After Adamant, Hawke disappears.
At least that is how the general public describes it. And it's what Varric tells them, when they come hunting for rumours. For some of the more eager enthusiasts he spins a tale or two – she's off to cure the Calling with the Hero of Ferelden, or something equally fanciful. They eat it up, of course – Varric is nothing if not a masterful worker of hearsay and exaggerated stories. And they're mostly pleased; Cassandra is the only one who leaves with a deeper glare than she arrived with, offended that, after everything they've been through Varric still doesn't trust her with the information of the Champion's whereabouts. But the thing is –
Varric has no idea where Hawke has gone.
She'd left for Weisshaupt as planned, but there's been no word in months. No notes or letters have found their way to his desk, not an 'Off on a new adventure, be back in a flash!', or even an 'Got a little roughed up, nose looks like yours now, imagine that! Taking a leave of absence to get my face in order'. To be perfectly honest (which he is rarely, if never), for the first time in the considerable length of their acquaintance, Varric has no idea where she's gone off to. Not an inkling, and – Varric feels it. It's not betrayal, but it might be worry, and that worries him more than anything else. Because Hawke always stays in touch.
He's written his own letters, of course – he'd said he would, for all the grief it's caused him. Rivaini's answer was the first to reach him, written in limerick to properly mask any sign of concern. Daisy's was overtly concerned, in her elaborate if not somewhat rambling style, and Aveline's predictably official and to-the-point. Carver's response included concern on the state of the Wardens that Varric has politely ignored. Blondie didn't reply, but no surprises there. The elf –
The elf actually wrote back, which Varric had not expected. The force of the pen strokes convey more anger than the words themselves, and if it hadn't been for the seriousness of the situation at hand, Varric would have found this an amusing detail. Hawke's efforts have borne fruit, and the prose is – “wordy” being the understatement of this age, maybe – clean and concise. Varric hasn't gotten around to responding, and he half expects the elf to turn up any day.
But the days pass, and there is no elf. Instead, in some bizarre twist that reads more like one of his own novels than reality, the person who comes knocking on the doors of the Inquisition is none other than the elusive Champion herself. There are no messengers to herald her arrival, which is probably for the best, the precarious fate of Varric's neck taken into consideration. Cassandra will be furious, and there will no doubt be a considerable amount of yelling in his near future, but Varric finds the fact wholly insignificant, presented as he is with the vision before him.
In his future novel of the events (Home to Roost, a working title) Varric will describe it as one of the few moments in his life where he's been properly caught off guard. It's as honest as he gets, and it's partly because the surprise itself is so great, but also because his genuine reaction reads better than anything he could have conjured himself.
She's in the doorway, the weight of a long journey heavy on her brow, but there's a wry sort of amusement in her cornflower eyes, as though she knows she's on to something good – something that'll make for a decent fireside story. He almost expects a joke to come tumbling off her tongue, but the thought is forgotten a moment later as he drops his gaze, eyes finally drawn to what she's carrying.
“So,” Hawke says, shifting the bundle in the crook of her arm. It makes a noise, and Varric finds himself – speechless. “This happened.”
She never did make it all the way to Weisshaupt. In fact, she's not even out of Orlais by the time she discovers something's not right.
It's not the morning sickness that alerts her, she's been lucky (thought it's debatable if a late discovery due to exceptional constitution should be considered 'lucky'). Rather it's a thought, one cold morning by the pale warmth of her campfire – just a flicker at the back of her mind that draws her attention to something she's obviously missed.
“Shit,” she says simply, into the grey dawnlight. She receives no answer, and the quiet leaves her with little but her own thoughts for company.
She does a count. It's been – but she's been too busy with the world falling to pieces to make much note of any physical changes. Between Corypheus and the Inquisition, she hasn't had a mind to keep track of her monthlies, and jotted any abnormalities down to stress. But it adds up, doesn't it? That night before she'd left, the bottle of wine and the hole in the sky. Five months later, and –
“Shit,” she says again, meagre breakfast forgotten.
Oh, he'll be livid. He'll be absolutely, marvellously furious to know that she's walked the Fade in the flesh – or worse, that she demanded to stay behind – while pregnant. And that when she finally gathered her thoughts enough to actually consider the possibility of her condition, she's travelling alone to Maker knows where as the world tears apart around her.
The sun has climbed higher than she'd planned when she finally sets out, her thoughts heavy on her mind and a phantom weight in her belly, but she's unsure of where she's going now. Weisshaupt – or? On foot it will take her weeks in this terrain, and – and she's not entirely certain how far along she is, or even if her suspicions are at all correct.
She continues on her intended route for a while and finally stops at a village to have it confirmed. The swell isn't considerable, not yet, but the midwife she not-so-discreetly tracks down assures her nothing is wrong. She's then rewarded with a tut, and a laden remark that it's not at all strange, as Hawke is apparently “rather muscular, for a woman”.
Hawke holds back a few choice words of her own, settles for a patient smile and snags a loaf of bread on her way out. There's a plan to be made, but instead she spends the afternoon in the village tavern, listening to local hearsay and discreetly flicking crumbs of bread at the resident minstrel. She's got no more of a plan when she leaves than she'd had when she arrived, but hopes the solitude of the open road will help.
She's at a crossroads somewhere in the Orlesian north, considering her predicament and her options, when a whinny announces the arrival of a rider coming up the dirt road behind her. The Orlesian sky is particularly volatile this day, heavy grey clouds pressing down from above, and Hawke is considering pulling out her oiled sheepskin coat when the rider draws up beside her.
It takes her one quick glance to recognise the blue of the uniform, and to determine the rider a Warden. It takes another to realize it's a woman, small in build beneath her armoured plates, sandy blonde hair curling with the tell-tale moisture in the air that speaks of the coming of rain. She peers down at Hawke from her perch, makes silent note of the staff and robes, but doesn't seem at all surprised to find a travelling mage. But with the current state of the world, apostates come a dime a dozen on the road.
“Lost?” she asks, after a lull.
Hawke holds back a snort. “In a manner of speaking. Yourself?”
The woman smiles, an easy gesture but there's no joy in her tired eyes, stormy grey and holding more than a boding of ill weather. It's an old tiredness, and Hawke doubts she's just a simple Warden looking for doomed souls to conscript.
“Not lost,” she admits, at length. “But not found, either. Adrift, I guess you could say.”
Hawke likes her then, in that moment. She's clearly hiding a number of things, but then she's not the only one, and there's a camaraderie to be found between strange women meeting at crossroads. “And where are you drifting?”
The woman looks at the signs, and seems to consider the question. “Somewhere with answers, I hope.”
More things unspoken, but Hawke won't pry, distinctly aware of her own predicament, the unavoidable weight nestled beneath her heart. The swell is there, but the robe hides it well. Hawke doubts the Warden can tell, unless her keen senses can pick out more than just darkspawn.
“The weather is getting worse. We ought to find shelter.”
It's an observation, but there's an invitation there, too, and an option to back out. Another wary soul, or the Warden is more perceptive than Hawke's given her credit, but she appreciates the sentiment, either way.
And – it's going to rain. “Yes, that's probably a good idea,” she agrees, drawing her eyes from the gathering clouds to her new companion. “Know the area well?”
The Warden nods towards a rise in the landscape. “There's a cave in that direction. I scoped it out a few days ago. Should be safe, save the odd spider.”
“Swell,” Hawke drawls, but a cave with a mysterious Warden will make for a better story than 'stopped at an Orlesian inn'. Varric would no doubt approve.
The thought of her old friend has an ache settle behind her ribs. She's started approximately seven letters, but can't seem to get any further than 'So I'm pregnant, and how have you been?' before she's tossed it into the fire. She hasn't been in contact with anyone since Adamant, but Varric – Varric always knows where she is and, to some extent, what she's doing. She should tell Fenris, too, but her news is not something just scribbled in an afterthought at the bottom of a letter. The correct thing to do would be to seek him out and tell him in person, and – and right there she's back to the quandary she'd been considering when the Warden had happened upon her.
She's been silent while Hawke has been thinking – a patient sort of quiet that allows for lulls without making things awkward. But there's a soft drizzle now with the promise of something worse, and the horse shifts her weight restlessly in the softening mud underfoot.
“So, the cave?” she asks, finally.
Hawke nods, and the Warden dismounts smoothly to walk beside her. The trek to the cave is made in relative silence, save the rumble in the distance that heralds more than a simple rainfall.
The Warden's horse makes little fuss – “Briar's used to stranger things”, Hawke is told – and they've made a fire by the time the first real shower of rain starts pelting down outside the cave's mouth. Despite being almost certain the Warden knows she's a mage, Hawke uses flint to get the fire going, and when she finally takes a seat it's with a sigh she feels all the way into her bones.
“It's not much, but it's something,” the Warden apologizes, with a gesture to the rations they've scrounged up between them – Hawke's half-eaten loaf has gone delightfully stale, but she's had less under worse circumstances, and restricts herself to one smart remark before digging in. The Warden doesn't seem to mind her humour, for all she's been told she ought to display it less.
“I haven't asked your name,” she says then, as Hawke contemplates whether or not the food will stay down this time.
Hawke hesitates, remembering a long-ago time where she'd given her name freely, but the world has changed, the sky's been carved open and there are people looking for her, now. She's well aware the Warden might not care one way or the other, but it's another crossroads, and she's got as much of a choice to make here as she's got anywhere.
Then, choosing the safer path – “Marian,” she chances. It's not an uncommon name, even if she is a shifty apostate travelling alone across the Orlesian countryside. She could very well be just another Marian, even if the Warden has somehow gotten her hands on Varric's book.
But there's no spark of recognition in the stormcloud eyes watching her from across the fire, and Hawke breathes a little easier, although she's not entirely sure what a revelation will have earned her – a forced conscription?
“And yours?” she asks instead, feeling considerably more at ease. “Or do I simply call you 'Warden'?”
The Warden smiles, and Hawke finds something familiar in the curve of her grin, as though there's a joke she's not privy to, but is about to be.
“Elissa Cousland,” she introduces herself, and Hawke – Hawke has to laugh.
“You met the Hero of Ferelden?” Varric actually sounds disbelieving. “You're right, this does sound like something I'd come up with.”
Hawke's grins tiredly as she rubs the bridge of her nose, the pressure chasing some of the exhaustion away from her eyes. The babe has quieted, slumbering now in the cradle of her arm, lower lip jutting out a little bit as he sleeps. He's fussy – his father's son, but Fenris is not there to suffer the comparison, and so she tucks the memory away, to visit at a later date, when she's actually gathered up the courage to break the news. A 'hey, long time no see, I had this kid while I was away, fancy that' won't exactly win her any points, but right now she's too tired from the journey to get her thoughts straightened out. Varric first, then – then she'll track down her missing elf.
Her back aches and she shifts, the little shape makes a noise of complaint that's quickly soothed with a soft hum. She doesn't find it strange anymore how easy the babe rests, warm and snug against her ribcage where her heart beats.
“Little guy giving you trouble already?” There's an odd quality in Varric's voice that makes her look up – something kind, from a place she's forgotten. The last she'd heard that tone, Merrill had been grieving the loss of one of her kittens.
“Ha,” Hawke laughs, a dry sound. “Not as much as he will in a few years, I'm sure.”
Varric smiles, and she feels a bit better. “You pick a name yet?”
She hasn't, and her expression speaks for itself, no doubt, by Varric's silence. She's considered some names – 'Malcolm' for her father, but it doesn't seem right, somehow. 'Hessarian' in an odd fit of badly timed humour, and in a state of extreme, delirious pain she'd also threatened to name him after the Fereldan King, whose less-than-amused wife had dismissed the idea rather quickly with something along the lines of “no reason to make my husband's head bigger than it already is”.
“Not yet,” she says at length, trailing a fingertip along the bridge of a tiny nose. His eyes are shut tight beneath a furrowed brow, and the sight makes her smile.
Perceptive as always, Varric changes the subject. “So what happened next?”
“Promise you won't write a book about it,” Hawke warns, although she knows there's probably one in the works already.
“With the direction you're taking this story, I'm going to be accused of writing improbable scenarios. No one will want to publish it.”
Hawke grins. “Imagine that.”
Varric leans back in his chair. “Come on, Hawke. You've got six months of missing letters to explain. I'm sure you can't have gotten into that much trouble.”
“Care to make a wager?” she asks, but the good humour is something she's missed dearly, and she'll gather her courage and her strength here in familiar company, before she deals with the world outside.
By the flickering light of the fire, Hawke tucks her son close. Breathes. “So, as it turns out, I'm travelling with the missing Queen...”
“You want to cure the Calling?”
The Warden – Queen? Hawke finds the title difficult to apply to a woman busy scraping dirt from the grooves of one of her boots – nods, eyes trained on the task at hand with impressive determination. Hawke tries to picture her at court, dressed in finery and issuing polite small talk over canapés, and – fails.
“I've been searching for a while.” She says it with the resigned tone of someone well aware of the passage of time, but unwilling to admit just how long it's been. It's an all too familiar rhyme, and Hawke knows it well.
She hesitates, the words at the tip of her tongue – a curse or a blessing, she doesn't know which – but holds them back, conscious that her companion might already be aware. But if she's not...
“I have it from a good source that there's been a false Calling,” she says at length, choosing the words carefully. There's more to the story, of course, but Hawke doesn't feel like hashing out the details surrounding the discovery of Corypheus' plans, the events at Adamant and the corruption in the Warden ranks. The memory still sits just under her skin; it'll be time yet, before she can tuck it away somewhere it won't be the first thing that greets her in the morning.
She's thought about Carver a lot, wherever he is now; wondered if Corypheus' Calling has reached him, and if he'd have the strength to withstand it, if it did. Looking at the Warden sitting before her now, Hawke wonders if she's heard it, too.
Elissa pauses her ministrations, a furrow to her brow that speaks of a phantom strain, and Hawke has her answer.
“I know,” she says simply. She's quiet a moment, a silence that carries many unspoken things. “But a false Calling doesn't change the fact that the real one still comes for us, in the end. It's an inevitable fate for a Warden. One we must all face.”
“Unless you find a cure,” Hawke supplies, and tries a smile, but it ends up feeling more like a grimace. So much for levity. “Sounds easy enough.” But then this is the woman who ended the Blight, and Hawke isn't about to underestimate her, or whatever inner conviction has driven her to this point. How much strength does it take to withstand a Calling, false or otherwise? How much more to fight against it? And how much more still, to leave your husband – your King and country – carrying a burden that's not yours to bear alone?
In that moment, Hawke sees something of herself in those tired eyes – a shared determination that rests heavier than any title. Warden Commander or Queen – Champion – the decision to leave a loved one behind, the personal sacrifice made for the betterment of many, is not one made lightly, and yet here they are.
Hawke remembers the King of Ferelden; warm eyes and an easy smile, and a shared humour of the sort found best in the darkest hours. And – she remembers a comment, about an old ball-and-chain waiting at home, made with the fondness of a man who seemed entirely happy about the situation. And now Hawke is here, with the same ball-and-chain, who's been missing for years.
