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IN PEACE, VIGILANCE (AND DRINKING GAMES)

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They chose to have Loghain killed—Alistair delivered the final blow. They put Anora on the throne—Alistair wasn’t ready yet, might never be ready; he was pale with relief. They drew lots—Alistair, Garrett, Carver, and Cousin Amell—for who would be the one to undergo the rite with Morrigan; Alistair’s was the shortest, and wasn’t that always his luck?

‘Why me?’ he mourned, and Garrett clapped him on the back, and Carver barely concealed his laughter, and Cousin Amell was the only one who took him aside to comfort him, though nothing anyone did or said would make the prospect feel any easier.

Bethany and Aveline didn’t know how lucky they were Morrigan wasn’t in need of what they could give her.

But it wasn’t Alistair’s sword that struck the final blow, nor Carver’s, nor Aveline’s; nor was it Garrett’s daggers, while Bethany healed her brothers safe behind a phalanx of dwarves. It was Cousin Amell’s swift blades of ice that pierced the Archdemon’s heart—whatever passed for the organ—and it was Cousin Amell who became the Hero.

*

Mother attended the ceremony. They hadn’t seen her in months, months that felt like years. They held each other and she wept and it was hard, nearly impossible, to look at her.

The last time Garrett had seen her cry was when Father died. That, too, felt like it’d happened to some other family, many years ago.

‘Now that,’ Zevran said, ‘is a fine woman.’

‘I will kill you where you stand, elf,’ Carver warned.

‘All this time, and he still does not know my name.’ Zevran sighed, looking to Bethany for sympathy. ‘It is almost as though we are not the best of friends.’

Mother put an end to the beginnings of a second civil war right there in the main hall by asking who the elf was, and they all scrambled to explain him in terms that wouldn’t completely scandalize her.

*

As the Hero, Cousin Amell had little time to go back to the old ways.

‘I don’t envy him one bit,’ Carver said, but they all knew what that meant was, I do envy him, quite a lot actually.

Their numbers dwindled, Oghren off to drink himself pissless in a tour of Ferelden’s taprooms, Sten to reclaim his lost honor, Zevran to take care of business in Antiva, Leliana to follow the guidance of the Maker.

‘I’ll miss you most of all,’ Garrett told Wynne, and she gave him a look like she didn’t believe it for even for an instant.

‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll manage without me somehow,’ Wynne said. She embraced him, then Bethany, then Carver; Wynne truly was magical, capable of working miracles, and Carver didn’t even squirm.

‘But who will darn Alistair’s socks now?’ Garrett asked.

Wynne pursed her lips. ‘You’d best start learning how to sew, Garrett,’ she suggested.

*

‘Well,’ Alistair said, looking around the coronation room. ‘This place certainly is…different, when it’s empty.’

‘Sad, sort of,’ Bethany said. ‘Like we’ve done all we can here, but our lives aren’t over yet.’

Carver folded his arms over his chest, leaning back against the wall, eyeing Anora’s empty throne. ‘You’re right. Not for another twenty or so years, if we’re lucky.’

‘Carver,’ Garrett warned.

‘Well, I’m sure there’s something for Wardens to do after the blight is over,’ Alistair reasoned. ‘I mean…isn’t there?’

‘Don’t look at us, Alistair,’ Carver said. ‘You’ve been a Warden longer than we have. Why don’t you tell us what to do for once?’

‘Carver!’ Bethany said.

‘Carver,’ Garrett repeated.

‘Carver,’ Alistair added, and when everyone looked at him, he held up his hands in surrender. ‘What? Everyone else was doing it. I didn’t want to be left out.’

I wasn’t doing it, Alistair,’ Aveline said dryly.

‘Well, you don’t count,’ Alistair said. ‘So there.’

It was then that Hawke realized they’d be fine. They were Ferelden’s Grey Wardens, all that remained of the number. More than none, but still in the single digits. They’d manage somehow, same as they always did.

*

They left Denerim for Highever, looking into possible Warden recruits along the way; Cousin Amell was nearby in Amaranthine on business, sent to meet the Orlesian Wardens at Vigil’s Keep.

Far before they reached the Coastlands, they took care of some business at the aptly named Dragon’s Peak, and Garrett found a strange amulet in a chest in one of the mausoleums built into the crags.

‘Might be worth something,’ Carver said.

‘Might be full of pure evil, too,’ Alistair suggested cheerfully.

‘Then either way, we win,’ Garrett said, and looped the frayed cord around his neck, tying it tight in the back, wearing it the rest of the way to Highever.

Nothing pure evil happened on the road, although sometimes these things only took effect after a while. Either way, it would be something, as after a Blight, peace seemed particularly difficult to imagine.

*

The Ball and Chain in Highever was full of stories about the Hero of Ferelden, each one more ludicrous than the last. Carver got piss-drunk, enough to make Oghren proud, and joined in on the fun. ‘I heard the blighter’s dick was longer’n a broadsword and three times as thick, which it made it ever so hard for that elf he took up with,’ he slurred, forcing Alistair, Aveline and Garrett to remove him before Bethany caught wind of this new and enticing legend.

‘I’m not your little sister anymore,’ Bethany scolded Garrett later.

‘I beg your pardon,’ Garrett said, ‘but you will always be my little sister.’

Bethany rolled her eyes. ‘That’s not what I meant, and you know it isn’t.’

‘What, then?’

In a corner of their room, Carver let out a magnificent snore.

‘I know what Carver was talking about down there,’ Bethany said, leaning closer conspiratorially.

‘Who taught you?’ Garrett demanded. ‘Was it Oghren? Of course it was Oghren. I’ll kill him.’

They laughed together, just like old times, long into the night.

*

The next morning they gathered in the taproom to eat breakfast while waiting for Aveline to return from her daily patrol. No one could seem to convince her that being a Grey Warden wasn’t at all like being a soldier; maybe they could have, if they weren’t all too piss-terrified of her to try.

Ask any of them down to the man who they’d rather face, Aveline in the morning or an Archdemon any time of day, and the answer always came back the same.

Aveline couldn’t fly, but that was about all the Archdemon had over her.

‘Duncan was from Highever, I think,’ Alistair said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. As though he hadn’t been saying the same thing all the way to Highever. As though he thought maybe no one had heard him.

Was he?’ Garrett asked. ‘I didn’t know that. Bethany, did you know that?’

‘There’s so much talking,’ Carver moaned. He was face-down on the table, head cradled within the crook of his folded arms. ‘Can’t we all just have a nice, quiet breakfast without talking?’

‘Sorry, little brother,’ Garrett said. He slapped Carver soundly on the back. ‘Why don’t you join us for this? There’s toast, and ham, and eggs, and sausage—your favorite! Oh, but it looks like the eggs might have a tooth in them. And…is that blood on the plate? Bethany, does this look like blood to you? No, it’s too viscous for that.’

The table clattered as Carver pushed his chair back, making a desperate getaway before he threw up everywhere.

‘If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you did that on purpose,’ Alistair observed. Then he hesitated. ‘Wait, what am I saying? I know you very well. Of course you did that on purpose.’

‘Now, don’t make me blush,’ Garrett said.

*

The news came from across the Waking Sea: a dwarf merchant, topside, was looking to form an expedition into the Deep Roads. Cousin Amell was still in Amaranthine, tying up loose ends after the siege at Vigil’s Keep. That left it up to them.

‘What do you think we should do?’ Carver asked.

‘You’re asking me?’ Alistair looked horrified at the very prospect. ‘I haven’t even decided what I want for breakfast yet.’

‘Cheese, probably,’ Garrett said helpfully.

‘We’ll have to take ship.’ Aveline’s contribution came from the far wall, where she was already packing her things. ‘There are no Wardens in Kirkwall that I’m aware of. If we’re the closest, it’s our duty to make sure that expedition doesn’t unearth anything dangerous. Weisshaupt’s too far for them to be able to reach the Free Marches in time.’

‘That, and I doubt the order would take our word for it,’ Alistair grumbled. ‘After that little business of us getting involved in a war. Completely against Warden policy. Must have slipped my mind.’

‘We couldn’t just do nothing,’ Bethany said.

‘Not then, and not now,’ Aveline pointed out.

She was always one to keep them on the task at hand.

*

They were sailing beneath the massive shadow of Kirkwall’s famous cliffside statues no more than a week after that. They still acted of their own accord; they were too accustomed to taking the initiative because no one else would, and as far as they were concerned, there was no one but Cousin Amell they should report to.

‘Now that’s cheerful,’ Alistair said, affecting a dramatic shiver. ‘Didn’t know metal could actually cry—I…stand corrected.’

‘What a fine place we’ve all decided to come to,’ Carver added, arms folded staunchly across his chest. ‘Definitely not Ferelden, this Kirkwall.’

‘Oh good,’ Alistair said. ‘I could use the vacation from Ferelden. I was getting a little tired of all the darkspawn. And honestly, what could be worse than fighting an Archdemon?’

Really, Alistair,’ Aveline muttered, passing them by on her way between bouts of informing the captain of the ship how he could better handle his men.

‘You’ve doomed us all,’ Carver said. ‘Great—just great. Couldn’t you have waited until we were on land first, Alistair?’

‘Me and my big mouth,’ Alistair said.

When they were alone, staring at the sun-bleached rock, squinting and shading their eyes as they waited for their first real glimpse of the city, Garrett turned to Alistair and grinned, a show of solidarity.

It wasn’t the lifestyle he’d always imagined—after saving an entire country, surely the vacation Alistair mentioned could have been less of a joke, less of a distant dream. But their boat was packed below-deck with orphans and refugees, people who’d lost everything during the Blight, who were fleeing the only home they’d ever known without any promise of a better future.

At least Garrett’s family still had each other. Even with Mother back in Denerim, Garrett still knew she was safe.

*

Kirkwall—the City of Chains. A quaint nickname that would have been more accurate if it mentioned the stench, the putrid rot staining the docks, the bleak outline of the Gallows and the Circle tower, the constant swarm of refugees, the wheezing orphans and the weary, indifferent city guard.

‘Kirkwall, the City of Smells,’ Alistair said. ‘Kirkwall, the City of Fereldans Apparently. Kirkwall, the City of…Ugly Statues?’

‘Kirkwall, the City of Too Many Damn Qunari,’ Carver added, a group wandering past, broad muscles streaked with blood, or war paint.

‘Kirkwall, the City of Too Many Damn Templars,’ Bethany muttered, her staff hidden, as templar armor glittered in the sunlight.

‘Kirkwall, the City of Extremely Wealthy Nobles Just Looking for the Right Man to Solve All Their Problems,’ Garrett said, because it was blessedly true in every city, not just the Ferelden ones.

‘Kirkwall, the City of Shut Your Gobs and Quit Gadding About,’ Aveline concluded, which put an end to that game.

*

Five Grey Wardens—one of whom was a Fereldan apostate—had some difficulty keeping a low profile, but they did their best.

This is where we’re staying?’ Carver asked.

‘Better than sleeping in a tent next to Zevran’s in camp,’ Garrett pointed out, and Carver’s sullen expression made it clear who’d won that round.

‘I like it,’ Alistair said. ‘The Hanged Man. Not the sort of name you forget, anyway.’

‘Nor the sort of smell,’ Aveline said, sitting on her bunk. There were six beds to the room, stacked three by three against the walls, and an adjacent, smaller chamber, with no other furniture in it.

No one had been all that particular about where they got to sleep except for Carver, who’d claimed a top bunk immediately, but he didn’t seem pleased with his choice the first morning he woke and smacked his head against the ceiling. It put Garrett in an excessively cheerful mood, however.

After everything they’d been through, they needed all the cheering up they could get.

*

For the first few days, they laid low, gathering information. Aveline befriended every guard walking a lonely patrol through Lowtown in the dark, as was her wont; Carver started a brawl with a noble in Hightown, which Alistair then had to get him out of, which was, more or less, their wont.

‘He shoved me,’ Carver insisted, struggling to get back in and finish what he started. ‘Called me a dog lord.’

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ Alistair soothed. ‘Shows what he knows, doesn’t it? That mabari was never yours; it was your cousin’s!’

By contrast, Garrett and Bethany stayed close to home—which in Kirkwall meant spending a lot of time in the taproom. Garrett won the next week’s rent by sitting in on a game of diamondback, while Bethany got the latest news of Ferelden from the bartender, a sawdust type of fellow named Corff.

It was a convenient arrangement, if a different pace than they were used to. Nothing could quite compare to battling ogres, but Corff’s whiskey tasted almost identical to the darkspawn blood they used in the Joining.

‘Brings back memories, doesn’t it?’ Garrett asked, slamming his mug into Bethany’s.

‘This is far worse,’ Bethany said. She took a sip of whiskey, then winced. ‘At least after the Joining we were rendered unconscious.’

‘Unconsciousness will surely come, dear sister,’ Garrett promised. ‘It just takes a little longer than usual.’

*

It took a week before their first real lead came along, and it was all thanks to Bethany.

Garrett and Alistair were standing at the counter discussing fine Orlesian cheeses with Corff when she came downstairs, beardless dwarf in tow. It sounded like the beginning of one of Oghren’s terrible jokes—Garrett missed those sometimes, in his drunker moments—but as it turned out, he was just a fellow resident of Corff’s establishment.

‘I thought I’d come down and get acquainted with my neighbors,’ the dwarf said, making himself comfortable at a nearby table. ‘Word around town is that you’re an interesting lot.’

‘Who, us?’ Alistair said, looking at Garrett. ‘No, nooo, not at all. We’re very dull, in fact. I’m a milliner. Bethany there trades in dairy.’

‘Is that so?’ the dwarf asked. ‘What a pity. Because I also heard that you’ve been asking questions about a certain deep roads expedition.’

‘This is Varric,’ Bethany said, jumping in to make introductions. Apparently, she didn’t trust Garrett and Alistair to handle meeting new people on their own. And after everything they’d been through, too. What a blow.

They’d only almost bungled the royal election in Orzammar. There was no need for her to be so skittish. After dealing with Oghren, no limbs lost, they could handle anything.

‘Varric. What a pleasure to meet you—my name is Nuncio Broma,’ Garrett said.

‘And I’m Vincenzo Broma,’ Alistair added smoothly.

‘The Broma Brothers.’ Garrett bowed. ‘Perhaps you’ve heard of us? We’re famous in Antiva.’

It was a little game they liked to play when meeting new people, one that Bethany hated, and only ever worked when Carver and Aveline weren’t around.

‘Huh,’ Varric said, stroking his chin. ‘Last I met the Broma Brothers they were a lot better looking. What happened to you boys?’

‘Beg pardon?’ Alistair asked.

Nobody had ever called their bluff before, and there was no plan for contingency.

Varric’s forefinger rubbed dryly against his thumb, still thoughtful. ‘Not to mention those aren’t the names Sunshine here gave me, when she told me about you lot.’

Sunshine?’ Garrett repeated.

‘I think it’s sweet,’ Bethany said. ‘Don’t you think it’s sweet, brother?’

*

There was no way Garrett was letting his sister get cozy with a dwarf. It wasn’t that he didn’t like dwarves—as drinking companions, they were second to none; as friends, they were downright hilarious; they could be loyal and noble or filthy and cutthroat as anyone of any other race, save for qunari, who could only ever be qunari. No, the problem was that they were too much fun, and Garrett knew all too well what they were capable of. Especially the really clever ones.

‘It’s a purely commercial situation,’ Varric explained over drinks. He was buying. Garrett was inclined to like him more. ‘My brother Bartrand’s been looking into finding a way to fund the damn thing for a while now on a lead he got a few years back, and, well, blood’s thicker than Corff’s Wednesday brew. Nug-brained as the scheme may be, he is my brother, and I figure he’ll get into less trouble with me around than if I’m not. Besides, I’m no fool; I like to turn my share of profits. Lots left to be found in those Deep Roads, if the rumors are true.’

