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The Kirkwall Revolution

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Chapter 1

-

Some time before the wedding

-

Anders was restlessly pacing his cell. Five steps forwards, turn, five steps back. He had been doing it for hours, if not days. He had counted all the stones in the wall, multiplied them, divided them, let loose all sorts of other mathematics on the stupid bricks, but nothing could put his mind at ease. He had tried to use his magic; not to break free but to set his mind at ease. To forget what had happened or at least to get some sleep, but it had been to no avail. Somewhere between the confusing hours of waking up in Sebastian’s cell and being dragged to the Keep to be thrown into the dungeons, someone must have given him magebane or performed some trick to drain his magic. Justice had fled into some crevice of his mind and he couldn’t reach him. The coward. He had been the one who had put him into this mess and now he hid. Now you’ve got what you want? he sneered but there came no answer. Finally he couldn’t take it any longer and he addressed the guard who was watching him with wary eyes.

‘I need to speak with the Captain of the Guard,’ he said. ‘With Aveline.’

His voice sounded hoarse. He realised he had been raving and roaring for a good deal of his imprisonment, mostly at himself for his utterly idiotic action. Or better: at Justice who had pushed him over the boundary of normal civilised behaviour and after that had crept away and had stayed silent to leave him to his own despair and trepidation.

‘I don’t think the Captain –‘ the guard started, stuttering.

‘Now!’ Anders hollered with blazing eyes and the poor women ran as if an Archdemon was on her tail.

Not minutes later Aveline descended the stairs leading to the jails in the dungeons of the Keep. She silently looked at the mage for a moment, took in his haggard appearance and feverishly burning eyes.

‘What do you want, Anders?’

He folded his hands around the bars of his prison. ‘I want to speak with her. With Hawke.’

Aveline shook her head. ‘She doesn’t want to speak with you.’

He clenched his fingers around the cold metal. ‘I want to apologize to her, tell her I’m sorry for what I’ve done to her,’ he pressed. ‘Is that too much to ask for?

Aveline smiled wanly. ‘The last thing she has on her mind right now is you and your appalling deed or your pathetic apologies. She is engaged to Fenris now; he picked her up after your repulsive deed and one thing led to another. He has asked her to marry him and she agreed.’ She let out a sardonic laugh. ‘I guess that’s quite the opposite of what you tried to accomplish.’

Anders made an heroic effort at controlling himself. Not that wild dog! And then he realised he had been acting more like a feral beast than the elf ever had. There was no one to blame but himself. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the bars. But he didn’t want to give up that easily.

‘Please, Aveline, I need to see her.’

But the Guard Captain shook her head. ‘No Anders, there’s no way. She doesn’t want to, I won’t let it happen. She is happy right now, I won’t let you spoil that. You better prepare for your lawsuit.’

Sharply he looked up. ‘My lawsuit? I’m not going to be send to the Circle?’

Aveline snorted derisively. ‘No. Not yet. You will be put on trial for what you have done, not for the fact you’re a mage. But don’t consider yourself fortunate. I wouldn’t be surprised if you will be condemned to death. Raping the Champion of Kirkwall is no small crime, rape in general isn’t. But I expect you will be locked away for the rest of your life, in which case you’ll be hauled off to the Circle anyway. And I don’t doubt for a second you’ll be made tranquil.’

Anders shrank back. ‘No!’ he shrilled, ‘I’d rather you kill me now before that happens!’

‘That’s not for me to decide,’ Aveline replied coldly. She started to turn. ‘And Anders, the next time you harass one of my guardsmen, there will be severe repercussions.’

 

Back in her office she slumped into her chair.

‘Well?’ Fenris asked. He was leaning against the wall in a deceivingly casual way. Aveline knew better. It had taken all her power of persuasion to calm him down after the young guardswoman had darted in with her message, and even more to keep him in her office. ‘What did he have to say?’

Aveline let out a sigh. ‘He wanted to talk to her.’

‘Over my dead body!’ the elf hissed heatedly. ‘I hope you made it very clear that will never happen.’

‘Yes I did, don’t you worry.’ She pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘He got very upset when I told him he will most likely be made tranquil.’

‘Good. Let him suffer for what he has done,’ Fenris said with grim satisfaction.

Aveline stared at the opposite wall. ‘Yet,’ she said pensively, ‘I can’t help wondering what would have happened without the presence of that blasted spirit. What kind of man he would have been, if he would have been capable to do what – he has done, without being pushed.’

Fenris looked incredulously. ‘You’re not saying you’re taking pity on that monster?!’

‘No, of course not. I just think it’s such a tragic loss of life. He never should have merged with Justice.’ She would not admit it to the elf, but deep down she felt sorry for the mage.

‘It was his own decision,’ Fenris spat. ‘So, he has to live with the consequences of his obtuse choice. And don’t call that deranged spirit “Justice”. It is an out of control dangerous and evil entity that has as much to do with justice as a cruel mind with empathy.’

Aveline definitively didn’t want to continue the discussion and she heaved her hands. ‘Let us please return to the subject we were talking about earlier, before you get your knickers in a twist.’

Fenris raised a brow. ‘My knickers ..?’

‘Let’s forgo the colourful expressions, shall we? You know what I mean.’

For a moment it seemed Fenris wanted to disagree but then he conceded. ‘You’re right. The abomination is not worth getting enraged about. Well he is, but I’m trying very hard to put that behind me.’

And succeeding gloriously, Aveline thought sarcastically, but immediately corrected herself. He is trying very hard, I must give him that.

The elf crossed the room and sat down opposite the Guard Captain.

‘Alright then, the matter of the security at the time of your wedding.’ She paused a few seconds and tapped her fingers on the surface of her desk. ‘Listen, Fenris, I think it’s all very romantic, wanting to get married in the place where you first met, but you must agree with me that’s ludicrous. I can’t possibly guarantee the safety of all those toffee-nosed nobles thronging together in Lowtown.’

‘Don’t point your finger at me,’ Fenris said, defensively. ‘It was not my idea.’

‘Then talk it out of her head.’

‘I’ve tried to but she is adamant about it.’

‘Stubborn woman,’ Aveline grumbled.

‘I don’t like the thought of all those nobles gathering around us in the first place. What about we just don’t invite them? Two birds with one stone.’

Aveline had to laugh. ‘I love the way you think, but I’m afraid you won’t get away with it. She is the Champion. No, we’ll have to find another solution.’

-

Hawke, in the meantime, was strolling around the Hightown market together with Merrill and Isabela. They were perusing the florists’ stalls and the pirate was obviously bored to shreds. ‘I really fail to see what’s so interesting about flower-arrangements,’ she wailed. ‘Can’t we go to the Hanged Man and just talk about it over a few drinks? I could die for a decent glass of whisky.’

‘In that case you shouldn’t go to the Hanged Man,’ Hawke said absentmindedly. ‘There they haven’t even heard of the word decent.’

‘That’s what I like about the place, the total lack of decency.’

‘It’s such a pity you’re getting married in the autumn, there’s so little choice of flowers in this season,’ Merrill chirped.

‘That may be, but I’m not going to postpone my wedding day because I can’t get my hands on lavender or lilies or tulips,’ Hawke resolutely said. ‘We’ll have to make do with chrysanthemums and asters. And truly, Merrill, I don’t see the problem.’

‘They’re not romantic,’ the small elf complained. ‘You ought to have romantic flowers on your special day. Perhaps we can get some roses, although they will be highly overpriced and probably half wilted. And I suppose we can make paper lilacs to decorate the Vhenadahl Tree with. I only hope it won’t rain or they will become mushy.’

‘Yes, we can’t have that,’ Hawke mocked. ‘The fact my wedding dress will get soaked and muddy and my hair will be ruined is totally unimportant, after all. As long as the paper lilacs stay in bloom.’

Merrill slapped her mildly on her arm. ‘That’s not how I meant it!’ she cried out in dismay. ‘Of course your dress and your hair are far more important.’ She cocked her head. ‘Maybe we can find a way to roof the Alienage? That would be nice. Let’s ask Varric about it.’

Indeed, Varric will exactly be the right person, Hawke thought. I can’t wait to see him balancing on a wobbly ladder, trying to hammer the heavy tarpaulin to some shabby shacks. She could hardly keep a straight face. 

‘Here’s a thing, why don’t we cut with the yawny flowers and go on a lingerie hunt?’ Isabela, who hadn’t been listening to a word, put forward. ‘Exciting lingerie is essential on a wedding night. Gets the heat going, if you catch my drift.’

Unperturbed Hawke stared at her. ‘I think Fenris and I are very capable of getting our heat going without attributes, thank you very much. Although,’ she added dreamily, ‘I must admit the suggestion has its appeal.’ The thought of an aroused Fenris passionately shredding too expensive silk and lace items off her body made her suddenly very hot and glowing.

‘See? I knew it! And I know just the place!’ The pirate queen took her arm and started to drag her along.

‘Why am I not surprised,’ Hawke mumbled, almost tripping over her feet.

‘But what about the flowers?’ Merrill twittered bewildered while she jogged after them, fervently trying to keep up with the tempo.

‘Another day, Kitten. There is always another day for boring chores.’

-

Varric was glowering distrustfully at Sebastian who was now and again scribbling some words on a sheet of cheap paper, but most of the time chewed pondering on his pencil, staring into the distance.

‘What are you doing here, Choirboy?’ he asked when he couldn’t stand it any longer and curiosity got the best of him.

They were seated at a table at the back of the Hanged Man. Varric had been there since the early hours, working on his speech that had to become the height of the Wedding of the Century. He secretly doubted the nobles would be of the same opinion about said wedding. For them it would probably be the Crime of the Century, what with the Champion of Kirkwall marrying an elf of all creatures and a former slave to boot. Okay, crime was perhaps too strong a word but it would at least be the Gossip of the Century. Varric didn’t mind, as long as the word “century” was involved in combination with the remembrance of his brilliant speech.

 The only problem was that things weren’t going very smoothly with the brilliancy. Or in the speech-department at that, to put the finger on the sore spot. As a matter of fact, it was turning into a drag.

‘Typical,’ he had muttered umpteenth times. ‘Maker’s balls! A writer’s block! Of all the times I could catch that virus, it’s pestering me now!’ Meanwhile, he was surrounded by empty mugs and balls of paper, testifying of his wretched failures. Somewhere during his pitiable attempts, Sebastian had entered the tavern. He had sat down without a word, just a nod, had produced a pencil and a wad of that coarse paper and had started to scribble, stare, scribble some more, scratch out words and whole sentences, sigh, scribble and chew.

He turned to Varric with that insufferable amiably smile of his.

‘I’m glad you asked, Varric. I was wondering if you could assist me..?’

‘With what?’ responded Varric gruffly. ‘Wrecking your writing items?’

‘No! With writing my sermon for the wedding!’

Varric just glared at him, too baffled to utter a word. He wanted to punch himself. Not only a writer’s block, but also, or even worse, at a loss for words. Due to Choirboy no less. Could he ever sink lower? Could this day become even worse? He should probably down a bottle of rum and stay in bed for the rest of the month. Sermon. Had the pretty princeling gone out of his bloody mind?

‘I mean, you are an extraordinary talented author and I’m desperately struggling with the text. I was hoping you could give me a hand. With the syntax, some witty remarks maybe. A topic even. Something like that. Anything. I’m completely stuck.’

He looked at Varric with what Merrill once had described as puppy eyes, although she had referred to someone entirely different. To the happy groom to be precisely. The happy groom who was ever so happily ignorant of his blighted suffering. Nevertheless Varric fell for it, feeling very sympathetic despite his usual dislike of Sebastian. The dwarf scratched his head. ‘I’m afraid you have come to the wrong address today,’ he confessed. ‘I’m stuck too. Totally stuck. I can’t get more stuck I’m sure. But perhaps a good amount of alcohol will help to solve our mutual problem.’

Which was the reason why three women, armed with suspiciously high-priced looking little bags (or at least the little bags looked like they were holding very high-priced – thingies), stumbled upon a dwarf and a Chantry brother who were loudly singing the most vulgar drinking songs while holding on to each other’s shoulders.

The bride-to-be declared she didn’t want to know.

The next day Sebastian didn’t want to know either.

-

Anders shuddered in his sleep. There rang a sound, soft but distinctive. With a jolt he woke up, hitting his head on the wall. He stifled a curse. He lay back on the mattress and stayed motionless for some time. Had he been fooling himself? No, there it was again. A faint sound at the door of his prison cell. And then a whisper came.

‘Anders? You’re there?’

He knew that voice. Hope stirred.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

-

Anders could hardly believe his own ears; for a moment he thought he was hallucinating. ‘Marius, is that you,’ he whispered cautiously, hoping he wasn’t making a fool of himself. ‘How did you get in here?’

Marius was one of the young recruits of the Mage Underground and undoubtedly the most dedicated and talented. ‘By using magic,’ he whispered back.

‘Have you gone mad?’ Anders hissed agitated. ‘They will kill you, or worse, when you get caught!’ No one had to explain to a mage what that “worse” meant.

He got up from his cot and shuffled to the iron bars that stood between him and his freedom. Together with an army of City Guards and several more locked doors, he had to admit, but right now these bars were the first obstacle. If they were conquered, who knew what was possible. In the sparse light he could discern a cloaked and hooded figure, crouching in the shadows.

Justice stirred in his head. ‘You have to get out of here. You can’t serve the Mages’ Purpose in this cell.’ He always managed to pronounce those two words with the capitals falling heavily into place. Normally it didn’t bother Anders, but right now he was vexed.

‘Oh, now you deign to speak,’ he scoffed. ‘And where were you when I needed you, hm?’

‘You didn’t need me to yell and wail at the walls about you’re pathetic fate, nor to humiliate yourself before the Guard Captain,’ the spirit replied dryly. ‘But you need me now. Heed the young man.’

‘This is the Keep, not the Gallows,’ said Marius in the meantime, oblivious of the short inaudible argument,. ‘There are no Templars in this place who can recognize magic. And I didn’t kill anyone; I’ve just used a mild sleeping spell. It’s safe for now but we’ll have to hurry.’

Anders heard the rattling of keys and a moment later his prison was opened. He followed Marius, occasionally stepping over bodies that seemed to be guardsmen being sound asleep. When they reached level ground, he grabbed Marius’s sleeve. ‘This is getting dangerous,’ he murmured concerned.

Marius turned and smiled at him. ‘No, master. Everyone is asleep and before they will wake up, we’ll be long gone.’

Just a mild sleeping spell? Bloody hell, this boy is indeed extremely talented.

And then the title Marius had used to address him got through to him.

He hated to be called “master”. It reminded him too strongly of the heated words of that, that -of Fenris when he was going off, ranting about the Magisters in Tevinter and their evil deeds. Deep in his heart he had to agree with him. Magic shouldn’t be malevolent, magic should serve men. Yes, Andraste’s words and, damn her, but she had been right. Deep in his heart he knew the elf was right as well. There were too many mages who took advantage of their gift. But then again, being driven to the edge brought out the worst in men, and thus in mages as well. Some men would reach for their knives or simply use their fists. Other men would turn to bribery or hiring assassins. Mages would turn to blood magic. Especially in this city with that paranoid bitch Meredith in charge. She was the embodiment of malice.

Magic shouldn’t be punished,’ Justice rumbled.

Shut up, Anders thought.

‘Don’t call me that,’ he said up loud to Marius. He caught the boy’s puzzled and slightly confused look. ‘I’m not a master and certainly not yours.’ Master, Magister – damn you Fenris.

‘I’m only showing you the way out,’ the young man said, visibly taken aback. ‘And you’ve agreed to make me your apprentice, so I thought it only appropriate to call you master.’

Had he agreed? He couldn’t recall. Yes you did, before you got tangled up with your obsession. Your weakness. That woman,’ Justice remarked reproachfully.

shut up shut up shut up

‘It’s alright,’ he mumbled weakly.

Sometimes being driven to the edge could bring out the best in people. That’s how he wanted to remember Albran Hawke. She always stood ready to help the needy, even mages. He always could have counted on her.

And then he had gone and spoiled it all. Shut up!

Without any further comments he followed Marius out of the Keep into freedom. Apparently there was some obscure backdoor leading to an even more obscure backstreet. He inhaled the – relatively – fresh air of Kirkwall. He stopped and laid a hand on Marius’s shoulder. ‘Before you take me to wherever you’re intending to take me, there is something important I have to do,’ he told his evident apprentice.

The young man didn’t argue but followed him with a troubled look.

-

‘Please Hawke, try to see my point of view,’ Aveline pleaded. ‘Reconsider your decision. For the sake of the common good.’ She practically begged and she hated it.

But Hawke put her foot down. ‘For the common good?  Don’t make me laugh. What you mean is for the good of the nobles and I don’t care a rat’s arse about their good or bad or everything in between. Let them stew in their own expensive juice.’

‘Now listen here, young lady,’ the Guard Captain started in a threatening tone but the affect of her stern attitude was spoiled by the loud, be it somewhat shrill laughter Hawke let out.

‘Do you really have to sound like my mother? It’s hilarious.’ She shifted in her chair. Frankly, it wasn’t that hilarious at all, but she had to stop feeling guilty about her mother’s death. This helped. A little. Consider it a form of therapy.

Aveline changed tack. ‘Albran, look at it this way: if the people in Lowtown turn into a mob and start a riot, it will ruin your wedding day. You must agree that when corpses begin to fill the streets, it will significantly lower the merriment of the festivities.’

Hawke grumbled something unintelligibly under her breath. She stood and filled the glasses with the white wine from the bottle sitting in the wine-cooler. After that she poked in the fire that needed no poking whatsoever. For a moment she let her eyes wander over the titles stacked in the bookcases of her library without really seeing them. I should make time for cataloguing them, she thought absentmindedly. She knew Aveline had tried to talk Fenris out of what she thought was a preposterous idea. But the elf (the enchanting, breathtaking handsome and heart crushing, caring elf – her elf, she reminded herself and it brought a fleeing soft smile on her face) had refused to risk another argument. He simply had stated that if Aveline wanted a solution, she had to talk to Albran herself. And thus the Guard Captain had paid her a visit. Hawke sat down again and took a sip of her wine.

Aveline took (or as it turned out mistook) her silence for an accord. ‘So, I have finally convinced you?’ The plain answer she received made her want to strangle the other woman.

‘No. We will get married in the Alienage, whether you like it or not.’

The Guard Captain flared up. ‘Damn it Hawke, you stubborn piece of-‘

‘Hear me out before you insult me,’ Albran snapped. ‘I understand that you fear you won’t be able to keep the peace in Lowtown; it’s hard enough as it is without all those snotty pretentious members of society nosing about the place. So, we will have an intimate consecration under the Vhenadahl Tree. Friends only. And elves, of course, because we can hardly lock them up in their hovels or chase them away. Besides that they are more than welcome. After that we will have a celebration in the Keep where the curious high and mighty will get every opportunity to gawk at Fenris as much as they want to. I assure you, he’s enormously looking forward to it.’

‘The nobility will not be pleased,’ Aveline remarked grumpily but she couldn’t help grinning. ‘You know their damned pride.’

‘The nobility can choke on their precious pride,’ Hawke said obstinately. ‘The fact I’m the Champion doesn’t mean I’m their public possession. And that counts even more for Fenris.’

‘You know they still see him as your body guard.’

‘Then they will have to get used to him being my husband, won’t they.’ Determinedly she clenched her jaw.

Aveline shook her head. ‘Alright,’ she sighed, ‘I think we have reached some middle ground. It won’t appease the nobles -‘

‘Good. I don’t intend to appease them.’

‘- but at least it will prevent a lot of bloodshed.’ Aveline felt exhausted. Having a discussion with Albran Hawke was no small feat, that was to say, if she had set her mind on something. Getting her way for example. ‘You will still need an escort. And I will have to call upon my men to keep the nobles from following you.’ She groaned inwardly. ‘What a sight that will make.’

Albran smiled broadly. ‘A pity I won’t be there to witness the scene.’

‘You know the Seneschal will be livid.’

Hawke’s smile broadened even more. ‘I can’t wait to hear his objections.’

Finally Aveline slumped back into the chair and heaved her glass in a toast. ‘You win,’ she surrendered with a smirk.

‘I never was aware we were having a fight,’ Albran countered sweetly.

-

Fenris stared at his reflexion in the mirror of the outrageously expensive dress shop.

‘I think you look dashing,’ Varric commented. He took a bite of a piece of toast topped with delicious smoked salmon and a delicate sip from the flute filled with exquisite champagne, both offered with the complements of the house. ‘It better be worth it, mind you,’ he smirked roguishly. ‘The suit you are measured with costs more than your whole estate, lock, stock and barrel. And I should know it.’ He was lounging on a couch with far too many frivolous ornaments to be comfortable. But a Tethras felt at home anywhere. Even on a ridiculously adorned couch in a far too pricy shop filled with assistants who acted more snooty than the average Orlesian bred noble in Hightown.

‘I look like an overdressed baboon,’ Fenris protested.

Two dressmakers were hovering around him, lifting his arms, shifting his legs, tinkering with a tape measure and sticking pins in the vicinity of very disturbing regions of his body.

Varric shrugged. ‘Sometimes a man has to make a sacrifice for the woman he loves,’ he stated boldly. ‘And when he accomplishes that feat and still manages to look striking, he’s a hero.’

‘Perhaps in your stories he is. But I dare to wager your heroes never have to stand on a dais, being manhandled and forced to wear an outfit a dragon simply would whisk away with one breath.’ Fenris was getting desperate.

‘Think about it this way,’ Sebastian offered, ‘your beloved will even love you more when she’s aware of the sacrifice you bring to her benefit.’

Fenris glared suspiciously at him while one of the dressmakers almost deprived him of his manhood with one of his vile pins. ’I can only hope she suffers as much as I while she’s trying on her wedding dress.’

That made Varric almost choke with laughter, and in his mirth he generously started spreading crumbs around.

‘You really don’t know much about women, do you.’ He laughed even harder when he saw the elf’s flustered face. ‘Let me tell you they revel in what you consider a predicament. There will be much tweeting and chirping, giggling and cries in awe, and endless turns around just to hear the satisfying sound of the rustling of acres of silk, and basking in the affect. And then they do it all over again with another dress.’ By now Fenris’s face was an example of uncomprehending abhorrence. ‘But think about the moment she will rip that perfectly fitting suit off your frame with heated excitement,’ the dwarf pointed out, grinning devilishly. ‘You will be thanking the Maker for a long time.’

Sebastian looked at him with a hurt expression. ‘You’re turning a sacred moment into something vulgar,’ he complained.

‘What?’ Varric said innocently. ‘I wasn’t aware that the Maker or Andraste, besides all their other activities, or non-activities as you will, also meddled with a man trying on a wedding suit. What’s so holy about that?’

Sebastian rolled his eyes. ‘You know perfectly well what I mean.’

Varric cocked his head with a cunning glint in his eyes. ‘And here I was, thinking that consummating the wedding was an essential part of the nuptials and as sanctified as said nuptials themselves. Better get the best out of it. That’s my opinion.’

The Chantry brother just snorted disapprovingly.

‘You’re just jealous,’ Varric concluded.

Sebastian didn’t deign to react on that particular jab. Although it secretly hurt. A little, at least.

-

About a very long hour later they were standing outside the shop, to Fenris’s immense relief. That relief was of short notice.

‘And now we’re going to search for a pair of matching shoes,’ Varric said with a vicious grin, beforehand anticipating the elf’s reaction. He didn’t get disappointed; the look on Fenris’s face was priceless.

‘Shoes?!’ the elf exclaimed in desperation. His voice caught with raw panic. This was definitely going to be the worst day of his life.

Varric, on the other hand, was amusing himself intensely and thought this day was compensating fabulously for the awful one of yesterday. ‘Yes. Shoes. You can’t marry the woman of your dreams barefoot; besides that, it would ruin the suave affect of the suit.’

And without further ado, but with huge satisfaction, he started to drag the highly reluctant elf along.

-

Although she was fairly satisfied with the outcome of her talk with Aveline, Albran felt ill at ease, as if something bad was about to happen.

Don’t be such a twit, she chastised herself, what could possibly go wrong? Except for rain on the wedding day, the wedding cake collapsing, tripping over the hem of your dress and tearing the fabric, an outbreak of food poisoning because of badly gone canapés, Fenris getting cold feet ... Oh, stop it, you utterly stupid old bore.

After she had seen the Guard Captain out, she had returned to the library. She flopped down in a chair and poured herself another glass of wine. She wondered how Fenris was faring. She grinned inwardly at the livid images in her mind of a panicky elf, surrounded by know-all fussing shop staff, one too serious ex-prince who would do nothing but increase his anxiousness, and one dwarf definitely up to mischief. The poor elf had looked unnerved and wound up already before they took off, and he was undoubtedly getting more irritated by the minute. Then again, according to the impish way Varric had been smiling when he and Sebastian collected Fenris, he was having one hell of a good time. She was pretty certain her wondrous husband-to-be never had thought about these consequences when he asked her to marry him, otherwise he had abandoned the whole enterprise even before the start.

She was so lost in her musings that she never heard him entering the room. When she noticed his presence it was already too late.

-

She went completely rigid. Visions of  that gruesome night, such a short time ago, started to swirl around in her mind. She wanted to scream but no sound passed her lips. The overwhelming feeling of being powerless returned, together with the paralysing terror and the crushing realization of being violated by someone she had considered a friend. The shattering of trust. She had been so busy being happy about Fenris returning to her and with the preparations for the wedding day, that she had managed to lock away those horrible memories into a distant and secured corner of her mind. But now they engulfed her, taking her in a suffocating hold. Or perhaps surrounded her like a swarm of killer bees, stabbing her with deadly stings.

This must be a nightmare. I’ve fallen asleep. This is not real. This is a delusion. It has to be. Wake up. Wake up!

She started to tremble.

Anders just looked at her. He had prepared a whole speech, all the while repeating the words in his head on his way to her mansion, but now those words escaped him. She was visibly so shocked and terrified that it broke his heart. He had done that to her. The moment he had walked into her library she had looked content, blissful even; the moment she became aware of him, that look had turned into a picture of mortal fear. He took a step forward and in return she tried to disappear into the back of her chair.

Say why you came here for and be done with it, Justice droned, we have more urgent things at hand. Right now he very much wished he could hit that blasted spirit. Hard.

‘How did you get in here,’ Albran finally croaked.

He took another step and she flinched fiercely. She looked like a trapped rabbit and it hurt him. He raised his hands. ‘I’m not going to harm you,’ he assured her, hoarsely. He indeed felt like he was trying to calm down a cornered animal. She stared wide-eyed at him. ‘I’m only here to tell you how sorry I am for what I’ve done to you.’

‘How did you escape,’ she whispered, not listening at all to what he said.

Anders swallowed. ‘Please hear me out, Albran. I love you and always will, although I’m well aware you will never be able to return that feeling. I came to apologise for my appalling deed and to say goodbye. I know I can’t be forgiven but believe me, it was never my intent to hurt you.’ She just stared at him with those petrified wide eyes. Those beautiful glistening divine eyes. ‘I’ll take my leave now, I won’t bother you again.’ He barely could hold back his tears.

Outside the mansion Marius was waiting for him. They crept away in the falling dusk and fled the city.

-

Albran stood up from the chair. She made an effort to walk to the door but her legs gave way and she crumpled on the floor.

Go away, she silently cried, go away go away go away. Leave me alone.

Like she had done after Anders had raped her, she curled into a ball and waited for her dark memories to disappear into that far away corner once more.

That’s how Fenris found her not much later.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

-

Fenris was raging heatedly, with Aveline at the recipient end of his burning anger. His markings were ablaze, matching the intense fiery look in his eyes. ‘How is this possible! How could you let that monster escape! You can’t be that incompetent!’ He was beside himself with fury and made sure the Guard Captain knew it.

He had found Albran not half an hour earlier in a situation that was so alarmingly similar to the one not long ago, that for a terrible moment he had been scared to death it had all happened once again. When she tried to explain, in bits and pieces, what actually had occurred, he had felt relieved and on the other hand had wanted to explode. He immediately had sent Bodahn to the Keep to fetch Aveline. After that he had carried Hawke to the couch, poured her a stiff drink and had simply held her, desperately trying to stay calm and to be a steady rock in her raging currents. Although she hadn’t wept this time, he could feel an occasional shiver ripple through her body. It hadn’t done anything to ease his mind but he had managed to hold back his rant and rave until the Guard Captain arrived. At that moment he hadn’t been able to restrain himself any longer. Now he was pacing the room, gesticulating passionately, venting not only his anger but also his shock and, last but not the least, the frustration of having failed to protect the woman he loved. Again.

Albran was numbly staring ahead, waiting for the brandy to kick in. Maker, she needed that kick.

Aveline, on her turn, was feeling utterly miserable and guilty. She still couldn’t believe what had happened. Donnic had stormed into her office to tell her about the bold escape. Before she could even recuperate from the impact of his words, he got followed by a highly frantic Bodahn with his disturbing message, which hadn’t helped much to relax her risen tension. With force she suppressed the impulse to shout back at Fenris; she feared it took little to nothing to let the elf literally ignite. She’d better try to calm him down.

‘There was very strong magic involved,’ she said meekly. It wasn’t an excuse. It only made it worse, she realised. ‘But rest assured, I have every guardsman that I can spare looking for him.’

‘You’d better,’ Fenris barked, giving her his best menacing scowl.

Aveline almost recoiled but instead straitened her shoulders. She was the Guard Captain, godsdamned. She would rather fall dead than be belittled by a Tevinter elf, no matter how righteous he felt.

In the awkward silence that fell, Albran mumbled, ‘I’m sorry. I lost it. I completely lost it. I should have punched him flat and I just sat there. I was petrified.’ The alcohol began to show some effect.

Fenris winced and his markings went out at once. He sat down next to her and took her hands into his. ‘Of course you were,’ he tried to soothe her. ‘Stop beating yourself up over it. He is the wrongdoer, not you.’ He apprehended his fuming didn’t help to calm her down and he made a heroic effort to rein in his anger. He so very much wanted to strangle that abomination. He wanted to rip out his depraved heart. He wanted to hit him into a bloody pulp. He wanted him dead. Instead he clenched his jaw and forced himself to pull Albran close and draw his fingers gently through her dishevelled hair.

‘You should have dragged him to the Gallows,’ he couldn’t help growling at the same time at the Guard Captain. ‘Or at least posted a Templar outside his cell.’

Albran stirred in his arms and heaved her head. ‘Please Fenris, don’t shout at Aveline. After all, it was at my explicit bidding Meredith and her Templars were kept out of it,’ she pleaded hoarsely. Lovingly she laid a hand upon his cheek. ‘If you have to yell, yell at me. This mess is all but my stupid fault.’

Fenris’s hand moved from her hair to lift her chin. ‘Stop that nonsense,’ he said and as to emphasize his words he let his lips lightly brush hers. ‘None of this is your fault,’ he whispered on her lips. He softly trailed his fingers down her face and kissed her in full with all the tenderness he could muster.

Aveline was taken aback by this display of affection by the normally so taciturn elf. Not for a minute had she questioned the deep caring feelings he harboured for Hawke; he wasn’t the kind of person who would ask someone to marry him out of pity or benevolence. And the insinuation she had heard uttered by some of the nobles, that he was after her wealth and status, had just made her smile sardonically. The mere thought was preposterous. But to see him so openly give witness of his love was a real eye opener about people’s hidden traits of character.

Albran took a deep shuddering breath and rested her cheek against her lover’s. She was getting fed up with herself. Frankly, she was highly annoyed with her own behaviour and was starting to feel the urge of shaking herself out of her stupor. Yes, Anders suddenly popping up had been a shock beyond measure but that didn’t mean she had to wallow in it. Besides that, there was no need to upset her elf even more. But she could use a little back up. Resolutely she stood up from the sofa.

‘What are you doing?’ Fenris asked suspiciously, reluctant to let her go. And, besides that, he was worried about what she, in fact, would do. Knowing her, she might as well have got it into her head that this moment would be the perfect one to hunt down and kill a high dragon to work off her anxiety.

‘Going for another Antivan brandy,’ she replied. ‘I have decided I’m done with bellyaching but I could do with another strong drink. As do you, I imagine,’ she smiled at Aveline. ‘And while we’re at it, I think you could use one also, my love. You look like you’re beyond the simple pleasure of drinking Aggrigio Parvali.’

He just stared at her. Not completely comprehending but, then again, completely mesmerised. Here he was, trying to comfort her and instead she succeeded in giving him the peace and quiet he needed. How the hell did she do it? He leant back and followed her with his eyes.

Her legs still felt a little wobbly but she was determined to stop with feeling feeble and being the victim. She was the Champion, she had defeated the Arishok, damn it. She would not allow herself to turn into a quivering and blubbering waif. Not again. Anders wasn’t worth it.  And he is definitely not going to ruin my wedding day. ‘And for the Maker’s sake, Aveline,’ she said while she was handing out the drinks, ‘stop fidgeting like a little berated schoolgirl and take a seat. This is not like you. You’re making me nervous just by looking at you.’

The Guard Captain and the elf shared a look. Aveline gave the latter a slightly crooked smile as if to say, you can bend her as much as you like, she will always bounce back. Fenris returned her a sceptical silent answer. Not always without help, though.

‘Now, would you be so kind as to tell me how Anders managed to escape out of your extremely well guarded dungeons?’ Hawke asked after she had retaken her place on the sofa. She had hardly flinched at pronouncing the mage’s name. ‘No sarcasm intended.’

‘Like I mentioned before, magic was used,’ Aveline explained. ‘But not by him. We made very sure he got his dose of magebane with every meal and even with every drop of water he drank. There is no way he could have performed any spell by himself, let alone such a potent one; he must have had outside help. Very skilled help, at that. Donnic found all the guards from his opened cell up to the ground floor fast asleep.’

‘The Mage Underground?’ Hawke suggested.

Aveline nodded. ‘The thought, of course, has crossed my mind. But we don’t know where they’re hiding or even if they have a headquarters of some sorts. You don’t happen to know more about them..?’

Albran took a sip of her brandy. ‘I’m afraid I can’t help you there. Anders rarely spoke about the organisation. He just mentioned them once or twice. He said he didn’t want me to know to keep me safe.’

Fenris snorted derisively. Both women ignored it.

‘What exactly did he say to you?’ Aveline asked. ‘I mean, sorry if it disturbs you but every little bit of information helps.’

Hawke tilted her head, letting the strong liquid swirl in the crystal glass. The material caught a glint of the fire in the hearth and for a moment seemed to explode in sparkling fragments. She threw the Guard Captain an apologetically half smile. ‘To be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention to his words. His sudden appearance put me enough off balance as it was. But I don’t believe it was of much importance. Some blathering about how sorry he was and he would love me always and this was his goodbye and blah blah blah. Nothing of substance, I’m afraid.’

‘He didn’t drop a clue about where he was headed and with whom?’

‘None whatsoever. Sorry.’

The Guard Captain let out a sigh. She finished her drink and got up. ‘I have to go back to the Keep before everyone is running amok and Donnic has a seething Seneschal all over him. I will immediately let you know when we find something about Anders’s whereabouts. Or when we find anything at all.’ With that she took her leave.

When she had left, Albran and Fenris looked at each other. Albran was the first to react. She smiled brightly. ‘Well, since now you know all about my day, I’d like to hear about yours. I want to learn everything about the suit-fitting-part and how Varric has been pestering you. And don’t leave out any detail. I think I’m entitled to some merriment.’

’Albran,’ Fenris said solemnly, ignoring her words; there was a slight tremor in his low husky voice. ‘After what happened, I’m not going to let you alone for just a single second.’ He cupped her face with both hands.

‘He’s gone; I don’t think he will harass me again.’

‘As long as he stays on the loose, he will remain a danger,’ Fenris pressed. ‘So I won’t leave your side.’

She smiled wanly. ‘If it makes you feel better –‘

‘It does.’

She nodded. ‘Alright then. But that was not an answer to my question.’

Fenris sighed, letting his hands fall into his lap. ‘They made me try on shoes.’

Hawke struggled to keep a composed face, or even to show some compassion, but failed gloriously. She burst out laughing.

‘It’s not funny,’ the elf said, sounding hurt.

‘I beg to differ,’ Albran giggled. ‘But I promise you, one day you will see it too.’

He thought it best to kiss her without further comment.

-

Anders and Marius were trekking along the Wounded Coast. A bright moon was shining, almost full, so it wasn’t difficult to see where they were going. Alternatively, though, it wouldn’t be a tough job for any pursuers to see them hurrying along the sandy paths. Anders constantly looked over his shoulder, feeling on edge and very jumpy. What if they were caught? In that case the Guard Captain would, without doubt, skip the whole trial part and deliver him as a neat parcel to the Templars. Tranquility would follow soon after that and not only for him.

‘Don’t worry,’ Marius reassured him, seeing his restlessness. He most likely would have sensed it even had it been pitch dark. ‘The sleeping spell has probably only worn off just now, so they have hardly had time to start the chase. And they don’t know we left the city. I suppose they will comb Darktown and the sewers first.’

Anders let a sidelong glance linger upon his young apprentice. In this light he seemed to be even younger, with an aura of something unearthly. ‘How old are you, Marius?’ he asked.

‘Last summer I turned eighteen, master Anders.’

‘You’re very skilled for an eighteen year old mage,’ he remarked, ignoring that unappreciated “master” for the time being.

Marius shrugged. ‘My mother taught me a lot and taught me well; she was an excellent mage and she told me I was very talented.’

‘Your mother? She taught you – here, in Kirkwall?’ Anders cried out incredulously. He was flabbergasted. Some nerve that woman must have had. Or else a massive death wish.

‘We didn’t practice in the city,’ the boy smirked with glee. ‘That would have been suicide! No, we came here on the Wounded Coast or went to Sundermount for our lessons.’ His teeth flashed white in the rays of the moon which made his features even more attractive. It gave him a somewhat roguish appearance. Anders imagined the girls would swoon all over the young man with this infectious laugh, with his half long curly blonde hair and his handsome cheerful face in which his lively eyes shone. He was not only easy on the eye but also easy to like and easy to trust. Perhaps a little too easy, Anders mused. But then again, who was he to judge another person’s reliability. He cringed inwardly at the remembrance of Albran’s shaken expression earlier this night.

‘Have you ever loved someone, Marius?’

‘There were a couple of girls,’ Marius admitted, grinning. ‘But I wouldn’t call it love. According to what happened to you, I understand love can be quite dangerous. Maybe I should avoid it and just stick to the fun.’

‘Maybe that’s the best advice,’ Anders mumbled in agreement. The boy reminded him painfully of how he used to be before he merged with Justice. He changed the subject. ‘Where are you taking me?’

‘To a cave in the north-east. We won’t stay there but I want you to meet somebody.’

Anders frowned. ‘Meet somebody? Who?’ His hackles rose involuntarily. He didn’t want to meet anyone; Marius’s company was almost too much.

‘You’ll see,’ Marius smiled. ‘You wouldn’t want me to spoil the surprise, would you?’

They covered the rest of the way in silence. When they finally reached the cave, Marius took a few torches form the stack at the entrance and lit them with a spark of magic. He led Anders through the system of corridors and rooms until they reached a small chamber. It was furnished with a wooden table, on which some candles burned, and four simple wooden chairs. One of those was occupied by a cloaked and hooded figure that stood when they entered. He uncovered his face.

‘Orsino?!’ Anders exclaimed, in great astonishment. ‘What are you doing here?’

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

-

Anders was still staring wide-eyed at the First Enchanter, who hadn’t answered him yet. Orsino had sat down again and Anders had taken a seat as well. He accepted the mug of water Marius offered him. He craved for something stronger, far stronger. A big gulp of Antivan brandy, for instance. He would gladly have undergone the tiresome rant from Justice about the risks of imbibing alcohol, but he doubted his apprentice had stowed away a bottle of the stuff about his person or somewhere around the cave. So water it was.

‘How, how did you get here?’ he stammered, utterly confused.

‘More or less in the same way you did,’ Orsino replied dryly. ‘Although I started with taking a convenient secret tunnel someone has been excavating.’

Anders’s mouth went dry. Shit, he knows about that. Later, let it rest for now. ‘But isn’t it dangerous for you to leave the Gallows? What if Meredith finds out?’