She doubts the King smiles quite so easily these days.
She wants to tell her – the urge is sudden, strange, but hesitation follows quickly at its heels. She doesn't know how it would be received – an 'Oh did I mention I met your husband a few years ago? Charming fellow, seemed quite fond of you, but then this was a time where you were home doing Queenly things and not roaming the world alone, looking to cure the incurable'. It just might do more harm than good, and Hawke is not willing to risk it, for all that it might lift the frown off the Warden's brow, if only of for a moment.
She thinks of Fenris, then, and wonders not for the first time where he is. Being out of touch with Varric means being out of touch with everyone, and – and it's shit, is what it is. But Hawke doesn't know if she'd like the news that her absence is felt – that he grieves her, somehow. She prefers the thought of him happier, free and not burdened by her choices, and the consequences of the mantle that's been put upon her shoulders. She wonders if the Queen feels the same.
They speak only short words after that, about meaningless things – travel, the weather, a brief comment on the Inquisition and the state of the world. Hawke nearly forget herself, does not remember that she's supposed to be just another mage in this scenario, but the Warden asks few questions, seeming to sense that she has things to hide, and she does not ask for reasons, either. Hawke is glad of it.
It's dark when they finally retire, the embers aglow in the firepit, and it's still raining outside the cave. Elissa is asleep in moments, though Hawke suspects there's more to the display. The hand on the hilt of her sword gives it away, but Hawke doesn't blame her – a chance meeting in bad weather does not constitute trust, and the woman hasn't survived alone all these years by being careless.
For her part, Hawke's sleep is restless. On her back the ground becomes unbearably hard, and on her side she can feel the bump – or thinks she can feel it, anyhow, there's still very little of a bump to be had – and the day's revelations keep her tired mind company until she finally drifts off to an uneasy slumber. The Fade welcomes her back like an old friend, but there's a wariness there now that she feels keenly. Stroud hovers at her side, walks where she walks, always quiet and sombre, determination on his furrowed brow and Hawke's throat is filled with rocks. There are words to be said but she cannot speak them, deeds to be done but her arms feel too heavy to lift. A spider appears in their path, and Stroud kills it for her. And another one. And another one. And Hawke –
Hawke can only watch.
It's still dark out when there's a hand on her shoulder, shaking her awake.
“Marian.” Through the haze of sleep, she notes the frantic quality of the whisper, the quiet urgency that an otherwise level-headed woman like the Warden would not make without due reason. It's what succeeds in pulling her out, cold and shivering, from the Fade's grasp, Stroud's voice a lingering echo in her ears–
–it's been an honour, Champion–
“Ngghh,” she manages, remnants of the Fade still at her fingertips, sticky like cobwebs. The hand tightens on her shoulder, and the sudden pain draws her the rest of the way out. But the cave is...quiet – she'd almost expected bandits, or, Maker forbid, more spiders. “What's wrong?”
Silence greets her half-slurred question, and Hawke feels the first stirrings of real worry in her gut. A moment later her suspicions are confirmed, as Elissa's face appears in her line of vision, a dark concern in the set of her brow.
“Darkspawn," she says, the word as much of a taint as what it implies. "There must be an entrance nearby that I didn't catch.”
The groan is as much for her missing sleep as it is for her miserable luck. “Wonderful.” Hawke rubs at her eyes; they feel tender, like she's been crying. “How many?”
Elissa is quiet. Then, in a breath, “Too many.”
Hawke's hand stills, falls back into her lap, and she's suddenly very aware who is speaking, and that a Warden – this particular Warden, especially – would not exaggerate such a number.
And so her answer is simple – “What do we do?”
Elissa is already moving, adjusting the straps of her armour and checking her weapons with an efficiency that's testament to her reputation. “A few stragglers we might have been able to handle, but a group this size...” she trails off, and Hawke has the impression she's doing a head count. It seems an improbable feat, but she's not about to question a Warden's senses.
“Then what do you suggest? I've heard they're terrible at negotiations. Unless it involves flaming arrows, or a rather sharp knife.”
Her wit goes unnoticed, and Elissa only hesitates a moment. “We run.”
It's not an answer Hawke expects, but then she's never been good at running, though there's a case to be made that she might have been better off if she'd chosen to do that more often than she's chosen to stick around to solve problems with the blunt end of her staff. No, running is not her forte, but –
but Hawke thinks of the small bump, and wants, inexplicably, to touch it. And she knows then with staggering certainty that she doesn't have the luxury of being reckless. Not anymore.
“Alright. So we're running. Great, I love running.” She looks at the mare, who seems to have sensed that something is wrong. It gives a nervous nicker. “What about your horse?”
Elissa doesn't look up as she speaks, busy checking on the saddle. “Briar is used to Darkspawn – she'll find me later, if she escapes. There's a good girl.” Patting the mare's flank, the Warden turns back to Hawke. “Don't worry, she knows what to do. Us two, on the other hand...” She looks at Hawke with eyes that make her feel like a recruit. “That staff just for show?”
Hawke smiles. “Alas, I've left my showiest staff at home as it were.” But for all her attempts at easing the tension, she's not rewarded with a smile. Instead the eyes looking back at her convey a grief she doesn't understand – a longing, almost, that settles heavy in Hawke's chest. She thinks of the King again, and wonders.
“I can hold my own,” she clarifies, as the Warden looks away. A moment passes, and when she speaks next her voice is rough.
“Good.” She clears her throat. “Anything you can do without, leave it. We'll need to be quick if we're going to outrun them, but if we're surrounded we're going to have to fight some to carve ourselves a path.”
The words strike Hawke like a blow, and – it's another Warden, another place, up to her elbows in nightmares and there's a choice to be made, a distraction to open up a path – and unease rises like bile in her throat. No! Not this time.
“Ready?” The question asks for more than simple preparedness, but Hawke is nothing if not quick to think on her feet. Staff in hand and the last remnants of sleep chased quite thoroughly from her system, she follows Elissa to the cave's mouth.
“To put distance between myself and darkspawn? Always.” But there's no good humour this time, and she feels the first chilling grip of honest fear as the Warden sets her horse loose. The mare appears a strangely perceptive creature, and sets off without hesitation.
A heartbeat passes as the sound of muted hoofbeats recede. Then another, and then a growling shriek cuts through the night, the sound sharp like a signal.
Elissa doesn't waver – “We go now!” – and Hawke follows her into the dark.
The rain has made the ground soft, and it's with difficulty they cut their path forward through the underbrush. Hawke follows the Warden's lead, who seems to know where to go though Hawke can barely see past her next step in the murky darkness.
They haven't made it far when they come upon the first darkspawn – black masses charging out of the rain, weapons raised to kill. Elissa cuts through the first two without slowing down, and Hawke follows at a small distance, picking off a few of those approaching from the side, but the rain and the dark makes it hard to see, and her aim has been better. There's a close call as she trips on a root, a darkspawn upon her, but a knife lodges itself in its neck, and she looks up to find Elissa a pace away.
A hand helps her up – hoists her to her feet and Hawke's stomach rebels unpleasantly in response, but they're off again at a breakneck pace before she's had a chance to think too much about it. The sounds of more darkspawn approaching reach them through the rain, but the Warden doesn't falter, and Hawke draws strength from the display. She will not falter here.
And at last – the sounds stop coming. Long minutes follow where nothing stirs in the darkness, and then it's only the rain and the thrum of blood in her ears, the Warden's back ahead of her and desperation pulling her along like a tether. They've been running for what feels like a small eternity when Elissa finally slows down, and Hawke's breath is cold and sharp in her lungs. But they seem to have outrun the bulk of the group, and–
The twang of an arrow loosened cuts the quiet in half. A cry ripe with pain reaches Hawke's ears, followed by an oath that sounds distinctly like something Isabela could have come up with. Hawke is momentarily distracted by the fact, before the Warden falls. A genlock scrambles from the bushes, bow raised for a second shot–
–and fire bursts from the ground below its feet, hot and bright and turning the darkness white for the span of a second. The creature staggers, screaming, and Hawke is on it before it's taken another step, fingers enveloped in fire and grabbing for its throat. The scent of fouled and burning flesh hits her nose and her stomach roils with surprising force, enough to make her double over with a heave.
But urgency drives her forward, and she's by Elissa's side a moment later, fumbling fingers searching out the arrow. It's lodged deep in her thigh, and Hawke lets an oath fall. Inexpert fingers touch the shaft, uncertain – she's never been much of a healer – but a hand clamps over her wrist.
“Leave it,” comes the command, forced through clenched teeth. “Or leave me. There's no time.”
“No!” Hawke snaps, the force enough to make the Warden start. There's a second where all they do is look at each other, and something on her face must have been convincing, for the next moment Elissa relents, but not without a sharp remark,
“Then tend to it later – we need to go now!”
Hawke only has a second to think – there are more darkspawn coming, and in the downpour she can't tell from which direction. Thankfully, the cover of rain is hiding them, too, hopefully long enough for her to decide on a plan of action.
It only takes her a moment. “I hope you don't have any sentimental attachment to these!” And Hawke is suddenly, absurdly thankful for Fenris' partiality to tricky armour, because with quick fingers, Elissa's pieces are discarded. The heavy blue doublet follows, as do the newly cleaned boots. Hawke hesitates on the sword.
“Toss it,” Elissa hisses, eyes clenching shut with some unspoken pain, but Hawke doesn't ask, and tries not to let her eyes linger on the rose engraved by the hilt – it's an uncommon design on a blade, and one chosen deliberately. But the weapon goes in the pile, and Hawke refuses to think about it.
The Warden is lighter than she looks, smaller in build beneath her armour than Hawke had expected of the legendary Hero of Ferelden, Queen and Warden Commander and larger-than-life, but then she's heard the same words spoken about herself – 'I'd pictured you bigger/fiercer/prettier' and so on, the usual routine – and she is immensely glad of it as she pulls the woman across her back.
She doesn't ask if she's ready – there's no time. She doesn't need to be a Warden to know the darkspawn are only paces away, and the knowledge drums a dark tune into her bones. She thinks about the bump again, and a foreign desperation unfurls behind her breast with such a ferocity it nearly makes her stagger. The taste of bile is sharp in her mouth, but Hawke ignores it, tightening her grip on the Warden's legs as she pushes to her feet.
Then she runs.
A wail breaks the quiet, cuts her words in half, and Hawke's attention is caught and held by the tiny wrinkled nose, and the eyes searching for answers in the narrow field of vision above a dark, downy head. Neither his nor hers, they're a blend of sorts – blue-green or green-blue, Hawke hasn't decided yet.
“There, now,” she murmurs, settling the little shape against her chest, the small chin a featherlight pressure against her collarbone. The keening sound turns to a wobbly gurgle, and Hawke breathes a little easier.
“You know,” Varric speaks up, when the cries have turned to small noises. “If it were anyone else telling me this, I'd accuse them of shitting me. But it's you, so I guess I'll just have to buy it.”
Hawke manages a smile. “It was much less glorious than you're no doubt imagining.” She remembers it all too well – the taste of blood in her mouth, and the ache in her legs. The rain had made the terrain soggy and unpredictable, and it had been impossible to see in the dark. Sometimes when she thinks back, Hawke has to wonder how she managed it. She's never been one for Adrasteism, but it's almost difficult to simply chalk it up to sheer dumb luck.
“You need a moment?” Varric asks then. “Gather your thoughts?”
She snorts, and it hides her feelings well, even if it's Varric, who knows her better than most and she knows she's not hiding anything, not really. “There's not much more to tell about the actual escape. I ran, there was a half-dressed, wounded monarch draped over my back, the bleeding rain would never stop and I nearly emptied my stomach three times.”
“But you escaped,” Varric says, gesturing to her person. “I think I can say that with reasonable certainty.” He pauses then, goes quiet, and Hawke waits for the question she knows is coming, laden with the weight of someone who knows well that a wound from a darkspawn arrow is no trifle matter. “What about the Warden?”
Hawke doesn't answer right away. The babe rests on her chest, a gentle weight of warmth. Still just a small bump, with soft cheeks and all the innocence of the world in tired eyes that have closed again now, welcoming an easy sleep Hawke rarely finds these days.
He's right. She did escape. Despite everything – the darkspawn, the odds stacked against them and the blasted Orlesian weather and terrain – they made it out alive. But her story has just begun, and Hawke wonders what Varric will think of the rest. 'Six months worth of missing letters' he'd said, but it's more than that. It's a decision made that she can't take back, and she feels the full weight of it in the bundle nestled on her chest. She still hasn't told Fenris.
“The Warden...” Hawke draws strength from the knowledge of a victory hard-won. But it's an old and slowly healing wound, and she has failed too many Wardens in her life to find much joy in the memory of the one she did not.
“The Warden was not doing so well.”
They outrun the darkspawn by some grace Hawke cannot name, and it's in the grey light of early morning that she sees they've crossed into the Anderfels, the softly swelling Orlesian landscape giving way to harder edges and rougher terrain. The land is quiet, and there are no darkspawn at their heels when she finally slows to an unsteady walk.
It's colder here, and the air smells of earth and rain. The Warden's weight is a steady pressure against her back, but she's grown quiet, and Hawke doesn't know what to make of that. A ridge of mountains cuts into the pale sky in the distance, and she thinks of Weisshaupt, and how far from her original plan she's ventured. No time to lament that, now.
The rain's turned to a soft drizzle by the time she deems it safe enough to stop, beneath an outcropping of stone that provides a modicum of shelter, but it's the best she can manage under the circumstances. She tucks Elissa as far as she can beneath the cover of the rock; she's been drifting in and out of consciousness for the better part of their trek from Orlais, but bleary grey eyes look up to find Hawke's now.
“Good to see you're still alive,” Hawke says, but finds it sounds more serious than she'd intended.
Elissa tries to wave her off – tries and fails, hand flopping rather pathetically against her chest. “I've had worse,” she slurs.
“Oh, I don't doubt it.”
“Archdemon and all that,” she continues, as if she hasn't heard her. “Some very nasty things in the Deep Roads – don't ask. Nearly lost an arm once, running from trees.” She pauses, then adds, in a delirious whisper, “Werewolves.”
Hawke's brows raise. She doesn't now if she's rambling the truth or just making things up, but she nods along as she reaches for the wounded leg, hands white and trembling from the rain. The arrow protrudes, a vicious, jagged thing, and her fingers twitch against the shaft. She's afraid she'll do more harm than good, but –
But it has to be done, she reminds herself grimly, and so she draws her strength from a deep place, remembering a long-ago time when Bethany had broken her leg playing in the forest outside of Lothering and Hawke had had to reset it. She sets about unpacking the bandages she's got stored in her pockets, finds a forgotten poultice and some dry herbs and doesn’t know if they'll do any good, but it's all she's got.
“This,” she says, with an exhale, “is going to hurt.”