‘You mean like darkspawn, darkspawn, and more darkspawn?’ Alistair asked. ‘You can’t sell those, you know. They’re a copper a dozen back in Ferelden, and I hear they’re going to start exporting…’

Varric knocked back a full tankard in a single, powerful swill, then wiped his mouth—something Oghren never bothered to do at all. ‘Know something about it, do you?’

‘We’re from Ferelden,’ Garrett explained.

‘Well you don’t say.’ Now the dwarf was just toying with them. ‘I never would’ve figured that just by looking at you.’

‘Not all Fereldans look the same,’ Garrett reasoned. ‘Not all dwarves, either. You, for example—’

‘I’m a stunning specimen, I know,’ Varric said. ‘Damn near impossible to resist.’

‘Took the words right out of my mouth.’ The gauntlet had already been thrown; Garrett was forced to drain his tankard in a single gulp, and the result left him feeling woozy. ‘Tell me, Varric—isn’t the exploration of the Deep Roads a task normally left to the jurisdiction of the Grey Wardens?’

‘You speak the truth, friend. But there aren’t any Grey Wardens here, now are there?’ Varric said, with a tantalizingly level look.

*

‘That dwarf knows who we are,’ Carver said, pacing the room.

‘And who are we, exactly?’ Garrett asked, whittling at a bar of wood that’d come off one of the chairs. He was making a mabari, but at present, it looked more like a nug. ‘This is Kirkwall, not Denerim. Here, we’re rather more like a tight-knit group of nobodies.’

‘The unsung heroes of Ferelden, that’s who we are,’ Carver snapped. If Garrett hadn’t known what he really wanted before, he knew now—but then Carver always wanted people to recognize him.

‘And, I may point out,’ Alistair said, ‘we have about as much right to look into these Free Marches’ Deep Roads as this charming fellow Bartrand. Technically.’

‘That is not true,’ Aveline corrected. ‘As Grey Wardens, it is our duty to protect those who don’t already understand what crawls from the depths. Those who should never have to understand.’

‘I think her sense of humor died with the Archdemon,’ Alistair said sadly.

How you can joke about something like that is beyond my power to estimate, Alistair,’ Aveline said, rounding on him. It was never a good idea to give Aveline a target for her frustrations. Alistair was just self-sacrificing enough to do it all the time. ‘Last I checked, you were the most experienced of us all. You should understand the gravity of our duties.’

‘Oh, and I do,’ Alistair agreed, eyes rolling around in a panic as he searched for an escape from the conversation. ‘I experience the swell of gravity every day as it fixes me firmly to the earth. Say, do you remember when the Hero of Ferelden would cast that spell and it would drag all our enemies into a sucking whirlpool of death? That was just brilliant. Really great. I think that had something to do with gravity. Would…anyone like to jump in, here? Perhaps potentially to save me from Aveline? No? Anybody?’

‘You bring it on yourself,’ Carver said. But he stood up with a sigh. ‘Aveline, are you really saying we should stop them from going down there?’

‘Nothing good ever came out of the Deep Roads,’ Aveline confirmed.

‘I wonder what Cousin Amell would say?’ Bethany murmured. She was curled up on her bed, looking innocent as a daisy. Or rather, innocent as sunshine. Like she hadn’t been the one to launch this walking bomb into the room. That was the trick to Bethany: she was sneaky as a rogue, but possessed of all the supernatural abilities of a mage. Very, very dangerous.

Privately, Garrett thought there was more reason to fear Bethany Hawke than any Archdemon. She just hadn’t decided to start a blight of her own yet.

‘Cousin Amell isn’t here,’ Garrett said. ‘And I say it’s high time we start making decisions for ourselves.’

‘Well, that’s fine,’ Bethany said, ‘but I’ve already written to him.’

‘Without letting us know?’ Garrett scratched his beard, affecting a look of grave disappointment. ‘That seems like an oversight. What if I’d wanted to say hello to Zevran?’

‘I write to everyone,’ Bethany informed him. ‘I wrote to Leliana just last week. Although she isn’t terribly punctual about returning her mail. I wonder what she’s doing in Orlais…’

‘So that’s it, then?’ Carver asked. ‘We sit around waiting to see what Cousin Amell suggests we do?’

‘It’ll take those dwarves plenty of time to earn the coin they need to fund their expedition,’ Alistair said. He’d edged away from Aveline, all the way around to somewhere just behind Garrett. Why he viewed that as safer was anyone’s guess. ‘I don’t see why we need to make a decision right away.’

‘Great,’ Carver said. ‘More free time to spend in Kirkwall. Just what I always wanted.’

‘Happy birthday, little brother,’ Garrett said, and clapped him warmly on the shoulder.

*

Your letter, and situations I encountered in Amaranthine, have given me cause to think, read the message from Cousin Amell. He was always so formal, even with family. Due to recent events, I’ve had occasion to recruit a few more Wardens to our cause. Well, I say recruit, but in truth they were conscripted. I’m sending one of them out to meet with you. He should only be a few days behind this letter.

Conscripted?’ Carver repeated. He was reading over Garrett’s shoulder, and they’d been locked in a silent battle to see who could finish the letter first. ‘Great. He’s sending us some criminal. That’s just what we need.’

‘Excuse me,’ Alistair said, with a cough. ‘I’ll have you know I was conscripted into the Wardens. Duncan did it personally.’

‘Yes, and we remember the rest of Duncan’s criminals all too well,’ Carver muttered.

‘Now, Carver,’ Garrett said, ‘I liked Daveth. He was a good man. Told some good jokes.’

‘A good man?’ Carver barked out a humorless laugh. ‘He was a common thief!’

‘And somehow much better company than the good Ser Jory,’ Garrett sighed. ‘But isn’t that always the case?’

*

He didn’t let on to it, because now that Cousin Amell wasn’t with them to take up the torch, someone needed to keep a cool head and a calm tongue. But Garrett was still curious—just as touchy about it all as Carver, just as uncertain as Alistair, just as excited as Bethany, just as disapproving as Aveline. He embodied all the finest and most deplorable qualities of all his companions and displayed none of them; he re-read Cousin Amell’s letter by the firelight long past the hour the others were fast asleep, wondering if Cousin Amell thought them incapable of handling this themselves, and if being a Grey Warden meant always and never standing each on their own two feet.

*

A day passed, then another, then a third. They were all waiting, and Garrett hated waiting. He hated the way time crawled by while he was waiting, and he hated not knowing what it was he was waiting for.

Varric trounced Carver routinely at cards; Carver drank too much and was a little bitch about it. Aveline made a name for herself in Darktown assisting woefully underprepared patrols; Garrett and Alistair took Bethany to visit the chantry at night, and found the streets of Hightown were more dangerous than even the filthiest back alley of Denerim.

‘That was bracing,’ Alistair said, wiping his broadsword clean. ‘Shall we light a candle for these poor fallen souls? Somehow I can’t help but feel personally responsible for their untimely deaths.’

‘No more evening visits to the chantry,’ Bethany promised, and Garrett was satisfied; he lifted a few coins off a wealthy older woman to pay for the candles, and simply living their lives provided some distraction, if only for a short time.

*

‘Day four,’ Carver said at breakfast.

‘Carver is so good at counting,’ Alistair said, tearing off a hunk of bread.

Aveline’s night prowls were making her look tired. When she looked tired, she was even more dangerous. She said nothing.

Bethany, somehow, had convinced the pretty barmaid Edwina to make her some tea. ‘I’m sure it’ll be any moment now,’ she said. ‘But… How will he know where to find us? We’ve been keeping a low profile, haven’t we?’

‘Did you forget, Bethany?’ Garrett asked. ‘Cousin Amell always thinks of everything.’

‘Hah,’ Carver said. He fought with Alistair for a second hunk of cheese. The table rattled. Aveline was close to reaching for her sword.

‘Good morning there, Hawke!’ It was Varric at the top of the stairs; he saluted, then headed toward them.

‘Is it?’ Garrett wondered, but he was grinning.

‘Any day we’re still alive, it is,’ Alistair told him, mouth full, elbow in Carver’s stomach. ‘That’s what I always say, anyway.’

*

Mother used to tell him—when he was little and hungry and waiting for supper—that a watched pot would never boil, but on the fifth morning Garrett left the others in the Hanged Man scrubbing dishes to pay for their next week’s rent, and headed down to the docks to see what ships were coming in. The refugees were slim stragglers now, but it was overwhelming just how many of them there still were, how often they still came.

Then again, Garrett didn’t blame them for leaving Ferelden. He’d done the same, first chance he was given.

New ships landed at the Gallows, which was just a hop, skip and a jump away from the docks. Hawke jumped onto one of the boats ferrying the strait, enjoying the feel of the wind in his hair. You couldn’t beat the Hanged Man for ambiance, but it didn’t exactly have what you might call fresh air.

Or fresh anything. But Corff did his best with what he was given. And, he was an excellent gossip; Garrett had to give him that.

*

The Gallows docks were choked with ships, but the refugees were beginning to clear out. Now that the blight had ended, people were beginning to return to their homes—whatever was left of them. Garrett allowed himself to feel just a moment of satisfaction over the small part he’d played. Even if he wasn’t the one to land the killing blow, it was the five of them who’d helped Cousin Amell to get close enough.

These refugees had a real live Fereldan Grey Warden in their midst, and the best part was, they had no idea.

‘Anything new in from Amaranthine today?’ Garrett asked the harbormaster.

‘Bugger off!’ the harbormaster suggested.

Ah, yes. The anonymity of the Free Marches. One couldn’t trade that feeling for anything—even if he wanted to.

*

After stealing in to check the harbormaster’s books while his back was turned—he did so love being an unrepentant scoundrel—Garrett discovered a ship from Amaranthine was due in that morning. He made his way to one of the few empty ports, settling himself back on two comfortable crates of unloaded cargo.

It was a warm day, the bright sunlight beaming down against his face and bare shoulders.

Garrett hadn’t worn his armor to the docks, mostly because he was tired of being mistaken for a guardsman. People in Kirkwall seemed to have about as much trouble solving their problems as those back in Ferelden had; Garrett was still keen on pretending this was a vacation, not helping everyone who looked like they needed it. At least until Cousin Amell’s spy showed up.

Waiting for the ship to dock was as close to doing nothing as Garrett had managed all week. Sunlight, dockhands shouting, templars scattering, and no one to worry about but himself—it was blissfully lonely, until the ship he’d been waiting for sailed into port.

Garrett took out the latest carving he’d been working on—a griffon for Alistair—and began to shave off thick flakes of wood with one of his daggers; he kept one eye on his work, the other on cargo and passengers being unloaded from the ship. The crew, toting oozing barrels, disembarked first, followed by a beautiful noblewoman in a colorful silk dress; she breezed straight past Garrett and into the arms of her waiting husband. Or lover. Definitely not her brother, though, or even a distant uncle; the way she hugged him suggested a different kind of intimacy.

Hopefully she wasn’t their new Warden.

After that came a family with twin girls, a blond mage dressed in the Tevinter robes Bethany found so fascinating, and two dwarves: one old, beginning to gray about the beard, and one completely beardless. There was something strangely familiar about the beardless dwarf, his pale distant eyes staring at the sky, but he turned away, and their little bodies were quickly swept up in the crowd.

The travelers filtered into the Gallows as they met up with their families, their friends, their contacts—even complete strangers. The crew continued to unload cargo, bellowing fond obscenities at one another.

Gradually, Garrett became aware of someone hovering in his personal space. His shadow fell across the griffon, and Garrett looked up, squinting into the sunlight.

‘Greetings.’ It was the mage. This close, Garrett could see that he wore a gold earring in one ear. It wasn’t really a style one saw much at all in Ferelden or Kirkwall; Garrett would’ve guessed Orlesian, but he didn’t have one of those grating accents.

Garrett shielded his eyes. He stuck his dagger into the soft wood of a crate beneath him. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Perhaps,’ the mage admitted. He glanced over his shoulder, then lowered his voice. ‘I think I’m being followed.’

‘Already?’ Garrett asked. ‘As far as I can tell, you just got here.’

‘That’s the trouble!’ the mage said, throwing his hands in the air. He was the excitable sort; Garrett could always tell. ‘There were these…dwarves on the ship. I think they somehow got the idea we were traveling together. And they kept trying to sell me things. It was utterly nightmarish.’

‘That sounds like most of the dwarves I’ve met, actually,’ Garrett said. ‘They sell you things. That’s what dwarves do.’

‘Even when you say no?’

‘Especially when you say no.’ Garrett craned his neck, trying to see around the mage. There were no new passengers disembarking, and save for the dockhands, the rest of the crowd had cleared away. ‘Saying no is like blood in the water for a dwarf. Did you just come from Amaranthine, or is this a different ship?’

‘From Amaranthine—what? Oh, yes,’ the mage said. ‘Half a week on the boat with those over-enthusiastic dwarves—the last dwarf I met was more interested in guzzling straight from the tap than he was in tendering fine belts and amulets.’

Garrett laughed, still distracted. ‘I knew a dwarf like that.’

Tell me about it. Doesn’t everyone?’ The mage’s face loomed into Garrett’s view again, blinking wide eyes. ‘Excuse me, are you…looking for something?’

‘Someone,’ Garrett explained. ‘Someone from Amaranthine. On the boat. …Not a dwarf. At least, I don’t think it’s a dwarf.’

That’s a relief,’ the mage said, ‘because I’m telling you, there was something definitely wrong with the young one—Bootstrap or Shoestrap or…something; it wasn’t a very dwarfy name, I can tell you that much.’

‘Sandal?’ Garrett suggested wryly. Just for old times.

‘Sandal! That was it. Sandal,’ the mage said, and shook his head. ‘You hear a name like that, you can’t help but wonder who named him. Dwarves and their strange sense of imagination, am I right?’

‘Sandal?’ Garrett repeated.

‘Ye…es,’ the mage said slowly. ‘That’s what we— We established that already. Good guess, by the way. Don’t tell me you’re secretly a blood mage.’ He wiggled his fingers. ‘Reading my mind right now, are you? I feel your fingers on my brain.’

‘No—Sandal,’ Garrett said for the third time. He put a hand on the mage’s shoulder and gently nudged him aside.

There, standing at the mage’s back, was the dwarf in question: glassy gray eyes, glassy stare, glassy smile.

Maker! That is spooky,’ the mage said. Then he blinked between them. ‘Wait—you know each other? Thedas must be a lot smaller than I always imagined, way smaller than it looks like on the maps…’

‘Warden,’ Sandal said happily, and pointed to them both.

*

The mage’s name, as it transpired, was Anders—not exactly the most original choice, as Garrett had known at least ten men from the Anderfels who answered to the same at Ostagar.

‘You thought I was going to be a dwarf,’ Anders said accusatorily. ‘I am— I have never been more insulted in my life!’

*

It didn’t last; the offense was eclipsed the moment Carver saw him and burst out laughing. ‘This is our new Warden? But he’s wearing a dress.

‘Oh, that’s a good one,’ Anders said, picking his way around the stains spattering the Hanged Man’s floor. ‘I’ve never heard that before. And apparently you’ve never met a mage before, either.’

‘Not at all,’ Carver said. ‘I’ve met too many.’

‘Anders, this is Carver,’ Garrett said. ‘He’s the charming one.’

Anders observed something that looked like blood on one of the barstools, and gingerly elected to sit on another. ‘I’m charmed already.’

‘And I’m Alistair,’ Alistair said. ‘I’m the funny one.’

‘If you’re as funny as Carver is charming, then I’m worried,’ Anders said. Aveline caught his attention next; she tended to do that, just by being one of the few women dressed in full plate at the bar. ‘Let me guess: you’re the really scary one.’