The First Enchanter flashed him a toothy grin. ‘The Knight Commander has obligations elsewhere tonight. She’s having her weekly meeting with the Grand Cleric, to be precise. Usually she is in such a foul mood when she returns, that she locks herself into her chambers with a bottle of some strong liquid.’ Orsino smirked with grim satisfaction. ‘No, this night I have nothing to fear from Meredith.’

‘But what about the Templars?’ Anders still couldn’t get his mind around the idea of the First Enchanter simply walking out of the Gallows.

‘Do you think they are as vigilant as when she is around? They sooner amuse themselves with playing cards and gamble away their wages with dice games, than check whether the First Enchanter is still in his room or is wandering around Kirkwall, busy with scheming some nasty plot. I cannot stay long, though, no need to take more risks than necessary. So, let me come straight to the point. I know you are the leader of the Mage Underground Movement.’

Anders almost choked on his swallow of water. ‘How do you know?!’ he coughed, spitting drops around. One of the candle flames got hit, spluttered and extinguished.

‘I told him,’ Marius said calmly.

Anders turned sharply to his apprentice. ‘You did what?! Without asking my permission?!’

Marius shrugged nonchalantly. ‘You weren’t in a situation to be asked anything. I was hoping Orsino could help me to get you out of prison one way or another.’

‘And how did you get in and out of the Circle without being exposed as, in fact, being a mage?’Anders fumed. ‘Or did you also make use of the secret tunnel? It is meant as a road to freedom for mages who face the threat of being made tranquil, not as some kind of godsdamned highway or a boulevard for a leisurely stroll! You must have been completely out of your bloody mind!’

‘Now, calm down, Anders,’ Orsino interfered. ‘There’s no need to shout. Your young friend here is very cunning; he didn’t need the tunnel at all. He pretended to be my nephew from Ferelden who had just arrived with some bad news about the family, and he can be very persuasive.’ The short glance he exchanged with Marius totally escaped Anders, who was still too enraged to notice anything. ‘As you might know, one of the few perks of my position is being allowed to have visitors without planning weeks in advance, so the Templars who were on guard duty let him pass without any problem.’

Anders gaped at the both of them. ‘Have you any idea what’s at stake here? If you had been caught,’ he pointed angrily at Marius, ‘the damage would have been unimaginable!’

‘I’m very good at not getting caught,’ the boy replied airily. ‘The Templars won’t find out I’m a mage. I told you I had a very good teacher.’

‘Perhaps the two of you can bicker about this another time,’ the First Enchanter suggested. ‘Let us return to the business at hand. I’ve been pondering the idea of searching for the Mage Underground Movement for quite a while now. I even made some effort to find your whereabouts but without avail. Of course I had little to no means to start with and you hide yourselves extremely well. So you can imagine my surprise when this young man suddenly turned up.’

Anders was fidgeting on his stool. He didn’t like it at all the First Enchanter was informed about him being the Mage Underground’s leader. Not that he distrusted the elf, but it was so easy to let some vital information slip. He only had to utter some words to a confident who on their turn did the same, and before you knew it Meredith got wind of it. But there was no use to criticize Marius, the damage was already done; he could only hope Orsino would keep his mouth shut. But then the realization of the serious situation he was in hit home. On the other hand, he mused wryly, it doesn’t matter at all, does it. I’m on the run anyhow. Oh well...

‘Why did you want to search for the Movement? It is dangerous, for you as well as for us.’ He might be a known fugitive by now, others weren’t.

‘I’m well aware of that,’ Orsino replied. ‘But things are rapidly going dire. Have you heard of a Templar called Thrask?’

‘The name does ring a bell,’ Anders nodded.

‘I had a secret meeting with him a while ago. He is concerned about Meredith; he thinks she’s going mad. She has gone as far as accusing some of her own Templars of being mages. He is trying to find support, very cautiously of course, to find a way to bring her down. Within the Circle we have no freedom of movement; our hands are bound, almost literally. You, however, lead a group of free mages. He – we need your help to reach our goal.’

‘And how do figure I could be of assistance?’ Anders asked scornfully. He waved around and added ruefully, ‘The reason we are here, in this remote spot on the Wounded Coast, is because I find myself in an – awkward predicament.’ He hung his head. ‘I suppose you know what I’ve done, why I was imprisoned,’ he softly let follow.

‘I do and I disapprove. Highly, as you may understand. I can only hope you are sorry for your action.’

Anders thought at the horrified look on Albran’s face and shuddered inwardly. ‘You have no idea,’ he whispered.

For a moment Orsino studied the man’s expression in the gloomy light the few candles cast. He seemed to look genuinely remorseful. He condemned his deed but had no choice in the matter. He simply needed him. ‘We have, however, other problems to worry about right now,’ he thus continued, leaving the delicate issue behind.

‘How appealing it may sound to overthrow Meredith, I cannot exactly act as freely as before,’ Anders protested. ‘I have the entire Guard at my tail and probably within no time all of the Templars as well. I may be out of the dungeons of the Keep but I’m not a free man any longer.’

‘Meredith knows nothing about your deed.’

‘That will just be a matter of days, perhaps even hours. I’m a wanted man. An outlaw. How can I be of any use?!’ 

‘Don’t be such a stubborn idiot!’ Justice boomed in his head. ‘Here you are, getting the opportunity to work with the Circle to free mages, delivered on a silver platter, and you back away. Grab it, you fool!’

The First Enchanter stood and wrapped himself again in his cloak. ‘You already had to keep cover, nothing much has changed. Wanted or not, you can be of great value to our cause. Would you at least consider it?’ He lingered at the entrance, waiting for an answer.

Anders hesitated. ‘Alright,’ he said at last, although reluctantly. ‘You can count on me. Tell me what you want me to do.’

‘We will keep in touch through your apprentice – my “nephew”.’ He showed a brief smile and nodded at the young mage. ‘When I need you to take action, I will let you know.’ And with that he strode out of the chamber, leaving a pensive Anders and a relieved Marius behind.

-

‘I truly can’t grasp the reason why we are bothering with this.’

Not long after Aveline had left, Hawke and Fenris had moved to the dining room. It had been late, but none of them would have been able to sleep after what had occurred. So they had decided to open a bottle of wine, instead of going to bed. To Fenris’s dismay, Albran had insisted it was a perfect opportunity to sort out the table arrangement for the wedding dinner. They had been going over the intricate puzzle for ages by now, with a lot of name cards being spread out before them on the large table. It was getting on Fenris’s nerves. He didn’t know half of the people who apparently had to be present at the wedding festivities, and in the other half he had heard of he wasn’t interested. They could be eaten by a dragon or perish in a sudden outbreak of a hideous pest, as far as he was concerned. But he could object to the mind numbing job as much as he wanted, Albran had put her foot down.

‘We’ll have to do this anyway,’ she had waylaid his protests. ‘And it’s a nice diversion from what happened earlier.’

A nice diversion ... yeah right. If she wanted a diversion, a nice one no less, he could think of one or two other activities. The elf drummed irritably with his slender fingers on the wooden table-top. ‘I really don’t see why it’s so important why Lord This and That can’t be seated next to Lady I Don’t Care,’ he grumbled.

‘To prevent a major high society fracas. If we allow the Montforts sitting within ten meters from the de Launcets, for example, they will be at each other’s throats during the whole dinner,’ Albran tried to make clear. ‘And then I’m talking about the good scenario.’ She poured him another glass of wine.

‘So, let them,’ Fenris said, fractiously. ‘Who cares.’

‘I do,’ Albran stated. ‘I want to be able to enjoy my dinner in peace without heated discussions and icy insinuations taking place all around me.’

Fenris looked fiercely at her, not willing to give in. Worse even, he broached another subject of annoyance. ‘And while we’re at it, why do we have to invite that insufferable Seneschal Bran? He hasn’t shown anything but contempt for you. I don’t see why we should tolerate him on what supposedly is to be our day.’ He pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt dangerously close to rebellion right now.

To be honest, everything about the marriage was getting on his nerves. He still shuddered at the memory of Varric dragging him along Hightown from one shoe shop to the other with that angelic expression plastered on his face that only meant he was out for trouble. He had got the feeling it was payback for some wrongdoing he hadn’t been aware of committing. He had never known there were that many shoe shops in Kirkwall. However, he was convinced he had seen them all. And, of course, in the end they had bought the pair of shoes Varric undoubtedly had set his mind upon ages before, in the very first shop the bloody dwarf had pushed him in, to be precise. All the time Sebastian had accompanied them but he had drawn little solace out of his presence. Most of the time Choirboy, no, damn it, Chantry brother, he corrected himself – venhedis, he had been so wound up by then that he had copied Varric’s choice of phrase and still did it at this very moment –  had ardently exchanged whispered words with Varric, while the shoes salesmen had hovered around him like irritating droning insects. They had been even worse than the dressmakers. For one reason or another, the two males hadn’t seem to have an argument – for once. He had got the impression they were conferring about something important. Probably how to make his day even more miserable, he had thought sourly.

When he had pictured the important day, if he had pictured anything at all about such a thing the moment he had asked Albran to marry him, he had thought about signing some papers and having a small exclusive party for their friends. Not this explosion of unwanted activities. And the worst part was that she seemed to revel in it. He remembered Varric’s remark about the bride trying on wedding dresses and actually enjoying it. He couldn’t fathom it. He got dragged out of his dark musings by her bright voice.

‘Yes, my love, I’m afraid we have to invite Seneschal Bran the Insufferable. Besides the fact we cannot ignore him, I owe him a favour.’

He got alarmed. ‘A favour? What kind of favour?’ In his opinion it didn’t pay off to be in debt to people with influence. Worse even, it was outright dangerous.

She smiled enigmatically. ‘You’ll find out soon enough.’

He opened his mouth to utter an objection but just in time thought the better of it and let it rest.

‘Favour or no, you still haven’t convinced me why we should invite that intolerable prig,’ he groused.

‘Because he is the Seneschal, love,’ she explained patiently. ‘We can’t overlook him. Just as we can’t overlook bitch Meredith or my dreadful uncle.’ Her eyes flared bright. ‘What about we have Uncle Gamlen sit next to Bran or opposite Meredith at the grand dinner? That certainly will provide for a laugh or two?’

Fenris just sighed and took a sip of his wine.

-

Orsino was restlessly pacing his room. He wondered for the umpteenth time if he had done the right thing; whether he had made the right choices or had made it only worse. But desperate times called for desperate measures, he tried to defend his decision to himself, even if those measures contained lies, deceit and involving the Tevinter Imperium. 

Of course he had known for a long time about the so called Mage Underground Movement – he had his contacts, after all. Contacts that weren’t as gullible and blind as the Templars and didn’t overlook signs as “Mum will protect you”, or the little note that was found in the Undercity by an attentive spy, saying, “Mum wants you to come home”. The very spy had caught the meaning of the message and had attended the meeting after she had managed to find the right place in the sewers. The night after that meeting one of the Circle mages had disappeared.

He also had known Anders was their leader but he had, until now, been reluctant to approach him, simply because he was a part of the Champion’s entourage. He couldn’t be certain he would keep their cooperation a secret to her and even less how she would react if she found out. Albran Hawke wasn’t exactly known as a mage-hater, sooner the opposite, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t betray their plans. But that problem was solved; Anders would never be a part of her circle again.

And yes, the Tevinter Imperium.

In his trepidation, and after a long time of hesitation and consideration, he had sent the Archon and his senators of the Magisterium a letter to ask for advice. They had sent him Marius. He had been surprised, to put it mildly, but the boy had convinced him in no time that he would find the solution for the fast growing problem named Meredith. Although he wanted to trust the young mage, he had the nagging feeling there was something strange about him he couldn’t put his finger upon. But there was little he could do about it at the moment.

The best thing to do was to watch out for him and keep Thrask out of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

-

Hawke had barely set a foot in the Hanged Man, when she almost stumbled over a bucket filled with grimy water. Just in time Fenris reached out and caught her before she fell flat on her face. She noticed Norah, who was balancing on a stepladder with some kind of broom in her hands. The barmaid was washing the windows. She was actually washing the windows.

‘What are you doing?’ Albran asked utterly confused, hanging defencelessly in Fenris’s arms. Her brain refused to accept what her eyes were witnessing. This couldn’t be the same Norah who always gave everything even remotely resembling cleaning utensils a wide berth.

‘Isn’t that obvious?’ the barmaid answered, sounding disdainfully. ‘I’m cleaning.’ She stooped and dunked the broom into the bucket with more force than per se necessary.

Almost hypnotized Hawke followed Norah’s perplexing actions. ‘So my eyes don’t deceive me,’ she mumbled. ‘What has been done to you? I mean, why are you doing this?’ She still didn’t believe what she was observing.

‘Varric’s orders. He said the place had to be spic and span,’ Norah said reproachfully. Briskly she lifted the broom up again, spraying her spectators with dirty water, and started industriously polishing the windowpane once more. Although she more or less spread the dirt around in a thin layer, it seemed to be getting lighter in the tavern, as if the rays of the morning sun finally got the opportunity to peep through the window. Hawke hoped the heavenly body wouldn’t decide at the spot to have a spontaneous combustion or a solar eclipse out of naked shock.

With some assistance from Fenris she managed to stand straight but kept holding on to the elf’s arm in case she would keel over out of pure bewilderment. They shared a stunned look. ‘And since when do you obey Varric?’

‘Since he is paying handsomely for it,’ Norah said defiantly. ‘I can use the extra money.’

‘Of course,’ Hawke mumbled, still not comprehending.

They ascended the stairs and entered Varric’s room.

‘Care to explain why Norah is acting like some kind of charwoman?’ Hawke blurted out even before the dwarf got the chance to greet her. ‘On your orders no less!’

Varric beamed broadly at them, fervently trying to hide his surprise. Hawke didn’t notice, or at least pretended not to, but it didn’t escape Fenris. ‘Ah, the happy couple. I didn’t expect you here at this time of the day, to be honest, but so nice to see you! Have a seat. And a drink.’ He motioned with a generous gesture to the bottles and pitchers on the table.

Only now Hawke saw Sebastian was present; he looked a bit flushed and it seemed he hurriedly tried to conceal a bundle of paper. He almost knocked over the inkwell in his haste. It was peculiar behaviour but Albran decided it could wait. ‘Well?’ she persisted while she flopped down in a chair.

Varric and Sebastian looked somewhat flustered at each other. ‘You don’t want to spend the night before your wedding day in a dirty environment, do you?’ the dwarf carefully said.

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ Hawke got the feeling she was trapped in some kind of bad play and she was the only one who didn’t get the plot.

‘No one told you yet?’ Varric seemed to be a little nervous. He pointed accusingly at Fenris. ‘You promised you would tell her!’

‘I promised no such thing,’ the elf countered defensively. ‘I can’t even remember you mentioned anything about whatever it is I should have told Albran.’ He reached for a bottle of wine. ‘I was undoubtedly far too busy swatting away obtrusive shoe salesmen,’ he added dourly.

Suspiciously Hawke glared at the dwarf. ‘What haven’t I been told?’

‘Alright then,’ mumbled Varric, ‘here it goes.’ He took a deep breath and proclaimed, ‘We have decided you’re sleeping here the night before you get married.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Hawke flew up, turning into the personification of raw indignity within an instant. ‘Just like that? Without consulting me? And who has come up with that ridiculous suggestion?!’

‘I already said she would take it badly,’ Varric murmured to Sebastian.

‘But it is tradition!’ the Chantry brother as good as wailed. ‘The groom collects the bride at her parents’ home!’

Hawke glowered at him. ‘I admit I spend quite a lot of time in this grubby place, but I can hardly call the Hanged Man my home, let alone that of my parents,’ she sneered. ‘Besides the fact I haven’t got any left.’

‘No,’ Varric, bravely trying to hold his wits together, told her boldly, ‘but I’m the one who is giving you away; that’s as close to a father as it can get. And I happen to live under this roof, so you can consider it your parent’s home.’

Hawke didn’t know what to say, too taken aback to find words. She just squinted incredulously at the dwarf. Father??

‘I think Bianca would very much like to know where you acquired a daughter, and I’m fairly positive she is not going to like any explanation,’ Fenris said with his best poker face. For the first time he was starting to enjoy the wedding preparations. At any rate he was definitely not any longer the only one who was suffering; the two males at the other side of the table looked very uncomfortable. The dwarf in particular wore an outright panicky expression and Sebastian was a good runner-up, looking as if he had been scolded by the Divine herself. He considered it sweet revenge for all the things they had put him through, the other day.

Varric fluttered his hands vehemently. ‘Let’s forgo the parent issue, shall we?’ He stole a glance at his beloved crossbow, sitting on the mantelpiece, as if he was afraid she would suddenly threaten to make a colander out of him. ‘There is another very good reason not to stay in your own house on your last night as a bachelorette.’

‘I burn with curiosity to hear it,’ Albran bit sarcastically.

‘You don’t want the nobles to be present in the Alienage to avoid trouble and I’ve been made to understand you don’t want them to know about it until the night before your big day, again to avoid trouble. But what, do you think, will happen the moment you step out of your house on the joyous morning? They’ll have been lying behind the bushes, or rather will have forced their servants to do so, waiting to intercept, follow or even harass you. In short, trouble all over the place. I’m certain Aveline will be very grateful. She’ll be having enough difficulties as it is to quieten them down, even with the assistance of the Seneschal.’

Reluctantly Albran had to admit he had a point. ‘In that case Fenris should sleep here as well. They will harass him even more viciously.’

‘But that’s against the tradition and –‘ Sebastian started.

Hawke flared up. ‘You can take your bloody tradition and shove it –‘

Fenris grabbed her wrist. ‘Try to calm down, love.’

‘What?! You agree with him?’ she spat angrily. ‘I will not be patronized!’ To emphasise her words she grabbed with her free hand an earthen mug and slammed it hard on the table. The crockery broke and the contents streamed over the surface. They all stared at it in mild shock.

Fenris smiled crookedly. ‘See, that’s the reason I never heard, let alone remembered, anything about confronting Albran with a fait accompli, especially one that doesn’t sit well with her. Call it an odd habit, but I’m rather attached to my life.’

Albran deflated and slumped back in her chair. She knew she was overreacting and realised she was on edge. The whole stupid Anders affair affected her more than she wished it did and that irritated her. Better to come out with it, no need to beat about the bush. ‘Anders escaped,’ she bluntly blurted out, ‘yesterday evening. And he popped up in my house. As a matter of fact, that’s the reason why we’re here at this early hour. To tell you.’

A heavy, almost palpable silence fell. Fenris put an arm around her shoulders and she gratefully leant against his shoulder. ‘It is no excuse for my behaviour but - ’

‘I think it’s a perfect legitimate excuse,’ Varric interrupted her. ‘In fact, legitimate enough to drag Rivaini out of her bed. Choirboy, run to the Alienage and fetch Merrill. This calls for a serious meeting. I take it Aveline has already organized the chase?’ Hawke just nodded. ‘Good. Then we will discuss about our contribution.’ And he bolted out of his room, yelling to Isabela to get her lazy ass out of the sack before he even reached the door to her room.

Albran was thankful he didn’t bother with useless questions about how and why, although she wondered what the dwarf thought they would be able to accomplish without hindering the Guard and thus enraging Aveline.

-

Marius stood looking down on Anders’s sleeping form. The mage had insisted on leaving the cave where they had met with Orsino, stating that it might seem a good place to hide but could turn into a dead-end trap. So now they were camping in the open air, somewhere between the Wounded Coast and Sundermount. As soon as they had reached this small clearing, hidden between trees and thickets, Anders had sunk down and immediately fell asleep. Marius understood he was exhausted, not only because of all the events of the past night, but also because of the energy it cost to restore the flow of magic, now the effect of the magebane waned.

Up until now everything had gone smoothly, he mused, perhaps a little too smoothly. He had been in this cursed city for a couple of months by now and had adapted rather fast, despite the fact he was still baffled by the way mages were treated and hunted down. And perhaps even more by how the mages hardly resisted. Yes, there was the Mage Underground Movement but they achieved nothing more than occasionally free a mage out of the Gallows, and thought themselves heroes for it. True, it wasn’t easy with that paranoid Knight Commander in charge, but nevertheless he was convinced they could start a revolution, provided they’d come with a thought-out plan. And that’s what he was here for. The instructions he had been given by the Archon in name of the Senate were clear: “Spread chaos in Kirkwall and see to it that the Knight Commander will be thrown down. After that we will take over.”

He had started with looking around to orient himself in this unknown environment. He had hired a room in a hovel in Lowtown. The landlady was an elderly grumpy woman but not the inquisitive kind and never questioned his coming and going. Not long after that, he learned about the existence of the Mage Underground and discovered were they hung out: mostly in the sewers. He thought it pathetic but was cautious not to show that sentiment. He had lied about his age, among other things. He was twenty-six years old but he knew he looked much younger, especially with that curly hair he had grown half long only for that purpose. But he had reasoned that an enthusiastically eighteen year old apostate (with an invented skilled mother as his tutor), in all his eagerness to thwart the Templars, would easily be accepted and trusted. With persuading flair he had played the role of the young mage, keen to learn and excited to go on missions.

At the same time he had managed to hide his own talents, especially the one that was exceptionally rare but extremely effective, if practiced with care and discretion. He belonged to the very exclusive, very small group of mages gifted with the power of natural mind magic. Blood mages could apply it too, but only in a raw and obvious way. He could wield it with such subtlety that it was almost untraceable, just a delicate push here and gentle pull there. Even Orsino hadn’t been aware of it.

His first goal had been to influence Anders so that he would confine in him and make him his apprentice. He had been unpleasantly surprised to find that spirit of Justice entwined with his essence. It was one thing to manipulate a mortal being, but trying to get control over a creature of the Fade was something completely different. It had taken him more time than he had hoped, but in the end he succeeded to turn it into his advantage. He made Anders believe the little nudges in his mind were caused by his private spirit and Justice was too occupied with his personal Exalted March against the injustice done to mages, to pay attention to his subtle meddling. In fact, the spirit thought it was his own doing.

He regretted he had been forced to take such a radical decision as to let Anders rape the Champion. But he hadn’t been able to find another solution than to use Anders’s love for the woman, blazing so brightly in his mind, to push him over the edge, while at the same time convincing him he did it himself, or at the most with some pressing from Justice. That afterwards Anders would run to the Chantry brother had been a nasty twist of events he had absolutely not anticipated. He had cursed the man for his rash and utterly stupid action but, in hind side, freeing him out of the Keep had been the easiest part of the whole enterprise. Putting the guards to sleep had been simple for a mage as gifted as he was; the only tricky thing was not to wake Anders’s suspicion about the true size of his powers. It was essential the older mage kept thinking he was the leader, that he was taking the decisions. It was a general known fact that the one behind the throne, to put it that way, was the one with the most authority. Marius winced. Calling Anders “master” was the only mistake he had made till now. He had smoothed it away but he must be careful it stayed his only error.

Stage one of the plan had been completed. He had made the head of the Mage Underground Movement vulnerable and depending on him without putting him out of action. He had made the First Enchanter an accomplice, leaving him no choice than to listen to him and follow his lead. The first important steps towards revolution had been taken. He smiled thinly. In retrospect that obsessed spirit with its fanatical rants about mage rebellion would come in handy.

He permitted himself a moment to mull over his second assignment.

Anders had revealed little to nothing about his private life and although Marius excelled in mind magic, it didn’t go that far he could literally read minds. Of course he knew his “master” had befriended Albran Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall and how deep his love for her ran. After all, he had blatantly made use of that knowledge. And he hadn’t had to expose himself to find out who also belonged to her circle of friends. The only problem was how to approach her without casting suspicion on himself. The woman did have a lot of enemies and wouldn’t be inclined to trust someone just like that, not even if that someone was a handsome, charming young man with innocent radiant eyes and a disarming smile. He suspected he wouldn’t even get the chance to come close to her. But he had taken the time and opportunity to observe her companions and had found one in particular suitable to make contact with. And he knew exactly the place to get in touch and the subject to start a conversation.

Beyond dispute his first and most important duty was to fulfil the task the Archon had given him. But since senator Danarius had promised him a large reward if he managed to deliver back his priceless pet, he was willing to consider the possibilities to capture the elf and hold him prisoner in some safe spot until the chaos in Kirkwall was complete and the reign of the dangerous Knight Commander had come to an end. After that it wouldn’t be too hard to return to Minrathous with his prize. He knew one or two well-tried methods to incapacitate a with lyrium infused warrior.

Anders stirred and made a faint sound, starting to wake up. Right. Time to focus again and carry on with the key charge.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

-

Fenris woke with a start. Someone was nuzzling his neck. It wasn’t unpleasant, far from that, but he had the feeling he had only just fallen asleep. His head felt like it was filled with cotton wool. Had he been drinking the other night? Not that he could remember. He cracked his eyes open and met darkness, or at most the glum light cast by an almost extinguished fire in the hearth and a single burning candle. It couldn’t be full morning yet. Bloody hell, what was she up to?

‘Sleepyhead,’ a very well-known soft voice purred into his ear, the voice belonging to the woman who could be up to anything. ‘Wake up. It is time for the surprise I promised you.’

Her warm breath floated around him but he wasn’t willing to give in. ‘If the surprise consists of waking me up at this ungodly hour, you could have spared yourself the trouble,’ he mumbled. ‘Let me sleep!’ He buried his face into the pillow but some determined hands ripped the covers off the bed and left him naked and defenceless. Without the warmth of the blankets and sheets to protect him, the cold air hit him like an icy shower. He flew up to win back the covers but Albran tossed them at the foot of the bed. In return she threw him some clothes.

‘Get dressed, sweetheart, we have to be in the Keep within half an hour.’

‘What? Why?!’ He was wide awake by now and didn’t like it one bit.

She handed him a cup of steaming coffee. ‘Surprise, remember.’

Without any other explanation she waltzed out of the bedroom, leaving him totally bewildered and rather grumpy.

Only now he realised they had been tracking the Wounded Coast for the best part of yesterday, vainly trying to find that wretched abomination. It had been Varric’s brilliant proposal. The dwarf had stated the Guard would be busy with combing the sewers and the Undercity and Anders would have anticipated that. So, he had reasoned, the last place to find him would be in those specific spots. They’d better begin looking outside the city and as the intricate cave system of the Wounded Coast provided for the perfect hiding places, they would start their search there. Albran hadn’t contradicted his words and he had had to admit the idea had appealed to him, although he had been quite stunned by the vicious determination in Varric’s voice. Apparently the dwarf was more outraged about what Anders had done than he had shown outwardly thus far. So they had set off to search out every remote spot and every hidden cave for a trace of the escaped mage. They had found nothing. He and Albran had returned to the mansion in the dead of night, utterly tired and frustrated.

He took an angry sip from the cup of coffee she had pushed into his hands and almost burned his tongue. He cursed. No wonder he had the feeling he had had no sleep at all. No wonder he felt like this; he had had just a few hours of sleep before she had hauled him out of it and for what..? And how did she manage to be so cheerful?

With a heavy sigh he put the coffee aside and started to dress himself. Undoubtedly this would turn out to be another dreadful day, filled with appalling wedding things he hadn’t even dreamed would happen, and a new worthless plan to catch Anders.

-

 Albran was waiting for him in the parlour, looking radiant as if she hadn’t missed a good deal of a night’s sleep. She slipped her arm into his.

‘Whatever happens next, remember I love you. And it was you who set this all in motion,’ she said. It sounded ominous.

He shot her a dark look. ‘Would you hate me if I said I regret the moment I asked you to marry me?’ he grumbled. At the same time he cringed when the impact of his words got through to him but she didn’t seem to take offence. Instead, to his relief, she just sniggered. She opened the front door and they walked into the cool, far too early morning air.

‘No, love, I don’t hate you for it.’ While she led him to the Keep, hanging on to his arm, she cocked her head. ‘As a matter of fact, I perfectly understand why you just said that.’ She paused for a moment. ‘That is, as long as you’re referring to the preparations and not to me.’

He halted in mid-pace, making her tripping over her feet. He deftly caught her despite the upcoming alarm. ‘You don’t really think I regret asking you to be my wife?’ He almost panicked.

She tapped his hand ‘Of course not. But I can imagine you never – oh hell, I can repeat all the awkward situations you found yourself in over the last period of time.’ She sighed. ‘I’m sorry about that but I hope I will make it up to you today.’ She started walking again, leaving him even more puzzled.

They entered the Keep and to Fenris’s astonishment Seneschal Bran was waiting for them at this ridiculous early hour. He nodded at Albran. She smiled back. ‘I trust everything is as I asked for ..?’

Bran raised his hand even before she could finish her question.

‘Of course. If you will follow me?’ He started to ascend the stairs to the former office of the deceased Viscount and Albran hauled a bewildered Fenris along. When they had entered the room, Bran walked around the impressive desk and took a seat in the even so impressive chair. He ruffled through the papers lying in front of him.

Only now Fenris noticed the presence of a Chantry sister. He blinked. Not just any sister but Her Grace herself, he corrected himself, getting more baffled by the minute. Elthina smiled graciously at him.

‘Serah Hawke,’ the Seneschal started, looking up from his papers, ‘it is because of your urgent request we are together here this morning. As you know I don’t agree with this marriage –‘ His voice faltered when met the cold gaze of the elf. He coughed uncomfortably and resumed, ‘I mean the way you want to implement the ... the actual ceremony in the...‘ He tailed off altogether.

Before he could make an utter fool of himself, the Grand Cleric stepped forward and took the floor. ‘Of course we are more than pleased that two people want to give witness of their love for each other. Be it in the Chantry, the Keep or the Alienage.’

Fenris stared blankly at her, still not knowing where this would led to. He could feel Albran smirk, though. Again, what was that woman up to?!

‘As you so brilliantly remarked during the conversation we had a few days ago, Messere Hawke,’ Elthina continued, ‘I have very seldom the pleasure to join a couple into holy matrimony that really love each other, because the nobles I usually marry are just out for money, power and status. Therefore it pleases me more than I can say to give my blessing to two persons who want to express their fondness for one another without an ulterior motive.’ She turned to him. ‘I trust you have brought the rings?’

The what? Rings? Now he started to panic in earnest. Yes, there existed something as important as rings. And the beauty of it was they hadn’t have to buy them. They had come with the estate as some kind of heirloom. The little pieces of jewelry had belonged to some ancestors and since he wasn’t very good with ancestor- business, what with his background of not having any family at all, he hadn’t given it a second thought. But he had no clue whatsoever of where they were right at this very moment.

And then he felt Albran fumbling something into his hand. He caught her reassuring expression and suddenly calmness descended upon him.

In a flash he understood. Of course. She wanted to avoid the tension as much as he did. She wanted the moment of getting married, the moment of officially being connected together... He tried to catch the breath that suddenly escaped him... She wanted the moment to be intimate. Just for the two of them. Without all the commotion of wound up nobles, excited elves and even without their well meaning but too fussing friends. Maker! He wanted to embrace her, he wanted to fall on his knees for her, he wanted to state his everlasting love for her. He braced himself. That was exactly what they were here for, wasn’t it. With a broad grin he presented the rings to Her Grace. ‘I believe I do.’

Elthina accepted courteously.

Everything she said passed over him; he just had eyes for Albran. She looked more beautiful than ever, even in her common day outfit. She glowed with so much happiness he could drown in it. He just managed to put the ancestory ring on her finger, say “I do” on the right moment and sign the papers Bran shoved under his nose with a rather sour face, and to catch the five most important words. ‘You may kiss the bride.’ And he did. With all his heart and soul.

-

He almost floated down the stairs leading from the Keep to the mansion – their mansion, all the way aware of the feeling of the new ring on his finger, the ring that witnessed of his love for her, when she said in a small voice, ‘Please don’t be angry with me. I didn’t want to force you into anything.’ He stopped to take her into his arms and kiss her passionately. When he let go of her she exhaled relieved. ‘I take that as an approval. Good.’ She beamed at him. ‘Time for part two of the surprise.’

Stupefied he let himself being pulled into the house. Part two?

‘Orana,’ she called out, hardly over the threshold. The petite elf ran into the hall, holding a wicker picnic basket she handed over to Albran. She got followed by Bodahn who was carrying a blanket he pushed into the hands of the stunned Fenris.

Albran took the time to thank and cuddle both of her servants but then determinedly took Fenris’s arm and dragged him outside once more.

‘Care to tell me where you are taking me to this time?’ he asked, more or less surprised he could still find his voice.

‘The Wounded Coast,’ she grinned. And he was none the wiser.

-

After they had finally reached her goal, he had to admit it had been worth all the struggles. He thought he knew every path in the area but, of course, it turned out he didn’t. She guided him over a trail, hidden between two rocky outcrops, which seemed nothing more than a narrow track for wildlife. Very small wildlife. They almost had to squeeze through it. But after a steep climb down, the trail ended at a little lake surrounded by low hills, overgrown by green bushes and colourful flowers, even in this season. The temperature seemed to have risen several degrees. It was like a little piece of paradise.

Albran waved at the lovely, secluded place. ‘You can swim here even in winter. The lake is fed by a warm water spring.’ She looked at him with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. ‘No-one knows of this place.’ She pointed at the picnic basket dangling at her arm. ‘Consider it some kind of wedding present,’ she beamed, ‘a whole day only for us in something like a natural bathhouse.’

‘No running along Kirkwall for suits and shoes, no table arrangements, no discussions about safety measures, no bickering about where to sleep ..?’ It almost seemed too good to be true.

Albran chortled while she put down the wicker basket. ‘None of those tortures today, my love. Just you and me.’ Before he could react she undressed in a breath and ran into the water. She dived and emerged again in the middle of the lake. Her merry laugh resonated against the rocks that surrounded the water and rippled over the surface. ‘What are you waiting for?!’

He threw down the blanket, stripped off his clothes and went after her. Despite her words he was surprised to find the water was indeed warm. With long, powerful strokes he swam to her. She was treading water and he easily caught up with her. His arms embraced her waist and she tangled her fingers into his hair, pulling him closer. His lips touched hers in a delicate way. ‘It seems we have too little time nowadays to pay attention to each other,’ he whispered. ‘And may I add,’ he kissed her so tenderly it shot shivers down her spine, ‘we have hardly been together at that.‘

‘Hence this day,’ she smiled, holding on to him. ‘I may like the wedding preparations more than you do, which isn’t that difficult, apparently, but I miss our precious time together. There should be far more of it.’

He took advantage of the moment to press her body close to his and nibbled her lower lip. She moaned softly and opened her mouth to let his tongue slip in. He moved one hand to the nape of her neck to steady her head and took his time to explore the cavern of her mouth. It seemed too long ago since he had been able to do this properly. He exhilarated in the feeling of her texture and the taste of sweet mint mixed with the tang of the black coffee she had drunk this morning. He was aware of every inch of her skin that touched his while they were floating in the water. He wanted to feel more of her. He wanted to feel everything.

They were abruptly forced to break their kiss when they involuntarily ducked under the surface. She fled his arms with a moist giggle that escaped her with a few bubbles, and started to swim across the small lake to a few low boulders that surrounded a little stony beach, inviting him to chase her once again. He was more than willing to comply. He grabbed her ankle when she tried to get out of the lake and pushed her behind close to him, rising from the water while holding her tightly. At this point the water level only reached as high as his knees. He let his lips wander over her shoulder while his hands travelled along to cup her breasts. She threw her head back when he sunk his teeth gently in the crook between her collarbone and neck and greedily massaged her nipples that hardened under his touch. His name escaped her lips in a longing sigh which aroused him even more. She turned her head to catch his mouth once again and this time their tongues entwined in a frenzied dance.

He let go of her breasts and let his hands glide smoothly along her stomach. She whimpered in his mouth when his fingers touched her swollen pearl. She bucked when he slowly started to encircle her sensitive spot while his other hand went further down to caress her inner thigh. She left his mouth and turned her head, resting her hands against a boulder, seeking some kind of counterpoise to push her frame even firmer to his. She cried out when he feathered over her moist folds and then entered her with his finger. He groaned when he found her warm feminine wetness and slowly added a second finger which earned him an encouraging and low sultry growl. She excitedly went along with his inciting movements and he pressed his hardened length against her bottom to let her feel he was as eager as she was. She reached for him and took his shaft in her hand. He closed his eyes and revelled in the feeling of her holding him, stroking him, of her fingers grasping him tightly and her thumb rubbing his tip. His lips descended on her neck once more and his tongue hungrily tasted the intoxicating flavour of her skin. Her breath hitched and her sheath tightened the moment her orgasm took possession of her body. Her hand clamped fiercely around his erection while she let go of all sanity. Her body shook violently and he kept kissing and licking every spot of her skin available while he let her ride out her height, trying to hold back his own. It would be so easy to let go, but he wanted to come inside her, especially on this day.

When she had calmed down somewhat, he turned her. He held her stable with his arms and pushed her legs open with one knee. His heart was pounding lake mad, he had never longed so much for her like now. He sought her mouth again and while his tongue captured hers he buried himself with one brutal thrust deep inside her core that was still dripping with the fluids of her peak. She flew her arms and legs around him, her back leaning against the boulder, and surrendered herself completely to him. He forced himself to stay motionless, revelling in this moment of utter connection. He breathed her name on her lips and she responded with a barely suppressed sob. He started a slow pace, pulling himself almost out of her and then pushing back in, gliding through her inviting heat. But it didn’t take long before he couldn’t restrain himself and pounded into her with a passionate rhythm. He felt the pressure building up in the lower part of his body and the moment he couldn’t hold back any longer she screamed out his name and her sheath fastened around his member. With a feral growl he emptied himself deep inside her.

Slowly they sank on their knees into the warmth of the lake, still holding on to each other. He lay down slowly on his back in the shallow waters, taking her with her in his arms.

‘My love,’ he breathed in her wet hair, ‘my wife.’

The tenderness with which he spoke that last word brought her to tears. ‘My husband,’ she whispered.

He took her face in his hands. ‘Thank you for this day. Thank you for you.’

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Hawke and Fenris slowly swam back to the beach were the picnic basket was still waiting for them. Fenris spread out the blanket on the soft sand while Albran dug up a bottle of wine and two glasses.

‘How did you find this place?’ he asked while he accepted the offered glass.

She smiled thinly. ‘I didn’t. Rascal did.’

He had once remarked that “Rascal” was not a very adequate name for a dog that could rip out one’s jugular in an instance. Although he inwardly had to admit it indeed was an original, well at least sarcastic description for a war hound. Nevertheless he had added it was quite inappropriate to bestow a name upon a marbari that insinuated he was an endearing, though sometimes naughty creature, like some kind of lovable harmless puppy. She had replied, rather stiffly, she had been only ten years old when the said dog had imprinted himself on her and that at that age children don’t intend to be original. By now, after he had been introduced to and acquainted with the dog, the animal was drooling and pouncing all over him, wagging its tale and barking out its happiness every time he entered the mansion. In short, they liked each other very much.

He chuckled. ‘Let me guess. He was chasing a rabbit?’

‘A hare, to be precise. We – that is, Bethany and I – were taking a stroll, just to get out of the city for a while.’ Her glance took that distant expression it did whenever she spoke of the past and especially of her deceased sister. He was well aware of how hard it was for her; he had been present, at that horrible moment she had been forced to end Bethany’s life in the Deep Roads. He knew how much she had loved her sister and how much it had taken her to get over her death. She might have come to terms with it by now, she definitely never would forget that awful occurrence. Neither would he.

Tentatively he touched her hand. She looked up and smiled at him, entwining her fingers with his.

‘We both hated Kirkwall, back in those days. We were country girls, used to vast spaces, wild forests and freedom. Not to dirty hovels, narrow slums and being cooped up in a city full of thieves, cutthroats and Templars.’ She sighed. ‘I would do anything to bring her back. To make her –‘

She interrupted herself, shaking her head. ‘Not now. Not on this day.’

Fenris, on the other hand, took her into his arms. ‘Yes, love, today of all days. I know how much it hurts you she can’t be present at our wedding. You don’t have to hide that.’

She smiled at him through the tears she wasn’t able to hold back. ‘I wished you could remember someone you missed on this special day. I don’t know what bothers me more, I missing my sister or you not being able to miss anyone at all.’

He buried his face into her hair. ‘Does it help if I say I miss your sister because she resembled as much of family as can imagine? And don’t think I say that to make you feel better. She was the only mage I’ve ever trusted and I was truly fond of her. And, by the way, that last part also counts for your mother.’