“Noted,” Elissa hisses, and Hawke doesn't hesitate. The arrow comes loose with a single, sharp tug, and the Warden cries out – “Maker's hairy–” the oath is lost in the howl that tears from her throat, but Hawke doesn't wait for her to catch her breath, the poultice already at hand and she applies it without flinching. It's a shoddy job if she's ever seen one, but with limited resources she doesn't know what she could do differently, and something has to be done, or Ferelden will really be missing a monarch.
When she starts wrapping the bandage, Elissa slumps back with a groan, face pale and eyes roaming wildly for something to focus on. It's messy work, and the weather has made everything unpleasantly moist, but Hawke resolutely thinks about the lessons Anders had patiently tried to teach her, about emergency care and first aid – “Hawke, you can't just rely on my magic for these things, I won't always be there.” – and finds in her memories an ugly, hurtful truth.
“I'm afraid I'm not much of a healer,” she says, mostly to keep herself talking than anything else; to distract herself from where her mind is going. “I knew – know a good healer. He's a Warden, like you.” She swallows, tries a smile. “Anders would have you up and walking by supper and in new set of pants, but here you are with me, so I guess you'll just have to contend with a poultice and general indecency.”
“Stranded in the middle of nowhere without any pants,” the Warden slurs, and – surprises Hawke by laughing. “Oh, that's perfect, isn't it. That is just...perfect. Do you think it's fate? I think it might be. It's a little cruel, though.”
“Perhaps,” Hawke says, slowly, not quite certain what she said to get such a reaction from a woman who'd been halfway on her way back to blissful oblivion. But it's good – she should keep her awake. “I don't hold much faith in destiny, to be honest.” Although you'd find quite a few of her supporters would claim otherwise, especially after Varric's blasted book hit the printing press.
“Wait, a Grey Warden named Anders?” Elissa asks then, in what seems like a moment of clarity, and Hawke's hands still on the bandaged wound. “I knew a Grey Warden named Anders. I gave him a k-kitten. That's...sounds vaguely scandalous, but I'm being literal.” She laughs, a rough and hacking sound. “He named it something...something I don't r-remember. 'Ser something or the other'.”
“Ser pounce-a-lot,” Hawke supplies, bemused, but not at all surprised at this point. There's a whole arrangement of events and people aligning between her life and that of the half-dressed, partly incoherent woman sprawled on the ground before her.
“D-did you know him from Kirkwall?” the Warden asks next. She's shivering now, teeth clattering. And Hawke doesn't know how to respond. If she's to keep her anonymity, it's a dangerous question – there are many Marians, but not that many conveniently stationed in Kirkwall, and with personal connections to the apostate who started the mage rebellion.
“I heard about what h-happened,” Elissa says then. “At the Kirkwall C-Chantry.” Hawke tightens the bandage, and she hisses the last word through her teeth. Her skin is damp with sweat, the fine hairs at her temples curling and her eyes are too glassy for Hawke's liking.
“He was a good man,” Hawke chances. Is – he is a good man. A deeply troubled man who made a mistake. Not unlike Hawke herself, but the Champion of Kirkwall is apparently more worthy of redemption than the mage who wanted to change the world. Hawke wants to tell the Warden that, wants to tell her everything, about herself and the bump and the hole in the sky being her fault, but the words feel too raw for speaking, and so all she manages is, “I don't know where he is now.”
“Maybe he breeds c-cats,” Elissa suggests with a snort, and Hawke doesn't know whether to take her sudden onset of good humour as a good or a bad sign. She's running a fever and the trek through the rain from Orlais hasn't helped matters. If they don't find better shelter soon...
She thinks about the bump, and presses a hand against it, wondering if there's any way of knowing if everything's alright without the aid of a midwife, but she finds no answer in her hesitant gesture, and the thought alone makes her feel ill, and –
and she hasn't told Fenris, the knowledge rests always just behind her heart. If something were to happen – if something were to go wrong – the finality will be all that he knows, not the uncertain joy that's been slowly burrowing roots in Hawke's mind. He'll know only the grief of loss, and Hawke – Hawke does not know how she'll tell him, if that happens. It's another hurt she'll have caused him, and she feels it, deep in her heart and her bones, the vast distance between them growing ever wider.
Then – a small flutter against her palm. It's so small, in fact, that Hawke doesn't know if she's really felt it or just imagined it, but – with a starved breath, fingers splayed wider, she feels the full curve of the swell, and closes her eyes to the quiet of the world, the soft, ragged breaths of the Warden at the edge of her hearing. Her hand trembles, seeking repetition, but again there's nothing.
No, she'd felt it – she'll have to believe she did, if nothing else. She's known about the bump for a day but she's grown oddly attached to the thought of what will follow, and it surprises her, the hurt that greets her with the thought that something might be wrong. She'll have to be more careful, but here in the wilderness with her companion slowly withering from fever and darkspawn on the prowl, what room is there for care?
A sudden noise in the quiet behind her makes her reach for the knife in her boot – she'd had to leave her staff in favour of a wounded Queen, but Hawke is never truly unarmed – but when she turns it's only a friendly nicker that greets her, as the Wardens grey mare picks its way forward with light, bouncing steps.
Hawke exhales – a sharp, explosive breath that conveys her relief and her gratitude alike, and she's never in her life been happier to see a horse.
The mare snorts as she approaches, unnervingly calm for a horse who's just escaped a group of darkspawn. “Oh, you clever girl,” Hawke greets her, patting her soft muzzle. “Found your Mistress, did you? Are you sure you're not part mabari?” The beast doesn't reply, but butts her head against Hawke's chest, sniffing her pockets. It's a strangely endearing gesture, and Hawke feels a pang of longing for her hound in Kirkwall.
“Well you certainly came at an opportune time,” she says, leading the horse over to where the Warden rests. An idea is forming in her mind now, a tentative plan, and she feels the soft stirrings of a fragile hope.
The Warden's eyes open; her gaze is unfocused, but she's awake, and Hawke counts it a small victory. “You won't last long with that wound. Are there healers at Weisshaupt?”
The nod that follows looks like it requires effort. “There should be,” she rasps. “But, after everything, I don't – I don't know. I can't be certain how m-many are stationed.”
Hawke breathes. “At any rate, I'd say it's our best shot. Between the darkspawn and whatever cheerful evil lurks in these parts, we don't have much of a choice. And now that your horse has come back I can make a travois or something for her to pull you.” Hawke doesn't really consider the fact that she has no idea how to make a travois – she's accomplished stranger things with less experience.
At the mention of the mare, Elissa lifts her head, “Briar did?”
Hawke leads the horse forward, dropping the reins to let it greet her rider. “She did, and she'll be your company for a moment while I pursue a minor career in woodworking.” Pulling off her outer robe, which has dried somewhat, at least compared to everything else she's wearing, she tucks it around the Warden. The cold air cuts through her loose shift, biting against her skin, but Hawke ignores it.
“Don't die while I'm gone,” she warns, only partly joking. Elissa chuckles, but it quickly turns to a cough.
“You'll need good l-lumber for the travois,” she says. “There's an axe in Briar's saddlebags.”
“Well, that'll save me the trouble of torching half the forest,” Hawke quips smoothly, rooting through the bags for said axe. It rests heavy in her palm, and she grips the handle with a surety she doesn't feel in the least. “A master carpenter I am not, but how hard can it be?”
For a moment she's glad there's no one around to answer, but the next she feels a heavy sadness at the fact, and a longing for an easy banter that's hard to come by these days. “Champion Carpentry: Hawke's Adventures in the Anderfels – there's a new novel for you, Varric,” she murmurs, to herself or to the horse, she doesn't know.
The Warden is quiet as she sets out towards the sparse copse of trees waiting some paces ahead. The rain has stopped completely and the sky stretches a wide expanse of grey above the mountains. If they're lucky the weather will treat them better in the days to come; Weisshaupt is a good ways off, still, Hawke remembers that much from the maps. On the edge of the Broken Tooth, it's not a journey made lightly, and with a wounded Warden and no supplies it'll be no small miracle if they make it at all.
The mountains in the distance seem insurmountable, and Hawke feels caught in a yawning gap with two goals at opposite ends, home and duty, both just out of her reach. An abyss of her own making – the result of her own decision, or her indecision, whichever is more poetic. The hole in the sky has closed but Corypheus remains undefeated, and if she can't do anything about that right now, the least she can do is make sure the Queen of Ferelden lives to see another day. If it hadn't been for her chance meeting with Elissa, she would have found shelter on her own, and she would not have sensed the darkspawn coming. She'd be dead, or worse. Instead, the one hurt is Elissa, and Hawke will not allow another Warden to die for her sake. Home will have to wait.
I'm sorry, Fenris.
She's nursing when the door to Varric's chamber opens with the brash effectiveness of someone on a mission, and it's with hard and deliberate steps that the tall and menacing woman Hawke has shared few words with make her entrance, unmindful of the company at Varric's hearth. But the Seeker only makes it one step into the room before she draws to a startled halt.
“Still haven't learned to knock, I see,” Varric says dryly by way of greeting, but Hawke notes there's less open hostility in his voice directed at the Seeker than there'd been when they'd fought together at Adamant. He'd been angry, then – angrier than Hawke has ever known him, and the remarks that had passed between them had been vicious at best.
Cassandra takes in the scene, now – clearly not what she'd expected when she'd barged in, by the near comical widening of her eyes. She looks – dumbstruck, Hawke decides. An odd expression on such a severe face.
“Seeker,” Hawke greets smoothly, but not unkindly.
But Cassandra isn't looking at Hawke. Instead she turns to Varric, who looks like he's expecting a physical blow. “You,” she says simply, crossly, “Liar. You told me – again – that you didn't know where she was! And I believed you! Again!”
“To be fair,” Hawke cuts in, calmly. The Seeker's raised voice has made the babe wriggle in her grip. “Varric didn't know where I was until I walked in a little while ago. I've been...laying low, for obvious reasons.”
One of the 'obvious reasons' makes a noise – a soft, satisfied hum – and Cassandra's anger seems forgotten, then, replaced by uncertain disbelief, and Hawke can tell she wants to ask. But she is a proud woman, Hawke has learned, and a woman like that will wait rather than debase herself by giving in to curiosity.
But Hawke's patience is a thing borne of long years, and so she says nothing, allowing the Seeker the time she needs.
“Whose child is that?” she asks finally, and Hawke is suddenly, sorely tempted to lie and say she's taken up a position as wet-nurse for a local Bann.
She doesn't, of course – she might just believe her.
“Disregarding the obvious,” Hawke drawls, shifting the babe for emphasis. “That would be me.”
Cassandra frowns, sharp brows furrowing like two swords clashing. “That's impossible,” she says. “He's too old. It's not been long enough since your departure. You'd have to have–”
“Been pregnant while I was last here? You'd be right.”
Cassandra balks. “And still you put yourself in danger at Adamant? In the Fade?”
Hawke reins in her temper, and has to remind herself the Seeker has a point. “Not knowingly. I didn't know I was pregnant until about halfway to Weisshaupt.” She doesn't mention that even if she'd known, she'd have mostly likely made the same choices. She'd have still joined the Inquisition at Adamant, and she'd probably still have offered to stay behind in the Fade.
But these are thoughts that Hawke keeps to herself. With her son snug and warm in the curve of her arm, they are dark things she does not wish to visit.
“Is that where you've been, then? Weisshaupt?” Cassandra asks, but she's looking at the babe, not at Hawke. She's clearly compelled, and that quite despite herself, Hawke knows.
“Oh, both yes and no.”
“That's what she was telling me about when you walked in,” Varric says, spreading his arms wide, as if in declaration. “The story for my next bestseller.”
“It's something of a tale,” Hawke supplies wryly. “A little long, a little far-fetched. Only mildly exaggerated, at least before Varric gets his hands on it.”
“There's a chair for you if you want, Seeker,” Varric offers, with the kind of smile that tells Hawke he's got the woman in the palm of his hand, somehow. She wonders what dirt he's got on her, and finds herself strangely intrigued. Alas, Hawke is the source of interest in this scenario, and her questions will have to be saved for another day.
With deliberate care – and a silence that screams volumes – the stern woman takes a seat. “I am listening,” she says simply.
“What is this, an interrogation?” Varric barks a laugh, and Hawke finds herself surprised – it's been a while since she's heard it. “Relax, Seeker, it's story time, not a third degree. You like a good story, don't you?” By the way he says it, Hawke feels there is something she is not privy to, and the way Cassandra's expression turns livid just serves to underline the fact.
But she doesn't rise to the bait. “Fine,” she says, and tries – and fails – to sit less rigidly. She looks at Hawke next. “Do continue.”
“So,” Hawke says, as she tucks her shirt back in place. Her son makes a satisfied noise that lures a smile from the corner of her mouth. “Looks like I have something of an audience now. Do I start at the beginning?”
“No need,” Varric says. “I'll fill in the blanks, if needed.”
“With stunning accuracy, I'm sure,” Hawke drawls, but Varric is grinning and oh, she'll let him say the Hero of Ferelden's horse was a griffon and that Hawke was knighted for her services to the Crown if it keeps the smile on his face.
"I know you expect no less," he says with a laugh. “So, you make for Weisshaupt, like you'd planned,” he starts, a familiar eagerness at the edge of his words, and Cassandra settles back in her chair with more ease than Hawke has ever seen her display.
She draws a breath, the weight of two sets of eyes on her now. The babe coos, and she rocks it gently, until the noises turn to soft warbles. He's asleep before she opens her mouth next.
“Yes. And – though it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given how elusive the Wardens have been lately – there's not exactly a welcoming party greeting us at the door.”
Weisshaupt Fortress looms before them, tall and menacing in the soft darkness of early evening and silent, eerily so, like a ghostly skeleton of a once thriving outpost. When they'd first arrived Hawke had not believed it, but after repeated attempts with no answer, there is little to do but accept that they're too late. Whatever Wardens were stationed there are long gone now.
Elissa does not look well. Hawke has bundled her on the makeshift sled (or her sad attempt at one), but the journey has been a bumpy affair and the weather unusually cold for the season. The fever has only worsened; the sheen of sweat across her brow clings with unknown persistence, and her breathing has only grown more ragged. Hawke realizes how much she'd counted on there being help to be found at the fortress by the panic that settles, slow and heavy in her veins.
“Balls,” Hawke mutters, in a rare moment of sudden anger. They'd had one plan between the two of them. Help should have been at Weisshaupt – a healer who could have looked at Elissa's leg, shelter and a chance to restock their supplies, but there's nothing. Not a soul stirs behind the closed gates, and no sound but the eerie screech of a crow on the topmost parapet.
“There's a village,” Elissa speaks then, and Hawke hears the strain in her voice.
“I hear your good news, but something tells me there's more to it,” she says with a sigh, and knows what's coming even before the Warden continues.
“It'll take a day.”
“Do you have a day?”
Elissa is silent. “I don't know,” she says finally. “But there's only one way to find out.”
“Maker but you're grim,” Hawke breathes with a huff, and Elissa actually cracks a smile.