‘I’ll be having words with your cousin when we see him next,’ Aveline promised, her eyes boring twin holes through Garrett’s head. She deigned to lean over and shake Anders’s hand, however. That had to count for something.

‘He is a mage,’ Bethany said, trotting quickly down the stairs. ‘Cousin Amell hinted that he might be, but I wasn’t sure…he was so cryptic in his letters.’

‘Say it louder, why don’t you?’ Carver asked. ‘Tell everyone we’re all mages, while you’re at it. I hear the templars in Kirkwall just love mages.’

Hello,’ Anders said. He brightened in a way that seemed suspicious, affecting a charming smile for Bethany’s sake alone. Garrett should have been proud of his little sister, beautiful enough to attract so much attention, but instead it made him feel quite murderous. First the dwarf, now a mage—what was next? A qunari? ‘I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced,’ Anders continued. ‘The Warden-Commander’s your cousin, is he? He never mentioned he had such a beautiful relative.’

‘He’s embarrassed of us,’ Garrett sighed. ‘But yes, it’s as you must have already guessed: We’re the good-looking branch of the Amells.’

‘Welcome to Kirkwall,’ Bethany said. If she’d noticed the change in Anders’s demeanor, she didn’t let on.

Garrett was going to have to speak with her about her taste in men sooner or later.

*

‘You know,’ Anders commented, over a bowl of the Hanged Man’s famous mystery stew, ‘you don’t resemble your cousin at all.

‘He’s an odd one,’ Garrett agreed. He was doing his best not to wonder which helpless, injured animal Corff had gone to for this week’s batch of stew. The tavern’s food was never a pleasant topic, but it was somehow still better than thinking too much about Cousin Amell. ‘He’s takes after the Amell side; I’m more Hawke. It’s like the difference between a topside dwarf and the ones who never set foot out of Orzammar.’

‘You’re much…manlier-looking than he is.’ Anders waved his spoon about in the air, illustrating his point. A splotch of thick gravy hit the table. ‘All grr, you know what I’m saying, and definitely more like someone you’d expect to find slaying dragons and ending blights.’

‘What an excellent observation,’ Garrett said. He felt all warm and fuzzy inside, in a way that had nothing to do with his dinner. Usually, when he got a warm, fuzzy feeling from the mystery stew, a night in the privy wasn’t far behind. ‘What a keen sense of perception you have. I think I’m going to like you a great deal, Anders.’

‘No one ever says that to me,’ Anders admitted. He looked positively delighted. ‘I can’t imagine why.’

*

That night, Aveline went out on her usual patrols; Carver went with her, for a change of pace; and Bethany stayed upstairs to write to Cousin Amell, letting him know his Warden had arrived safely. After nightfall, Varric came down from his room to drink and play cards.

One of these days, Garrett was going to find out what it was he did up there all day.

Then again, maybe he didn’t really want to know. There were a lot of things a dwarf could get up to by himself in a locked room in Kirkwall. Especially this part of Kirkwall.

‘And you must be the new guy,’ Varric commented, pulling up a chair at their table.

Garrett was really going to have to have a word with Bethany about who she trusted with their information.

‘…It’s talking to me,’ Anders said. He glanced at Garrett sidelong, then scooted his chair closer to him. ‘Garrett, why is the dwarf talking to me? Why are strange dwarves always talking to me? Did I do something wrong in a past life, perhaps? Murder some kittens? Sacrifice some virgins?’

‘Oh, I get it,’ Varric said. He pulled a packet of cards out of his coat pocket. ‘He’s a funny one.’

‘Not to be confused with the funny one,’ Alistair interjected. ‘Which is me. In case you’d all forgotten.’

‘Is that…does someone smell cheese?’ Anders asked, sniffing delicately.

*

Anders might well have been a capable Warden, but he was the worst card-player Garrett had ever seen. That included Alistair, and Cousin Amell’s mabari, who’d picked up diamondback in Redcliffe, taught by some of Arl Eamon’s men.

‘You know, Hawke, I take back anything I might’ve said about Blondie, here,’ Varric told him, drawing the pile of coin he’d won toward him on the table. ‘If he wants to stick around, that’s fine by me.’

*

It took Garrett two days to notice Anders was carrying a kitten everywhere, tucked inside his robes.

‘Is that an abomination beneath your belt, or are you just happy to see me?’ he asked.

‘What—oh,’ Anders said. ‘You must mean Ser Pounce-a-lot.’ He fished around beneath the complicated Tevinter straps and buckles, propped his leg up on the table, and managed to produce a well-fed tabby after far too much of a to-do. The animal looked about as grumpy as Carver on a morning after he’d tried once again—unsuccessfully—to drink Oghren under the table, all squinty eyes and down-turned mouth. When Anders rubbed him on the head, however, he began to purr—Carver would never do that. And Garrett had certainly tried in the past, along with a few other brilliant and demeaning tactics.

‘That’s quite the name,’ Garrett said.

‘Don’t listen to him,’ Alistair said, elbows on the table, trailing a lazy finger through the air for the cat to sniff. Ser Pounce-a-lot looked unimpressed, licking a white paw, ignoring Alistair completely. ‘He named his mabari warhound Grunt. Isn’t that right, Garrett?’

‘I hate you,’ Garrett told him, through a bright smile. He turned to Anders next. ‘Look, in my defense, I was only seven at the time, and it was the first noise he made when we were introduced. It seemed appropriate when I was only yea high.’

‘And where is this noble beast now?’ Anders asked. ‘You can’t just keep a wild animal like that pent up in an inn room, you know. They should be out, slobbering on strangers and pissing on walls.’ He shuddered. ‘Dogs.

Garrett stared at the table, rubbing Ser Pounce-a-lot’s flat head idly. ‘He was lost. At Ostagar.’

‘Oh.’ Anders looked stricken. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘He knew what he was getting into, same as all of us,’ Garrett said lightly. ‘He even made the sacrifice willingly. A much nobler beast than I am, anyway.’

‘You were there—at Ostagar?’ Anders asked.

‘All of us,’ Alistair said. ‘It’s…a complicated story.’

‘I like stories,’ Anders said.

From behind the bar, Corff shouted, ‘Andraste’s sagging tits—will someone get that flea-ridden animal off my blighted table?’

*

‘Ser Pounce-a-lot does not have fleas,’ Anders insisted. He’d been arguing with Corff for close to an hour now. Corff looked desperate, but he couldn’t leave the bar; he’d dug himself into a real hole this time, the poor bastard. ‘Well you don’t see me scratching all over, now do you? That’s how you can tell.’

*

‘I was just wondering,’ Varric said that same night.

Never a good sign.

Garrett pretended to be drunk. It seemed prudent to begin deflecting all further questions immediately. ‘Yes, my fine fuzzy friend?’

‘Couldn’t help but overhear you mention your time at Ostagar.’ Varric was toying with a quill pen, doing all manner of absurdly lewd things with the feather. Garrett stared, horrified and fascinated at the same time, as he swiped the tip through his golden pelt of chest hair. ‘Is that how the lot of you met?’

‘Not at all,’ Garrett replied. ‘We were all rescued—rescued by the same person. Well, technically not a person: it was a dragon, technically, as I said. Very technical.’

‘Good one, Hawke,’ Varric told him.

Garrett grinned, sloppily. ‘You caught me in a dreadful lie,’ he said. ‘I’m going to go relieve myself; care to come along?’

‘You do that,’ Varric said, and put down that infuriating feather, ‘and maybe next time I’ll join you. If you’re lucky.’

*

Anders was vomiting out back. Garrett joined him, taking a piss against the wall in time-honored tradition, just like Grunt used to do to mark the places they’d traveled.

‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this,’ Garrett said casually.

‘Auuugh,’ Anders replied.

Garrett finished up and leaned against the wall, waiting for Anders to take care of his business, watching his back just in case someone decided to take advantage of him in this trying moment.

‘A little too much to drink?’ Garrett asked as Anders wiped his mouth and drew himself shakily to his feet.

No,’ Anders said. ‘It was the stew. I didn’t want to tell anyone about this, but I think I found a rat foot in it. Corff’s trying to poison me. Did a dragon really rescue you after Ostagar?’

‘Does everyone in the Hanged Man feel the need to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations?’

‘I asked my question first,’ Anders pointed out. ‘The Warden Commander did mention a dragon, but he was always so…funny. You could never tell with him if he was being honest or just messing with your head. Oh, mages; we’re all the same.’

‘If you must know, a dragon did rescue us,’ Garrett replied. ‘Just…separately. Same dragon, different places. Alistair and my cousin at Ostagar; the rest of us in Lothering.’

‘I’m surprised Aveline didn’t slay it on sight,’ Anders said.

Garrett took a moment to remember it all, fondly: the ring of fire burning the darkspawn into ashes, the wind from the dragon’s wings fanning the flames. The smell of the fires in Lothering was what haunted him most to this day, the scorched earth, the blackened trees. The dragon that killed their darkspawn, then left them to fend for themselves once more—Alistair and Cousin Amell crossing their jagged path only a few hours later, on their way past the carnage. And Aveline’s husband Wesley, already half-dead from the Blight; their only chance to save him, the Warden’s joining.

And Aveline’s voice when she said it, the simple words that set everything in motion, I will not let you do this alone, Wesley.

I will not let this take you.

‘Aveline was a little busy at the time,’ Garrett said.

*

Anders took the last remaining bunk in their room, the very top of the set that Bethany and Aveline had claimed. His cat didn’t make any noise in the night, and he didn’t snore. Garrett had no objections to the arrangement, although Carver seemed to find it very funny that Anders wore a dress and had to share his bunk-beds with the women.

‘Yes, it’s quite the tragedy to be sleeping near to two beautiful women,’ Anders said, while innocently stroking Ser Pounce-a-lot’s head. ‘I can see why you wouldn’t want anything to do with it, Carver.’

*

The weather turned warm and stayed that way. Anders found Garrett in a remote corner of Lowtown’s foundry district, sunning himself while he pored over some notes Varric had given him to check out. So far, Bartrand didn’t seem to have found a good entrance to the Deep Roads. There was still some debate among the Wardens whether they wanted him to or not.

‘You never know what’s in the Deep Roads,’ Carver said. ‘It could be riches.’

‘Or it could be broodmothers,’ Aveline said, arms crossed.

Was it any wonder Garrett had to get out, sometimes? It was much easier to formulate a plan on his own, then return to the others with his findings later, than it was to stay and assume anything resembling original thought could be achieved around his companions.

Except, of course, when those companions happened to find his hiding spot.

‘I feel like I should tell you something,’ Anders said. ‘I don’t…do the Deep Roads anymore. Or broodmothers.’

‘You’ve got a pretty interesting idea of what it is a Warden does all day long,’ Garrett observed.

‘I was told there’d be wine and songs,’ Anders said. He leaned against a barrel next to Garrett. ‘Your cousin’s a filthy liar, as it turns out. Very disappointing. This is more like the Legion of the Dead.’

‘I think if they called it that, they’d have more trouble with recruitment,’ Garrett said.

‘That’s exactly what I said.’ Garrett folded up his notes, sensing Anders’s eyes on them. ‘But there’s also something to be said for brutal honesty, isn’t there?’

*

‘Did I ever tell you we found Andraste’s ashes?’ Carver wondered out-loud. He’d spilled half his drink just sloshing from side to side while he talked.

It was soaking into one of Varric’s fine rugs as they spoke, but the dwarf was too busy taking notes to notice. Garrett carefully put his boot over the stain.

The Andraste,’ Alistair added, also well into his cups. ‘Although I don’t suppose there is another Andraste. There’s only one that I know of. Unless mothers started naming their daughters that. Garrett—do you know any Andrastes?’

‘Only the one that got lit on fire,’ Garrett confirmed.

‘That,’ Alistair said, ‘is blasphemy.

‘Andraste’s ashes,’ Anders repeated. The words echoed off the inside of his mug as he took a swig of ale. ‘Wow. That is impressive. That’s nothing at all like encountering the world’s first talking darkspawn.’

‘What’s that, now?’ Aveline asked. The woman possessed a remarkable ability to start paying attention to a conversation at the precise moment when it conveyed the one piece of information she’d find relevant. ‘A darkspawn that could talk?’

Varric groaned. ‘Come on, Red. You’re going to interrupt the flow of the story. Can’t you start your interrogation tomorrow?’

‘Pardon me, but a talking darkspawn is a threat we’ve yet to encounter,’ Aveline said, setting her tankard down. ‘Being a Warden does not mean ignoring one’s duty whenever they feel like hearing a good story.’

‘Actually, it’s funny—he didn’t turn out to be a threat at all!’ Anders crowed. He was clearly enjoying the attention, not to mention having got one up on Carver and the whole Andraste thing. ‘Well, some of them did, but the ones we sided with were all right.’

‘You…sided with darkspawn?’ Aveline repeated.

‘Oh, this is good,’ Varric said, quill flying over vellum. ‘Don’t stop now! Keep it coming.’

‘It was the Warden Commander’s idea, really,’ Anders explained. ‘They were actually very reasonable, for darkspawn. More reasonable than some people I’ve known. Well, the broodmothers weren’t very reasonable, and the…Mother, that was her name; she certainly wasn’t. A different kind of crazy than you usually see, less grunting and more theatrics, but still pure evil at the core. But the Architect… I don’t know. There was something so sad about him, like he really was trying to make things right. Ah…should I be talking about all this with him here?’ he added, in a stage whisper, glancing obviously at Varric and pointing. ‘Or am I spilling trade secrets in front of an outsider and you’re going to have to slit my throat and hide the body later?’

‘You’ll say no more,’ Aveline said, and Varric groaned, and for the time being, that was that.

*

Garrett had a sneaking suspicion Varric had his ear pressed to the door when they gathered to talk it over later, in private, during top-secret Grey Warden time—but if he was that committed to getting the whole story then he probably deserved to hear it, and Garrett chose not to mention it.

‘I already told you,’ Anders said, for the hundredth time, ‘that’s really all there is to it. All that I know, anyway.’

‘Talking darkspawn, a reverse joining, this ‘Architect’s’ master plan—I don’t like any of it,’ Aveline muttered. She wasn’t the sort of woman who paced, but currently, she was giving off the impression of pacing, even while leaning simply against the wall, legs crossed at the ankle.

‘He could be lying,’ Carver said. ‘Did we ever think of that? It’s not like Cousin ever wrote to us about it. You seem like the sort to make things up, don’t you, magey?’

‘Oh, that’s the cleverest yet.’ Anders rolled his eyes. Garrett hid his smile by pretending to be very involved in his whittling. ‘You know, I like Varric’s nicknames so much better.’

‘I doubt he could put such sensitive information on paper,’ Bethany reasoned, ‘now could he? Cousin would have told us if he could.’

‘But this idiot could talk about it in front of the dwarf,’ Carver said. ‘The He’s Not A Warden By The Way dwarf. Just great.’

‘Don’t look at me,’ Alistair said, even though no one had. Sometimes Garrett wasn’t sure whether he wanted the attention, wanted the responsibility, in some secret, conflicting way—or not. ‘I’ve never met a talking darkspawn before. And if I did, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.’

‘You could start with saying hello, then move onto the weather,’ Anders said. ‘That’s what the Warden Commander always did.’

‘Do you suppose there are more of them out there?’ Garrett asked.

Anders shrugged. ‘I’m not really sure,’ he admitted. ‘The Architect was one of a kind, so we were led to believe, and the really coherent ones did seem rarer than not. But then, don’t they always?’ He laughed nervously. ‘Not just with darkspawn… Ah, well, maybe I should have told you all this sooner, but it’s rather difficult to find the right moment to bring something like that up.’

‘Oh, no, don’t worry about it at all,’ Alistair said. ‘This can hardly be considered all that important. Darkspawn chat with us all the time! I told you all that ogre was hitting on me, but did you listen?’

‘Hitting you,’ Carver said flatly. ‘Not hitting on.’

