Even the wooden floors of The Hanged Man had to be drunk, soaked in ale as they were. Normally, Hawke and his friends would be too, halfway through a game of Wicked Grace that Fenris would be losing terribly. They were settled around the table in Varric's room, at least. Most of them, anyway. Fenris wouldn't be part of breaking into the Gallows to free a mage (who wasn't Hawke) and Aveline would've stopped them if she'd known.
"I can't understand why you won't just let me handle this, Brother," Carver griped, scowling at Hawke across the table with the firelight waving behind him. "I'm a Templar, remember? I can sneak Merrill out and—"
"Knight Commander Meredith will have you beheaded as an example, or worse." Anders said what Hawke was dreading, nursing an ale in a pitted steel tankard.
"Because we really needed that visual," Hawke teased behind a smirk. "Besides, this plan is faster. I'll turn myself in to the Circle, find Merrill, sneak through the tunnel Anders found while you keep the Templars busy, and meet Isabela at the docks. We’ll be done before dinner."
"It won't be that easy," Carver insisted, throwing his hands up. "Not even for you."
"This is for Kitten," Isabela purred, leaning forward on the table to emphasize her assets as only she could. "Out of everyone here, you've got to want us doing everything we can for her, no matter how... Hard."
Carver blushed just a little and sputtered to answer, and that was enough to make Isabela chuckle.
"That's not, there's no—" Ah, Carver. All eyes rested on him and for a moment, you could almost forget that Merrill was locked up in the Gallows facing Maker-knew-what at the hands of the most corrupt Templars in Thedas.
...And Cullen. Thraske too. There were a couple good eggs in the dozen, but even Hawke wouldn't take those odds if he had a choice. Then again, wasn't that the plan? Of course, whatever little relief there was couldn't last long.
"I, I just don't think it's a good idea to send Hawke, it's his fault she's there in the first place!" He clanked his armored glove on the scratched, uneven table and their eyes met over the growing distance between them. It'd been hard enough when Carver said he wanted to be a Templar, but Hawke stood up for him against Mother anyway. The Order was bringing out the Gamlen in him yet...
"Well shit," Varric cut through the tense silence. "Carver, you really don't know how to change a subject."
"My little brother," Hawke mocked Carver, propping his elbows on the table. "Like it or not, we need two men on the inside to get this done. It's got to be both of us."
"You mean like the Deep Roads? Oh wait, you went alone and we thought you were dead for weeks." Carver scowled and Anders rubbed at the back of his neck, trying to catch the gaze of anyone who wasn't a Hawke. Isabela gave him a shrug, Varric only waved it off, and the conversation ran its course.
"So sorry to disappoint," Hawke jabbed back, his patience thinning. "But we've got a friend to save."
"That's not what I meant!" Carver sighed, picking at a groove in the table. "If you hadn't let her—"
Varric sat forward, doing his best to get between the two brothers. "Look, kid, she wanted to fix that mirror and she would’ve done whatever it took to make that happen. It's no one's fault."
Hawke stood with a sigh. “Drinks, anyone?”
“Oh, yes,” Isabela crooned. “You’re such a sweet thing.”
Anders turned it down with a gesture and Varric raised his tankard, which was message enough as Hawke waved over his shoulder and walked down the stairs. Carver could get his own blasted drink.
“Corff,” he greeted as he approached the bar. He held up two fingers and put down enough coin for four drinks. Corff dealt with drunk Hawke when he was poor, and this seemed a just reward now that he lived in Hightown. Not that he was any less of a rowdy drunk.
“How goes it, Hawke?” He left the rag on the counter to pour two drinks, and at a glance, Hawke was certain that rag just moved dirt around rather than cleaning anything. Part of the charm, really.
“Let’s say these drinks are just what I need.”
“That bad, huh?” They traded grins and Hawke took the tankards from the bar top. “Nothing you can’t handle after the Deep Roads, I’m sure.”
“There’s never more than I handle, Corff,” Hawke agreed. It worked for him so far, and why would he try humility now? This was his last night as a free man – for the moment – and he intended to wake up hungover from it and uncertain where his trousers were. All he could hope at this point was that Carver would remember they were brothers once he had Garrett in a locked cell in the Circle with restrictions on everything from reading material to bedtime. Or maybe it would be better if he forgot that fact.
Chapter 2: First Step
Hawke turns himself into the Circle, and he's only slightly hungover.
Hawke walked into the Gallows, looking at it completely differently this time around. Not just because he was hungover either. The statues were always haunting, if he was being honest. But now… He’d been avoiding this all his life and his mother made a lot of sacrifices to keep him and Bethany from ever being in the Circle.
Good thing it’s not forever.
Right, sticking to that. Hawke cleared his throat, rolling his shoulders as he walked up to Cullen. “Hello, handsome,” he greeted with less volume and enthusiasm than normal. Maker, this afternoon sun was brutal. Almost made him wish he hadn’t slept through morning and his uncle’s griping about Andraste-knows-what. “Have I got news for you.”
Cullen’s sigh had the same restorative effects, however, and Garrett managed a smile despite the headache pounding behind his temples. “Sirrah Hawke, I don’t have time right now for—”
“I’m an apostate.” He interrupted, his smile turning tired. Hopefully the Circle had light-blocking shades. Couldn’t be worse than Gamlen’s hovel. “A rogue mage, you know. Or I hope you did. I haven’t done a terrific job of hiding it, so—” Hawke held his arms out, nodding to Cullen. “Here I am, turning myself in for the safety of everyone. Well,” he corrected himself. “My family first.”
Cullen’s moment of true, genuine surprise was definitely a plus to this whole plan. “Hawke, if you go through with this,” he began, keeping up a decent front. “I have to take you in. It’s my duty. You do understand that?”
“Yes, of course, Cullen.” Hawke shook his head, wincing at the movement and stopping. Really wished he hadn’t done that. “Why do you think I went to you? You’re one of the good ones.” And he stopped to consider it for a moment, though it was mostly true. “Except that one time you said mages aren’t people like you and me. I am still people, aren’t I?”
A weighted silence sat between them for a moment, Hawke’s least favorite kind. Worse for the fact that Cullen was studying him closely and only Aveline had a gaze more piercing. Cullen reached out to Hawke, waving other Templars over to join him. With any luck, it would be with as much silence as they could manage in those metal suits. “You’re still people, Hawke. I respect what you’re doing here, for what it’s worth.”
Hawke stifled a laugh. Oh, if only Cullen knew. Better that he didn’t. Amazing how that kept happening and it was only step one of the plan. “Worth plenty, Cullen.”
And he followed the group of Templars into the Gallows. He’d have to write Mother straight away once he was inside or even their gates couldn’t stop her.
Chapter 3: Reunion
Hawke meets Knight Commander Meredith and First Enchanter Orsino before he's finally introduced to the Circle, where he reunites with Merrill and tells her about a slight change in plan.
The entourage of Templars left them together outside the hallway for Meredith's office, just Cullen and Hawke. "A secret moment alone," Hawke teased to break the silence. "I'm flattered, Cullen."
"Sirrah Hawke," Cullen sighed, running a hand over his neck briefly. "You should know what to expect. First, you'll meet with Knight Commander Meredith. Once she clears you, you'll meet with Orsino. Then Templars take you to the mage barracks." He rested one hand on the edge of his belt, looking Hawke in the eye. "That's everything for today. I'm imploring you, please behave. Just for that long."
He didn't wait for an answer, which was lucky for Hawke, who didn't have one that wasn't snarky. Cullen led Hawke down the hall to the Knight Commander. Orsino caught only a glimpse of him before Hawke was out of sight, turning the corner into Meredith's office.
"Knight Commander," Cullen introduced their arrival. "Sirrah Hawke of Hightown is here to turn himself in as an apostate."
Two windows nearly framed her desk, and a few elaborate torches dotted the walls — already lit despite it only being about midday. The walls were the dismal off-white he expected with a spotless Templar shield mounted on the wall behind her desk over two crossed swords. To think there was someone even less subtle than he was.
"Very well," she drawled, not looking up from her desk at first. It gave Hawke a few moments to raise his eyebrows to Cullen in a preemptively sarcastic 'oh boy'. He'd heard about her at great length from many in Kirkwall, and she was living up to all the terrible things he'd heard so far. All with just two words and steady indifference. She finally looked up, actually at Hawke directly. "Sit down."
"No thanks, I prefer—"
She leaned forward, dropping an armored elbow on her desk while loose, light blond curls drifted to the front of her shoulders. Maker, he was spending too much time with Varric to be that poetic. "Sit. Down."
"Yes, Knight Commander," he answered cheekily and grinned as he sat. "It is quite a nice chair. Not as good as home, but—"
"You are here because you're an apostate, and I am here to determine how much of a threat you are to the people of Kirkwall. Your comfort is beside the point," she accurately insisted.
"Rght to the point, I like that," Hawke observed. "Determine away."
"Not only now, but throughout your stay in the Circle." She rested the other hand on the sturdy desk, pushing herself to loom above him. "Despite your standing in Hightown, you will be treated like any other mage under our watch."
"What an honor." Hawke deadpanned, a grin at the ready, and he rested back in the chair. An added bonus to getting Merrill to safety was the ability to sass and generally irritate as many Templars as possible. Embarrassing Carver too, if he could. Practically his job as an older brother.
"You will undergo the Harrowing," she continued, letting out a heavy breath. Being Knight Commander and a reputed bitch had to be tiring. "And Cullen will stand guard to prevent the outcry mages and nobles so adore."
"I do love a good Harrowing." Anders told him all about the Harrowing when they planned this scheme up. For Hawke, it was nothing to be worried about. "I meant outcry," he corrected mockingly with a dismissive shrug.
"And should you pass, you'll be under a probationary period supervised by a rotating guard," she ignored him and nodded to Cullen, no doubt some sort of hint to make note of that for later. "I've heard of your charisma and your 'good deeds', and I won't give you the chance to gather favors as leverage."
Hawke had mastered a steady expression through game after game of Wicked Grace, though he often managed to lose to Varric or Isabela anyway. So he immediately recognized this sinking feeling of knowing he was about to botch this round. A rotating guard wasn't part of the plan and it complicated that plan rather a lot.
Andraste's ass, this didn't go right.
"And here I heard the Circle was a dismal, isolated place. Sounds like I'll always have—"
"Lastly," she interrupted, "The Templars will issue tests and trials for you as we see fit, with or without notice. The threat of magic is ever present, and—"
"The Maker steels your heart against temptation, and He shall judge their lies, yes, yes, I know," Hawke said with a casual wave of his hand. If he didn't antagonize her at all, it would make Cullen back there suspicious, so Hawke would just chalk this attitude up to strategy. Definitely not because it was funny. "I have every faith you'll do whatever you want. For the people, of course."
The Knight Commander narrowed her gaze at him, eyes sharper than her Templar tiara. "Sirrah Hawke. I will remind you only once that your status in Hightown will not protect you here. I suggest you keep in that mind."
She took her seat again, a silent dismissal as she returned to the paperwork on her desk. Cullen responded immediately, saluting as Templars do, and gesturing for Hawke to come along with him. And so off they went, this time to Orsino's office. The First Enchanter was respected by many, the unspoken requirement for being a First Enchanter at all. Mostly, Hawke knew of him as a frustrated man trying his best, which made sense once you realized he had even less say than a regular First Enchanter was provided.
His office was dark in a comforting, library-esque sort of way. Books sat stacked on most of the flat surfaces and Orsino was waiting for them when they came in. "Knight Captain," he greeted Cullen with a civil nod, standing. "And you must be Garrett Hawke. Tales of your expedition have reached even here. Though I'm sorry you can no longer reside in your estate, I hope you find comfort among your fellow mages."
A soft chuckle came instinctively, and Hawke smiled. "No need to be so formal, Orsino. Rest assured, I've fallen asleep in worse places among more dangerous crowds than this." The looks he got from Cullen and Orsino alike were at once curious for details and praying to the Maker he wouldn't go into it. And for now, he'd spare them the story. Stories, if he were to be honest. "The Circle is plenty fine for me."
"Well, I am glad to hear it," Orsino tried to move from the subject for the sake of everyone present, only slightly awkward about it. "You've spent most of your life outside of the Circle and practicing magic out there is an entirely different creature than practicing it here. I'll represent all Circle mages to the Templars and if you have any questions those in Circle can't answer, that's precisely what I'm here for."
In a split second, the energy between Cullen and Orsino became charged and Hawke pretended not to notice. He would definitely win the bet with himself as to what it was about, though.
"And if you see or experience anything untoward, come to me immediately. We're mages, not prisoners or slaves, and—"
"First Enchanter," Cullen warned, mostly how one might try to stop a sibling before they pissed off their parent too much. "We've discussed this at great length. Any true infractions by the Templars against mages will be dealt with swiftly and seriously. We are here to protect you."
"Yes, of course." Orsino steepled his hands on his desk, lowering himself to sit. The venom in his voice could have killed a lesser man, but Cullen gracefully appeared not to notice. With the word "true" in front of "infractions", Hawke could guess that his momentary blindness to that instigation was one of few mercies Orsino and the other Circle mages got.
The sooner Merrill is out, the better.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip was bland and went by in a blink. Cullen passed him off to other Templars, and he was escorted to his room (a cell that made Gamlen's hovel look like a dream, so he wouldn't be writing home about that). The Templars explained that he was to change into the rather disappointing Circle robe left on his cot while they waited outside to collect his clothing from home.
Hawke avoided robes all his life for two reasons: they looked like a grandmother's nightgown and it screamed 'I'm a mage, arrest me'. Now he learned a third reason, which was that they looked absolutely ridiculous on him especially. Rather freeing in the nether regions, at least. When they had his nicer clothes from the estate to send home to Mother, the Templars left him be. Probably to pawn his clothes.
And just as he expected, he found Merrill squirreled away in a pile of books in the library. He was several feet away and hadn't said a word when she popped her head up, eyes delighted but her expression fraught with worry. She leaped up and tossed her arms around his neck.
"Oh, Hawke!" He hugged her back, relief washing over him. As a blood mage, she was in even more danger here than any other mage within the Circle. Hawke would be lying (to himself for a change) if he said he hadn't feared the worst. "Thank you for coming. I'm so sorry to get you mixed up in all this, I... I've made a mess of things, haven't I?" She took a moment to step back, wringing her hands for a glimmer of a second before answering herself for him. "I have."
"Lucky for you, I'm here to make an even bigger mess," he joked and she breathed a laugh, tucking her hair absently behind her ear. Good to know he could get her to laugh, however half-hearted. Hawke took a seat on the bench near the windowsill she'd been sitting on before, which she returned to now. They had to look boring to keep talking about matters like this, and they both knew it.
He grabbed the nearest book, something about protective spells, and opened to a random page to point out some line about spell radius. All part of the rouse, but it helped to know what he was looking at if someone did come along to question them. "There's a small wrinkle in that plan, but it won't change a thing for you. It's just like it said in the letter."