“I'm a Grey Warden – it part of the job description,” she says, before her expression changes, turns pained for a second, then serious. “Come, I'll tell you the way, so that–”
“Yes,” Hawke cuts her off, before she can continue. “So that if you wish to take a nap, I can lead the horse. Splendid, we're both in agreement.”
Elissa doesn't correct her, and Hawke is glad. She feels restless, like she could run a mile, or that she needs to before she screams. A day's journey to the nearest village – it's a fool's quest, after the trek they've made. They've already wasted too much time.
But – standing around thinking about it isn't buying them any more. There's nothing else to be done, unless they find some way to fly back to Orlais. Hawke is tempted to ask about the chance of finding a griffon, but holds her tongue. Her good humour feels tainted here, in this cursed land where all the odds are against her.
And so, “Fine. Let's go. We'll have to travel through the night, and hope nothing particularly murderous happens upon us.” Taking Briar's reins, Hawke sets off down the slope they've just climbed.
While she's still awake, Elissa explains the quickest route through the valley, but half of it is in slurred, half-formed sentences and Hawke makes mistakes, misses a crucial turn in the path and comes upon a dead end that it takes the better part of an hour to backtrack from. The weather remains grey but blessedly free of rain, but it's a small comfort as the hours grow long and the terrain ever rougher. Briar could have picked her way across most of it on her own with ease, but pulling her rider makes crossing rivers difficult, and they make their way at a slow pace that has Hawke's skin itching.
It takes them more than a day to reach the village Elissa spoke of. Nestled at the foot of the mountain, it's not much more than a few huts, but Hawke feels a swell of genuine, ludicrous joy as she spots the rising smoke of chimney fires above the treetops in the distance. Since setting out from Weisshaupt the sun has risen and set and by the time they arrive it's already dark again, but a little persistent knocking eventually locates the resident herbalist – a stern, grey-haired woman who ushers them inside with a stark sort of efficiency that reminds Hawke of an old widow in Lothering.
She doesn't bother about introductions. “What manner of weapon?” she asks instead, as they put Elissa on the hut's sole cot, and she doesn't wait to start unwrapping the dressings. The dirt from the road has made the bandage appear rather unsanitary, and Hawke feels her disapproval from across the room.
“A darkspawn arrow,” she says, and the herbalist hisses through her teeth, a sudden, vicious sound like a cat's curse. Elissa makes few protests as the wrappings are removed, but Hawke suspects she's not lucid enough to make note of much but her own, delirious dreams.
“The worst sort,” the herbalist says, but then she's rolling up the sleeves of her shirt and Hawke is shooed to the back of the hut to sit on her hands like a child while she works. But it's the first proper rest she's had in hours, and she sinks against the far wall with a sluggish exhaustion that pulls like weights on her arms.
The woman – who Hawke soon gathers goes by Master Ailis, from the frightened girl who keeps bringing water and herbs – doesn't talk to her, but Hawke does not mind the silence. It gives room for her thoughts, heavy as they are, and they fill the space easily as the night crawls slowly into morning.
As it turns out, Ailis is an apostate; a proper healer, and Hawke's relief is staggering in its sincerity. A healer can do more than a simple herbalist, and – it surprises her, the worry that creeps along her shoulders, to claw desperately at her throat. She's know the Warden a scant few days, but there's genuine joy to be found as Elissa's breathing slowly evens out to something softer than the ragged, pained breaths that have accompanied her this last leg of their fool's journey. Companionship in the strangest places, and it reminds her of Kirkwall – of odd souls meeting under a tavern roof for Wicked Grace as the sun goes down over the Gallows.
Grey light is creeping in along the floorboards by the time Ailis announces herself done for the night. Hawke has been nodding off by the far wall, but as she moves away from the cot and the sleeping Warden, a strange urgency takes hold of her, and the words are off her tongue before she can stop them,
“Could I ask–”
The healer turns to face her, exhaustion heavy in her dark eyes, and Hawke hesitates. But Ailis only grunts. “Well, go on then. I don't have all day.”
The words feel too big, too awkward, for her mouth. “You see, I'm – pregnant. And I fear something might be...wrong.” She sucks in a breath, grapples for strength she doesn't have, but she can't fit everything into a single sentence eloquently, and so all she says is, “It's...been a hard journey.”
Ailis offers Hawke's stomach a glance, then dips her hand into the wash-bowl by the bed. “How far along?”
Hawke swallows, feels the implication of her words even before she speaks them. “Five months.” Nearly half a year of travelling, fighting – sacrificing, and for what? What has she accomplished? Nothing, and yet – “Give or take.”
The healer frowns, gives Hawke's stomach another long, searching look, then bids her come forward. Hawke settles in a chair, and at a prompt gesture quickly unbuckles her outer robe. Two hands shockingly cold from the wash-water press against the slight swell, and the healer hums low in her throat, but Hawke cannot tell if it's a good sound.
“You're robust,” she says at length. “For a woman,” she adds, and Hawke wants to roll her eyes (because really), but Ailis has no mind for her droll irritation. “It doesn't show as well as it would have, had you been slighter. But,” she presses a hand below Hawke's ribs, moves it. The faint glow of magic flickers along her fingertips. “Everything seems to be in order, no need for fear. Not all girls turn into beasts – you ought to count yourself lucky.”
Hawke nods, and there's something heavy at the bottom of her throat. Oh, but she's feared – more than she's willing to admit, anyhow. The long hours from Weisshaupt with only her thoughts for company and the chilling potential of a loss she'd not even considered, some few days prior. But if she hasn't worn her fear openly on her face, she dons her happiness now, and there's gratitude in her thanks to the old woman.
Ailis only gives her a stern look. “I don't make a habit of asking about the business of strangers, but I'll say this: fighting darkspawn in any condition is ill advised – in yours, even less so. You're no Warden. Not like your friend.” She glances over at the bed, where Elissa sleeps. “Dark things follow a Warden's path.” She gives Hawke another look, drying her hands on her apron. “I'd advise you to find better company, but like I said, it's none of my business.”
“Noted,” Hawke says, and tries to keep her voice bland. Something tells her her particular brand of wit will do her no favours here.
Movement from the cot draws her attention then, and Hawke gets to her feet. Elissa's eyes are open, and searching the dim light. “Marian?”
The name invokes the remembrance that she's still keeping her identity a secret, and Hawke wants to tell her, then – the urge is a sudden one, nearly desperate, but Elissa can barely focus on what's in front of her. “Marian,” she says again, voice a soft rasp. Then Hawke is beside the cot, and her eyes find something to latch onto. She tries a smile, lines gathering at the corners of her mouth in something Hawke would rather consider a grimace, but her gratitude is heartfelt.
“Thank you. You don't have to do anything more, I'm in your debt already. Take your leave, I will manage from here. I've–”
“Had worse,” Hawke says, and the corner of the Warden's mouth quirks up, but she doesn't answer, already drawn back under by the will of whatever concoction Ailis has slipped her. The soft creak of the door tells her the old woman has gone, and Hawke is left with only the silence for company, Elissa's words sharp memories in the space between the cot and the chair. And – she does not know what to do.
What has she accomplished? Nothing, and yet – no. Assistance where assistance was needed, but it's the Inquisitor's lot to deal with Corypheus now, not the Champion's. What will she do, with Weisshaupt empty and her path open before her? She has no more cards to play, nothing up her sleeve to aid their cause. She is – obsolete.
Pressing her hands against her stomach, Hawke considers the healer's words. 'No need for fear'. 'Everything seems to be in order'. Good, if laden, news. She could take her leave and be gone, find Fenris or Varric and keep an eye out for word about the Hero of Ferelden; whether she recovers, and whether she returns to her throne. She has no more obligations to the Warden.
But – Fenris had never left her, Hawke remembers. When Kirkwall fell apart at her feet, he'd remained by her side. Even now, he'd have stayed no matter where she'd decided to go – Weisshaupt, the Fade itself, it would make precious little difference. He'd told her as much, but Hawke had made the decision for him, not unlike the woman on the cot before her had made for her husband.
There is no flutter beneath her palm, but Hawke feels no fear. Instead she feels sorrow in the press of her hand against the curve of her belly. What manner of person will you be? The sort that leaves a friend on their sickbed? Or will you be more than that?
And Hawke knows her answer between one breath and the next. This is the least she can do – the very smallest of sacrifices.
And so in the long weeks that follow, the Warden sleeps her heavy slumber, and Hawke –
Hawke does not leave.
“Did you ever tell her who you were?”
It's Cassandra who asks the question, quietly after a lull of silence. The crackle of the fire seems unusually loud, and Hawke hears the query and all it contains. She does not mean to accuse, she knows, but he Seeker's words carry the weight of a sentence nonetheless. And she's not wrong to ask - she might very well have kept her identity hidden, and Hawke knows the truth of it herself.
Her son is still asleep in her lap and she traces the curve of his nose with her eyes – the rounded ears and the jutting lower lip. A lot of her, but...a lot of him, too. Dark hair that might well be either of theirs. It's too soon to tell who he'll really take after. And what manner of person will you be? The sort who runs from your troubles, your mistakes?
“Yes,” she says at length. “I did.”
“I take it that went well,” Varric says, with the brand of cheerful derision only Varric can manage. “In my experience, hiding your identity always comes back to bite you in the ass.”
“In your novels, you mean,” Hawke quips, and Varric grins.
“Well, you'd be surprised,” Hawke says, and is about to continue when a door slams in the next room. She draws in a breath, but the damage is done, and the little face draws together. She's quick to murmur her comfort, but the babe is already crying in earnest.
“Here,” Varric says then, and Hawke feels no surprise at the ease of handing her son over. The warmth disappears from her arms, and she feels – hollow, but only for a moment, because in the next the cries have turned to sniffles, and then to soft humming sounds. Cassandra looks flabbergasted, Varric less so.
“I didn't know you had a way with babies,” Hawke says, leaning back in her chair.
Varric's grin turns wry, and – there's a story there, but for another day, perhaps. “You'd be surprised,” he parrots, and Hawke laughs, an earnest sound.
A strange calm descends on the room, and Hawke finds herself relaxing. It's the sort of quiet she hasn't known since the open road, or – since Kirkwall, the early morning light spilling in through the tall windows. An easy lull by the fireplace, a book in her lap and a familiar warmth at her back, lyrium-lines dancing at the corners of her vision as fingers reach to flip a page...
It's Cassandra who finally breaks the silence. “Well – continue! What happened to the Queen? Did she survive? You can't just leave it there!”
Hawke shares a bemused look with Varric, who looks entirely too pleased with himself. “Easy, Seeker. All in due time. Knowing Hawke we're about to get to the good stuff. I'm guessing there's a dragon afoot.”
“There is no dragon,” Hawke says.
“What about a herd of griffons? Anything at all that flies and is remotely mythical?”
“Try a remote village of obscure cultists. I'm sad to say I didn't see anyone flying, but you never know.”
“If you two are quite done...” Cassandra interjects.
Hawke grins, and Varric shifts the weight in his arms with an innocent look. The babe sleeps on. “Quite. Now, as I was saying, we're in a village of cultists – but friendly ones, not like the sort that roam about these parts – and Her Royal Majesty is taking her time recovering...”
It takes a week for the fever to finally break.
She drifts in and out of consciousness between late and early hours, mumbling incoherent things into the dark and the morning light. Hawke gathers little of what she says – she speaks of taint and thorns and other vaguely disturbing things, but also of roses and the sunset over Lake Calenhad. And when she's not talking, Hawke is – of everything, and nothing. Of old friends and of Kirkwall – the good parts, and those less so.
But Elissa does not respond and she does not wake, and as the days drag by Hawke's worry festers like a wound in its own right. It's been a whole two weeks when she finally asks Ailis for some paper, and sharpens a piece of coal for writing. She feels the irony like a bite – she's not sent any letters of her own, but now that she's finally writing it's on behalf of someone else, and to a man she's met once.
But it proves no easy task, telling a King his wife is slowly dying and 'would you kindly take some time out of your busy royal schedule to drop by a remote village in the Anderfels, please and thank you'. As it is, she's gotten about as far as 'Your Royal Majesty, King Alistair Theirin' when there's a rasp from the cot beside her,
“You're still here.”
Hawke puts the paper down, letter and King forgotten. “And you're still alive.”
Elissa seems to think about it. “I've felt...better,” she says at last.
Hawke smiles for what feels the first time in two weeks. “And you've had worse, if you'll remember.”
“Quite right.” She tries to push herself up, but falls back with an oath. “Andraste's tits.”
“You've a penchant for vulgarity when you're in pain, did you know?” But she's already moving to fetch a cup of water, tucking the half-scribbled note into her pocket as she goes. Turning back, there's a question at the tip of her tongue, but it's gone from her mind a moment later.
Elissa's eyes are on Hawke's stomach – granted, there's a bit more of it now than there was two weeks prior. And without the thick outer robe and her travelling gear it's nearly impossible not to notice the bump, which is quite a bit more than just a bump, now. Her gruff and generally inhospitable personality aside, Ailis has made her eat regular meals, and for all of Hawke's 'robust' build, there's no hiding the rather obvious.
Elissa's brows furrow. “Marian, you're–” she stops, blinking, as though unsure of what she's seeing.
Hawke sighs, but hands her the cup, and she accepts it almost numbly. “Yes. It's probably time I told you. Or, well, someone other than our most gracious host. Drink.”
Elissa complies, but coughs most of it back up. “Maker,” she croaks. With a look at Hawke, she asks, “How long?”
“Do you mean how long have I known, or how far along? For the first, about as long as our acquaintance. But I've been told I'm rather sturdy, for a woman, so I'm farther along than I no doubt look.”
“What were you doing when I found you?” Elissa asks then. “Were you simply travelling, or...?” She doesn't speak the words, but the implications are clear. It is not an uncommon story – a woman leaving to escape the father of her unborn child, for whatever reason prompts such a response. But Hawke's situation is...rather more complicated, and it requires more than vague words, now.
“Yes, regarding that...I also think it's time I told you something else.”
Her lips – to Hawke's surprise – quirk. “You're not going to tell me you're a runaway Queen, too?”
The laugh comes, unbidden but true. “Not quite, though that would make for a good story.” She'll suggest it to Varric, whenever they meet – the wistful thought settles like a rock in her chest. “But you're not far off.”
A raised brow, but Elissa doesn't ask further, and Hawke helps her sit up until she's comfortable. A sheen of sweat still clings to the curve of her brow, but her eyes have lost their glassy look, and – she looks better. And Hawke has seen her share of death to know when it has released its cold grip.
The note lies crumbled in her pocket, well forgotten now.
She tells her, then – about who she really is. The Champion of Kirkwall, whatever that means these days. She tells her of Adamant, and of the Fade – of Corypheus and of her own involvement in his escape, and his continued existence. Her failure to stop him and her business at Weisshaupt; the mission she'd given herself, when she'd had nothing more to offer, no more to give a world that was doing fine without her.
She does not tell her about Fenris, but Elissa does not ask, and there's an understanding to be found there in the silence she offers.
She is also not as surprised as Hawke had expected her to be.