‘Well, I suppose now we know why Cousin sent you,’ Garrett said. He felt like a pirate captain working with a demented, delirium-addled, scurvied crew. They were all raving mad, just the way he liked them. That way led to brilliance or, more often than brilliance, to sheer entertainment. ‘He must think there could be more of them. Would have been nice of him to give us a little more to work with, but then, when has he ever? Always so much more fun when we’re guessing.’

Countless trips back and forth from Redcliffe to the Brecilian Woods to Denerim and back again—miserable, wretched, endless, dark days and nights in Orzammar, trawling the tunnels with Oghren and Sten and Carver in tow, one of the most wretched groups of sodding bastards ever to explore the deep—Garrett remembered it all, and how it all seemed so personal. Not to mention the lack of a healer in the group, tossing Carver poultices in the heat of battle, despite his protests that they didn’t need mages, not for anything.

This was just more of the same. Different cities, same shadows.

‘We’ll need to look into this, Garrett,’ Aveline told him, and Garrett nodded; he’d been waiting for her to say that.

‘Then I suppose we’ll need to get there before Bartrand,’ he said.

*

‘I’m going with you,’ Varric told him. Clever dwarf, buying Garrett a drink beforehand, cutting a neat little circular path to the point.

‘No you’re not,’ Garrett replied. ‘This is Warden business—unless you’re interested in collecting darkspawn blood and joining up?’

‘Oh no no,’ Varric said. ‘I’ll be going more as a…consultant. And a professional biographer.’

Garrett blinked. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Always wanted to quit my day job,’ Varric explained, ‘and write a few good stories.’

‘Is that so?’ Garrett asked. ‘Only dwarf I ever knew personally couldn’t even write a letter. And I don’t mean a message, I mean an actual letter. Not a single, solitary one—much less a full word…’

‘Let me ask you something, Hawke,’ Varric said. He always called Garrett Hawke. Bethany was Sunshine, and Carver was Little Hawke. No one ever needed three guesses as to who liked their nickname least. He called Aveline Red and Anders Blondie, but his least popular nickname was Your Highness for Alistair; Alistair prickled under that one more than Carver under his. ‘Do I look like any dwarf you’ve ever known before?’

He had a point there.

*

‘Six Grey Wardens and a dwarf with no beard walk into the Deep Roads,’ Anders said.

‘The dwarf with no beard says he’d prefer to be thought of as a bard, thank you very much,’ Varric added.

One of the Wardens kills the other five for talking unnecessarily,’ Aveline finished. ‘The Commander grieves in private; everyone else passes into obscurity. Joke finished.’

Bethany shook her head sadly. ‘How grim. That wasn’t a funny joke at all.’

‘It did rather get away from me,’ Anders admitted.

‘Aveline can’t turn down the opportunity to step on a good punch-line,’ Carver explained.

‘I’ll be stepping on more than that if you don’t move your bleeding feet.’ Aveline stalked off ahead of them into the tunnel, shield up, sword poised.

‘I see I’m not the only one who hates the Deep Roads,’ Anders whispered, though the words echoed off the walls, and no doubt reached Aveline’s ears.

*

After four days’ worth of travel, they ran into a cave-in and could go no further. The main path was blocked, and the few side passages that Carver and Aveline explored weren’t safe for larger numbers.

‘Does this mean we have to turn back?’ Bethany crouched on the cave floor, warming her hands over the fire she’d lit. ‘The only thing worse than four more days in the Deep Roads would be four more days exploring what we’ve already seen.

‘Repetition doesn’t always make for a good story,’ Varric agreed, settling in next to her. Of all of them, he looked the least perturbed. It probably had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t sense the darkspawn all around them. Garrett, on the other hand, could always hear them, whispering behind the walls and crawling beneath their feet.

It was unsettling, to say the least. The Deep Roads always were.

‘It’d make a good poem though,’ Anders contributed. ‘Maybe a song? That’s what bards do, isn’t it? I could accompany you on the lute. I’ll have you know I’m a magnificent lutist.’

Alistair burst out laughing, though the sound trailed off when he realized he was the only one. ‘…Oh. That wasn’t a joke? I thought it was a joke. Would’ve been a good one, if it had been. Right?’

Garrett tried to imagine Anders playing the lute the way Leliana had in camp, and he didn’t really blame Alistair for laughing.

‘Come with me, lutist,’ Garrett said, standing up. He had faith in Aveline’s abilities, but there were places a rogue could slip into that a warrior of her particular…caliber couldn’t manage. Not to mention the breadth of her shoulders. And he needed a mage for backup, and if this got messy he didn’t want that mage to be Bethany. ‘We’re going to explore some of those side passages.’

*

‘You could have taken Bethany with you,’ Anders said, an hour later, as they progressed through the tunnels. Whispers in the dark—quiet enough that it wouldn’t attract unwanted attention, or distract them from the presence of the darkspawn. ‘Not that I’m not flattered, but—why did you choose me?’

‘You’re mad if you think I’d leave you alone with Alistair, Carver and Aveline,’ Garrett told him. ‘She’d kill the lot of you, and I’d be left to clean up the corpses.’

‘So you’d throw your own sister to the wolves?’

‘Aveline likes Bethany,’ Garrett explained ‘Everyone likes Bethany. She’s a keeper of peace.’

‘Ah.’ Anders picked carefully around a thrashing darkspawn corpse, smashing his staff down into the base of its skull. ‘And here I thought it was because you liked me best.’

‘That too,’ Garrett said. ‘Tell me again how you think I’m so much more impressive than my cousin?’

‘Only if you accept me as the party’s lutist,’ Anders said.

*

They hadn’t been in the Deep Roads without Cousin Amell until now; this was their first trip on their own, without their famous leader, and it was going well, all things considered. No broodmothers yet, at least. They didn’t need him the way Ferelden needed him, as a figurehead, a symbol of safety and peace. They thought they did, each in his own way, but they were wrong. Garrett knew they were wrong. They were aware of the risks, and they were all equally trained in the pitfalls of Deep Roads travel.

Even with this minor setback, not knowing where in the blighted Void they were actually going, Garrett remained determined.

After hours of scouring ahead, picking through piles of rubble, doubling back through paths to try the next offshoot, travails lit only by the glow of lyrium veins in the rough-hewn stone walls, Garrett asked the Maker for one simple boon: never seeing a hurlock again.

‘I dislike the genlocks most, myself,’ Anders said, while Garrett picked through a pile of dusty old bones, dwarven caste pin glimmering gold in the faint blue light. ‘They’re all the worst things about dwarves in a violent darkspawn package, without any of the hair or the charm. Not to mention they lack the witty catchphrases. Something less charming about ‘Greeeahhh!’ than you’d hope. You hear it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times.’

‘What about ogres?’ Garrett asked.

‘Too typical,’ Anders said. ‘Everyone hates ogres.’

‘You’re such a renegade,’ Garrett said. ‘Here, do you want this?’

It was an earring he’d torn from the clutch of a bony hand—gold, with a pale green jewel at the center. It was also the kind of gift Garrett would never have been able to afford if this hadn’t been his line of work, but Cousin Amell had done this sort of thing in the past to great success. He had an eye for it, always knowing who would appreciate which piece of junk.

‘Shrieks,’ Anders said.

‘That’s not how you’re supposed to express delight, Anders, and actually shrieking would be a little unwise—’

‘No, I mean, shrieks,’ Anders said.

They burst forth from the floor a moment later, Garrett ducking and rolling out of the way of Anders’s reflexive blast of ice.

*

Shrieks weren’t at all like hurlocks; they always seemed closer to demons than actual darkspawn. They melted like shadows off the blade, sinking deep into the ground below; when they were disposed of they were followed by rage demons, burning hot, stinking of putrid ash and blackened flesh. Garrett’s cheek was singed and his shoulder burnt raw by three long, flaming talons, but together he and Anders took the damn thing down after it was frozen, and Garrett was able to shatter it with both his blades.

‘Here,’ Anders said, tending the wound immediately. His touch was cool and steady, soothing away pain without pause. But healing magic always reminded Garrett of Father; he resented it even when Bethany saw to his wounds, and he closed his eyes as he grit his teeth. ‘Oh dear. I know that look. Is it very bad?’

It wasn’t the pain of the wound that ached most. ‘Yes,’ Garrett lied. ‘Sheer agony.’

‘Well, it’ll all be fixed up soon,’ Anders said. The balm of pure energy seeped from his fingertips, going deeper than blood and muscle, as deep as bone. ‘Don’t you worry about a thing. Just think of somewhere nice or someone nice, or maybe your mother.’ He steadied Garrett at the small of his back, peeling charred leather from sticky skin. Garrett winced, then refused to wince again. ‘What are you thinking about?’

‘Faith, at the Blooming Rose,’ Garrett lied. He was thinking about Mother.

‘Well, everyone needs to have a little faith sometimes,’ Anders admitted cheerfully. ‘Or did you do that on purpose?’

‘One of the greatest mysteries of Thedas,’ Garrett said.

‘I’m beginning to think you might be the funny one, not Alistair.’ Anders was a tricky one; he was keeping Garrett distracted by refusing to stop talking. Then again, he did enjoy the sound of his own voice—it might not have been a healer’s tactic at all. ‘…You know, I was always so disappointed when I was younger—when I was told I had a natural skill for healing. I wanted to be more impressive than just a healer, rain fireballs down on my enemies, that sort of thing. Be a legendary battle mage, not a blighted spirit healer. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?’

‘There’s nothing wrong with being a healer,’ Garrett said.

‘Yes, well, I know that now,’ Anders said. ‘Locked up inside the Circle, you never really get a feel for how many people need to be helped. Aside from the occasional demonic possession incident, of course. But then I was never all that inclined to heal templars.’

‘I can’t imagine why not.’

‘That’s because your sister’s been an apostate her whole life,’ Anders said. Garrett’s shoulder had gone numb, but considering the circumstances, that was probably for the best. Anders was a skilled healer. Garrett could relax for the brief moment, allowing someone else to take charge for a change. ‘You were probably too busy running from the templars to stop and spend any time with them. But I can assure you that if you had, you wouldn’t need to use your imagination at all.’

‘I knew a spirit healer from the Circle in Ferelden,’ Garrett said. He could hear the mindless scrabbling of darkspawn further into the tunnels, but they were a long way away. He leaned his weight against Anders, feeling the cold return to his shoulder as the muscle and flesh knit itself back together. Being healed always made him feel sleepy. He couldn’t say why. ‘Wynne. She helped us stop the blight.’

‘Not the senior enchanter?’ Anders shifted his weight so he could better support Garrett’s. ‘I was always under the impression she was too sour and impatient to go anywhere with anyone. I used to hear horror stories from her apprentices about what it was like to learn under her. Did she stand over your cousin’s shoulder while you fought the Archdemon just to tell him everything he was doing wrong? No, not like that! Hit him harder! In the shoulder! Faster, man, what’s wrong with you?

Garrett laughed before it turned into a cough. Though it jolted his shoulder, there was no pain afterward. He chanced a look down. Anders’s hand was pressed lightly against his skin, palm flat against tight muscle. The pale edges of a new scar were visible just beneath his fingertips.

‘That was a stunning impersonation,’ Garrett said. ‘You sounded just like her. That is rather how it went.’

‘I do my best,’ Anders said, with a grin. ‘That’s all second-hand knowledge, mind you. I’m sure I’d be able to fine tune it if I spent any great length of time with her.’

*

Ironically, it wasn’t Garrett’s skills, nor Anders’s cleverness which found them a route around the cave-in. All it took was one ogre with an exceptionally thick skull; the beast dove at them, and when they dodged the blow it struck the wall, opening a new passage directly ahead.

Garrett took the advantage, leaping straight at the ogre’s back and sinking his blades beneath its shoulders from behind. Anders froze its feet in place, giving Garrett plenty of time to finish him without worrying about being bucked off.

When it finally toppled, Anders whistled low, stepping around the growing pool of blood as Garrett wiped off his daggers.

‘I’d say we’ve found our path, wouldn’t you?’

‘Technically, the ogre found it,’ Garrett said.

‘Semantics,’ Anders said, waving his hand and brushing it aside. ‘You’re a Warden; you must know we don’t attribute anything to the darkspawn. It’s practically in the rulebook. Not that I was ever given the rulebook. Is there a rulebook?’

‘This from one of the Wardens who allied themselves with the talking darkspawn.’ Garrett straightened, after having searched the ogre for the usual assortment of absurd loot. Ogres, like dwarves, apparently liked shiny.

‘I was one of the few people not actually on board with that plan, now that you mention it,’ Anders admitted. ‘It seemed rather… Well! If we find any thinking and speaking darkspawn down here, then I suppose you can interrogate them for yourself, can’t you? Form your own opinion. You don’t need me telling you what’s what.’

‘I’m starting to doubt we’ll find what we’re looking for here,’ Garrett said.

‘It does seem to be your usual, run-of-the-mill ‘bleeargh graagh!’ mindless darkspawn.’

‘That we’ve seen,’ Garrett reminded him.

‘Don’t say that,’ Anders moaned. ‘If we get back to the others and find Aveline pouring tea for a darkspawn and chatting about current politics with a Genlock on each knee, I’m going to feel like I missed out on everything.

*

They were about five minutes from camp when Anders stopped short.

‘What’s wrong?’ Garrett asked, tensing immediately, ready for another fight.

‘I’ll take my gift now,’ Anders said, holding out his hand. ‘Don’t think I’d forgotten about it. I am excessively materialistic, and someone else always finds the best things before I do just because I get squeamish around dead things.’

‘Are you sure?’ Garrett asked. He fished the thing out of the satchel on his belt, pulling it free from an amulet’s chain. ‘I might just give it to Varric, instead. He has such large, handsome ears.’

Varric already has more earrings than one decent person could possibly wear at once,’ Anders pointed out. ‘If you give him any more, he will look clownish, and then you’ll have everyone laughing at him behind his back.’

‘Everyone?’ Garrett asked.

‘Well, me for certain,’ Anders promised. ‘Now give it here.’

Garrett did as he asked, and Anders took the old one out, replacing it deftly with the new.

‘There,’ he said. He held his arms up and turned in a neat circle, even though he was only showing off one small earring. ‘How does that look?’

In the faint lyrium light, it wasn’t easy to see anything. ‘The green goes with your eyes so nicely,’ Garrett said, because he wasn’t an idiot, and he knew how to pay someone a compliment—at least when it came to jewelry.

‘Oh, Garrett, stop,’ Anders said. ‘Really. You flatterer, you.’

*

‘When I said ‘stop’ before,’ Anders told him later, while they picked half-heartedly at a fine dinner of stewed deep mushrooms, ‘what I really meant was never stop. Just in case you were wondering. You can keep going any second now.’

Garrett could see him much more clearly now by firelight, the way the gem winked and glittered, the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. The emerald did not match Anders’s eyes—those were light, warm brown, no hint of green in them at all—but that was neither here nor there.

The earring, irreverent and try-hard as it was, did suit him.

‘I had no intentions of stopping either way,’ Garrett said, fishing a stringy bit of deep mushroom out of his teeth and tossing it aside.

How romantic,’ Anders sighed.

*

They forged in deeper, deeper without end. Garrett missed sunlight more than anything. Anders stopped now and then to fuss with rocks stuck in his shoes and Varric kept getting this far-off look in his eye that Garrett couldn’t understand, much less explain. It was like he heard something, but whatever it was, it had no correlation to the appearance—and subsequent slaying—of darkspawn.

Fortunately, the darkspawn kept Garrett distracted from all other idle thoughts. He didn’t want Aveline catching his head in the clouds; her retribution was swift and glorious for her, swift and inglorious for her victims.

But that was the trouble with the deep roads. You couldn’t make any progress without running into more darkspawn, no matter how many you killed as you went along; they were eternal, ceaseless, constant—you could practically set a clock by them.

