As it turned out, Hawke was almost as good a storyteller than Varric. Maybe even better, Nehna mused, although the dwarf would be unlikely to ever admit it. Too proud, she thought with amusement.
Still, Hawke had the entire tavern enthralled as she sat, tankard in hand, and regaled them with tales of her adventures, ranging from dragon-hunting to more mundane anecdotes on Kirkwall life. Then again, Kirkwall's 'mundane' was still thrilling in comparison to anywhere else.
The entire inner circle had gathered around a long table, and even the Chargers had piled in on stools at the side. There were even people sitting on the stairs and peering from the landing; the whole of Skyhold had turned out, it seemed, just to see the Champion. There was little question of them all being able to hear her, at any rate, but her audience seemed content enough just to hang on her every (half-heard) word, watching her mime gestures for their benefit.
"Oooh, tell us about Isabela again," Sera breathed, still dizzy from a hastily gulped down flagon of ale. Her head was resting squarely in Nehna's lap now, and she had drooped sideways until half of her lurched off the bench in an S shape, but Nehna was hardly complaining.
"Where do you want to start?" Hawke asked with a mischievous glint in her eye. "'Bela gave me enough stories to last a lifetime, and I'm not sure if even half of them were true. Shows what you get for trusting a pirate," she chuckled, sipping her mead slowly.
"Is it true you two fucked or something, then?"
Nehna nearly choked. "Vhenan, I don't think we can just ask that -" she began to rebuke when Hawke shook her head.
"No harm done. Can do with a bit of bluntness every so often. And to use your turn of phrase, yes, it's true we fucked. Once," she added, her eyes settling on somewhere in the distance. "We were both slightly drunk, though still sober enough to know what we wanted and what we were doing. She's a good friend of mine, still." Hawke chuckled. "I think Isabela sleeps with all her friends at some point or another. Feelings make things messy, or so she tells me, so who better to get it on with than someone you're close to but who doesn't think of you that way?" She shrugged. "I don't know. It made sense at the time, anyway."
Sera snorted in amusement but said nothing more, preferring to burble into Nehna's abdomen as she turned her head away.
"I suspect your experience of being in the Fade was interesting," Solas said politely, changing the subject. "How much lyrium did it take again?"
"More than I could count," Hawke admitted, "but enough to carry four people. Well, technically five if you count Feynriel, I suppose, but he was already there, so..." She shrugged. "Magic." She wiggled her fingers with a smirk.
"Yes, very astute observation," Dorian laughed. "Just wiggle your fingers and... boom."
"You mean you have to think about casting spells? Are you sure it's not too advanced for you, oh mighty Magister?" she teased him.
"I know you're just joking, my dear, but I'm certainly no Magister. I am an Altus, though." He puffed out his chest without thinking, revelling in pride for all of about five seconds.
"Oh, sit still, Dorian. You're worse than a peacock strutting around," Bull tutted.
"I'm better dressed, for starters."
"Possibly." Vivienne arched her brow. "A peacock might be a bit humbler, actually."
"You wound me, madame."
"I thought all mages were called Magister in Tevinter, though." Hawke's face was the very picture of confusion.
Dorian sighed. "Really, I know the south is a veritable backwater compared to the Imperium, without exaggerating, of course, but... Look, a Magister is someone on the Magisterium. That's like..." He waved his hands, irritably searching for a comparison. "The upper house of the Senate, whatever that is here. It's split between the Chantry, the Circle, and then Altus families like mine, who are all mages. So no, not every mage is a Magister and not every Magister is a mage, either. Does that clear things up a little bit?"
"...Only a little, I'm afraid."
He wrung his hands in half-hearted frustration. "Maker, the ignorance of some people. Truly shocking, I tell you. It's all going to the dogs."
"Was that a deliberate jibe at the Champion's ancestry, Dorian?" Bull teased.
"Oh, beyond a doubt. She's a woman who can take a good joke as well as tell one." Dorian looked over at Nehna. "Apologies."
"Does everyone think I can't tell jokes? Or take them?" It would have hurt more if she hadn't been bemused in the first place. She'd thought the Champion was a Free Marcher like herself, not Ferelden. It explained a few things she hadn't understood before about Varric's story, she admitted.
"They're right, you know," Sera murmured into Nehna's shirt, stirring to turn until she lay face-up once more and gazed into Nehna's eyes. "There's other stuff you can take though." She gave Nehna a wink and giggled as her lover blushed, trying to hide a smile.
Dorian groaned. "How wonderful. We're not going to be subject to some romantic display for the whole evening, are we?"
"Not a romantic soul, Dorian?" Nehna teased.
"Oh, I can be soppier than Cassandra if you get the right man involved. Sorry, Cassandra," he added, getting only a huff in return, although the corner of her mouth twitched slightly. "There just isn't anyone involved... currently, at any rate."
"No strapping young Charger caught your fancy?" Krem tried to flex for his benefit, but he had miscalculated how much he had to drink and lurched forward off his stool. He grabbed the sides quickly, settled himself and gave the other Tevinter a winsome grin.