Albran let out a throaty laugh. ‘They would both have been so happy to see us like this. Married and all.’ She sighed and pressed her frame even closer to his. ‘Anyway, to explain this discovery, Bethany and I followed Rascal and found this place. We were both in awe and pledged to each other never to tell anyone about it.’

He kissed the top of her head. ‘And now you’ve broken your promise.’

She laughed again. ‘I’m sure she will forgive me.’

Gently she broke away from him, got up and walked to the lake with her glass in her hand. She solemnly poured some of the wine into the water as a kind of libation. ‘To you, my sweet sister.’ She emptied the glass. ‘And to you, Carver and you, my parents. I hope that you witness our bliss from the Void. Or better even, from the Maker’s side.’

Fenris also got up and wrapped her in his arms again. ‘I know you’re not a religious person. Neither am I. But as much as you do, I hope they are smiling down upon you. Upon us.’

She turned in his arms and he captured her lips. She let her glass fall in the sand and embraced him. Her hands wandered over his naked skin. She basked in his warmth and the tenderness with which his fingers slowly trailed down her body. Softly he nuzzled her neck and murmured how much he loved her. His arousing deep voice, even more husky due to his emotions, entering her ear and his breath swirling around it both gave her goose bumps. He lowered her on the blanket.

‘I want to feast on you,’ he declared hoarsely and so he did. She cried out in ecstasy when he filled her again. 

They both wished this perfect day would never end.

-

Halfway the afternoon Aveline was banging ferociously on the door of Hawke’s estate. When Bodahn opened, only moments later, she pushed the dwarf aside and strode determinedly into the hallway like a warship flying full colours. ‘Where is she?’ she snarled. Without waiting for an answer she roared, ‘Hawke! I know you’re in here somewhere! Show yourself immediately so I can kick your sorry arse!!’

‘Er, Captain,’ Bodahn stuttered, nervously wriggling his fingers, ‘Messere Hawke is not in.’ He wasn’t exactly prepared for a furious woman on the doorstep. And the Guard Captain was not just any woman at that, especially when she was angry.

Aveline turned to him with vicious speed. ‘What do you mean, she is not in?’

The manservant staggered a few steps back under her flaming gaze. He held her in high esteem, no mistake there, and usually she was a stern but friendly woman. An enraged Guard Captain, however, was not to be trifled with; she should be handled with care before she would handle you with downright wrath. He swallowed hard. ‘She left this morning in the company of Messere Fenris but I don’t know where they went.’

Aveline glared daggers at him. ‘Did she at least say when she will be back?’

Bodahn stumbled some more steps out of her glowering way. ‘No, Captain Ser, she did not.’

She looked as if she was going to combust and pointed an accusing finger at him. ‘I’m positive you know more about it. Spit it out!’

‘Cinnamon buns!’ Suddenly the cheerful voice of Sandal sounded, counterpointed by a happy “woof” from Rascal.

Aveline seemed to deflate somewhat. She looked at the young dwarf who radiated nothing but happiness and she let out a frustrated grunt. But she stopped shouting. ‘The moment she comes back, tell her to go to the Keep and see me, understood? And that’s an order.’ Without any more words she tramped out of the door which she slammed shut behind her.

Bodahn exhaled with quivering relief. ‘That was mighty clever of you, my boy. She couldn’t keep on raging under your charm, could she.’

‘Enchantment!’ Sandal beamed.

‘Just so,’ Bodahn smiled, affectionately ruffling his son’s hair.

 

Aveline stomped irritated through the winding streets of Lowtown to the Hanged Man. She was willing to accept that Bodahn really didn’t have a clue where Hawke was, but not that Varric was ignorant about where she hung out. That bloody dwarf always knew everything. She kicked the entrance open but stopped dead on the threshold; the last thing she had expected to see was the scene now unfolding before her eyes.

The regular customers of the tavern, the ones that seemed to be glued to the stools around the bar and probably even spent the nights on them, that is when they were not busying themselves with mugging and robbery, were at this moment gathered around the biggest table in the tap room. Doing what?? Aveline’s eyes popped from their sockets. It seemed they were making paper flowers.

She blinked. No, it was not a delusion; the rough, grumpy and outright dangerous squirts were definitely manufacturing flowers out of bright paper. And making garlands. Or at least they were trying to in silent suffering, looking more than embarrassed. Merrill was fluttering around them, shining with delight and twittering encouragements like an overjoyed nightingale. Now and again she guided a clumsy scarred hand to show how to properly cut the paper to get the right result. Aveline was astonished the sharp scissors hadn’t been used as weapons yet.

Her eyes wandered to Isabela who stood leaning against the counter with a broad grin on her face. She shot the woman a look that almost cried out loud, "What the hell is going on here?!"

The pirate queen raised her glass of whisky in a salute. ‘Top of the day to you, Captain Man Hands! Who would have thought our sweet little Merrill would turn out to be such an amazing nursery teacher!’ She giggled. ‘I can’t wait for the moment she’s going to teach them to sing the wedding hymn. Part-singing.’

Aveline squinted suspiciously at her. She was more than half convinced the pirate had forced the whole ragtag bunch into doing this and had threatened to nail their balls to the chairs if they weren’t cooperative. Judging the frightened looks the thugs now and again threw at Isabela, she wasn’t far beyond the truth with that assumption.

Merrill caught sight of Aveline. Enthusiastically she clapped her hands. ‘Oh Aveline, look! Isn’t it wonderful! The Vhenadahl Tree will be so beautiful!’

‘Yes, wonderful,’ one of the men grumbled under his breath. Aveline remembered she had dragged him the other night at his ear through the tavern when he had intimidated someone with a broken bottle for no other offence than being looked at in the wrong way. And now his sausage-like fingers were struggling with too delicate scissors and unwilling crumpling paper, his face tense with concentration.

‘Why don’t you let the elves do this?’ she asked, totally befuddled. ‘I’m sure they are so much better in making decorations.’

‘But they are far too occupied with cleaning the Alienage. It takes a lot of effort to sweep the floor and scrub the shacks; they have no time to make decorations. And then I thought, there are always people in the Hanged Man, even during the day. They never seem to do anything special, they must have lots of time.’ Her face clouded over a little. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong, did I? Isabela thought it was a great idea.’

I bet she did, Aveline thought. She didn’t dare to glance at the eccentric, tanned woman out of fear she would burst out laughing. ‘No Merrill, you didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, keep up the good work. And the same counts for you, chaps. Go on with the cutting and gluing. Nice work, gentlemen. Very nice. Don’t let me hold you.’ Damn, the second one who almost deprives me of my sour mood. She took the stairs two steps at the time and rushed into Varric’s room. The dwarf was scribbling as he had been doing for weeks now, frowning and sweating.

‘Alright, where is Hawke,’ Aveline snapped without further ado.

Varric raised an eyebrow at her. ‘I haven’t got the faintest idea. If I were to guess, however, I’d say her bedroom would be a good bet. Together with her elf, two for the price of one. How about that.’

‘Cut the crap, Varric,’ Aveline growled, ‘I’ve had to cope with enough shit today to last a lifetime.’

The dwarf cocked his head. ‘Why don’t you take a seat and have a drink. By the look of it you’ve had a hard day.’

The Guard Captain slumped down in one of the chairs. ‘You don’t know the half of it,’ she sighed, suddenly feeling exhausted. ‘I’ve been summoned by the Knight Commander. Of course the bitch one way or another has got wind of the whole Anders affair and she was livid. She went on ranting for ages about the duty of all citizens to turn in apostates, about the incompetence of the Guard and how she was personally affronted by not being informed. She went as far as screaming she would remove me from my office.’

‘Ouch,’ Varric said sympathetically, ‘that must have hurt.’

Gratefully Aveline took a large sip of the brandy Varric had poured her. ‘Ouch indeed and it’s not even the worst part. Without a second thought she labelled Anders a blood mage and then she threatened to arrest Hawke – can you believe that!’

Varric flared up. ‘What? Has she completely gone out of her stupid mind?! A woman gets raped in her own home by some bloody bastard and instead of showing some compassion, that deranged twat wants to lock her up in – where? Your dungeons? The blighted Gallows??’

Aveline rubbed her face. ‘Varric,’ she said in a tired tone, ‘she accused Hawke of harbouring a blood mage and, brace yourself, of being one herself simply because she refused to hand Anders over to the Templars.’

Varric’s mouth fell open. ‘I think it’s safe to state she’s several sandwiches short of a picnic,’ he said, shocked.

‘A complete fruitcake,’ Aveline agreed, ‘but that doesn’t solve the sudden problem.’

The dwarf gulped down his ale and jumped up. ‘Now I’m utterly sorry I don’t know where Hawke is but we must find her as fast as possible.’

Aveline lifted her hand. ‘Wait, Varric, not so hasty. Just sit and thank the Maker for Cullen. I don’t know how the Knight Captain puts up with that seething pain in the ass but some way or another he managed to calm her down. She dropped the charges. That doesn’t mean Hawke hasn’t got to be warned, though; the bitch can always change her mind. We can only hope and pray Fenris doesn’t march off to the Gallows immediately to give her Crankiness a what for.’

‘One can always hope and pray he does exactly that,’ the dwarf rumbled grimly while he sat down again.

She gave him a mirthless smile. ‘In any case, I will have all the time in the world to prepare for the wedding day. It won’t surprise you to hear Meredith has taken the matter of chasing Anders into her own hands.’

Varric looked uneasy. ‘I can’t say I applaud that. We haven’t had any result up until now, let alone the Templars will succeed. Those nitwits couldn’t probably find Anders even if he was tapping them on their nose and yell keekaboo into their ears. So he will remain a threat to Hawke.’

‘As far as I know, Fenris is with her right now, so unless Anders wants to commit suicide in quite an original way, he won’t harass her at this moment. Besides, Hawke doesn’t think he will return.’

‘She didn’t think he would violate her in the first place. Neither did we. But still that happened.’

‘Yes, yes, I agree. I didn’t say I wouldn’t go behind that harpy’s back to – wait, we?’

Varric tried to look as neutral as possible. ‘While your guardsmen were running around Lowtown and the sewers, we did some searching ourselves up the Wounded Coast. You know, some hopping in and out caves, some nosing about suspicious, er, outcrops and groves and coves and what have you in that blasted area. Nothing special.’

‘Without telling me,’ the Guard Captain said with a face like a thundercloud.

‘Well, you were already wading up to your knees in mud and shit and what not. Don’t worry, we didn’t find anything.’

Aveline leant back and let out a deep breath. ’Do me a favour, dwarf, and fill that glass up. Let’s first try to figure out where that wretched woman and her elf can be.’ She shook her head. ‘Just as well she wasn’t at home. I was so wound up, I wanted to take it out on her, instead of just give her a warning to watch out for Meredith. Maker! The way I stood yelling at Bodahn! The poor dwarf. I owe him an apology.’

‘That’s why you always should have a good drink before you go shouting at everybody,’ Varric smirked.

-

Orsino pretended to read a treatise on the use of spindleweed in addition to lyrium to replenish mana. In reality he was listening intensely to the ruckus coming from the room of the Knight Commander on the other side of the corridor. It wasn’t difficult to follow word for word the screeching tirade of Meredith, and he couldn’t help feeling immensely pleased by how she got more agitated by the minute. Apparently the Guard Captain didn’t give in an inch. Good for her. A pity she didn’t speak up enough for him to hear what she was saying. On the other hand he was concerned. A furious Meredith was a dangerous one. Even more dangerous than usual. He had to stay vigilant and find a way to tell Anders he had been right and now the Templars were hunting him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

 

Reluctantly they broke up their wonderful day together. The sun was setting and the evening was starting to descent upon Kirkwall and the Wounded Coast. They gathered the picnic items and headed back to the city.

‘Are we supposed to hide our rings from our friends?’ Fenris asked playfully while they were treading the sandy path. ‘To take them off when we get home and stuff them in a cupboard or your dressing table, away from prying eyes? Or can we keep on wearing them?’ She noticed he was turning the plain band with the thumb of the same hand while the other one was firmly holding hers.

Hawke grinned impishly. ‘We’re not going to hide anything. Let them try to work it out for themselves. And we will give them plenty opportunities. By the way, if you don’t object, I’m planning to throw a party just for the lovable bastards the day before you have to wear that atrocious pair of shoes Varric made you buy.’

He groaned and she chortled. ‘To be honest, I can’t wait to see you in the outfit our dwarf has picked out for you.’

Defiantly he straightened his shoulders. ‘And who says the dwarf has picked out my outfit?’

She laughed out loud at this time. ‘I know for certain you didn’t. You have no sense for style at all. No, that’s not true,’ she corrected herself immediately, ‘in fact, you ooze style. Perhaps it’s better to say you’re not interested in fashion and related subjects whatsoever. Whatever the case, I only saw you dressed in your spiky armour, some loose baggy clothing and your markings. I prefer that last outfit, by the way.’

‘Do you now.’

Too late she saw the literally and figuratively elfish glint in his eyes.

They had entered the city through the gates of Hightown but that didn’t withhold him to stop and embrace her. ‘Tell me how much you prefer that,’ he grumbled in his mind numbing rough velvet and dark sugar coated irresistible voice that held more than a touch of promise of hot, wild sex. And she knew how hot, wild, and tender, sex with him could be. She went wet between her legs in an instant and almost dropped the now empty basket. He enthralled her.

‘If you don’t want Aveline to arrest us on the spot for totally improper behaviour in public, I’d rather tell you that in the private vicinity of our bedroom,’ she managed hoarsely, ‘and show you how much I appreciate that way of dressing the moment after.’ She felt him smirk against her cheek so she thought to return the favour by softly biting his earlobe. As she had expected he almost jumped.

‘You minx,’ he breathed throatily, grasping her tightly. She just grinned. And grinned even wider when she detected over his shoulder the sour, icy looks of Lady What the Hell was her Name Again. The noble woman turned to her companion who was perusing the goods of the merchant who sold silk ribbons and too high priced clasps with lots of precious stones that weren’t exactly gems. Hawke recognized the woman as the somewhat (somewhat?!) childish and unworldly Comtesse de Launcet. The one who thought that swooning was a kind of fancy fashion accessory. The Countess followed her “friend’s” direction (in Albran’s opinion nobles didn’t have friends, just accomplices) and her mouth instantly formed a shocked perfect O.

At that very moment the image of Aveline arresting them on charge of improper behaviour in public suddenly became very appealing.

‘Take me,’ Albran urged Fenris while she pressed her body against his, ‘take me now!’

‘What?’ He tried to recoil, utterly stunned. He almost lost the blanket he was carrying. A little game was fun but this was going too far. He turned his head, following her gaze, and immediately comprehended. Oh hell no! He caught her hand when she reached for his crotch. ‘Have you gone completely crazy?!’ He took her wrist in a steel grip and dragged her in the direction of her estate, alright, their estate, looking straight ahead while she exploded with laughter.

‘Mesdames,’ she greeted the two absolutely shaken noblewomen when she passed them at high speed. They shrank back as if she was a viper, ready to strike. They weren’t far beyond the truth.

Fenris hauled her through the front door and pushed her against the wall after he had kicked the door shut. ‘What the hell were you thinking?!’ He was genuinely angry. ‘What had got into you! Your relationship, our relationship with the nobility is as strained as it is and you are all too happy to throw oil on the flames! Do you really want to make more enemies?!’

‘I’m sorry,’ she giggled, ‘I just couldn’t help myself. They looked so self-righteous in their stiff dresses with their stiff upper lips, I thought I’d give them the show they expected anyhow from an upstart with an elven bodyguard as a husband-to-be.’

He tried to hold on to his fury but couldn’t help himself. He lowered his forehead against hers and unfastened his grip on her wrist. He dropped the blanket. He desperately and with no avail tried to stifle a chuckle. ‘What am I supposed to do with you, you insufferable, intolerable, maddening, unbearable,’ he started to nibble the skin of her face at this point, ‘outrageous, despicable,’ he pushed himself close to her now, ‘disastrous, totally insane,’ he cupped her face and traced his fingers down her cheeks; his breath quickened and his voice dropped a few notches, ‘godsdammed beautiful, magnificent, breathtaking, mind stunning, astonishing woman.’ He drew her forcefully in his arms and kissed her passionately.

Neither of them paid attention to the basket that fell from her hand, not an inch from his bare foot; a suspicious clinking and shattering sound reminded of the empty wine bottles and the glassware, now definitely smashed to shards.

When they broke the kiss, both slightly panting, Albran answered his chuckle with one of her own. ‘I’m relieved you finally found out I’m of the female persuasion.’ She just avoided a fierce bite in her neck. ‘And when you’re done with chanting the dictionary,’ she had to duck this time to shun his vicious move to catch her in earnest, ‘I will wait for you upstairs, looking forward to your further praise. And to admire your aforesaid outfit. But I thought that went without saying.’

He grabbed her waist and with a guttural grumble he claimed her mouth again. His hands nearly shredded her tunic in their urge to reach her breasts and the low of her back and, frankly, the rest of her body all in the same time. She groaned hungrily and made a serious attempt to undress him.

They got interrupted by an artificial cough and spun as if being attacked.

‘Forgive me, Messeres.’ Bodahn nervously wrung his hands. ‘But you have a visitor.’

Hawke hastily adjusted her dishevelled cloths. She heard Fenris huff in frustration and hid a smirk. ’And here I was, thinking we for once could enjoy a whole day of peace and quiet, including the evening,’ she murmured annoyed.

Someone appeared in the entrance of the library, the usual place her major-domo let wait the people wanting to talk to her. ‘I deeply apologize for disturbing you, Serah Hawke, Fenris, especially, as I understand, since this is supposed to be, er, your day out. But I’m afraid I am here with good reasons.’

Albran turned to the visitor and frowned in astonishment. ‘Knight Captain Cullen? What are you doing here?’

Fenris shifted immediately and positioned himself in front of her in a protective stance. Albran wasn’t a mage but a Templar at your doorstep, let alone in your house, was never good news. She tenderly touched his arm. ‘I can hardly believe the Knight Captain is here to arrest me, love. Let’s hear him out before we decide to harass him.’ At the same time she moved around him, still holding his arm.

Cullen gave her a little formal bow which couldn’t completely hide his nervousness. Albran realised that she, despite her friendly words, was staring ferociously at him and imagined Fenris’s scowl was even more menacing. She subsided somewhat. No need to frighten the man. Yet. ‘All right, lets retreat into the library, and you can tell us what’s so bloody important that you have to disturb the precious little time we can share together.’

‘Uhm, Messere, it was not my intent ... the gentleman insisted.’

She shot the dwarf a bright beam. ‘Don’t worry, Bodahn, no harm done. I hope,’ she added, suddenly afraid Bodahn had let slip his tongue. The dwarf just vehemently shook his head, guessing her thoughts. She smiled thinly. ‘Good. Please, could you bring us some refreshments?’

‘Of course, Messere.’ Bodahn scurried off.

When they walked into the library, Fenris seized her hand. He gave her a short look she could interpret well. He was troubled. ‘Don’t worry,’ she whispered.

‘After all that has happened I have all the right to worry,’ he waylaid her, speaking out loud. He led her to the sofa as a perfect chevalier and she let him.

The moment she sat down, Cullen said, ‘Your soon to be husband has every reason to be concerned, I fear. Meredith knows all about what has occurred.’

‘What do you mean?’ Fenris sounded alarmed by now.

Cullen took a deep breath. ‘I hoped to catch you before you heard this from the Guard Captain, so I could explain the situation myself.’ Without indignant yelling and shouting foolish allegations, he thought.

Albran interrupted him immediately. ‘The Guard Captain? What’s that about Aveline?’

He looked warily at her. ‘Later, Champion. First things first.’ He took another breath, working up his courage. ‘The Knight Commander wanted to arrest you on accusation of protecting a dangerous apostate.’ He got no chance to say anything further.

Before Albran could react Fenris burst out. He could hardly restrain himself from jumping the Knight Captain. ‘Protect him?!’ he fumed. He stood in front of the Templar, his fists clenched. ‘He violated her, she was in no state to do anything! A Chantry brother decided to bring him into the custody of the Guard Captain! How dare that power-mad deranged idiot of a woman get it into her mind to arrest the victim of such a disgusting crime!’

Cullen was visibly shocked by the sudden bright blue flare. He knew the reputation of the elf and had no desire to experience his skill out of first hand. Not when his own well-being was at stake.

Hawke had sprung up. She could not believe what Cullen just had said. She had heard rumours about Meredith, that she was getting more crazy by the day, but she hadn’t paid much attention to them. Now it became painfully clear she should have. ‘I didn’t want him to be convicted for being a mage, but for the crime he has committed,’ she declared resentfully. ‘And that’s the Guard Captain’s territory, not the Knights Commander’s.’

‘Exactly,’ she heard Fenris spat, aggravated, ‘how much I despise him for being an abomination, what he has done to Albran is unforgivable and far more sickening.’

‘I know,’ Cullen sighed, ‘and I understand. I can even sympathise. But I’m afraid Meredith is of a completely different opinion. In the end, however, she decided not to take legal actions against the Champion.’

‘She’d better,’ Fenris growled.

Bodahn chose this moment to enter the library, carrying a tray with a bottle of wine and three glasses. He carefully tried not to take notice of the tense atmosphere in the room but put his burden on the first available low side-table.

‘Thank you Bodahn, that will be all for now,’ Hawke said with an attempt at a cheerful smile that sadly resembled a forced grimace at best. ‘Perhaps we should all calm down,’ she continued after the dwarf had disappeared again. ‘This is getting us nowhere.’

Fenris grumbled something under his breath, but grudgingly stepped back to sit on the couch.

‘Does Meredith even know you’re here?’ Hawke asked Cullen while she busied herself with filling the glasses.

‘As a matter of fact she does. She sent me here herself to warn you, although I’m sure she had a completely different type of warning in mind.’ He shifted uneasily. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Champion, I’m loyal to her. Just as I am, you are undoubtedly aware of the rumours being spread about her, er, sanity and it seems likely her wanting to arrest you will only fuel those rumours. However, as I see it, she is very dedicated to her job which has become more strenuous over the past years. She was overreacting, but she has been under too much stress of late.’

Fenris snorted derisively but didn’t comment.

‘But that I’m loyal to her doesn’t mean I agree with everything she does and I definitely don’t agree with this. So I implore you, Champion, be very cautious about your actions.’

‘What? About how I ever so gracefully associate with the nobility?’ Albran scoffed. ‘Or are you afraid I suddenly will get the luminous idea to make my house a safe haven for apostate mages?’

Cullen threw her a tired look. ‘You don’t understand, Serah Hawke.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Yes, she has dropped the charges for now, but she can change her mind any time when her mood takes her. She is hard to read and even harder to predict these days. She can decide to take you captive, lock you up and interrogate you on a whim. And you can’t rely on your title, it won’t protect you.’

‘Listen to yourself,’ Fenris sneered, ‘rewind those words in your head, take some time to think them over and then question the gossipers once more.’

‘She’s just overworked,’ the Knight Captain persevered, stubbornly.

‘I don’t care how you call it,’ the elf snarled. ‘If she dares to lay a finger on Albran, to touch just one hair on her head, she will have me to deal with. And believe me, it will not be pleasant. For her, that is.’

‘And now she has taken yet another task upon her shoulders,’ Cullen said, ignoring the elf’s threat as best he could, although deep in his heart he had to admit it would be a very interesting clash, to say the least. ‘She has forbidden the Guard Captain to go on with pursuing Anders and has set the Templars upon it.’

Fenris stared at him and Albran reacted, outwardly unperturbed, ‘See, that’s why I didn’t want her to know about the whole affair. She’s making a mess of it already. No wonder you wanted to get to us before Aveline did. I wager you were frightened the three of us would start a riot.’

Petrified, Cullen thought but didn’t say. He put his glass down and stood up. ‘Please, Serah Hawke, don’t do anything rash. Don’t go after Anders yourself, with or without the, now illegal, assist of the City Guard. Don’t thwart the Knight Commander or the Templars in their investigation and try to keep a low profile.’ She cocked an eyebrow at him and he realised that was a silly remark. ‘As far as possible with your marriage arrangements,’ he added. ‘I understand you already have half of Hightown in an uproar.’ Hawke also stood but he waved her off. ‘Don’t bother, Champion, ‘I will see myself out.’

After he had left, Fenris said, ‘I never thought I would have to protect you from the Knight Commander herself.’ Anders’s words were nagging at the back of his mind, Holding this city together? She is howling at the bloody moon! He vigorously tried to shut them out. Too many thoughts were disturbing his mind right now, too many scenes of horror tried to make an appearance. Admitting that the abomination had been right, could prove to be too much and he didn’t want to snap. He had to keep his wits about him. Especially now.

‘And I never thought I would live to see the day you would turn against the Templars,’ she replied, jokingly.

He grabbed her hand. ‘I will turn against anybody who wants to harm you,’ he said sincerely. ‘Be it a mage, a Templar or the Maker Himself.’

She chuckled softly while she snuggled close to him and laid her head on his shoulder. ‘You will be so busy turning, you will get dizzy.’

He lifted her chin and traced her lower lip with the pad of his thumb. ‘Don’t make light of this, Albran.’

She smiled wanly. ‘I don’t. I’m just trying to keep my nerves and anger under control.’

He pulled her in his arms. ‘I think I know just the right remedy to keep them at bay,’ he murmured in such a sultry tone it quadrupled the usual effect of his voice on her body and she happily surrendered to him.

-

Sebastian noticed the young man was in the Chantry again. He had turned up for several days in a row by now, every evening at the same time. As he had done previously, he burned a candle before one of Andraste’s statues and after that sat in one of the pews, praying for a while. The boy’s handsome face seemed to be made for looking joyful; instead he radiated a deep sadness like he had been through some tragic event or was mourning a great loss. Sebastian had to confess he not only felt compassionate, but also became more and more intrigued. This night he decided to approach and address the young man. Perhaps there was a way he could help him to ease his grief.

Little did he know it was a decision he would go regretting enormously.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

 

‘You are not supposed to be here,’ Isabela said determinedly. ‘As a matter of fact, you are not even allowed. This is women’s business. As much as I like your appearance, I by now order you out.’ Her dark, kohl-surrounded eyes shone with authority. ‘Hawke! What were you thinking, bringing him here!’

Fenris folded his arms in front of his chest and returned the gaze with a firm glare of his own. ‘She didn’t bring me, I was adamant to accompany her. After Anders’s escape and Meredith’s stupid but dangerous accusations, I’m not going to lose sight of Albran, not just for one moment,’ he said, defiantly sticking out his chin.

They were standing just over the threshold of the bridal shop where Albran had ordered her wedding dress. Fenris noticed the place was even more luxurious and adorned with useless and ridiculous decorations than the shops he had been forced to visit. The interior looked like a wedding-cake created by a deranged confectioner who had completely gone nuts with glazing and topping. And it smelled more fragrant than a florist’s and a perfumery combined, which almost made his eyes water.

Today Albran had an appointment to try on the adjusted garment and she had decided it was a good moment to finally choose the outfits for Isabela and Merrill, who would be the bridesmaids. She hoped fervently they would succeed this time. The elven mage wouldn’t be a problem; she was more than compliant and admired every piece of cloth she got wrapped in. The pirate queen, however, had on earlier occasions kept on complaining there was not enough leg or bosom or skin at all to put on display.

‘And you know how the saying goes, sweetness, one wedding leads to another.’

Albran had looked incredulously at her. ‘As if you, of all people, would ever want to get married again!’

Isabela had shrugged her tanned shoulders. ‘It was just a manner of speaking. But I was expecting it would at least lead to a nice tryst and these dresses you’re forcing upon me aren’t helping.’

Hawke had had an eruption of sarcastic glee. ‘Are you serious? You only have to bat your lashes and the men stumble over each other to do your bidding. Besides that, you’re capable enough to drag them to your bed on your own account. You don’t need your cleavage or exposed thighs.’ She had added, ‘Just know I will not allow you to be dressed as if you come directly rolling out of the Blooming Rose.’

‘If that were the case, I wouldn’t be dressed at all,’ Isabela had cheekily replied.

‘Ehm, Fenris,’ Merrill at this very moment timidly put in a word, ‘it is bad luck to see the bride in her wedding gown before the actual wedding.’

Well, too late for that, he thought, grinning inwardly. He turned to Albran as a last resort. ‘Don’t tell me you believe in this superstitious nonsense?’

Hawke smiled sweetly. ‘It’s part of the tradition, love.’

‘What?! Not days ago you objected ferociously against tradition and now –‘

‘Out,’ Isabela commanded with a light but resolute push against his chest. ‘If you are decided on keeping watch, you can do it outside this establishment.’

‘Please Fenris,’ Hawke pleaded, ‘I’m sure no big bad bully will pounce upon me while I’m trying on my dress. And I want it to be a surprise.’

Fenris grunted disapprovingly but gave in. He stepped outside.

‘If you like, we can let you bring a glass of champagne and some sweetmeats,’ Isabela called after him.

‘Don’t bother,’ he grumbled. Sulkily he leant against the wall. He knew he was acting like an overprotecting marbari but he would be damned if something nasty would befall – his wife. His dark scowl softened at that realization and he briefly touched the ring on his finger. Up until now nobody had noticed the similar plain bands they both wore and although he wanted to shout it from the rooftops, on the other hand he loved to share the secret with only her. He wandered over to the parapet and without much interest looked down at the bustling Hightown market below.

He frowned when he saw Sebastian descending the stairs leading from the estate part of Hightown down to the colourful stalls. Not that is was unusual for the Chantry brother to take a stroll, especially on a crisp sunny autumn day like this, but he wasn’t alone. Even that shouldn’t ring the alarm bells if it weren’t for the fact he didn’t know his companion and he found their behaviour rather curious. The unknown person looked innocent enough; a youth, on the face of it still in his teens, with half long curly blond hair. But for one reason or another Fenris didn’t like the almost obsessive way Sebastian was talking to him and how the boy in adoration reacted to his words. It seemed ... spurious. His frown grew deeper. Why would he be bothered by whomever Sebastian wanted to walk with through Kirkwall? He shook his head; he was really getting paranoid.

And yet he couldn’t shake off the sudden cold that crept along his spine.

-

Hawke declared she was in desperate need of a strong drink at the Hanged Man, when she finally had finished her business in the bridal shop and they ambled home for dinner.

‘Why? What’s the stress? I thought you females loved trying on dresses and lace veils and hats and shoes and what not,’ Fenris said, carefully. At least, that was what Varric had told him but it could well be the dwarf had made it up or had been highly exaggerating. It wouldn’t be the first time he would do such a thing. As a matter of fact, he did it constantly.

‘Oh, don’t get me wrong,’ Hawke sighed, ‘we do. But what we definitely don’t love is a friend whining and grouching about the clothes we want her to wear on our wedding day and yammering about the amount of time it takes to make a gown fit.’

‘Well, it did take hours –‘

But Albran wasn’t listening. ‘Would you believe she tried to seduce one of the seamstresses? She practically pushed those breasts of hers in her face. The poor woman didn’t know where to look.’

Fenris could totally believe it. He nearly laughed out loud but managed to keep a straight face for her benefit. Or perhaps for his own, in case she got mad at his reaction.

And so, later that night, they went to the scrupulously scrubbed clean Hanged Man.

‘I haven’t seen Sebastian for a couple of days,’ Hawke addressed Varric after she had taken a seat at the table in the dwarf’s suite. ‘Lover’s quarrel?’

Fenris hadn’t mentioned he had spotted Sebastian and his new friend, or whatever he was, in the Hightown market that afternoon. But then again, what was there to tell? Nothing, besides a vague feeling something was amiss he couldn’t even put into words. She would have laughed at him and she probably would have been right.

The dwarf cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘Beg your pardon?’

Hawke gave him a mischievous smile. ‘You two seemed to be inseparable of late,’ she said teasingly. ‘And out of the sudden our prince, or should I say your prince, doesn’t turn up anymore. What’s a concerned and romantic girl to think? But you can tell me everything about it, you know that, right? For you I always have a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.’

Varric looked aghast. He put a hand to his heart, exclaiming, ‘Madam! You wound me with such accusations of unfaithfulness. You know very well Bianca is the only one for me.’

‘Indeed,’ Fenris groused, ‘those two culprits have not been acting so much as lovers than as brothers in evil, concocting plans how to turn my life into a living hell.’

Isabela came sauntering into the room, a glass of rum already in her hand, just in time to catch Fenris’s words. She was followed by Merrill. ‘I would have paid to see your face,’ the pirate giggled. ‘I wager you took brooding to a whole new level.’ She plopped down in a vacant chair and rested her booted feet on a corner of the table.

‘I bet you would,’ Varric agreed. ‘It came with the whole package of smouldering and cold insolence you once asked for. There was a moment I was afraid he would combust or assault one of the salesmen.’

‘Smouldering and cold at the same time,’ Merrill piped up, ‘isn’t that ... very difficult?’

‘Let me put it this way, Daisy, it was quite a sight to behold.’

‘You were just trying how far you could push me,’ Fenris retorted grumpily.

‘What can I say, it was a very instructive afternoon. And just in time too, since nowadays you seem to be glued to Hawke. With her around we won’t get another chance to harass you.’

‘I’m just trying to prevent something bad will happen,’ Fenris grumbled.

At that moment Sebastian entered with, to Fenris’s dismay, the same boy in tow he had been with earlier that day. ‘A good evening to you all,’ he cheerfully called out to the gathering. ‘I’d like you to meet Herric. He is from Cumberland.’

Herric, a.k.a. Marius, had invented a colourful tale about how his family had perished in a fire when their farm burned down, which had been the reason he had come to Kirkwall in search for the only uncle he had left, only to find out said uncle had died not a week before his arrival. After Sebastian had ended the introduction with, ‘So I think you can understand that I wanted to bring Herric to the Hanged to Man to have a pleasant evening in good company,’ Marius gave the audience his most charming and captivating smile, carefully framed with a soft expression of sadness.

‘I have a lot to thank Brother Sebastian for,’ he said quietly. ‘He has been a great support and solace in my dire circumstances.’

‘Herric is considering joining the Chantry,’ the former prince beamed happily.

‘That would be a pity,’ Isabela commented, eyeing the handsome boy with hardly disguised interest.

Fenris soon found out he was the only one who was not moved by the boy’s so called misery, the only one yet to question the credibility of the story. The others were all over this Herric, making him as comfortable as possible, making him feel at home. Even Albran treated him with near motherly kindness. Now he was in the same room with the young man, sitting close to him, his uneasiness grew worse; he felt his markings tingle and struggled not to ignite them. Silently he scolded himself. The boy did absolutely nothing to feed his suspicions; nothing indicated he had something up his sleeve or was hatching up some devious plan. On the contrary, he seemed too good to be true. But that was precisely the point, wasn’t it: too good to be true. He could, however, hardly accuse the boy of being nice and friendly. And bluntly venting his doubts about the misfortune he claimed to have suffered, would be most unwise. He would keep an eye on the young man, a strong watchful eye, if Sebastian insisted on dragging him along.

-

‘You were very silent tonight, love. Is something wrong?’ Albran asked worried, while she and Fenris were returning home. He had been keeping strangely aloof in the presence of Herric, even for him.

The elf threw her a sidelong glance, considering whether it would be prudent to pour his heart out, or if he’d better feign being tired. He feared she wouldn’t be fooled. ‘Don’t tell me you bought that sob story,’ he blurted.

‘What sob story? Oh, you mean Herric.’ She tilted her head. ‘You don’t trust him?’

Fenris took a breath and the dam broke. ‘No I don’t trust him at all. There is something unsavoury about him, something slippery I can’t put my finger upon. I just know he isn’t what he pretends to be.’

‘Why would you think such a thing?’ she asked in amazement.

‘I can’t tell,’ Fenris replied, getting impatient out of frustration. ‘Call it a hunch.’

She stopped abruptly and turned to him. ‘So, because of a hunch you blame a person of lying and cheating? What’s got into you?!’

He gripped her shoulders. ‘Listen to me Albran,’ he said urgently. ‘Yes, it sounds crazy and I can’t proof a thing, but I am positive this Herric is trouble.’

She stared angrily at him. ‘This is idiotic. I know you are on your guard and yes, with good reasons, but now you’re overdoing it. You can’t just go and accuse every stranger you meet of being a criminal or having bad intentions. You have always been the suspicious kind and again with good reasons,’ she hastily added, raising her voice before he could utter a protest. ‘But this is getting too far. That poor boy!’

He wanted to shake her until she saw the truth of it, but refrained; he would accomplish only the opposite.

Albran got away from his grasp. ‘I’m not having an argument in the middle of the street,’ she hissed and started walking with an irritated brisk gait. For a moment he just stood, looking at her fast disappearing form. He considered going to his mansion but he would never forgive himself if something would happen to her in his absence, so he hastened after her instead. He felt wretched. They had had their differences in the past; he had disliked it by then and now he absolutely hated to have a row with her.

In the middle of the parlour she halted and stood still in front of the hearth, staring into the fire. She tried to calm down and wondered why she had flared up like that in the first place. She hadn’t noticed anything strange about the young man, that was true, but she knew Fenris’s intuition and she had to admit he was seldom incorrect. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him watching her warily. He looked desolate and suddenly she felt ashamed. Fenris, of all persons, didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

‘I am sorry,’ she said meekly. ‘I didn’t sense anything fishy about Herric but that doesn’t give me the right to fly at you. If it makes you feel better, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I promise I will be cautious around him and maybe we can try to verify his story.’ She reached out her hand to him and he took it in his.

‘Thank you. That means a lot to me,’ he said with a sigh of relief. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. ‘For a moment I was afraid we would be having a serious fight.’

‘Our first fight as a married couple,’ she smiled crookedly. ‘A memorable event.’

He drew her close and kissed her. He felt her strained body soften against his and nuzzled her neck, taking in her lovely scent. ‘I know something far more pleasurable than fighting,’ he whispered on her skin, ‘and I’ve been told make up sex is the best there is.’

‘Then let’s go upstairs and find out,’ she answered hoarsely.

-

The whole way back to his hired room, Marius was cursing under his breath. He had not expected Danarius’s pet would be a pushover, but neither that he would be such a nasty piece of work. The bloody elf had been the only one who hadn’t taken the bait; a few times he had even been afraid he would blow his cover. Even his mind magic hadn’t worked on him and that gave him the greatest concern. He feared it had something to do with those lyrium markings. He had known about those, of course, and his education had involved how to neutralize the effect. As a matter of fact, it had been one of the exam problems he had had to handle. And had passed with flying colours. But never before he had confronted lyrium as strong as this.

He could think of some methods to handle that, but he had to catch the elf off-handed and that could turn out to be a mighty problem. He stumbled into his room and lay down on his small cot, his arms folded behind his head. The assignment the Senate had given him was his first and most important task but delivering Danarius’s slave back would provide him with a large reward, and he had made it his personal matter of prestige. Perhaps there was a way to combine the two missions...

Suddenly he sat up and a little cruel smile played around his lips. It was a risky and bold plan but if he played it well, it would work out splendidly.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

-

In the dead of night Anders was strutting alongside Marius down the Wounded Coast to Kirkwall. He was feeling ill at ease, which had nothing to do with the heavy darkness surrounding them, but everything with their destination. ‘Are you sure this is a good idea? Couldn’t we have better planned this meeting in one of the caves?’

Marius grimaced. ‘Take it from me, your clinic is at this moment the safest spot in the whole of Kirkwall and its far surroundings for you. For every mage, in fact. The Guard, as well as the Templars, have already searched the place thoroughly, they won’t return. You should brace yourself though, they have completely wrecked the premises. I’ve tried to clean up as best I could but there was not much I could do and even less to salvage.’

An hour later Anders stood in what once had been his sanctuary. Despite Marius’s warning he was shocked. He was the first to admit it never had been the nicest place in the city to start with, but now it was but a ruin. Everything was smashed to pieces; even the walls bore big holes and cracks as if they were crushed with mallets. For the briefest of moments his eyes fluttered to one particular part. It seemed to be unharmed. He bit the inside of his cheek. Extraordinary, he thought. Who would have thought... that specific part... unscathed and left alone... With a sigh he returned his attention to the harsh present. No need to mention this to his apprentice. He never noticed the very apprentice following his gaze and storing it away for, how knows, future use.

‘Why would they do such a thing?’ Anders asked with a choked voice.