‘I hate the blighted deep roads,’ Anders muttered, scraping blood off the bottom-end of his staff and onto a cavern wall.

‘Well what do you know,’ Carver said. ‘There’s one thing in this world we actually agree on.’

‘That’s because you’re an ass, not a madman,’ Anders told him.

Bethany giggled. She hadn’t quite gotten the hang of hiding her laugh, pretending it was more of a cough, like Garrett did.

‘He does have a point there,’ Alistair said, and held up his hands when Carver glowered at him.

*

Slowly, the main path turned ever-downward. It was a gradual descent, then suddenly grew steep one morning. The next thing they knew there were stairs, wall carvings, balustrades, and statues. Garrett wasn’t an expert on dwarven architecture, but it didn’t look anything like the stuff they’d found in the deep roads in Orzammar.

‘This is…strange,’ Varric said. He ran his palm over a worn-down face in the stone at his side, blunt features and hollow eyes.

‘Not strange at all,’ Carver muttered, rubbing sleep from his own eyes. ‘Is it any wonder dwarves stay so short when they can’t grow big and tall in the sunlight? I don’t think so.’

‘I think he was talking about the carvings, Carver. Haha! Get it? Carvings, carver, carve… Well, I thought it was funny,’ Alistair said. He circled a broken statue, peering at its head on the ground. ‘Spooky.’

I always like coming to places other people have abandoned, myself,’ Anders added. ‘I mean, why shouldn’t I spend time in a location so dangerous it drove its original inhabitants out? Free room and board—yes, please!’

What is strange about it, Varric?’ Aveline asked. ‘None of us is an expert on these matters. It would be best if they allowed you to speak.’

‘Just doesn’t look like any dwarven architecture I know,’ Varric explained. ‘Like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’

‘And suddenly you’re an expert on that, too?’ Carver threw his hands up, got one caught in an ancient spider web above, and attempted to hide how long it took to tug himself free again. ‘Is there no end to your seemingly implausible list of skills, dwarf?’

‘Little Hawke, the things I know wouldn’t fit in the tunnels of Orzammar,’ Varric said. ‘Getting friendly with that spider web, are you?’

Garrett looked at Alistair. Alistair shrugged. Garrett looked at Anders; Anders also shrugged. There was something strangely similar about the two of them, though judging by their backgrounds and skill-sets, they couldn’t have been more different. Garrett scratched his chin. He heard the whisper and slide of darkspawn somewhere further in, somewhere down the steps, somewhere round a corner and into the dark.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘at the very least, the museums of Thedas are just going to love us for this.’

‘Now you’re talking,’ Varric said. ‘Always looking on the bright side—that’s what I love about you, Hawke. Even if this stuff’d be worthless to the dwarves, you can always capitalize on human fascination with cultures they don’t really want to understand.’

‘And here I thought you liked to look on the bright side,’ Anders murmured dryly.

‘Hard to do, when you’re in an ancient thaig like this one,’ Varric said. ‘Guess I’m just feeling the burden of my ancestors. Can you ever forgive me?’

‘Oh, Varric,’ Anders said, ‘it’s impossible to say no when you make your bedroom eyes.’

Garrett couldn’t bear hearing any more of it. This was probably how Cousin Amell used to feel whenever Zevran flirted with everything that walked. ‘Shall we?’ he suggested. What maps they’d brought had long since been rendered useless.

Bethany and Anders lit the way for them, and Garrett took the first step, with Aveline and Alistair close behind.

*

‘A primeval thaig,’ Anders said. ‘Can’t you just smell the history?’

‘I can smell death,’ Carver replied.

‘Those two are usually one and the same,’ Varric told them. ‘Just saying.’

*

They camped out in what looked like the ruin of the main hall. Bethany lit their fire and tutted over Garrett’s wounds. Carver and Alistair made dinner, chopping the deep stalkers they’d killed into fine enough pieces that no one had to think too hard about what they were eating.

By the time they made it back to the surface, their clothes were going to be hanging off them. In Aveline’s case, she’d be nothing but a hollow suit of armor.

The Deep Roads diet was one Garrett hadn’t seen marketed before. He’d have to try and sell some of the really fussy Hightown noblewomen on it when they got back. The obscenely rich ones were always willing to try something eccentric.

‘Varric, you’re twitching,’ Garrett said.

‘What?’ Varric asked, looking up from his bowl of shit stew. ‘Am I?’

Aveline scraped the bottom of the pot with their lone metal spoon. ‘You are.’

‘Well… I wasn’t going to say anything, but—does anyone else hear that?’

‘Oh no,’ Carver said. ‘I’m not falling for that again.’

‘I’m really serious this time, Little Hawke,’ Varric said.

‘Like you were serious the last time and it led me straight into a pit of corrupted spiders?’ Carver asked.

‘This is different,’ Varric said. ‘It’s like…music.’

‘I don’t hear anything,’ Bethany murmured. She was obviously trying—hard.

‘Give it time, Sunshine,’ Varric told her, rubbing his expansive brow. ‘Either we’ll run into whatever it is I’m hearing, or I’m losing my mind to darkspawn taint.’

‘Are those our only two choices?’ Carver wondered. ‘How will I ever decide?’

*

Past the main hall, there was the old trade quarter, and past that was the vault. Despite being a surface dwarf, Varric seemed to know a lot about the construction of ancient thaigs. He assured them that if there was treasure anywhere, it’d be in the vault. And he meant treasure of all kinds.

‘I like treasure,’ Carver reminded everyone. In case they’d all forgotten.

‘We are supposed to be here on Warden business,’ Aveline said. ‘We aren’t fortune-hunters.’

‘We’d be richer if we were,’ Garrett said, pulling down a lingering spider-web. He thought about it, then wiped the remains on Anders’s shoulder.

‘Augh,’ Anders said, twitching away. ‘Did you just—why would you do that? Bethany! Why would he do that? Your brother is depraved.’

‘Which one?’ Bethany asked. She put her boot down hard on a skeleton’s ribcage, the crunch echoing through the empty hall, and winced. ‘I’m afraid that alone doesn’t tell me enough.’

Both of them,’ Anders sniffed. ‘But especially the very heroic-looking one, if only because I’d expect such treatment from Carver.’

‘Or from spiders,’ Alistair observed, cheerfully. ‘They seem awfully fond of shooting their webs all over you at every opportunity, don’t they? It reminds me of traveling with Morrigan. Wondering if she was going to carry me back to her lair and devour me…’

‘You’ve been holding out on me, Your Highness,’ Varric said, appreciatively. ‘I sense a story brewing. Perhaps some romance in the air?’

‘Actually, that is a funny story,’ Carver began.

Alistair’s howls of injured pride echoed down the tunnels, following them into the dark. For the first time in weeks, Garrett didn’t sense any nearby darkspawn.

*

They encountered demons, but no more ogres, nor darkspawn of any kind. Anders and Bethany navigated them safely out of making a deal with a spirit of Hunger; Aveline in particular seemed to take great joy in hacking it to pieces with her sword.

‘Wesley was always afraid of demons,’ she explained afterward, wiping rock dust off her sword. ‘It feels good to be able to confront something like that for him.’

Garrett remembered their Joining: the bitter taste of the blood on his tongue, the nightmare that followed, waking to find Wesley dead and the rest of them newly-minted Wardens. Cousin Amell had said he was sorry, the only man in the world with balls big enough to say that sort of thing to a person and sound like he really knew the meaning of it, and Aveline said save your sorries, and they buried Wesley away from the darkspawn they fought off while taking shifts digging, beneath a pile of rubble, stones unmarked. With everything else burning, it just made more sense to give him a different fate.

If Aveline was remembering it too, her face showed no signs of deeper feeling. ‘I don’t like this,’ she said. ‘Not any of it. Beasts we’ve never heard of before, creatures that should be nothing more than legend, and…’

And, Garrett suspected, she was beginning to hear Varric’s music.

They all were now.

*

There was treasure indeed in the vault, being guarded by a rock wraith; it wasn’t happy to have its privacy interrupted by intrepid explorers of any kind. The Wardens and Varric battled it for hours, but despite how bone weary they were when they finished, air electric, Anders’s hair fried on end, Carver still managed to drag himself over to the chests.

Locked,’ he moaned, slamming his fist into the top of the nearest one. ‘All locked, all of them. Brother—oh brother…

While Bethany tended to the seared flesh on Varric’s back, courtesy of their latest mythical enemy, Garrett took out his lockpicks and set to work.

‘This one’s difficult,’ he said, twisting the mechanism back and forth for show. He’d already opened it. ‘Maybe if I just move my hand like—augh!

Carver jumped; Anders shouted.

‘What is it?’ Carver demanded.

‘It’s got my arm!’ Garrett moaned. ‘Pincers, terrible pincers, clawing off my hand—’

‘Remarkable how you fall for that every time he does it, Carver,’ Aveline murmured dryly, lips twisting in a wry line. ‘At least Anders hasn’t heard the same thing near-to a thousand times.’

Clutching at his chest, Anders sagged against a stalagmite. ‘Maker,’ he said, ‘that was a good one. Now never do it again.’

‘He won’t listen,’ Carver muttered. ‘He thinks it’s funny.

*

Garrett knew they were in knee-deep shit when Varric didn’t so much as bat an eye at the jewels they found in the rock-wraith’s lair. Glittering opals, lyrium dust to take care of every templar in the Gallows, and countless fine dwarven treasures—statues and golden pins, all the shiny little things that so attracted dwarves and wraiths alike, glimmering unpolished in heaps inside their chests.

Garrett pocketed a few of the smaller things, trinkets he knew he couldn’t live without: a fat emerald and a cracked rose diamond and a statuette with a pretty, detailed carving; he liked the craftsmanship, wanted to try emulating the style. Then he tilted his head, hearing snippets and bursts of the music more clearly now, a rhythm, a chant, not exactly with human voices, but definitely one distinct song. It repeated, over and over again, as he squinted into the darkness. Fainter than an echo, bright as flickering lyrium light.

‘Maybe we should…start whistling or something,’ Alistair suggested, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. ‘Don’t you think that would help? Whistling?’

‘I don’t know how to whistle,’ Anders admitted.

‘Then you could just keep talking,’ Carver told him. ‘You’re good at that, aren’t you?’

‘You don’t think… You don’t think this could be it? The Calling?’ Bethany swallowed. Garrett saw Anders’s skin turn the green-white color of a frog’s pale underbelly.

‘No,’ Aveline said. ‘It is not that.’

‘How can you be so sure?’ Carver demanded. ‘You don’t know what it is—it could be anything.’

‘Because Varric is not a Warden,’ Aveline replied. ‘We’ve dallied here too long. The Warden Commander sent us here to find something—and it is neither rock wraiths nor dwarven trinkets.’

‘Oh,’ Carver said, subdued, falling silent. They needed someone to yell at them sometimes—Garrett just wasn’t good at it.

Anders still looked like he was going to vomit, but Bethany’s relief was a balm to Garrett’s frayed nerves.

‘We keep going,’ Garrett said. ‘Aveline is right.’

She always was.

*

‘That woman scares the pants off me,’ Varric told Garrett later. ‘But the funny thing is, I can’t tell whether or not I actually like it.’

‘Don’t try anything,’ Garrett said, for Varric’s own good. ‘Others have, and failed spectacularly while they were at it.’

‘I take it you’re talking from experience?’ Varric asked.

‘I always do,’ Garrett said.

*

At least they could still find things to laugh about: like Anders’s bad jokes, Varric’s lewd ones, the look of horror on Bethany’s face at a punchline about torn trousers, and the look of equal horror on Carver’s face when they all turned to him and found him, beet-red in the lyrium-tainted darkness. They weren’t jumping at their own shadows or turning on each other yet, but as the minutes passed into hours and the singing grew louder, they drew closer and closer to the root of their problem, until at last they found themselves before a great stone door, the sound unbearable just beyond it.

It was locked, the bolt unlike any Garrett had ever seen. He couldn’t pick it. Varric’s hands were shaking too badly to give it a try.

‘I’ll handle this one,’ Aveline said, and shouldered her heavy shield. The sound of metal clanging against rock filled the tunnels. She was, Garrett had always privately thought, like a woman-shaped battering ram.

‘I suppose I really should help her,’ Alistair said.

Carver rolled his eyes. ‘And me.’

‘This is why I love being a mage,’ Anders said, leaning back against the wall. ‘Say, Garrett, do you suppose we’re going to die here?’

‘We could die anywhere,’ Garrett said.

Anders didn’t exactly look relieved. ‘Ah. Of course,’ he said. ‘What a…good point.’

‘The thing is, I’ve never really cherished the idea of dying underground,’ Garrett added. He had to raise his voice, as Alistair and Carver’s collective desire not to wait finally outweighed their desire not to help.

Three people pushed harder than one. It was just simple arithmetic, really.

‘You’ve thought about this?’ Anders asked.

‘Once or twice,’ Garrett admitted. Very drunk; very late at night. ‘Of course, that was before I became a Warden. Kind of takes the mystery out of things, doesn’t it?’

‘May I ask what conclusions you drew?’ Anders rubbed his hand against the front of his robes, which seemed strange until Garrett remembered Ser Pounce-a-lot was under there. ‘If you deem it too personal, of course, I’ll understand, and continue to ask you until finally annoyance wins out and you tell me the truth, your deepest, most secret feelings.’

‘Seems fair,’ Garrett said.

‘Well?’ Anders asked.

‘I’d like to go on an enormous bed, filled with beautiful admirers,’ Garrett said. A loud bang echoed down the tunnel as Aveline really threw her back into it. Alistair yelped. ‘Either that, or surrounded by piles of my ill-gotten gold. Doesn’t that sound just perfect? I dare you to try and top me.’

Anders threw back his head and laughed. ‘Now you’ll think I haven’t any imagination at all, but I’m afraid your favorite death scenarios are rather like my own. …Perhaps I’ll see you there?’

‘In the bed of money?’ Garrett asked. ‘Or the bed of pleasure?

A mottled expression flickered over Anders’s face. It was impossible to tell in the light, but it almost seemed like he was blushing. Which wasn’t at all how their usual repartee worked.

Maybe he was feeling off after all those deep mushrooms. Maybe they were all feeling off.

Then, there was a terrific crash, followed by the sound of metal wrenching against stone. Sparks flared in the darkness as Aveline, Carver and Alistair pushed the door wide open, shrieking on its hinges.

Varric and Bethany were bathed in red light from the room beyond. Anders took a step closer. Garrett did too.

‘Well shave me bald and call me a nug,’ Varric said, waltzing right in, like he didn’t have a care in the world. ‘Is that…lyrium?’

*

Consensus among the mages was that it was indeed lyrium, although not a kind any of them had ever seen before.

‘That doesn’t even look like the stuff they gave us in the templars,’ Alistair said, scratching his head. He became aware of Anders staring at him and shifted, growing vague. ‘When I was, you know, a templar.’

‘You were a templar?’ Anders said. He turned to Bethany with a look of betrayal. ‘Did you know this? Didn’t anyone think to mention that very important detail to me? You—! You introduced yourself as the funny one, when you could just as easily have said, hello wanted apostate, I’m the templar one.

‘Later,’ Garrett soothed, patting his arm.

Ex-templar one,’ Alistair added. ‘That’s the most important part, really.’

‘And I was married to a templar—but none of that’s important now,’ Aveline snapped, rubbing her temples. She’d stashed the idol in her pack, which hadn’t done much to muffle the racket the cursed thing made.

‘We should put rocks around it, maybe,’ Alistair suggested. ‘To sort of…I don’t know. Protect us from it.’

‘Good idea,’ Aveline said. ‘We can trade off carrying it then.’

‘Oh,’ Alistair said, and then, ‘never mind that brilliant idea. The world isn’t ready for it yet. My back isn’t ready.’