"More like I need to catch you from falling over," the mage quipped, and Krem led the round of laughter.
"More drinks, perhaps?" Hawke suggested. Cabot perked up immediately. "Maybe not for you though, sweetheart," she told Krem gently, who seemed to agree.
Bull nodded in approval. "See, most people can't even keep up with me," he mused.
"Drinking, on the battlefield, or in the bedroom?" Hawke teased. "I can imagine you'd probably need a crowbar or something."
"More like flexible ropes. And all three." The Qunari flashed his teeth at her, roaring with mirth. "Oh, I like you, Champion."
"How about you buy me dinner, first?"
"I could always buy you a drink, at least. It's the right place for it."
"Truer than a Chanter."
As Hawke and Bull continued to trade light-hearted remarks, Nehna noticed a certain somebody looking less than amused. Dorian's face had been slightly petulant before, even though he had been fairly amused by Hawke's misunderstanding, and his jibes had all been meant with good humour; now he just looked positively sour. She decided to swap places with Varric, who had been avidly writing down some of the more amusing lines, and scooted over. Sera peered up, unhappy at the sudden loss of warmth, but went back to dozing after a few seconds.
"You look like you just sucked a whole crate of lemons," she told him cheerfully. Humour generally worked to help put others at ease, even if it didn't always necessarily fix the situation, so she hoped it would work.
Mercifully, Dorian cracked a half-smile. "Perhaps I did. Either that, or drank too much, but that's more likely." He sighed. "He can be so insufferable, sometimes."
"Sera says the same thing to me, frequently."
Dorian laughed. "How are you getting along with our little resident minx over there? When you're not making Skyhold's teeth rot with how sweet you both are together, at any rate."
"I love her a lot," Nehna admitted. She couldn't hold back her grin. Even just thinking those words instantly put her in a sunny mood.
"Love, hmm? Do all Dalish leap into the L word after a few nights together, I wonder?"
"Not exactly," she told him. "Our courtship works a little differently, I suppose. We don't hold sex as being some kind of sacred thing that you can only do when you're married or whatever, so it's not unusual to see couples trying to discreetly sneak off every so often. They get a bit of good-natured teasing when they come back, but that's the worst of it, really."
Nehna sighed. "Truth is, we can't really afford to be squeamish about it, even if we wanted to. There are so few Dalish in the world that loving relationships are more important to us than any treasure, especially if the couple brings new life into the clan together."
"I see." He paused. "What about... well..." He coughed. "You and Sera can't have any children of your own, of course. Perhaps you might adopt, of course. And, I mean, maybe there's some kind of spell for that? Not exactly my field of expertise in more ways than one, but..." He moved closer, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Your clan accepts you?" he asked softly.
"Of course they do," Nehna answered gently. "We're not exactly in a great hurry to have a fourth mage, as it is. There's a little boy who came into his magic recently, and I suppose when I become the Keeper he'll be my First. They might even be relieved about me and Sera. It solves the mage problem," she teased.
"The mage problem?" Her companion looked confused.
"In our clans, we try not to have too many mages at once," she explained. "They don't just attract the attention of Templars, of course, but the more mages in one location, the higher the chance one might fall to possession or... something like that, I suppose."
"And what happens if you do have 'too many mages,' as you say?"
"They get sent away to other clans," she said quietly. "Depends on who needs mages and who has a surplus. The child in question generally has little say in the matter because it's out of necessity really." She paused. "I was so afraid of being sent away, but then there's only been Aenor since, and he's only four. I'm already the First so I'm safe. For now," she added, with a smile that didn't entirely reach her eyes.
"That's barbaric," Dorian gasped. "You mean the other Dalish elves grow up afraid and ashamed of their magic?"
"Not at all," she corrected him firmly. "We treasure our magic as a gift from the Creators, and we find our mages are generally more attuned to natural magic in comparison to those from.... say, the Circle."
"Would make sense. You spend all your lives traipsing around the wilderness, so it would be quite natural for you to make flowers bloom with your songs, after all. Do you dance under the moonlight with flowers in your hair?"
"You ass!" She elbowed him, trying not to giggle herself as he laughed.
Still, he grew serious again within seconds. "They accept you without question or demands," Dorian mused quietly.
"I cannot speak for other clans," Nehna began, "but I know that within my own at least, we see no difference between the love of two men and two women as between a man and a woman. My Keeper has bonded many couples over the years, and my clansmen have never complained."
She lay his hand on top of his for comfort, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Love is one of the greatest gifts the Creators gave us, or so my Keeper says." Nehna launched into her best rendition of Deshanna's voice: 'If our gods gave us the capacity to love, and they do not cast judgement on who we love, then why should the rest of us?'
Dorian gave her a faint smile. "Your Keeper seems like a wise woman. Perhaps if I was not... if was an elf, then maybe..." He faltered.