‘An act out of spite and frustration,’ a voice sounded at the entrance. Both Anders and Marius spun around to see a Templar standing in the doorway. He had reddish hair and wore a neatly trimmed beard. Anders noted his eyes swivelled around as if scouting the place and he realised this Templar was far more intelligent – and thus dangerous – than the usual behemoth “hit them were it hurts” types.

‘The Templars were livid when they found the place deserted and couldn’t discover anything of import. They worked off their anger on destroying the place,’ the man continued with a little humourless smile.

‘And you must be Thrask,’ Anders said, sizing the man up. He vaguely remembered he had seen him once or twice in the Gallows. ‘The Templar who wants to help the mages.’ Now he put it into words it even sounded more dubious.

Thrask stepped forward and offered Anders his hand which the mage, after some hesitation, shook. Thrask’s grip was firm. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ he said forthright, ‘it is not my intent to set all mages free; I want them to work together with the Templars. And I absolutely don’t condone blood magic.’

‘Neither do I,’ Anders replied. ‘And could you please clarify what you mean with “work together”?’

‘It is my goal to put an end to the oppression. I don’t want to abolish the Circle, that would be too dangerous, but I strive for cooperation and a certain amount of equality.’

That is not sufficient,’ Justice rumbled. ‘It is total freedom we strive for.

‘Shut up,’ Anders fractiously shot silently back. ‘You have caused damage enough already. All this mess is due to you and your stupid actions.’ He knew that was not entirely true and far from fair, but lately he had grown very tired of the spirit. Thankfully Justice kept quiet after his scolding. Out loud Anders said, ‘And how do you think to accomplish that?’

The Templar smiled thinly. ‘We can’t accomplish anything while Meredith is still in charge. Her tyrannical reign will only lead to rebellion and destruction. So, our first goal should be bringing her down.’

Anders looked at him with a mixture of praise and suspicion. Orsino had mentioned that daring plan earlier, but he wasn’t sure it was wise to reveal the first Enchanter’s ideas or even divulge he had conferred with him. He didn’t know how much Thrask was informed about Orsino’s moves. Somewhat sarcastically he said, ‘Any idea how? I’m sorry. I would like to offer you a seat but it seems your fellow Templars have all shattered them.’

Thrask waved a hand. ‘Please, don’t compare me to the likes of them. You know I’m here to discuss with you how to put an end to this kind of disgusting actions.’

‘Meredith is unassailable,’ Anders objected. ‘We can’t touch her.’

‘It will be difficult but not impossible,’ Thrask waylaid the argument. ‘There are, for example, her weekly visits to the Chantry. On those occasions she is, of course, always surrounded by her most trusted bodyguards, but we have one valuable weapon, or even two.’ He paused for a heartbeat, taking in Anders’s sceptical expression. ‘The first one is determination and second, though most important, one is the element of surprise. But only if we plan it extremely carefully.’

Anders started to pace the room. ‘You mean to abduct or even kill the Knight Commander in broad daylight, in the middle of Hightown,’ he said flatly.

‘In this season it won’t be broad daylight. And Hightown is a much more convenient place for an assault than the Gallows are.’

‘How many Templars can you rely on?’

‘I can count on nine trustworthy men.’

‘Just nine?!’

‘Keep in mind I have to move very vigilantly. If just one word of what I’m doing leaks out, not only my life will be forfeit but also that of the men and women who stand behind me. Not to forget the whole operation will be ruined. But besides those nine Templars, I can call upon at least twelve Circle mages.’

Anders tapped his finger on his chin. ‘The Mage Underground Movement consist of about fifteen mages at this moment,’ he said pensively.

‘I told you I don’t put up with blood magic and, pardon me for saying so, but your Movement is notorious for dabbling in it.’

Anders turned around and glared irritably at the Templar. ‘Yes, I’m aware of that. I don’t approve but it is your Knight Commander who more or less pushes them in that direction.’

Thrask heaved his hand in a pacifying gesture. ‘I’m aware of that. And you can make use of their assistance in our fight, as long as you can guarantee me that they will stick to the conventional magic.’

Marius leant against a part of the wall that had remained undamaged and listened quietly to the discussion that had arisen. He smiled inwardly. They could scheme as much as they wanted to, in the end it was his plan that would be carried out. And that plan was taking more form by the minute.

-

Fenris carried Albran through the door of their bedroom and laid her delicately on the bed. He straddled her and lightly put his hands upon her shoulders. He bent down and murmured, ‘Have you any idea how much I love you?’

She looked at him through half opened eyes. ‘If I say no, what will you do?’

He gave her his most breathtaking smile. ‘That would be the vital question, wouldn’t it,’ he whispered. ‘How to convince you.’

She backed down a shiver when his husky voice that sounded like rough velvet entered her ear. His fingers tenderly trailed down the contour of her face, softly brushing away some loose strands of hair. Her breath hitched when his lips touched hers. Fiery bolts of pleasure rippled along her nerves and her hands gripped his upper arms.

‘Fenris!’ It was but a gasp, a wisp of air.

She felt him smile and he rubbed his nose against hers. He turned her on her stomach and removed her tunic and breast band. His hands caressed her and he started to ever so gently massage her. His mouth followed and she felt his warm breath swirl on her skin when he sensually whispered, ‘Would this be enough, I wonder, or would you demand more evidence.’ She could only whimper something incoherently. He loosened knots in her muscles she didn’t even know existed. It felt heavenly. Slowly he worked his way down her spine and all the time his soft kisses accompanied the deftly movements of his skilled fingers. When he arrived at the end of her back she was but a pool of quivering surrender, completely at his mercy.

He freed her of her trousers and underclothes. ‘Should I give more proof of my love for you? Or are you already satisfied?’ He almost ignited her with just his reverberating low timbre, that made her every sinew pulsate with want and expectation.

‘Please,’ she managed with difficulty.

He cupped her buttocks and squeezed softly. ‘You have the most admirable behind I have ever seen,’ he declared and emphasized his words with yet another kiss. He let his body glide over hers until he covered her. Somewhere he had undressed himself without her noticing, and now she felt his warm naked skin upon hers, his hard yet supple muscles touching every inch of her back. He nibbled her earlobe. ‘You are so beautiful,’ he breathed. ‘And I want you so badly.’

At this, the last fragment of her sanity melted.

‘What’s holding you back?’ she croaked. She was putty in his hands, especially when his voice floated around her. She wanted to drift on the deep tone of that voice, she wanted to dissolve under his fingers.

She sensed the presence of his erect shaft between her thighs and bucked. He touched her entrance and she let out a loud moan. He chortled quietly and turned her again. At this time she had become totally defenceless and couldn’t care less about it. She was all but willing to submit to whatever he desired. His lips closed around a nipple and he let his tongue twirl around the rose peak while his hand wandered south and touched her sensitive nub, playing deceitfully lazily with it, sending hot arrows of delight through her body. She groaned helplessly. His mouth travelled upwards; he adored every piece of skin he came across until he reached her lips. The moment he started to kiss her and let his tongue stroke hers, his hardened length entered her core. He easily slid through her wetness until he filled her completely. He framed her face and looked into her shining eyes and at the same time he slowly began to move.

‘Do you believe me now?’

‘I have always believed you,’ she cried.

‘Will you believe me when I tell you I will never leave you?’

‘Yes.’

‘That I will never hurt you?’

‘Yes.’ Her voice was but a feeble sigh at this moment.

He tenderly licked the tears of her face and leant his cheek on hers. ‘You mean everything to me. Don’t ever forget that.’

Shortly after that her whole world seemed to exist out of pure ecstasy when he dragged her with him into a mighty climax that whirled her into a hurricane of electrifying feelings and emotions.

It took them both a long time before they were able to breathe normal again, let alone speak.

‘Oh Maker, Albran,’ Fenris finally panted, still boneless lying on top of her and struggling for air.

‘You know, for some reason or another I always thought that make up sex would be a lot ... more rough,’ she chuckled hoarsely. ‘Not some kind of overwhelming love declaration.’

He heaved his head and touched her face. ‘Disappointed?’

Albran laughed throatily, sniffing her last tears away. ‘I think you missed the word “overwhelming” in my sentence, my wondrous husband.’

‘Not disappointed. Good.’ He turned to his side and took her with her in his arms. ‘What about we stay in bed until the wedding day and let everyone else do the stressing bits.’

‘I totally agree,’ she mumbled, utterly fulfilled.

But, of course, at that very moment Bodahn knocked at the door. ‘Messeres? You have a visitor.’

‘Oh bloody hell, not again,’ Albran groused irritably. ‘Why can’t they just leave us at peace?’

-

And yet another Templar was waiting to deliver a message, albeit this time Meredith hadn’t sent her Captain but one of her lieutenants. The woman looked flushed and embarrassed, though Albran didn’t know whether it was because of the noises that had come out of the bedroom she undoubtedly must have heard, or that she felt uneasy she had to order her to come with her to Gallows, as she so eloquently stated, making Hawke raise her brow.

Even though, at that moment, the lieutenant was still convinced of herself and drenched with righteousness, a little splinter of uncertainty started to pierce her poise. Possibly her timing could have been better.

‘The Knight Commander wishes to see you right away, Champion,’ she said stiffly.

‘I have no desire at all to see her,’ Albran answered curtly, eyeing the Templar with such cold insolence Fenris could have taken lessons. ‘Especially not right away.’

The woman shifted uneasily. ‘In that case I have to arrest you, I’m sorry to say, so you better come with me on your own account,’ she stated. It was clear that awkwardness started creeping in and was drilling big holes into her self-confidence. And it was about to get worse.

Fenris made an intimidating step forwards, all his markings ablaze. He wanted to make a not to misunderstand point. The Templar shrank back. ‘The Champion has to come alone.’ she squeaked. ‘Without company, that is.’

The elf grinned very unpleasantly. ‘It is always nice to find out your reputation does you credit,’ he snarled. ‘And I’m afraid everything you heard about me is true. Hereby I tell you Albran is not going to confront that bitch of yours on her own.’

‘Those are my orders,’ the woman wheezed pathetically and she almost fled the estate when Fenris took another step in her direction.

‘My love,’ Albran intervened with a badly concealed smirk, ‘why don’t we behave like obedient citizens and follow the nice lady to do the Knight Commander’s bidding without protest?’ She addressed the frightened Templar with a saccharine voice, ‘And yes, Fenris is coming with me. After all, it is a well known fact he is my bodyguard, at least the noble aristocrats around here are convinced of that fact, and he would be a lousy one if he would leave me at your or your superior’s clemency, wouldn’t he.’

The poor woman burbled something incomprehensible but had no choice than to comply. All the way to the Gallows she tried to stay as far away from Fenris as possible. The elf had a hard time not to burst into laughter.

-

‘You did what??’ Varric stared incredulously at Fenris.

The elf nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders. ‘I knocked her flat out. She threatened to imprison Albran, I didn’t agree. What of it?’

‘You knocked her out and got away with it?! You should be halfway to Antiva by now! And you, you!’ The dwarf turned heatedly to Albran and pointed an accusing finger at her. ‘You never even thought to invite me to your intimate tête-à-tête with the Knight Commander? How am I supposed to keep my readers satisfied if I can’t record at firsthand what happens with and takes place around their beloved Champion? And why are you still walking around free while we’re at it?! And I mean the both of you!’

Hawke flashed him her most enthralling smile. ‘I fear I owe Cullen more than one, after this incident. The poor man must have the worst time of his life by now. I truly admire him about how he handles and succeeds to mollify that deranged virago. It indeed is a pity you weren’t present with you sharp quill. But with or without you, Meredith will be the laugh of Kirkwall tomorrow. I at least hope she will back down for a while. Trying to take me into custody, imagine that.’

She sat down and only when she took the glass of brandy Varric proffered, he noticed her hands were trembling, even though she tried to hide it. A sudden coldness hit him. He got the nasty feeling something ugly was waiting around the corner.

-

Thrask let out a big sigh. He wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, but rumour had it the Champion’s fiancé had punched Meredith unconscious in a fit of flaring fury. He grinned inwardly. It is what she deserved, he thought, a shame, really, he didn’t finish her off while he had the opportunity. Would have saved me and this city a lot of trouble. A welcome side-effect was that whatever whoever could have noticed about his sneaking out of the Gallows, and meeting Anders in the Undercity, would keep their mouth shut. Nobody in their sane mind would risk Meredith’s wrath at this time, not even with a story about a Templar bonding with a mage. He was extremely glad he didn’t have to walk in the Knight Captain’s shoes this very moment. Probably the worst place to be for quite a time.

The mages had all been sent to their cells but he knew there would be plenty of time and lots of occasion this evening to call a meeting. No other Templar, let alone the Knight Captain, would pay attention. And the Commander would just be busy to lick her wounds and shout at Cullen. Yes, this night they would hatch plans to get rid of Meredith for good.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

-

Anders spent the rest of the night in a cave not far from the city. He stayed in a different place every night as though he was some kind of criminal fugitive what, in fact, was very accurate, he thought mordantly.

Marius had returned to his hired room; now and again he had to show his face, if only to prevent the landlady from renting the room out to somebody else. He needed the place if he wanted to keep a finger on Kirkwall’s pulse, since he didn’t want to rely just on second hand information. Besides that, it was vital he kept in touch with Sebastian Veal. It had worried him at first that Danarius’s pet slave wasn’t susceptible to his mind magic and, worse, didn’t trust him at all. But, he told himself, actually it was a blessing he had found out in time. If he had tried to take him captive without this knowledge, things could have gone very awry. And in the end it didn’t matter, as long as the Chantry brother kept taking him to that waterhole where Albran Hawke and her entourage liked to gather. In that way he had the opportunity to observe the elf and figure out the best method to overpower him. Fenris didn’t have to trust him, he only had to be present.

This night in particular he was glad he had stayed in the city. The following morning rumours, attended by giggles and snickers, flew through the streets and markets, especially those of Lowtown. It was said the Knight Commander had wanted to arrest the Champion but that the Champion’s fiancé had bashed her down. Meredith had demanded (or rather, so the stories went, hysterically screeched for) blood and the Knight Captain had but just been able to prevent a major scene. With an anxious expression, though inwardly he had almost choked with hilarity, Marius had rushed over to the Chantry to find out more from his new “friend”. Sebastian couldn’t tell him much more but Marius’s brain, working smoothly, had already found a way to turn this event into his advantage. For both his assignments. People seemed willing to trip over each other to give him an easy job.

After he had promised Sebastian to come to the Chantry again that afternoon, he went to Anders to inform him about what had occurred. The mage would find out sooner or later and he undoubtedly would get suspicious if he’d hold back this exciting news.

Anders listened to Marius’s report with mixed feelings. He unwillingly had to admit it was the first time he actually admired one of the elf’s actions, although he feared for what it could bring about.

‘You seem to be very pleased with it,’ he reflected wistfully. ‘But I’m afraid the mages will suffer under Meredith’s fury and frustration.’

‘It will serve our goal,’ Marius retorted, radiating concrete self-confidence. ‘If she oppresses the mages just a little more, or makes one more rash and irrational decision, the situation will get out of hand. The tide will turn and the balance will fall our way. Already the whole city is buzzing with anticipation, and more people sympathize with the mages’ plight every day. And now the Knight Commander has got it into her head to pester the Champion, the rumours about her being completely crazy have become even stronger. A lot of people see Fenris as a hero for his deed.’

And that stung. Not only because he, Anders, was the one responsible for all this mess but also because the elf, the same person he had always despised, had become Hawke’s ferocious defender. Not over a month ago he would have called him a wild rabid dog but right now he wished he was him. With clenched jaws he ignored Justice’s reprimand booming in his head.

-

‘You’re not making a good case for yourselves.’

Aveline was visibly annoyed. She had hurried to the Amell estate first thing in the morning when she had found out what Fenris had done. That is to say, it was her first action after she had scolded the Guardsmen who had been on duty last night and had failed to wake her up the moment they heard about the incident. Although this time she didn’t seem on the brink of exploding, Bodahn had hastily ushered her into the large but cosy kitchen where Hawke and Fenris were enjoying their breakfast. Orana was bustling around and all kinds of mouth-watering smells were wafting through the air, but Aveline paid it no attention, though her taste-buds unconsciously did. For the time being she ignored their hungry call.

‘What would you have had me done?’ Fenris grumbled sullenly. ‘Let Albran being dragged to a Gallows’ prison cell?’

‘Of course not! But why take such drastic measures? You should have let Cullen handle it.’

‘Apparently he didn’t handle the matter that well to start with,’ Fenris scoffed, ‘otherwise he had prevented that Albran got more or less arrested in the middle of the night. On the same outrageous charge of harbouring a blood mage and being one herself, I might add. Meredith hadn’t changed her mind, she just tried the straight approach. The woman is completely mental, she should be locked up herself. Perhaps your precious Knight Captain’s influence is not as big as you imagine.’ The thought of what Meredith had wanted to do to Albran made his blood boil all over again.

‘His influence is evidently big enough to calm the Knight Commander down yet another time, and to stop wanting her to take you and Hawke prisoner for an attempt on her life!’ Aveline barked.

Hawke burst out laughing. It sounded hollow and also a bit shakily. ‘Fenris doesn’t do attempts on lives. If he had wanted her dead, she would have woken up on the other side of the Veil, wondering what in the Maker’s name had happened. At the most you can say it was an attempt on her pride.’ She became serious again. ‘Please Aveline, sit down and have breakfast with us. I understand and appreciate your concern, but I’m certain Meredith will think twice before she harasses me again. Cullen may state I cannot rely on my title as Champion, but I highly doubt that.’

‘The nobility hardly hold you in high esteem, Hawke,’ Aveline sighed while she took a seat. ‘I don’t think they will protect you, or even back you up.’

‘Even that is not completely true. I know there are nobles who would support me against Meredith, if only because they loath her more than they do me. But what about the common people? I think Varric can organize one hell of a revolt, if he puts his back into it.’

‘Is that what you want? Blood and death and total chaos?’

Hawke bowed her head. ‘No. But neither can I believe Meredith would plunge the city she claims to protect, into a civil war.’ She looked up again. There was a defiant look in her eyes but Aveline, just as Varric the other night, noticed a glimmer of disquiet she vainly tried to conceal. Fenris, who saw it too, covered her hand with his.

‘Up until now her behaviour has been no evidence for such hope,’ the Guard Captain objected. ‘It would be wise if you’d lie low for a while.’

Fenris gave Albran’s hand a soft squeeze. ‘We already wanted to spend the days till the wedding in bed,’ he said with a little smile. ‘This seems to be the perfect reason to do just that.’

‘I don’t think it would be a bad idea,’ Aveline grinned. She drummed on the table with her fingertips. ‘Perhaps I should post some Guardsmen outside the estate,’ she said pensively but Albran determinedly shook her head.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I think Meredith will only interpret it as a provocation and it will ignite her even more. Besides that, it can get you into a lot of trouble. The state the bitch is in right now, she would definitively throw you out of the barracks and replace you with one of her puppets.’

‘You probably are right,’ Aveline murmured. She rubbed the back of her neck. She felt a headache coming up. ‘It just doesn’t sit well with me she can attack you on a whim.’ She gratefully accepted the cup of freshly made coffee Orana handed her and took a small sip.

‘What happened to Cullen’s calming influence?’ Fenris slyly asked, with an undertone of badly masked malice.

The Guard Captain glared icy daggers at him. ‘I’m still convinced he is the only one she will listen to, but you can hardly blame him for not being a miracle worker.’ She skewered a piece of scrambled eggs Orana had provided her with and started to chew aggressively. Not a moment later her eyes flew open. ‘Maker!’ she managed in surprised delight. ‘This is good! I had almost forgotten what a tremendous cook Orana is. You’re not contemplating to hire catering, I hope?’ She gave the elven young woman a bright beam and Orana answered with a proud smile.

Hawke raised her brow. ‘I can hardly expect Orana taking care of a complete wedding banquet for a few hundred people on her own, besides the fact she will be one of the guests. Moreover, I’m convinced Meredith will accuse her on the spot of using magic when she tastes her cookery, and we can’t have that,’ she added sarcastically. ‘But don’t worry; you’ll have all the opportunity to admire her art at the end of the week, when we throw our own private party.’

‘You still intend to invite Madam Pain-in-the-Ass?’

‘That’s a euphemism if I ever heard one, for a completely out of control, power mad, dangerous lunatic,’ Fenris grumbled. ‘I don’t intend to invite her but I’m afraid Albran is of another opinion, even after what happened.’

Hawke tapped him lightly on his arm. ‘We already did invite her, remember, and I don’t think it will help the situation if we’d let her know she isn’t welcome anymore. But perhaps we’ll be lucky and she won’t show up.’

After the Guard Captain had taken her leave, her mood significantly improved by the wonderful breakfast, Hawke and Fenris looked at each other. ‘It seems we suddenly have all the time of the world,’ the latter said. ‘So, where will we start?’

With a mischievous twinkle in her eyes Fenris didn’t understand at that moment, Albran said, ‘We could start with giving Orana a hand and help with the preparations of the canapés and pies for –‘

In an instance Orana’s face changed into an utterly alarmed expression. ‘Oh no,’ the small elf cried out, ‘you’re not going to ruin my kitchen. Not again. I won’t allow it. Get out! Out!’ She waved threateningly with a frying pan.

Hawke grabbed Fenris’s wrist and in a fit of giggles she fled the kitchen. ‘I once made an awful mess of the place,’ she explained to the astonished elf. ‘And since that day she won’t even let me touch a pot or look at the stove.’

‘I must say,’ Fenris mumbled, still taken aback by Orana’s behaviour, ‘she doesn’t remind me at all of the squeaking girl we once saved. She isn’t frightened anymore, sooner frightening.’ After some contemplation he said, ‘I assume that is a good thing.’

It was strange to have a completely empty day to fill, after all the excitement that had taken place, be it wedding preparations or Meredith’s hysterics, and in the end they decided to have a long relaxing bath.

-

When they descended to the lower floor again, quite a long time later and rather rosy and – content, Bodahn announced someone had dropped off a message. Albran picked up the letter from the desk and broke the plain seal. She skimmed the text. ‘It’s an anonymous message,’ she said with a frown. ‘No name, no signature, not even initials. It says they require a meeting with us.’

Fenris’s hackles rose immediately. ‘I don’t trust this.’

‘Bodahn!’ Hawke called after the major domo who was about to enter the kitchen, but by the hearing of her voice turned on his paces. ‘By whom was this letter delivered?’

The dwarf thought for a moment. ‘By some young boy, Messere. I didn’t recognise him. But then again, I usually don’t pay much attention to messenger boys. I’m sorry, should I have?’

‘No, that’s quite alright.’ Hawke tapped pensively with the piece of paper against her chin. ‘He wasn’t elven?’

‘Definitely not, Messere. Looked to me like the kind of the drab Lowtown boys who hang around in Hightown, trying to earn a few silvers by doing small chores for the nobility or the Merchant’s Guild, if they get the chance. That is, if they’re not busy pickpocketing,’ he added, somewhat sourly.

‘Thank you Bodahn.’ She turned back to Fenris. ‘So, probably not a servant, just a nameless boy who can’t be traced down. The one who sent this letter must be thoroughly careful. I wonder what this is all about.’

Fenris felt his stomach knot together. He started to pace the parlour. ‘Does it say where this meeting is supposed to take place?’

‘Some obscure address in Lowtown,’ Albran replied. ‘Tonight, at ten of the clock.’ She sat down in the desk chair, feeling uneasy herself.

‘Lowtown! This sounds more like a conspiracy. The only thing Lowtown is good for. It could be a trap,’ he hissed. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time. Remember Sister Petrice?’

‘Yes love, I do. And believe it or not, the thought has crossed my mind.’

He didn’t pay attention to the mild jab. ‘It could be another means Meredith has come up with to lure you in,’ he said agitated.

But Albran shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. She absolutely misses the subtlety for such a devious ploy. This is not her style.’ She smiled wryly. ‘She is more likely to sent a regiment of Templars this time, to smash the place to bits and haul me off kicking and screaming to the Gallows as an example for all the trouble makers in this city. Like Varric would put it: it has more pathos. You cannot deny her that. Having a sense for pathos, I mean. Just how she kept on -’

Fenris spun on his heels. ‘Will you stop rambling, woman, this is serious!’

‘Well, excuse me!’ she snapped. ‘I don’t like it anymore than you do! I’m just, I’m ... I am nervous.’ She sagged. She bit her lip and took a deep breath to steady herself. ‘It could be Anders,’ she said in a small voice, ‘I know you think it is.’

Fenris walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. He felt guilty about his outburst. It was the last thing she needed right now. Of course she was nervous; he had seen it in her eyes. Not to mention he felt the same. ‘Forgive me. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.’

She laid her hand on his and shot him a quivering smile. ‘We’re both on edge, I suppose. Please, let’s try not to work off our anxiety on each other.’

Fenris dragged his fingers through his hair, making a complete mess of the soft moonlike bangs. She automatically reached out to wipe the locks out of his eyes. He had to smile at that. Such a simple and tender gesture. So like her. He traced a finger down her face. ‘You are right about Meredith. And at the risk of making you angry, it’s not Anders who is on my mind, but that slippery protégé of Sebastian. That Herric.’

She cocked her head. ‘Do you distrust him that much?’ She searched her memory for something that the innocent looking boy had said or done to raise so much suspicion in Fenris that he believed him willing to do her harm. Again she couldn’t find any evidence, but again she reminded herself her husband had a perfect working intuition.

‘Yes,’ he simply said.

She nodded. ‘Alright, although I still cannot see why.’ She heaved a hand to smother his upcoming protest. ‘I told you before, I believe your concerns about this Herric. But the only way to find out who sent the message and with what purpose, is to go to that Lowtown address tonight at ten o’clock.’

Fenris lowered his hands on the back of the chair, stooping over her. Looking into her eyes, he said softly but with emphasis, ‘I’m not sure this is a good idea.’

Albran grinned roguishly. ‘It absolutely isn’t. But my curiosity is kindled.’

Fenris let out a tormented sigh and grimaced. ‘Of course it is. It always is.’ He cupped her face and kissed her with such tenderness it made her shiver. He smiled on her lips. ‘And I am here to prevent your curiosity will kill you.’

-

Fenris rapped on the rickety and peeled off door of a hovel in Lowtown. It wasn’t far from Hawke’s former home, where her uncle still lived. It had taken all his power of persuasion to convince Albran he would be the one at the front. It had been no small feat. Even right now he simply could feel her pout behind his back. In his other hand he held a supple longsword, ready to strike in one swinging deadly heartbeat, if need be. He sensed Albran’s presence at his back, pouting and all, but, more importantly, with her daggers drawn. She was on her highest alert, just as he was. After a few moments the door went ajar and Fenris saw a pair of eyes glinting in the sparse light the few torches in the ally cast.

‘Come in, quickly,’ a voice, probably belonging to the eyes, whispered.

With Albran on his heels Fenris slipped into the room, even more watchful than before. He took a fighting stance, ready for action, but exhaled relieved when he found a man standing opposite of him, mirroring his posture, a same kind of sword in his hands, and with the same kind of attentive look in his eyes. If possible the unknown man looked even more strained than he did. At the same time they slowly lowered their weapons.

‘It’s good to see you are prepared for the worst,’ another voice sounded, a woman’s voice. ‘Good evening, Serah Fenris, Serah Hawke, I’m pleased to see you have accepted my invitation. My name is Marlein Selbrech and the gentleman here is Ser Theodore of Wildervale.’

It struck him she let his name precede.

As if she could read his thoughts she chortled softly. ‘Yes, Serah Fenris. Your bride may be the Champion, but you are the one who had the nerve to stand up against the Knight Commander in a very – striking way.’

He sheathed his sword. Albran stepped forward. ‘Lady Selbrech,’ she said with a little nod, ‘I must say this is quite a surprise. Would you please clarify ..?’

‘Certainly, Champion. We, that is Ser Theodore, myself and quite a number of nobles, are trying to find a way to depose Meredith and put a real Viscount on the throne of Kirkwall once more, before she ruins the city completely. We were hoping you two would help us in that endeavour.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

Hawke and Fenris stepped outside the shabby hovel into the cool night. They were on their guard, in case some idiots would have a try at mugging them, but Lowtown seemed innocently calm this evening. At least this neighbourhood was.

‘You were right after all, ‘Albran smirked brightly, feeling giddy. ‘It was about a conspiracy.’

‘Not the type of conspiracy I feared it would be,’ Fenris replied with a crooked smile. ‘I have to confess, I am quite surprised. This was not the disaster I thought it would turn into.’ He didn’t look at her but instead his attention was fixed on their environment. His sword was still sheathed but his hand never hovered far from the hilt. ‘Who would have thought you’d have this much support among the nobility.’

Because she was as attentive as he was, she more felt than saw his smile. Her hands mimicked his and she was as ready as he was to draw her daggers. Lowtown might seem in peace, you never knew what would await you around the next corner. The moment after, their caution seemed to bear fruit. There rang a faint noise, nothing more than a swish of clothes and a soft click but it was enough to alarm them. They automatically drew their weapons and turned back to back in one fluent motion.

A person stepped into the dim light, a rather short person. A fierce crossbow was raised but not exactly aimed at them. As a matter of fact the weapon almost seemed to mock them, waving around in short circles as if it was laughing.

Relieved Albran puffed out her cheeks. ‘Damn it, Varric, I hope you understand you almost got yourself killed. What possessed you to sneak upon us and risk your life?!’

The dwarf beamed broadly. ‘Do you really think Bianca would let me die just like that?’ He lowered his beloved crossbow. ‘Your lives were as much at stake as mine, although I’m pleased to see you’re watchful.’ He hinted with his head at the hovel they had just left. ‘Care to tell what has been discussed in there?’

Hawke put away her daggers. ‘You intercepted the messenger boy, didn’t you,’ she stated flatly. The bloody dwarf was persistent as a rash when it came to gathering information.

‘I didn’t need to. He’s on my payroll; he came to warn me.’ He met her stern gaze and shrugged nonchalantly. ‘What? How else am I expected to find out what you’re up to when you keep refusing to enlighten me about your undertakings?’

‘I could have told you the dwarf wouldn’t be pleased you left him out of an interesting meeting once more,’ Fenris said with a slight grin, sheathing his sword. ‘But then again, I doubt if you would have listened.’

‘Don’t try to get on my good side, elf. You could have informed me. I’m thoroughly disappointed.’ But somehow Varric wasn’t able to conceal the twinkle in his eyes. ‘On the other hand, the Hanged Man is close by. What about a draught of good Antivan brandy while you two update me.’

‘I wouldn’t say no to a nice strong drink,’ Hawke agreed. ‘But I must warn you in advance, you can’t write down any of what you’re about to hear and turn it into one of your infamous stories.’

‘No need to worry about that,’ Varric mumbled sourly under his breath, ‘a writer’s block is a horrible thing. And apparently very persistent.’

‘And before you’re going to shout out in frustration, it simply is too delicate a matter. Not a word can leak out; there are too many lives involved.’

‘Right,’ the dwarf said resolutely, ‘Hanged Man. Antivan brandy. Now.’

And so they marched to the Hanged Man and made a beeline for Varric’s room. The dwarf closed the door behind their backs and produced a bottle and three glasses. ‘You can start to spill the beans, Hawke. I’m all ears and all the other ears are shut out.’

‘I’m astonished you don’t know already,’ Hawke said with a little smile while she sat down and accepted the glass Varric offered her.

‘The boy didn’t know anything worthwhile. I bloody hell had to follow you to know where you were going. So, what’s up?’

She leant back in her chair. ‘It appears that a part of the nobles, and quite a large part at that, want to overthrow Meredith. They would like Fenris and me to work together with them.’

Varric almost choked on his swig. ‘And you thought your life wasn’t interesting enough already?’ he spluttered. ‘Great Ancestors, what’s next! An attack on the Gallows, you in the Viscount’s seat?’

‘Maker forbid!’ Albran exclaimed in horror. ‘I like my seats where they are: in my own house and as far away as possible from the Keep, thank you very much.’

‘In that case I recommend you move; you’re living rather close to the Keep you know,’ Varric remarked. ‘I, however, never fancied you hobnobbing with the nobility, Hawke,’

‘Hobnobbing?!’ Hawke said indignantly. ‘Since when is plotting the same as hobnobbing?!’ She fervently waved her arm around.

Suddenly Varric squinted alertly and in a split second he grabbed her hand and stared at her fingers with a startled, hurt expression as if the digits had offended him. Hawke’s mouth snapped shut; she knew exactly what he was gazing at. An awkward silence fell and for a while the only sound came from the crackling wood in the hearth and the muted voices from the taproom down below.

‘Ouch?’ Fenris volunteered, eventually.

Varric let out a deep sigh. ‘Why don’t you just stab me in the heart, you two. It would be less painful. First you let yourselves haul off to the Gallows and almost start a riot without me present; second you concoct a revolution with the snobs without inviting me, and now I’m to find out you are already married without letting me know. That’s three times without. After all the things we’ve been through together. Do I mean that little to you?’ He let go of her hand. ‘I am deeply shocked,’ he declared gravely.

‘You are immensely exaggerating, Varric, and shamelessly playing on my feelings of guilt,’ Hawke protested. ‘Please stop whining like a pitiable puppy and making yourself a victim. You know damn well what you mean to me. I’ve chosen you to give me away, for Andraste’s sake!’

‘Well, quite an outdated honour by now, isn’t it,’ Varric snapped.

It got through to Hawke that, for as long as they knew each other, this was the first time the dwarf was genuinely utterly upset. Even after the betrayal of his brother Varric hadn’t looked this hurt. Apparently she had completely misjudged how he would be feeling when he’d find out. She bit her lip. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said meekly, ‘it was never my intent to insult you. And before you point your finger at Fenris, it was totally my own idea. I just wanted the moment to be private, without all the fuss.’

After some consideration Varric gave her a warm, though still brittle smile. ‘I think I can understand. We haven’t been making your lives very easy of late, have we. Especially not Fenris’s life, I’m afraid. But, Andraste’s hot tits, I had a lot of fun!’ He heaved his glass. ‘To your happiness.’

Hawke and Fenris shared a quick glance. The latter got the feeling his wife urgently tried to elucidate it was his turn to say something pacifying. He cleared his throat, frantically searching for the right words. ‘It was not all that bad,’ he made a poor effort at lying, ‘some of the shops were rather, er, nicely decorated and, er, you were a real support in deciding upon the right outfit and ...’ His voice trailed off under the blast of Varric’s gaze and Albran’s desperate groaned, ‘This isn’t helping.’

After shooting an icy glare in Fenris’s direction, Varric said, ‘You can, of course, always try to offend me more.’ He gave them both a devilish grin. ‘But you can remedy it and putting it all right in one swipe, by telling me where you went and what you were doing in that till now unknown place at the moment the Guard Captain-fervently-searching-for-a-nickname was harassing me.’ He burst out laughing at the sight of their mutual embarrassed looks.  ‘No need to say more, this is enough for more than one spicy chapter. And before you start to protest, you owe me that much.’ He reached for the bottle.

‘It was not only about you and the rest of the bunch, it was also –‘ Albran started but Varric didn’t let her finish.

‘Yes, yes, I can understand why you wanted to get married in secret, no need to grovel. And as long as the snooties don’t know about it, I don’t care. Just as long as they are convinced the dwarf did give you away, the dwarf is happy. Now tell me how you think to get rid of the Superbitch.’

-

Marius held the delicate silver chain between his thumb and index finger and let the pendant dangle before his eyes. He felt very content with himself and smiled cunningly. He could not fathom what had driven Hawke to grant Anders such a dangerous gift as a Tevinter Chantry amulet. He would, however, benefit of it. It had been easy to snatch the bauble from Anders’s neck, once he was sound asleep. He had missed it, of course, not long after he woke up. Marius had no doubt it had become a part of him and he only was aware of its permanent soft chafing against the skin of his neck the moment it was absent. Anders had looked feverishly for it, very hard trying not to demonstrate his anxiety. And Marius had played his part by showing he didn’t notice. Shortly after, he had returned to his room in Kirkwall, announcing he had to pay the rent.

Yes, stealing the pendant had been easy. Copying Hawke’s handwriting, however, proved to be another matter. He had been attempting for ages by now, and yet hadn’t succeeded in producing the little note he had in mind in a convincing way. He slipped the pendant back into his pocket and tried again. His face was set in a determined expression; he would get to his goal, even if it had to be letter for delicate letter.

-

‘What? Again?’ Albran protested, baffled. ‘And this time you not only want us to get out of the kitchen but the whole house? But as far as I know I never wrecked the parlour or the library or – ‘

‘Bloodstains,’ Orana said pointedly, ‘and mud. And prints of dog paws. No offence meant,’ she turned to Rascal that let out a soft whine. She patted him on the head and addressed Hawke once more. ‘You should take him out. Let him get some fresh air, let him run around the Wounded Coast or something like that. He doesn’t go out enough.’ After a short contemplation she added, ‘He is a war hound! He should chase, er, enemies! Or something. Rabbits maybe. Or hares. Anything.’

‘And let him leave even more prints on the floor?’ Hawke said, rather dazed.

‘She is right, Messere, the dog needs some exercise,’ Bodahn piped up. ’Why not now? The presence is the best time, my old Mum used to say. And don’t return till the evening. I think he needs a really long run. Last day I saw him pouncing the walls. That can’t be good.’

Albran looked incredulously from one to the other. ‘I’m beginning to suspect this is some kind of servant revolt,’ she mumbled.

In the end Fenris dragged her out of the estate, with an excited yapping Rascal at their heels. ‘This is a fight you cannot win,’ he said.

‘They definitely have something upon their sleeves,’ Albran objected grouchily, ‘and I want to know what.’

‘Since I’m quite certain Varric is behind this, we’d better stay out of their way. And seriously, why are you complaining about yet another day without quarrels with Aveline, Isabela and Meredith?’

‘I just want to know what’s going on!’

‘And you will find out soon enough, I’m sure.’

Resolutely he began to direct her to the Hightown city gate. And that’s where things went awfully wrong.

‘Venhedis!’

Fenris attempted to restrain Rascal from jumping a noble woman who was passing by, and failed gloriously. The young lady was delicately nibbling a piece of candy and, although being a war hound, as pointed out not moments before, Rascal was notorious of his sweet tooth. He would rather beg for a lump of sugar than for a juicy sausage.

The lady went down, simply because she was a noblewoman and noblewomen wanted to make a scene about everything and turn everything into a scene. Even worse, she went down with Fenris who, in his haste to avoid a disaster, stumbled over the fleeting dog and fell on top of her. She almost instinctively seized the opportunity to scream as if she was assaulted by an Archdemon. Rascal was, triumphantly and sneakily at the same time, getting off with his prize, wisely running out of the city into liberty. Fenris scrambled onto his feet and got at the same moment brushed aside by Albran, who was smiling broadly at the affronted girl.

She might not be willing to mingle with the nobles, she was actually well familiar with their silly habits. And thus she knew being assisted by the very elf who knocked a ladyship over, for whatever the reason, wouldn’t help the situation. Said ladyship’s poor elven servant, who was accompanying the woman, was desperately trying to get her mistress up again, while at the same time making an effort to adjust her dress and, due to her nerves, doing a bad job. She also got put out of the way by the same determined hand.

‘Fifi de Launcet,’ Hawke said with a straight, though radiant face and a voice dripping with honey. She gave the stunned young woman a hand and hauled her up. Fifi de Lancet instantly stopped her yelling, probably driven by another kind of instinct, one of survival. ‘What a delighted pleasure to meet you. And may I compliment you on your lovely legs? Have you lost weight? You look so much healthier than the last time we met. I take it the new diet has done you a lot of good. Oh dear, perhaps too much weight? I’ve been told you get a tendency to faint in that case.’ She grabbed Fifi de Launcet firmly by the arm before she could follow her mother in the convincement that swooning was a very appealing kind of fashion. She didn’t let her speak, but even if she had left her the opportunity, the snotty girl wouldn’t have been able to utter a single comprehensible word. She just stared at Albran in a kind of abhorrent admiration. ‘Would you be so courteous as to pass my compliments on to your gracious mother? If you will excuse me for now, I believe I have a dog to catch. Of you go now.’

She gave the girl a little push into the right direction and, without looking back, took Fenris by the wrist and marched off. She made it just outside the city before she sank on the ground and almost choked with laughter. ‘When we find that wretched mongrel, remind me to reward him,’ she hiccupped while the tears were streaming down her face.