As far as Garrett was concerned, the sooner they reached high ground and sent the thing to Cousin Amell for inspection, the better. Mystical objects hidden deep underground were never a good sign. They were usually hidden down there for a reason, like amulets in guarded chests at the top of empty mountains.

*

‘I can’t hear it anymore,’ Bethany said, when they were about two days from the surface again.

After finding the idol, it had seemed like a good idea to turn around again. The main tunnels were blocked, the smaller ones crumbling. And they’d combed the thaig high and low, but found no sign of darkspawn that could reason or converse. In fact, since their battle with the rock wraith, they hadn’t encountered any darkspawn at all.

Privately, Garrett wondered whether they hadn’t touched on something sinister and otherworldly down there. He’d traveled to the Fade before, courtesy of a Sloth demon while they were attempting to rescue the entire Ferelden Circle, and while it hadn’t felt exactly like that, there were elements that seemed the same.

‘You can’t?’ Varric asked.

You can?’ Carver countered.

‘Sometimes I think I hear it,’ Anders said. ‘But then I realize it’s Alistair. Whistling.’

‘I knew it would work,’ Alistair said proudly. ‘See? It really does block out the sound!’

‘Yes, Alistair, your whistling has saved us all,’ Carver said. ‘Hoorah. Shall I get the banners?’

‘Make them red, please,’ Alistair said. ‘Red’s my favorite color. So festive.’

‘I like green,’ Anders said. ‘Can I have green banners for my celebration?’

Alistair scoffed. ‘Of course—when you discover whistling.’

Garrett observed Varric in the darkness. He didn’t look twitchy. He didn’t have the taint. His eyes were a normal color, if a little bright; the flush on his cheeks wasn’t there anymore, and his focus was surprisingly good, lacking the feverish intensity it’d sported of late.

But he still heard it. Possibly. Probably. It was hard to tell when the dwarf was being serious, or just driving a hard bargain—and, perhaps not surprisingly, the two qualities often coincided, further confusing the issue for a mere human mind’s puny understanding of all things dwarf-like.

‘I’m fine, Hawke,’ Varric said. ‘The blighted thing must’ve belonged to a great-great-grandfather or something like that.’

‘Or it’s just a dwarf thing,’ Anders suggested.

Varric’s grin even touched his eyes. ‘Or it’s just a dwarf thing,’ he agreed.

*

With only one day to the surface, Varric asked casually, ‘So. Any plans for what you’re gonna do with it, once we’re topside again?’

The others were sleeping for a few scant hours, fitful and restless, bodies desperate for sunlight and tossing through their dreams, but Garrett had set things up so he’d been given two out of four watches in a row. The other two, mysteriously, had fallen to Aveline.

They were the only two people Garrett trusted to keep their eyes open, and not be tempted by boredom to sleep.

‘If it were up to me, I think I’d probably get rid of it,’ Garrett said. A muscle in the corner of Varric’s eye twitched; he reached up to rub at it with his thumb. ‘Though my real first instinct would actually be to sell it to the highest bidder, take the money, and head somewhere warm. Somewhere like…I don’t know. I hear Antiva’s nice this time of year.’

‘That’s pretty noble of you, Hawke.’

‘Isn’t it just.’ Garrett whittled away at a the pliant root he’d dug up, for lack of anything better to do with his hands. Without controlling the motions, without an image in mind, the damn thing was starting to resemble the idol’s shape. Garrett shaved off a few random chunks, and then it resembled nothing at all. ‘But I’m beginning to think it’s what we were meant to find down here, whether my cousin knew it or not. He’s got an instinct for these kinds of things.’

‘And he knows the people who can act on those instincts. Make them into something a little more real.’ Varric’s eye had stopped twitching. ‘Good man to have around.’

‘Or not have around.’ Garrett gouged another hunk of soft wood free with the flat-edge of his blade. ‘As the case may be.’

‘Do I detect a note of jealousy?’ Varric asked.

‘Never,’ Garrett said. ‘Just ask Anders. I’m the handsome one.’

‘One of these days, Hawke, you’re gonna have to tell me all about how you got here. In detail,’ Varric added. ‘Nothing vague. None of this nug-shit about dragons.’

‘But there were dragons,’ Hawke insisted. ‘Just ask anybody.’

*

Garrett wound up telling him about the Joining—what he could tell, anyway, without revealing all the Warden secrets he was supposed to bring with him to the grave. Keeping it vague kept Varric interested; Garrett knew he was already inventing dark rituals and bloodthirsty ceremonies to fill in the blanks. Little did he know it was literally bloodthirsty. Garrett would never forget the taste.

Then, Garrett told him about Wesley, about Lothering, about the darkspawn horde close at hand; how the only chance they’d had to protect their mother was to sacrifice themselves, and hope they made it through the Joining alive. Garrett told him how he and Carver had tried to no avail to stop Bethany, how Mother had wept after it was over and they left her—safe, they’d thought; she’d be safe in Redcliffe.

‘And the rest you’ve probably heard already,’ Garrett concluded, leaning back with a sigh. There were wood flakes in his lap, the root whittled down to nothing but a stub.

Varric snorted. ‘Sure have. Don’t care much for all those Hero of Ferelden stories, anyway.’

Now that was unusual. ‘Oh?’ Garrett pretended to be less interested than he really was. ‘And why’s that, Varric? They offend your sensibilities?’

‘Nah,’ Varric said. ‘They’re a copper a dozen, that’s all. That, and I know I could do it better.’

‘You probably could,’ Garrett admitted, ‘but if you made Cousin Amell ten feet tall and gave him this beard, I’d never forgive you.’

‘Would I do something like that to you?’ Varric winked. ‘Thanks for the chat, Hawke. Just wish I had something to write it all down on.’

‘I’m sure you’ll remember the pertinent details,’ Garrett said.

Besides, they’d both needed the distraction.

*

When they stepped into the sunlight Anders dropped to his knees, running his hands through the grass. ‘Oh,’ he said happily, ‘how I’ve missed you, grass!’

‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ Carver said, shielding his eyes, ‘I missed the Hanged Man more.’

‘I missed clean water,’ Aveline admitted, and Bethany sighed, ‘Me too.

‘I missed eating things that smell like food,’ Alistair said.

‘I missed my bed, and all the things in it,’ Varric added with a grin.

Garrett wondered what it was he’d missed—his bed was hard, with a tear in the mattress and a dark stain hidden beneath the pillow; bathing and drinking and eating well was all right, but it wasn’t the first thing he thought of every morning when he opened his eyes. In fact, he wondered if it wasn’t so much what he’d missed but what he wanted to miss—namely darkspawn, the promise of more darkspawn, and the narrow tunnels of his future, a so-called honorable death hidden in the deep.

He didn’t say anything.

‘Well I didn’t realize I was going to start something,’ Anders muttered. ‘If that’s the case, then I revise my statement to how much we missed milk.’

Ser Pounce-a-lot mewled in agreement.

*

It was deemed wisest to send the idol off to Cousin Amell and the other Wardens for inspection. If that was why he’d sent them all to the Deep Roads, then presumably he’d want to know about it. Besides, Cousin Amell had access to resources that were currently beyond their reach.

He’d gotten the Circle of Magi granted their autonomy, which put the First Enchanter in his debt. More than that, he’d been instrumental in putting Queen Anora on the throne. Those were connections that Kirkwall and a little popularity in the Hanged Man just couldn’t offer.

That, and Garrett was pretty keen to get the idol out of their hands and into someone else’s. Varric was acting downright strange about it. Not darkspawn-taint strange, but still odd enough for Garrett to think it had something to do with what they’d found in the thaig.

Dwarves were supposedly immune to magic, but Garrett didn’t trust anything that came out of the Deep Roads.

*

‘It feels wonderful to be clean again,’ Bethany said, twisting her wet hair over one shoulder. She’d taken Varric’s bathroom in order to speed up the process. Carver was in the midst of switching off with Aveline.

The others were still waiting. Alistair stood in the corner, carefully averting his eyes from Bethany’s naked shoulders, and Anders was seated at the end of Garrett’s bed, back leaned up against the slats that connected it to an upper bunk. He was playing a game with Ser Pounce-a-lot that seemed to entail seeing how long he could go without having his fingers viciously mauled.

Garrett watched, glancing down at his whittling only every now and again to make sure he wouldn’t slice one of his fingers off with his knife.

‘What are you making this time?’ Anders threw his legs over Garrett’s, knee-high boots rubbing against his palms. He was worse than a cat when he was looking for attention. Garrett paused in his work to pat absently at the leather, fingers digging in beneath the laces to tug him closer. ‘Why are you always whittling things, Garrett? I think it suggests something dark and sinister about your character. It’s very violent, always cutting at wood with that giant knife of yours.’

‘Dagger,’ Garrett said.

I can never tell the difference either,’ Bethany confessed.

Mages,’ Garrett scoffed. ‘If it’s not a staff, then it might as well all be the same. Do you believe this, Aveline? Are you listening to this nonsense?’

‘I rarely listen when others are speaking nonsense,’ Aveline said.

Ser Pounce-a-lot hopped down from Anders’s chest to inspect one of the wood shavings, batting it curiously between his paws. Garrett set his latest product on his head; it was a reproduction of the cat in miniature, roughly hewn, but with four legs and a tail, and grooves to indicate his stripes.

‘Oh, how darling!’ Bethany said.

‘Surely there are more productive ways to spend our time,’ Aveline observed, crossing her arms.

The woman had a heart of stone. There was no carving a new shape out of that. At least, not without more specialized tools, the type Garrett already knew he’d never own.

*

Once again, they were back to waiting for Cousin Amell. At least this time they were only waiting for a letter, and not a person.

‘Package received, idol not dangerous, everything else going swimmingly,’ Carver said. ‘How hard is that to write? Took me two seconds.’

‘Perhaps he’s busy,’ Bethany suggested. ‘Anders did say he’d mentioned something about having dealings in Antiva.’

Carver snorted. ‘Only dealings he’s got in Antiva’s up that elf’s—’

Carver,’ Aveline said.

*

‘Have you heard about the elf?’ Anders asked later. ‘I’ve heard about the elf. The Warden Commander wouldn’t talk about him, but I heard Oghren saying something about how pretty he was once. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. It could be so difficult to understand him sometimes, when the words all melted together and became one big not-word.’

Garrett chuckled warmly. It was good to be back somewhere familiar, somewhere with real walls and a real ceiling, one window, a shaft of moonlight traveling across the worn floorboards. It was good to be clean, good to hear Carver snoring on his bed, nice and easy; it was good to know, for the night, they were all safe, and they all had pillows. But it was less good to think too much about Zevran before bedtime. ‘Is that so? And here I never knew old Oghren felt that way. You’d never have guessed it, to hear those two go at each other.’

‘Ah, the good old days,’ Anders said. ‘Not that they were my good old days, but I like to think I was a part of them in spirit. And now I’m a part of them for good. Isn’t it funny how that works out? Although if the Maker does have a plan for me, I really wish he’d be less cryptic about it. Stop being such a bloody tease.’

‘You’re lucky you weren’t with us back then,’ Garrett said. ‘What with fighting the Archdemon and solving everyone’s problems all the time—and Morrigan and the Sten we traveled with…’

‘…and Wynne telling you how wrong you were doing it all…’

‘…and your good friend Shoestrap watching us in the night while we slept,’ Garrett concluded. ‘Sometimes you’d wake up and he’d be leaning over you, eyes wide open, breathing.

‘Dwarf-breath,’ Anders said sympathetically. ‘Eugh.

Garrett rubbed the back of his sore neck. ‘Exactly.’

‘But what about the elf?’ Anders twisted on the bed, putting his chin in his hands, and Ser Pounce-a-lot gave him a look full of reproach, resettling onto Garrett’s lap instead. Tentatively, Garrett rubbed beneath his chin, felt the rumbling begin, the hum of a purr deep in his soft, slim throat. ‘Carver doesn’t seem to like him, which means I probably would. Yet whenever I ask someone, I never get a proper answer. You’ve no idea the picture I’ve come up with in my head.’

Dark, quick, funny, Garrett thought. No one could describe Zevran; he was always too many different things at the same time. Warm in the night, just as warm in the light of day. He looked at you and you felt it, like a knife in the gut.

And Garrett had been with him first—with Zevran on his bedroll, Zevran in his tent. Just for fun, the sort of man he always was, never taking himself or anyone else seriously. That had been his first mistake. It was a quality that never made things easier, except for other people. It certainly made things easy for Zevran.

‘Sore subject?’ Anders asked, a moment of unexpected understanding, voice terribly gentle.

‘Just tired,’ Garrett replied simply. ‘And the cat’s purring.’

‘Oh yes, he does that,’ Anders said. ‘Quite soothing, if you let it be. A cure for anything that ails you.’

‘What about this crick in my neck?’ Garrett asked.

‘Well,’ Anders admitted, ‘almost everything, then.’

*

Evade, dodge, evade. The rules of Garrett’s profession, the tools of his trade. But being an excellent rogue also meant you were a terrible person. And two rogues together—now that would never work. Too much subterfuge for either party to see hope, or at the very least, reason.

*

Garrett wished he could blame his dreams on the darkspawn or an as-yet unknown Archdemon threat, but they never haunted him with dark, tight thighs and taut muscle. He woke alone with something warm between his legs and even warmer on his chest, and when he shifted, Ser Pounce-a-lot stretched and yawned with his whole body, placing a paw on his shoulder.

It was sweet, but Garrett tucked him into the warmth his body left behind under the blankets, and went to take care of his needs in the outhouse, in the shivery back-alley behind the Hanged Man.

*

The next morning he was in better spirits. He took Anders with him to buy provisions and sell the gems he’d found in the thaig, the latter of which turned so many sovereigns Garrett’s knees felt weak, and garnered more than a few raised eyebrows.

‘There, there,’ Anders said, rubbing Garrett’s back. ‘Sit down. Breathe it all in. Do you…want to be alone with the money for a bit? I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment.’

‘Bad idea,’ Garrett said. ‘The money needs to be chaperoned.’

‘Of course, of course,’ Anders said, ‘what was I thinking?’

Garrett pocketed the gold and tried not to think about how heavy it was in his satchel, just how much it could buy them. In the old days, back in Ferelden, coin like this meant they could buy the templars’ silence, and stay in one place for a good while—at least until the coin ran out and they were on the road again.

All that was such a long time ago it might as well have happened to another little boy, but some of the instincts it inspired yet remained.

‘Where to first?’ Garrett asked. ‘Lowtown Bazaar to haggle with the cheap bastards that call themselves merchants, or mage goods in the Gallows for all your mage goods needs?’

‘Might as well get the Gallows over with,’ Anders said darkly. ‘What an ominous name. The Gallows. What sick bastards come up with this stuff?’

*

‘I think I knew someone who was sent to the Circle here,’ Anders told him as they passed underneath the portcullis. ‘But that…was a long time ago. I wonder if he really came. Are all those statues crying, or are they just holding their heads with poorly expressed happiness?’

He was nervous, Garrett realized, and it wasn’t as though Garrett could blame him. Bethany refused to set foot in the Gallows, and even when Anders wasn’t wearing Tevinter robes and shooting fireballs from the tip of his staff, he still knew what he was. He had every reason to believe—instinctively—that everyone would know it too, just on sight.

‘They’re the ugliest things I’ve ever seen,’ Garrett agreed. ‘Maybe the sculptor went mad and decided to do one hundred bronze self-portraits.’

Anders laughed, but the sound died too early. ‘Alistair really is going to have to come up with a new way to introduce himself. ‘The funny one’ is just misleading. At least, it is once you realize it applies so obviously to someone else. Oh look, templars.’