"Clever code, by the way," she chimed, trying her hand at changing the subject to distract herself. It wasn't working. "It wasn't yours, was it? Didn't seem like you, so—" She forced out a sharp sigh, snatching up a book of her own to keep up appearances. "What did you mean, for me?"
"Dear old Meredith is keeping an extra close eye on me," he explained and did his best not to notice the almost pained look she gave him. "Can't be worse than darkspawn. The point is, you'll be safe and I'll be right behind you. Metaphorically."
"Thank you, Hawke," she replied, tilting her head down to the open book on enchanted items but peering up at him with bright, mournful eyes. "I know you will."
Chapter 4: Secret Ritual
Carver leads Hawke to The Harrowing as a test for them both.
Hawke woke to incessant knocking with far too brief bouts of quiet between. He rolled in his bed, pulling sheets with him. “You’re just drunk, Sergius. Again,” he muttered, shooing away one of the neighbors packed in around Gamlen’s ramshackle home.
“Good morning to you too,” Carver grumbled.
Ah, it was coming back now. Hawke sat up, stretching to loosen the tension in his shoulders, but there just wasn’t any getting rid of it. Andraste’s ass, this bed was a curse worse than any magic. A bit of morning light filtered down to Hawke, but hardly enough to wake him up. It was no Hightown, that much was obvious. Still— better than the Deep Roads.
“My own brother, here to fetch me?” Hawke teased, swinging his legs out of bed and approaching Carver at the door. Rather, through the slotted window in the door. “I’d been promised a rotating guard. And here I was, worried I’d start to miss you. Barely got a wink.”
“Don’t joke, brother,” Carver scolded, unlocking the door. “They don’t call it the Harrowing because it’s easy.” He stepped back with a scowl set on his face that really was going to turn him into Gamlen if he kept it up. And Hawke knew what that meant. He’d sooner die than admit it, but Carver was worried, and so the joking had to stop. …Alright, he’d just slow it down a little.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll be alright. Lead the way, Ser Carver,” he teased with a smirk. It wasn’t a spritely dance to lift his spirits, but that was more of a Carver trick anyway. Didn’t have much of an effect regardless as his little brother turned without a word and they rounded a corner into another indistinguishable hallway of the Gallows.
Identical wall torches were all placed the same distance apart and slivers in the walls that were supposedly windows gave no hint as to where they were in relation to the outside. Dark doorways broke up the monotony of the stone halls, but even those doorframes matched each other perfectly.
The Harrowing would be easy for Hawke, no matter what Carver fussed over. What weighed on him now was the idea of Merrill travelling these halls alone at night in a couple weeks without getting lost. There would be no ball of yarn this time, not like in the alienage, and she couldn’t risk being late.
One step at a time. First, the Harrowing.
“They’re testing me, you know. That’s why they sent me for this.” Carver wouldn’t actually look at Hawke while he talked this over. Strangely, no one else was around, but at least it afforded them this moment for Carver to get this weight off his chest and onto his brother’s shoulders. After all, what were big brothers for? “I’ll be watching your Harrowing with Cullen. It has to be perfect.”
“It’s hardly my first visit to the Fade, you know that. Trust me! This won't be much of a test for either of us,” he encouraged Carver. “I'll be back before you can miss me.”
Carver scoffed, finally granting Hawke a glance. Barely. Walking up a set of stairs leading to another level in the Gallows, Hawke wasn’t sure which, Carver continued. “You’re not taking this seriously. If you get possessed, I’ll have to—” He cut himself off with a grumble and stopped suddenly on the landing.
Carver had an explanation ready before Hawke could even start to ask what this hesitation was about. “Right, before we get too far… After the Harrowing, watch out for Ser Alrik or anyone who looks like they don’t want to run screaming from him. He’s a nasty one, probably the worst Templar here.”
“Take the Harrowing seriously and avoid Alrik. I think I can do that,” Hawke answered brightly, flashing a smile to counter Carver's scowl.
“Maker’s breath, just follow me.”
At the Harrowing chamber, which may or may not be what it was actually called, few Templars in full armor waited with Cullen and Orsino. Hawke had a tendency to turn heads when he entered a place, but nothing like this. Andraste's ass, it was like being at his own funeral.
“Hawke,” Orsino acknowledged him, sounding somewhere between exhausted and irritated as he usually did. At least he was consistent. Carver went to join Cullen while Orsino came over to Hawke, his back to the Templars almost as if they were scheming. “I'm not certain what you've heard about the Harrowing, but it's nothing like a normal visit to the Fade.”
“Of course not,” Hawke teased, smirking and already prepared for the worst. It's not as though he lied to Carver before; he truly was confident that he could handle whatever came his way. It’d worked so far, why question it?
“This ritual sends you to the realm of dreams to contend with a demon with only your willpower to guide you.” Orsino, as somber as ever, looked up at Hawke with an intense, prying gaze. “Do you understand—”
“First Enchanter,” Cullen interrupted. “Each mage has to go through their Harrowing without prior instruction to prove they can shield themselves from the threat of demons.”
Orsino had instructions of a sort for Cullen, Hawke could tell that much even as the elven mage stepped back to stand a good distance away from everyone present. The stoup of lyrium in the center of the room couldn't be more obviously for the ritual, so Hawke approached it with everyone's stares boring into his back.
“Sirrah Hawke,” Cullen continued, his voice level with years of practice beginning this speech. Watching the lyrium swirl and glow, as if it were alive, Hawke kept his back to them all and listened.
“Place your hand in the lyrium to enter the Fade and begin the Harrowing. If you fail, we Templars will uphold our duty.” The gravity of the pause told Hawke he wasn't done and that he had nothing nice to say. What a shame. “You will die.”
So that's what had Carver so worked up.
“Well, no one wants that.” Alright, a few people did. Hawke slipped his hand into the lyrium and felt the cold, lightning rush of the Fade overtake him.
Any comments here are loved and welcome!
Chapter 5: Harrowing
Hawke undergoes the Harrowing, confident he can face what is to come. It turns out denial and a brave font will be his best defense. And violence, but that's the Fade for you, isn't it?
If Hawke's reaction seems underwhelming, don't worry! There's more to come because I am not a merciful author.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Fade was no different than usual despite his change in entry, so to speak. Instead of it gradually rising from a dream, it rushed to meet Hawke. He could almost sense its alert to his arrival in the odd air of the Fade. The warped cobbled roads sort of resembled Kirkwall’s city streets, but… Not quite. The Fade reflected your expectations back at you the best it could, but it never could quite manage to make it perfect. Lucky for the skilled mages of the world who wanted to avoid possession and becoming an abomination. That would really ruin his day for certain. And think of poor Carver!
“Well,” Garrett said to himself, never one to keep quiet. “Only way out is forward.”
He walked alone for quite a ways, picking off a wraith here or there, and almost found himself wondering when the Harrowing was going to start. Sure, he was no noble of Hightown here and he had no schedule to keep, but surely his time was worth more than a prank trip to the Fade.
“Although,” Garrett trailed off, stopping at the top of a hill overlooking the almost-but-not-quite realm of the Fade. Chairs jutted out from walls and ceilings, spires stood at a slant along walkways leading to nothing. All typical, and yet—he could tell this was just a corner of the Fade. Hawke was contained in here, just a margin of the Fade, and so was something else. He couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s your big test? One demon?”
Maker, was he glad they didn’t ask him about the things he’d faced before. They might not’ve gone so easy on him if they’d known. With Meredith at the helm, it was almost a guarantee they wouldn’t have. Busy thinking on that, Garrett almost didn’t spot the glowing figure on a dock down the hill from where he stood. Nearly blended right into the sky behind it, but the figure was the first sign of anything in this trial he’d seen so far.
Naturally, Garrett approached it. Best get this over with before Carver stressed himself to early grey hairs.
“Hawke,” called a familiar voice with a faint echo as he came over. This area was different from where he first came into the Fade. Up close, it looked more like the docks of Kirkwall where he first landed with Mother, Carver, and Aveline. Made sense, since he was looking at Aveline for the moment.
“Bit of a cowardly trial, even for mages. Facing a demon unarmed,” she said, crossing her arms and setting her expression into a thoughtful frown he recognized all too well. This wasn’t the first Spirit of Valor he’d ever met, but normally, it was a faceless guard or a soldier. Aveline, though? She should be flattered if he ever told her. Which he wouldn’t, of course. He’d play along with this part, dangerous as that was. He understood the difference between a spirit and a demon better than a sheltered Circle mage. Hawke could play with this fire just fine.
“Worried about me?” He teased her and the spirit even came close to the same ‘cut it out’ stare Aveline was so good at.
“Not every mage is you, Hawke. But,” she sighed, shaking her head and resting a hand against her temple. “That you’re here means you haven’t faced the demon hunting you.” She walked past him to the edge of the path, pointing out at a half-circle of flames he passed earlier. In all honesty, he realized now that he should’ve figured that place was important. “This is where the creature will fight you. Be careful, Hawke.”
“Always,” he lied. The spirit, showing only the person he most expected in Valor and not being Aveline herself, just nodded in reply. Reminding himself that anyone he saw in a dream was nothing more than a familiar face was a big of part of travelling in the Fade. Losing sight of reality and your preconceptions was the biggest danger here, after all. Garrett went back down the path he came from without another word.
…only to find the place had changed entirely. The ruined stone towers and barren earth scrubbed lifeless by harsh winds and recent Darkspawn attacks, a place he couldn’t forget if he tried. And did he ever try. He glanced at the boulder where Bethany died and his mother held him to blame, a guarded smile already on his face. This demon played dirty, then? Well, it wasn’t the only one.
“Look familiar?” A gravelly voice, if you could call it that, ripped across the clearing to Hawke.
“Oh, so you talk? Pride demons are always jumping right to crushing,” he taunted the horned, towering beast. Each footstep rumbled through the ground as it marched over, perhaps involuntarily flexing its massive spiked arms.
“There it is again.” It barked a laugh, throwing its head back. “Your pride. Your arrogance.” The demon slammed its fists into the dead earth, nothing but a display, and Garrett didn’t flinch. “You kept telling yourself you could handle it when you fled from Lothering. You even told yourself that coming here.”
Garrett called forward the staff, appearing just as it was across the Veil because he willed it to. The Fade did have its perks. He faced it and squared off, staring it down. Or up. Difficult to say, now that he thought about it.
“And just like before, your pride will be your ruin. And I will run free until your body decays!” Light consumed its body as it morphed to take the form of the ogre that ended Bethany’s life. A trick to get him to lean on that ‘arrogance’, or so it claimed. Well, what a blunder that was.
Then the real world came back into focus, the charged atmosphere of the Fade giving way to regular Kirkwall air that stank of life, seawater, and now musty books too.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Garrett said, slightly winded but managing a debonair smile. “Once you get past the demon, it’s… nothing.” He staggered forward, catching himself on the stoup. Orsino marched over to offer a free arm, whatever good that might do to a man twice his size, and Carver just scoffed. He heard it often enough to know it was him and not some nameless judgmental Templar off to the side.
“Right, so… when you said willpower,” Hawke implied the rest of the sentence, gesturing to himself. Once the mage was in the pocket of the Fade, they were removed from the supply of lyrium, drawing on their own resolve instead… Leaving them an easy kill if a demon did get into their body.
Besides, why waste the Circle resources on one who might end up dead anyway? Times like this, he understood Anders’ indignance more than he wanted to admit. His vision swam and he pushed himself up using the stoup instead of his offered arm. “Thank you,” he breathed to Orsino, the exhaustion hitting him hard. “Just need a minute.”
“To your credit,” Cullen entered into the conversation, glancing to Orsino to gauge the elven man’s irritability with the practiced eye of a guard. “Most mages pass out during the Harrowing.”
“Can’t imagine why.” Garrett almost laughed, but it came out more like breathing wrong. He hadn’t pushed his magical limits like this since he was a child training under his father. Garrett did not miss this feeling. He reached for his staff to use as a walking stick, mainly to spare Orsino the uncomfortable task of leading him anywhere.
“I can’t let you do that,” Cullen explained, the soldiers behind him reaching for their weapons. All of the Templars, even Carver. Maybe especially from that scowl on his face. How much of it was acting, Hawke wondered sometimes.
“Makes perfect sense,” Hawke quipped and lowered his hand. He was too tired to argue and if he had to, he’d drag himself to his room. Quarters. Cell.
“Ser Carver,” Cullen said, turning only barely over his shoulder. “Return this mage to his chambers.”
“Yes, Knight-Captain,” Carver answered and marched forward to collect his brother from the stoup. “Come on.” If his goal was to sound as indifferent as possible while maintaining the barest level of civility, he was doing just perfect.
They walked the hallways in silence aside from Garrett’s occasional uncomfortable sighs. Carver took a careful pace once they were out of view and could’ve been careful not to mention it. But social skill wasn’t his specialty, was it? “Maker, you’re heavy.”
“Don’t they train you Templars?” Garrett could manage a proper laugh again, at least, though only one. Maybe one and a half. “The Order is so dangerous; this is the least of your worries.”
“And now you sound like mother,” he muttered. Not a wise plan to bring back the memory of Carver’s declaration to be a Templar so soon after the pride demon took a dig at Hawke.
See, Mother? I told you he’d only think of himself.
“Better than Gamlen.” Garrett didn’t miss a beat, always ready for a battle of wits. Not much else to do in their home in Lothering or back in Gamlen’s hut. “Just don’t miss out on your big chance to be someone.”
Carver scoffed again, this one sharper than the last. So now it was hitting home—and instead of stirring him to fight Carver like he was so close to wanting to, Hawke felt guilty for even saying it. “I’m not serious, Carver.”
“When are you ever,” he drawled back, taking him cautiously down the stairs back to his floor. “I told you not to joke about the Harrowing, and now I’m practically dragging you back.”
“The noble work of a Templar,” Garrett mockingly praised, the rest of a biting remark dying before he said it out loud. Thank the Maker. “I did promise I’d be back before you missed me. One of two isn’t bad, Carver.”
“I see you’re feeling better.” They were back at his cell and to think that this morning, he couldn’t wait to leave the place. Now he was sure he’d sleep for 12 hours on the fabric-encased rock slab they called bedding and be happy for it. “Just in time for your meeting with Meredith and Cullen in the morning.”
“Afternoon?” He hopefully corrected, leaning against the wall in what might have passed as nonchalance while Carver opened the cell door.
“Morning,” Carver insisted, gesturing into the cell. “Just keep your head down and follow the rules for once, brother.”
“I’ll be a model mage.” He could just envision the look his brother gave him even as he passed him into the chambers. Made it all worth it. Hawke sat on the bed, staring out into the hall at Carver cast in shadow. “You can count on it.”
“Not just me.” He couldn’t mention Merrill directly anywhere in this building, but that was all Hawke needed to know what his little brother was thinking of. Rather, who. Then he disappeared from view, the clanking of his armor fading into an echo. Finally, Hawke let out an exhausted groan, laying down and practically falling asleep before his head even hit the bed.
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Chapter 6: A Kept Mage
On a partial errand for the local herbalist, Hawke learns more about what it means to be a Circle mage safeguarded and stored by the Templars. This starts with Cullen on the Wounded Coast until Aveline escorts him at the Dalish camp, wondering why he didn't come to her for help.