Fenris just shook his head.

-

It took them hours to find Rascal who had been wise enough to get out of the way as long as he could. And finally they found him swimming in the beautiful, small secluded warm lake he himself, in spite of everything, had found years previous. It was difficult to scold him, he looked like a naughty but innocent puppy; nevertheless Hawke made a feeble effort.

‘I should have known, you insufferable scallywag,’ she groused while she took her dog by the scruff and dragged him home. Rascal managed to look guilty, victorious and smug all at the same time. This time it was Fenris’s turn to almost choke with laughter.

They both, however, fell silent when they, covered in mud and sand, found out what their friends had been planning for them.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

-

A flustered looking Sebastian was waiting for them in the hall when they came in, muddy and sweaty from the brisk walk home. And smelling of wet dog, in Hawke’s case. And Rascals case, naturally.

‘I am told that you have to wait here until Varric comes to collect you,’ the Chantry brother said, radiating uneasiness. He looked them up and down. ‘Perhaps it is best you go for a wash and change,’ he added hesitantly. ‘You’re in no shape to ...’ He interrupted himself and started to blush, as if he had been about to reveal something that should be kept secret at all costs.

Albran, still firmly holding Rascal, stared coldly back from under her shoulder. To be honest, she gladly wanted to let go of the hound, but her hand was cramped in his scruff and she had the nasty suspicion she was doomed to be stooped over forever because her spine had clicked permanently shut in this position. The dog, on his turn, happily wagged his tail and tried to break free to enthusiastically jump the nervous Chantry brother. ‘You could give me a hand here, you know,’ she snapped at Fenris, who still was very hard struggling not to laugh out loud. She turned to Sebastian. ‘Or you could. I though you Andrasteans were so willing to help a fellow-man, or in this case a fellow-woman, in distress.’

Sebastian managed to look even more uncomfortable.

‘You were almost combusting with anger and annoyance the whole way back,’ Fenris said, desperately stifling a grin. ‘During our hunt for Rascal, your praise for the animal turned quite fast into fury. I simply thought it would be best to let you handle your dog yourself and stay out of it.’ He gave her one of his trademark lopsided smiles and explained, ‘Out of fear you would turn on me.’

She glared at him with a murderous look. ‘I hope it’s getting through to you by now that I’m not still holding the furry villain because I want to. I can’t get up, fuck it. Do something!’

Fenris came to her rescue and freed her hand. He helped her to stand erect and she felt the joints in her spine pop painfully. ‘Stay, you bloody dog!’ she ordered Rascal and the hound sat obediently on his hunches, whining softly. ‘Good,’ Albran growled, ‘finally you do as I tell you. You could have thought of that compliant behaviour before you wrecked my body.’ She changed her attention to Sebastian and narrowed her eyes. ‘And what the hell do you mean with “Varric collecting us”? Has this something to do with being kicked out of my own house?’

But before Sebastian could answer, there rang a knock on the door. It was not a polite knock. The one who wanted to be heard made no secret of their existence. It sounded as if the knock wasn’t answered right away, said door would be crashed down. Hawke, still wound up, marched over to the offended entrance and almost tore the door of its hinges. She came face to face with a very angry Guillaume de Launcet. She groaned inwardly, remembering the embarrassing scene concerning his daughter, her hound and her lover. Husband, she corrected herself.

‘I demand a retribution,’ the Comte fumed. ‘My daughter has been assaulted by your bodyguard. That is not acceptable.’

Albran’s mouth fell open in bewilderment. She realised she should have expected something like this, but nevertheless she was overwhelmed. For the first few seconds she was speechless, then rage took over. Fenris and Sebastian stared in awe how she changed into the seething embodiment of offence. She actually seemed to grow several inches and they were both glad they weren’t standing on the recipient end of her fiery gaze. Even Rascal felt his mistress’s wrath; he scuttled into a corner of the hall and tried to recoil into himself. The Comte had picked a wrong moment.

‘She was what?’ said Hawke, so venomously that even the affronted Comte shrank back. On her turn she took a step forward. And with every word she spoke she poked him in the expensive clad chest with a very furious finger.

‘I’m so completely fed up with you snobby nobles! You think soooo wonderful of yourselves and only because you have money and a pedigree! You know what, horses have a pedigree. My dog has a pedigree! And I’m certain his pedigree goes far longer back than that of your pathetic family. So, by your own standards, I can state your daughter violated my dog! I should be the one to bring charges against you!’

By now Guillaume de Launcet looked as if he very much regretted his action of sailing with full colours to the Amell estate; Albran’s flaming eyes and bristling demeanour nailed him down. And it seemed she was just starting

‘And accusing my husband-to-be,’ (“to be” was added very hastily, Fenris noticed in an absent way, completely mesmerized by her behaviour), ‘of assaulting the tub of lard you call your daughter, is an offence to the good taste kept in high esteem in every part of Thedas. He only tried to save your disgraceful excuse for offspring from my dog’s playful intervention of eating herself even more to exploding obesity. My dog ripped the candy she was gobbling down out of her hand, Fenris interfered. You should be thankful he did. You should be thankful for both actions.’ This was attended by a particularly vicious poke with her finger.

She paused to take a breath and the Count did an unsuccessful effort to get out of her infuriated way, his eyes wide with sheer terror. But Albran wasn’t done yet, she was on a roll.

 ‘And how dare you call my future husband my bodyguard! He is my lover, you inbred insufferable prig; my lover, my fiancé, and very soon my legally wedded spouse. And yet all you and your narrow-minded, biased, contemptible kind can see is an elf who wants to work his way up over the back of someone with influence. Or do you think I haven’t heard the sickening rumours your wife and the likes of her whisper behind my back because they are too cowardly to say it right into my face?! Let me tell you that bigotry does not suit anyone. Yes, this city was once owned by the Tevinters, notorious and despicable slaveholders. But despite that, we all decided slavery is a foul thing and yet your kind still treats elves like slaves, even if you call them servants nowadays. You’re no better than Tevinter Magisters! You’re even worse because you deny it and hide behind your self-righteousness!’

Guillaume de Launcet made a serious attempt to squeeze a word between her furious rant but she didn’t let him. 

‘Get out of my eyes, you miserable man. Don’t you think I don’t know you have been sent by your frantic wife who thinks the world of herself because she is Orlesian? Go back to her feeble complaints and fits of hysterics and try to beat some sense into her. Figuratively. I don’t put up with violence if not necessary. Although perhaps she would like it. And for the Maker’s sake, try to keep your precious Fifi away from the candy; she’s already as fat as it is, no need to make her more disgusting.’

The Comte stumbled back some more, fervently trying to keep up some appearance, or rather to find some back. And finally he achieved a measly retort. ‘I will address the Knight Commander!’ he screeched. ‘I will see to it you will be reprimanded!’

Hawke let out a hollow, shrill laugh. ‘Yes, my dear friend, just you do that. You can line up. But remember she has been diminished by my bodyguard’ (she spoke the word with so much venom that everyone present cringed, even Rascal) ‘not a few nights ago and has become the laugh of the town. It could very well be bad advice trying to get on her good side right now. But of course you can always make an attempt. Now, get out of my way, my doorstep and my life.’ She gave him a last push. He turned and fled into the dusk of the falling night. ‘And give my regards to your so elegantly swooning wife,’ she yelled after him, not being able to help herself. ‘Give her the advice to lie down! Perhaps that will help to shut her up.’

She deflated and at the very moment felt Fenris’s arms around her. ’I hate this,’ she groaned. ‘I hate this kind of performance on my behalf, but I even more hate the kind of prejudice he stands for.’

‘It’s alright, love,’ Fenris breathed in her hair.

Albran pulled herself up. ‘No! As long as this kind of behaviour, of thinking, exists it will never be alright. You are not a slave. You are not inferior. No man is. No elf is. We are all equal.’

He smothered her with a devastating kiss. ‘I never thought it would be possible to love you more, but every time you manage to surprise me,’ he whispered on her lips.

Sebastian cleared his throat to remind them they were not alone. ‘Perhaps now is the time to clean yourselves up,’ he said. ‘And Hawke, I truly enjoyed and admired your display of moral anger and how you put the Comte de Launcet into his place. I only hope it will not lead you into problems.’

‘Even more problems?’ grimaced Albran. ‘I don’t think that’s possible. So, are you now going to explain your presence in our house and what’s it all about?’

The former prince shot her an enigmatic smile. ‘No, but you’ll find out soon enough. Just wait here in the hall when you’re finished.’

‘I do hope all the mysteriousness is worth it,’ she grumbled, ‘or there will be hell to pay.’ She took Fenris’s hand in hers and started walking to the staircase.

Sebastian heard her grouse to the elf while they ascended the stairs. ‘Want to bet it’s some kind of surprise party? I know it is, I just know. Of course that bloody dwarf couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I hate surprise parties. And he’s damn well aware of that. This is payback. Mark my words.’

-

And yes, it turned out Hawke was right, but this was a surprise party she possibly couldn’t hate. Varric led them with a smug expression through the dining room into the garden where the rest of their friends and the servants were waiting for them, and for a while Albran wasn’t able to speak.

Her poor neglected patch of with weed overgrown soil was transformed into a pleasure garden. There was a newly laid out terrace of beautiful dark grey granite tiles, furnished with a wooden bench and chairs around a large table, and there stood several terracotta pots filled with bright autumn flowers. Woodblocks burned in a brick hearth and cast iron braziers, chasing away the cold of the autumn evening. Colourful chrysanthemums and asters were also planted in the mould among shrubs and bushes that glistened with bright little lights.

And in the middle of it all stood an Aldáran tree, also known as the Tree of Love because of its heart shaped leaves.

‘You like it? Do you like it?’ Merrill was practically jumping up and down with thrilled anticipation.

‘I, I ... I don’t know what to say,’ Albran stuttered truthfully. ‘This is magnificent. “Thank you” seems far too simple.’ Suddenly irritating tears were burning behind her eyes.

‘And we planted lots of bulbs,’ Merrill babbled excitedly, ‘so you have tulips and daffodils and crocuses and snowdrops in the spring!’

‘You bloody well should like it, it’s your wedding present,’ Varric declared. ‘Notice the little plaque under the Aldáran tree? It has your names on it, and the date of your marriage. The real date,’ he added sourly.

‘But how, how did you manage all this so fast?’ Hawke waved her arm around in astonishment.

‘With a lot of hard work,’ Varric grumbled, ‘and a lot of pushing around from one particularly exasperating elf.’ He scowled at Merrill.

‘You see,’ Orana said, ‘this is why we wanted you out of the way. With Rascal. I don’t think he would have been much of a help.’

‘No,’ Hawk mumbled, ‘I imagine he’d dug up the plants quicker than you could put them into the earth. Where did you leave him anyway?’

‘In the library,’ Aveline grinned, ‘and he wasn’t very pleased with it, so I hope he won’t attack your books.’

‘And those lovely little lights ..?’

‘Enchantment!’ Sandal happily beamed.

‘Of course.’ She rubbed her eyes in an attempt to stop the tears from falling. ‘But Fenris and I were planning to throw a party tomorrow.’

‘Yes,’ Varric said morosely, ‘and that’s exactly why we’re having one today. You’re not the only one who can organise a surprise, you know. Although this one is much nicer than the one you came up with.’

‘Oh Varric, stop fretting like your chest hair has wilted,’ Isabela piped up. ‘As long as there are enough drinks and plenty of good food, I’m pleased.’

‘Why don’t you take a seat, Messeres, and let Orana and me take care of the catering,’ Bodahn proposed.

‘What do you think, Fenris?’ Merrill as good as squeaked. ‘You haven’t said anything!’

‘Better keep it that way,’ Varric whinged ‘He won’t utter anything but a load of bullshit.’

‘Alright Varric, that’s more than enough,’ Aveline said firmly. ‘Sit down and shut up yourself before I put a sock in it.’

For the first time in his life Fenris smiled broadly at the Dalish elf. ‘Like Albran already mentioned, it is magnificent. And I take it you had the biggest hand in it?’ She nodded with large bright eyes. ‘Thank you. You did a great job.’

It brought Merrill as close to tears as Albran already was.

‘It was her idea to start with,’ Isabela said with warm affection. ‘And we all agreed. I suggested a membership to the Blooming Rose, but I suppose this is better.’

It became a memorable wonderful night with lots of toasts and well wishes and, on behalf of Sebastian, blessings. Although Hawke couldn’t suppress a little twang of sadness that Anders couldn’t be with them, despite what he had done to her. That specific night would always have three sides, forever etched into her memory. The two dark ones of losing a treasured friend and attached to that the reason why. And the bright one of Fenris coming to her rescue and his decision of staying with her. She secretly admitted she missed Anders. The Anders from before that night. The Anders that had once been a treasured friend.

Little did she know this would be the last carefree night she would be able to celebrate for quite a long time.

-

Knight Commander Meredith glared at the young man standing opposite her desk. He had introduced himself as Herric of Cumberland and she was wondering how he had found access so easily.

‘I have information you will find exhilarating,’ the young man said.

‘Is that so. And what kind of information might that be?’ she replied gruffly.

‘I’m positive it is. It’s about the Champion.’

Meredith raised an eyebrow; her interest was triggered. She was still licking her wounds and brooding on revenge, simmering with unrefined wrath. The sooner she could arrest that wretched she-demon and her elven lover the better. She didn’t care on what charge, she’d invent one if need be. She knew damn well that at least half of Kirkwall was laughing in their sleeves, and among them a lot of nobles. She would find a way to imprison them too. Look who would be laughing then. The young man from Cumberland produced a letter and something that looked like an amulet, and put the items before her on the desk. She unfolded the letter and started reading, gradually vibrating with triumph.

 

“My dear friend,

It pleases me to inform you everything is going according to plan. It is good to hear our Northern allies are already on their way to help us getting rid of KCM. As good as it is to know MUM is alert and ready to strike. Soon after the wedding we can set our scheme into motion. Thank you for your gift. I shall wear it so that I can be recognized and prove I am on the right side.

With love, AH”

 

‘MUM?’

‘The Mage Underground Movement,’ Marius explained, marvelling in the stupidity and ignorance of the Templars.

Meredith picked up the pendant. ‘And this is a Tevinter Chantry amulet,’ she quivered hoarsely, a cruel grin blooming on her face. ‘Now I have her.’ She looked at Herric. ‘Where did you find these?’

‘She was carrying them with her; I confess I picked her pockets when we were at the Hanged Man.’

Meredith squinted with a sudden wave of suspicion that, however, soon got smoothed down. ‘Why are you doing this?’ At his answer her grin reappeared.

‘Because I bear a grudge against her; she murdered my brother. I befriended the Chantry brother Sebastian Vael to get close to her. I was planning on killing her, but I thought this was more fitting.’ He reciprocated her grin. ‘I reckoned it is more satisfying to witness the disgraceful downfall of the Champion of Kirkwall than to leave her lifeless body in a gutter in Lowtown.’

‘Oh, and disgraceful it will be,’ Meredith murmured with feverishly shining eyes. ‘You will be generously rewarded. If you will excuse me now, I believe I have an arrest to make.’

‘Perhaps you shouldn’t be too hasty,’ Marius said calmly.

‘Why not? I have all the proof I need. Why not march to her estate right now and drag her back to the Gallows?’

‘Because there is a much better moment. Please, hear me out.’

-

Oh yes, it had been so simple to persuade the Knight Commander, Marius mused later that evening in yet another cave. Gods, she had been even more insane than he had imagined and so easy to knock over! He had sent a message to the Senate in Minrathous. He knew they had already ships in the Amaranthine Ocean that could be in Kirkwall within a few days. He cast a sidelong glance on Anders. The mage had apparently given up his search for his precious gift and sat unanimated with his back against a wall, looking sad and tired. He had yet to decide what to do with him. Probably he had to kill him after all was over.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14
-
Hawke recognized this was by far the most peculiar place for a secret meeting, and at the same time the most obvious, considering the circumstances. She should have thought of it herself but, of course, it had been Varric’s suggestion.
After the scene with Guillaume de Launcet, she had felt the urge for another meeting with Marlein Selbrech. Only the next morning it had got through to her that her relieving but offending rant, could have dire consequences. She doubted Meredith could arrest her for being rude to a nobleman, even her authority didn’t go that far – she hoped. Uncertainty always lingered in the background. But who knew with what de Launcet himself would come up to pester her. And Lady Selbrech had more insight in the possible actions he could take. Not that she was scared but she didn’t like unpleasant surprises. The only problem had been the location, since she had deemed it unwise to take the risk of going to Lowtown once more; she was afraid they would be followed by more dangerous spies than Varric. But that problem was cunningly solved by the dwarf himself.
Varric had been adamant to be present this time, a demand she could impossibly decline. He had made it clear enough how much she had hurt him by shutting him out before (‘Three times, madam,’ he’d said, waving his finger threatening in her face, ‘so don’t you dare to insult me a fourth time!’) to give her a feeling of guilt as big as if she had committed adultery. She even had contemplated inviting Aveline but had dismissed the idea. The Guard Captain had trouble enough as it was to stay out of the Knight Commander’s path and to meander between the Templars, the Seneschal and the nobles without getting bitten. No need to make life more difficult for her. And so she had just sent a message to Lady Selbrech and her fellow conspirators to come to the cellar of the Amell estate and use the entrance near to Anders’s now empty and ruined clinic.
Varric had told her what had happened over there and she had gone down through the cellar to witness the destruction with her own eyes. She had been shocked by the sight of the ferocious, frustrated fury with which the place had been smashed to bits. And she had felt immensely sorry, not just for Anders, at least for the part of him that in such dedicated way had run the clinic, but even more for the people in Darktown. They had little to nothing to start with and now had lost the only person who had been willing to take care of them. She had made a pledge to herself to do something about it as soon as possible. Perhaps she could fund a clinic run by healers from the Circle, once Meredith was removed.
‘You see,’ Varric declared while they were standing in the part of the basement behind the wine cellar in the midst of the discarded debris of generations of Amells, ‘even if Madam Moron decides on a raid on your house because one Comte de Launcet rushed indignantly screaming into her office, demanding retribution, she won’t find you in the company of shady persons. You’ll be tucked safely away in your own shelter.’
‘I think you can hardly call Lady Selbrech a shady person,’ Hawke protested.
‘You know perfectly well what I mean. And before you start about the severe dent the Knight Commander’s pride and authority have suffered, I tell you that she is like a cornered animal right now. And if even a shabby cat can turn into a bloodthirsty monster on such an occasion, I fear she will become an all devastating dragon. A dragon with a whole army behind her to boot. Better safe than sorry.’
‘I agree with the dwarf,’ Fenris said in a tone that brooked no peremptory. And he looked as if he was willing to tie her to a bedpost if she didn’t comply. Not quite an unappealing prospect, mind you.
‘I am hardly surprised,’ Albran answered with a hot sultry smile, her thoughts suddenly musing over manacles, silk ribbons, velvet blindfolds and perhaps a suggestion of leather, as if she had guessed her husband’s fantasy. Which was pretty much the truth, because she more or less had seen it in his sensual look. If Fenris guessed her imaginations, he was wise enough not to hint at them with Varric present. In fact, he threw her a suspicious and after that comprehending look back, a look that became more heated when she licked her lips in a not to misunderstand way. To emphasise her sudden hot fantasies she slowly folded her arms behind her back, never breaking that near igniting, though concealed glance. She imagined his pupils shot to black, though it was hard to say in the dim light of the cellar. They would be near to black anyway. Nevertheless...
It wasn’t hard to almost literary read her mind and he considered the possibilities with a cautious inward smile. Because, indeed, one couldn’t be too careful with the dwarf around. Next you could find aforesaid thoughts in a saucy suggestive book with a scrambled version of your very name on the cover.
He caught her in mid stride and imprisoned her in his arms. In a heartbeat he tied her arms behind her back to the bedpost with the leather belt he snatched as nimble as a pickpocket out of the loops of her smooth linen trousers. Her eyes grew wide and her breath hitched.
‘Fenris?’
‘Don’t you think I didn’t see that special look in your eyes,’ he rumbled, his pupils dark with want ... shit!
He coughed, trying to hide his sudden arousal. Albran sniggered and the dwarf just looked slightly confused. Probably thanks to the dim light, he even seemed to miss, or at least misinterpret, the brief but intense look they shared. Good. Keep him in that state. No need to fuel his curiosity.
They dragged some chairs that were piled up against the walls to the middle of the room and tried to chase the gloom away with a few lanterns and candles.
Shortly after nightfall, a coded rap on the cellar door sounded and Lady Selbrech entered in the company of Ser Theodore of Wildervale and someone she introduced as Baron Philippe de Beaumont. Despite his name he was dressed in sturdy plain armour, instead of frivolous impractical frills and ruches.
Hawke tilted her head and eyed the man with interest. ‘I take it you’re of Orlesian origin..?’ she said, the question that almost sounded as an accusation hovering in the air.
The baron, a tall, strong built man in probably his mid-thirties, with a shock of red curly hair and bright if not sparkling blue eyes, smiled roguishly. ‘Not every Orlesian nobleman is an inbred insufferable prig, Lady Hawke,’ he said with a disarming smirk. ‘I would be honoured to assist you in your fight against the Knight Commander, if only to prove to you I don’t belong to the narrow-minded, biased, contemptible kind of nobility.’ He actually winked at her at those words.
Hawke nearly blushed. ‘I’m pleased to hear that,’ she managed.
Lady Selbrech looked appreciatively around. ‘This is indeed a very interesting location for a secret gathering, and probably the safest in town at the moment.’
‘Are you certain you haven’t been followed?’ Fenris asked. He lounged in a deceptively nonchalant way against a pillar with his arms folded, but his eyes wandered attentively between the visitors and the entrance to Darktown. Fantasies were fine, more than fine, especially with the probability of becoming real, but at this very moment he needed to be focused on whatever danger could arise.
‘Definitely positive. We have been very vigilant ourselves and in addition I had some members of my militia secretly stalking behind us, looking out for any possible spies.’
Varric cocked his eyebrow. ‘Militia? I’ve heard about their existence but never seen evidence. They’re like a legend.’ Expectantly he looked at her. Perhaps this story could cure his writers’ block illness.
‘So, much like your army of elven urchins,’ Fenris remarked dryly.
Varric shot him a cheeky grin but didn’t reply.
Lady Selbrech shrugged her shoulders in an absentminded way. ‘We don’t keep a standing army around all the time, only when need arises. It has been a nobles’ right for a long time; since the Tevinters were driven away to be exact. In the days that anarchy ruled and every man had to use all means to defend their lives and properties.’
‘Welcome to the wonderful world of Lowtown and the Undercity,’ Albran mumbled. The words had hardly left her mouth or she felt the gaze of Philippe de Beaumont upon her.
‘I understand you started your career in Kirkwall as a refugee from Ferelden, Serah Hawke. You have come a long way.’
She beamed at him, though rather mockingly. ‘Try a journey through the Deep Roads and accidently kill an Arishok and I’m certain you too will get a round of applause. And as a by-product the title of Champion. You can even forget you are of Orlesian descent.’
He bowed his head courteously and flashed her a dazzling smile. ‘I believe you on your word, Champion, though at the same time I doubt it. Not many people would have been able to achieve what you have done.’
He all of a sudden made her think of a certain elf Isabela once had told her about. The smooth talking, devastatingly handsome and apparently perfect lover called Zevran, always according to the pirate queen, of course. A former Crow who had pledged his loyalty to the Hero of Ferelden and played his significant part in ending the Blight. Her vivid, though rather dreamily description of the glorious elf suited this Orlesian noble. At least his demeanour did, as far as she could grasp it. A pity Isabela wasn’t around to clarify. She was well aware of the piercing glower of Fenris and basked in it, hardly being able to stifle a giggle. Being praised by a flattering playful Orlesian noble who at the same time almost got skewered for his action by one of her husband’s notorious knife-like stares was – arousing.
In the meantime Varric held fervently on to any possibility to get rid of what he considered a major affliction. ‘And how is it the Knight Commander approves? She is so paranoid, I bet she even believes the rats in Darktown are plotting against her, let alone it sits easy with her the nobles suddenly surround themselves with armed hirelings.’
With a perfectly straight face Lady Selbrech said, ‘She has to. She can’t deny the Champion and her husband a guard of honour by the nobility’s militia, can she. They have been practising for ages to get the salutes right.’ A small enigmatic smile played around her lips. ‘Of course they have lots of other – useful skills Meredith isn’t aware of.’
Varric burst out with laughter. ‘I like the way you think, madam!’
But Hawke frowned. ‘If every noble house has a right to keep some kind of army around, then also the ones who, how shall I put it, don’t bear warm feelings for me. It could well be they will use their soldiers for another purpose then just chivalrous salutes.’
‘No,' Philippe de Beaumont chortled, ‘if they bear anything for you it will be a grudge. But you needn’t concern yourself, Champion; even if the de Launcets and their sorts think about calling upon the militia, they will keep their soldiers as a sort of decoration; they will wear more plumes than weaponry and they’ll be better trained in parading around as expensive peacocks, than to be at use in real combat.’
‘I am pretty sure not only Orlesian nobles despise Albran,’ Fenris remarked. ‘And how many of you have come up with the same idea? Are you aiming for civil war?’
‘Please, take a seat,’ Albran said, waving around at the chairs, ‘and enjoy a glass of wine.’ She was getting tired of all the worrying, especially because she had done that herself quite a lot lately. She desperately wanted to hear some positive words.
‘On the contrary, Serah Fenris, we are trying to prevent one from starting, although I can understand your anxiety,’ Marlein Selbrech said, while she sat down. ‘But perhaps I can reassure you by telling that we have made it very clear we were gathering a guard of honour and none of the Champion’s opponents have recruited soldiers so far. Nevertheless, we must move with the utmost care.’ She shot de Beaumont a chastising glare. ‘We talked about this, Philippe, you’re thinking far too light-hearted about the tension that has the city in its grasp.’
De Beaumont lifted his hand in a peaceful gesture. ‘Yes, all right, my dear friend, I’m only trying to let the situation sound not so weighty. Just to let you know that I do take this seriously, I’m having my best man keeping a close eye on Edgert the Hound.’
Ser Theodore of Wildervale looked bothered. ‘Why? What is the slippery weasel planning this time?’
‘I’m not sure yet, but he has been bootlicking Meredith of late; more than usual I mean. And that can’t be a good sign.’
‘Edgert the Hound ..?’ Hawke said hesitantly.
‘Ser Edgert de Montfort,’ Varric filled her in. ‘Really Hawke, know your enemies.’
‘Then I can only hope he and de Launcet stumbled upon each other on the threshold of Meredith’s office,’ Albran grinned. ‘They may hate me, they hate one another even more.’
‘Let’s pray they will remember it too,’ Varric mumbled.
‘Our plans for overthrowing Meredith will have to wait until after your wedding,’ Lady Selbrech said. ‘Right now, we better find out if the Knight Commander is preparing a nasty action on that same day, and how to prevent it if she is.’
Albran almost choked on a sip of wine and Varric made it worse by beating her back viciously. ‘Wait, you don’t think she will try something on our wedding day?’
‘I can hardly imagine it, but I’m not certain,’ Marlein Selbrech sighed. ‘In the state she’s in ... well, who can predict the deeds of an insane person, let alone of an insane tyrant?’

Knight Commander Meredith leant back in her chair and drummed with her fingers on the surface of her desk. She repeated in her head the conversation she just had had with Knight Lieutenant Eldon. On purpose she had ignored her Knight Captain. The way he had handled the assault of that dreadful impertinent elf and the atrocious behaviour of the Champion, had convinced her that Cullen was growing soft. At this moment she needed strong-minded and resolute men by her side, men who didn’t hesitate to do what must be done. She needed people she could rely on, not weak-hearted negotiators. Ser Eldon could be cold, cruel even, but he never questioned her decisions and simply carried out her orders.
They had discussed Herric’s proposal within detail. It was a bold plan, but if it succeeded it would be glorious and gratifying and more than a satisfaction for the insults and humiliations she had suffered. And she saw no reason why it would fail. She had to get Cullen out of the way, however, before he got the chance to get diplomatic yet again. He would stay in the Gallows with a small complement of the Templars to guard the mages, so he couldn’t interfere. Yes, the man had grown weak; she had always had a tender spot for him, but perhaps now was the time to remove him. Simply dismissing him could go too far though; it could even be dangerous. There were too many men who would follow him without question. He was well loved and admired. He could raise an army. An army to march against her. She had to forestall that dire scenario at any cost. She stopped tapping her desk and a thin smile appeared on her face. She could make him Orsino’s personal guard dog and force him to report punctually every day. In that case she could keep a watchful eye on the both of them.
-
Anders was growing more restless day by day. He had the nagging feeling something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger upon it. It was not only because he got sick and tired of waiting and doing nothing. After the meeting with Ser Thrask, his apprentice came and went as he pleased without giving much explanation. Sometimes he disappeared for days in a row. When that happened, Anders intended to confront him with it afterwards and demand firmly any updates about his progress and why he was kept out of whatever Marius was doing. The longer he thought about it, the more he became convinced Marius wasn’t the person he claimed to be. But every time the boy showed up again, he managed to restore his confidence and to dissolve his suspicion. Still, the strange loss, or perhaps vanishing, of his precious amulet kept troubling him. It was weird, if not alarming, and he couldn’t get it out of his head his apprentice had something to do with it, although he couldn’t fathom why he would steal it from him. But every time he wanted to broach the subject, something came in between. No, he corrected himself, it seemed more like he wasn’t able to ask the question, as if the words got stuck in his throat. As usual Justice wasn’t much of a help; when he tried to converse with him about his concerns, that blasted spirit kept grousing about how they should hurry up with freeing the mages instead of sitting around caverns and clearings.
Up until now. Suddenly Justice stirred and grumbled, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t put our trust so wholly into the apprentice.’
‘So, finally you also realise there is something odd about him.’
‘Yes. His planning takes too long. I think he has given in to sloth.’
With a deep aggravated groan Anders buried his face in his hands. Stupid, blind, useless Justice. Next time Marius turned up and left again just like that, he would follow him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

 

It was long after midnight when they broke up the gathering with the promise to meet again two nights before the wedding to speak about the last details. Hawke felt exhausted. Philippe de Beaumont had come up with the idea of joining the three forces and to provide them with the same equipment. They would be supplied with bright, wide falling capes to conceal the short swords and shields they would be carrying on their backs in case something bad would happen. Theodore of Wildervale had thought of a cunning formation that could change the units into a phalanx in hardly any moments. It had been very good suggestions, certainly, but Hawke loathed the thought of her wedding day turning into a battle event.

Fenris felt her nervous tension while they walked to their bedroom. And definitely saw it in the manner how she almost attacked the door to open it.

‘You’re very strained.’

‘Is it any wonder?’ she snapped. ‘I really could do with some repose.’ She marched towards the bed with the intention to collapse at full length on the mattress.

‘Do you now.’ He caught her in mid stride and imprisoned her in his arms. In a heartbeat he tied her arms to the bedpost behind her back with the leather belt he snatched nimble as a pickpocket out of the loops of her smooth linen trousers. Her eyes grew wide and her breath hitched.

‘Fenris?’

‘Don’t think I didn’t see that special look in your eyes earlier this evening,’ he rumbled, his silvery green irises dark with want. ‘And I think it is what you need right now.’ He lowered his head and grazed her lips but pulled back the moment she tried to fully kiss him. A smirk appeared on his face. ‘Ever so hasty. Ever so greedy.’

He took her in, how vulnerable she looked, tied up, all at his disposal. Completely in his power. Shortly his thoughts strayed to the times his master had treated him like this and he almost shrank back. But then he realised he no longer had a master and this was just a game. A perilous one, maybe, and surely thrilling, but a game. And no, not even perilous. The moment she didn’t want to go on with it, she could urge him to stop. The moment he got too wound up with his past he could also. He took a reassuring breath. And then remembered what she had gone through. His heart dropped. Urge him to stop ... what was he thinking. He reached for the bonding but was halted by her voice.

‘It’s alright, my love. Please continue. You are not him. I trust you.’ She sounded so husky and seductive he hardened in an instant.

He was almost shocked by how she caught his thoughts and feelings so easily. And you are not him. Damn! ‘Are you certain?’ he whispered. She just nodded. And gave him such a wanton smirk from under half lid eyes he could only carry on. He took courage. No, he was not Danarius and neither was she. And he certainly was not Anders.

‘Let’s take our time,’ he said so huskily it turned her on even more. With one of his fingertips he caressed her cheek, her lips, but he pulled back the moment she wanted to catch the digit with her teeth. He touched the fastenings of her armour and opened them, one by one, slowly. The supple leather fell back and pooled around her arms, revealing the thin cotton tunic she wore beneath. He smiled predatorily. It didn’t take him long to shred the flimsy fabric and leave her in just her breast band. Without taking his eyes from her face he undid the lacing of her trousers. With a wicked grin he stroked for the briefest of moments the treasure that lay behind the thin layer of fabric. She bucked, gasping. 

‘No, my love.’ He stepped back. It was oddly arousing to behold her like this, strapped up and at his mercy. Only now, seeing her so vulnerable and defenceless, he truly realised she belonged to him. And at that very moment knew he really in all honesty could give himself fully to her. It was a strange, contradictory feeling. But now, now it was perfectly clear she trusted him completely, despite what had happened to her, he could completely trust her, despite what had happened to him. He would never harm her of course, he just wanted to worship her, still mesmerised he could call this beautiful and intriguing woman his own. He let his fingers glide over her sides and buried his face in her hair, taking in her scent. He heaved his hands and slowly freed her locks from the pins she had used to wrap it up in an untidy bun. He adored and smelled every tress that came free and fell over her back. His lips traced along her skin, descending down her neck and shoulders while he freed her of her breast band. He cupped her mounds while he nuzzled the crook of her shoulder and his thumbs rubbed her erect pink beads. ‘What shall I do with you?’ he hummed in her ear.

It made her shudder. She swallowed hard. ‘Whatever you want,’ she croaked. Fenris’s behaviour was strangely exciting. She didn’t know what had driven him to this, but she revelled in it. It was easy to surrender because she knew he never would do anything against her will. Not he.

He pressed his frame against hers to let her feel how much he craved for her. ‘I want to gobble you up,’ he whispered, softly nibbling her earlobe. This time Albran could only moan. He kissed her throat, the line of her jaw and then the tip of his tongue delicately licked her lower lip. She made a keening sound when he took access of her mouth and his hands slipped into her pants and gripped her behind, pushing her even firmer to him. Sensually his tongue entwined with hers and she thought she would faint. They were both panting when he finally broke the kiss to take some air.

She leaned her head against the bedpost and closed her eyes the moment he lowered his head to suck and gracefully bite her nipples. He went down on his knees and removed her trousers and underwear, in the meantime showering her abdomen with hot kisses. He flicked his tongue around her swollen pearl and she cried out in delight. ‘Oh Maker!’ His fingers played skilfully with her damp folds. She wanted to melt into his touch and felt her height building fast. But moments before her release he halted and stood up again. She groaned his name in frustration. ‘You’re killing me here!’

He chuckled softly. ‘Don’t worry, my impatient love.’

He lifted one of her legs and wrapped it around his waist. She sharply moved her hips forward to catch him but he grasped her tightly to keep her still. Before she could utter another protest he covered her lips with his and again took possession of her mouth in an overpowering way. At the same time he slowly pushed his shaft inside her hungering sheath. His hand clasped around her thigh, his arm encircled her waist and his lips shifted to her jaw and throat. His thrusts became urgent while he sucked and bit the soft skin of her neck.

Albran felt the explosion starting and only heartbeats later she got swivelled away when a mighty orgasm almost ripped her apart. If Fenris hadn’t moved his hands to her hips to hold her steady she had sank to the floor and had probably dislocated her shoulders. He leaned his forehead against hers and let her slowly come to her senses. At the same time he restrained with all the self-control he could muster the impulse to climax himself. When her breath evened out somewhat, he untied her and removed the leather armour that was still dangling around her arms. She slumped forward but he caught her safely in his arms. She groaned something unintelligible while he lifted her and laid her on the bed with the adoration as if she was a goddess.

He got rid of his clothes and covered her still trembling body with his and framed her face. She embraced him gratefully, hardly able to hold back her tears when she saw the dedication in his eyes, mixed with passionate desire. ‘I’m not done with you yet,’ he murmured and his hard length teased her entrance, immediately rekindling the fire, that had hardly extinguished, in full force.

He glided easily through her fluids deep inside her, full of care and tenderness and grunted at the divine feeling. He set a slow pace but soon couldn’t withhold any longer and pounded feverishly in her. Her walls surrounded him once more and narrowed strongly when a new orgasm took her and he followed her, calling out her name. He collapsed on her, hiding his face in her shoulder, tasting the sweet sweat on her skin.

‘Within a few days the whole of Kirkwall will know you are my wife,’ he managed when he was able to speak again, ‘tonight you are mine exclusively.’

Albran laughed throatily. ‘I will always be yours exclusively.’

He turned on his side, still holding her close. He took a quivering breath. ‘I hope you’re not angry with me.’

‘She chuckled hoarsely. ‘For what? Giving me two wonderful orgasms?’

‘For tying you up.’ He dragged his fingers through her silken hair.

She chortled softly and kissed his shoulder. ‘If this is your idea of bondage, I totally go with it. It had more to do with devotion than dominance.’ After some heartbeats she added, ‘just as you did approach the idea of make up sex.’

He grinned and the sound of his voice crawled down her spine in a very pleasant way. ‘I suppose it did.’

‘Perhaps next time I should tie you up and take the lead,’ she teased chuckling.

‘Perhaps you should.’

She frowned and lifted her head. ‘You would let me?’

He smiled softly. ‘Why not? You trusted me. Is there a reason I shouldn’t return the favour?’ he asked rhetorically. Her eyes flew open with fear he meant it in earnest but then she spotted the twinkling, loving and slightly teasing look in his silvery green orbs. ‘Of course I trust you. Do you think I would have married you otherwise? I’m yours, remember.’

‘I don’t deserve you,’ Albran mumbled, feeling a little ashamed.

‘Strange. I always thought it was the other way around.’

‘Don’t talk rubbish,’ she said and nestled deeper into his arms. Gradually they fell asleep, happy and satisfied.

-

Whether Sebastian wanted to or not, Hawke and Fenris spent the last night before the wedding together in a room in the Hanged Man. ‘You don’t have grounds for any comment whatsoever,’ Albran had said doggedly to the Chantry brother, after he had tentatively brought up the subject once again, ‘since we are married already.’

‘But the occupants of the Hanged Man don’t know that,’ Sebastian had tried against better judgement, ‘and neither does the rest of Kirkwall.’

Rebelliously Hawke had stuck out her chin. ‘I’m fairly certain no one but you and perhaps a few of your prudish brethren will give a rat’s arse.’ She had taken Fenris’s hand and with a shameless display of brazen defiance had guided him out of the taproom, upstairs to their appointed room. Fenris had smiled apologetically at the former prince though he hadn’t been able to hide a triumphant look.

Sebastian had sighed in defeat.

The first words Albran uttered when she woke up the following morning were, ‘How’s the weather?’ Because that’s about the first thing a bride wants to know on the day of her wedding.

Fenris cracked an eye open. ‘And how am I supposed to know?’

He pulled her back in his arms when she started to get out of bed to inspect the weather conditions herself and snuggled close to her warm body. ‘Just a few more minutes,’ he mumbled, pleading desperately. He had dreaded this day and wanted a little more time before all the excitement would burst out. He didn’t get the chance, however, because the next moment Varric came bustling in, pure animated activity. He was closely followed by Merrill who managed to look tense, expectant and cheerful all at once. Fenris groaned and dragged the blanket over his head.

‘No more stalling, elf!’ Varric merrily called out. ‘Time to put on your shoes!’

Fenris groaned some more.

Hawke sat up and tried to peel the blanket off him but he held on to it like a vice. ‘Oh come on, love, it can’t be that bad,’ she said sweetly, in an attempt to mollify him.

‘No, it’s worse,’ Fenris groused stubbornly. His voice sounding muffled, due to the covers.

‘I believe we’re having a case of someone getting cold feet,’ chimed Isabela who was just entering the room.

‘The more reason for him to put on those shoes,’ Varric grinned devilishly.