And there they were, in all their shining glory. There were groups of younger men and women who were obviously recruits; the elder knights lined the courtyard, arms crossed in vigilance. Anders sidestepped closer to Garrett, walking in his wake. He’d left his staff at the Hanged Man under Bethany’s supervision; it’d seemed like a smart precaution to take, but it probably didn’t help his mood to feel even more defenseless than usual.

‘What curious ideas you have about what constitutes a nice day out, Garrett,’ Anders muttered, falsely bright. ‘I had no idea I was in for such a treat. You really know how to show a man a good time. Have I…mentioned they consider me something of a wanted criminal, in Ferelden?’

‘Carver mentioned it, I think,’ Garrett said. ‘Once or twice. Possibly more like twenty times.’ They passed by a group of templars without making eye contact, and Garrett slowed down just enough to let their shoulders brush in solidarity. ‘He was convinced we’d be saddled with a hardened fugitive.’

‘Fugitive yes; hardened no,’ Anders said. ‘Still quite soft and squishy, both inside and out. Ooh! They have lyrium potions.’

He broke away from Garrett’s lead, rushing over to the counter, where the Tranquil proprietor was selling her wares. Garrett busied himself at the neighboring stall, bargaining with the herbalist there about the cost of a few poultices.

*

‘I’ve never seen so many of them in one place,’ Anders confessed on the boat back to shore.

His skin was pale, and despite the sun and mildest of breezes, he had his shoulders hunched up, as if to ward against the cold.

‘Statues?’ Garrett asked hopefully.

He was utter rubbish at conversations like this one. Especially on a boat, where there was no escape but to leap into the ocean. Depending on how serious things got, that way might’ve ended up turning into the best option.

‘No,’ Anders said. ‘Bloody Tranquils.’

Garrett watched the Gallows grow smaller on the horizon, tall marble towers and thick metal grating standing stark in the distance. Varric had said it was a prison once, before it housed the Circle of Magi. Personally, Garrett didn’t see that much had changed.

He stretched his legs, bumping his boot up against Anders’s foot.

Anders twitched, looking up. ‘I’m sorry. I’m not at all like my usual, fun self today. Am I acting strange? I don’t mean to… It’s not as though I’ve never seen a Tranquil mage before. They had more than a few of them at the Circle. Men and women who were afraid of the Harrowing, who chose to go that route.’

‘That sounds damned eerie,’ Garrett said. ‘No wonder you ran away.’

‘Ah, yes well, the escapes happened for a multitude of reasons, most of them much too complicated to get into here,’ Anders said. He rubbed his hands against his thighs. Ser Pounce-a-lot wriggled blindly beneath his robes. ‘Perhaps… Perhaps it’s best I didn’t see my friend here after all.’

Garrett cleared his throat, eyes fixed on the approaching shoreline. Nothing he had to say seemed helpful; none of the words seemed right. Bethany had always said she’d rather be dead than Tranquil, but there was nothing about that sentiment he could turn into a well-timed joke.

*

When they disembarked from the boat, Garrett held his hand out to help Anders down. When he tried to let go, Anders tightened his hold.

They walked back to Lowtown like that, Garrett’s glove entwined in Anders’s fingers.

‘As for me,’ Garrett said, somewhere between the Bazaar and the Hanged Man, ‘I hate running into old friends.’

‘Because there’s so much history and no way to sort it all out easily and that’s the sort of person you are, the sort of person who likes things to be easy?’ Anders ventured.

Garrett blinked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘because I usually owe the bastards money.’

*

A distraction was necessary; Anders’s mood remained stark all the way through supper. Whenever Carver needled him in the usual way, a way Anders was probably more than capable of shrugging off on his own, Garrett found he took offense, even when Anders didn’t. He ruined a perfectly good carving while watching them over the table, accidentally slicing clean through the wood with tense hands, and neither of the pieces that were left could be salvaged into anything resembling Garrett’s initial vision.

It was a challenge attempting to formulate a new plan, create a new vision, when you were already so committed to the first one.

Corff’s stew smelled of horse sweat and the gloves of a nug wrangler.

Varric laughed. ‘Good one, Hawke. I’ll have to write that down.’

‘It seems to me you don’t come up with any of your stories on your own,’ Carver said. ‘What about me? Am I in there?’

Anders smiled wanly. ‘Of course you are, Carver. Every good story needs some comic relief.’

‘But I’m the funny one,’ Alistair said.

‘Now, now, boys,’ Varric said. ‘One at a time. I can assure you the lot of you are in here, but it’d be against trade secrets if I told you the end before everything that came before it.’

‘Trade secrets?’ Carver asked. ‘You have trade secrets that don’t have to do with mining properties and bartering posts? Not bloody likely.’

‘Bards have ‘em, same as Wardens,’ Varric pointed out. ‘There are things I can’t tell you lot, same as things you can’t tell me.’

‘Well, Carver,’ Garrett said, ‘he does have a point.’

*

There was money enough from the gems they sold for each of them to spend it on something they wanted—something nice, something personal, something that wasn’t poultices, potions and draughts. No one needed a second guess that Alistair would spend his on cheese, and Aveline’s would likely find its way into one of the Ferelden refugee collection boxes, along with Bethany’s. Garrett had decided to keep his for a rainy day, should they ever need a windfall in the future, and Anders was being very shady about whether or not he’d already spent his—‘Probably on a pretty little collar for that fleabag he’s always carrying about,’ Carver decided—while Carver pocketed his with a whistle, then spent an eternity in the washroom, getting ready for a night on the town.

‘I don’t think that little coin is going to buy you the memories you think it will,’ Garrett told him when he appeared in their room, out of his Warden armor, hair slicked down, smelling a bit of a woman’s after-bath oils. Knowing Carver, he’d probably dashed someone else’s property behind his ears in an attempt to look like he hadn’t just crawled out of a taproom in Lowtown. Which he still did, to anyone with eyes.

‘Paying for it,’ Anders added, with a shake of his head. ‘The last resort of the truly desperate. Poor, unwanted Carver.’

‘It won’t be ‘poor, unwanted Carver’ tonight,’ Carver said, tossing his sovereign in the air and snatching it up again. It glimmered on its way down, catching a pale shaft of late-evening sunlight.

‘Yes, but what about in the morning?’ Anders added. He was defending himself, and admirably so. Garrett wisely stayed out of it. ‘Well, I suppose there is something to be said for those who work what might as well be considered charity jobs. The fine staff at the Blooming Rose must do so much for morale.’

‘Say what you want, magey,’ Carver replied, adjusting his collar for what might have been the hundredth time; there’d been so much collar-adjusting Garrett had all but lost count. ‘But I’m spending the night with a woman who isn’t my sister or Aveline. If Aveline even counts as a woman.’

‘That sounded all wrong, you know,’ Anders informed him. ‘You should maybe have thought about it a little more before it came out of your mouth.’

Ohhh,’ Alistair said suddenly, realization flush on his cheeks. ‘You’re going to a—oh. I see.’

‘Funny one, desperate one, and the virgin,’ Anders said, pointing to Garrett, Carver and Alistair, in that order. When everyone stared at him, he held up his hands, palm-out. ‘You don’t have to look at me like that. So touchy! I’ve just been working on it ever since you lot introduced yourselves all wrong.’

‘That was mean,’ Alistair said. ‘Does that make you the mean one?’

‘Only in self defense,’ Anders replied with a sniff and a quick grin Garrett suspected only he caught.

*

‘So, about this ‘Blooming Rose,’’ Anders said once Carver was gone and Alistair was out of hearing range. ‘Do you suppose they serve nice food? That’s what I’ve really been missing. Nice food. No offense to Bethany’s deep mushroom stew, it was very…bracing…but I mean a meal that isn’t scraped off the bottom of a templar’s boot or found in a dirty stable. Corff is resourceful, and I’m very impressed how much flavor he manages to squeeze out of what might be animal droppings, but a real meal—’

‘I doubt it’s the best place for a meal in all of Kirkwall,’ Garrett said, ‘but it can’t be worse than what Corff serves, certainly.’

‘Well, in that case,’ Anders said, toying with a feather on his pauldrons, ‘what with all we’ve been doing lately, and how busy things have been, and how much darkspawn we’ve slain, and how much Carver snores, and how much we all deserve a bit of a treat, I was wondering if you might consider accompanying me to Hightown and this establishment for something to eat. My treat, that is. Since I’m inviting you. To go with me. Just for food! Because I think after everything we should get at least a little—’

‘If I say yes, will you stop talking?’ Garrett asked.

‘Never,’ Anders said. ‘Perish the thought.’

‘Good,’ Garrett said, and told him yes anyway.

*

‘So… Have you ever been to the Pearl in Denerim?’ Anders asked, on their way up the steps to Hightown. ‘I’ve always wanted to go there… The Warden Commander had all kinds of things to say about it. Tempting, tantalizing things.’

He was in a better mood already, the fading sunlight still warming the bleached white stones of the streets, ivy lining the proud architecture, only the occasional templar presence reminding them where they were.

‘We all went together once,’ Garrett admitted. ‘Even Bethany.’

No,’ Anders said.

‘Yes,’ Garrett confirmed. ‘We decided that if we went with her, we could…pick and choose what she saw and what she didn’t see. The perfect plan. But then she saw me with a pirate bent over one knee and Carver with some enormous warrior type—most massive shoulders you’ve ever seen; bigger than Aveline’s, I swear it—so in the end, it didn’t work out the way we’d intended.’

‘You brought your own sister to a brothel?’ Anders repeated.

The brothel, if you believe popular opinion in Denerim,’ Garrett said.

‘I make it a point not to,’ Anders said. ‘But you make me wish I’d met you sooner. I’d trade the Mother and the Architect for one night at the Pearl.’

‘Good luck finding someone to accept that deal,’ Garrett told him.

*

Unfortunately for Anders, the Blooming Rose was really nothing like the Pearl. It was cleaner, for starters, and obviously catered to a higher class of clientele than pirates and adventurers, cutthroats and assorted dirtbags. There were entire rooms for dining, a separate bar, and workers milling about freely in all manner of fancy undergarments. None of them was torn; they even fit properly. It was all very disconcerting.

They took a table next to a pair of elves who were gossiping about Orlesians and feather boas.

‘Do you think the boning in that corset is authentic?’ Garrett asked, leaning closer to Anders.

‘Is that a templar?’ Anders countered. ‘Andraste’s flaming knickers—this is not at all what I was picturing, let me be the first to assure you.’

‘I’ll do you one better,’ Garrett promised. ‘I think that’s Corff at the bar.’

‘It isn’t,’ Anders said. He waited a beat, then glanced over his shoulder. It most certainly was Corff, and he was drinking alone. ‘Well, that settles it. I’m never eating anything at the Hanged Man again.’

‘Not exactly the most convincing recommendation, is it?’ Garrett said.

‘No, it is not,’ Anders agreed. ‘Now if we run into Carver here, my night will be complete.’

*

The night wore on, and they did not run into Carver. The light outside faded to dusky evening. They ate soup, and meat, and real vegetables, none of which tried to crawl off their plates nor touch them inappropriately underneath the table. A woman named Sabina had even taken a shine to Ser Pounce-a-lot, and brought him a saucer of milk to lap at.

Anders let out an extremely satisfied sigh, leaning back in his chair. ‘In retrospect, this was a terrible idea.’

‘Don’t tell me,’ Garrett said, wiping his mouth with a napkin instead of the back of his hand. ‘You caught a glimpse of Faith, and now you wish you’d spent your coin on her instead of a good dinner.’

‘What? No,’ Anders said, scandalized. ‘That would be extremely bad form, wouldn’t it? To be eating dinner with someone and looking at someone else? Honestly, Garrett, it’s as if you were raised by wolves. Wolves without any etiquette to speak of whatsoever.’

‘I wasn’t,’ Garrett assured him. ‘But Alistair was raised by dogs. What were you going to say?’

Anders leaned his head in one hand, stroking Ser Pounce-a-lot’s head with the other. There was a look of distant contentment on his face. It probably had to do with finally having a full stomach for a change. ‘What was I… Oh! Yes. That. You see, I’ve been the instrument of my own downfall. Now that I know what it’s like to eat real food, I’ll never be able to choke down that garbage they serve at the Hanged Man again. …Corff isn’t standing right behind me, is he?’

‘No,’ Garrett said. ‘But if he was, he’d probably agree with you.’

*

After true night fell was when most of the customers began to arrive, but Anders didn’t seem in any rush to leave. In fact, he was amusing himself—and Garrett, by proxy—with passing comment on everyone who came through the doors.

‘Hopeless, awkward, too young, too fat, balding, already bald, too much hair, templar,’ he said.

He’d turned away to watch the proceedings, but his fingers had found their way across the table, tracing restless patterns against the back of Garrett’s hand.

‘Maker, did you see that beard?’

However, Garrett’s attention was momentarily swayed by a woman in Orlesian silks heading toward their table. She didn’t look like a customer or a worker. Maybe it was someone who’d noticed they’d been here for hours and weren’t partaking in any of the merchandise, the last of their meal cleared away hours ago.

‘May I have a moment of your time?’ the woman asked, coming to a stop in front of their table.

‘No,’ Anders said.

The woman’s tight smile made Garrett shift uncomfortably in his seat. ‘Let me introduce myself,’ she said, smile turning businesslike a moment later, lacking that toothy curl of annoyance and disdain. ‘I am Madam Lusine.’

‘And I am very busy,’ Anders said, sparing an equally disdainful look for her before returning to watching the door. ‘Also, out of coin, since you overcharge obscenely on your mutton. Something you should look into, if you want repeat customers. In any case, we’re not interested; have a nice evening, be off with you.’

Madam Lusine crossed her arms over her chest, skirts swishing as she resettled her weight to the other side. ‘Ah, but if you’re out of coin, you might want to listen to what I have to say. Not,’ she added, a little less charming, ‘that you have the right dispositions, I can see that, but all in good time, I suppose. Maker help us.’

‘Do you think the Maker often helps those who ply their trade in brothels?’ Garrett asked. He was honestly curious, and attempted to sound as inoffensive as possible. ‘I’ve always wondered that—if he listens to orphans and madams equally, just to give everyone a fighting chance, or whether he prioritizes.’

‘He helps those who help themselves, so I’ve heard,’ Madam Lusine replied stiffly. ‘Which leads me to my real question—since you both seem so eager to cut to the chase. Are you two fine, young men looking to help yourselves? Just a good bit of business, you see. Maker knows I’ve been here long enough to recognize an opportunity when I see it.’

‘Clarification please,’ Garrett prompted. ‘A little more straightforward, a little less dwarven merchant.’

He’d successfully managed to make Madam Lusine—a grown woman, and a rather dignified one, at that, considering their location—roll her eyes. His business here was done. ‘There was a gentleman by the bar who kept asking for the one in feathers,’ she explained, ‘and I had no idea who he meant; when I investigated the matter, for he was willing to pay handsomely, I lamented not being able to oblige him.’ She rested a powdered hand against Anders’s shoulder, running painted nails through a feathery pauldron.

Garrett could actually see all the hairs on Anders’s neck stand on end.

‘The Blooming Rose prides itself on being able to satisfy the deepest desires of any of its paying customers,’ Lusine murmured, voice deepening.

‘I beg your pardon?’ Anders said.

*

After they were kicked out of the Rose for making a bit of a scene, they dissolved into laughter on the street just outside; a few passersby stared at them in confusion, as Anders braced himself with a hand on Garrett’s back in an attempt to keep from doubling over and dropping to the pavement.

‘I think I should feel flattered,’ Anders said, wiping a tear from his eye. ‘No one has ever asked me to be a prostitute before. To…sell my wares. I didn’t even know I had any wares! And at a tasteful establishment like this… I mean, it’s the best compliment I’ve ever been given. And I bet you get meals like that every night if you work here, too. Well, if you bring in the customers, of course.’ He wiggled his brows. ‘Otherwise they just toss you like laundry out on the street—they do in all the stories, anyway. Say, do you think they’d accept Grey Wardens? A turn-on for most people, or a turn-off? I’ve always heard you need a gimmick if you want to make it in the industry. What do you think, Garrett?’