A dull ache nestled behind Hawke’s eyes, the penalty of draining himself of magic and denying himself excessive rest before being up and about again. Bloody Templars, dragging him out of bed almost literally first thing in the morning… And yet he was there with Cullen waiting for Meredith. Hawke sat himself in her office, picking at a boot idly to pass the time. There was absolutely no chance that obsessive woman slept in, so he had no doubt this was an intentional delay. Most likely spent scolding Orsino for breathing too magically.
“Knight-Commander,” Cullen greeted her with a small bow as she strode past him to posture behind her desk. She nodded in return before focusing her attention on Hawke.
“Circle mages are expected to undertake tasks at the will of the Chantry and the Templars,” she prefaced, explaining as if he was a particularly idiotic student. “To show you what this entails, you’ve been tasked with helping an herbalist here in Kirkwall collect resources in exchange for supplies for the Circle.”
A thousand witty remarks came to mind, but he didn’t have the energy to spare for her. He settled on the easiest one with a sardonic smile. “What an honor.”
“You will do well to watch your tone,” Meredith warned, sharpening her glare to a point that might actually pierce his skull if she tried hard enough.
Hawke held his hands up in a nonchalant shrug but kept quiet this time. That was just enough stirring of the pot to keep her attention on him but not earn her suspicion.
“Cullen will be your escort to the Wounded Coast to harvest the Harlot’s Blush flower, and the Guard Captain will accompany you to the Dalish camp for their distinct tattoo ink,” she outlined, taking a seat and looking less than pleased about it. And he thought he was restless trapped in Gamlen’s hovel. Imagine being unable to relax enough to sit down? Must be the stick up her butt. “You will adhere to their every command and return to the Circle without a fight. Am I clear?”
“Perfectly,” Hawke dismissed, giving her the same treatment she offered him. Apparently deciding he wasn’t worth her time either, Meredith glossed over his indifference. Fine enough by him—he had enough to think about with the realization that he truly did never tell Aveline about this plan and by Andraste’s dirty socks, she’d probably give him a good scolding.
“Knight-Captain,” she implied the order and Cullen acted.
“On your feet, Sirrah Hawke.” Cullen, of course, could order Hawke around anytime he wanted and Garrett stood to follow him out to the Gallows entrance. He waited long enough to make the dirty joke he thought of the moment he got this task, and Hawke grinned now that he could finally share it with Cullen.
“Ever harvested a Harlot’s Blush before, Knight-Captain?”
Cullen’s heavy sigh to cover up his Templar-grade fluster never got old. “I suppose I should be grateful you didn’t say that in front of the Knight-Commander,” he evaded the answer and Hawke let it be. What’s the fun in teasing him only once? He’d need to savor the material he had.
“There, now that’s the spirit! Let’s make the Circle proud, or something,” he tacked on with a chuckle.
But most of their trip across the Wounded Coast passed in silence, trekking down worn, pitted roads with mysterious skeletons dotting the landscape. Why the coast was titled wounded instead of “riddled with the dead” was anyone’s guess. Bandits foolish enough to take them on fell quickly and just outside a cave waited the coveted flower. With another few playful jabs from Hawke, they tidied up that business and Cullen passed Garrett off to Aveline at a good midway point between the Coast and the Dalish settlement.
Of course, she was pretending not to know him well either. The grapevine could tell the Templars that these two arrived in Kirkwall together, but his occasional help with her work would be nothing more than mercenary work between two Fereldans if it was spun right.
And in just a few minutes after Cullen was gone, Aveline delivered her wrath. “Maker damn you for a fool, Hawke, what are you doing?”
“Fetching tattoo ink for the Circle,” he purposefully didn’t answer her question, getting an irritated groan back.
“Whatever you’ve got planned,” she started irritably, softening as she put her hand on his shoulder and stopped them both in their tracks. “I would think you’d know by now that you can come to me.”
Ah, there it was. Guilt would find him even in his Circle life, the one comfort of home he couldn’t escape. “Aveline,” he started, already hearing the defense in his own voice. “You’re the Guard Captain.”
“But also your friend,” she emphasized, soft compassion in her eyes. Maker, she was like family to him and like his family, she knew exactly what to do to get past his guard (or under his skin in Carver’s case).
“Andraste’s ass, that’s why I didn’t want you mixed up in this,” he laughed, shaking his head. “And that’s not going to change, so you’ll just have to settle on this little visit to the Dalish.”
“So stubborn,” she teased, obviously not happy with this answer, but… Well, at least she let it go. For now. Garrett knew better than to think she actually gave up. Varric would get an earful next, more likely. “We’re not done here, Hawke,” she warned him like she was reading his mind. “But let’s take care of your errand for Meredith before she gets cross.“
“Speaking of her, how did you convince her to send you here instead of Cullen?” They started off to the camp again, passing the winding roads of Sundermount that were still more pleasant than the Wounded Coast. Not that he had much of a choice either way.
“Because I’ve been here before, they’re more comfortable with me than a Templar,” she explained as if it was obvious. “People in charge like results, Hawke. They won’t argue with them.” Her knowing tone suggested he was supposed to learn a lesson from that, and maybe he would. …Probably not, but there was a sliver of a chance.
Just as Aveline predicted, the Dalish received them with a watchful calm that was much better than the barely contained hostility he’d be faced with if Cullen brought him. Best case scenario, they’d hate just Cullen, but worst case was they’d think he was ratting them out to the Templars and they’d have to move ahead of schedule. Not a pretty picture however he looked at it. Aveline saved him yet again.
Master Ilen wasn’t feeling so favorable to Hawke, though. What a man refuses to sell can still be taken, so… Better than going back empty-handed, he picked up the Dalish tattoo ink from a nearby chest without a fuss. They left the Dalish camp and turned back to Kirkwall before Aveline broke the silence.
“So,” she awkwardly began, glancing to him. “How is it? In the Circle—is it as bad as Anders says?”
Of all the blasted things she could ask about… Hawke knew Aveline had her reservations about mages not being in the Circle, but he wasn’t going to hide the truth of it from her if she asked him.
“Absolutely. Doubt I’ll see the worst of it since I’m a noble from Hightown. Despite what Meredith says, that does make a difference inside the Circle. Not enough of one, but…” He wasn’t the one to worry about anyway. His smirk fell at the memory of Merrill sitting with him in the Circle library. “But Merrill? She’s hanging in there; you know how she is. But that can’t last forever. Meredith’s got a real case of the crazies, and she doesn’t know when to quit.”
“Neither do you,” Aveline joked, trying to lift his spirits but introducing a dangerous thought when she did it. Well, so long as he avoided being blighted crazy, Hawke would only be halfway to Meredith. Not too shabby. “I’m sure whatever half-baked plan you’ve got, you’ll set this right.”
Turning in the flower and ink to Cullen and living through another lecture about minding his manners in the Circle, Hawke was finally returned to his cell. Based on the messy sheets and skewed bedding, someone had done a search while he was out. Already trying to catch him red-handed, eh? Hawke chuckled and sat down on the corner of the bed without fixing it up. Searching aside, they did let him have a quill, parchment, and ink to finally write a letter back home on the wall-mounted “desk” in his cell—the only outgoing letter he was allowed this month. They’re Templars, not mailmen, that was the argument. But they had time to dig through an empty cell, of course.
Hello, dear mother,
What to even write now? She had to be worried sick. Her youngest son, a Templar, and her oldest son, a prisoner. She only had Gamlen around now and that had to be miserable. The quill waited above the page as Hawke thought it over.
I’m alright. I even have my own room and steady work! I think they’re impressed with me, Mother. Be strong and brave, and I’ll feel better.
‘I’m sorry I can’t be there.’ He sealed the letter with that unwritten and stick it out a hole in the door for the Templar guards to take. And throw away or burn for all he knew, but hey, Garrett tried. That wouldn’t be enough to save any of them if Leandra Hawke didn’t get her letter, though.
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Chapter 7: Good Graces
Another week goes by, and Hawke has been finding it weirdly easy to settle into the Circle without making too much of a scene (but exhausting, since he's a glorified magical errand boy). Apparently, he's not the only one who thinks he's performing well, since he's gotten summons from Meredith herself again.
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The next week in the Circle was uneventful. Truly, it had to be. Merrill’s escape was in a few weeks and Hawke needed to keep just enough attention on him to have it off her—same as since he walked into the Gallows, but it was hard work to not draw attention when he was… himself.
Mother wrote him about the stress of running the estate and how she couldn’t trust Gamlen to help considering how poorly he’d managed last time. Of course, she was worried about how this affecting Carver and his relationship to Garrett too. And naturally, she chastised him for his recklessness and wasting the effort they put into protecting him all those years. The most surprising thing about the letter was that it reached him at all. Really, that was just more proof for Hawke that being from Hightown did give him the advantage even inside the Circle.
As long as that kept up after his good friend mysteriously vanished from the Circle before she was discovered as a blood mage, Hawke would be very grateful for his rare good luck.
“Hawke,” Merrill’s chipper tone drew his attention from the book in front of him. He got more reading done locked away than he ever did at home, what were the odds of that? He flashed Merrill a smile, less warmly than he normally would thanks to all the blasted Templars posted in the library, of all places. Not like someone was going to use blood magic to turn a page. “Sorry, I should really keep my distance, but,” she trailed off to sit down and opened up a book on Kirkwall’s magic history. A bloody mess, that book. “You just look so lonely, is all.”
Hawke had gone back to reading, but that earned her a wry smile and raised eyebrows. “Can’t see how I’d be lonely with friends assigned to watch over me all night.”
She hummed, her distinct accent shining through even without words. And in that second, he hated that she wasn’t wrong. Reading together casually like this brought Hawke back to the estate, muttering her name in mock disapproval as he stared at bare footprints on the second floor handrail, getting a note that she’d watered his plants again, and of course reading together in the library with that creepy wall art Fenris resented so much.
But she’d be leaving soon, she had to. And Hawke would get out eventually somehow. Even if he was lonely, and Garrett wasn’t thinking he was, what good would that do? He’d be back out in the fresh, free air soon enough one way or another.
“Oh, that’s not the same, Hawke,” she half-reprimanded and half-teased. “They’re not actually your friends… Oh. You knew that. Right.” Jokes were always on the difficult side for her, but she did figure that one out without Hawke dropping hints. Isabela would be proud! “Do you think you’ll be alright?”
She snuck a peek at him as another couple mages slunk by them for new books, though they were probably old to them. Everything was old to them by the looks of things. Both strangers moved like the air was water and seemed permanently afflicted by a desire to be much, much smaller than they really were. Right, they definitely weren’t being beaten by Templars at least once a week. Anders had that part right too, as extreme as he could be: if a mage was being hurt, everyone else turned a blind eye.
“Relax, Merrill,” he brushed off her worries with a wave. “You’ve seen for yourself what I can deal with. If spirits, the Blight, and the undead didn’t get me, a few Templars won’t stand a chance.”
Whatever she was going to say dropped off once the sound of clanking armor got closer. Merrill stared at her book, shoulders tense in defiance more than fear. Come to think of it, Hawke wasn’t even sure what Merrill looked like afraid—only cripplingly nervous or guilty. He turned his attention to the Templar, probably because he recognized those footsteps anywhere.
“Carver,” he greeted far too fondly, which was really just right. Closing the book, Garrett rested forward on the table with a smirk. “My dear brother! Should I assume that dour look on your face is for me?”
“You’ve been called by the Knight-Commander,” he informed him. “On your feet.”
“Anything for you, baby brother.” Out of spite, Hawke left the book behind on the table. More likely, Merrill would pick it up to put away before any Templar did, but he could pretend it inconvenienced one of them.
Talking on the way was out of the question now. Templars were out in droves during the day and from how Carver stared straight ahead the entire time, apparently even looking at Garrett was a risk he couldn’t take. That’s what he was choosing to think, anyway. Carver stopped outside Meredith’s door and nodded him in.
“Go on, mage.”
“Mage?” He scoffed but went with it and walked into Meredith’s office. It was all an act… And a very convincing one. Was it luck that he had bigger issues to think about than the strained relationship with his little brother? “Knight-Commander, what a pleasure.”
And for a moment, he thought he caught a smirk from Meredith. A wry one, yes, but still. He had to have imagined it from being overworked and sleep deprived off and on since he landed in his Circle cell.
“Sirrah Hawke. The Knight-Captain tells me you’ve been doing great work on behalf of the Circle.” Ah, so that was her motive. He’d been shown the stick and now it was time for the carrot. Should be an uplifting change of pace, not that it would change much for Hawke. “And his praise is not easily earned.”
Maybe there was something weighing on Cullen’s conscious from the Circle in Fereldan after all… Or maybe it was guilt from telling Hawke mages weren’t people. Whatever he said to Meredith would’ve decided Hawke’s life from then on out. Well, more like his quality of life. Being Tranquil was technically not murder as far as the Chantry or anyone cared, but—there were better thoughts to have. More relevant ones too. Garrett quirked a smile to Meredith too, figuring that one simple gesture like that couldn’t hurt his odds in the long run. Every bit of leverage counted towards Merrill’s escape just a few weeks out.
“Oh, he’s certainly a tough one. I’ll have to remember to write him a thank you letter later.”
“As a reward for this model behavior,” she began and stood, cutting an intimidating figure looming over her staunch desk. “I'll allow you to assist your business partner in the mines.”
The mines? It took a moment for Hawke to remember the Hightown market hawkers and the one who talked down about Fereldans. Hubert, if he guessed right. Always something with him, wasn’t it? The more pressing observation was that he hadn’t taken a seat yet and wasn’t being forced into one this time. Could it be that the heartless Knight Commander actually saw worth in a measly mage? Maker’s breath, that’d be his finest achievement yet.
“To be clear—” Meredith interrupted, her familiar hard expression returning, “This is only being offered to you as a condition of your cooperation and high standing in Kirkwall.”
“Those high society types sure know how to whine, don’t they?” Garrett leaned on the back of one of the chairs, pushing his luck to see how far it would go. Whatever this discovery was with Meredith, he’d need it when Merrill was out safe and sound. He flashed her an easy smile, letting his hands hang loosely over the chair. “Tell me, was it the neighbors to the south or the northeast?”
“Both,” she answered drily, but with a slight, almost imperceptible bright edge to her voice. And Hawke knew he had to have gone mad by then. Meredith, returning his sarcasm at even a fragment of its strength? Maybe he was too good at getting her guard down; this was uncanny.
Chapter 8: Reporting In
Hubert called him from the Circle next to deal with a business matter, and Aveline and Varric use this chance to check in on Hawke. Meredith has already begun to set her sights on Hawke as a useful tool for the Templars in their pursuit of rebel mages (and perhaps more).