Albran folded her arms over her hardly covered chest and scowled at the dwarf. ‘Ugh. Shame on you, Varric; this must be by far the worst joke you ever told in your entire life. Now get out of our room, all of you, and give us some space. It’s getting too crowded in here. I promise we will be down for breakfast shortly.’

After they had left, Fenris reappeared with his hair in complete disarray, looking flushed and absolutely adorable. ‘Thank you. Sorry for the childish behaviour, but being harassed by a gloating Varric is definitively not my favourite way of waking up.’

Albran chuckled and planted a quick kiss on his nose while she ruffled tenderly through his moonlike bangs. ‘I can sympathise but I’m afraid you can’t avoid being tormented soon.’

‘I promise I will suffer all the ordeals they will let me go through for your benefit,’ Fenris declared solemnly, kissing her back.

-

An hour later she was being tormented herself.

Fenris had been ushered into Varric’s suite with a face as gloomy as if he entered a chamber of horrors and Albran, Merrill and Isabela had retreated in the room the happy to be married couple had shared last night.

‘Oh Andraste’s burning tits, sit still Hawke!’ Isabela exclaimed.

‘Ouch! That hurts!’

‘Of course it hurts because you’re wriggling like a worm on a hook! Honestly, doesn’t Fenris brush your hair?!’

‘As a matter of fact he does now and again and far gentler than you do right now, I might add!’ yelled Hawke indignantly.

‘That’s because he knows he will have sex with you afterwards. I won’t.’ The pirate gleamed with sudden smugness. ‘Won’t I?’

‘No!’

Isabela smirked. ‘That’s what I thought. So, shut up and let me do your hair. Maker’s balls, be grateful I’m bothering with this. Kitten, where did you leave those roses you could put your hands upon?’

‘Please, Isabela,’ the petite elf piped up, ‘would you stop pulling more hair out of her head? She will have nothing left to stick those roses in! That can’t be good!’

‘Indeed Isabela, listen to Merrill,’ Hawke said viciously. ‘It’s not my fault you didn’t get laid last night. Save my scalp.’

The pirate queen defiantly planted her hands on her hips. ‘Actually it is your fault,’ she complained. ‘If you hadn’t got it into your head to get married before the planned date, I could have organised one hell of a henparty in the Blooming Rose. And I mean a really exciting one.’

Hawke turned to her, glaring daggers. ‘And what makes you think I would have agreed to participate in whatever extremities your dirty mind would have come up with to perform in the Rose? I would be a retarded dipstick to make use of a whore, while I have the most exquisite and irresistible elf in the whole of Thedas within arm’s reach. And besides all that, I would never hurt him.’

‘Whoring is not committing adultery!’ Isabela wailed.

‘Perhaps in your book it isn’t, but I would still hurt Fenris and that is the last thing I want to do,’ Albran stated firmly.

The pirate queen mumbled something under her breath about being narrow-minded and an insufferable stick-in-the-mud but she was wise enough not to say it out loud. ‘You could at least have granted me the pleasure,’ she grumbled instead. ‘After all, I will be wearing that ridiculous far too boring and decent dress all day for your sake. I never thought I could be persuaded to do such an appalling thing. A henparty would have been so much better!’’

‘Then you can have a night in the Rose on me if it’s so important to you and make your wildest fantasies come true. As long as you don’t drag me along,’ Hawke snapped. She realised she sounded ungrateful and sighed. ‘You must not think I don’t appreciate what you’re doing, Isabela,’ she started meekly, ‘but –‘

‘Oh shush, you goose. I’m only kidding you.’ Isabela cocked her head. ‘Although I admit I’d have loved it if the two of us would have got the Rose in an uproar. Oh well. Now, Kitten, give me those flowers.’

Deftly she fumbled with Hawke’s locks, piling and pinning them up in a deceivingly simple way with a few strands nonchalantly curling along her face and down her neck. As some sort of pièce the résistance she elegantly stuck a few pink roses into the hairdo. ‘There. Done.’ She held up a mirror. ‘Satisfied?’

Albran stared at her reflexion and was speechless. ‘You did a wonderful job,’ she managed in the end, ‘thank you.’

‘And don’t you forget it,’ Isabela grinned. ‘Now let us get you into that dress.’

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

 

Meredith walked with a brisk gait through the corridors of the Gallows. She was accompanied by Knight Lieutenant Mettin, who seemed to hang onto her lips and very words. ‘Around noon they will arrive at the Viscount’s Way,’ she said, bristling with expectation. ‘All the nobles will be gathered there at that moment. Seek out their positions, much can be told about that. Keep an eye on Marlein Selbrech. I don’t trust that woman, despite we couldn’t find anything to put against her. And the Guard of Honour will be present hours before. Send one of your men ahead to inspect if something is out of order. Or rather, go yourself but be subtle. We don’t want a commotion – yet. I require a report. But be back in time.’

Ser Mettin bowed lightly. ‘As you command, Messere.’

From a hidden corner Cullen watched them both with great anxiety. Only this morning the Knight Commander had ordered him to stay in the Gallows and at that very moment he had got a serious feeling something was amiss. He had pushed it aside. She must have good reasons ... He felt a movement and turned sharply. He raised his brows when he saw Ser Thrask standing next to him.

‘I’m not sure what she’s planning, but I’m positive it can’t be anything good,’ the Templar said. ‘We should do something.’

‘My hands are tied,’ Cullen said reluctantly. ‘She gave me the order to guard Orsino and the other mages. I have no choice than to follow her wishes.’

Thrask shook his head. ‘You still refuse to see it, don’t you,’ he said softly. ‘Or rather, you refuse to admit it, even now she practically locked you up because she knows you’re the only one who’s able to stand against her. And even that you deny. She is mad, Cullen. She will do something completely insane today and you have the possibility to prevent it. Most of the Templars will listen to you. We must stop her.’

The Knight Captain stared at him. ‘No. I will do as she has told me,’ he answered stubbornly. ‘And I’m certain she won’t do anything rash. I will guard Orsino and the mages, as are my orders. The Knight Commander fears the Circle will seize the opportunity of this day to rebel and she has a valid point. So, I warn you to keep away from the First Enchanter. I wish you no harm but I will arrest you if you do anything out of order.’

‘Have it your way,’ Ser Thrask said in a sad tone. ‘Stay blind and deaf and let the dire consequences come over you.’ He turned and walked away. He was not even disappointed; he had known beforehand Cullen would react in this way, as the dutiful and reliable faithful Knight Captain the man was. He had only wanted to make certain he had tried for the last time to change his mind. That he had done everything in his might to make him see his point of view. He had failed but he couldn’t blame himself. If the Knight Captain frigidly wanted to hold on to his rigid opinion, then that was his business. If he’d get swept away by what was to come, it would be his own fault. So why did he feel guilty? Thrask straitened his shoulders and walked on.

Cullen pressed his lips and once again ignored the unpleasant knotting of his guts.

-

Marius was already on his post at this early hour. He had stolen to the balcony of the mansion of Albran Hawke herself, where he had the best view on the square where the nobles and the Guard of Honour would assemble. Where everything was about to happen. He hid between the vines and leaves of the green ivy, knowing Hawke was elsewhere and her servants would be present in the Alienage with her to witness the wedding. No one would notice him up here. He was safe on his perfect lookout post. He only had to wait for the occurrences to take place. He allowed himself a bleak smile.

-

Anders felt miserable. He knew this was the day Albran and that – mage hater would be joined in matrimony but that was not the only reason for his wretched mood. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, something he couldn’t put his finger upon.

He stood before the entrance of the cave he had slept in the previous night, taking in with vague admiration the astounding sight of the sea, littered with tiny islands and sharp rocks rising above the water like sculptured pinnacles. The rising sun made the waves glitter with bright, almost blinding colours. He had seen this scene countless times before. Sometimes the harsh beauty of the view had moved him, now he just carelessly observed it without really seeing anything. The cool autumn wind, always strong on the Wounded Coast, especially at this height, battered his robes. He didn’t feel it.

Mage hater, rabid dog, mindless beast ... he had called Fenris several names over the past years and he tried fervently to hold on to his loath for the elf, but it had become hard. Especially after he had learned that same elf had rushed to the rescue after the mess he himself had caused and left behind. He had despised him for the way he had used and hurt Albran years ago, leaving her torn and shattered. He had never understood why she had tolerated the elf around her afterwards. But what had he done? He shivered at the remembrance of how he had – raped her. There was no other word. He still didn’t comprehend what had driven him that fateful night. He had blamed Justice at first and yes, the spirit had encouraged him in his own non interested, almost bored way.

But the more he thought about it, he hadn’t pushed him. Justice had only tolerated it, to have done with his never ceasing craving for her. And honestly, what did he know about this specific human yearning? Nothing at all.

He had blamed himself but surely he wouldn’t have done something as repulsive as that out of his own will, no matter how much he had longed for her? He loved her too much to stoop that low. He still couldn’t fathom his own action.

Again, as had happened several times over the past weeks, his thoughts swivelled to his young apprentice. There was something uncanny about that boy. Could he ..? No, that was absurd. He bowed his head. He was still looking for someone else to make responsible for what he had done. He shook his head. He was the one responsible, only he.

When he looked up again he thought he caught an outlandish vision. He narrowed his eyes. Was he getting delusional? No, certainly not. There was a ship anchored behind one of the rocky outcrops. What the hell was she doing there?

-

Danarius stood on deck, watching the coastline with curiosity. He could see the outlines of Kirkwall at the horizon. So, this was the place his little wolf had taken refuge. The place where he had met his mate and thought to live with her without any care. The magister smiled coldly. His pet wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy his happiness much longer. The foolish boy might believe he was well out of his master’s grasp, but it wouldn’t be long before he would see the error of his ways and learn the real purpose of his existence once more. A few days. Only a few days. Danarius’s smile became rapaciously. He could muster the patience. A few more days were nothing compared to the years he had tried in vain to get him captured and haul back to him. This time he would collect his pet himself.

-

Fenris was fidgeting nervously. The alien sensation of his feet being clad in shoes, how expensive and fine-looking they might be – he grudgingly had to admit Varric had good taste – didn’t help to ease his tension. He had the feeling he had been waiting for hours in the Alienage for Albran to show up. The place never had looked lovelier and for once didn’t look like a depressing slum. But he had no eyes for the clean houses, the swept floor and the tasteful decorated Vhenadahl Tree. His mind was occupied with other things than paper lilacs and a mud-free environment.

Next to the tree an altar was erected, behind which Sebastian already had taken place, dressed in red and gold like a priest on an important occasion. He kept fiddling with the pages of the book lying in front of him, as if he was searching for some last inspiration.

‘What the hell is taking her so long?!’ Fenris muttered gruffly for the umpteenth time, at the end of his nerves.

‘You shouldn’t worry so,’ Sebastian said reassuringly, although he seemed to be as nervous as the elf, worrying as much a he did. ‘I understand it takes hours to prepare a bride for her wedding; to properly dress her, to do her hair, to adjust some little details no one will notice but in her eyes will stand out like a Qunari in the Chantry.’

Fenris stared incredulously at the former prince. ‘I can hear you have been around Varric quite a lot of late; you begin to sound like him.’

Sebastian grinned rather sheepishly. ‘I’m just trying to set your mind at ease. And, oh look, there she ...’

His voice faltered by the sheer image of Albran Hawke standing at the top of the stairs, flanked by Varric who looked as proud as if she was really his daughter. In Sebastian’s eyes she looked like the Bride of the Maker herself. She appeared to radiate holiness.

Fenris stopped breathing altogether.

She wore a seemingly basic and at first sight plain cream coloured silk dress with a tight body and a wide skirt that hugged her hips and in wide supple folds elegantly fell around her long legs; a stole of the same colour and fabric was loosely draped around her bare shoulders. A few coiling strands of hair were gracing her lovely neck. When she moved down the staircase, holding on to Varric’s arm and almost floated towards him, Fenris noticed absently the dress was embroidered with small roses that glistened softly in the light of the sun that shone through the rustling leaves of the giant tree. She was smiling in a celestial way and seemed to be some kind of heavenly creature, not belonging to this mortal realm. A creature that had descended from the Maker’s City to grace the world with her presence. It looked as if a shining golden aura was surrounding her. Speechless he reached out his hand and Varric laid her hand in his with a graceful nod.

The whole of the Alienage had fallen still in awe, and when Fenris finally found some words, his rough voice chimed in the silence like a bell. ‘I never believed it possible for you to look more beautiful, but here you are, defying my conviction.’ He wanted to fall on his knees for her but instead he pulled her close and kissed her. The elves cheered.

‘It is not custom to kiss the bride before the celebration of the marriage,’ Sebastian protested but they didn’t listen to him.

‘You don’t look too bad yourself,’ Albran said awkwardly, blinking away some tears. ‘Look at you! All dressed up! What’s the occasion?’

Fenris laughed, grateful she had managed to lighten the tension, and kissed her again.

‘No wait, let me admire you.’ She stepped back and took him in. He was wearing an apparently black jacket and matching trousers that however turned into a sort of shiny dark purple in the sunlight and made no secret of his incredible handsome muscled, though lithe frame. The shirt underneath was of the same colour as her dress, which convinced her Varric had known at least the fabric of her gown for a long time. It didn’t surprise her. ‘You look – breath-taking.’

‘Don’t you dare to cry, Hawke,’ Isabela sounded behind her back, ‘it will ruin the make-up!’

Varric nudged her. ‘The shoes, Hawke,’ he hissed, ‘say something about the shoes.’

Her eyes wandered down and widened at the unfamiliar sight of elegantly black leather low boots that hid Fenris’s normally bare feet. She looked up and chuckled. ‘So, that’s what all the fuss was about? They are lovely, Fenris, they suit you. There really was no reason for all the fretting.’

He shrugged his shoulders apologetically. ‘Perhaps I have been exaggerating.’

Albran laughed again and her voice hit his ears like a fresh splashing waterfall. ‘I think you have.’

Sebastian cleared his throat. ‘Perhaps, if you are finally willing to pay attention, we can commence the ceremony..?’

-

From his vantage-point Marius watched the square beneath. The Guard of Honour was already in position; around them stood the City Guard to keep the nobles at bay. The Seneschal and the Guard Captain were waiting on the steps of the Viscount’s Way, the latter constantly scrutinising the crowd. Marius frowned. She was a dangerous enough woman to keep an eye on; she could spoil everything. Knight Commander Meredith had just arrived with a complement of the Templars, but Marius knew she had many more in reserve. His fingers were itching to do something but he was just here to observe, to see to it everything would go according to plan. But even if things went wrong, he couldn’t interfere; it would be too dangerous for his own health to use magic. He had to rely on Meredith and her Templars and he didn’t doubt for one second she would lash out to him if she’d find out he was a mage, regardless he had been a big help. He hated that. Frankly, he hated her. She was a despicable woman but he had no choice than to make use of her. The most he hated his fragile position in this blasted idiotic city.

-

Marlein Selbrech was standing among the nobles and their servants. Just as the rest of them, she was wearing her finest clothes instead of her armour. She didn’t feel very comfortable and her hand ached to hold a sword but she had no other option. Of course, it would have been close to suicide to show up as a warrior. She, Wildervale and Beaumont had split up, carefully avoiding any suggestion of a conspiracy as far as possible. She stood staring at Meredith and wondered if the Knight Commander looked more smug than usual, or if it was her vivid imagination that got away with her. She hoped and prayed things would go well and Meredith had no nasty surprise upon her sleeve. She eyed the Guard of Honour. They looked solid and she knew they would spring into action when the moment would call – Maker forbid it would come to that.

-

Aveline was skimming the square, searching for anything out of place. The whole atmosphere seemed to be thrumming with excited anticipation, but thus far she couldn’t sense anything suspicious. She had made Donnic the commander of the group of Guardsmen who accompanied the bride and groom and their retinue from the Alienage to the Keep and she hoped he didn’t encounter any severe trouble. She had posted men along the route Hawke and Fenris would take through Hightown; there had been little more she could have done. She had a hard time to stay quiet and composed and Bran didn’t help much to ease her tension.

‘They are taking their time, aren’t they,’ the Seneschal at this moment grouched sulkily, as to stress her annoyance with the man. But at the same time there seemed to go an animated wave through the waiting people. The buzzing hubbub swelled and everybody was craning their neck. Aveline’s heart picked up a pace and then she saw them. Her eyes widened. They looked stunning. The both of them. The word godlike bubbled up, although she was absolutely not the religious kind. They presented the perfect pair.

For a couple of precious heartbeats she was so distracted that she completely missed the devilishly expression on Meredith’s face.

-

The moment they entered Hightown, Albran felt Fenris tense. The whole way through Lowtown he had been fairly relaxed but now the tight grip on her hand increased. They had been cheered by the elves and the common folk, there had been congratulations and the occasional sexual teemed quip, as could have been expected, and they had had to laugh about it. But now they went into the nobility territory. She mused she’d rather march into a dragon’s den but didn’t show it; she kept smiling.

‘Don’t worry, it will be all right. Remember we have back-up,’ she murmured from the corner of her mouth. By now she wished she had settled with the simple marriage in the Keep and the party with their friends. Yes, she had wanted to make a point, to rub it into the snobs’ noses the Champion married an elf and was more than happy with it. But sensing Fenris’s anguish, not to mention hers, she came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth it. A bit too late, she mused resentfully.

‘I will only stop worrying when this is all over,’ Fenris murmured back. To say he felt ill at ease would be the understatement of the year.

Not moments later his anxiety turned out to be justified.

-

To her immense dread Aveline saw the Knight Commander step into Albran’s and Fenris’s path. This was not going according to the scenario. She didn’t have to turn to the Seneschal to know this was as unexpected for him as it was for her. She felt him go rigid and heard him gasp for breath. Perhaps for the neutral onlooker it seemed Meredith only wanted to congratulate the couple, but all of her senses and instincts screamed out and evidently she wasn’t the only one. Her eyes fervently searched for Knight Captain Cullen but she couldn’t locate him. He was not here. Fuck!

And then Meredith lifted her hand, demanding attention. Silence fell heavily upon the square.

‘I hereby arrest the Champion and her husband on the accusation of treason in the worst possible way,’ she as good as screamed out triumphantly. ‘I have the irrefutable proof they have plotted against this city with the assistance of the Tevinter Imperium! There is no excuse for that; Templars, take them into custody!’

Not moments later a pandemonium broke out.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

-

Aveline looked in horror and at first frozen at the scene that unfolded rapidly before her eyes. She saw how Fenris’s markings aggressively flared up in bright blue after Meredith’s outrageous accusation while he pushed Albran behind him, but he stood not a chance. Of course Meredith knew about his lethal skills, even without a visible weapon in his hands. She had anticipated his reaction and she had taken no risks. Before Aveline could interfere, the Templar standing next to the Knight Commander hurled an object into the small wedding procession. The missile exploded and gave out a pungent gas that turned into a thick kind of fog. Aveline reacted with shocked abhorrence.

‘A deathcloud! The bloody bitch used a fucking deathcloud grenade!’ Her voice caught with extreme rage. ‘These are outlawed! The Guard are not even allowed to keep those things in store!’

Next to her Seneschal Bran gasped. ‘What do you mean? She killed them?!’ he shrieked. He might not like the Champion, he might even despise her, but he despised Meredith more. Not to mention he feared her like hell.

‘No, but they wish that were true when they come round again,’ Aveline growled grimly. She drew her sword. ‘Guards, on me!’ she yelled while she jumped down the stairs. She didn’t want a fight but the Knight Commander had left her no choice; she couldn’t leave Hawke and Fenris to her non-existent mercy on the accusation of something that outrageous. The men abandoned their positions behind the Guard of Honour to take flawlessly the new ones behind their Captain. They were, after all, well trained.

‘Protect the Champion and Fenris!!’ Philippe de Beaumont bellowed in the meantime. He brought out a hidden blade from under his cloak with the intention to add to the bedlam in a way he never had dreamed of before. At once he turned into a knight in shining armour, the protector of the Champion herself, no less. Too bad the audience around him weren’t willing to applaud or even cooperate. They merely were busy to stand in his way.

‘Get the traitors!’ Meredith screamed at the same time.

The moment Fenris jumped forward, the gas entered his lungs and blinded his eyes; they burned and began to water. His head started to spin, he felt nauseous. He fought for breath and stumbled, desperately struggling to keep his conscious. But it was a lost battle.

Around his falling body chaos broke out.

-

Marius overlooked the mayhem for not more than a heartbeat before he ran from the balcony into what he assumed was Hawke’s bedroom and raced downstairs. He saw an opportunity to get his hands upon the elf this very moment, an opportunity delivered to him by that hare-brained Knight Commander herself. At first he had planned to remove him out of his prison more or less in the same way he had freed Anders or, if that should have been proved too risky, to wait for the confusion the inevitable attack on the Gallows would cause. The elf was not his priority and he was sure a chance would have presented itself to catch him along the way. But this was so much better. He had to act fast, however, before the Templars could get to him. He cast a spell to protect himself against whatever that gas contained; no one would notice the use of magic at this hectic moment.

He darted through the front door of the estate and dived unhindered into the gas cloud that had extended to the walls of the estate. He threw a quick look around until he spotted Fenris among the people who lay motionless on the ground, or were violently coughing or, rather, gagging and even throwing up. He grabbed the unconscious elf under the armpits, dragged him inside and slammed the door shut behind them. To be completely safe he sealed the door with a lock ward. He let out a relieved breath. Danarius’s pet was in his grasp and in a far easier way than he had thought it would take. He only had to get him to a secure place where he wouldn’t be found. But the elf didn’t weight that much, especially without his armour, and he had time enough.

-

Aveline’s head was in a turmoil; all kinds of thoughts flew through her mind. Now she’s lost it completely. This means war. What the hell did she do to Cullen? Where is Donnic?! But it all boiled down to just one goal: to stop Meredith from carrying out this ludicrous action. The moment she stormed down the Viscount’s Way with her Guardsmen behind her back, so many things happened simultaneously she could hardly comprehend it.

-

After they had entered Hightown, Donnic had decided to bring up the rear-guard and had sent Guardswoman Brennan to the front instead. He had figured the excited residents in the Hightown market would likely become obtrusive, while on the other hand the bride and groom and their friends would be protected by the awaiting Guard of Honour and the Guardsmen who had stayed with the Captain. At this moment his presence was more required here. In the meantime he ordered the Guardsmen Aveline had posted in the market place to follow him; they weren’t needed there any longer. They could better serve as his assistances to keep the curious following mass at bay.

Things seemed to go well, right up to the moment everyone came to a sudden halt and he heard the voice of the Knight Commander screech hysterically over the murmur of the onlookers. Immediately after something exploded and started to spread some kind of sickly yellow gas that Donnic, to his dread, recognised as deathcloud. Instinctively he jumped back and shouted to the guardsmen, who marched behind him, to do the same. He couldn’t avoid breathing in some of the putrid smelling gas, though, and for a couple of minutes he and the few dozen guardsmen who had just joined him, and thus hadn’t been in the middle of the blast, weren’t able to do anything more than cough and try to wipe the stinging tears out of their eyes. Nevertheless, they succeeded to get a grip on their bodies and common sense rather fast. If only because Donnic willed them to.

-

Aveline strode with long determined paces towards the Knight Commander, together with the Guardsmen who had gathered behind her in tight formation.

The woman stood alone, her sword in hand, and watched how the complement of her Templars hastened to haul the by her declared traitors before her feet. Their faces were covered in special prepared cloth against the effects of the deathcloud. Someone shouted something about protecting the Champion but she didn’t take notice.

She might stand alone in the midst of the turmoil, but she stood as a statue of an extremely vengeful goddess of war: tall and frightening and untouchable. Nevertheless Aveline boldly (or driven by some particular kind of brave righteousness that would take its heavy toll afterwards) approached her.

‘Meredith! Stop this madness!’ the Guard Captain boomed. ‘Call back your men and put down your weapon!’ I’m going to arrest the Knight Commander, she thought, I must be out of my bloody mind.

To her dismay she noticed at the same moment the Guard of Honour throwing off their cloaks and producing swords and shields. What the hell are they up to? For the Maker’s sake, they can only do harm!

‘Stay, you fools!!’ she roared, to no avail. At the command of Philippe de Beaumont the hirelings hesitated not a moment and went after the Templars. Beaumont and Theodore of Wildervale, who had appeared at his side, pushed their way to the Knight Commander through the fleeing screaming throng of nobles and servants who tried to find safety in an eruption of panic. It was as if they were attempting to fight against a stampede.

-

Meredith turned sharply around and swung her sword in a wide arch. The blade radiated with a malicious red light that seemed to reflect in her dangerously glowing eyes. Without thinking Aveline parried the strike, almost hypnotised. Her own sword broke in two as if it was made from inferior wood.

‘Who do you think you are to command me!’ the Knight Commander howled. She looked as if she was in trance. Or possessed. ‘You are as much a traitor as those two! You will pay for this!’ She heaved her sword and let it come down in a mighty sweep. Aveline staggered back, still feebly holding up the remains of her weapon as some kind of sorry defence, knowing it was useless. She could feel the terror of her men behind her; they didn’t know what to do. If only Donnic were here. Please don’t let him been put out of action due to that damn gas.... I bloody love him. Dammit.

-

Marlein Selbrech feverishly struggled against the frantic scurrying crowd that fled to all directions, only with the highest effort keeping her footing. Damn those high heeled shoes. She tried to reach for her garter but got pushed around and almost got knocked over a few times. Someone stepped on the hem of her dress and tore the skirt. For a moment she seemed to lose her equilibrium but just in time grabbed someone’s shoulder before she fell. The person yelled frantically at her. She paid him no heed and instead pushed him out of the way. She pulled at the fabric of her garment ant ripped the skirt apart. Finally she could reach the small crossbow tucked between the garter and her thigh and wriggled it free. The ingenious little, but powerful weapon looked like a new-born offspring of Varric’s Bianca and contained only one small smooth and very sharp bolt, but it should be enough. She was a good shot. She aimed at Meredith and fired. Immediately after she finally got dragged down. She covered her head with her arms, let the terrified horde come over her and prayed her action had the outcome she had intended. And that she would survive this ordeal.

-

The very moment Aveline expected to feel the devastating blow of Meredith’s sword, the Knight Commander let out a high pitched scream and the blade fell powerless down, missing her by inches. Her astounded gaze travelled from the fierce, frightening red glowing weapon, now dulled again and harmlessly dangling in Meredith’s hand, to the crossbow bolt sticking out of her upper arm, just below her shoulder. It had gone straight through her armour. Where the hell did that come from? Later, not now. She snatched the sword out of the hand of the Guardsman standing next to her.

‘Run to Seneschal Bran and tell him to open the doors to the Keep,’ she snarled.

The man seemed to be in shock. ‘But he should open them only the moment the bride and groom arrive ...’ he burbled.

‘Now!’ Aveline hollered over the racket that surrounded them. ‘Come to your senses, you idiot! We need to get the casualties inside as soon as possible!’ And have an easy accessible retreat when push comes to shove.

Under her fiery glance the man darted off. Bran seemed to come to life at the arrival of the confused Guardsman. Finally he could do something, instead of gaping wordlessly at the ghastly panorama. Without a comment he ran up the stairs and drew the doors to the Keep wide open. He vanished into the wide hall and took refuge into the former Viscount’s office. No one missed him.

The Guard Captain straightened her shoulders and pointed her stolen blade at the Knight Commander. ‘I arrest you on the accusation of –‘  She hesitated only a moment, ‘starting a riot and disturbing the peace in this city.’ She had wanted to say “for being a complete and utter dangerous lunatic” but wasn’t certain that was a legitimate reason to take someone into custody.

Meredith stared at her with utmost contempt and a lopsided sneering smile. ‘Do you really believe you carry that kind of authority?’ she hissed disdainfully. ‘I think not. I rule this city. You are just a meaningless pathetic puppet.’

Aveline swallowed. How long was it since this nightmare started? It seemed hours. It could have been only minutes.

And then she heard the foreboding heavy ringing noise, drowning the sounds of panic and battle.  Bloody hell.

-

The gas of the deathcloud grenade had begun to evaporate and revealed a group of people, some lying motionless, some bent double or holding on to the walls of the Amell estate, coughing and retching. And Templars ferociously fighting off the unleashed Guard of Honour that attacked them. They had been well paid to do the job and, besides that, had got berserk and longed for blood. And for an even more alcohol than they had downed already, once this was all over. They might not be Templar or Guard material, but they were chosen for a good reason: they fought like devils. But although the Templars were outnumbered four to one, they stood fast. They might be less in numbers but were far better equipped and trained. They clustered together around the still body of Albran Hawke, willing to defend their prize at all cost.

-

Donnic didn’t know exactly what was going on. He had heard the frenzied voice of the Knight Commander but not what she had said. But evidently it had caused all the ruckus, including that blighted grenade, and he simply knew his wife would want him to end this appalling event as fast as possible. The lifting fog allowed him to overlook the situation. As always he stayed calm and took a quick decision. ‘Attack the Templars. Cut them out. Try not to kill them, take them prisoner.’ 

-

Knight Lieutenant Mettin had in vain fervently tried a few times to bash in the door to the Amell estate to provide for an escape route; the sturdy wood didn’t budge an inch. He grew impatient. ‘Finish them already!’ he shouted angrily. ‘This is taking far too long!’ And to crown it all, a new danger presented itself in the shape of a group of Guardsmen who apparently weren’t affected by the gas. At least not enough to not start an assault. They were approaching fast.

But then there rang a clinking sound that was as music to his ears.

-

Aveline had been staring at Meredith warily. Formally she had arrested her but the woman obviously didn’t take it to heart. She just ignored the charges. With the transmuting of her weapon, and not to forget her eyes, into something reddish and definitely very creepy still clear in mind, the Guard Captain for the first time in her life hadn’t known how to proceed. From the corner of her view she had noticed two noblemen moving towards them while they supported between them a limping woman dressed in what seemed to be rags.

And then she had heard the sound of jogging Templars, drawing near fast. A small splinter of her mind had hoped it would be Cullen, appearing as some kind of rescue-angel to call the completely gone mad Knight Commander to order.

But the moment Meredith shifted her blade, without any outward effort, from her injured arm to her left hand with a smug, malevolent grin on her face, that little hope evaporated like a snowflake in the fires of hell.

From three sides battalions of Templars closed in, and fast. Aveline comprehended the acute danger; they would be wiped away here and now, if they were stupid enough to battle them. Now she could clearly see Donnic and his men, fighting against the complement of Templars next to the Amell estate.

‘Donnic!’ she bellowed over the din. ‘Get the injured and your men into safety! Go to the Keep! Now!!’

She was relieved to see he had heard her and followed her order.

Meredith smiled demonically. ‘Finally found out, little grey mouse? You are nothing. Nothing! I told you before, I rule this city.’

Aveline didn’t listen to her. She addressed the two noblemen who had caught up with them. ‘Call your Guard of Honour back,’ she bit, ‘unless you want them to perish.’

-

Varric hadn’t done vomiting by far but between two bouts he managed to grumble hoarsely, ‘What the fuck was that all about?’

Aveline was pacing her office in the Barracks where they were all gathered. ‘I think that is quite obvious.’ She scowled, at no-one in particular but at the world in general. ‘The deranged bitch made her move. I don’t know how she will defend the ridiculous charges against Hawke and Fenris but, with such an overwhelming display of power, I’m afraid she will get away with it.’

‘I don’t want to be a spoilsport but if Fenris were here he would have said something like “I told you so”,’ Varric managed just before he threw up again in the bucket between his knees.

Aveline rammed her fist into the wall in frustration. ‘I know, all right!! I’ve relied too heavily upon Cullen, no need to rub it into my face!’ She let out a big sigh. ‘And now we need to find a way to free them. Maker! What a mess.’

The woman in the tattered dress who had been introduced to her as Ser Marlein Selbrech, and evidently had saved her life by shooting a crossbow bolt through Meredith’s arm just before the woman got the chance to decapitate her, put in a word. ‘I’m afraid we have no other choice than to decide on an attack on the Gallows, Captain Ser. The Knight Commander won’t yield to mere power of persuasion. That much is clear.’

Marlein Selbrech was still sorry and, moreover, frustrated that her bolt hadn’t killed the Knight Commander but merely had injured her. But there was nothing she could do about it right now. So she stayed calm. No need to heat up the already boiling mood any further.

Aveline shuddered at the memory of the red coloured sword and the evil it had exuded. ‘I’m afraid you are right,’ she mumbled. She looked up. ‘So we have to have some kind of battle plan. Any ideas?’

At that moment Marius, known to them as Herric of Cumberland, entered the room.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

-

All heads turned to the handsome young man they knew as Herric from Cumberland, standing in the doorway. That is to say, the heads that weren’t busy emptying their stomachs.

‘What are you doing here?’ Aveline snapped impatiently. ‘And how did you get in?’

‘I came looking for Brother Sebastian,’ Marius answered timidly with a soft voice, his eyes wide with distress and hardly concealed tears. ‘There was so much turmoil ... I wanted to see if he and the rest of you were alright. A friendly Guardswoman let me through. I am sorry if I’m a nuisance.’ He seemed to be on the brink of breaking into a solid outburst of grief.

Aveline backed down somewhat and waved vaguely at a corner of the room where Sebastian lay hunched up as a classic example of pure misery. ‘Not too well, as you can see, but you needn’t concern yourself too much. He’ll recover.’

The former prince had flung himself upon Hawke in an attempt to protect her at the moment Fenris pushed her behind his back and thus had, just like the bride and groom, got the full blast of the gas.

Aveline mentally shook herself. The next words she spoke took effort and she didn’t know why. It bothered her, for a breath.

‘Now, if you’ll be so good as to leave the room? You can wait outside if you like but we have pressing matters to discuss.’ For a heartbeat she considered to have Herric thrown out of the Keep altogether, but something about the boy let her swallow back that order. Somehow her brain seemed to form the thoughts out of itself. ‘The poor sod. Lost everything already, finally found a new friend and now this. No wonder he’s disconcerted.’ She frowned irritably and cast the thoughts aside; now was not the moment to be compassionate. But she forgot about it when Herric obediently scurried out of the room.

When he left, Donnic entered. Aveline looked at him with a mix of fear and hope. ‘And?’

‘Considering the circumstances, things could have been much worse,’ her husband and right hand replied. ‘We have half a dozen wounded, one of them in a bad shape, and lots of vomiting men. But they will survive.’ He turned to the three nobles. ‘I’m afraid your men fared less well. At least five of them fell in the fight and about ten are badly injured.’

Marlein Selbrech sighed. ‘I’m very sorry to hear that.’

‘What were you thinking anyway,’ Aveline suddenly flew at her, ‘to order a horde of untrained men to attack a group of extremely skilled Templars?!’ Now the shock of what had happened had subsided a little, anger took over, if only to find a - relatively - easy way to explode.

Beaumont wanted to flare up but thought the better of it when he met the Guard Captain’s dark scowl. He swallowed down a nasty reply and just said, ‘They weren’t untrained, just enormously – enthusiastic.’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ Aveline thundered, coming to the point that aggravated her the most at this moment, if not to say she was highly offended. ‘Why was I being left out of this ludicrous plan? Why were the nobles of this city plotting together without at least confer about it with me?!’

‘More or less my words, when I found out,’ Varric coughed.

‘Shut up dwarf!’ Aveline snarled.

Theodore of Wildervale stepped forward. ‘We have been planning with the Champion and Fenris,’ he tried to explain. ‘Messere Hawke didn’t want you to worry, since you already had enough on your shoulders as it was, and were involved in a row with Meredith. She was afraid you would suffer for it if she’d find out.’

‘Really? I’m moved to tears with her concern,’ Aveline sneered sarcastically.

Donnic moved to his wife and lightly touched her wrist. ‘Perhaps it’s better that we speak about the current situation, Captain,’ he said calmly.

Aveline blew out some air. ‘You are right,’ she said, backing down somewhat. ‘It’s no use bickering over milk already spilled.’ She bit back a more harsh retort. Donnic always succeeded in calming her down when she was driven to the edge. Perhaps that was the reason why she had fallen in love with him in the first place. She needed him as some kind of counterpoint. Or, perhaps, as some kind of green, calming meadow full of happy twittering birds, lovely butterflies, bright flowers and  the soothing scents of nature. Whatever the case, he managed the impossible. Taming the bronto, she thought reluctantly, in a very rare reflection of humour. In the midst of all the stress she suddenly had a hard time to keep a straight face.

She grumbled, ‘And you can drop the formal “Captain” business as long as we’re among friends.’ She sent the three nobles a false look. ‘More or less.’ The same nobles were wise enough to stay quiet.

She stared pensively at the opposite wall. ‘I don’t believe Meredith was out for open battle. If so, we wouldn’t be standing here. For some reason or another she left us an open way to retreat. As some kind of escape, as if she wanted to be her great victory really – victorious...’ Her voice trailed off, thinking of Hawke and Fenris. She had no idea what Meredith had in store for them, but it couldn’t be pleasant. Then she let her eyes wander over Varric, Sebastian, Isabela and Merrill who were in different stages of recuperating but absolutely not standing. She tried not to grin.

‘The standing as a matter of speaking,’ she added. ‘Meredith just wanted to take Hawke and Fenris captive but we don’t know whether she succeeded. But I’m afraid this is only her first step.’ She paused for a moment, trying to order her own thoughts and make sense of them. ‘I don’t know if any of you noticed, but there was something extremely unsavoury about that sword of hers.’

Varric looked up. ‘I hope you noticed most of us were in no position to notice anything at all.’

She shot him an incensed glare. ‘I said, shut up.’ She looked questioningly at Marlein Selbrech. ‘You must have seen how the metal glowed in some kind of sinister red. Let me tell you, her eyes were the same. It freaked me out.’

‘Glowing red? Like in red lyrium?’ Varric gurgled before he had to dive into the bucket once more. He might not have taken the full blast as Sebastian had done, but he was just an inch more than half his height so the impact had been much bigger. It was a sheer wonder he was able to follow the conversation and put in a word himself. Then again, he was Varric.

Aveline’s eyebrows shot into her hair. The story about the expedition into the Deep Roads sprang into mind by the mentioning of red lyrium. ‘You don’t think ... that idol ..? No, that’s idiotic.’

The dwarf’s face reappeared. ‘As idiotic as my brother became after touching the blasted thing? As idiotic as Meredith has been behaving? It might not be the idol; I, however, am willing to wager upon Bianca’s virginity it’s red lyrium. And can someone finally fetch me a decent ale, for the Ancestors’ sake?!’

-

Cullen could hear the agitated and worked up commotion from the returning Templars all the way from the other side of the Gallows, with the Knight Commander screaming above all the tumult. He frowned alarmed. He was in the Circle’s library, together with Orsino, and they shared a worried look. This didn’t sound as a merry company returning from a wedding festivity. Something had transpired and it couldn’t be good.

‘I would go and see what that is all about, if I were you,’ the First Enchanter said cautiously.

Cullen nodded, and dreaded the worst as he hastened as fast as he could to the hall where the upheaval came from. For a moment he halted at the top of the flight of steps leading to the hall, taking in what was happening. Almost immediately he saw the body of Albran Hawke, lying seemingly lifeless on the floor as if she was dropped there at the Knight Commander’s feet like a sack of potatoes. He convinced himself she couldn’t be dead. He didn’t know what the Knight Commander was up to, but he knew she bore a too large grudge to let the Champion die just like that. She would want to let her suffer, to humble her. His heart sank. Not only for Albran Hawke but he shivered when he thought about the consequences. The Guard Captain would definitely not agree with this and neither would a large part of Kirkwall’s inhabitants. And it wouldn’t surprise him the Mage Underground would rise to the occasion to try some kind of attack or mage rebellion; Anders still hadn’t been found. And where was Fenris? The answer to that question reached him at the same moment.

‘I want to know where that rotten elf is and I want him here before my very eyes within the hour!’ Meredith screeched furiously. ‘How could you let him escape!’

Knight Lieutenant Mettin stood to attention in front of her, his helmet tucked under his arm. ‘Forgive me, my Commander, but the elf had already disappeared when we arrived. He must have fled into the Amell estate but I didn’t manage to open the door in the fray.’

With his back straight as a broom Cullen descended the stairs and strode to Meredith, his heart almost bursting out of his chest with fear, but his head held high. Absentmindedly he saw a crossbow bolt sticking out of her upper right arm but apparently she didn’t take notice, or wasn’t aware of it, or at least wasn’t hindered by it. In that same absentminded way it bothered him highly. Apparently she was so sky-high, or drugged in some way, she didn’t notice pain anymore. It frightened him beyond measure but obdurately he soldiered on.