“I figured there was something,” she says, when prompted. “I've met many apostates on the road, but there was something different about you. The Champion of Kirkwall seems a suitable mantle, for one who carries the weight you do.”
“Yes, well,” Hawke says, and is tempted to crack a joke – something about most of the weight being dispensed around her stomach at present – but decides against it. “Not much of a weight anymore. I'm afraid my services have been rendered somewhat obsolete.”
“Not to everyone.”
The honest admissions surprises her, but Elissa only smiles. “I would not be alive, were it not for you. And even now you stay.” She frowns, bemused but not unkind. “Why?”
Hawke hums. “Would you believe me if I said this village was so very accommodating, I forgot to leave?”
“Not for a moment,” she answers smoothly, and Hawke wants to laugh, but everything feels too raw for laughing, and there's a lump in the bottom of her throat.
“What about Corypheus?” Elissa asks then. “Do you still plan to help the Inquisition?”
Hawke is silent a moment. She's considered the question already – has visited the thoughts over and over in the two weeks she's spent in Ailis' cabin. She's listened for news, but there's been none to be had this far out, and the villagers don't seem to have much of a mind for the world outside their doorsteps. When she'd asked, Ailis had only scoffed and told her 'The world's still standing. What more do you need to know?'
“No,” she says at length. “Corypheus – it's still my responsibility, but there's not much I can do at present.” Except – and she's thought about this a lot, too. “Well. There is one thing,” she says then. Elissa looks up, curious. “I'd like to help you. To look for your cure.”
Grey eyes widen. “You– want to help me?”
Hawke nods. “My brother is a Warden. It's – partly due to my own mistake. I took him with me on an expedition into the Deep Roads. He fell sick from the taint, and it was the only way to save his life.” Unprompted, Stroud's image appears before her eyes. Another mistake. Another debt not paid, and one that will never be paid, no matter what she does. “The burden of the Calling is mine, too. If there is anything I can do to aid you in finding a cure, if there even is a cure...I will help.”
Elissa frowns. “But in your condition – you're not–”
“I'll join you for as long as I am able,” Hawke tells her. “After that, well...I'll cross that bridge when I get there. I just...I can't just sit on my hands, or I might just go mad.”
Elissa hums. “Feeling the need to fix something?”
Hawke's smile is sombre. “What, and that's not what you're doing?”
“Point taken,” Elissa laughs, but it sounds hollow to Hawke's ears. “So, you'll be joining me. The Champion of Kirkwall. Imagine that.”
“Just 'Hawke' will do – or 'Marian', if you prefer. Or I'll start calling you the 'Hero of Ferelden', and then where will we be? Heads too big to carry with us, that's where.”
Elissa coughs a laugh. “Marian, then,” she says with a smile, but it's a short-lived thing. And Hawke sees it, then – the relief in her eyes, like an old loneliness unfurling to accommodate the thought of company. She wonders how long she's been on her own.
Elissa nods to Hawke's stomach then. “What about the father?” Hawke pauses, hand over the curve, and Elissa frowns sadly. “Is he...?”
“No,” she's quick to say – too quick, really, for what does she know? She clears her throat. “No, he's alive. Or, I think he is, anyhow.” To be honest, she has no way of knowing, but Fenris is – Fenris, strong and brash and alive, always alive, and she can't quite connect the thought of death – of finality – with that image. She won't.
But – he's mortal, like any other; for all his stubborn tenacity there's no stopping the deadly curve of a well-aimed blade, or an arrow from the shadows. And Hawke would be none the wiser, halfway across the world and stubbornly fighting a personal battle there's no winning. Even if Varric tried to get her a letter, she'd be late in receiving it.
“I don't know,” she says at length, and finds in the admission a fear which she has not allowed her mind to linger before, but it's there now, sharp and true and unavoidable.
Elissa doesn't push the topic. “Well, if you're sure, then I welcome the help. It's...been a long journey, travelling on my own. Company would not be amiss.”
Hawke's smile is cheerfully derisive. “I wager you'll be eating those words in a week or so. I've been told my wit leaves something to be desired. The only reason you've put up with me this far is because you've been fortunately indisposed.”
“Fortunately.” Elissa grins. “But no, I quite like the wit,” she says, and there's a sad look in her eyes that Hawke has seen before. “It's...familiar.”
“On your head be it then,” Hawke says, but finds purpose in the promise, light-hearted as it is. Because for all her ill-timed humour, in her heart there is sincerity – the offshoots of old roots burrowed in her soul, remnants of her father, who had taught her the importance of following through, and of not dismissing something just because it's broken. Not everything can be patched up completely – not all tears mended or cracks filled in – but that does not mean it's ruined forever. Kirkwall had cracks, and tears and rifts, and Hawke had patched it back up the best she could. She would not have left it if she'd had the chance, but there are those who remain to fix the holes and the blemishes etched on the walls, the streets, the people. The hole in the sky is not her tear to mend, but there are enough cracks in the world for her to pick and choose. Perhaps her own heart – or perhaps the one of the woman on the bed, if only a little bit. It does not have to be perfect.
She does not know what to do about the bump, yet – what to do about Fenris, or the world. She's always had a path, but now it winds in all directions, most of them obscured, and she can only fumble along in the dark. But in this, at least, she can do something.
If only offer her company and poorly executed jokes.
“Hawke, are you saying what I think you're saying? Did you find a cure to the Calling?”
“That's impossible,” Cassandra interjects sharply. Then, “It...is impossible, is it not?”
Hawke sighs. “Varric, what is it that you always tell me when I ask questions in the middle of a story?”
The dwarf grins. “'Hold your Ferelden-bred horses, Hawke, I'll get there when I get there'?”
“I was thinking more of 'a good story is never rushed', but I suppose that's more accurate.” She throws a grin in the Seeker's direction. “You have horses in Nevarra, yes?”
Cassandra looks entirely unamused, but Hawke pays her glare no mind. There's a comfort to being the one telling the story, for once – a chance to take her time, to think on her words and choose them with care. There are things she leaves out – conversations over the campfire at dark hours that are not fit for repeating, and the longing that still lingers in her heart, her third and constant companion on her journey. It's implied, but she suspects only Varric can tell it's there, and he's courteous enough not to mention it, or Fenris.
She's about to pick up from where she'd been interrupted when the door opens again, but with more care now than when the Seeker had invited herself, and in strides a man Hawke remembers vaguely from her last visit (and that mostly for the moustache, not necessarily the being-a-Tevinter-mage part, which she remembers now with vivid clarity).
He stops in the doorway, trimmed brows raised in surprise as he takes in the occupants around Varric's fire. “Are you having a party?” he asks. Then, “Without me?”
A glance at Varric, and the child in his arms turns the mock-scandalous look back to one of bemusement. “Well," he purrs. "Something you've neglected to tell us, Varric?” He looks at the Seeker next, and his smile turns decidedly sly. “Cassandra?”
“Don't even joke about it,” the Seeker grinds out, and Hawke finds their reactions terribly amusing.
The mage looks in her direction then, and she waves a greeting. “Dorian, right?”
He nods, dark eyes alight with some mischief she can't name. “Champion,” he greets cheerfully. “Didn't you run off to the Anderfels?” Another sidelong glance at Cassandra is offered. “Caused an awful fuss.”
“So I heard,” Hawke drawls. “It was not my intention. Well, this time, anyhow.”
Dorian grins. “So what are we doing, sharing our darkest secrets before the fire?”
“Close, but it's only me doing the sharing, I'm afraid,” Hawke says, waving her arm in a lazy circle. “I'm the designated chronicler for the evening. Terribly exciting stuff, too – there's a fascinating amount of walking and waiting in remote cabins.”
“Sounds far more thrilling than the dreadful atrocities you'll find in this sorry excuse of a library,” Dorian says as he takes a seat, quite without being asked to. “I think I'd rather like to hear this tale.” He looks at the child. “Just to be clear – that is your child, yes?”
“What, can't you tell by his shockingly good looks?” she asks, and waves her fingers at her son, who follows the movement with his blue-green eyes (or are they green-blue? She really can't decide).
“And does he feature in this little narrative of yours?” Dorian asks, but he's already making himself comfortable, and Hawke wonders at the strange little gathering of souls. It almost feels like home – almost.
“In a manner of speaking. I was rather pregnant.”
The mage quirks a brow. “'Rather pregnant', as opposed to just a little bit pregnant?”
Hawke snorts. “If you're to believe the word of the numerous healers we happened upon, I was rather far along for someone showing so little. There are perks to being built like a man, you see.”
Cassandra scoffs her understanding, and Hawke grins.
“This story of yours is starting to sound rather fun,” Dorian says. “Of course, that might just be my own boredom talking.”
Hawke looks to Varric. “You won't need to write your book at this rate, Varric, everyone will already have heard the tale.”
“Not my version of the events.” The dwarf grins, shifts his grip, and the babe gurgles.
Hawke sighs. “That is unfortunately true.”
“Can we get on with it?” Cassandra asks. “The Queen. Did she live?”
“Wait, there's a Queen in this?”
“Not just any Queen,” Varric explains. “The fabled Hero of Ferelden herself.”
If he didn't before, the mage actually looks intrigued now. “Isn't she missing?”
Varric shrugs. “And at present, hovering precariously between life and death. It's all very exciting.” The babe makes a noise, and Varric nods. “See, even the kid agrees.”
“Get. On. With. It.”
Hawke can't help the grin. Yes – almost exactly like home.
“So,” Varric says, once again unable to stay entirely out of the storytelling. “Her Royal Majesty is recovering, and you've decided to stick around.”
Hawke nods. “I did. As it turns out, we had rather a lot in common.”
“Like your habit of getting into trouble of the kind that leaves the world order hanging in the balance?”
She laughs. “That – and a rather extensive number of our acquaintances.”
“You know Isabela?”
The question is asked one cold morning a week later as they're setting out from Ailis' cabin. It had taken Elissa a few more days to reach a state fit for travel, and by the time she'd recovered Hawke had been itching to move on. The little village had found them an odd occurrence, and she'd begun to worry word would start to travel – word, and with it, speculations. She's spent enough time listening to Varric talk about his numerous contacts to know how rumours get around, even from remote little cult settlements in the Anderfels.
They're to take turns riding Briar, and Hawke is astride the saddle now – “A woman in your condition,” the Warden had argued with an entirely too innocent smile, “Should get whatever rest she can.” (nevermind the fact that she's still limping slightly on one leg) – and revisiting every childhood memory that reminds her why she does not enjoy riding on horseback. Her thighs hurt, and the constant motion makes her queasy. The cool mountain air helps, but not a lot.
Hawke pauses at the query, and looks down at the Warden busy fastening their new bedrolls to the saddle. “I know an Isabela, yes," she says. "Why – do you?”
Elissa shrugs. “You talked quite a bit while I was recovering. I don't remember much of it, only that you were speaking, but I think I must have been awake for this because I swear I remember you mention a friend of yours called Isabela who swears like a sailor? Reminds me of an acquaintance of mine.” She looks up at Hawke then, curious. “Sharp knives, dark hair, and possessing a rather extensive vocabulary for the male genitalia sound about right?”
Hawke snorts, and – grins. It's hard not to, and oh but she's missed Isabela. “That sounds alarmingly accurate. Do we know all the same people?”
Elissa laughs. “It would seem so. Odd that we've never met before now.”
“Well I met your husband, but you were missing from that royal ensemble.” She considers the Warden as she speaks, wondering about the effect of her words.
But it's only the same old sadness in her eyes – a wistful look that makes Hawke's stomach twist. “Ah, yes. I seem to remember a visit to Kirkwall, some years back.” She's silent a moment. “Things were different then.”
Hawke does not immediately respond, and Elissa gives a pat to Briar's flank to get her walking. Master Ailis watches them leave from the hut's doorway, and Hawke feels her disapproving eyes on the back of her neck all the way down the forest path. They'd not discussed their plans within earshot of the old healer, but Hawke had had the impression she'd known that wherever their destination, it would not involve the recommended bed rest and staying-out-of-danger. But she'd made no mention of it, other than offer a parting glower and a strict order to eat regular meals and avoid uncooked meats.
The morning lies a quiet grey-and-gold around them, and as the little huts disappear between the greenery Hawke turns her mind to what lies ahead. Finding a cure to the Calling seems no simple matter, even to one who knows as little of the practice as she, and Elissa has not shared much but few and odd details of what it truly entails, save that it marks the end of a Warden's life.
She also hasn't the first idea where they are even supposed to start looking, but before she can ask –
“You know,” Elissa speaks up, between one breath and another. “I don't think I can get pregnant.”
The admission floors her, to say the least, and it takes Hawke a moment to reel her surprise back in before she can answer, and then only with a rather inarticulate “Oh.”
The smile she gets in response is wry – the sort that tells her the Warden has moved on from grief, but not enough to chase all the ghosts from the topic on the whole. It's another old wound, one of many that Hawke has become acquainted with in the weeks spent at the healer's cabin, but she bears her burdens well, for all that they are too many for a single person's shoulders, even those of the Hero of Ferelden.
“We tried,” she says then, apparently in something of a sharing mood. “For many years, before I left.” She looks up at Hawke again, lips pursed in an odd smile. “I suppose you think I'm over-sharing.”
“Who, me?” Hawke grins. “I confess that your nonchalance has caught me off guard, but I suppose there are stranger things to speak of, than the fertility of Ferelden's ruling monarchs.”
Elissa laughs at that – a short bark of laughter that's about as genuine a sound as Hawke as heard her make, and the smile that follows is, for a brief moment, without a trace of old hurt. “Indeed." She looks at Hawke then, grey eyes smiling in the soft sunlight. “What about...?” she gestures to the general area of Marian's stomach, which is sitting like a rather large melon below her breasts.
“The eminent father of my child?” Hawke asks, one hand on the bump. The babe does not stir, but movement has occurred with greater frequency in the past two weeks, and her worry does not fester quite as easily as it once did.
“Fenris is...Fenris,” she says then, unable, for once, to provide a more succinct answer. But the truth is so much more than she can put into words; the little things that makes her know him, but that are so difficult to convey – the ease of his brow as he sleeps, the warmth of his hands around her back and the small smile that sometimes curves at the corner of his mouth. The scarf he still carries on his wrist, and the droll responses prompted by her frequently attempted wit. 'Hawke, I am yours' but how can she explain it and do his heart justice?
But Elissa only smiles. “You don't have to strain yourself – I've read the Tale of the Champion. Granted, it left a few details out and some parts were rather...embellished.”
“That's certainly one way of putting it,” Hawke says, but Varric's grin lurks at the edge of her vision and she finds in the memory a fond smile.
“But he's waiting for you?”
Hawke pauses. Breathes. “I – yes. Or, probably. I don't really know what he is doing at present, there is the...case of him being unaware of my current whereabouts.”
“Ah,” Elissa says. “Sounds familiar.”
Hawke hums. “Does it now?" But her smile does not feel strained, now. Strange camaraderie indeed. "How about that.”