Night had already fallen in Kirkwall, but Varric spoke at the same volume as always. He had to if he wanted to be heard over the street brawls and drunken songs that made up the city-state’s lullaby. When you couldn’t just step out into the streets whenever you wanted, it was strangely uplifting to be out in the city. That crawling sensation would settle into his very bones in the Gallows, but he'd gotten used to it. As natural as the stars above, which Hawke could make out more clearly than the piss puddles he had to avoid in the roads. But the idea of going back to the Circle when he walked between Varric and Aveline? Hawke buried the discomfort behind a smirk, letting his dwarven friend fill the silence.
“This whole fiasco is Kirkwall in a nutshell. Stolen money, Coterie infighting, wrongful accusations, killing someone to prove you didn’t kill someone, impulsive business deals,” Varric trailed off into a chuckle, gesturing to Hawke and flashing a grin. “All we’re missing is a political scandal.”
“It’s not too late,” Hawke taunted back, the banter like a balm. “I’m sure we can come across something disgraceful.”
“It could have ended much worse than it did. And those miners will be better off now with the raise Hawke promised.” A good deed lifted Aveline’s spirits as well as alcohol lifted Hawke’s and Varric’s. Not that Hawke didn’t notice her pace slowing as their path escorting Hawke back to the Circle and Templars reached its end.
So he laughed to keep their minds off that ugly business. “Oh, Hubert was not happy with that.”
“Frankly?” Ah, perfect, Aveline’s rare playful smile graced her face. “Hubert be damned.”
Varric put his hand to his chest in mock surprise, eyes glinting at Hawke mischievously for a second before focusing on Aveline. “Guard Captain Aveline, having fun? You really are magical, Hawke.”
“I am the only mage in Thedas that can be in the Circle and run a business.” Maker’s breath, that was a blunder. The time he lost strip poker to Isabela in the Hanged Man—for the third time—was less embarrassing. He’d be damned if he wouldn’t try to salvage it anyway. “What? There something on my face?”
“No, just—” Aveline sighed, marching ahead at a regular pace now. Hawke could sense Varric holding back on saying something like the metallic, weighty feeling that came before rain. “How are you doing at the Gallows?”
“With a name like that, it’s about what you’d expect.” He couldn’t go into it with her or Varric. Meredith kept him busy on errands and somehow, his outside life still managed to worm its way in. Like handling the business with Hubert, actually. Then there was Merrill’s escape that Anders coordinated for a few days from now. Yes, Garrett had enough to deal with already. The worried, pitying stares would just have to wait. Maybe they could perfect it in the meantime. Wouldn’t that be nice?
“Told you he wouldn’t give a straight answer.”
“Hawke—” Never missed a hint, that Aveline. It was rare that Varric and Aveline were teaming up against him, though, so maybe Hawke should feel special.
She leveled her best guard captain stare at him and added a dash of nurturing concern for good measure. Somewhere in a nearby alley, a stranger puked up tonight’s drink as their friend slurred through comforting them. “I know you, Hawke. You have to be careful in there in ways you aren’t out here. If ever. I’m right to be worried about you.”
“And she’s not alone.” Varric joined in with his own thoughtful stare and Garrett felt guilt like a stone hit the pit of his stomach. He knew he’d figure it out somehow or another, but the idea behind that was to get Merrill out and… Alright, there was no real plan for the part that saved his skin.
“Oh, you guys are so thoughtful! I’ll put in a good word for you in my letter to Mother tonight.”
Aveline sighed more heavily than all that armor she lugged around, shaking her head at him. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Varric’s trademark ‘you’re really in it now’ smile. “Can’t you take this seriously? Your life could be in danger. Again.”
“I couldn’t be safer, Aveline.” More accurately, he was unsafe as ever but in a different way, so at least Hawke could handle whatever came. Probably. ”I’m useful to the Circle, so Meredith isn’t any more suspicious of me than she already was.”
Right now, that was a win and good enough for Hawke. He led the way toward the Gallows to keep his friends moving and maybe spare himself a lengthy discussion about exactly what kind of idea this was. Not when it was too late to change course anyway. And it was a long ways better than outrunning darkspawn.
“Cullen’s backed me up as a good little mage and everything. I’m ready for the big event so I can keep suspicion off me—see? There’s a plan in all this.”
“That’s a pretty generous use of the word ‘plan’.” Varric kept his smirk up, but it was only partially a joke. At least he wasn’t trying to drag the walk on for more time to lecture him. Aveline.
“Just—” Aveline resigned herself with a sigh, catching up to their pace in a few strides. “Be careful, Hawke. I mean it.”
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t invite us to,” Varric agreed, chuckling.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Another successful report.” Meredith set aside the physical report, or he assumed it was, and looked at him with an appraising smile over gauntleted hands. “Nicely done, Hawke.”
Andraste’s holy knickers, was that genuine praise from Knight Commander Meredith? He couldn’t decide what was more discomforting—that she could even mean it or that he was being given a once-over like a fine magical artifact worth purchasing. Or was it that he’d started to think of their one-on-one meetings like any other day instead of risky?
“But when I tell you that armor is flattering, it’s too much?” Hawke smirked, settling down into his usual chair. “Please, you’ll make me blush.”
“I’ve only just begun.” Wait. Garrett was still catching up to the first comment and—was that a threat? Or what, a promise for more flattery? Bad news no matter how he looked at it. Once Merrill was out, he doubted those warm, fuzzy feelings would last. “You are an example to other Circle mages, Hawke—and not in the way I first imagined.”
Wasn’t that barely audible laugh of hers just ominous as she stood and circled her desk. Templars going through his room almost daily while he wasn’t there, that rotating guard as promised, and the feeling of eyes always on him wherever he went… And there was more she’d imagined but not acted on. Maker’s breath. Meredith walked past him without a glance, and he heard the door to the office shut.
“If only they understood as well as you do how vital our work is here.”
Garrett knew very well what being backed into a corner looked like. The narrow escape from Lothering. Scraping together a plan to leave Ferelden. Persuading Mother to leave Bethany behind. Selling himself into servitude to buy his way into Kirkwall. Selling himself again to get into the Deep Roads, of all places. He thanked his luck for getting out every time, but somehow, Hawke just kept finding himself in corners of all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to be a worn armchair in the Templar Knight Commander’s office. And he did the same thing he did every time: put on a good show of having it all under control. The rest usually followed. Usually.
“That’s me. Templar sympathizer and model mage.”
“There is a great deal of work that must be done for the Circle and society at large that Templars themselves cannot do.” She found her way back to her desk without anything else weird happening, coming back into view on his right and taking a seat with that same steady expression. Hawke could feel the closed door behind him like it was charged with magic. He knew it wasn’t, but that didn’t change a damn thing. “With such a record for success and promising behavior, I would be negligent not to entrust more responsibilities to you.”
This had to be a test of some kind. A trick to burn him out and get him to rat out Merrill by mistake. Andraste’s ass, why was it always Hawke? Was it something he said or did? Perhaps that pumpkin he stole once from a farmer in Lothering. Or was it because he told that Chantry sister who spat at Bethany as a child that she had the face of a toad and a heart full of warts? Maybe the Maker just hated him that much? Damn it all, he really should’ve gone to the Chantry more.
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” He shrugged it off, propping one leg up on his knee like this was his den back at home. Just getting ready for a round of cards with Varric so he could part with coin on his terms. “I am still a mage. How much responsibility can I possibly handle?”
“Don’t play the fool.” That was an order if he’d ever heard one. She set one fist on the table, that smile dropping to her usual stern stonewall look. Somehow, that didn’t get rid of the tension. “I know you’ve seen the atrocities in the dark underbelly of the world that so many others shut out.”
That sentence alone was like a bucket of cold water, or—no, like a sheet of snow dropping on him unceremoniously from the trees of Ferelden. Even Carver laughed with Bethany at the yelp Garrett made, rushing to get his coat off as if that would make any difference then. They were just kids; he was barely in his teenage years. Father had died only a few years back, though they felt long and yet—like it had just happened. Their laughter was uncommon to hear those days and Hawke would do anything to make it continue.
But happiness never lasted.
The same feeling hit him when he saw Mother sobbing over Bethany’s body, begging her to get up against all reason. Even if her body wasn’t completely still and lifeless, she never would have been able to walk in that condition. Or ever again, most likely. Maker, the vacant look on her face still woke Hawke up with a choking gasp some nights.
After a lifetime as the family with no father and passing the silent desperation of other families with mages in them, seeing what they could be brought to when the Templars sometimes came for them… Yes, Hawke knew what life could do to a person. He just had the good sense not to talk about it to someone he had imprisoned and at his will.
Garrett felt the smile falter just a hair and no doubt, Meredith saw it too. The smile didn’t reach his eyes anymore, not even if he faked it like he often did. “And what would make you think that? Usually, I hear about my roguish good looks or clever wit.”
“It is your resilience in the face of hardship.” She sat back, keeping one hand palm down on the desk as if to keep it in place despite her relatively relaxed posture. “My older sister was a mage too. Amelia was gentle, a tender soul, and she was not ready for the rigorous standards that the Circle upholds.”
Garrett found his expression softening along with her tone. Whatever her opinion of mages or freedom or common human decency… The Meredith in front of him was a younger sister living with a mage in the family who saw her as sibling she didn’t want to lose.
“…You hid her.”
Meredith nodded sharply. “Not well. The Templars were called, and when they came, my sister entered a deal with a demon and became an abomination.” She said it with a level voice but the tension in the air gave away that this was still raw. And always would be, if Hawke’s own losses meant anything. “I watched as she cut my family down and before she was put to rest by the Templars, she had taken 70 other souls with her. I barely escaped with my life.”
Of course, Hawke had heard plenty of stories like this. Told tearfully or angrily, over tankards or corpses in rain-battered coastlines, hugging people he’d just met and would never see again, because it just felt like he had to. Nothing made him ready to hear it from Knight Commander Meredith, who turned a blind eye to the Templars under her that wanted to make mages Tranquil for the smallest suspicion and never let up on Orsino or any Circle mage.
“I can see it in your eyes even now. You understand where no one else does how important it is to protect mages from themselves.”
That wasn’t what he did. Sending Feynriel to the Dalish was because he needed guidance to understand his abilities. There was a damn good reason he never once considered sending him to the Circle to be shackled like an animal. The half-elf mage didn’t have the benefit of noble standing and something of a reputation to protect him. What Hawke wanted to shield him from was ignorant people, not himself. But how could a woman like Meredith understand? She saw the tragedy of magic as a child, and now it was the only thing she could see.
“Not all of them have your resolve, Hawke. Those that don’t will inevitably end up hurting others—or worse.”
Where was he supposed to begin? Hawke couldn’t talk about this, not with her. It didn’t matter that she was wrong, and most mages he knew about whose lives ended in tragedy only went that way because they felt trapped. All he could think of right then was how his entire family stayed on the move to keep Bethany and Garrett from being found out and taken away only to have Bethany die unburied. What did her freedom do for her when she died young anyway? Would she have been happier in the Circle, not like tender Amelia Stannard? Or would she have withered in there and met an early death in one of the grim, horrific ways that so many Circle mages did?
Neither side was right or wrong. The Templars shackled the mages and the Chantry collared the Templars. Like everything else Hawke just had to stick his nose in, it was a bloody mess. And he wasn’t here about that anyway. This was all for Merrill. Whatever he did to protect her, Hawke could manage.
“It’s a harsh truth. Never goes over well at parties.”
That seemed to do it for Meredith. Her analytical smile was back, and she leaned towards him over the desk.
“In the coming weeks, your tasks will be to watch over your fellow mages. Report anyone you find suspicious.” Oh, was that all? Hawke knew that if he came up empty, she’d start to suspect him. Just peachy. “And if work outside the Gallows needs a covert approach to track down dangerous mages, I will call on you. Be prepared.” He endured another assessing look, weighing him for Maker-knew-what. “You are dismissed.”
Led by the new watch of Templars to his cell, Garrett stared up at the ceiling that night as his mind whirled to think of answers. Well, Garrett, you got yourself here. Merrill would escape in just a couple days now, technically, and he couldn’t risk it all now. He could try to covertly talk to Orsino or contact Anders somehow to ask after which mages he should put under Meredith’s scrutiny, but… Well, shit. Now what?
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Chapter 9: The Big Night
Merrill says her goodbyes to Hawke as best she can while they're both still under the watchful eyes of Templars, and she tries to offer Hawke some comfort at staying behind. Carver reaches out in his own way too, and the plan for her escape finally wraps up.
The days leading up to Merrill’s escape went by in a jarring combination of a thrilling blur—she would be free and safe any day now—and excruciatingly slow. Hawke had read all the worthwhile books in the Circle at least once, and now he was halfway through the history of parchment instead. Maker’s breath, if the Templars didn’t get you in this place, the boredom surely would. Sitting by and waiting while someone else did the dirty work was not Hawke’s usual either. If he strained, he could hear the Gallows market from the library to help fill the maddening silence of the place.
And he turned a page without even reading it. Why would he, when the weathered sheet of parchment did more to capture his attention than the words on it?
“Hello there, Hawke,” a familiar Dalish accent interrupted, her characteristic lilt brightening Garrett’s mood instantly. “Alright if I sit here?”
“I would be forever in your debt. You’ve saved me from this awful book,” he said, smirking and closing the dreadful thing. For good, he hoped. “The stuff of true heroics.”
“Oh, I do like heroics,” she played along and took a seat. The Templars would be suspicious of Hawke after her escape whether Merrill avoided him, sought him out, or had a row with him in the foyer, so—well, he would rather see her before she went. “Carver does too, you know. He’s not like the other guards here, he’s so nice to everyone. And still very good at swording. Swords? I don’t know, but he’s got talent.”
Oh, if Carver could hear all this… The rambling was a sure sign Merrill was nervous and Hawke knew he’d have to say something to put her at ease. But just listening to her talk, Garrett could pretend this was his house or something and they’d be back together tomorrow. Odd, how the little things gave you comfort in the Circle. His plants would be happy to have her back on the outside, at least. Anyone could water them, but no one talked to them like Merrill did.
“He always did like adventure books.” Bethany too, but Hawke was pointedly trying not to depress himself, thank you very much.
“I worry about him sometimes, but… It’s good, you know? That he’s found his path here.” She fidgeted in her seat, her normal boundless energy bubbling up. “In time, he’ll realize that what happened before, it wasn’t your fault.”
Knock the wind out of my lungs, why don’t you.
Hawke breathed a laugh, shaking his head at how this started out of nowhere like that. Merrill did always have an odd way of thinking, but it wasn’t typically so jarring. Or maybe it was and Hawke didn’t notice until now.
“Why bring that up all of a sudden?”
“He was just so angry with you, and I can’t stand to think that you—” She sighed, trying to find a good place for her hands to settle as she clasped and unclasped them, weaving her fingers together in new and interesting ways as if that would somehow clear the way to the rest of her sentence. “One day, he’ll see you were trying to protect him.”
“Merrill, I’m pretty sure that’s what offended him,” Garrett teased. That was the truth of it, though. Carver didn’t want to be protected by his big brother anymore, but Hawke wasn’t about to just stop looking out for him whether Carver liked it or not. Better alive and hating him than dead.
