As squalid and depressing as it was, there were small upsides to living in the Kirkwall Alienage. It was preferable to squatting in the Undercity, living in holes and on streets in constant fear of the carta and the coterie. Here she had a house; it was run-down and occasionally rat-infested, but it was hers. The walls kept out most of the wind, despite the large, high-set windows, and the fireplace worked to chase away the cold. It wasn’t home--it would never be home, but she could pretend that it was, for a time at least.
Living in Lowtown also meant that Merrill was close to the Hanged Man, where Isabela and Varric could often be found. Maybe Isabela always won at cards, and Varric was often busy with what he called “business associates” in a tone of voice that Merrill suspected was supposed to be sarcastic, but they were there. Hawke was there sometimes too, and Merrill could go to the Hanged Man and feel as though she had friends, even if she didn’t fit in.
Merrill sat on the hearth, watching the newly lit fire as it devoured the tinder before gnawing, determined and patient, on the larger logs. It was late, but it was still Satinalia, and Merrill had just returned home after a long, boisterous feast at the Hanged Man. The food and drink was no better than usual, and the floors were still so filthy that Merrill had to dip her feet in water when she got home, but she felt warm and full and whole.
On her way out, Isabela had stopped her at the door, looking tall and lovely and flushed with whatever she had been drinking. She’d called her “kitten,” like she always did, and pushed a package wrapped in a bandana into her hands. It was sitting next to her now, on the hearth, green, lumpy and mysterious.
Satisfied that the fire was not going to spontaneously put itself out, Merrill picked up the bundle and slowly opened it up, taking the greatest of care as she unfolded and spread the cloth out on the hearth. It was filled with small bundles of parchment, no bigger than a coin, dyed in pretty colors and tied with tiny pieces of ribbon. Merrill picked them up, one by one, twisting them around in the firelight, studying them with the curiosity and intensity of a scholar.
She sorted them by color. There were five yellow, three purple, two green and six red. She gently wrapped the purple and green ones up in the bandana again. They were few; they were precious. She held one of the red ones in the middle of her hand, wishing she knew what to expect inside as she eased the bow out of the ribbon.
Inside the small bundle was a flat, round, and somewhat translucent object almost like a shard of glass. Merrill poked it gently, finding it to be tacky to the touch. When she lifted the bundle closer to her face to examine it, she realized that it smelled like strawberries. Tentative and careful, she pinched the disc in her fingers and put it into her mouth.
A wide, overjoyed smile spread across her face as she closed her eyes and let the candy melt on her tongue.
Yes. There were upsides to living in Lowtown.