"If you were an elf, you could come to us as a brother and join the clan," Nehna told him, adding with a smile, "but as a human, and a member of my Inquisition, you are nothing less than an honoured ally. You will be welcome in our camps, at our fires, in our aravels and at our gatherings, and there will always be meat and mead for you in plenty. You have my word as the First of Clan Lavellan."
She gave him a solemn bow.... or at least tried to. Nehna was not sitting far from the table, so her stomach ended up uncomfortably squished, and she felt stupid even as she rose up to meet his eyes once more, straightening her back.
Dorian looked oddly touched, even if he was amused by Nehna's display. "Is that a Dalish vow? How poetic. I feel like you're about to propose marriage to me or something." His mirth hid the tears of emotion that pricked at the corners of his eyes, a bittersweet mix of joy and wistfully wanting what might have been, and Nehna pretended not to notice when he dabbed at them with his sleeve.
"See, if I wanted to marry you, I think you'd know," she teased. "Plus I would be reciting actual marriage vows to you, as opposed to... well, a welcome speech."
He seized on the change of topic eagerly. "How do the Dalish marry, anyway?"
"We all gather outside in our finest clothes, and the Keeper introduces the couple, asking if any in the clan object to their union. When nobody does, they bind the couple's left and right hands one atop the other with a cloth, and the two of them exchange vows, circling each other. Then the Keeper unbinds their hands and the two exchange rings as a sign of their union and a reminder that they are now bonded. They sip from a cup of wine together, to show they will always share themselves and their belongings with each other. Then they kiss to show that they are now one as a couple, both in body, mind and spirit."
Nehna grinned. "And after that comes the wildest, most drunken celebrations you'll ever see. It gets bawdier as the night gets later and the children are in bed, and everyone playfully teases the couple as they go off to their new aravel together. After that, it's a case of who can finish off the drinks quickest, and spotting any other couples trying to quietly disappear. A wedding is a perfect time to find a spouse, after all... or just someone to tumble with, too."
"I think I like the sound of a Dalish wedding. All that raucous energy in one small, cramped camp. I'm sure nothing has ever gone wrong," Dorian teased, arching his brow. "It does sound lovely, though. Perhaps you might bond with Sera someday too... or an Andrastian wedding, I suppose. Or nothing at all," he added quickly. "That's perfectly fine too. I just wish..." He sighed.
"I understand," she said gently. "As a friend of mine, though, I could ask the Keeper if she would be willing to make an exception and bond you with... well, who do you want to be bonded with?"
Dorian choked. "I think it's a bit early to be talking about marriage," he spluttered out, trying to regain his breath. "Besides, we haven't even kissed. I don't think the daft oaf even knows that I... well, how I feel."
"I think I do, though," Nehna said quietly. "It's Bull, isn't it?"
"How did you guess?" he spluttered out. "And hush, you! He might hear!"
"I think he's a little, ah... occupied, currently." The moment Dorian turned around to look at what she was referring to, Nehna instantly regretted it.
Hawke was quite happily straddled across Bull's lap, engaging in a fierce battle of tongues with her new Qunari conquest. His hands were enthusiastically exploring her upper body, and she had wrapped one arm around his neck while clinging to a horn with the other, rocking her hips into him as she murmured and giggled into his mouth.
"Maker, she's trying to examine his tonsils by the looks of things," Dorian snorted, but his heart wasn't entirely in it.
"He'll never know how you feel until you tell him." Nehna gave Dorian's hand a gentle squeeze for comfort.
"I don't think I can right now. Even if I did, he'd be too busy inspecting our lady friend's oral hygiene to notice."
"Don't leave it too late, though. You'll just keep hurting yourself, and -"
"I'm perfectly fine! I don't need you fussing over me like a mother hen!" He slammed his hand down on the table.
The tavern quickly fell silent as everyone turned to stare at the outburst. Dorian was bright red, and his jaw was clenched tight as he glared daggers at her.
Nehna shuffled backwards a little, suddenly afraid. "I'm sorry, Dorian," she whispered. "I was only trying to -"
"I need to leave." He kicked the bench backwards, swearing as he staggered to his feet. "Had too much to drink." He turned back to Hawke, who was now gaping at him. "It was lovely meeting you, Champion." Dorian offered her a mocking bow. "Do feel free to come again the next time the sky falls apart." Then he stormed out of the tavern, leaving dissipating residue of fire spells in his wake.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
"Perhaps we should go elsewhere," Hawke whispered in Bull's ear, moving to kiss him again, but the Qunari simply shook his head and gently disengaged himself, setting her down on the stool next to him as easily as if he was simply lifting a ragdoll.
"Maybe tomorrow," he said gently. "I mean, you have great tits and all, but..." He pointed to the door, which was still hanging half-open. "I'm going to check up on him if you don't mind." The Qunari lumbered after him, surprisingly quiet and fast on his feet, and shut the door firmly this time. Hawke looked at the ground as she readjusted her clothing, and Nehna looked wistfully towards the distance.
Sera looked up from the bench, groggily peering about her as she tried to make her wobbly way to her feet. "So, what did I miss?" she asked, and promptly fell flat on her back.