“He doesn’t show it very well, but he does love you.” Ah, Merrill. Ever the peacekeeper. She gestured off to her right as if he was standing there and not too grumpy, tired-looking Templars. Come to think of it, Hawke hadn’t caught a glimpse of Carver all day.
He was probably laying the groundwork for her escape with Anders’ plan and Isabela’s help. Someone had to ‘lose’ her phylactery and it couldn’t look like Carver did it, or they’d both go down for the escape.
“I think books had less to do with his need for heroics than his big brother.”
“Well, don’t let him know you told me that.” Garrett leaned in conspiratorially, which he would probably regret later since Templars could actually see him. Nothing he couldn’t fix later. “It’ll ruin his brooding image.”
“The poor boy.” She giggled, a smile lighting up in her eyes instead of the worried pout she’d started with. “I do mean it, though. That he’ll forgive you someday. I just know he will.”
“He’ll talk to me now, at least.” Not his favorite subject in the world, but Merrill wasn’t going to let anything go once she set her heart on it. Hawke shrugged, turning the book over for an excuse to keep himself busy. “Usually to boss me around, since he’s a Templar and I’m a mage, but I guess It’s a start.”
“See? No one can stay angry forever, not even Carver. Being here is hard, but,” she put her hand on his over the book, offering him a soft smile. “I do hope it will bring you closer to your brother.”
That was just like her. On the night that she’d make a daring escape, Merrill came by to make sure Hawke was alright and lift his spirits. Maker, that girl was too nice. When all he had for company was sour Templars, dusty old books, and whichever letters the Templars decided to let through, this moment would make a good reminder of what would come after his grand exit from the Circle.
And speaking of letters, he actually got one before curfew that night. Dinner was nothing noteworthy, but better than the rations they scraped by with in the Deep Roads. Hawke couldn’t forget those if he tried. All in all, a good day for where he was.
The envelope had been opened, of course, but the front had Mother’s neat handwriting. How unlucky for the Templar who read the letter; it was almost entirely town gossip and worried questions. How was he sleeping, was he making friends, did he remember to change his smallclothes, and so on.
When Hawke found another note inside with her letter, that changed things. The writing was rushed, feathered, and harsh, but he still recognized it as Carver’s:
We’re ready for tonight.
Thought you’d like to know.
Hawke chuckled. With eloquently abrupt prose like that, it definitely had to be Carver. Anybody else might let on they cared about more than his physical safety. Still, it looked like Merrill was on to something after all. With his back to the cell door and his newly posted guards, Hawke called a bit of fire into his hands to burn the note from his brother. Last thing they needed was two Hawkes locked up.
Buckle up, folks, it'll only get worse from here! Of course it will, it's Hawke.
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Chapter 10: Blackpowder Courtesy
Merrill is free now, and that was the point of their whole plan. But with Meredith at peak suspicion, she's tightening her grip on Hawke, who won't be freed until the dust has settled. But life is never quiet in Kirkwall, and the Viscount summoned Hawke on behalf of the Arishok. Even that isn't enough to get Hawke's mind off the mess he's in now.
Waking up the morning following Merrill’s escape felt like any other, really. No one stormed his door, and the guards didn’t harass him any more than usual. Cullen was especially dour in the fleeting moment Hawke spotted him leaving the Gallows—that man could certainly move quickly in a full suit of armor—but he didn’t even look Hawke’s way, never mind lecture him.
It wasn’t until the end of breakfast that her escape came back to bite Garrett like he knew it would. Ser Alrik, the Templar with a frankly disturbing obsession for making mages Tranquil, came to personally collect him. Not a great way to start the day, but at least it wasn’t on an empty stomach. Alrik was rougher than he needed to be, and Hawke was snarkier back. Being on perfect good boy behavior now would just make him look more guilty anyway, from how the Templars saw it, and Garrett figured he was in hot water no matter what. Might as well have fun with it.
“Charming escort you’ve sent, Meredith,” Hawke teased the moment Alrik dragged him into Meredith’s office. “Threatened to make me Tranquil twice on the way over. Really, I can’t imagine why he doesn’t have any friends.”
Alrik answered that by smacking Hawke upside the head, sharp and harsh, but not enough to leave a mark. Got to be careful with the rich one, he guessed, but that was also way more sense than he thought Alrik was capable of.
“Leave us,” Meredith barked, not taking her stern glare off Hawke for even a second. “Close the door behind you.”
By Andraste’s holy knickers, not this again.
Meredith closed in on him like a rogue going into flanking formation, as natural and effortless as a dog barking. Hawke turned to her on instinct and she took that opportunity to press her hand on his throat. Nothing serious, but it could be, and the gauntleted hand with just a hair too much pressure on his neck got that message across just fine. Kind of rude, to be honest. Not very Blessed-be-the-Maker-like at all.
“I know you helped that elf mage escape,” she growled, searching him for even a glimpse of whatever it was power-crazed, paranoid Knight Commanders looked for in their captive victims. In her case, Garrett figured it was her sister and for a painful second, almost felt… bad. For her. While she held him in a chokehold and threatened him. Maker’s breath, Hawke really did have a soft spot for crazy.
“I will prove it, and you will pay for your crimes and hers.”
“Well, I probably should’ve guessed you’d be into punishment.” He could feel his windpipe against her palm, a bit uncomfortable, but nothing he couldn’t work through for the chance to shove his foot in his mouth. Probably, anyway. Hawke did have a talent for that. “I usually go on a date or something before it gets this far, but you don’t seem like a romantic type.”
She grunted, shoving him off as a way of letting go before skulking off behind her desk. Meredith scowled at the papers there like they were personally responsible for the existence of magic. Or of Hawke.
“But first, the Viscount has requested you. Demanded, actually, since he overpowers even the Chantry.” Well, she did not sound happy about that last part. The first part is what had Hawke.
“Yes, I just said that,” she snapped, ready to jump on any chance to yell at him, apparently. “The Arishok mentioned you by name, evidently in connection to a portion of Kirkwall that the city guard has sealed off, and he refuses to speak to any save you.”
“Of course he does,” Hawke answered in a sarcastically chipper tone, as if that was the best news he’d gotten all day. Actually, it was. That did not bode well for the day because he really didn’t get fuzzy warm feelings being so admired by the Arishok. He wasn’t even really sure admiration was the right word, since it was more like he hated Hawke the least out of everyone else in Kirkwall.
“Don’t sound put out. You find your way to the center of everything, just as I know you were key to that blood mage’s breakout.”
Accusing anything that moves of being a blood mage like she does, Meredith had to be right eventually.
Leaning over her desk, pinning him down with a look like he was prized game, Meredith was thoughtful enough to give him one last threat to his health and happiness for the road. Couldn’t have him missing the sense of oppression and objectivation for too long.
“And when this job is done, you will be back in my Circle and I will uncover your involvement in this mess. You are mine.”
If those words count leap over that desk and get to Hawke, he was sure he wouldn’t like what they might do. Lucky for Garrett, danger was more or less a constant presence in his life since running from Lothering, so this was just another day. The Arishok dragging him into some mess by order of the Viscount and when that was behind him, a mess at the Circle to mop up.
If Carver was still jealous, Garrett was open to trading places.
“Right, because that’s not unnerving at all.”
“It was not meant to comfort you, mage.” She pointed to the door, giving another order. “You are dismissed. The Templar posted outside will see you to the Viscount.”
“More quality time with Alrik?” Hawke stood, glad to leave but miserable at the thought of dealing with another tirade about how fun life as a husk would be. “I can hardly wait.”
Meredith smirked and sure, it wasn’t an awful look for her—but it definitely was for Hawke. Nothing good ever came from a happy Templar Knight Commander.
“Not quite. But you do know him.”
If Aveline wasn’t up to her eyes in damage control from the saar-qamek gas, she’d put her boot up their collective ass for dropping by The Hanged Man before going back to the Circle. But there was a deadly gas attack on Kirkwall, so the mice got a chance to play. Just a bit, since one mouse was as sourpuss: turned out, Carver was his Templar escort.
“So, she’s on to you already, Hawke?” Varric smiled over a dented tankard, fitting right in at the same time as standing out among drunk regulars and stained walls.
“What can I say? I am irresistibly charming.”
Fenris scoffed, taking a big drink to hide what might’ve been a smile.
“Brother, do you think you could be serious just once? I’m the one she suspects as your inside man.”
True, Hawke didn’t enjoy Carver being under suspicion like that. He had a way of saying just the wrong thing at the right time to make a complete disaster of a minor problem. Like agreeing to visit The Hanged Man only to talk about the reason Garrett needed a stiff drink in the first place.
His little brother was one of the Templars, but that only meant he was surrounded by enemies all the time. Hawke could always chat with a mage in the library or at mealtimes, or even the Circle Chantry if he got desperate, but it was all ‘magic is made to serve man, never to rule over him’ for Carver. With him actually being a mole, that had to get pretty dicey. Maybe it would’ve been better if Hawke had just taken Carver along to the Deep Roads... No going back on it now, though.
“You’re the one who suggested The Hanged Man, Carver,” he teased, nudging him to get the perfect eyeroll from Carver. “Should I look more dour while you shirk off your duties?”
He gave his best forlorn-mage-in-captivity pout, and that dragged a snort from Carver.
“Cut it out,” Carver chastised, scooting away from Garrett in a mock show of irritability. Or maybe it was a show for any Templars that might come through and remember anything after getting blackout drunk? That’d be the day, Carver thinking ahead. Not really a Hawke family trait.
“Come on, one drink before you go,” Varric interrupted, toasting to the untouched cup in front of Carver. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
There was just enough of a pause from Carver to suggest he was thinking about it, and not a second longer, before he pulled the tankard close. “Just one,” he insisted.
“You’re the best little brother,” Hawke praised, clanking his cup to Carver’s and grinning.
“Thank me by not drawing attention to yourself for once.”
“I can try, but I don’t think I’m very good at it.”
“How is it?” Fenris interrupted, watchful pale hazel eyes peeking out at him through messy white bangs. If Garrett didn’t know better, he’d think he was worried! Especially with him guarding his tankard by holding it close. Body language was a huge tell for Fenris, which was why the poor bastard barely ever won anything during Wicked Grace.
Hawke raised his cup and turned the conversation to a safe, reliable subject: alcohol. “As piss poor as ever, just how I remember it.”
“No. The Circle,” Fenris corrected. A bit impatiently, Garrett noticed.
Well, shit. Even when he wasn’t stored in his cell at the Gallows, there was no escaping the damn place. Hawke set his tankard down and shrugged.
“When did I give you the idea I have the run of the place? Carver sees more of it than I do, ask him.”
“Keeping secrets, Hawke?” Varric made light, but Garrett knew when he was being double-teamed. “Now I want to know the story more.”
“Sorry, Varric, you’ll have to get your next bestseller somewhere else. My life’s early curfews and rotating guards at my door for weeks.”
“Meredith is determined to prove you were behind this last stunt,” Carver added for their benefit more than Garrett’s, or that’d better be what he was thinking. Hawke knew exactly how determined she was to trap him in this scheme. Kind of hard to ignore the Knight Commander’s seething hatred when she half-choked him in her off time. “It will only get worse from here, Brother.”
“Should we break you out sooner?”
“Fenris, I’m honored!”
Fenris scowled, shaking his head. “You are not like other mages, Hawke. This is different.”
“Oh, it’s definitely different.” Varric leapt at the chance to joke with their beloved slayer of slavers, giving his best sage-like nod and sarcastic delivery. He didn’t lose sight of his intended target for long, though. “But I mean it, Hawke—the first sign of trouble, you tell us, and we’ll get you out of there. Whatever it takes.”
That was half-advice and half-warning, and the rare serious edge to his words made it clear that ‘whatever it takes’ really meant they’d actually do anything. Honestly, that made Hawke want to tell them less. Reckless acts of heroism with unpredictable chances for success were his specialty, and they’d just have to get their own.
He leaned on the table and smiled over his tankard at Varric.
“And what should I do if I’m the troublemaker?”
Fenris sighed as a fight broke out at the bar by the entrance in classic Hanged Man style.
“Watch him,” he ordered Carver and downed the rest of his drink rather than going through the trouble of acknowledging Hawke directly.
“When I’m not being watched,” Carver agreed with a grimace, not happy about that particular limitation. Being a double agent in the Templar force was hard, especially when the Maker was always watching. And by the Maker, Hawke meant the particularly unstable Templar leadership spearheaded by a crazy woman.
The bottom of his tankard came too soon, and the farewells went by too quickly. The worst part? Hawke wasn’t even close to drunk enough for his little reunion with Meredith.
He expected Meredith to make good on her threats as soon as her schedule for tormenting mages had an opening, but not the same-night treatment he got. Before he was sent to his cell for an even earlier curfew than before Merrill’s disappearance, she had him report in at her office. As anyone could’ve guessed, she cared less about the dealings of the Arishok than every last scrap of what Hawke himself did that day.
Meredith pressed him for details and tested them time and again for any holes in his story, but that trap was nothing new to Hawke. Any apostate still living had to know how to lie to Templars. Like Varric would’ve said: always tell them a story. It’s more believable than the truth most of the time anyway.
Laying on his slab of a bed, Hawke went over one particularly menacing message she threw at him.
“This is not over, Hawke.” She’d glowered at him like she might choke him for real this time, but barely decided against it. Another not-good sign, like he needed more of those for his life in Kirkwall. “I will organize an extensive interrogation for you in the coming days, weeks, or however long it takes for you to crack and reveal her avenue of escape.”
He’d promised to leave his schedule open, just for her, but she didn’t appreciate his humor. Almost as much as he didn’t appreciate how awful these next weeks or months would turn out to be. With no word from Anders or Isabela yet on when his escape would be, Hawke would just have to figure something out with whatever he had on-hand. And isn’t that what he did best?
Hawke's really stepped in it now, and we're not even halfway through this mess.
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Chapter 11: Offered and Lost
On a quest from the Viscount to track down missing Qunari, Hawke gives away how bad life is in the Circle after Merrill's escape (in action if not in words). The fate of the Qunari didn't bode well for him either, but what could anyone do? It was just a matter of enduring the worst of it until it stopped being so bad. Hopefully.
This chapter was a tough one, given all the hell Hawke is going through. There is mention of torture here, though not gory, but please keep that in mind before reading.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
That settled it, Circle life was every bit as awful as he’d heard it would be. Meredith kept her promise about the interrogation being extensive, but she didn’t make it clear how much waiting featured in her schemes. On the odd nights that he was actually in his room and not the interrogation cell, Hawke waited to fall asleep only to be woken up every couple hours by the guards posted outside.
That was his best guess for a timeline, at least. Not like he had any way to tell time when he was either in his room or in an even worse cell, bound to a chair and blindfolded in almost total silence. He could hear people outside the cell, others shuffling in the room above, whatever it was, and that was it. Didn’t seem like torture until he started imagining full-on conversations in his head to stave off the boredom.
He’d resorted to singing a couple times, one very inappropriate song and then a misremembered hymn. Both ended up with beatings, so Hawke could only assume that all his Lothering friends lied when they said he had a good singing voice.
Hawke chuckled to no one. Was it a bad sign to laugh at jokes made to yourself?