The men made way for him, the majority looking anxious and even hopeful at his appearance; some of them, however, were barely able to stifle a devious grin. He recognised every face.

‘Knight Commander!’ he called out. ‘What in the name of the Maker have you done?! You have plunged this city into a civil war! Do you think the people will approve with your reckless action? You must release the Champion immediately, before this gets even more out of hand!’

Viciously she turned to him. ‘See, Cullen, this is why I didn’t want you around,’ she said with a feral growl. ‘You question my orders and decisions far too often and far too bold of late.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘You are not a loyal follower of the true path and not a dedicated believer in the only faith.’ The narrowed eyes seemed to flare red for a moment and Cullen had a hard time not to flinch or take a step back. ‘I cannot trust you any longer and therefore I relieve you from your position and reduce you to a common Templar.’ Her snarl had nothing human. ‘Ser Mettin! You will assume the rank of Knight Captain. You’re first task will be to search the Amell estate and round up that elf. Take another deathcloud grenade, if you think that will be necessary, but bear in mind I want him alive. And you, Cullen, get out of my sight. Be grateful I won’t imprison you. Or worse. For now.’ 

Cullen stood transfixed for a few precious heartbeats, not knowing how to react. Was this the reward for his everlasting loyalty? For him defending her against all the rumours and accusations? Then he turned and numbly walked away, knowing that protesting would only make things worse. Would probably end with him being banished out of the order or with his death. He went straight to his private room, the airy and quiet comfortable room, reserved for the one who held the rank of Knight Captain; he’d better start packing. He wanted to have his stuff out before Mettin would return and rightfully claim the space as his own. He wished to avoid that humiliation.

While he was going through his meagre possessions, he heard a rumour at the door and when he looked up he saw Thrask standing in the opening. ‘Did you come here to scold me?’ he said, tired of it all. ‘Or to laugh at my gullibility?’

There was a soft gleam in the other man’s eyes that put him somehow at ease. ‘Neither. Although I warned you that something like this would happen and you wouldn’t listen,’ Thrask said gently and without any spite or glee in his voice. ‘Loyalty is a great virtue but it can turn into blind obedience, and then it becomes a curse.’

‘I did not follow her orders uncritically,’ Cullen objected, feeling wretched. He is right. There was so much more I could have done. I was just scared. He hesitated. About my position? No. I can clearly state it was about the safety of this city .He smiled grimly. How I have succeeded.

‘No. But you refused to see the signs on the wall and now the fat is in the fire.’

Cullen worried his lip, not paying heed to Thrask’s colourful predicates. ‘Were you present, did you see what happened? Did she really use a deathcloud grenade?’

‘She did,’ Thrask affirmed solemnly, ‘and that was not the only disturbing thing.’ He briefed him as concisely as possible.

‘So,’ Cullen hesitantly said when Thrask had finished, ‘perhaps it is wise to address the Guard Captain. Try to establish some kind of cooperation. To avoid a full disaster.’

‘We could do that,’ Thrask reacted tentatively, ‘although I’m not convinced we already reached that full disaster. But maybe there is another solution. I’d like you to meet someone. Please try to keep a broad mind.’

-

When Fenris woke up, a heavy pain shot through his head, making him cringe. His body ached as if it had been kicked several times over or had been dragged over bumpy, jagged cobblestones. He tried to open his eyes that even now stung because of the foul gas that Templar had thrown at them. It didn’t matter anyhow, because he couldn’t see anything; it was pitch dark. He still felt nauseated but thankfully could suppress the urge to vomit.

Where was he? And even more importantly, where was Albran? What the hell happened?

He was lying on a rough floor but when he made an effort to get up, he found out he was tied up. He tried to call out Albran’s name but he couldn’t make a sound. And then he sensed something far more alarming.

Blood magic.

Not only his shackles were corrupted with it, but he could perceive a vile spell scourging his body, one he knew all too well. It was the one Danarius used to inflict upon him when he wanted to punish him or sometimes just when he was in a terrible mood and tried to work off his bad temper by using him as a handy victim. Horrible memories rushed back and he started to panic when the vivid visions started to overwhelm him. The pain was too real. He made some desperate attempts to break free but couldn’t move a muscle. Of course not. How could he hope to break free from his fetters now, when it had been impossible in the past.

Danarius ... is he here? How is that possible? He tried hard to concentrate and to fight back the terror. No. He would never risk abducting me in the middle of Kirkwall with so many Templars present. Stop rambling.

And then it got through to him.

 Herric. Venhedis! I was right all along about the bastard. That’s the reason my markings reacted to him. But why? And why now?

Whether he liked to or not, his frantic musings circled back to Danarius. There had to be a connection between that cursed Herric and his former master. Why else would he put so much effort and risk in taking him captive? Or was he just another blood mage that wanted to take advantage of his lyrium markings? And what has happened to Albran? Was she safe? What had the Knight Commander to do with all this? She had uttered those ridiculous accusations. Was she also affected? And what about their friends?

He recognized he was going frantic and tried to calm down. As long as he was bound to these enchanted chains and that awful spell, there was nothing more he could do than to wait for the things that were about to come.

It was very hard.

-

Marius hurried back to the Wounded Coast to the spot where he knew the Tevinter spy would be waiting for him. His little trip to the Keep and the overwhelming display of grief hadn’t been in vain. He knew by now how many Guardsmen there were. He had counted them while he was freely wandering around the barracks. With the approval of the Guard Captain no less. No one had waylaid him. The fools. And by now he also knew exactly how many Templars and mages the Tevinters would encounter when they’d launch their attack.

And he had his prize in save custody. Danarius would pay him handsomely and, even more importantly, would make him his apprentice. The future was looking bright.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

-

After his brief encounter with the Tevinter spy, Marius rushed to the cave where he knew Anders had spent the night.

The healer was waiting impatiently. He had been wound up since the moment he had spotted that strange suspect ship, concealed between the sharp rocks rising above the surf. Where did she come from? What was she doing there? For a moment he had feared the vessel was a Qunari dreadnought. After all, the by Hawke defeated Arishok had threatened with his last breath they would return. But he had abandoned the thought at that same moment. The ship didn’t look like a dreadnought at all, nor like any other war galleon. But that still left the question why she was anchored in the bay, instead of docked in the harbour. It was obvious the ship was in hiding and that couldn’t be a good sign. And for some reason he had the irksome feeling Marius had something to do with it. He knew it was an irrational feeling but that didn’t do anything if adding to his anxiety.

Somehow things added up.

The sudden missing of his beloved pendant that had hung around his neck for years, the seemingly at random appearing and disappearing of his apprentice, the vague stories he told, the elusive excuses for his long absences, the feeling Marius constantly managed to allay the wariness that inevitably crept in his thoughts and built up before the boy arrived in whatever spot he was hiding. And did, as if by magic, emerge gradually again after he had left once more. As if he had suppressed them somehow while he was around. The way he kept him out of his plans; the way he himself wasn’t able to express his doubts and phrase his questions in his presence. And now this ship. As if by magic ... the sentence kept swirling in his mind.

So, when Marius finally turned up at the end of the day, Anders heatedly grabbed his arm and dragged him to the edge of the cliff, pointing at the offending ship that was hardly visible in the light of the setting sun and somehow embodied the essence of his unrest. ‘What is the meaning of that?’ he growled. He knew he acted unreasonably but that only fed his irritation.

Marius staggered back, cursing under his breath. Damn the Tevinter arrogance. He had told them to be cautious, to bide their time, to wait just a few days more. But no, they showed up as if they already owned the place. Fucking idiots. They can spoil my delicate movements as yet.

Out loud he said with a quivering voice, consistently playing the part of the innocent apprentice, ‘I ... I don’t know. Why do you think I should? Perhaps she’s waiting there since the docks are closed because of the festivities?’ He tried to apply a wave of mind magic. It had been a tiresome day, what with capturing Danarius’s pet slave and putting him under enough influence to nullify his wretched lyrium markings for a long time. Time he desperately needed to create, or rather, enlarge the chaos required for the grand scheme. Together with lulling an entire Keep full of Guardsmen being on their utmost alert, it had cost him an awful amount of energy. But he couldn’t take the risk of Anders getting suspicious, not now his plans were about to fall into place. He still needed him to lead the Mage Underground Movement into battle. To his satisfaction he saw the healer’s face settle into a calm expression which meant he got under his influence once again.

And then, at long last, Justice sounded the alarm. ‘Be careful. He is using mind magic again,’ he remarked drily.

At first Anders nearly choked with disbelief, but he managed heroically to get a hold on himself at almost the same moment. He tried very hard not to flinch or cry out loud. Or even to widen his eyes. As if by magic ... Bloody mind magic no less! No wonder he had been so compliant. No wonder he had ... Dammit!

This declared a lot, if not everything.

‘Again? You say again?! And you couldn’t deign yourself to warn me before?!!’ he roared back silently.  The muscles in his face hurt by the effort to restrain them and to force them to act like he looked impassive. He simply could feel Justice shrugging his ethereal shoulders.

I thought you knew.

Anders almost exploded. ‘Evidently I didn’t know, you cursed moron! Or do you think I behaved like a total repulsive jackass out of my own will?!’

No need to get offensive.’

Inwardly Anders took a deep breath and tried to calm down. ‘Just ward him off, will you. Protect me against him. That is, if you are able to, you useless piece of shit,’ he added in sarcastic fury.

‘If that is what you want.’

‘Yes, that is what I want! Of course that’s what I want! Or do you think I like it to be pulled and moved around like some puppet on a string?!’ What to do? What the hell am I supposed to do!

‘Just act normal,’ Justice advised him.

‘Easy for you to say.’ What was normal under the circumstances? Did he have to look sheepish to be trustworthy in Marius’s eyes? Blank? Retarded? His first impulse was to expose the filthy squirt on the spot, but on second thought it could be more worthwhile to play along for the time being and find out what he was up to.

And he is too powerful for you to handle on your own,’ Justice rumbled. Of course. It couldn’t get any better. It at least explained why he hadn’t noticed his apprentice’s foul actions.

‘Let’s forget about the ship,’ Marius said in the meantime, breathlessly. ‘There are much more important things at hand.’ He paused a few seconds before he blurted out, his expression a classic example of distress, ‘The Knight Commander has taken Hawke and Fenris prisoner.’

Anders stared at him in shock, completely at a loss. No need to pretend this time, no need to hide his emotions. Several thoughts ran through his head. And how much have you arranged? What have you to gain by this? What is your goal? Who are you?

-

‘Don’t tell me you really did! By the ashes of Andraste, I can’t believe it! How could you!’

‘Listen Cullen,’ Thrask pressed urgently, ‘this is no time to act more holy than the Divine. And keep your voice down.’

‘Yes yes, I know but ...’

However much Thrask might be right, his confession about his cooperation with the Circle mages, the Mage Underground and especially Anders, Anders of all people, went against everything he held in esteem.

They were ambling along the Gallows Courtyard, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. It was the day after the disturbing events and the atmosphere in the Gallows was unbearable, since Fenris still hadn’t been found. Meredith had become frenzied, that is, even more frenzied than she had been already, and yelled at everyone as if possessed which indeed was the case, Cullen knew pretty sure by now. Her bouts of hysteria had been hard to behold and even harder to endure. She had even ordered to storm the Keep because she was convinced Fenris was hiding in there. Luckily she had withdrawn that ridiculous order not much later; even she, in her current state of mind, had seen it had been similar to a death warrant. It hadn’t done anything to lessen her raving and ranting, rather the opposite. It had been a relief to flee the place, if only for an hour. The gates to the Gallows were locked; the mages weren’t allowed to go outside and even the merchants were ordered out, so the place was deserted but for a few Templars who just like they were seeking some peace and quiet.

Cullen knew the city was buzzing like a beehive with rumours and speculations and he wondered with anxiety when the lid would boil over. The courtyard wasn’t exactly a safe haven and the Templars who were wandering around looked as tense as a bowstring, but at least here they weren’t plagued by a Knight Commander who was seething with rage and consumed with insanity. He had the feeling he finally could breathe freely again.

He understood the Amell estate had been as good as destroyed, very much in the same brutal way as the Templars had ruined Anders’s clinic. He didn’t doubt the mansion Fenris had lived in was turned into a even greater dilapidated wreckage than it already had been. But no matter how much the Templars had worked off their frustration, they had been forced to return without the elf. Inwardly Cullen had grinned with grim satisfaction. Fenris was around somewhere and sooner or later Meredith would find out the dire consequences. But for the moment another pressing issue occupied his mind.

‘You insist on seeing Anders and the mage rebels, but give me one good reason why we shouldn’t go talk with the Guard Captain first,’ Cullen said obstinately, unwilling to let go of that idea. ‘I think that will be much more fruitful.’

‘I never said we couldn’t talk with her,’ Thrask replied. ‘I’m just trying to make you see my point of view. If I succeed in persuading you that we have no other choice than to combine forces with the mages, you on your turn can persuade her. And if we want to bring Meredith down, we will need the mages. Aveline will listen to you, Cullen. I know she values you highly.’

Cullen snorted derisively. ‘I hope that still counts after what happened. I failed dramatically. I judged the situation totally wrong.’

‘You did what you thought would be best. Don’t beat yourself up over it.’ Thrask sighed. ‘And about speaking with the Guard Captain, I want to sent a message to the Keep anyway, if only to check if Fenris is really there.’

They had reached the colonnade next to the now abandoned merchant stands and halted. Cullen leant against one of the pillars, looking pensively into the distance. ‘I don’t think he is. I’m fairly certain he would have made his move by now. By marching into the Gallows, freeing his wife and killing Meredith, to be precisely,’ he added wryly.

Thrask let out a short barking, rather nervous sounding laugh. ‘You’re probably right. So, what do you think happened to him and where he can be? He could be a great help.’

Cullen hung his head and stared at his feet. ‘I have no idea. I can hardly believe he escaped the effects of the deathcloud. Perhaps someone else has taken him into safety.’

He wasn’t sure he wanted to meet the elf’s wrath. He remembered all too well Fenris’s display of hardly confined fury and strength when he had glowed up in the Amell estate, let alone his display of near deadly anger when he had knocked down Meredith the moment she had tried to take Hawke into custody. He feared the elf would hold him responsible for the fact things had gone completely out of hand. He still liked his heart where it was: pounding healthily in his chest.

Thrask looked doubtful. ‘Unless Anders has found a way to remain invisible and worked up the courage to venture into the city to watch the wedding procession, I can’t think of anyone who could have come to his rescue. All their friends were with them. And speaking of friends, those two weren’t very close, to put it mildly. I understand they were fierce enemies, even before Anders’s repulsive deed. I know that much. So why would he have come to his rescue? He would sooner have tried to save Albran Hawke.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Perhaps his apprentice Marius has brought him into safety. If so, we should search for him, or again for Anders, because he would know about his location, if that were true.’

Cullen looked up. He had made his decision. ‘That, however, doesn’t explain why Meredith is still alive.’ He grimaced mirthlessly. ‘Alright. I agree to meet with Anders and his Mage Underground. Have you thought about a way to sneak out of the Gallows without alarming the guards? We can’t just walk through the closed gates. And how are we going to find him?’

A small smile emerged on Thrask’s face. ‘I know a secret route. And Marius has promised to place discreet marks to lead me to their last place of refuge. Just in case. Trust me, we will find him.’

-

Anders was hurrying down the Wounded Coast. Marius had told him he would call together the Mage Underground Movement to a gathering in one of their spots in the sewers, and had asked him to be present this evening. To speak to them, to encourage them, to reveal their plans. Whatever those plans might be. Something like that. He only had listened to his enthusiastically rambling apprentice with half an ear, eager for him to vanish. Even with Justice keeping the devastating and enthralling mind magic at bay, he could still feel its sickening influence and it was hard to think clear. By now he marvelled at how Marius had been able to so easily manipulate him and made him do and act like he had wanted him to. That he hadn’t seen through his purpose, not even had been aware something was out of place. He was a mage himself, godsdamned, how could he not have noticed? How could he have been so gullible? Even if the Tevinter mage was really as powerful as Justice claimed he was. And again he grew angry with the spirit.

‘I suppose it is too much to ask if you know what that worm is up to?’ he said sarcastically, marching frantically through the sand the trail consisted of, leaving clouds of dust in his wake. ‘After all, you didn’t bother to protect me from his evil before. Thanks again for that, by the way.’ He had been pondering that issue the moment Justice had warned him – a bit too late. What did Marius have to gain? Why would he have wanted him to – violate Albran? He couldn’t have foreseen Fenris would turn up to take care of her, what had led to that blasted marriage. Could he? And even so, why would that be important to him?

He wanted to make certain you would be vulnerable,’ Justice answered, ‘so he could dominate you and you would reply to his wishes. And honestly, you didn’t protest when he made you force yourself on that woman.’

Anders, not for the first time this day, flew into a rage. ‘That would never have happened if you had informed me in time! Have you any idea of the severe consequences my behaviour has caused? And I’m not talking about what it eventually led to. I’m talking about the scars rape leave on a woman’s soul. It is by far the lowest of all crimes, even lower than murder, and you just let it happen.’ He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to remember what had happened that fateful night but couldn’t get away from it. It made him even more angry. ‘You could have prevented it but you chose not to. That is unforgivable. And don’t call her “that woman”. She is a person, she has a name.’

Justice remained silent for a while. ‘Forgive me, I didn’t know. About the consequences, I mean. I may have shared your body and mind for quite a while by now, but I still have trouble understanding human feelings. I didn’t understand that having intercourse could lead to so much mental pain and trepidation.’

Anders flinched at the term “intercourse” and huffed scornfully. But then again, Justice indeed didn’t know much about how the human mind operated, even after all these years. He backed down somewhat. ‘That doesn’t explain why you kept silent about that fucking mind magic.’

Like I said before, I was convinced you knew. And the man seemed to be serious about freeing all mages. I believed it was a good cause.’

‘Oh, and that glossed over everything? You deemed it an excuse to hurt someone that badly?!’ And then, after a brief pause, ‘The man? What do you mean by that? Marius is just a boy.’

‘He is twenty six, so, to your human standard, not a boy at all,’ Justice replied carelessly, ‘and I thought you cared for the mages plight.’

‘He is what?!’ A lot of incoherent thoughts took over his mind. It didn’t ’help to sort his sanity. He gave in.

‘– Oh hell, it doesn’t matter anyway. It only gives more proof of what a lying bastard he is.’

 After his short confusion Anders picked up where he had left the row. ‘Of course I do believe in the cause! But that doesn’t give me carte blanche to sacrifice everything I hold dear! Let alone I would –‘

He abruptly fell silent. The light of the sun reflected on polished steel and revealed two Templars heading in his direction. He started to panic but in time recognized Thrask and – he blinked, Knight Captain Cullen?? He halted abruptly.

‘Anders!’ Thrask called out. ‘A good thing we find you here! We were searching for you. I thought you would be in hiding.’

‘I was,’ Anders retorted grumpily, looking wearily at Cullen, ‘but right now I’m going to my clinic. To look into some grimoires in order to find out how to fight someone who is applying mind magic. That is, if I can find them in the rubble.’

Thrask looked puzzled and Anders sighed deeply. ‘I will explain everything on the way, and you, in return, can tell me why you are here and dragged the Knight Captain with you.’

‘You can forego that title,’ Cullen reacted flatly.

Now it was Anders’s turn to look puzzled but Thrask took his elbow and started to lead him to the city. ‘Like you said, let’s update each other on the way.’

It became a very enlightening conversation.

-

Anders stiffened when he passed the threshold of his smashed clinic. His breath went laboured and he got the feeling his skin crawled back over his bones. His heart started to hammer in his chest. ‘There’s ... something ... evil in here,’ he finally uttered with great difficulty. ‘Blood magic,’ he panted, ‘very strong blood magic.’ Marius. It must be Marius. What has he done?!

The two Templars looked uneasily at each other. ‘I can feel – something,’ Cullen said hesitantly, ‘something disturbing. It could be blood magic. But how is that possible?’ He looked around. ‘There’s no one here, let alone some blood mage performing their despicable art. And everything seems to be in order. I mean, besides the damage of course,’ he hastened to add.

Anders didn’t listen. He didn’t even hear him. He rushed to the far wall and started pushing at one of the wooden panels. The one wooden panel that had been miraculously saved from the malicious treatment of the Templars’ mallets; but it was slightly dislocated and because of that the clever spring device he had designed didn’t work. So he had to push and drag until the boards gave way and revealed the secret hiding place he had made for the occasion Templars would barge into the place and he wouldn’t have time to run into the safety of the cellars of the Amell estate.

He staggered back under the sheer force of the foul magic that came streaming out as a waft of rancid odour. He stared wide-eyed at the shackled person lying motionless on the floor. The elf seemed to be unconscious; he looked deadly pale in the dim light and a sheen of sweat covered his face.

Anders could hardly believe his own eyes. ‘Fenris!’ he cried out, completely taken aback.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

-

After his brief encounter with the Tevinter spy, Marius rushed to the cave where he knew Anders had spent the night.

The healer was waiting impatiently. He had been wound up since the moment he had spotted that strange suspect ship, concealed between the sharp rocks rising above the surf. Where did she come from? What was she doing there? For a moment he had feared the vessel was a Qunari dreadnought. After all, the by Hawke defeated Arishok had threatened with his last breath they would return. But he had abandoned the thought at that same moment. The ship didn’t look like a dreadnought at all, nor like any other war galleon. But that still left the question why she was anchored in the bay, instead of docked in the harbour. It was obvious the ship was in hiding and that couldn’t be a good sign. And for some reason he had the irksome feeling Marius had something to do with it. He knew it was an irrational feeling but that didn’t do anything if adding to his anxiety.

Somehow things added up.

The sudden missing of his beloved pendant that had hung around his neck for years, the seemingly at random appearing and disappearing of his apprentice, the vague stories he told, the elusive excuses for his long absences, the feeling Marius constantly managed to allay the wariness that inevitably crept in his thoughts and built up before the boy arrived in whatever spot he was hiding. And did, as if by magic, emerge gradually again after he had left once more. As if he had suppressed them somehow while he was around. The way he kept him out of his plans; the way he himself wasn’t able to express his doubts and phrase his questions in his presence. And now this ship. As if by magic ... the sentence kept swirling in his mind.

So, when Marius finally turned up at the end of the day, Anders heatedly grabbed his arm and dragged him to the edge of the cliff, pointing at the offending ship that was hardly visible in the light of the setting sun and somehow embodied the essence of his unrest. ‘What is the meaning of that?’ he growled. He knew he acted unreasonably but that only fed his irritation.

Marius staggered back, cursing under his breath. Damn the Tevinter arrogance. He had told them to be cautious, to bide their time, to wait just a few days more. But no, they showed up as if they already owned the place. Fucking idiots. They can spoil my delicate movements as yet.

Out loud he said with a quivering voice, consistently playing the part of the innocent apprentice, ‘I ... I don’t know. Why do you think I should? Perhaps she’s waiting there since the docks are closed because of the festivities?’ He tried to apply a wave of mind magic. It had been a tiresome day, what with capturing Danarius’s pet slave and putting him under enough influence to nullify his wretched lyrium markings for a long time. Time he desperately needed to create, or rather, enlarge the chaos required for the grand scheme. Together with lulling an entire Keep full of Guardsmen being on their utmost alert, it had cost him an awful amount of energy. But he couldn’t take the risk of Anders getting suspicious, not now his plans were about to fall into place. He still needed him to lead the Mage Underground Movement into battle. To his satisfaction he saw the healer’s face settle into a calm expression which meant he got under his influence once again.

And then, at long last, Justice sounded the alarm. ‘Be careful. He is using mind magic again,’ he remarked drily.

At first Anders nearly choked with disbelief, but he managed heroically to get a hold on himself at almost the same moment. He tried very hard not to flinch or cry out loud. Or even to widen his eyes. As if by magic ... Bloody mind magic no less! No wonder he had been so compliant. No wonder he had ... Dammit!

This declared a lot, if not everything.

‘Again? You say again?! And you couldn’t deign yourself to warn me before?!!’ he roared back silently.  The muscles in his face hurt by the effort to restrain them and to force them to act like he looked impassive. He simply could feel Justice shrugging his ethereal shoulders.

I thought you knew.

Anders almost exploded. ‘Evidently I didn’t know, you cursed moron! Or do you think I behaved like a total repulsive jackass out of my own will?!’

No need to get offensive.’

Inwardly Anders took a deep breath and tried to calm down. ‘Just ward him off, will you. Protect me against him.' He added with sarcastic fury, 'That is, if you are able to, you useless piece of shit.’ 

‘If that is what you want.’

‘Yes, that is what I want! Of course that’s what I want! Or do you think I like it to be pulled and moved around like some puppet on a string?!’ What to do? What the hell am I supposed to do!

‘Just act normal,’ Justice advised him.

‘Easy for you to say.’ What was normal under the circumstances? Did he have to look sheepish to be trustworthy in Marius’s eyes? Blank? Retarded? His first impulse was to expose the filthy squirt on the spot, but on second thought it could be more worthwhile to play along for the time being and find out what he was up to.

And he is too powerful for you to handle on your own,’ Justice rumbled. Of course. It couldn’t get any better. It at least explained why he hadn’t noticed his apprentice’s foul actions.

‘Let’s forget about the ship,’ Marius said in the meantime, breathlessly. ‘There are much more important things at hand.’ He paused a few seconds before he blurted out, his expression a classic example of distress, ‘The Knight Commander has taken Hawke and Fenris prisoner.’

Anders stared at him in shock, completely at a loss. No need to pretend this time, no need to hide his emotions. Several thoughts ran through his head. And how much have you arranged? What have you to gain by this? What is your goal? Who are you?

-

‘Don’t tell me you really did! By the ashes of Andraste, I can’t believe it! How could you!’

‘Listen Cullen,’ Thrask pressed urgently, ‘this is no time to act more holy than the Divine. And keep your voice down.’

‘Yes yes, I know but ...’

However much Thrask might be right, his confession about his cooperation with the Circle mages, the Mage Underground and especially Anders, Anders of all people, went against everything he held in esteem.

They were ambling along the Gallows Courtyard, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. It was the day after the disturbing events and the atmosphere in the Gallows was unbearable, since Fenris still hadn’t been found. Meredith had become frenzied, that is, even more frenzied than she had been already, and yelled at everyone as if possessed which indeed was the case, Cullen knew pretty sure by now. Her bouts of hysteria had been hard to behold and even harder to endure. She had even ordered to storm the Keep because she was convinced Fenris was hiding in there. Luckily she had withdrawn that ridiculous order not much later; even she, in her current state of mind, had seen it had been similar to a death warrant. It hadn’t done anything to lessen her raving and ranting, rather the opposite. It had been a relief to flee the place, if only for an hour. The gates to the Gallows were locked; the mages weren’t allowed to go outside and even the merchants were ordered out, so the place was deserted but for a few Templars who just like they were seeking some peace and quiet.

Cullen knew the city was buzzing like a beehive with rumours and speculations and he wondered with anxiety when the lid would boil over. The courtyard wasn’t exactly a safe haven and the Templars who were wandering around looked as tense as a bowstring, but at least here they weren’t plagued by a Knight Commander who was seething with rage and consumed with insanity. He had the feeling he finally could breathe freely again.

He understood the Amell estate had been as good as destroyed, very much in the same brutal way as the Templars had ruined Anders’s clinic. He didn’t doubt the mansion Fenris had lived in was turned into a even greater dilapidated wreckage than it already had been. But no matter how much the Templars had worked off their frustration, they had been forced to return without the elf. Inwardly Cullen had grinned with grim satisfaction. Fenris was around somewhere and sooner or later Meredith would find out the dire consequences. But for the moment another pressing issue occupied his mind.

‘You insist on seeing Anders and the mage rebels, but give me one good reason why we shouldn’t go talk with the Guard Captain first,’ Cullen said obstinately, unwilling to let go of that idea. ‘I think that will be much more fruitful.’

‘I never said we couldn’t talk with her,’ Thrask replied. ‘I’m just trying to make you see my point of view. If I succeed in persuading you that we have no other choice than to combine forces with the mages, you on your turn can persuade her. And if we want to bring Meredith down, we will need the mages. Aveline will listen to you, Cullen. I know she values you highly.’

Cullen snorted derisively. ‘I hope that still counts after what happened. I failed dramatically. I judged the situation totally wrong.’

‘You did what you thought would be best. Don’t beat yourself up over it.’ Thrask sighed. ‘And about speaking with the Guard Captain, I want to sent a message to the Keep anyway, if only to check if Fenris is really there.’

They had reached the colonnade next to the now abandoned merchant stands and halted. Cullen leant against one of the pillars, looking pensively into the distance. ‘I don’t think he is. I’m fairly certain he would have made his move by now. By marching into the Gallows, freeing his wife and killing Meredith, to be precisely,’ he added wryly.

Thrask let out a short barking, rather nervous sounding laugh. ‘You’re probably right. So, what do you think happened to him and where he can be? He could be a great help.’

Cullen hung his head and stared at his feet. ‘I have no idea. I can hardly believe he escaped the effects of the deathcloud. Perhaps someone else has taken him into safety.’

He wasn’t sure he wanted to meet the elf’s wrath. He remembered all too well Fenris’s display of hardly confined fury and strength when he had glowed up in the Amell estate, let alone his display of near deadly anger when he had knocked down Meredith the moment she had tried to take Hawke into custody. He feared the elf would hold him responsible for the fact things had gone completely out of hand. He still liked his heart where it was: pounding healthily in his chest.

Thrask looked doubtful. ‘Unless Anders has found a way to remain invisible and worked up the courage to venture into the city to watch the wedding procession, I can’t think of anyone who could have come to his rescue. All their friends were with them. And speaking of friends, those two weren’t very close, to put it mildly. I understand they were fierce enemies, even before Anders’s repulsive deed. I know that much. So why would he have come to his rescue? He would sooner have tried to save Albran Hawke.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Perhaps his apprentice Marius has brought him into safety. If so, we should search for him, or again for Anders, because he would know about his location, if that were true.’

Cullen looked up. He had made his decision. ‘That, however, doesn’t explain why Meredith is still alive.’ He grimaced mirthlessly. ‘Alright. I agree to meet with Anders and his Mage Underground. Have you thought about a way to sneak out of the Gallows without alarming the guards? We can’t just walk through the closed gates. And how are we going to find him?’

A small smile emerged on Thrask’s face. ‘I know a secret route. And Marius has promised to place discreet marks to lead me to their last place of refuge. Just in case. Trust me, we will find him.’

-

Anders was hurrying down the Wounded Coast. Marius had told him he would call together the Mage Underground Movement to a gathering in one of their spots in the sewers, and had asked him to be present this evening. To speak to them, to encourage them, to reveal their plans. Whatever those plans might be. Something like that. He only had listened to his enthusiastically rambling apprentice with half an ear, eager for him to vanish. Even with Justice keeping the devastating and enthralling mind magic at bay, he could still feel its sickening influence and it was hard to think clear. By now he marvelled at how Marius had been able to so easily manipulate him and made him do and act like he had wanted him to. That he hadn’t seen through his purpose, not even had been aware something was out of place. He was a mage himself, godsdamned, how could he not have noticed? How could he have been so gullible? Even if the Tevinter mage was really as powerful as Justice claimed he was. And again he grew angry with the spirit.

‘I suppose it is too much to ask if you know what that worm is up to?’ he said sarcastically, marching frantically through the sand the trail consisted of, leaving clouds of dust in his wake. ‘After all, you didn’t bother to protect me from his evil before. Thanks again for that, by the way.’ He had been pondering that issue the moment Justice had warned him – a bit too late. What did Marius have to gain? Why would he have wanted him to – violate Albran? He couldn’t have foreseen Fenris would turn up to take care of her, what had led to that blasted marriage. Could he? And even so, why would that be important to him?

He wanted to make certain you would be vulnerable,’ Justice answered, ‘so he could dominate you and you would reply to his wishes. And honestly, you didn’t protest when he made you force yourself on that woman.’

Anders, not for the first time this day, flew into a rage. ‘That would never have happened if you had informed me in time! Have you any idea of the severe consequences my behaviour has caused? And I’m not talking about what it eventually led to. I’m talking about the scars rape leave on a woman’s soul. It is by far the lowest of all crimes, even lower than murder, and you just let it happen.’ He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to remember what had happened that fateful night but couldn’t get away from it. It made him even more angry. ‘You could have prevented it but you chose not to. That is unforgivable. And don’t call her “that woman”. She is a person, she has a name.’

Justice remained silent for a while. ‘Forgive me, I didn’t know. About the consequences, I mean. I may have shared your body and mind for quite a while by now, but I still have trouble understanding human feelings. I didn’t understand that having intercourse could lead to so much mental pain and trepidation.’

Anders flinched at the term “intercourse” and huffed scornfully. But then again, Justice indeed didn’t know much about how the human mind operated, even after all these years. He backed down somewhat. ‘That doesn’t explain why you kept silent about that fucking mind magic.’

Like I said before, I was convinced you knew. And the man seemed to be serious about freeing all mages. I believed it was a good cause.’

‘Oh, and that glossed over everything? You deemed it an excuse to hurt someone that badly?!’ And then, after a brief pause, ‘The man? What do you mean by that? Marius is just a boy.’

‘He is twenty six, so, to your human standard, not a boy at all,’ Justice replied carelessly, ‘and I thought you cared for the mages plight.’

‘He is what?!’ A lot of incoherent thoughts took over his mind. It didn’t ’help to sort his sanity. He gave in.

‘– Oh hell, it doesn’t matter anyway. It only gives more proof of what a lying bastard he is.’

 After his short confusion Anders picked up where he had left the row. ‘Of course I do believe in the cause! But that doesn’t give me carte blanche to sacrifice everything I hold dear! Let alone I would –‘

He abruptly fell silent. The light of the sun reflected on polished steel and revealed two Templars heading in his direction. He started to panic but in time recognized Thrask and – he blinked, Knight Captain Cullen?? He halted abruptly.

‘Anders!’ Thrask called out. ‘A good thing we find you here! We were searching for you. I thought you would be in hiding.’

‘I was,’ Anders retorted grumpily, looking wearily at Cullen, ‘but right now I’m going to my clinic. To look into some grimoires in order to find out how to fight someone who is applying mind magic. That is, if I can find them in the rubble.’

Thrask looked puzzled and Anders sighed deeply. ‘I will explain everything on the way, and you, in return, can tell me why you are here and dragged the Knight Captain with you.’

‘You can forego that title,’ Cullen reacted flatly.

Now it was Anders’s turn to look puzzled but Thrask took his elbow and started to lead him to the city. ‘Like you said, let’s update each other on the way.’

It became a very enlightening conversation.

-

Anders stiffened when he passed the threshold of his smashed clinic. His breath went laboured and he got the feeling his skin crawled back over his bones. His heart started to hammer in his chest. ‘There’s ... something ... evil in here,’ he finally uttered with great difficulty. ‘Blood magic,’ he panted, ‘very strong blood magic.’ Marius. It must be Marius. What has he done?!

The two Templars looked uneasily at each other. ‘I can feel – something,’ Cullen said hesitantly, ‘something disturbing. It could be blood magic. But how is that possible?’ He looked around. ‘There’s no one here, let alone some blood mage performing their despicable art. And everything seems to be in order. I mean, besides the damage of course,’ he hastened to add.

Anders didn’t listen. He didn’t even hear him. He rushed to the far wall and started pushing at one of the wooden panels. The one wooden panel that had been miraculously saved from the malicious treatment of the Templars’ mallets; but it was slightly dislocated and because of that the clever spring device he had designed didn’t work. So he had to push and drag until the boards gave way and revealed the secret hiding place he had made for the occasion Templars would barge into the place and he wouldn’t have time to run into the safety of the cellars of the Amell estate.

He staggered back under the sheer force of the foul magic that came streaming out as a waft of rancid odour. He stared wide-eyed at the shackled person lying motionless on the floor. The elf seemed to be unconscious; he looked deadly pale in the dim light and a sheen of sweat covered his face.

Anders could hardly believe his own eyes. ‘Fenris!’ he cried out, completely taken aback.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

-

Anders knelt beside Fenris and, despite his bewilderment and concern, laid a steady hand on the artery in his throat. The healer-part kicked in. Or rather, he willed it to kick in. To his relief the elf was indeed only unconscious and not dead. Although Fenris’s breathing was shallow and his heartbeat hardly existed, he nevertheless lived. The evil power of the blood magic pulled at Anders, making him feel weak, but he tried hard to fight it. The healer turned to the Templars who stood in shock behind him and worriedly were observing the scene.

‘Don’t just stand there!’ he barked. ‘Help me to get him onto a cot!’

Cullen was the first to move. Without much visible effort he lifted the elf, who was still dressed in his by now dirty and creased wedding suit, and carried him to the only remaining makeshift bed in the clinic that wasn’t smashed to pieces or turned over. He lowered him gently down. ‘What the hell happened to him? Who did this?’

Anders had followed him and now put his hands upon the shackles around Fenris’s wrists. The blood magic the metal radiated almost physically burned him but he had to hold on, if he wanted to free the elf. He gritted his teeth. ‘It’s the most compelling blood magic I ever encountered and I know damn well who did this, however not to what purpose,’ he said grimly. He closed his eyes. ‘This will cost a lot of energy. I suppose neither of you have a lyrium potion about your person?’

Cullen cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable. ‘Uhm, as a matter of fact I have. Several of them.’

‘And where did you get those?’ Thrask asked irritably. ‘Don’t tell me you abused the authority of your position as Knight Captain to put illegally your hands upon the locked lyrium stock!’

Cullen straightened his shoulders indignantly. ‘I carry them around in case one of our brothers is in desperate need of lyrium but already has consumed the quota he is allowed,’ he said defensively. ‘And yes, that’s illegal but you know how it gets when ...’

Anders snapped his eyes open again. ‘Can you two stop bickering and postpone this discussion until a more appropriate moment?’ he interfered angrily. ‘More important things are at stake right now than your petty quarrels. Give me those vials.’

It took him more than an hour to neutralize the binding magic; it was very difficult to concentrate with the probing whispers of demons in the background of his mind, but finally he could open the shackles and toss them aside. By that time he was worn out but his work wasn’t done by far. He had to find a way to wake Fenris up.

In the meantime the two Templars grew more and more impatient. ‘Can’t you do this any faster?’ Cullen pressed. ‘We have precious little time.’ He and Thrask were eyeing nervously and distrustfully the mage’s ministrations. Probably they expected any moment a swarm of demons to materialize and attack.

‘Certainly,’ Anders growled sarcastically; the sweat was dripping down his face and his fingers were trembling with exhaustion. ‘I can always turn to blood magic myself, instead of fight against it.’

Alarmed Cullen grabbed his arm. ‘You wouldn’t dare!’

Anders rolled his eyes. ‘Of course not, you daft idiot! Besides the fact it would only make things worse, I wouldn’t like the place to be suddenly overrun with demons. This is tiresome enough as it is without having to battle foul creatures as well.’

It was a pity he was too tired and too anxious to really enjoy calling a Templar a daft idiot in his face and boss him around without having to fear any repercussions.

‘Now step out of my way.’ He let his hands hover over Fenris’s markings. He was hoping he could find a way to activate them because he was convinced that would be an adequate method to fight off the blood magic, but nothing happened.

‘You could at least try to assist me,’ he muttered to Justice, ‘instead of letting me toil and sweat on my own.’

What?’ the Spirit reacted appalled. ‘Help a mage hater?!

‘Will you stop being so childishly stubborn! For a Spirit of Justice you can be rather narrow-minded and intolerant if not bigoted, you know. Give me a hand here; we will need the elf’s strength, whether you like it or not.’

Justice grumpily murmured something unintelligible under his non-existent breath but nevertheless came into action. He took the lead and indifferently led Anders’s movements, though with a hint of annoyance. He seemed to push on certain areas in the elf’s body. Or better inside his body, as if he was unravelling knots or lightening pressure points. Anders could almost literally feel the applied blood magic dissolve. He felt immensely grateful when the last jerk of evil evaporated and the demons’ urgent whispers disappeared back into the Fade.

Alas he hadn’t counted on Fenris’s ferocious reaction in case of success.