Elissa only shakes her head, but a comfortable silence follows the gesture as they pick their way across the softly swelling landscape. Briar walks mostly of her own volition, though at a slow enough pace for her Mistress to keep up, and Hawke finds herself dozing softly in her seat as the sun climbs its way across the pale sky. The glare of the sun makes her think of Kirkwall, but when she breathes there's no sea salt on the air, or the mingle of scents from the Lowtown markets, but she finds the memories easily enough. She thinks of the hat shop, and Merrill's soot-stained kittens, and little things like Anders passed out over his desk at the clinic. She visits the Hanged Man, and there's familiar laughter in her ears, and when she finds their table they're all there, and he's sitting there, a glass of wine at his elbow and a smile at the corner of his mouth–
She jolts awake when the horse comes to a sudden stop, and opens her eyes to find that the sky has darkened, and that her companion is unstrapping the bedrolls from the saddle.
“Had a good sleep?” Elissa asks, and Hawke has to take a moment to consider the fact that she'd actually been asleep. Atop a horse, good grief – Carver would never believe it.
“You didn't wake me,” she says instead, dismounting only with a little difficulty – the bump is not yet considerable enough to warrant any memorable acrobatics.
Elissa shrugs. “My sister-in-law slept a lot, when she was pregnant with my nephew,” she says, but despite her smile, the words sound sad to Hawke's ears. “I figured you'd need the rest, and I was glad of the walk,” she adds, but she can't quite convincingly hide the limp as she makes to start a fire.
Hawke does not know what to make of her words, but allows the subject to drop, and moves to help her.
By the time they've settled down for the night it's fully dark, but her impromptu nap has Hawke wide awake, and the bedroll on the hard ground does not beckon with particularly inviting fingers. But Elissa seems equally reluctant to retire, a heavy set to her brow that makes Hawke wonder if she's not hiding something else – something connected to the fact that she has yet to say anything about their destination.
“So, where are we going exactly?” she asks with a grimace, as she accepts the cup of strong-smelling tea passed over the fire. Ailis' doing, no doubt, and from what she remembers, it tastes just as bad as it smells, but the cup sits warm in her palm and with the chill in the air it is a small comfort. “I am right to assume you have some sort of plan?”
Elissa looks to the dark skies, and seems to consider the question – and, Hawke wonders, whether or not to tell her the truth. But then, “If I tell you, I need to you promise me something.”
Hawke pauses, immediately suspicious. “I'm not in the habit of making promises without knowing all the details. Well,” she admits with a wry quirk of the lips. “Most of the time.”
Elissa returns the gesture, but it seems forced. “I know, but this time I'm going to need you to.”
“I'm not liking where this is going,” Hawke says with a sigh, “But alright. What do you need?”
The Warden looks at her with something Hawke has discreetly named 'Her Royal Majesty's Frown', which is something to behold. “I need you to promise you'll stay behind...when the time comes.”
“'When the time comes?' That sounds rather ominous,” Hawke says. “Or it sounds like you're going to a particularly seedy brothel and wish to spare your unfortunately gestating tag-along the wiles of the Anders, in which case I'll make no such promise.”
Elissa only raises a brow. “A seedy brothel would be preferable,” she says then, and Hawke feels the first stirrings of real unease, because the Warden rarely resorts to that brand of droll humour unless it's accompanied by the mention of death in some form or another.
She looks at her then, and Hawke is reminded – suddenly, because she keeps forgetting, between the day-to-day banalities that make her out to be a rather common person, who eats and shits like the rest of Thedas – that this is the woman who ended the Blight.
And so when she declares that “I need to slay a dragon.”, Hawke does not wonder why she isn't the least bit surprised.
“Didn't you say there was no dragon afoot?”
Hawke does not look at him when he asks, and wonders idly if she might have been better off skipping this particular part of the story. But – she does not wish to be dishonest with Varric, although it's not an easy feat, admitting that not only did she unknowingly put herself and her child through quite a lot of danger before she knew she was pregnant, but that when she did find out, that did not stop her from landing herself into more danger, and quite a bit of it.
But before she can reply – “Hard to speak – shame burning bright, hot, dragon fire. Shame for putting him in danger, my little badger. When will I stop risking my own for others? The world always needs saving, but I need saving, too.”
Hawke jumps – spits an oath, and when she turns in her seat there's a young man sitting by the far wall, calmly as though he's been there all along. “Maker's balls–”
“Kid, what have I told you about announcing people's thoughts to the room before you've announced yourself?” Varric asks, and the young man looks – chastened, if that's the right word for a person Hawke can't decide whether looks young or old or – human?
He hesitates, and Hawke wonders if he's about to apologize, but then, “Such easy banter – all these people, family not by blood but found, and mine, where is mine? Far away, chains and gallows and sea salt, alley cats – daisy patch. And a wolf in the night, waiting, waiting – how long must I keep him waiting?”
“What is he doing?” Hawke asks, and doesn't know why there's a tremor in her voice. “Varric?”
The dwarf sighs. “Reading your thoughts, or – feelings...hells, we don't really know what it is. It's just – Cole.”
“You get used to it after a while,” Dorian says with a lazy wave. “With practice you'll even hear him coming.”
“It is disconcerting,” the Seeker agrees, “But there are worse traits to be had.” She glances at Varric when she says this, but the dwarf cheerfully ignores the jibe. Hawke doesn't know what to think about any of it.
“Badger, huh?” Varric says then, looking down at her son, who gurgles. “Well, until you come up with something else, it's better than 'little guy'. And we've already got one 'kid' in the Keep.” He nods to Cole, and Hawke follows the line of his gaze with a wary purse of her lips, but – he only sits there now, quietly, as though wholly intent on listening to her talk.
“Well,” she says, trying to shake off her unease, and the waver in her voice. “Now that we've all had a rather...thorough look into the inner workings of my mind, shall we continue?”
A murmur of general agreement greets her words, and “You were saying something about a dragon?” Dorian asks, intrigue bright in clever, dark eyes, and Hawke sighs.
“Ah, yes. The dragon. A rather memorable event, that.”
Are you ready for more of my atrocious wit, for here there be plenty.
“You know, you'd think people would notice a dragon passing by.”
It's asked with humour, but Hawke does not feel it, as though her reserves of honest mirth have run out and all she can scrounge up is a weak imitation of her usual cheek. But perhaps it's not so strange, because it's been weeks – well, something close to two months to be entirely specific, and all they've found have been vague clues and local hearsay, although Elissa is adamant the Anderfels is the place they'll locate their elusive drake.
Hawke does not protest her assurance, not having been in the habit of chasing down dragons for the fun of it, and despite their poor luck, the Warden appears to know what she is looking for. She's not said much else, and Hawke has not asked – there was something about dragons having a higher resistance to the Blight than other creatures, and that's really all one needs when one is looking for a cure that does not yet exist.
The Anders they've met on their journey so far have been entirely unhelpful, but from what Hawke has gathered they are following the instructions of an acquaintance of Elissa's, though she still insists they stop at each village in their path to enquire about dragon activity in the region. They're somewhere far to the north now, looking for an entrance into the Deep Roads she thinks might be their best lead, at least according to the letters she picks up at strange outposts. There's a system in the works, but Hawke has not asked about that, either, though the thought lurks at the back of her mind that if Elissa can keep in touch with other Wardens, she might get a word to Carver.
But – what will she tell him? 'Dearest baby brother, I hope you're doing well, wherever you are. Just writing to inform you that you are going to be an uncle! Don't let Gamlen set an example. All the best, your beloved sister. PS: I am at present in the rather questionable process of hunting a dragon, please don't tell Fenris'?
No, the humour does not sit quite so easily in her mind as it used to, for as the weeks crawl by so does the growing realization that motherhood is something of an impending matter she can't really escape. The bump – well, the bump is more than just a bump now, as she is reminded by the slight wobble her walk has gained. It's not aided their search – rather the opposite, but Elissa has not once asked her to stay behind, nor remarked on their slow progression (or that Hawke really ought to get in touch with someone who is not knee-deep in dragon dung and Warden business).
“I mean, I'd hate to think they were keeping one from us intentionally, but then these are the Anders – who knows what they're hiding in these mountains.”
She's rewarded with a droll look for that. “We came across a dragon-worshipping cult once,” Elissa says, as blandly as one recalls finding a new brand of weed in one's garden. “Thought she was Andraste reborn.”
Hawke snorts. “Well, that's one I haven't heard before. Props for originality, I suppose, if not for complete and utter idiocy.” She pauses, curious. “What did you do with it?”
“Oh, we killed it.”
“Ha. Bet they weren't happy about that.”
Elissa grins – a quick flash of a smile, and fond remembrance lights up her face for a brief moment. “Happier than I was – I was scraping dragon shit out of my boots for days.”
“So charming. And this from the mouth of a Queen.”
“Ferelden-born and raised,” Elissa counters easily, and of course, Hawke cannot argue with that. Mud and mabari do not a proper lady make, at least by Orlesian standards, anyhow.
Elissa falls quiet then, and Hawke follows suit, the ebb and flow of conversation a comfortable thing after so many weeks with no company but their own and a horse. But, though she's not required to keep the conversation alive, Hawke finds odd pangs of longing for strange things in the silence – Merrill's rambling and Varric's stories; Isabela's crude jokes and Aveline's anecdotes that read more like reports than anything else. It's a quiet, sombre longing that strikes her at odd moments, sometimes in quick flashes, and other times as though something is pushing its way up her throat, like a sob she can't quite release.
“How far to the nearest village?” she asks finally, when the sun has started climbing down from its high perch to throw their path in partial shadow. There's an ache in her legs, but with the current size of her belly, walking is almost preferable to horseback. Elissa has given up trying to make her ride, but walks beside her most of the time, and Hawke wonders if it's not partly out of spite, though Maker knows she's not a very vindictive woman.
“Another hour, maybe two,” she says, and gives Hawke a look. “Are you sure you don't want to ride the rest of the way?”
Hawke waves her off. “I'll manage another hour,” she says, and the Warden only purses her lips in silent disapproval, but doesn't push the matter even as the sky darkens, and by the time they arrive it's been a good deal more than a few hours.
The village is one of the bigger they've come across, and they draw surprisingly few eyes as they make their way towards the inn. Granted, without her Warden insignia and with Hawke's staff strapped to Briar's saddle, they look like any tired travellers on the road, and no one asks questions at the inn when they arrange for a room. And it's an actual, Maker blessed inn this time, with feather beds and a wash-bowl; Hawke almost can't believe her eyes.
She's just sat down – a long, happy sigh rising from her throat as her weight sinks into the mattress and the pressure on her feet lifts – when Elissa makes to leave again. “I've some business to take care of. Will you be fine on your own?”
Hawke lifts her head to offer a raised brow. “I ask for help to use the privy once, and suddenly I'm an invalid in need of constant supervision?”
“That was not–” Elissa purses her lips, and there's a smile there, Hawke sees. “Alright. Have your cheek, but if I'm gone and you can't get up off that bunk to do your business, know that I'll be the one laughing.”
Hawke grins as she pushes herself back up to a sitting position (and hopes her expression doesn't betray her difficulty). “That's what I'm here for – to keep your spirits up, any way I can.”
Elissa sighs and Hawke is – suddenly, vividly – reminded of Aveline. “Marian Hawke, with the Maker as my witness, one of these days you will be eating those words.”
“If they'll sate my current appetite, you'll hear no complaints from me,” she retorts, and tries to curb the sudden pang of homesickness that follows. But Elissa only throws her hands up, and is gone before Hawke can stop laughing. And – oh but it feels good to laugh, better than being off her feet, even, and it's such a rare thing, this honest good humour that she's tried to cling to for so long but that only finds her in these rare, peaceful moments.
The silence that follows the Warden's departure descends with a suddenness that makes her fingers tighten around the mattress of the bunk, and for a moment Hawke only watches the door, as though willing her to walk back in. The last two months have seen her grow used to the lack of privacy (or the existence of constant companionship, whichever appears less pathetic), to the point where being left alone with her own thoughts has become something of a challenge.
The first hour passes with little trouble – she takes a nap, but when she wakes the room is still silent, and so she roots around in her pack until she finds what she's looking for -- a piece of paper, and some ink procured along their journey, but she's used neither though they've been sitting in her pack for weeks. Of course, it's not her first attempt at writing since her path crossed with the Warden's, though Hawke does not believe herself particularly cunning in this respect; Elissa is likely more than aware of her plight. But aside from her dragon expert, Hawke has seen her write no personal letters of her own, and it's become a silent sort of understanding between them not to mention it. It's not the healthiest arrangement, perhaps, but Hawke is as loath to break it as Elissa.
Now the nearly blank page (nearly, because she's managed 'Fenris' but precious little else) sits in her hands, and there's time to breathe and consider her options. There's no dragon and no cure (not yet, anyway), and in a few short weeks she will have to come to terms with the bump-that-will-no-longer-be-just-a-bump. And Fenris. She will have to tell Fenris.
It's – it's rather pathetic, is what it is, this fear that if she slows down, if she allows herself to relax, to find her elf and have her child in peace, the world will truly come apart at the seams. It's certainly not very logical, but Hawke does not feel she has earned this right – not yet, anyhow. Not while the Inquisition is still fighting to right her wrongs while all she can do is sit on her hands with her over-large belly and swollen ankles to match it.
She looks at the piece of paper, and the name scribbled across the top of the page. It's a frighteningly simple matter -- write a letter and send it to the Inquisition, and Varric will take care of the rest. But then what? she wonders. Fenris will get it, and Fenris will–
Do everything he can to find her, and no doubt proceed to disagree rather vehemently with her current mission. And – she needs to do this, the knowledge of it sits with such a heavy conviction she can't shake it off. It might be a fool's quest but she's the willing fool, and she can't turn her back on Elissa now. Not yet.
You are running, the thought clings with stubborn persistence, like an itch she can't quite reach. You are both running, but where?
She's long given up on writing the letter and the paper and ink have been tucked back into her pack (and she's managed yet another nap), by the time Elissa returns.
“You've been gone awhile,” Hawke says conversationally as she enters, looking – distracted is the word, but the expression is gone with her next breath, replaced by a much-too cheerful smile.
“Ah – yes, I've just had a note sent. You remember that friend I told you about – the dragon expert? I've been trying to get in touch.”
Hawke hums, but finds she doesn't believe her for a second – there's too much honesty in her eyes for her lies to fall easily, and she's known enough liars to separate the good from the bad. And Elissa Cousland is decidedly of the latter sort.
“Good thing to have, that. Dragon-savvy friends,” she says instead, her tone light, because Hawke – Hawke is a particularly good liar. “I'd offer the services of my own, but unless you need the names of the seediest pubs in Kirkwall, I'm afraid the company I surround myself with falls rather short.”
Elissa laughs, and Hawke only smiles. The lie clings to her eyes still, storm-clouds boding ill weather, and she is reminded of the day they met, and the strange circumstances that have followed. And stranger still to come, no doubt, she finds, but Hawke won't deny the Warden her secrets.
Maker knows, she has more than her own share to account for.