Guards also came to feed him once in a while, but not often enough—plus, it was pretty tricky to eat off a spoon you couldn’t see held by someone who didn’t like you very much. Other times, they were just there to wear him down.
Garrett underestimated just how smart they were about this; he’d have to admit that. The beatings were careful, and since he couldn’t see or move, there was no risk they’d hit him in a way they didn’t mean to. Any bruises that did turn up were planned out so they wouldn’t show if anyone did see him that shouldn’t. That hadn’t happened since this whole mess started, though. A few other mages saw him, but it was always on purpose so no one would report not seeing him and kicking off an inconvenient investigation.
Not that they had much love for Hawke anyway. Word traveled fast that he was in Meredith's pocket as her favorite mage, so the other mages avoided him at pretty much any cost.
But there was no Orsino, no Cullen, and no Carver either. Basically, no one saw him who wouldn’t approve or might snitch.
Hawke was a tool of the Circle too, so they did have to be ready if he was called on by anyone who needed something done and wanted Hawke to do it.
Knowing Kirkwall like he did, he was sure that’d be any day now. It was just that kind of thinking that helped him keep quiet about the escape route. It was always just one more day, one more hour, one more beating, and he’d get a break. The Templars couldn’t go forever, but Hawke? Hawke could keep this up for as long as he had to. Would be a bit easier if he could stretch his legs, though.
The point was that if he gave up the escape route, it’d trap him here along with every other mage who didn’t want to be in the same spot. Whatever happened to these mages if Garrett ratted them out, it would be his fault. He had more than his share of guilt these days, thank you very much.
Besides, he was actually getting good at this not seeing thing.
The cell door slammed open with just a hair too much force, scraping against the stone floor, and armored footsteps got closer to him with intent precision. Only one person was that aggressive and obsessed.
“Meredith, I’ve missed you,” Hawke greeted, clearing his throat. Been a while since the last round of water. “I’m not much of a host at the moment, but—”
“Quiet.” She tore the blindfold off, not giving him even a moment to adjust before kicking the chair back and catching the front of his shirt to spare his head slamming into the stone ground. A bleeding skull was hard to hide.
Pulling him toward her, Meredith straddled the chair and scowled at him. Maker, how he must look up close… Worse, smell. He’d been rinsed off like cattle last night, but that was hardly a thorough bathing. Then again, a sponge bath by Templars would probably be worse somehow.
For a second, with her honey-gold hair and piercing glower taking up all he could see, Hawke swore his ears were ringing. That couldn’t be right. His smartass grin dropped to confusion, not that Meredith cared about the difference.
Hawke didn’t hit his head, and it hadn’t been that long without food or water. Long enough to be uncomfortable, not faint. Maybe the sudden falling back, but would that rush of dizziness typically sound like a distant orchestra…?
All this friendly questioning might be driving him insane.
“The Viscount calls for you again, mage.” One-handed, she hauled him and the chair upright, clattering to settle in place as she skulked off to circle behind him where, once again, he couldn’t see. Seemed she enjoyed denying him that. “And he won’t even explain what it’s for. Political matters, or so he claims.”
He felt her hand in his hair before he could react to her closing in, yanking his head back to meet her gaze one more time. The back of the chair pressed against the back of his neck as she examined him. For signs of treachery, blood magic, having opinions she didn’t like. Who even knew anymore?
Garrett wondered what her sister, Amelia, might’ve thought about all this. What Bethany might’ve. Proud and worried for him, maybe. Or maybe she’d think he was an idiot for coming up with this plan in to begin with. Well, who was she to point fingers about quick solutions involving major and irreversible sacrifice?
Hawke’s grimace had absolutely nothing to do with Meredith tugging sharply on his hair to get his attention.
“Do you have ties to him too? Are you and your blood mages corrupting every corner of this city?!”
“You know what,” he rasped, smirking at the thought of a certain Rivaini pirate who would enjoy this particular diversion far too much. “You have pretty eyes.”
“Your charms will not work on me,” she growled, tossing his head forward. He was an awkward mix of uneasy and very faintly flattered at that accusation. Or was it a compliment? A threat? Hostile flirting? He could never tell with Knight Commander Crazy.
“And though I must release you at his demand, his power can only exceed my own for a short time.” She undid his shackles, wrists and ankles, as her lecture wore on. “Then you will be back with me, where you belong. There is no escape from me, Hawke.”
By Andraste’s dirty socks, she resorted to his name. He really was in trouble.
“Even if there was, my darling Meredith,” he started, pushing himself up on the arms of the chair and stretching out carefully once he stood, “I don’t think I’d get far like this. You’re really holding up the Templars’ calling here; I feel very protected from the outside world.”
“Don’t even think of using this punishment as an excuse to slack off. You will serve this city as the Viscount commands,” she ordered as if she hadn’t just trash talked the man a moment ago. “And you will accept the fitting penalty for your crimes in the Circle when you return.”
Turning around to lead him out personally, he guessed, she tossed another nasty remark in for the fun of it. “You have no one to blame for this treatment but yourself. Had you been loyal and behaved, I could have made your time here worthwhile.”
Worthwhile… What could that mean in her twisted world? He’d be shackled no matter how he acted in this place. Probably literally. She was on a roll, though, and Maker, he really did not want to ask for details. Just following after her down the narrow halls and upward-sloping stairwells was enough of a chore.
“Never forget that the fault for this torment lies only with you.” Her voice echoed down the stairwell leading to civilization within the Circle. It was kind of mocking him when he thought about it.
“I hear that a lot,” he half-joked, knowing too well she’d never care enough to realize there was some truth to that. “Well, not that exactly. But it’s close enough that you’re probably right.”
Somehow, that kept her quiet all the way to meeting up with Cullen. He spared the Knight Captain a smile and got a look back that went straight through Hawke to see bruises and interrupted rest. Based on the positively lackadaisical pace he set for escorting Hawke to Aveline, it was possible that Cullen had finally figured out that mages were people like him after all.
Like all people everywhere, Hawke would just have to grin through the pain, make the most of the hand he was dealt this round, and hope that relative strangers like Cullen took it easy on him in the meantime. What else could either of them do?
Unless there was a city-wide uprising against Templars, both their hands were tied. Hawke was a mage in the Circle under suspicion, and that summed his situation up neatly. And if Cullen spoke up, he could be kicked out of the Order and cut off from lyrium, ending up begging on the streets like Samson. That would leave Hawke in the same bind but down one friendly face. The setup now wasn’t great, but it was much better than that disaster.
Once they’d finally met up with Aveline in the entrance to the Gallows, Cullen traded a farewell out for generic advice that didn’t quite fit the situation.
“Be careful, Sirrah Hawke.”
Nothing ever came easy in this place, Hawke swore. Why wouldn’t his first trip out of the Circle after intense questioning under duress with Meredith’s goons be a wild goose chase? A visit to Seneschal Bran turned up that this was about a missing Qunari delegation that the Viscount was trying to keep quiet, and that meant Hawke had to tell the Arishok himself straight away unless they wanted to piss him off. Aveline praised him for that judgment call, probably the first time in a year or maybe more, so that was a highlight.
And next came a visit to The Hanged Man, just like they all knew it would be. Seneschal Bran could pretend to be ignorant of the place all he wanted; everyone knew this would be the spot to start. So there he was again, in his favorite haunt from before the Circle with Anders, Aveline, and Varric as company this time. Really was too damned easy to pretend he didn’t have to go back when he was in this place.
“Think we can get food while we wait for—what was his name?”
“Orwald,” Aveline reminded him, quirking an eyebrow at him at the same time. “You hate the food here.”
“I said it tasted like a wet dog smells, not that I hated it,” Hawke corrected, falling right into old habits. Did him good, to be honest, seeing that the Circle wasn’t taking as much out of him as he thought it was. “I say that about the ale too, but it doesn’t stop me.”
“It really doesn’t,” Varric complimented him, setting his arms on the table with that roguish grin he did. “The real question is what’re they doing to you in there that you’d actually want the food in this place?”
“What? Nothing.” He dismissed the idea too quickly, Hawke could tell that just from their faces. Which said something if Varric couldn’t or didn’t bother hiding his concern. The piercing chill to his core threw him off, that was it. Varric was only joking and he didn’t realize it until he’d put his Circle-issued boot in his mouth.
“Nothing they don’t do to anyone else, anyway,” Garrett shrugged it off. And it was true, though that wasn’t really a comfort. “Hey, if I’m the only one that’s hungry, I’ll spring for it.”
“Spring for it with what?” Aveline smiled with her voice, not her face. There was something else lurking beneath the playful side to her that felt distinctly ‘big sister Aveline knows you’re up to something’-like, and he did not like where that was headed. “You don’t have money when you’re in the Circle.”
“You’re focused on the wrong part of that, Aveline,” Anders came in with his serious Manifesto tone, squinting at Hawke. Yeah, this was definitely not going how Hawke pictured it. He was only winding up on a speech, which Hawke usually could sift through for the truth among the enraged bitterness. As the subject of it? He wouldn’t bet on himself if this was a gambling thing.
“The things they do to anyone in the Gallows are horrific and inhumane, Hawke. If they are torturing you—”
And now Garrett knew, he hated being the center of his latest tirade.
“Right, so that’s a no from Anders. Varric, what’s a good friend have to do to eat around here?”
Varric chuckled, raising a hand to Corff across the bar to wordlessly summon some kind of food, and Hawke wasn’t about to question what he’d even asked for. Hardly mattered what it was. “Third time’s the charm.”
“Carver’s worried sick about you, you know,” Aveline pulled him right back on topic while Anders seemed to think if he just stared hard enough, he could read Hawke’s mind for answers. Actually, with Justice, maybe he could sneak into his dreams or something. Spirits never played fair and deflecting with humor usually went clear over their heads. “Last time we talked, he said he hadn’t seen you in a while.”
“Tell him not to worry about me,” Hawke dismissed, or tried to, but he eased up on that insistence just a hair too late. In Hawke’s defense, it was more important that Carver paid attention to watching his back than Garrett’s. He had a plan to get himself out (sort of), but Carver didn’t. “The suspicion will die down eventually, and I can handle whatever comes ‘til then. You’ve all seen it for yourselves, you know.”
“I’ve seen you grit your teeth and dig in your heels, if that’s what you mean,” Aveline answered drily, sounding suspiciously like she wasn’t going to let this drop. If Orwald could show himself in the group of people at the Hanged Man now to give her someone else to direct her mom stare to, Hawke would be very grateful for the distraction.
“You forgot making light of it, so no one pays attention,” Varric chimed in unhelpfully. Being on his home ground only made him more himself, but that was usually fun. Hawke would rather walk in on one of his exaggerated tales about him to the tavern’s regulars than keep running into this ‘truth’ thing.
“There he goes, pot calling the kettle black,” Anders said just what Hawke was thinking, and they shared a smirk over that line.
True, part of that smile was because the food was here, a platter of rather sad-looking sandwiches dropped between them before the waitress was off again in a blur. Still, Garrett was glad at least Anders was willing to toss him a bone.
“Now, now, this isn’t about my irresistibly secretive ways, Blondie.”
“Varric, you find secretiveness irresistible?” Plucking a soggy sandwich off the platter, Hawke cracked a grin at him. “I knew you had a thing for me.”
He barely tasted it, and what he did told him that was a rare spot of luck.
“And there you go,” Anders chastised, watching him reach for another sandwich. “However you’re being mistreated by Templars, we need to know.”
“He’s here,” Aveline interrupted, nodding to Orwald. Getting up from her seat at the table, she stopped on her way to the guy ordering a whole bottle of whatever to put a hand on Hawke’s shoulder. “Slow down, Hawke. If you eat too quickly on an empty stomach, you’ll make yourself sick.”
Then she was off, shoulders squared as she went to give her man the worst talking to he’s ever had. Varric had Aveline on that point—she could scare good behavior into anyone.
Meanwhile, Hawke swallowed his third sandwich past some tightness in his throat. Alright, he did make it obvious shoveling food in his face like that. He took the hint to slow down, not making eye contact with the two friends still at the table. The pitying look was very much not a thing Hawke wanted to see. Rather have the sexy, tortured look over that any day.
“You don’t deserve this,” Anders soothed, trying to catch Garrett’s eye. Maker’s breath, this was what he wanted to avoid: the worried glances, the desperate reworking of their hardly-a-plan-to-begin-with plan, all topped off with that sinking realization they could only watch for now.
He joked about everyone in Kirkwall going Hawke this, Hawke that, but that was his better than—this. They were counting on Garrett and he wouldn’t disappoint. He couldn’t, really. They were too far into it now, and the important step was already behind them. Merrill was the actual blood mage; she was the one in real danger until she got out. The aftermath of her freedom was Hawke’s to deal with. Once that was done, Anders would whip up a rescue for Hawke too. Why worry anyone else about how he took care of the messy middle part?
Anders, that stubborn harbinger of righteousness, just wouldn’t let it go.
“It’s bad enough that they’re hurting you for being a mage, you don’t have to do the work of hiding it for them too.”
“Come on, we knew when this started that they’d pick on me once Merrill got out.” Taking one bite from the sandwich, finally learning his lesson, Hawke talked around the food anyway. With Aveline’s track record, they didn’t have a lot of time before she was back with results, and manners would just have to wait. “I’m a big boy, so try not to worry or you’ll go grey. Just think, what will Varric use for your nickname after that?”
“I’d think of something,” Varric promised, waving that away with natural ease. “But in a rare moment of honesty for me, I have to tell you: I won’t be hiding this from Junior.”
“Hiding is such a nasty word for it.”
“Call it what you want, Hawke,” Anders refused to let the topic wander, but at least he’d dropped the sympathetic bit. “Your brother is the only one on your side in there with any power to help you. He needs to know what’s happening.”
So that’s how he saw it? Carver didn’t have any more power than either of them did, just better access to watching. It was their call if they wanted to know how bad the situation was when no one could change it, but Hawke’d like it if they’d leave his baby brother out of it.
The real pressing question Hawke had on his mind was whether either of them wanted that last sandwich. Tossing his glance between them staring at him, he was going to guess no, but Garrett was still on good(ish) behavior and pacing himself like Aveline instructed. Odds were, he already pushed it and scarfing that down now really would make him sick. Nothing new to the tables in this bar, but he’d just as soon not add to the stains.
Varric caught on to his train of thought, probably, because he nudged the platter Hawke’s way.
“All I’ve got now is speculation, and I am known to wildly embellish when a story is left to my imagination.” That dirty, caring blackmailing con artist with a heart of gold… Damn, his best friend was good. “How’s about it, Hawke? I went first, so now it’s your turn to tell the truth.”
Aveline came to save him, knowing it or not, resting a gauntlet on the table beside Anders. “I didn’t get a name, but they convinced Orwald to leave his post using The Grand Cleric’s seal.”
“And now we walk to the Chantry. Lucky me, I’ll get a grand tour of Kirkwall all in one day.” Hawke snagged the last sandwich, not leaving that behind if he was paid to, and stood up. Once they got moving, they could drop this ugly business in favor of helping people by killing people. Only until next time if the pattern Garrett was seeing in his friends meant anything.
