kind and that surely someone as kind as herself would able to raise such a thing in secret, away from prying eyes and dishonest hands. It costs three sovereigns, which is most of the money she has – she doesn't worry about it, though; after all, Hawke is always on one adventure or another, and every week, a small satchel of silver arrives from the Keeper, even though Merrill isn't sure she's supposed to know who it's from – but he assures her it's a steal.
Besides, Isabela keeps telling her to be on the lookout for a bargain.
The egg is heavy and a pale green color. There are tiny spots near the top, and she remembers reading something a long time ago, back when Mahariel and Tamlen were still with her, before Ferelden and the mirror and the taint. She thinks she should remember the book and the spots and the color, but she might be thinking too much. Besides, she has a new responsibility and an egg to keep warm.
Her home is sparse, but she manages to find scraps of cloth – spoils and ragged things found in chests, worthless save the copper they may fetch – and wraps the egg in them, careful to keep the top of the egg uncovered. She places it on her bed and curls up next to it to wait. She isn't sure how long it will take, but Hawke hasn't had need for her lately, and Isabela and Anders and Varric have been much too busy to drop by unexpectedly.
She thinks that a baby griffon will keep her from being lonely, except she's not sure she's lonely as much as she's melancholy. It's been five years to the day that Mahariel left and joined with the Wardens, going far, far away from her and the clan and the Keeper.
The world is safe, the Blight defeated. Mahariel is out there, somewhere, traipsing about, probably not thinking of her or Tamlen or what he left behind, the broken pieces of a mirror and the haunted eyes that look back at her when she looks into the glass that started it all. She wonders if he even remembers where he came from, or whether his new life has washed the memories away.
She isn't sure when she fell asleep, but the sound of cracking wakes her, and it takes a moment to remember the griffon egg bundled beside her. There is a thread-like crack across the top, and the egg is shaking in its swaddling. She isn't sure what to expect, but she doesn't have the money to replace her mattress, so she quickly takes it from the bed and places it on the floor, and waits.
It takes five minutes before a snout breaks through the top. There is something not quite right – she had expected pale feathers and a cute nose, but what she sees looks suspiciously like glittering scales the color of new grass and nostrils that exhale wisps of white smoke. Once the creature has fully released itself from the confines of its shell, it is clear that the merchant was mistaken: what sits on the floor in her room is not a baby griffon, but a baby dragon.
"I don't suppose I could call you Feathers, now, could I?" she says.
She needs to give him a name – Feathers is rather silly, considering he has no feathers, but Scales doesn't seem to suit him, either; it sounds too fierce, and her baby dragon wouldn't hurt a fly. A mouse, maybe, and definitely the bandits that tried to break in a week ago, but never a fly.
"Varric," she says, because Varric loves to tell tales, and that requires naming the people when they aren't Hawke and Isabela and that one with Fenris and Anders and the seneschal, "what would you name a baby dragon?"
"I wouldn't, Daisy," he replies, taking a moment to look up from polishing Bianca.
"Oh." She scratches the back of her head while Varric continues to stare. "Well, what if you came across one and decided to keep it as a pet?"
"Daisy," Varric says, and he gently places Bianca on the table before continuing, "did you happen to come across a baby dragon?"
"Me?" She laughs nervously. "Of course not. Where would I keep one in my little house?"
Varric doesn't look like he believes her.
There is no use in asking Sebastian or Fenris or Aveline, but that still leaves Hawke, Isabela, and Anders.
Isabela is no help – all of the names she suggests are little more than innuendo. "Well," Isabela says, "wouldn't it be nice to see little Snake grow?" Besides, not-Feathers isn't a snake, and calling him that might confuse him more than calling him Feathers would have done in the first place.
Hawke only shakes her head and reminds her that dragons aren't pets. "We're tasty morsels when charred, Merrill," she says, not unkindly.
Merrill simply smiles and laughs and says, "Of course," before leaving Hawke's estate.
Anders, however, seems to take the question seriously. "I suppose you could name it based on habits. Ser Pounce loved to flit about and, well, pounce."