In a sudden flash all Fenris’s markings came to life. Before anyone could do something, he flew up and clutched Anders’s collar with a steel grip; he almost choked him.

‘Albran,’ he croaked, ‘where is she, you, you -’

With a painful groan he fell back on the cot, panting heavily, but he still managed to hold on like a vice to the robe of the mage who hadn’t expected this and was desperately fighting for air. Worse even, the elf’s fingers moved with a lighting fast movement to his throat and started to suffocate him. White spots fountained behind Anders’s eyelids and he imagined he could hear his windpipe crush; his fingers vainly clawed at the ones strangling his throat, squeezing the life out of him.

‘What a way to go,’ he thought for a bizarrely lucid moment.

-

Hawke shifted uneasily on the hard bench that was the only furniture in the prison the Templars had thrown her in. Regretfully she took in the remains of her wedding dress in the feeble light two sputtering torches cast.

‘You were such a pretty thing,’ she whispered, ‘and look at you now, all torn and stained.’ She felt utterly miserable and couldn’t help thinking the whole mess was all but her fault. She felt battered and bruised and still a bit woozy and the chilly, humid and gloomy atmosphere didn’t help much to cheer her up. Her eyes stung and she tried to convince herself it was due to the aftermath of that damned gas and not because of the tears she struggled to hold back.

When she finally had been capable of doing something more useful than heaving and retching, she had examined her cell but the hope she could find a way out of it soon had evaporated. The room was hewn out of solid rock, the bars were made out of hard steel and the lock was sturdy and unpickable, assuming she could find something to pick it with. Which she couldn’t. There was no window; the only light came from the two torches on the opposite wall of the small corridor. She tried very hard to suppress the desolation that threatened to overwhelm her.

Oh Fenris, you must hate me now. You just wanted to make me your wife out of deep and honest love and I insisted on making a tomfoolery out of it. To taunt the snobs. And look where it brought us. What an arrogant idiot I have been.

The accusations Meredith had stood screaming still rang in her ears. Irrefutable proof my ass. Undoubtedly she has forged some lousy evidence to snare us; I wouldn’t put it past her. But how many people would be eager to believe it was all genuine, whatever it was she would come up with? Albran hid her face in her hands and tried not to despair.

The Knight Commander hadn’t shown herself yet since she had woken up in this cell, sick as a dog and with a splitting headache. She hadn’t come to her prison to gloat upon and yell at her. And Hawke knew why. Somewhere through the throbbing pain in her head and between the bouts of vomiting, she had, even down here, heard fragments of the commotion that had gone on for hours in the Gallows courtyard, Meredith’s voice screeching on top of it. Andraste’s tits, but what a horrible shrieking voice that bitch had. Not much later a Templar had brought her some water. A friendly member of the order; apparently they existed.

‘I’m so sorry, Champion,’ the woman had said ruefully, ‘I didn’t know this was going to happen. I’m afraid the Knight Commander has gone out of her head.’

‘That’s one way to put it,’ Hawke had mumbled. ‘What the hell is going on up there?’

And so she learned it was all about her elf who apparently had escaped Meredith’s clutches. At first she felt optimistic. It had to be a good thing, yes? But then she started to get doubtful. There was no way Fenris had been able to avoid that cloud of gas. Could he have had help? But from whom? And if so, where could he be? Was he in the position to come to rescue her? She didn’t dare hope. And what about their friends? Hadn’t they been taking prisoner? And Aveline? Her thoughts began swirling in her head, making her feel dizzy. She slummed back against the cold damp wall and closed her eyes. There was nothing she could do right now but to wait for what would happen. And perhaps, yes perhaps, an opportunity would present itself to make a run for it.

-

Aveline had kicked the Seneschal out of the former Viscount’s office.

‘You’re no Viscount,’ Bran had objected.

‘And neither are you,’ Aveline had snarled. ‘But someone has to take the reins and it is obvious you aren’t that person. So make yourself scarce.’

She had confiscated the whole Keep; the barracks were flooding over, now the militia had joined the guardsmen, and they needed all the space they could get. She had even gone as far as collecting the keys in the Seneschal’s office to open the Viscount’s throne room that had been sealed off after the unsavoury occurrences with the Qunari. Bran had been livid but hadn’t had the courage to utter a protest under her fiery, vicious gaze. He had stuck with glowering but the Guard Captain hadn’t been impressed. She had been far better at glowering anyway. She seemed to be a champion at it. Unwillingly Bran had backed down.

Sebastian had gone back to the Chantry. ‘I have to speak with her Grace,’ he had stated, ‘I know for sure she can do something.’

Aveline, in the meantime having mastered the art of glowering and scoring high points, had looked him up and down as if he was retarded or perhaps brainwashed. To be honest, she was almost certain that last fact was true.

‘Yes,’ she had retorted sardonically, ‘she has demonstrated by now how much influence she has on Meredith.’ She snorted, ‘she and her so much praised wisdom! That so called wisdom is but a euphemism for being too cowardly to intervene! She hasn’t lifted a finger to keep that woman’s madness in check; just as with the mess with the Qunari she just let it all happen. At that time she didn’t even had the heart or courage or insight to rein in that dangerous bitch Petrice, although Hawke had warned her about her ungodly actions. And we all know where that led to. Like back then, she also now has only given evidence of her weakness and indecision. Dumar and she would have made a perfect match.’

She nearly had to take a breath after her scolding.

‘How dare you say such a thing!’ Sebastian had burst out.

But Aveline had beaten him to it. Even more vicious this time.

‘Because it is the truth but you can’t handle the truth, what with your pathetic blind worship of that spineless woman!’ she had spat back. ‘You’re nothing but a pitiable feeble puppy, aren’t you, seeking guidance by the first person who deigns themself to pat you on the back! And your Grand Cleric is extremely good at patting where she should be dealing out kicks and blows and a good whack around the ears!’

After that they had been shouting at the top of their lungs at each other until Donnic had put an end to it. Sebastian had stomped off, bristling with holy indignity and Aveline had been sulking for hours, looking as if she would explode at just one wrong word. Donnic deemed it wiser not to point out that, yes, they were all on edge at the moment, but that it, nonetheless, would be better not to take it out on one another. She would know that anyway and saying it out loud would only worsen her mood.

-

Varric, Isabela and Merrill had stayed in the Keep. Although the dwarf groused sullenly he had been reduced from Merchant Prince and King of the Storytellers to Pitiable Refugee, all three of them acknowledged the danger of going out in the open. Meredith might have let them untouched for the moment, but she could change her mind just like that and decide to arrest them after all. Only Isabela had sneaked around Kirkwall under cover of the night to fetch their weapons and armour because they were all still dressed in their wedding outfit. She returned with the shocking story of the destruction of both the Amell estate and Fenris’s mansion.

The three of them were sitting together in a relatively quiet corner in the Viscount’s throne room. They had dragged a few chairs out of the hallway and somehow Varric had conjured up a bottle of rare Orlesian cognac for the pirate queen and himself and a flagon of light cider for Merrill. Around them members of the militia milled about, being at a loose end and, frankly, just waiting for orders. Many of them had put down bedrolls here and there in the room and were playing dice or cards. Nobody disturbed the beardless dwarf, the tanned extravagant human woman and the timed Dalish elf.

‘What a low act of pathetic revenge!’ Varric cried out in genuine anger. ‘Wasn’t it enough she ruined their wedding day and humiliated them before the eyes of half of Kirkwall?!’

There hung a strange atmosphere in the Keep. The guardsmen were angry and determined to get even with the Templars who had made them take to their heels. The staff were scared and jumpy and didn’t know what to with the rough hirelings, who on their turn approached their stay at the Keep as some kind of paid holiday. The furious outburst of the Guard Captain hadn’t aid much to lessen the tension. For that reason Isabela hadn’t told her yet about the senseless devastation of both properties.

‘There must be something we can do,’ Merrill piped up, sounding a little forlorn. ‘Aveline will think of a plan, won’t she? She is good at plans.’

It almost broke Varric’s heart to see the hopeful glint in her big glistening eyes. He took a large swig of the cognac and felt the liquid satisfactory burn down his gullet. ‘Close to storming the Gallows, I fear there’s nothing much we can do,’ he said. He cocked his head. ‘Although, I can always bang on the gates, pronounce myself a herald of the Divine and demand the release of Hawke and Fenris out of the name of her Holiness.’

‘That could work!’ the Dalish elf exclaimed enthusiastically. She clapped her hands with delight. ‘Meredith won’t expect that!’

‘I bet she wouldn’t, Kitten,’ Isabela smirked, snatching the bottle out of the dwarf’s hands. ‘I admit it’s a brilliant idea to make that tart kill herself with laughter. That is, it would be if she’d had a sense of humour in the first place.’

‘Oh, that would make a wonderful story!’

‘Yes Daisy,’ Varric said gloomily, ‘therefore it’s a shame I wouldn’t be the one to tell it. Being dead and serving as a banquet for the fish by then.’

‘Oh.’ Merrill deflated. ‘It wasn’t a real plan.’

Varric put a comforting hand on her arm. ‘I’m sure something will come up. I promise you we will save them.’ And I don’t care who is listening down there or up there or wherever you hang out, just rest assured I’m going to rattle your sorry stony or heavenly bones if that promise doesn’t come true.

-

It had taken Cullen and Thrask several precious minutes to pry Fenris’s fingers off of Anders’s throat and save the mage’s life. And after that they had to hang on with all their might onto both the elf’s arms to prevent him from breaking free and murdering the healer as yet. He might seem lithe and lean, when taunted he turned out to be as strong as an ox.

‘Calm down Fenris!’ Cullen grunted. ‘Anders was just trying to help you.’

For some strange reason the mentioning of the mage’s name seemed to quieten the elf down and abruptly he stopped wrestling.

Anders stood bent double, leaning against the wall, and was coughing ostentatiously, trying to catch his breath.

He is definitely very thankful,’ Justice remarked drily. Anders fluttered his hand, wheezing pitifully. Maker, what a strength the elf harboured in that slender lanky body of his.

Slowly Fenris sat up, waving off the Templars who only reluctantly let go of him. ‘I apologise,’ he addressed Anders, sounding hoarse.

With some difficulty Anders stood up, rubbing his ill-treated throat. ‘I suppose I deserved that,’ he mumbled. ‘Although, next time I prefer you just punch me in the gut,’ he added derisively. Even mumbling was painful.

‘No. I mean, I mistook you for someone else; I thought you were Herric.’

They didn’t get the chance to ask who the hell he was talking about, because the very next moment his features twitched with a sudden wince of immense pain and with a gasp he collapsed on the cot. His hands clenched into fists, his body convulsed and then stilled. A small stream of blood started trickling out of the corner of his mouth.

With rising panic Anders hobbled near. ‘Oh no you don’t. You’re not going to die after I rescued you and you almost killed me.’

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

-

‘What is wrong with him?’ Cullen asked upset. Not moments ago he and Thrask had had all kinds of trouble keeping Fenris from throttling Anders, and now all life seemed to have drained from him.

Anders stood stooped over the motionless elf, his hands rested lightly on his chest. ‘Internal bleeding,’ the mage replied curtly; his throat hurt like hell thanks to Fenris’s action and he had difficulties with speaking. Nevertheless he added, ‘The artery in his lung has burst and now the organ is filling up with blood. Fast.’ He desperately tried to call upon his healing capability but it seeped only in feeble driblets through his hands, by far not enough to adequately stop the blood gushing from the vein. He cursed frustrated. ‘Do something,’ he hissed to Justice.

There is nothing I can do,’ the spirit replied. ‘You are the healer, not me.’

‘Sounds bad,’ Thrask mumbled.

Anders didn’t deign to answer him and the Templar, conscious about his own silly remark, scurried away and started wandering about the ruined clinic, searching for something that might be useful.

In a way he held himself responsible for the situation. Things had gone desperately out of hand. What had started as a promising enterprise to put Meredith out of charge, had turned into a nightmare about an at first trustworthy apprentice who had the audacity to abduct the Champion’s husband and perform blood magic and apparently a strong kind of mind magic even the Templars hadn’t heard of – i.e. the Templars in Kirkwall –, a disturbing display of the Knight Commander’s madness and the total unsettling of a whole city-state. This was not what he had had in mind when he tentatively set up the secret organisation to bring Templars and mages together. By now, he understood he had judged the situation as badly as Cullen had done, be it they had both accomplished to approach the situation wrongly from completely different sides. The outcome however, how ironically, had been the same. Destructive.

With a huff of irritation he entered Anders’s bedroom. For a moment he marvelled at the harsh circumstances the healer had lived in. In the times of Andraste, or rather in the eyes of the ones who had penned down her astonishing life, he would have been considered some kind of a saint. Of course also this part of his – how to call it, alright, his home at the lack of a better word, was shattered but Thrask saw the signs of a man devotedly dedicating his life to only one purpose. And it was a purpose Thrask could sympathise with: to free the mages from the unjust suppression they had to endure. He corrected himself immediately.

No. That was not true. Yes, Anders was renowned to him as the leader of the Mage rebellions. But he also, and perhaps in the first place, was a dutiful healer who strived to aid the poor and helpless in a harsh and careless city, a healer who prevailed the well being of the vulnerable people above his own, let be he’d care about any comfort.

Therefore he had been shocked beyond compare when he found out he had raped Albran Hawke. It had been a disgusting act and so totally out of character. But now he had got the picture. Mind magic. How could he blame Anders any longer? Even he had fallen for it, had trusted that greasy snake that called himself Marius.

Standing in the middle of the cramped space that had been Anders’s personal room he found the evidence of his dedication in attempting to relieve the struggles of the poor. The room contained not much more than the remains of a small bed that looked like a real backbreaker, a still more or less whole rickety table with a washing basin on top, cracked but otherwise miraculously still unscathed, a simple desk made out of cheap wood and a stool. There had been shelves nailed to the wall but they had been torn down. Books and papers were scattered all over the place but in a corner he found a casket filled with flasks, vials and jars that were still mostly intact. They could come in handy. He took the crate with him and returned to the main room of the clinic.

‘How is this possible?’ he heard Cullen ask. ‘The one moment he seems more alive than a raging bull and the next he is dying!’

Anders coughed, probably trying to clear his tormented throat. ‘Burst arteries tend to do that to people.’

‘Yes, but why –‘

‘Would you please shut up and let me concentrate!’ the healer snapped irritated.

Thrask walked over to him and wordlessly offered him the small crate. Anders looked up in surprise. ‘Where did you find that? – Never mind.’ He rummaged through the contents of the casket and produced several lyrium potions and a healing one. He first gratefully downed the blue tonic to replenish the dried out supply in his veins. ‘Lift his head,’ he next ordered Cullen. The former Knight Captain did his bidding without even thinking. He was by now beyond questioning anything at all. He simply held Fenris’s head while Anders carefully and slowly poured the liquid between the elf’s lips. After that he wrapped him in the returned blue power of his healing magic, putting everything he had into his effort. He was glad to see Fenris’s markings responded, even if it was only faintly. Finally the elf let out a sigh. The following moment he turned sharply and threw up a surge of blood. Cullen reacted just in time and steadied him to prevent he fell off the cot.

‘I’m sorry,’ Anders said tired, ‘I don’t know why this happened. It could be some aftermath of the effect of the blood magic, or some evil trick in case somebody else would lift the spell. I’m not much of an expert when it comes to the dark arts.’

Fenris just squinted at him and silently accepted the canteen with water Thrask offered him. His body felt as if it was torn apart from the inside out and he couldn’t suppress a soft groan when he sat up and swayed his legs over the side of the cot.

Anders eyed him worriedly. The ordeal the elf had gone through must have been excruciating and he could only hope there wouldn’t be any other severe effects or collateral damage. ‘How have you been able to endure this?!’ He uncorked another bottle with a healing potion and handed it over.

‘I’ve had worse,’ Fenris rasped.

‘I doubt that.’

The elf gave him a small mocking smile while he took the potion. ‘You better believe it. But I don’t want to dwell on my tribulations. Where is Albran?’

The three men looked uncomfortable. ‘In the Gallows,’ Cullen answered cautiously, on his guard in case Fenris would explode once more.

But Fenris stayed calm this time, his face an unreadable stone mask. ‘I feared that much,’ he said, ‘and what about Herric?’

Anders shook his head. ‘You mentioned that name before, but I don’t know such person.’

The elf laughed mirthlessly. ‘On the contrary, I am certain you do. But I suppose you know him by another name.’

And then it dawned on Anders. ‘Marius!’

Thrask blanched. This blasted situation became even worse than it already was.

Fenris knocked back the healing potion. ‘Now tell me what transpired.’

-

Orsino nervously tapped the surface of his desk while he was flipping through the pages of a weighty tome. He felt highly agitated and impatiently tossed the book on the floor after he didn’t find what he was looking for, and reached for another one on the pile next to him. He couldn’t believe it had come to this; the Champion in prison, her husband being chased like a dangerous criminal, the Knight Captain degraded and the Knight Commander completely running amok. He didn’t think one second Hawke and Fenris were traitors and a nasty suspicion had come up about who was to blame for this mess – besides himself. He should have sent the lad Marius as a neat parcel by return of post back to Tevinter. He shouldn’t have sent that cursed letter in the first place. He might have known nothing good could come from letting the Imperium meddle with their affairs.

But what could he possibly do to set things right again? Because he hadn’t been able to think of anything constructive – at least not something that would turn Meredith into an even bigger dangerous madwoman and put the mages’ lives at stake – he had gathered an amount of books about the Tevinter Imperium and the kinds of magic the Magisters wielded, magic forbidden in the rest of Thedas. He had been searching feverishly for ages to find anything useful. It didn’t help he didn’t know what he was looking for in the first place. Several times the image of Marius came swirling in his mind. The lad had made him feel prickly from the start, although he still couldn’t fathom why exactly. Whatever was wrong with him, he managed to hide it well. What kind of magic did he apply? What was that wretched boy planning?

-

Aveline had removed the heavy desk from the Viscount’s office and replaced it with a wooden table. She had called everyone together, that is everyone of import, and looked sternly around at the serious faces. Varric, Isabela and Merrill were present, as well as Marlein Selbrech, Theodore of Wildervale and Philippe de Beaumont. And of course Donnic was sitting at her right hand with on his other side Guard Woman Brennan. Sebastian was absent, probably still fuming about what Aveline had said about the Grand Cleric, and to be honest the Guard Captain didn’t miss his presence. She didn’t exactly dislike the Chantry brother, although he regularly got on her nerves, but the last thing she needed right now, was a dispute about religion and the (non)actions of Elthina adding to all the real problems they had to face.

‘Alright, I’ll first report you on the current situation,’ Aveline started. ‘I’m sorry to tell that here and there fights have broken out throughout Lowtown and the Docks. It is not clear if it’s about some kind of rebellion or simply an outburst of the tension that holds this city in its grip. A patrol of Guardsmen, however, were just in time to prevent a group of elves crossing the harbour to attack the Gallows. Apparently they consider Fenris and also Hawke as their heroes and they are furious.’

‘They’re not the only ones,’ Varric mumbled resentfully, ‘but obviously the only ones with the guts to take action.’

‘Yes,’ Aveline snarled, ‘a hot-headed suicide action.’ She shot him a fiery glance before she continued. ‘Luckily the Templars haven’t shown themselves in the city up until now to enlarge the friction. I had half feared they were intended to attack the Keep, considering the  unstable state of mind Meredith is in.’

‘Unstable state of mind?’ Varric sneered. ‘I’ve seen trampling ogres and frenzied dragons that were a picture of serenity in comparison to that rampaging example of insanity!’

The Guard Captain raised her voice. ‘If you won’t stop interrupting me, Varric Tethras, I will not hesitate to gag you, or worse!’

The dwarf grumbled something indecipherable though undoubtedly insulting, but kept his voice down.

After another venomous stare in his direction, Aveline said, ‘Unfortunately it has become clear several noble houses have started to recruit militia. I’m not sure whether out of security or that other more belligerent motives play their part.’ She looked questioning, if not accusingly, at Lady Selbrech.

The noblewoman stayed unperturbed, at least outwardly. That is to say, her eyes only flickered slightly under the Guard Captain’s glare. ‘I know that some of them are supporting us openly after all that’s happened, while others are on the Knight Commander’s side. Most of them are just scared and want to protect themselves,’ she answered as informative and neutral as possible to not ignite the Guard Captain even more.

‘As I see it,’ Aveline said, ‘before we can even hatch a plan to free Hawke and Fenris, we have to cope with an Alienage full of angry elves, large parts of the city with pockets of rioting culprits, and Hightown filling with hirelings willing to fight for money. With other words: we are heading for complete chaos, if not civil war. And when Meredith decides to make her next move, and it won’t matter what kind of bloody move, even if it is just lifting her little finger, the mayhem will be complete. I do not doubt for one second that half of the city won’t be eager to obey her and is happily going to battle the other half that is. And how is the Guard supposed, between all that threatening aggression, to keep Kirkwall from plunging into complete anarchy?!’

At that very moment the door to the room opened. Aveline was about to shout irritably they were not to be disturbed, when a rough and yet sonorous voice rumbled, ‘The only solution is to act as fast as possible, free Albran and put Meredith down.’

Her eyes flew open in astonishment and for a moment she wasn’t able to utter a word.

‘Well well, look what the cat dragged in,’ Varric grinned broadly. ‘You are harder to get rid off than Isabela can lose her notorious rashes.’

‘Hey!’ the pirate cried out indignantly.

Fenris smiled crookedly. ‘Good to see you too, Varric. Complimentary as always, I hear.’ Before he could say anything else, he got cut short by Merrill who had jumped up and flung her thin arms around him.

‘I’m so glad you are safe, Fenris,’ she cheeped, ‘I was so worried! But everything is going to be all right now. I just know it.’

Carefully he freed himself from her firm embrace. ‘Thank you Merrill,’ he said, confused and at the same time more moved than he wanted to admit. ‘But if you don’t mind, I would like to sit down.’ He still felt weak after what he had gone through but knew it wouldn’t be long till the lyrium in his markings would have been restored, after which he soon would be his old self.

Intensely Isabela looked him up and down. She took in his ragged appearance and the state his once marvellous suit was in at this moment, stained and crinkled and half torn. And bloodied. ‘You look like shit,’ she concluded, ‘what the hell ever happened to you?’

‘And another flattering comment,’ Fenris said sardonically while he took a seat. ‘I feel totally at home.’

‘Will you two cut the crap,’ Aveline spat impatiently, ‘and let Fenris explain how he managed to get away from the Gallows.’ She frowned and added somewhat gentler, ‘Is there something you need, Fenris? I agree you indeed look like you’ve been dug up from the grave.’

Fenris leant into the back of his chair. ‘A stiff drink maybe. And if someone else feels obliged to make a retribution to my appearance, do it now before I regain my strength. You are warned.’

Brennan hastened to get him a cognac – the Viscount had owned a very well stocked liquor cabinet and the Seneschal never had discovered the key.

After he had taken a sip Fenris carried on, ‘I never made it to the Gallows. I’m not certain how he did it, but in the midst of that foul cloud of gas, Herric somehow managed to haul me into the Amell estate and from there to Anders’s clinic.’

‘So he saved you!’ Merrill joyously cried out.

‘I simply knew he would play his significant part,’ Varric smirked, ‘there was something about that ... boy ...’

He came to a halt under Fenris’s dark ferocious glare that smothered his enthusiasm.

‘A very significant part indeed, although he didn’t rescue me. Anders did.’ He ignored the shocked gasps. ‘After he found me in what, apparently, was his hide-out place where I was locked up and bound by strong blood magic.’ He let fall a short silence before he continued, ‘Lest you haven’t figured it out for yourselves by now, your precious Herric is a filthy and very powerful blood mage from Tevinter.’

He was met with a stunned silence and several pairs of bewildered eyes.

-

The old Holding Caves were bustling with activity once more, although not with slaves and slavers. This time Tevinter armed forces were garrisoned in the abandoned caverns. They had left the cramped ships and in the early morning rowed ashore where they had landed on a remote spot of the Wounded Coast. The caves were a perfect place to hide an army, especially at this time, now no one in Kirkwall would pay attention to whatever took place in Sundermount with everything that was occurring between the city walls.

Danarius stood before the entrance, taking in the scenery. He had confiscated one of the rooms and had made himself at home, or rather had had his slaves done the job. While the soldiers had scouted the caves, they had stumbled upon several human skeletons that still bore the shattered remnants of gear that once had belonged to Tevinter slavers. Danarius didn’t doubt it was all that remained from the army Hadriana had taken with her, three years previous. She had been convinced back then she would succeed without any problems; it had led, however, to her death. It was time to remedy that mistake.

He would not fail.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

-

Finally, in the last tome of a large pile, Orsino came across an interesting and relevant text that explained a lot of things – disturbing things, to be frank. ‘Of course it had to be the last book,’ he murmured irritably. ‘Why must it always be the last volume you grab to find what you are searching for? There should be a law against it.’

He clenched his jaw. Mind magic. Sweet Blood of Andraste, the sneaky devil had been using the extremely risky and outside Tevinter forbidden art of mind magic! No wonder he had obtained access to the Gallows so easily. No wonder he had so easily agreed with his dangerous plan to talk with Anders on the Wounded Coast. Now he understood why he had fallen for Marius, while at the same time he felt uneasy around the lad. The boy must be extremely talented if he hadn’t noticed what he was doing.

But there had to be a spell to counteract his perilous enchantment. There always was one.

He vehemently looked for clues. It didn’t help the text was handwritten in Arcanum, the old language of Tevinter. It had been a long time since he had had practice with the ancient lingo.

He was so absorbed with reading, he almost jumped out of his chair when a knock rang on his door. His heart shot into his throat. He stared fearfully at the entrance. What if it was that new Guard Captain, Mettin? Or worse, Meredith? If one of those two caught him browsing dubious books, especially at this confusing and dangerous time, the consequences could be catastrophic for the whole Tower. He could pretend he wasn’t in, but feared that would only lead to his door getting crashed.

‘Enter,’ he thus called, trying to keep the quivering of his voice to a minimum, ‘it’s open.’

The door opened to reveal Ser Thrask. Orsino puffed out a deep held breath but his relief was of short duration. Carefully the Templar closed the door behind him. He walked over to the desk, rested his hands on the surface and leant over. ‘I believe we have to talk,’ he said with a stern look in his eyes. ‘Urgently.’

Orsino blinked in surprise. He had automatically put his hand over the text he had been deciphering, though he could hardly imagine Ser Thrask would be able to read the words upside down, moreover because they were written in that ancient language. ‘About what? You don’t really think I have the influence to do something about the situation? Now Meredith has removed Cullen from her side and isn’t even willing to listen to the Grand Cleric, I highly doubt she will take anything I put forward to heart.’

Thrask smiled nastily. ‘That’s not what I want to talk about.’ He shot him a piercing look and held his eyes captivated. An involuntary shiver crept down the First Enchanter’s spine. ‘I want to talk about Marius.’

Orsino stiffened. ‘What,’ nervously he cleared his throat, ‘what do you mean?’

‘Don’t try to fool me,’ Thrask spat. ‘You know bloody well what I mean. I know you met the young man. I know you went with him to the Wounded Coast to meet Anders. And I think you damn well know he is a master in the art of mind magic.’ He paused for a moment before he launched his last attack. ‘And I know he comes from Tevinter. As do you undoubtedly know as well.’ He kept the First Enchanter imprisoned in his firm stare. ‘A powerful mage from Tevinter suddenly happens to show up in Kirkwall and shortly after trouble starts,’ he said in a low threatening voice. ‘Explain.’

Orsino deflated under the weight of the other man’s gaze, although he was still reluctant to divulge his share in the drama. ‘To be honest, I discovered the mind magic part just a few minutes ago,’ he attempted innocently to buy time. ‘How did you find out?’

‘Don’t try to avoid my question,’ Thrask bit menacing. ‘I want to know the truth. What the hell have you been scheming?!’

Orsino squirmed in his chair. ‘Don’t you want to sit down and have a drink?’

‘No, I don’t,’ Thrask hissed. ‘Get out with it.’

Orsino stood up and started to pace the room. He wanted very hard to find a way out but recognized there was none. He had to come out into open. ‘I, er, I sent a letter to the counsel of senators in Tevinter; in return they sent Marius,’ he confessed eventually, arming himself against Thrask’s predictable reaction.

But Thrask wasn’t able to react at all; this was so immense and incomprehensible, he at first had no answer. ‘Why?’ was all he could finally manage.

Orsino made a feeble attempt at defending his outrageous decision. ‘Just like I did, you must have seen the situation in this city was getting out of hand,’ he said, aggravated. ‘I only wanted to put a halt to Meredith’s ever more increasing madness. To save the mages. To save Kirkwall.’

Thrask sat down after all; he didn’t trust his sudden wobbly knees. ‘So you thought it would be wise to surrender the city to the Tevinters, to deliver us on a silver platter to that nation of greedy blood mages. To return their former property?!’ He had a hard time not to shout.

‘I had to do something!’ Orsino wailed. ‘Who could I trust?!’

‘You stupid idiot,’ snarled the Templar, with great difficulty keeping his voice down. ‘You should have known better; there were plenty other solutions instead of inviting those vipers!’ He rubbed his face. ‘You’re going to pay for this,’ he promised him darkly, ‘but right now you’re going with me to Cullen. Perhaps we can find a way to repair the damage you have done.’

-

Hawke got alarmed by the sound of heavy booted feet and ringing armour, announcing the arrival of at least six Templars. She had been slumbering, despite her worries and sorrows. But in the end she had become exhausted of fretting about the seemingly hopeless situation, of her concerns about Fenris’s fate and the lingering sickness that had sustained even after the friendly Templar – Marcia was her name she had learned – had brought water and food that didn’t contain that cursed magebane. She assumed it was a strong after-effect of the combination of that pungent gas and the disgusting herb. Even the mere thought of inhaling the one and imbibing the other, made her retch again several times over. And in the end she had slumped on the ascetic cot and, despite the situation but completely exhausted, had drifted off. Until this foreboding sound of aggressive marching feet woke her.

At first she pretended she still slept, but she couldn’t keep up the appearance when someone slammed hard on the bars of her prison with a gauntleted hand. ‘Wake up, you lazy whore,’ the someone growled, ‘it is time for your conviction.’

Albran made a show of getting up, rubbing her face and flexing her fingers. ‘Conviction?’ she drawled. ‘Interesting. I always thought there had to be a trial first.’ She tried very hard to keep a strong facade and not to give in to despair. Surely he was just making an attempt to frighten her?

‘Traitors don’t deserve a trial,’ the Templar barked. He had the word “bully” practically written all over him. Besides that, he wore the insignia of the grade of Knight Captain. Not a good sign. Marcia had already told her what happened with Cullen, so she wasn’t surprised to find a new Captain. She was, however, not very pleased with this substitute. He opened the entrance and cautiously approached her. ‘Stick out your hands,’ he ordered.

Hawke cocked her head. ‘And why would I do that.’ She knew she didn’t stand a chance but refused to go down without a fight.

The five other Templars drew their swords. It made quite a noise. The born bully made a gesture towards her that indicated he used his smite ability, a power fed by the blighted lyrium to numb mages  Albran just stared at him, with difficulty suppressing the urge to burst out laughing.

‘Yes,’ she observed drily, ‘I would definitely have used my overwhelming powers of stone fist, or fire ball, or whatever spell, against you, if you wouldn’t have deprived me of my non-existent magic capacities. Maker, how pathetic. You’re nothing but Meredith’s lapdog, aren’t you, not being able to think with your own brain. What a pity. Even a marbari knows better.’ For a moment the newly assigned Knight Captain was at a loss and she made advantage of that. She smirked cynically. ‘Big boy. Good dog. Now shush. Lie down and play dead.’

The very moment the new Knight Captain remembered his status. It earned her a backhanded slap across her face. She staggered but managed to stay upright.

‘Of course,’ she taunted him while blood filled her mouth, ‘turn to violence. It’s the only way you Templars can think anyhow, working brain or not.’ The next blow hurled her against the wall and before she knew it she was handcuffed. Very clever. Happy now? Use that blather mouth of yours one more time and Meredith doesn’t even have to make an effort to kill you. You’ll be dead already.

The freshly appointed  Knight Captain pulled her roughly on her feet and pushed her out of her cell. ‘Very soon your witty remarks will be silenced forever,’ he said, threateningly.

-

Cullen was sitting on the uncomfortable bed in his new room. It was small, much smaller than the airy and relatively luxurious chamber he had occupied over the past years. But that was at this moment the least of his problems. His head was still reeling with everything that had happened. Things had gone out of hand so fast he could hardly grasp it. He sighed, got up and started to unpack the box containing his personal belongings he had placed on the rickety table.

‘Knight Captain?’ He turned sharply to catch the desolated face of the young Templar who had addressed him. He remembered him well. Keran. The young promising Templar recruit who Albran Hawke herself had rescued from the clutches of that deranged blood mage Tarohne and her accomplices, years ago. He had been watching him closely for a while but it had become obvious before long the boy hadn’t been possessed by demons. He had proved to be a very keen and devoted pupil, and recently Cullen had allowed him to take his vows and become a real Templar.

What now again, he thought distressed, I don’t think I can cope with another disaster.

‘The title isn’t accurate any longer –‘ he started tired, but immediately got interrupted.

‘They’re bringing Messere Hawke to the courtyard, Knight Captain Ser,’ Keran panted aggravated, not taking note of Cullen’s remark. ‘I’ve heard the Knight Commander is going to put her to death.’

Cullen stiffened. This soon? This can’t be true. She certainly wants to make a grand show out of it, preferably in the middle of Hightown. ‘Maker preserve us,’ he mumbled. He put himself together. ‘Where is Ser Thrask?’

‘I don’t know,’ Keran cried desperately, ‘I can’t find him anywhere!’ Of course he had looked for Thrask first; after all, he belonged to his secret organisation. But he figured he could trust the Knight Captain, former Knight Captain; he was a decent man. To his relief at the same moment a known voice sounded at the entrance of the room.

‘What is the fuss all about?’ Thrask sounded fractious and looked outright infuriated if not on the brink of combusting. He had Orsino in tow who, on his turn, looked embarrassed and more than a little guilty.

Cullen let his eyes wander to Keran. ‘It seems Meredith is planning to condemn the Champion as we speak.’

‘She is going to murder her!’ the young Templar cried out in dismay. ‘Please Ser Thrask, we have to do something!’

‘Fuck it all,’ Thrask cursed harshly. ‘After everything now this.’ He turned ferociously to the First Enchanter. ‘You stay here,’ he barked. ‘Cullen, if you would be so kind as to guard him? Keran, run to the Keep as fast as you can.’ He frowned. ‘Without your Templar outfit,’ he added. ‘I fear they're apt to shoot you on sight if you show up in your uniform.’

Cullen had raised his brow. ‘What has he on his record?’ he asked, indicating Orsino.

‘I’ll explain later. Or perhaps he wants to explain himself. Try not to kill him – yet. We’ll decide later what to do with him. If you’ll excuse me now, I believe there is a woman I have to try to save.’

Orsino just looked sad.

-

After her stay in the gloomy prison cell, Hawke had to blink against the bright sunlight that blinded her when Mettin pushed her into the courtyard. She almost stumbled after a particularly vicious shove in her back but succeeded in keeping her footing. ‘No need for that,’ she hissed angrily, ‘just give me a moment to adjust my eyesight after your hospitable and generous gesture to give me one of your first-class rooms in your freak-hotel.’ She drew some satisfaction out of the man’s astonished silence. She straightened her back and held her head high to face whatever awaited her.

The first challenge was Meredith, who was standing in the middle of the courtyard as some grand queen holding court. What especially caught her attention was that she was standing next to a newly erected pole. What was the meaning of that? The woman was flanked by a regiment of her Templars, all of them looking blank like schoolboys who had encountered the significant but harsh other use of the teacher’s ruler.

To her not so pleasant surprise she then noticed a delegation of the nobility that had gathered behind the Knight Commander. On the other hand, it came as no surprise at all to recognise Guillaume de Launcet among them and she didn’t doubt the rest of them also harboured less than warm feelings for her. Perhaps I’d better put more effort in pacifying them, she thought, alas, a little late for that sensible Satinalia’s resolution now. Mettin gripped her shoulders and made her stand still before Meredith.

‘And here you are,’ the woman growled with a feral snarl on her face. ‘Not such a big mouth right now, have you.’

‘That depends,’ Albran began, ‘whether I get the opportunity to –‘

‘Silence!’ Meredith hollered. ‘Traitors don’t have the right to speak!’

‘I think I have at least the right to hear the charges against me and to see your so-called evidence,’ Hawke stubbornly persevered. The next moment her head rang with the blow Mettin dealt her.

‘Shut up,’ he growled, ‘and heed your betters.’

She still managed to stay on her feet, be it hardly.

Meredith turned to address the nobles. ‘Evidence she wants!’ she called with her shrill voice that could shred a person’s eardrums and penetrate thick castle walls. ‘As if she doesn’t know her crime! But I have asked you all to come and witness this specific and indisputable evidence so that no-one will say I have arrested her just to take revenge on the outrageous way she and her elven spouse have treated the Knight Commander of this city!’

She paused for a couple of moments and Hawke caught the self-righteous expression of the Comte de Launcet. The man practically combusted with smug ecstasy. He seemed to be shivering with expectation. Within a few seconds he is going either to have a heart-attack or an orgasm, she couldn’t help thinking. But then her attention got drawn to the two items Meredith produced with a triumphant look on her face. She turned back to her.

‘You wanted evidence?’ she sneered. ‘Then you will get it. Recognise this?’

To Albran’s dread a well-known pendant dangled between her fingers. The very Tevinter Chantry amulet she had found in the Holding Caves when they were hunting Hadriana, and she had given as a present to Anders. For a laugh, more or less. Or perhaps even as a thumbs up, come to think about it, because her sister had been a mage and would have been hunted and prosecuted in this damned city as some kind of dangerous animal and Anders was fighting against that irrational and ridiculous situation.

She realised the amulet could be a strong argument to be used against her. How the hell had that turd managed to put her hands upon it? Had Anders betrayed her after his – his awful behaviour? Did it mean he had been caught? Had the Templars succeeded in their effort to find him? Had they taken the bauble from his body, had they tortured him? Hell, it had been meant as some kind of joke; now it could well be that joke had turned to bite both of them in the ass.

Meredith gave her no time to recuperate. ‘And here is the letter that went with it,’ she yelled triumphantly. She shoved a piece of paper under her nose. ‘Your handwriting, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve seen it often enough to know it is yours. Your petition to keep the lad Keran in the Templar Order even after he had been at the mercy of demons; your signature under your marriage contract. You can’t deny this!’

Albran stared at the note with rising panic.

 

“My dear friend,

It pleases me to inform you everything is going according to plan. It is good to hear our Northern allies are already on their way to help us getting rid of KCM. As good as it is to know MUM is alert and ready to strike. Soon after the wedding we can set our scheme into motion. Thank you for your gift. I shall wear it so that I can be recognized and prove I am on the right side.

With love, AH”

 

She looked up at Meredith. ‘This is not my handwriting,’ she said flatly, knowing her denial wouldn’t help her, ‘somebody has gone through a lot of effort to forge it but it is not mine.’ And, bloody hell, I know who wrote this note. Fenris was right all along. I should have listened to him. I should have dragged that sickening fraud by his ear to the Chantry to expose his true intensions to Sebastian. And after that I should have let Aveline take him into custody. And again. A bit too late.

Meredith held the two pieces of her glorious proof high above her head to let the gathered nobles see them. As some kind of sacred relics of a since long deceased saint. As if they were the ashes of Andraste herself. They all cheered; or rather they uttered their victory by elegantly incensed calls that could hardly conceal their foul excitement.

Albran looked at them and finally she got numb. She was defeated; no way she could win this battle. At this point she didn’t know nor could think of anything to say to save her hide.

Meredith pointed at the pole that was slammed into the floor of the courtyard. ‘Only one punishment for a traitor!’ she screamed excitedly. ‘Being whipped to death!’

The chorus of excited nobles happily agreed.

Before she knew it, Hawke was hauled to the piece of wood and tethered to it. What was left of her wedding dress got ripped apart.

‘I told you your witty remarks would be silenced forever,’ the new Knight Captain grinned.

And then the first lash of the whip hit her back.