‘The life-span of their usefulness seems to be rather similar, actually,’ Garrett mused. ‘In the twilight of our youth, we both experience a type of calling.’

Anders made a face. ‘Don’t ruin this incredible moment by bringing up that old thing again,’ he said. ‘It’s so unpleasant. I’d like to enjoy the offer for as long as I can, thank you.’

He fell silent, turning his face up toward the sky, breathing in deep.

‘What exactly are you doing?’ Garrett asked.

Anders held a finger up to his lips. ‘Shh,’ he said. ‘I’m basking. You can’t interrupt me when I’m basking.’

Garrett obliged him, leaning against one of the pillars, beneath a weather-worn banner with a faded red lantern embroidered on it. There was a fine, stiff breeze that smelled of the ocean blowing in over the Hightown rooftops, the real red lanterns in the district lit and burning dimly in narrow alcoves, patrons of the Rose no more than shadows if they were careful to weave between the pools of light.

‘Garrett,’ Anders said. ‘What are you thinking about?’

‘I’m basking,’ Garrett replied. ‘You can’t interrupt me when I’m basking.’

‘That’s my line,’ Anders observed.

‘I’ve appropriated it,’ Garrett told him.

Anders took a step forward, eyes flicking toward the closed door of the Rose. ‘Did you have a nice night? I only ask because you haven’t told me how wonderful and brilliant I am for suggesting this yet. You haven’t even hinted that it might just have been the time of your life, which I’m sure, archdemons aside, it was.’

‘The food was good,’ Garrett offered. He reached out, slipping two fingers in beneath Anders’s belt to tug him closer.

‘Wonderful.’ Anders rested his hands on either of Garrett’s shoulders, fingers tracing the seams where the leather was stitched together. ‘What a charming review.’ He leaned in close enough for his cheek to scrape against Garrett’s beard, then pulled away, grinning. ‘Well, now that I’ve gotten the test run out of the way, I suppose I can take Bethany here next week after all!’

Garrett rolled his eyes. ‘At that rate, why not take Carver?’

Carver isn’t at all my type,’ Anders said, shaking his head. ‘Desperation doesn’t mix well with more desperation.’

‘I guess that rules out Alistair, too.’

‘Well, virgins also aren’t my type,’ Anders admitted.

‘What is your type?’ Garrett asked. ‘Just…out of curiosity.’ And sudden, personal investment, but he didn’t have to make that any more obvious than it already was.

‘Saucy wenches,’ Anders said, ‘and unforgettable beards.’

Then, because he was cackling in the shadows of the Red Lantern district, Garrett kissed him. He wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea; there were only so many things two people could plausibly be doing while huddled together in a shadowy alcove, and he wasn’t looking to be interrupted by cutpurses or worse.

Despite how Anders had been acting only seconds earlier, his mouth fell still beneath Garrett’s.

Garrett had wondered, privately, whether he might try to go on talking, even while they kissed. It seemed impossible to imagine an Anders who was completely silent, but here he was, experiencing it firsthand. Anders swallowed, then pressed himself up against Garrett’s body, winding his arms around his neck. Garrett rubbed his fingers in circles at Anders’s lower back, feeling the soft, layered fabrics of his robes, the taut muscles beneath.

The door to the Rose slammed open, with three young men and a woman spilling out onto the streets. Anders made a soft noise of disappointment, pushing the kiss deeper for a few, scant seconds before pulling away at last. His breath was hot against Garrett’s throat.

‘I take it back,’ he murmured. The blush of red light from the lanterns was rather flattering to his skin. Garrett, obviously, had been spending too much time around Varric. There was no other explanation for him suffering a romantic notion like that. ‘You aren’t the funny one. You’re quite obviously the very good kisser…one.’

‘Maybe so,’ Garrett said, ‘but if I start introducing myself that way, then everyone will want to kiss me. I’d have to start charging a fee.’

‘I think I know who you can speak to, to set something like that up,’ Anders said.

*

It took them twice as long to make their way back to the Hanged Man from the Blooming Rose because Garrett couldn’t keep his hands to himself. There were dozens of dark little niches on the stairs from Hightown to Lowtown—perfect for someone looking to get stabbed, or for someone looking to grab a coveted moment alone with a lover.

The cramped room they shared with four other people wasn’t exactly private. This was the best—and cheapest—option they had.

Garrett pushed Anders back against a crumbling wall, tonguing the sharp stubble just below his lower lip, deepening the kiss they’d been stopping and starting ever since the Rose. A sharp yowl rose up from his robes.

Anders stiffened, then sighed. He released his hold on Hawke’s armor, fingers relaxing where they’d dug in at the joint between Garrett’s pauldrons and his chestpiece.

‘Yes, that is a cat in my pocket, but I’m still happy to see you,’ Anders murmured, eyes hooded with shadows and glazed with something eager, if distant. Garrett recognized that look—Anders’s lips parted, expression hopeful, seeking relief.

It was a warm enough night, though it was dank beneath the overhang of rough-hewn steps. Garrett dropped to his knees and Anders buried his mouth in the curve of his elbow, sounds muffled against fabric as Garrett pushed his robes up to his waist. Garrett breathed heavily on the crook of flesh and tensing muscle between Anders’s thigh and his hip; then, he drew him into his mouth and sucked him off without mercy, until he came right there in the darkness, whimpering and biting his own sleeve.

Knees shaking, Anders slid down the wall and let himself go limp, pulling Garrett along the ground and between his splayed legs. He had no qualms about grabbing him and kissing him after; he didn’t wince at what he tasted of himself on Garrett’s lips. Instead, he swiped his tongue through Garrett’s mouth and drew back, head lolling against the damp wall, panting.

‘Give me…a moment,’ he said, steadying himself on Garrett’s shoulders. ‘Maker, Madam Lusine has no idea what she just—really.’

He was finally out of words, all of them mumbling and indistinct and running muddy together. Garrett tipped forward, forehead against Anders’s cheek, feathers tickling his mouth as he caught his breath.

‘Go on,’ Garrett said.

‘Best I’ve ever had,’ Anders obliged. ‘The beard adds a very…very…distinct touch. Very manly. Have I mentioned yet how much I like the beard? I like beards.’

Garrett laughed, and rocked his hips against Anders’s thigh. He was close, close enough that when Anders slipped a hand below his belt the friction was all he needed; a flick of the wrist, a twist of nimble fingers, and Garrett spent himself blissfully, feeling like the fool of a boy who lost his virginity to a clever lad behind the Lothering Chantry, the same night his family was forced to move on.

*

They couldn’t linger; at any moment another eager couple might stumble onto their alcove looking for privacy of their own, and Garrett was feeling charitable, wanted them to have their tryst unhindered, too. He did up his belt and Anders moved to help him, fingers brushing against fingers. Garrett’s hands were callused from his unforgiving profession, Anders’s smooth and worn from the wood of his staff, soft from prolonged contact with healing poultices. Garrett rubbed at the inside of Anders’s wrist to distract him, thumb rough against exposed skin.

Belts never got done when there was another set of hands to work on them. Somehow, they always got undone again instead.

‘Ah,’ Anders said, a shift in his voice, threadbare and a little needy.

Garrett wasn’t used to the tone; whenever he came to this crossroads with someone they covered up the vulnerability afterward all too well, a cock of the head or a trick of the lips, a laugh quick to follow on a wicked tongue. That was pure Zevran, all poise and posturing, lying back as he touched his chest, trailed his fingers down over his stomach and hipbone…

Garrett had a type, too, and it wasn’t mages, not even the trickier ones.

But Anders had no brilliant comeback, no quip ready to slice the tension in the air. Garrett left him to peer out around the corner, then tugged him back into the moonlight onto the quiet stairs, none of the other travelers from Hightown to Lowtown guessing or caring what it was they’d just done.

*

‘Hmm,’ Bethany said when she saw them.

‘Hmm?’ Garrett asked. He put his back to her and began searching through his pack for something very important.

‘Just hmm,’ Bethany replied.

‘There are all sorts of hmms in this world, Bethany,’ Anders said. ‘I myself have been given a startling variety of them. ‘Hmm’ for ‘did you kill all these poor, innocent templars, Anders?’ and ‘hmm’ for ‘why is it you’re wearing that bear pelt, because quite frankly it looks ridiculous on you?’ Also ‘hmm’ for ‘did you really think you could escape this way when you can’t swim?’ There’s a hmm for all occasions, you’ll find. Would you care to hear more about them?’

‘Bethany only ever has one hmm,’ Garrett told him. ‘Never a good one.’

‘No,’ Anders agreed sadly, ‘they never are, are they?’

Bethany sighed; she knew Garrett well enough to understand she’d never get anywhere when he was like this, and she was clever enough to switch tactics mid-battle. ‘Where were you two, anyway? I was beginning to wonder if you’d decided to join Carver at the Blooming Rose.’

‘Who told you Carver was going there?’ Garrett asked, feigning horror. He found his smaller carving knife and his latest unformed masterpiece at last, amidst his saved coin and the poultices they’d bought in the Gallows market, and dropped onto his bed, ready for a long night of waiting up for poor, unwanted Carver.

‘Carver did himself, of course,’ Bethany replied. ‘There was no getting him to shut up about it.’

‘It’s doing things like that that makes him the desperate one,’ Anders said, by way of confirmation. He settled himself on the edge of Garrett’s bed, ducking so he wouldn’t slam his head against the middle bunk on his way down.

Garrett shifted over to give him room, stretching out his legs. He stared thoughtfully at the piece of wood in front of him, waiting for it to take shape in his mind’s eye. ‘I have better things to spend my money on than women.’

‘Well…’ Bethany said, hesitantly. Garrett could feel her eyes searing into his forehead, like she’d become a blood mage in the last few hours just so she could read his thoughts. ‘There’s more than just women at the Rose, isn’t there?’

Anders, in the middle of unbuckling his robes for Ser Pounce-a-lot, was suddenly overtaken by a coughing fit.

Mages. They couldn’t keep anything to themselves. Worse than that, they couldn’t mind their own business.

Anders and I had dinner in the Blooming Rose, and then I sucked his cock in a Lowtown alleyway; even in Garrett’s head, he couldn’t imagine saying something like that to Bethany. She was capable, and she was almost all grown up now, but she was still—and always would be—his little sister. Someone had to set an example. Someone had to stand between Carver’s lusty moods and Alistair’s curious fits of chastity.

Besides which, if he was the one who finally broached the topic with Bethany, Aveline was going to destroy him.

‘Mind your own business,’ Garrett suggested, eyes fixed on the wood in front of him.

‘Ah,’ Bethany said knowingly.

‘Ah,’ Anders repeated, also knowingly. He looked from brother to sister, expression questioning. ‘What does that ‘ah’ mean, I wonder? Are there different ahs the way there are hmms? Varric should write a dictionary for all of Bethany’s expulsions. He’d make a fortune; perhaps I should suggest that to him.’

‘Perhaps you should,’ Garrett said. He threw one of his legs over Anders’s at the knee, coaxing him closer.

Bethany, Maker bless her heart, snuck out of the room quietly while they were both distracted, giving them a brief moment of tentative privacy.

It wasn’t exactly the same as being completely alone—Aveline or Alistair could still burst in at any moment—but it was something. For the first time in months, Garrett didn’t even miss his tent in camp.

*

Carver didn’t make it back until the sun was rising. He stumbled over Alistair’s boots in the middle of the room, cursing harshly, but managed to make it to his bed without further incident.

Garrett pretended to be asleep, angling himself to hide the other body sprawled out in his bed. Anders had drifted off hours before, after claiming he wasn’t sleepy at all and would Garrett please stop kicking him awake?

At least they were both fully dressed; no one here could accuse Garrett of being inappropriate. And it would take Alistair, at least, some time to figure it all out, no matter how obvious the signs became. Garrett rolled over in the dim light, ready to catch some sleep at last, now that everyone had returned safe to the room for the night.

The bed-frame shook as Carver hauled himself up into the top bunk. One of Anders’s slim hands was resting on Garrett’s pillow; there were freckles across his skin, gathered in the groove between his index finger and thumb. He twitched at the sound of Carver’s mattress creaking overhead, then shifted closer under the covers. Tentatively, Garrett slipped his arm around him.

He could always wake up and move it again before morning.

*

The next day, there was more exciting news to discuss than whose bed Anders had woken up in.

Garrett could still be grateful for small miracles, even if he’d decided long ago that the Maker didn’t care about anyone’s petty problems—prostitutes, orphans, Grey Wardens, and everything in between.

‘We’ve got a letter from Cousin Amell!’ Bethany said, waving the missive like a flag in front of Garrett’s nose. ‘And it’s important, so you’d better be paying attention.’

‘We’re listening,’ Alistair promised. He reached over and shook Carver’s shoulder, just to make sure he hadn’t drowned face-down in his breakfast. ‘Well, most of us are listening. I think Carver might be dead.’

‘He’s breathing,’ Aveline said. ‘If he’s the last to know, he’ll have only himself to blame for it later. Read the letter, Bethany.’

Bethany tore past the seal, eyes passing over the crumpled page. Her expression lit up, then darkened; her face fell, and Garrett felt Anders’s fingers brush his thigh beneath the table.

‘The idol’s been stolen,’ Bethany said, breathless. ‘Cousin Amell hired a dwarf as a consultant to transport it back to Amaranthine—and it says here he ran off with it!’

‘Dwarves can be such untrustworthy creatures,’ Varric said, clapping Garrett on the back, then gripping Carver by the hair and hoisting him out of his bowl. ‘Maker’s breath. What was this one drinking last night? He looks like something that crawled out of the Fade.’

‘Shh, don’t wake it from its slumber,’ Alistair said. ‘It will be very angry, and take vengeance on us all.’

‘I don’t remember inviting you to this discussion, Varric,’ Aveline said.

They all waited for the other boot to drop. It was a magnificent battle of wills, the sort that would never go down in the history books—but it should have, and would have, if there’d been any justice at all in Thedas. Anders tightened his hold on Garrett’s thigh, and Garrett patted at him absently, otherwise caught up in the showdown.

‘Well, Red, I’m gonna put it this way,’ Varric said finally, pulling up a stool of his own. ‘You’re gonna have to get used to it, ‘cause you’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of me in the near future. Starting about…now.’

‘Are we?’ Aveline asked.

‘We are?’ Alistair said.

‘He looks serious about it,’ Garrett reasoned.

‘When you go off looking for that idol, which is what I’m assuming you merry band of would-be heroes are doing next,’ Varric explained, ‘I’m gonna be right there with you. Would-be heroes need one thing more than anything else—’

‘A good healer?’ Anders suggested.

‘A humorous sidekick?’ Alistair added.

‘A hearty dose of realism,’ Garrett said.

‘No, no, no,’ Varric said. ‘Somebody to write it all down and get it right.’

‘Then we’d best be on our way before we waste any more time,’ Aveline said, and dumped her tankard of water on Carver’s head to rouse him.

*

With Varric’s contacts and the Wardens’ initial lead, they learned the dwarf in question—who just so happened to be Varric’s brother, Bartrand—was headed for Starkhaven.

‘Well at least it has one nice word in it,’ Anders said. ‘Haven. It sounds so friendly. But then they had to go ruining it with all that stark.

‘At least it isn’t Cumberland,’ Varric said. ‘You know, I really hate Cumberland.’

*

‘Well,’ Alistair said, looking around the private room; all their belongings had been stripped, sheets bundled in a pile in the corner never to be washed before the next lodgers came in, and it was time to leave the Hanged Man. ‘This place certainly is…different, when it’s empty.’

Honestly, Alistair,’ Bethany said, ‘you say that about everything.’