“Don’t think you’re off the hook for whatever they asked you,” Aveline warned, falling in step with him and Anders as Hawke headed for the door. A clank of coin on the table behind him suggested Varric paid for the food. Living there like he did, he couldn’t exactly get away with stiffing them on a bill.
“You’re in trouble now,” Varric teased, not too far behind.
Looking over his shoulder with a grin, Hawke answered the only way he could. “When am I not?”
Beside him, Aveline heaved a sigh.
Night had fallen once Hawke buttoned up the last of the cleanup for the Viscount. The whole debacle packed every bit of something that could go wrong in Kirkwall, just like last time. Another heavy dose of nostalgia before the next crisis that only Hawke could solve, he figured.
Armed with self-righteous racism, Petrice denied any and all involvement with the Qunari incident, sending Hawke after Varnell to do her dirty work. She had that in common with the general population of Kirkwall, at least, what with being unable to muster having a heart, soul, or any common decency like the rest of everyone.
Next, Hawke and his merry band alerted Grand Cleric Elthina to the abuse of her seal. That part went better than he thought, which should’ve warned him that things were about to get much, much worse. All that fighting to find the Qunari, and they were being tortured in the undercity. The Viscount didn’t mean anything by it when he suggested burning their bodies; he couldn’t have known Hawke was in the same position as them. Even if he found out, the man believed in Hawke enough to call on him for this. There was no chance he’d believe such an allegation or however fancy politicians denied reports on bad news. Hawke wasn’t fast enough to save the Qunari, but at least he convinced Viscount Dumar to let their bodies be returned as they were. They deserved that much.
Anders and Aveline were so proud of striking down Varnell as retribution for the Qunari, but that was something they could do. If any of his friends knew the gritty details of the bind he was in with Meredith, that wouldn’t change that they were powerless to stop it. He’d been in that spot before, and it was not pretty, so he kept quiet. They told the Arishok the truth, anyway. Surely one honest deed cancelled out the lie?
Back in the Circle and in his room for a change, Garrett fell asleep way too fast to spare any time thinking about the answer to that question.
Any comments you have are much appreciated! I love talking to you guys.
Chapter 12: The Collar Unseen
Orsino has a quick talk with Hawke over breakfast, and he doesn't have much in the way of happy news. Then, of course, there's the threat from Meredith that she hadn't acted on until now. All in all, it's a bad day to be Garrett Hawke.
This is the chapter with the first rape/non-con scene. Please bear that in mind as you read. I don't go into graphic detail on it, but still, it's a very difficult subject. Be safe and respect your boundaries!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
What with the ‘there is no escape’ angle from the day before, Hawke expected more Templar-themed disaster after patching things up with the Qunari on the Viscount’s orders. But instead of dragging Garrett off to the old cell again for a new round of aggressive silent treatment, his assigned Templar friends led Hawke to the dining hall for breakfast with his fellow mage prisoners. Not that anyone looked too pleased to see him after his latest vanishing spell, but was anyone ever happy in this place? Hawke didn’t see a reason to take that personally.
With Templars posted around the room between thin windows, it wasn’t the most relaxing place to eat. They had lanterns and wrought iron chandeliers to light the room at all hours, on account of its size and having no sunlight, and the gathered mages all ate with their heads down. A few spoke to each other softly, only barely looking up. Not seeming completely crushed on a spiritual level was an invitation for the Templars of the Circle to try harder. The Tranquil mages sat on their own, of course.
“Morning,” Hawke greeted a mage getting food from the Tranquil mage on serving duty, picking up a plate for himself. “Lucky us, we’re just in time for the stale bread.”
Alright, so it was a bit strange that the person he just spoke to walked away without a word, but he was willing to write that off as not being a morning person. The Gallows wasn’t a great place to start with, but imagine being woken up every day at your least favorite hour by people who probably wanted you dead or worse? Anyone’d be crabby. So, breakfast in hand, Hawke tried again with mages already sitting together. No one who sought out a crowd was in a bad mood, right?
“Hello there,” he said, catching the attention of some mages sitting at a table with room for at least one more. Gesturing to an open spot, he went for the polite approach just in case. His luck hadn’t exactly been in good shape lately. “Alright if I join you?”
They looked at each other, then at him. Not a fuzzy warm expression among them. “We were just leaving.”
And like that, they picked up their plates (with plenty of food still on them, he noticed) and sat at another table. Well, something was not right here. He usually had to do something first for people to avoid him so intently. Hawke wasn’t necessarily popular anywhere they lived, being a mage on the run and all, but he made friends pretty easily. Some people hated him because of his smart mouth or natural talent for ending up at the center of a big mess, and of course, the Templars hating him for his magic. But for the mages to join in on it? That was plain rude. Where was the section on that in Anders’ manifesto?
“Good morning, Hawke,” Orsino announced his presence like he was about to bring another awful errand to Garrett, having a seat with the same foreboding gravity. Seemed like having breakfast was the only thing that would go right for Hawke today. “Did you get any rest?”
Well, that phrasing was odd. Hawke gave Orsino a sideways look, smirking.
“I managed. And you, First Enchanter? I figure the perpetual accusations of world-shattering conspiracies make it hard to catch a good night’s sleep.”
He had no idea how old Orsino was, or how old elves could get, but the stress he was under all the time wasn’t doing Orsino any favors. The only people that haggard were apostates and former Templars left high and dry by the order. Not looking great for Orsino either way.
“You jest about the strangest things,” he answered, definitely not wrong, and sighed down at the table. No platter of breakfast for Orsino, just tea—or maybe he had a fancy First Enchanter’s breakfast earlier. That job had to come with more than office and the scorn of all Templars, or who would keep it? “But I am not the only one accused of deeds I did not do.”
“Oh?” He wanted help with something, Hawke assumed. It was unlikely he’d be able to do much, since Meredith was merrily taking up all his time with one-on-one torment, but Garrett would figure something out. Probably. “Who’s the unlucky bastard?”
His eyes softened as he settled for looking at Garrett, and boy, did that make him want to go back to his holding cell and lock the door himself. “You, I’m afraid.”
“That does sound like something that would happen to me before I’ve even finished breakfast.” Grabbing a piece of what passed as bread when you were magical and wrong, Garrett gestured toward Orsino with it. Wasn’t good for much else, though he’d try to eat it afterwards anyway. “Do I get to know my own juicy gossip?”
“I owe you that much.” He sipped at the cold, over-steeped tea that came with breakfast while Hawke tried to tear a piece off the bread with his teeth. Took a bit of effort, but he got it with a couple extra tugs thrown in. “Word has travelled of your connection to Knight Commander Meredith, and the mages in the Gallows were already wary of the implications.”
Right, so that was trouble. Hawke just figured everyone was shy or had the worst case of indigestion every day. No surprise with food like this, right? Should’ve figured it was actually all his fault instead, that really was a pattern going back for years.
“And then that got worse somehow, yeah?” Dipping the bread into the runny eggs in an attempt to soften it up a bit, Hawke shrugged.
Orsino had to work on that bad omen look of his, but for that, someone had to tell him. Hawke had enough going on for three people at the moment, and a positivity makeover was just one chore too many. Through a somber stare, the First Enchanter finished up the bad news (hopefully). “Once word had spread that she asked you to watch us on her behalf and report anyone suspicious, our people decided with near unanimity that you are not to be trusted.”
“Oh, let me guess,” he joked, letting the soaked bread drip dry for a second, “Telling them I’m not on her side would just confirm their deepest, darkest fears?”
“Regrettably, they have made up their minds.” Orsino just shook his head, the frown he was always sporting firmly in place. Maybe his face was just stuck that way. He loved this mess of a city-state, but Kirkwall could have that effect on someone on its own, never mind the Gallows. “I know you are not against us, Hawke, but even that is not enough to reassure them. Not with your long disappearances and freedom to come and go.”
What could he do to that but snort a laugh? And try to pull off another piece of yolk-sodden bread, that was important. Next to the other mages here, Hawke had to admit that he did have more liberties than they ever would. A scary thought, actually. Since he entered the Circle, he’d left a handful of times when most people held in the Circle didn’t have a single memory of life outside. They came in once, and they’d probably only leave when they were dead.
Not a bad escape plan, now that he thought of it. Maybe he’d pretend to be dead and make this easier on everyone (once they got done being mad that he faked his death with no warning, anyway).
“I could certainly do worse than having a friend in the First Enchanter.”
“I admit, I find your optimism reassuring. And to think I was worried you would be distraught.” He stood, looking down at Hawke with some sort of something, alright. Part forced smile, part pity, part crushing despair. He’d have to remember not to invite Orsino to Wicked Grace night before he sorted out his whole rain cloud of eternal despair bit. “I must return to my office, but please know that I am on your side even if our people cannot see why just yet.”
“You’re very sweet,” Garrett teased.
And with minimal fluster, Orsino dismissed himself so Hawke could finish his breakfast at the gradual pace advised by Aveline. Not much changed for him with the latest ugly news, really. He spent most of his time in one cell or the other under Templar watch. Any time he had out and about was usually cleaning up after someone in Kirkwall. It’s not like he had Circle friends beside Merrill, and he wasn’t going to stick around to make some either.
Hawke only barely decided to go to the library and read one of the books he was halfway to memorizing when Ser Alrik arrived with a different suggestion from Meredith. An order, actually. Leading Hawke down familiar halls and staircases in the irritable silence of a man who hadn’t ripped the soul out of any mages lately, Alrik dropped him off at the much-less-pleasant cell number two.
On the bright side, one thing had gone right so far: Hawke had a proper breakfast.
This time, Meredith waited for him in the cell. With her Knight Commander stance and scowl, she was rooted firmly off to the side of his restraint chair. She planned this out in advance with the worst of her lackeys, so it had to be for that extra-special punishment she clearly wanted to give him. A shame there was so much of today left—it absolutely could get worse.
Alrik strapped Hawke down with sharp tugs, but still, not a word.
“Good morning to you too.” That was the first thing he’d said to the Tranquil-happy Templar, and he didn’t even get punched for it. Meredith loomed just outside of where he could see, and the second strap closed around his wrist. Something a bit like apprehension coiled around his lungs as it did. Oddly, it reminded him of what it was like hearing the darkspawn when they were trapped in the Deep Roads. He was no Grey Warden, but once a pocket of darkspawn found you, anyone could feel it in their bones. That same restless feeling worked its way to other vital organs as the third strap cinched shut.
They’d done this song and dance a dozen times, probably more, and Hawke never fought back. One of very, very few mages who could put up a decent fight without a staff, he had that option and never took it. Didn’t even think about it, really. For his eventual escape to work, Garrett had to be a good little mage and do what the unstable Templars told him to do.
It’d be a lie to say he never wanted to, but that was just his usual troublemaking. Today, twisting dread like a dagger in his side as Meredith lurked behind him, watching where he couldn’t see as always… He really should have weighed the pros and cons of kicking Alrik in the face before he did it, but careful thinking wasn’t something he was that good at.
His laugh mixed with the man’s pained shout, blood running out from under his hand over his nose and down into his mustache. Probably had a broken nose now, not that it was much to look at before. Looking at it that way, Hawke did him a favor. Now Alrik had an excuse to be such a blighted bastard!
Meredith hauled him to his feet and halfway out the cell door before anyone knew what was going on, and she practically shoved Alrik out. “Tend to your wounds, Templar. I’ll deal with the mage.”
She dragged the cell door shut and turned to face him. They both waited for his footsteps to retreat out of earshot, Hawke grinning and Meredith scowling.
Ah, well. No one could’ve known to move his escape up to last night, and it wouldn’t have worked even if they did. Hawke’d just have to grin and bear it for whatever came next. Breaking Alrik’s nose would be the highlight for sure. He’d pay for that, but he’d never regret it. Someone had to do it, no one felt like dealing with it, and that was just the sort of task for Garrett Hawke.
Once the lasting silence proved they were alone, Meredith spoke first for a change. “I will never understand why you insist on fighting battles you cannot win.”
And what else would she do then but circle behind him? Didn’t seem that interested in blindfolding him this time or strapping down his last leg, not when she could rustle around for whatever she was getting back there. Just peachy. He could feel the pull of magic right along with the impulse to defend himself again. That, of course, was how abominations were made. Hawke was going to have to pass on that ugliness.
“Come now, Meredith! Everyone loves an underdog.”
The metallic scrapes of her armor and heavy footsteps seemed to echo through the chamber, all that much worse for being the only way to track her. Taking a steadying breath, Hawke settled in for the long haul. One leg free wasn’t going to cut it for a daring escape. But whatever happened, it was nothing Garrett couldn’t handle. Escaping a blight, losing his baby sister to an ogre, being enslaved for a year, getting trapped in the Deep Roads… This was nothing! There just wasn’t any other choice but to make it out on the other side of whatever nightmare this turned out to be.
“Only if their cause is just. But you know the threat of mages, and yet you resist.” Precise footsteps joined with the dull clank of her plating came to a stop right behind the chair. Looking and not looking were both bad ideas with how little it took to convince the paranoid Knight Commander that anyone was a blood mage. Hawke busied himself with thoughts of happier times by counting the blood droplets on the floor that showed Alrik’s hasty exit.
“I will root out the corruption you are helping to spread in this fair city,” Meredith warned, her voice pulled taut as a blindfold came down over his eyes, and she tied it snugly in the back. Turning his head to throw her off changed nothing about that, and she moved past him on his right to the free leg.
“You know what would help,” he started, the playful tone coming to him as second nature even as his heart picked up its pace. “Finding a mage that’s actually corrupted.”
Yanking the final strap down, Meredith stood and slammed a fist into his stomach. Hawke groaned as he doubled over (as much as he could). Surprising, how being restrained really limited his ability to move.
“I know you are corrupted,” she growled, and his mind scrambled for a moment. Where was she? Just a glance showed she wasn’t to his right anymore, but how’d he miss that? Her voice came from his left, and soon enough, he saw her greaves coming to a stop in front of him.
“We have had past escapes, but they have all been found again in time. This Dalish mage, she has all but disappeared.” He’d only barely straightened himself up in the seat when she backhanded him. The edge of the bracer caught his face with a stinging bite, leaving a cut along his cheek. Bleeding took a moment, so at least it wasn’t a deep cut. Somehow, the warmth of it trailing down his cheek left him chilled. Indifferent, Meredith continued her prowling and Hawke swallowed. “Do you know the kind of resources it would take to escape the Templars of Kirkwall?”
And people said there was no such thing as stupid questions. Wetting his lips, he dared to smirk. “You’d think I wouldn’t be here if I did.”
“Liar.” For a rather unpleasant span of a minute, all Hawke heard was undone buckles and the drop of two bracers. One cut was enough for the time being, or maybe he was just lucky. Another backhand right across the new cut took that second one off the list. For now, anyway. Hawke did have a way with terrible odds—mostly going to shit in a blink, but maybe this time it’d get much better very quickly. He shook off the pain, forcing himself to sit upright sooner than last time. “You are no better than the mages clawing for power desperately.”
