The setting sun reflected off the inside of the cracked, gilded dome protecting refugees and revolutionaries alike. The ruins were nestled in the hills sandwiched between the Imperial Highway and the Silent Plains. Between the highway and the river leading to the Port of Vyrantium, the ruins provided easy access to supplies and passage out of Tevinter. Crates stacked against the walls insulated against the worst of the summer heat. Refugees only stayed a few days to rest and recover in the old villa before heading south to make homes with one of a few Dalish clans or in Inquisitions holdings.
Firi’s prosthetic arm sat on top of a travel bag with an old cloak covering everything but the hand. So what if she liked laughing at people who brushed against it and then apologized to a disembodied arm? It wasn’t as if there was much enjoyment to go around. When she’d first considered joining Fenris in his slave rebellion she’d pictured… Well, reuniting families. Swooping in and making everything right, like she’d be able to do with the Inquisition. Freeing slaves was… It was different.
It wasn’t just that there wasn’t any triumph. It was the way the children shook with fear, too traumatized or too smart to sob and scream. They didn’t think Firi and Fenris were there to save them. That life could be better… It wasn’t even a dream. Their hopes weren’t coming true because they didn’t anything to hope for.
The adults were hardly better. Most fought against being saved: some with fists, some with derisive words about how the freedom wouldn’t last and once they were caught the punishment would be worse. It wasn’t until Merrill used her blood magic to remove the slave brands and tracking spells that anyone believed freedom was possible.
By the time Fenris voiced his misgivings about Merrill to Firiel, she knew him well enough to read between the lines. He disapproved of her blood magic, but she was friend, if one he couldn’t always trust to make the right decisions. After months of working together for the slave rebellion, Firiel couldn’t say he was wrong.
Oh, her magic was great, now that she wasn’t dealing with a demon. And her knowledge of elvhen lore was good, even among the smattering of clans that agreed to take in refugees. No, Merrill couldn’t be trusted to be sensible. No, the baby doesn’t need an entire pot of porridge. No, we can’t keep halla in the ruins, they’ll draw attention. Yes, it’s very pretty horse, but it’s very ornery, please stop trying to hand-feed it.
The children Merrill brought with her from Kirkwall were a security risk, but even Fenris grudgingly and gruntingly agreed they helped calm the freshly-freed slaves. Skittish as wild horses and twice as dangerous, there had been an incident nearly every day before Merrill arrived with a gaggle of rosy-cheeked elven children. Despite her sunny disposition and criminal lack of common sense, Merrill wasn’t stupid.
“I wanted to bring the mage children, you know. I’ve been training them since Hawke destroyed the Gallows. They’re such sweet little things, but I remember meeting Fenris for the first time. The last thing they need is more people that are afraid of them.”
There hadn’t been anything to say to that, so Firi had bit her lip, nodded and then gone to check the supply shipment. Lottie Hawke and Isabela, Admiral Isabela, handled most of their needs. Both for supplies and diversions. While the rebellion kept raids on Vyrantium to a minimum to obfuscate their location, they attacked coastal cities like Carastes and Neromenian during pirate raids. Missions in Qarinus had the added advantage of Dorian keeping the relevant magisters busy with lavish dinner parties. So far, no one was crass enough to accuse the young magister of collusion with the rebellion, but they thought it so loud Dorian’s ears never stopped burning.
The single word startled Firi so much that she stabbed her needle clean-through the shirt and into the leather bindings around her stump. She shouted and yanked the needle out, waving it in Fenris’ face as he sat beside her. “Elgar’nan’s ass, you’re lucky I didn’t stab you for that! You know better than to sneak up on people.”
“I did nothing to mask my approach,” Fenris said. Using the clawed fingertips on his gauntlets, Fenris plucked the cork out of his wine bottle. He gestured to the shirt with the bottle. “You’re becoming more proficient.”
“I should hope so. I’m sick of asking for help for the most basic tasks.” It wasn’t the first time Firi had given that particular rant, nor would it be the last. She lowered the needle and time slowed as she realized that threatening Fenris with it had yanked the shirt out of its position under her stump. She clenched her jaw and balled up the fabric in her hand, but changed her mind before throwing it across the room. Firi sighed, smoothed out the fabric and meticulously placed it between her stump and ribcage.
“There is a runner from Perivantium,” Fenris drank directly from the bottle, “the Archon is sending several companies to search the Hundred Pillars for our base.”
“They’ll boil to death in their armor in this heat. Good riddance.”
Fenris tilted his bottle in a mock toast. “The army is not without ways to manage the heat. Let them drain their coffers on a wild nug chase.”
“Did you cancel the next few missions - to let them think we’re afraid?”
Fenris nodded and offered her the bottle. “Isabela will let herself be seen near Qarinus, as well. I do enjoy letting our enemy do our work for us.”
Firi took a swig, less because she enjoyed it and more because Fenris rarely shared his wine. With anyone. “Saves us moving people in this heat, too. Though I hate the thought of making people wait any longer to be freed.”
Fenris grunted, but said nothing else.
The wall they leaned against was rough sandstone. The last owner had covered it in plaster whose chunks littered the ruins, but the original builder had smoothed the walls with fine marble, if Merrill was right. Maybe it was her strengthening connection to the Fade, but Firi could picture it. Gleaming walls that reflected the sunlight, keeping the hall bright and brilliant all day. She blinked the images away and concentrated on her sewing. The shirt was a raggedy thing, long-since designated for sleep only, but she still intended to make the repair as clean as possible.
The raucous conversations in the base died down as the sunlight waned. One of her assistants brought Firi a lamp just as she started to squint in the dimness. She paused in her work only when Fenris offered her a pull from his bottle.
“Once,” he started, letting the word settle between them before continuing, “I would have said, ‘I am yours.’”
Though her heart was in her throat and words clattered and clanged against it trying to force their way out, Firi said nothing. Her fingers tightened painfully on her needle. She nodded, to show she’d heard, if nothing else.
“But that is not what I am. Or what you want. Instead...” Fenris put his hand over hers, a warm, protective touch. He waited until she met his eyes to speak. “This is ours.”