“These Wardens are a tight-lipped bunch, aren't they?”
It's Dorian who speaks up, musing tone following at the heels of Hawke's rather ominous declaration.
Varric snorts. “You don't have to tell us.” He looks at her, a knowing light in his eyes. “Your brother could never be called 'chatty', but when he joined he shut up tight. And don't even get me started on Blondie.”
Hawke only shakes her head, but finds in her heart a swell of fondness, and – sorrow, for when was the last time she saw either of them? Too long for words, and what have her words given her but grief thus far?
“So what do you think was really in the letter?” Varric continues, drawing her attention. The babe is awake, but seemingly content, and Hawke waves her fingers with a smile, momentarily distracted by the shifting of those big, round eyes.
“To be honest?” she asks, a sigh following the words. “I haven't the faintest, but I'll bet good money it had nothing to do with dragons, or the Blight. Whatever it was, it wasn't anything she told me before I left.”
Varric sends her a look she knows – it's the one that usually comes before something goes to shit. “Thinking it might come back to haunt you later?”
She considers the thought – and the Warden herself, but however many secrets she might have hid, Hawke cannot reconcile the woman she'd travelled alongside for weeks with any deed darker than simply hiding something because it was not in Hawke's best interest to know.
“It's hard to say,” she admits at length. "For all her integrity and 'a Cousland always puts duty first', she was rather shrewd, so who knows who that letter was really for?"
“But does it matter?” Dorian asks. “Perhaps she had a lover – or it was for that husband of hers. I'm more curious about this dragon you've yet to get to – I don't need to know her private affairs any more than she does mine.”
“I would like to know,” Cassandra speaks up.
“Of course you would,” Varric adds under his breath, and between the easy exchanges Hawke finds her smile again.
“Well, whatever it was, you won't be hearing about it from me, so we might as well just get to the dragon, I suppose.”
“At the rate you are telling this tale, your son will be walking before it's over,” Dorian says, and Hawke grins.
“You mean you didn't enjoy my thorough recounting of all the different trees we passed?”
There's a snort, and – a grin, and oh but she likes Dorian. She knows that particular brand of humour, but most importantly, she knows what it hides. “You know, I almost have the feeling you're trying to bore us to death so we'll leave,” he says, then tuts. “Well, no such luck, Champion – trekking through the Anderfels still trumps what the Inquisition deigns to call literature. I'll take your trees any day.”
“Speak for yourself, Sparkler,” Varric says. “I'm still waiting for the dragon. Badger here agrees, don't you, little guy?” he asks, but the babe does not respond. Varric snorts. “Quiet kid.” He shoots Hawke a meaningful look, which she promptly ignores. She feels oddly distracted, his earlier question a lingering thought in her mind, and one that she has not visited for weeks, but now she can't seem to let it go. What other business did Elissa have that she did not tell her?
But -- she breathes, a deep exhale, and with it she lets some of her distraction go. She has other things that needs doing; a story that needs telling, and Elissa Cousland is miles away.
And anyhow, whatever it was it could not have been that important, surely.
He doesn't know how she's found him – he's left no trace of his whereabouts as far as he knows; has not mentioned a destination in any of his sparse notes. But between one breath and the next she's taken a seat across the small table, a smooth grace to her movements that draws eyes even through the shadows at the back of the Harlot's Ballad.
The smell of sea and whiskey stings like the spray of saltwater in his eyes, but Fenris hides his surprise well.
“Nice hat,” he says, and Isabela grins.
“Nice frown,” she counters. “A stare like that could make a girl feel like she's not wanted.”
“Not every girl, it seems,” he drawls, but the corner of his mouth draws up. “What brings you here?” he asks next, because he's genuinely curious. It's been months, and he's had word from Varric, who's off with the Inquisition, but of the others there's been little but vague rumours. Of course, he can't say he's made any honest attempts at tracking them down – after Hawke left he'd found himself wandering again, and strangely loath to break the solitude. (As though if he cannot keep her, he does not deserve the company of others, but he does not speak the words out loud).
But however dark his thoughts, Isabela cheerfully ignores them, and Fenris watches her kick her feet up on the table, tip her hat and wave for the barmaid to bring her a glass. “Would you believe me if I said I was in the neighbourhood and heard rumours of a dark, handsome elf lurking along the docks?”
He thinks of the town – the seedy port-side taverns and the merchant ships – and says, “Yes.” And adds, “But you weren't.”
She smiles, a familiar cat-like quirk of the lips. “No, I was not.”
He does not ask again, because she'll tell him, he knows, but she's got that twinkle in her eye that says she wishes to savour it, and Fenris is patient enough to wait.
The barmaid comes over with a glass, and Isabela watches her walk away before downing it in one go. Then she cracks her knuckles, adjusts her hat, and drawls smoothly, “So. You'll never believe who I got a letter from.”
Fenris lifts his own glass, takes a swing. “Debt collectors finally found you?”
She grins. “Ooh, but I've missed your dry wit.” In a smooth movement, she pulls out a rolled-up parchment from her boot, and Fenris finds the seal of the Grey Wardens stamped on the front.
“A Warden?” he asks. Then, “Carver?” His mind jumps at the thought, because perhaps–
But Isabela is shaking her head. “Not quite what you're thinking, pet.” She unrolls the letter, pushes it towards him across the table. His eyes find the scrawl, and – it's not one he recognizes. Neat and clean brush strokes cover the vellum.
“The Hero of Ferelden,” Isabela says, as she leans back. “An old acquaintance – don't look so dubious. I have other friends, you know, and she happens to be one.” She grins then, a slow smile stretching below the dark brim of her hat.
“And I'll bet my fancy new hat you'll never guess what she has to say.”
In which there is no limit to what a very pregnant lady can accomplish, and my faith in Hawke's abilities knows no bounds.
She wakes in a manner that has become aggravatingly familiar, by a cheerful reminder from her own bladder.
It takes her a moment to realize where she is – to connect the grey morning shadows slanting off the dresser and the small vanity with the inn they are staying at (one of so many over the past few weeks she's long lost count), and then another to discover that the bed next to her own is empty, the sheets made with a soldier's near exaggerated meticulousness, making it seem like it hasn't been touched, much less slept in.
“Elissa?” Pushing herself into a sitting position reminds her why she woke in the first place, and it's with some urgency (and very little grace) that Hawke scrambles from the bunk to reach the chamberpot.
“Oh, I hope you're laughing now,” she mutters into the quiet, rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from the corners of her eyes. But if the Warden is indeed laughing, it's not anywhere Hawke can hear.
When she's relieved herself she's too awake to find the bed very inviting, and by this time her hunger has manifested like a small beast at the bottom of her rather considerable stomach, and despite the fact that the sun has yet to rise, Hawke dresses and makes for the common room.
It is, unsurprisingly, deserted, save the lone serving girl busy cleaning the hearth, elbow-deep in ash and unmindful of Hawke's arrival until the creak of a loose floorboard announces it. The babe chooses that moment to shift – a rather disconcerting feeling she has become oddly accustomed to, and her hand flies to her stomach in reflexsive response.
Mistaking her reaction for one of alarm, the girl jumps to her feet. “Are you alright, Serah? Should I fetch the Mistress?”
Hawke waves her off. “No trouble – Liza, was it?” The girl nods, and Hawke finds respite on the closest bench, easing herself down with a groan. “Although if you could scrounge up something for me to eat, I'd be so very grateful.”
The girl nods again, and disappears into the kitchens, trailing clumps of grey ash along the newly polished floor. After a week spent in the rooms closest to the common room, Hawke can already hear the innkeeper's reaction, and tries to discreetly nudge some of it under the table.
Muffled voices drift from the next room, and the stern-but-kind woman whose hospitality they've intruded upon for the past week (and paid for with coin Hawke has no idea where the Warden has found) comes out of the kitchens, wiping her hands on her apron. “You're up early, Serah.”
Hawke puts on her most ingratiating smile, and pats her belly. “The joys of pregnancy.”
The innkeeper snorts. “Quite. What can I get you then?”
“Tea, please. Oh – and an egg. Or two.” Or five. Her stomach rumbles at the thought, and she considers for half a second actually asking to see the larder herself, but the innkeeper has disappeared back into the kitchens before Hawke can leave her hunger in control of her judgement. Of course, it certainly wouldn't be the strangest thing she's asked for since their arrival. She suspects they make an odd pair, but though she can see the questions clear on their faces, neither the innkeeper nor her curious staff have asked for their story. Hawke doesn't know whether to be disappointed or not; there are certainly enough possibilities to make quite an intriguing tale without revealing even a shred of truth.
Amusing herself with these thoughts – would they be runaway lovers? Or perhaps her child is the King of Nevarra's illegitimate heir? – she startles when Liza appears with a tray in her hands, clean of ash now and a nervous jump in her step that makes Hawke think of a frightened rabbit. But the girl is polite to a fault, she's come to learn, and says nothing as she pours the tea, although there's a world of questions in her eyes; ones that she will never ask, for fear that her Mistress will tan her hide for it, no doubt.
Hawke idly considers another option – a runaway assassin, pregnant with the child of the man she'd been sent to kill. Sounds like one of Varric's novels. What would Elissa be, I wonder?
Thinking of the Warden reminds Hawke of her strange absence. “Liza, my companion – you know the one. Short thing, blonde hair, face a permanent mixture of endlessly determined and sad mabari eyes. Have you seen her today? Did she say where she was going?”
The girl smiles serenely, but doesn't look up as she places the teapot back on the tray. “Oh, she went to kill the dragon.”
Hawke blinks. Takes a moment. Breathes. “What.”
“The dragon nesting in the mountains. She's gone to kill it – she said so when she came down earlier. It's been making the farmers worried, but she said she'd take care of it. Your arrival has been most fortunate, truly – everyone says so. Even Mistress Elena says she must be sent by the Maker.”
Hawke struggles to keep her expression neutral. The last she'd asked Elissa there'd still been no sign of any dragons, not even so much as a rumour. Or so she'd been told. But why would she lie about this, after everything?
“Wait – she's gone alone?” she asks then. “She brought no one else with her?”
Liza shakes her head. “I reckon no one would have gone if she'd asked. We're none of us warriors, Serah, least of all dragonhunters. You'll need to go a bit further south to find those,” she laughs.
Hawke is already moving, tea and eggs forgotten along with her hunger, and the girl startles. “Serah, what are you–”
“Nature calls, be back in a moment!”
The door slams behind her before the girl has had a chance to respond, and Hawke is already rooting through her belongings for her travel gear, pulling on her robe and boots before she has the chance to slow down and consider the wisdom of her hastily made decision.
They've been searching for that bedamned dragon for so long and making so little headway, Hawke had not once stopped to consider asking how Elissa had thought to kill the beast. There'd always been the assumption that there would be others included – the mysterious dragon expert, perhaps, or another Warden. A rogue dragonhunter met on the road, or just some hired hands out to earn some coin. Anyone, really, would be a better choice than to go off alone.
“Foolish, irresponsible–” the words trailing off into disbelieving grumbles, she grabs her staff as she makes for the window, but it won't yield, at least not enough for her to slip outside in her current state.
Of course, it's nothing a little brute force can't fix, and then she's climbing out, thanking whatever divine luck ensured them rooms on the ground floor. Climbing down from the one above would have been near impossible, and going out the front door would be out of the question – their hostess might not be comfortable enough to ask about their situation, but Hawke has spent enough time at the inn to gather that the innkeeper is not the sort to readily allow a heavily pregnant woman to run off into the wilderness to chase after a Warden hunting a dragon, lover or otherwise.
“Maker take you and your secrets, Elissa Cousland!” Mindful of her belly, slipping down the short distance from the windowsill takes surprisingly little effort, and it's too early for anyone to be up to catch her sneaking out like a thief.
As she already suspected, Briar is not in the stables, but a few carefully made inquiries to the early risers she does come across points her in the direction her companion has taken off. And it's with a reassuring smile and an 'oh no I'm not going after her, I just fancy a morning walk while my partner is off doing her good Warden deeds' that she makes an inconspicuous beeline for the hills.
Pressing a hand to her stomach, Hawke wills the babe to stay still. “Just for a little while, yes? You can do that can't you, wee thing?” There is no immediate response, and her bladder remains blessedly undisturbed. “There's a good little badger. Now,” she says, as she begins picking her way among the sparse trees lining the way up the steadily rising slope towards the mountains.
“You better not be dead when I find you, fool Queen!”
Her current state doesn't allow for a very quick pace, and so it's with considerable effort Hawke makes the slow hike up the hill, following the directions given by the villagers. But even as the sun climbs its way across the sky behind her, there's still no sign of Elissa.
By noontime her short trek has taken its toll, forcing her to take a break; sweat clings to the back of her neck, curling the fine hairs at her temples, and her breath is a sharp, ragged thing that feels like it belongs to someone else. And she hasn't walked very far; she can still spot the chimney fires above the treetops in the distance behind her, and a groan pulls free of her lips as she considers her lack of progress, and that she's never felt quite so useless.
Her luck is entirely debatable at this point, but she's just pushed herself back to her feet and made ready to move on when a tremor races through the ground underfoot. And she's taken exactly one step when the tell-tale roar heralding an approaching dragon tears through the quiet mountain air, before a familiar shape comes hurtling out of the tree-line at the top of the hill, sword in one hand and shield in the other–
– and with a very large, very angry beast at her heels.
Hawke isn't given long to think. In fact she's already raised her staff before Elissa catches sight of her, eyes going wide with either surprise or fury (both are entirely plausible, given her timely but unexpected arrival), but Hawke has no time for either. And she's carrying enough anger of her own to pool her magic, hot like an open fire although the spell she has in mind is easily the opposite, and the shout that tears from her throat cleaves the air in half, a roar of her own–
“DUCK, YOU BLASTED MONARCH!”
If her common sense is not much to brag about, the Warden's reflexes are certainly up to par, because as soon as the warning is off her tongue Elissa throws herself down, and Hawke lifts her staff with a nameless cry.
Frost coats her palms – spreads along her fingertips before it curls up the side of her staff, and when she knocks the butt of it into the moss it shoots like cold veins along the ground before it shatters, blades of ice pretty as crystals and hard as cold steel driving into the dragon's underbelly. It doesn't do much damage, but it succeeds in halting it in its tracks. The creature rears back with an ear-splitting shriek, attempting to break away even as the ice climbs its way along its limbs with a stubborn persistence Hawke has often had her own compared to. ("A temper like flashfire and the slow persistence of a glacier wearing away at the mountain. You certainly are a paradox, Marian my heart", she hears her father's old words; tucks them away below her heart where her child rests, to draw her strength from, and her courage).
The next spell leaps from her hands before she's taken another breath, and this time Hawke feels the cold along her neck and her ribs, and white crystals mists on her breath, clinging to her lashes and the damp strands of her hair.
Elissa is there then, sword at the ready – “Hold it still!” – and Hawke pulls on her last ounce of energy (her father's words, her father's faith, hers now) for a third spell, bile rising in her throat and her hands white-knuckled with frost and effort as she gathers enough ice to keep the dragon rooted in place.