“Am I in a position of power right now? Didn’t realize.” Slamming her hands down on either side of his head with hardly any room to do it, Meredith lingered in front of him. The feeling of being watched by someone who wanted you dead was no fun to start with, but it was so much worse when you could feel the person’s breath on your face. “Some mages are backstabbing liars, and some Templars are sick in the head.” Hawke said to the crazy woman who had him trapped in a cell for random beatings until he confirmed all her worst delusions. Perfect, he was so out of touch himself that he was narrating for Varric narrating for him. “You can’t blame the whole bushel for what a few bad apples get up to.”
“Be that as it may,” Meredith said, her voice turning almost—husky. That was a tone he heard in the Blooming Rose, sometimes in the Hanged Man, but here, now, with the insane woman leading the Templars of Kirkwall? Well, shit. She leaned in closer and where could Hawke go? Turning away just gave her the ability to mutter threats in his ear. “I will stop at nothing to uncover those who conspire against the safety of Kirkwall. I know you are essential to uncovering that rot.”
She stepped back, a Maker-sent relief, before she marched behind his chair again with the slight clang of metal on stone tipping him off to where she stood.
His chair, he thought, as if he had any say over sitting in the blasted thing.
“You must be. You are everywhere I turn, from a position of nobility with close ties to the Viscount’s office to these fervent, accursed visions you’ve hexed me with.” Oh, lovely. She was completely and absolutely insane. What hex was she even on about? If this was his charms she griped about last time (or the time before that?), that was not an effect of magic.
Try telling that to her. That’s a bet I’ll lose for sure.
The sound of undone straps falling against armor plating crept along his skin, finding a home in his stomach as a rather unsettling cause of nausea. Someone as out of their mind and suspicious of everyone as the Knight Commander would be hard pressed to take off armor. The reasons she might anyway weren’t ones Hawke particularly liked the thought of.
He pulled at one restraint and got nothing. Another piece of armor came off, dropping with a thud on what was probably a table. Turning his wrist to different angles didn’t get him anywhere either. Unless he wanted a broken wrist on top of everything else.
Her hands, still gloved, slid along his ribs from behind the chair and left Hawke with a distinct, shuddering queasiness. Worse, in very different circumstances—one where he agreed to this would be fantastic—Garrett probably wouldn’t have felt like that. Meredith had enough in common with his type: scarred by life, she took action to set it right, and ended up on the extreme side. And she did have pretty eyes.
But her extremes were too much, even for Hawke. Fenris wasn’t always stable, Isabela was a lovely wild card, Varric could and would wriggle out of anything, Merrill had no sense of moderation, Aveline struggled with respecting boundaries over the “greater good” sometimes, and Anders was set on mage freedom at just about any cost. He loved them all for it; they were all his family in some way or another. They were all damaged goods, but damaged together.
Nothing like this.
“Meredith,” he warned, gritting his teeth as her hands roamed. She had nothing to hurry about; he wasn’t going anywhere. “This is going too far.”
“It does not matter what you think is too far, mage. You belong here, to me.” Her hands journeyed further south. “And I will have answers regardless of what I must do.”
Suddenly, Hawke was grateful for the isolation and the blindfold. He did not want to see this or be seen like this. No one had to know about this miserable, awful moment—not even Hawke.
Meredith put him back together when she ran out of patience or stamina, and Hawke let her go through the motions. Just enough done to cover her tracks for anyone to witness him. He had no idea how long it was before he heard Templars re-open the cell door, a radiating ache around the cut on his face making itself known as he lifted his head. Pointlessly, since the blindfold stayed on through it all.
“Alrik, my good friend,” he rasped.
“Not exactly,” Carver answered flatly. Hawke’s heart sank and the bile rose in his throat again.
No, not like this.
There were two sets of footsteps, so they weren’t alone together either. His little brother had to see him like this and pretend not to care while they undid the restraints—it had to be pretending, even Carver didn’t hate him that much, right?—and Garrett lowered his head back down. He really screwed this up now. How could he let Carver see this? There had to be a choice he could’ve made differently, something to learn for next time. Hawke should’ve fought off Alrik sooner or put up a fight right in the cafeteria. Whatever it was, Hawke had no one to blame for it but himself.
The other Templar grumbled through the process of lifting Hawke from the chair—so that wasn’t Cullen—and soon, Carver pulled Garrett’s arm over his shoulder. “Right, let’s get you on your feet.”
Carver didn’t have to hold Hawke’s hand once his arm was over his back and on the opposite side of his little brother’s neck. His wrist would have been just fine to support him, if he needed anything at all. Garrett closed his hand around his brother’s, hissing at the pain that ran down his arm. Must’ve been a bad angle for his shoulder while Meredith went about her business. Leaning forward to push himself up clued him in that his legs didn’t feel much better about it.
Standing sounded downright miserable. “Sounds fun,” he tried to joke. “Why not?”
The trip back to his room was a bit touch and go, but they made it, and Hawke was probably asleep before they even put him on the bed. If they passed anyone else, he didn’t remember them. And judging by the birds that woke him up, he slept through until dawn or close enough to it.
Stiffly and very aware of every sore spot, Garrett turned on his side and slipped his hand beneath the pillow for the illusion of fluff. Imagine his surprise when he found a half-crumpled, half-folded note there. Resting his back against the wall, Hawke read the message by the low flame in his other hand.
The others warned me about what happened in the tavern, but nothing as bad as this. We’re moving faster now. Hang in there.
At the bottom, another line had been scrawled on at a rushed angle.
Same as last time, he burned it up without a trace.
Slumped into the corner, Hawke dropped his hands to his lap and just sat there listening to birds. He was sorry too. Carver never should have had to see him in that state, half out of it with fresh injuries on his face and Maker knew what else. Hawke never wanted this weight on his younger brother’s shoulders. And next time, it’d be different.
If you have any comments, as always, I love to hear your responses and they encourage me to keep writing. Thank you!
Chapter 13: Prime Suspect
Emeric's lead got them nowhere and nothing, unless you counted an extra day outside of the Circle for Hawke. His friends manage to pull some sparse details from him. That's enough to get them to move his escape up, whatever it takes.
One of the city guardsmen caused enough of a fuss to get Aveline marching up to the Circle in person to demand Hawke’s assistance from Meredith herself, and to the surprise of absolutely no one in Kirkwall, she got what she wanted. Hawke would have to thank Emeric for embarrassing the City Guard later. Subtly, if he could manage it.
Then again, it also led to a mad chase with demons and blood magic and captured, helpless women. Plus a crazy Orlesian, and Garrett didn’t even like the sane ones.
It only made sense to have some wine at Fenris’ mansion after that, although he really had to wonder what the appeal was in keeping it derelict. As long as it made Fenris feel like he’d claimed it as his own, Hawke supposed it didn’t really matter. It definitely made it easier for him to live there unnoticed. They sat in the usual spot where Fenris entertained his few guests: huddled around the fireplace on benches and chairs with alcohol to spare (no matter how many bottles were thrown at the wall, strangely).
It was familiar, or it ought to be, but the lack of overall lighting and flickering shadows from the firelight were not doing Hawke any favors. Even during the fighting in the DuPuis mansion, he felt separated from his body somehow. The present company carried him through battles more than usual, and it seemed as though he missed every sneak attack and kept losing track of all the doors in that place. His wit was as sharp as ever, so that was something. Earned himself a laugh from Varric at least once!
Across from Hawke on the bench beside Fenris, the dashing author and entrepreneur himself reached out with his cup of Tevinter wine. “Before I forget, Daisy sends her regards.”
Hawke took a moment to process that, wondering who Daisy was, before it dawned on him. The nicknames were harder to keep track of when he wasn’t around so often. Holding onto that casual smile, Hawke still kept that appearance up. “And how is our darling Merrill?”
“She’s fine out in the wilderness. Doesn’t even need her ball of yarn to find her way around anymore,” Varric said, finishing on a high note with a satisfied smile—if unconvinced by Garrett. She was raised Dalish, so it made sense she’d get her bearings better where everything looked different in the way nature usually did. But that didn’t mean she’d be perfectly happy out there. Escaping the Circle was a definite improvement, of course, but she couldn’t go to her clan and she couldn’t stay in Kirkwall either. It had to be lonely for her.
“If anyone goes to visit, we can’t expect to see them back until nightfall,” Fenris mumbled, clearly familiar with the pseudo-plight himself. He wasn’t fond of mages, especially blood mages, but Merrill just wormed her way into your heart like that.
“It’s got to be lonesome, staying out there by herself.” Aveline, ever the maternal figure, made an excellent point. Not just because it was what Hawke was thinking, either. They rarely had the same thought besides. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything Hawke could do about Merrill now. Poor Carver could write her, but he definitely couldn’t visit. A Templar, off visiting an apostate? He’d be lucky to just be kicked from the Order.
“Whether it was her clan or the alienage, she’s never really been alone,” Hawke mumbled, staring down into his drink. There had to be a better way than all this. He could almost hear that in Anders’ voice, honestly. They got her out of the Circle, but now what? She’d spend her life on the run.
“Then she shouldn’t have gotten caught,” Fenris bit back, scowling at Hawke in all his outrage. “It’s thanks to her you’re trapped with that nightmare of a woman.”
Was it the alcohol, or did the dark spaces of Fenris’ stolen mansion grow darker? With eyes? Worse than that, Hawke knew the place was safe with all of them present. Andraste’s flaming knickers, even if there were some horrific creatures waiting to strike, they’d faced down worse. He had quite literally nothing to be afraid of.
Not here, anyway.
“I wonder who that could be, with a charming title like that.” Hawke tossed out in the stiff silence. The fierce animosity from Fenris already gave away the fact that Varric did more than just tell Carver about their last little quest together. So he didn’t really need the sympathetic ‘I did what I had to but I’m sorry’ stare from his friend across the way, but there it was. The most awkward second of eye contact they’d had yet, or at least in the top five. Maybe even three.
“Junior’s keeping us updated,” Varric explained, or perhaps he was seeking forgiveness. Did it matter? Garrett could never hope to stay cross with that lovable dwarf.
“She keeps you isolated and denies your meals,” Fenris offered his unsolicited details. It did answer the question of what exactly these updates contained. “I’m willing to bet she hounds your rest remorselessly. This Knight-Commander is little better than a slaver.”
“Anders did try to warn you,” Hawke pointed out, hiding a practiced smirk behind his drink. Hardly anything got him fired up like the mention of freedom-fighting Anders and his glowy plus one, and the feeling was mutual when the roles were reversed. Basically, it was an excellent distraction for Garrett.
Fenris just scoffed, leaving behind a much larger expanse of quiet than Hawke was hoping for. Did a man have to avoid prying questions all on his own these days? Leave Kirkwall alone for a while, and the etiquette of emotional evasion just goes to pieces.
“She’s using her standing against you, Hawke.” Well, Fenris went in a very different direction than he’d hoped. He took a gulp of wine and kept on anyway. “We are powerless to stop her, and she knows it. I’ve said we should just kill her and let that Knight Captain replace her, but the others don’t agree.”
A fact he was not convinced of and quite apparently not happy about at all. That was flattering, really! Fenris wasn’t the kind to advocate killing corrupt Templars and liberating mages, but exceptions did exist. One or two.
“You would only be killed,” Aveline insisted, driving home that this was a conversation had so often as to challenge even her patience. Looking out for Fenris when he had a vengeance campaign in mind was just as tiring as it sounded.
“Maybe you figured this out, Broody,” Varric broke it up before the fight really got started, “but we’d like to have you around for a good long while.”
“It would be a waste of a perfectly handsome elf,” Hawke teased Fenris, trying again for that upward turn in the conversation.
“How long has it been since we last spoke?” Aveline interrupted with a hard-set stare and frown you didn’t say no to. That just about dashed his dreams of not talking about the Circle or Meredith or anything related to either.
But no one ever got anywhere in life giving up when good sense said to. Or however that saying actually went. Hawke frowned pensively and patted himself down with his wine-free hand. “How embarrassing! Would you believe I left my calendar in my other Circle robes?”
“Told you again,” Varric talked to Aveline like no one else could hear them, a lightless smirk darkening his features. Strangely, she was the only one who didn’t seem to notice that at all in favor of focusing in on Hawke.
“Take a guess.”
“Say, Aveline, have you done something with your hair?”
“You truly have no idea?” Fenris brought the subject back this time, his usually sexy, stoic scowl traded out for something that looked almost like he was worried. Now that was really something to be worried about. They struggled to get Fenris to smile as it stood, and then this? Isabela could only convince him to loosen up and allow himself to have fun so many times.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard, but we don’t have schedules to keep in the Circle.” Hawke said through a chuckle that no one was believing. The three faces in front of him ranged from sympathetic to skeptical, nothing he really wanted to see all directed at him. “If you’ve got your hearts set on talking about this, I’ll need more of this.” He held up his cup with a little wiggle to show its sorry, empty state.
Fenris passed a bottle over, his silent vote in favor of having the ugly truth spelled out for him. You’d think that someone who had his dark, weighty history would know better, but then again… That same past was probably why he was so ready with the wine. Aveline expressed her clear disapproval of that choice with a tsk, but there was always the last bit of Varric’s smile still hanging on that Hawke could cling to for some stability.
He started to pour the wine and force out details.
“There are no windows where I usually sleep.” Generously put, to say the least. “There’s not even really a mattress, and I don’t always make it to every meal of the day. I hate to disappoint, but there’s just no way for me to keep track of time.” With a shrug and a swig of wine, Garrett put that nail in the coffin and hoped to the Maker it stayed shut. He only brushed the surface of what he was up against, true. That was how Garrett planned it all to be from the start. As it was, the wine tasted like mud in his mouth after that. Grape-y mud, though, and enough of it would get the job done.
“I’ll talk to Anders.” Aveline pushed ahead, showing him some mercy at last. She even squeezed his shoulder gently for morale. “Whatever it takes, we’ll get you out in two weeks’ time.”
“There’s no need to rush. I’m not going anywhere,” Hawke said to absolutely no response whatsoever. He took a drink while he waited and still, not one chuckle or roll of the eyes. “Alright, that joke was in bad taste.”
“You think so, Chuckles?” When Varric sounded a little exasperated, you knew it was looking grim. The last time he was this no-nonsense was the Deep Roads, and they could still joke around down there.
“I already said it was bad,” Hawke agreed, chuckling since no one else would. He tossed back another drink of wine that was large enough to get him halfway down the cup. Nothing yet but that warm feeling of alcohol in his stomach. Maybe they didn’t know how to make wine in Tevinter, just widespread misery. Resting his elbows on his knees, Hawke could only hope they’d actually listen to this request. “Just don’t tell Mother. I don’t know that her heart can take it.”
It was bad enough Carver saw. Even worse that Mother was so stressed about him being in the Circle after a lifetime spent on the run and mostly in poverty trying to keep him and Bethany out of that death trap. Now one of them was dead and the other was in what was probably the worst Circle in Thedas. “Maker knows I’ve disappointed her enough already.”