"I doubt I could call a dragon Ser Pounce," Merrill says thoughtfully. "Oh! What about Smokey?"
"Smokey the Dragon?" Anders seems to ponder the name for a moment. "I suppose that could work."
Merrill smiles and thanks him.
"Merrill," Hawke says a few months later, "we have to talk."
Merrill smiles and tries to hide Smokey under a cloak. "What about?"
Hawke stares pointedly at the dragonling. Smokey, much to Merrill's dismay, has grown faster than she had originally thought he would, and now he barely fits through the door when she takes him for his walks. In the middle of the night, of course – she wouldn't want anyone finding out about Smokey and forcing her to abandon him. After all, she's the only mother that he's ever known, and she's not sure the other dragons would be nice to him.
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Merrill says cheerfully. Smokey snorts and Hawke's cloak catches on fire. Merrill casts a quick ice spell as Smokey tosses the fabric to the ground and proceeds to stomp on it. "I don't suppose you mean Smokey?"
"Smokey?" Isabela says in horror. "Who would name a dragon Smokey?"
"I happen to think it's a very suitable name," Anders says from the doorway.
"You named your cat Ser Pounce-a-lot," Isabela retorts, "I'd hardly think you're an authority on decent names."
Smokey is watching them and smoke is curling out of his nostrils; Merrill doesn't think this is a good sign. She hasn't had anyone over since the not-griffon-but-dragon hatched, and it isn't like there are social groups for baby dragons and their owners. She's not even sure dragons have owners, except maybe this one. Or maybe Smokey owns her; she isn't quite sure.
"Merrill," Hawke says, and she must have missed something, because both Anders and Isabela are looking contrite. Well, Anders looks contrite, and Isabela looks smug, but smug and contrite seem to be the same thing to the pirate. "You can't keep him."
She's never heard Smokey make that noise before. Slowly, she places a comforting hand on the dragon's head. "I can't just leave him."
"Yes," Hawke says, slowly, eyes never leaving Smokey, "you can."
Suddenly, Merrill's little house is on fire and Smokey is waddling towards a hole in the burning wall. Anders is flinging spells about, trying to extinguish the flames, while Isabela and Hawke are heading out the door, probably in pursuit of Smokey.
Merrill grabs her staff and follows.
"You can't hurt him," Merrill cries, positioning herself between the dragon and her friends. "He's just a baby."
"A baby who nearly roasted us alive," Hawke replies dryly, sword in hand. "Look, Merrill, we need to get him out of the city, before he decides anyone else looks tasty."
Merrill hesitates. "I suppose we can take him to Sundermount?"
Keeper Marethari isn't thrilled – after all, Smokey is one more danger to the hunters, and there are so few left that she isn't sure there are enough to keep the clan safe, but Smokey is a good dragon and will help protect them. Maybe. At least he hasn't set anything on fire, yet.
"I'll take him to the summit," she tells the Keeper, and Marethari simply shakes her head. She is used to Merrill and her quirks by now, having raised her like a daughter from a young age, and Merrill is used to allowing herself to be cared for, to listening to Marethari's scoldings seriously and intently. But Merrill has grown up, maybe just a little, because she is walking towards the path with Smokey at her side before the Keeper has a chance to say anything, or she hears the whispers of the clan weaving stories of yet another mess the Keeper will have to clean up.
"He was a very good dragon," Merrill says, looking into her cup. Anders is sitting across the table from her, an unexpected show of solidarity.
"And Ser Pounce was a good cat," Anders agrees, taking of swig from his own cup. "It seems people don't want us to have pets. I mean, Ser Pounce was ferocious, but he liked his humans."
"And Smokey wouldn't have hurt a flea," Merrill adds. "Well, except when he tried to trap us all in my house and set it on fire."
Anders blinks. "Well," he says finally, "there was that."
Silence descends as they sip their drinks. After a while, when Merrill is quite certain that she can see Anders and Justice, sitting side by side on the bench across from her, Anders speaks.
"Maybe you should get a cat."
Merrill smiles. "I've always wanted a cat. But what would I name it?"
Anders shrugs. "I'm sure we can come up with something."