If she'd ever doubted the rumours about the Hero of Ferelden's prowess in battle, those doubts are smothered by the sight of her scrambling up the side of the dragon with more grace than should be entirely possible, given the situation. It something of an amazing sight to behold, and the sudden, and entirely inappropriate thought strikes Hawke that Varric could write another ridiculous epic about this.
But despite her own efforts, she can't keep the dragon still for very long, and it pulls loose with a toss of its head that has the Warden toppling from its back, and there's a shout in Hawke's throat that dies on her tongue when she has to throw herself to the side to avoid being knocked off her feet by the swipe of a tail. The moss cushions the fall somewhat, and she rolls out of the way in time to avoid being trampled, catching the sight of a frost-coated underbelly as the dragon passes overhead, the ground trembling with its thundering steps.
She catches a glimpse of Elissa – the gleam of a blade raised, and despite the fear lodged in the base of her throat, Hawke pushes herself to her feet in time to see the Warden make another break for the dragon.
Movement leaps beneath her palm then, where she has it pressed to her stomach; a sharp jab, almost like a warning.
“Oh no you don't – not now.” There's a tremble in her voice, and another kind of panic shoots up her spine now. “You will stay put at least one more day, or so help me,” she grinds out, hand pressing against the small thump that follows the remark. “Yes, yes – your father would no doubt disagree, too. Good to know who you'll be taking after.”
But the small shudder beneath her hand is a relief, although one she can't make herself acknowledge now, with her heart in her throat and her hands shaking where she grips her staff. The familiar fatigue that follows extensive use of magic pulls heavily on her limbs, but she draws on her last reserves, stiff fingers grasping for just enough to cast a last spell. It sits a heavy weight in her mind, and the cost is more than the strength she's got but Hawke demands it regardless. Just one more. Just a little more.
Elissa appears in her peripheral, and Hawke breathes, staff raised in a curving arc and when she brings it down the sky cleaves open – lightening descending from a cloudless blue with a keening noise that explodes in her ears, to strike the beast towering like a small mountain. A natural target.
The dragon collapses with an earth-shattering cry – comes down with enough force to make the ground heave, and Hawke looses her footing, tumbles down the small slope until she can't tell the ground from the sky, before she comes to a sudden, jarring stop, and for a moment she's too stunned to move. The silence that reigns is a near deafening thing, and in the wake of the dragon's final roar and the lightening, Hawke's ears are ringing with a hundred Chantry bells.
Then – footsteps across the moss, before a face manifests before her eyes against the blue sky, and oh there's lightening in those stormcloud eyes, too. Hawke has never seen the Warden so angry.
“Marian Hawke, what do you think you are doing?!” Her voice is a shrill thing, and Hawke flinches at the sound.
There are hands on her shoulders then, helping to her feet (or dragging her, is more likely), and she has to grip Elissa's arm to keep from falling back down. But when her disorientation settles into something manageable, Hawke's own anger is there to take its place.
“Oh, you know, just out for a stroll – what does it look like I'm doing? Saving your arse, you royal fool! Did you think that because you've taken down one Archdemon you can singlehandedly take down all other dragons that cross your path? Have you lost your mind?”
Elissa gapes. “I'm the one who's lost my mind, am I? You're the one about to pop a bloody child!”
“That is neither here nor there–”
Elissa makes a noise – a furious, muffled shriek of a sound that reminds Hawke of nine-year-old Carver on the brink of throwing a fit. But then – suddenly, startlingly, and nothing like her baby brother – the Warden hugs her. She's a good head shorter, and Hawke's belly makes for a very awkward embrace, but her arms are steel in their sheer conviction and Hawke feels the relief hidden in the gesture all the way into her marrow.
It's over in a moment, but not before Elissa has landed a solid smack across the back of Hawke's head.
“I am so angry I could throw up,” Elissa declares, drawing what sounds like a starved breath. “You know what, I just might.” But another inhale seems to calm the urge somewhat, and she leans her hands on her knees with a groan, “What were you thinking, Marian?”
But Hawke is not so easily reprimanded as that. “Oh, I don't know, that dragonslaying is a rather lonely sport so I thought I might join you?” When Elissa only glares, Hawke glares back. “I thought my aid was implied when I said I would come along on your little quest, or did you not catch that?”
“Your companionship was implied! And you promised you'd stay behind when the time came. I'd never planned on asking you to help me take down the bleeding dragon! Do I look like an idiot? You know what, don't answer that.”
Hawke purses her lips, but curbs her knee-jerk response. With her heart no longer trying to break through her ribcage, her anger has nothing to cling to, thawing like the frost crystals on her lashes until all that's left is a lethargy that makes her strangely dizzy. Oh, but she's used too much magic, and with the added weariness of her pregnancy, she feels ready to take another tumble.
Elissa sighs, and with the expelled breath so goes some of her anger, Hawke sees. The small storms in her eyes settle, becoming heavy rainclouds. “Would you sit down before you fall down?” she asks, sounding suddenly about as tired as Hawke feels. But her grip is insistent as she helps ease her down onto a patch of moss.
“I need to collect some samples,” she says then, with a glance in the direction of the fallen dragon.
Hawke draws a deep breath. “Yes, you do that. I'll just sit here and – try not to throw up over my own boots.” Elissa glares, and Hawke waves her off. “Go, get your samples. I'm not going to run off in search of another dragon to slay, you know. I've had enough fun for one day.”
Elissa looks anything but convinced. “Are you sure you're alright? You're not injured?”
“This from the woman whose head is still bleeding. Go – get your samples and come back before you're the one who passes out.” When she still doesn't move, Hawke almost smiles – the blatant show of worry is, if not just a twinge irrational, oddly charming. It's been a while since anyone has given her so much grief for her habit of recklessly acting without thinking things through.
Fenris would have, the stray thought leaps from an unexpected place, but Hawke shoves it back down. “I'm not going anywhere."
“Are you sure–”
“Yes. Now go. We can yell more later if you wish. I'll think of some new royalty-related insults while you're busy carving up our scaly friend over there.”
Elissa snorts. “Don't tempt me. I've still got a few choice words for you.” Pressing a hand to the cut on her brow, she turns towards the fallen drake, muttering some of those choice words under her breath and leaving Hawke sitting in the moss, entirely spent and still reeling.
With the Warden's receding footsteps in her still ringing ears, Hawke lays back. Her hands are still cold when she touches shaking fingers to the swell of her stomach; the babe has not moved for a while, and worry creeps along her skin like frost in its own right. “Come on, badger. You're a bit young yet to give me the silent treatment,” she murmurs, regret swelling in her chest now in the absence of her fury. And she feels it, the whole, staggering weight of her hastily made decision, and she feels sick when she thinks back – the sight of the dragon's belly above her, a shadow to block out the sky, the tail lashing out and her fear colder than the ice in the cup of her hands–
Then – a kick against her palm, and her breath comes out in a great, surging woosh. And, she finds with only mild surprise, there are tears pressing against her eyelids. But the Warden is off collecting her samples, and so Hawke lets them fall without reserve; feels the warmth of them as they fall along her cheeks, to pool by her ears.
“No more,” she says then, voice hoarse as her fingers curl to loose fists. “No more running, and no more hiding. I'll be better than this, I swear it.” Looking up, she rests her eyes on the expanse of blue overhead, cheerfully cloudless and quiet in the wake of what has just happened. She thinks, suddenly, of the cornflower sky over Lothering, and sitting below the tree at the back of the farm, her mother's soft hands in her hair and the basket holding her newborn siblings at their side. She thinks of grey clouds over the Gallows, and his hand on the curve of her hip, a rare smile beneath the fall of his hair, that too like clouds, hiding his eyes from hers.
The sky is the same but she's in the wrong place, and how did she get here, she wonders, so far from everything and everyone?
“You deserve so much better than this,” Hawke says to the sky, a hand on her belly, ripe with movement now, but she doesn't know who she means.
Dorian actually looks surprised. “I'm sorry, you were how pregnant when you did this?”
“I've got to agree with Sparkler on this one, Hawke. And I know I'm going back on my own advice when I ask this, but I've got to know how badger here fits into all this,” Varric says.
“Well, for the better part of the journey he made very little fuss,” Hawke says, patting her stomach. “Granted, he was in here most of the time. And yes, I was rather...teeming, I suppose, when we took down the dragon.”
“Moss underfoot. Why here, why not anywhere else, a bed would be nice, soft, feather pillows not rocks and moose shit. Maker's balls, haven't felt this pain since that bear trap in Lothering. Bone splinters, breaks, Bethany running, Father's voice soothing, Marian my heart, but not now, there is no comfort for me now, Andraste's flaming–”
“Hawke,” Varric says, before the strange man-child can finish the thought. Hawke pinches the bridge of her nose, and tries to chase any and all colourful obscenities from her mind.
“You – you did not give birth in the wilderness,” Cassandra speaks up then, sounding truly scandalized, as though the thought itself is unthinkable.
“Well I highly doubt it was in a state of much comfort, this being the Anderfels,” Dorian drawls, but he still hasn't lost his look of intrigue.
Varric's grin finds her then – reminds her that she is here, not there; that there's a warm fire at her side and walls around her, and that her son is safe and slumbering. Hawke rests her eyes on the little nose, the jutting lower lip; she thinks of grey skies over the Gallows, smiling eyes hidden from hers and you deserve better than this.
“So, no easy labour then?” Varric asks, and Hawke snorts.
“Ha. Not quite.”
While a story quite like any other is being told before Varric's hearth, a nervous knock sounds on a door a few levels below in the Keep.
"M-my Lady Morrigan?"
Looking up from the tome in her lap, she finds a messenger in the doorway, shifting nervously from foot to foot. One of Leliana's runners no doubt; the loser of a bet made to see what poor sod would have to deliver the missive to the wicked witch hiding in Skyhold's underbelly.
A sigh. "Yes?"
The recruit swallows. "A letter's arrived for you."
Sensing the lad is not about to take any further steps inside, Morrigan closes the tome with deliberate care, and tries not to smile too much at his flinch upon her approach. "From Orlais?" she asks, eyeing the parchment in his hand. Empress Celene's letters have become sparser after the Inquisition's victory, no doubt sensing by Morrigan's short answers that she's not planning on staying for much longer, and that she won't be returning to her side at court when she leaves.
"N-no, My Lady." The lad holds it out with a trembling hand, and when Morrigan takes it, nods his head and nearly trips over his own feet in his hurry to get away.
Turning the letter over, her eyes find a familiar seal stamped on the front. "Well, now there's a soul I haven't heard from in a while." The Grey Warden seal breaks with little effort, and she unrolls the letter out to read. The date at the top of the parchment is a few weeks old, but she has come to expect as much; communication is difficult when one is sending letters from the middle of nowhere.
"So, what news have you for me, old friend?" she murmurs to the quiet, retaking her seat by the desk and holding the letter out below the burning candle.
I found the dragon you spoke of in the Anderfels, although for all your advice, it proved something of a challenge to track down (it's quite the tale, too. I suspect you will enjoy it). I've collected the samples you asked for, and I will be in Antiva awaiting your arrival once your business concludes with the Inquisition. I pray that your theory proves correct; I wish to go home.
Zev sends his love (don't scoff, you know you don't really mind), and my best wishes to Kieran. I look forward to seeing how much he's grown.
Just a fair warning, this chapter features the badger's birth, but there are no overtly graphic descriptions.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She doesn't know how long she lays there, sprawled on her back in the moss, but the sky has turned rosy with the pink shades of early evening by the time Elissa returns, Briar's reins in her hand and the mare at her heels, and Hawke knows she must have dozed off.
“I was wondering where you'd left her,” she says as she's helped to her feet. “Should have guessed she wouldn't be far off.” Patting the mare's neck, she finds an odd swell of fondness at the soft snort that follows. For all her usual caution when dealing with horses, their weeks together on the road have made her strangely attached to the creature.
“You are riding her back to the village,” Elissa says, taking Hawke's hand and dropping the reins into it. “And that's not a suggestion.”
“Your leg is giving you trouble,” Hawke counters, and tries to give the reins back, but the Warden crosses her arms in silent defiance. “Don't think I can't see the limp.”
“Oh Maker take my limp and your obstinate soul, Marian Hawke, this is not negotiable!” Her Royal Majesty's Frown is firmly in place, and Hawke is much too tired to argue, even if the thought of just getting on the horse seems beyond of her current capabilities.
“I'll help you," Elissa says, sensing a victory in Hawke's lack of convincing protests. "Can you get your foot in the stirrup?”
“I have a feeling you're not going to let me off the hook before I try,” Hawke mutters, fingers curling around the fastenings of the saddle, tugging once to determine if she's got a good grip. Then with a breath, she prepares to hoist herself up–
“Oh,” Hawke says then, and looks down at her feet. “Balls.”
Elissa comes around Briar's side. “What's wrong?” She takes one look at Hawke's hunched-over stance, and her soaked boots. “Oh.”
“Yes, we've established that,” Hawke manages, and there's a tremble in her voice she can't keep out. She'd known it was coming; had prepared herself for some time, in fact. Their plan had always been to stay close enough to a town or village, in case she should go into labour.
Of course, Hawke's plan had not included chasing after a Warden with a death-wish in her final month and battle a dragon, and there are consequences to be had for short-sighted decisions.
“Well, you certainly have impeccable timing,” Elissa says, voice calmer than Hawke finds entirely reasonable given the situation, and there are steady hands on her elbows, helping her sit back down. Briar whinnies softly, stepping restlessly along the moss.
“Now you're making jokes? On a sunny day I can't get a quip out of you but now that I'm about to give birth in the middle of dragon country you're making light of things?” There's a shrill note of hysteria in her voice, but at this moment Hawke could not care less, for there is real fear creeping up the slope of her spine, cold and numbing as the realization of what is about to happen settles with staggering weight. Maker, not now, anytime but now!
“I always keep a level head when things are dire,” Elissa answers breezily. “I had some of my finer moments during the Blight.”
“Splendid,” Hawke groans, as she helps her sit back against a protruding rock. “I'll be laughing through the pain. Just one question – an teensy one, as I'm rather confused – why am I sitting?”
Elissa crouches before her, stormcloud eyes sombre, and tells her, very seriously, “Marian, you are about to give birth.”
Hawke tries not to glare. “Oh is that what I'm doing, truly? And here I thought I'd just accidentally wet myself!” When the Warden's expression fails to change, Hawke reigns in some of her temper. “I meant, why aren't we heading back to the village? You know, where there are beds? Soft beds with feather pillows?”
“In your current state? It will take us hours, and we might not make it in time. You'll be better off if you just–”
“Are you suggesting I do it here?”
A pale brow quirks, and Elissa's expression is entirely unamused. “I am not suggesting,” she tells her evenly, and Hawke hears what she's really saying, as loud as if she'd screamed it.
But she isn't given the chance to offer further protest, because the pain that suddenly hits her lands like a punch, and despite her earlier words Hawke is suddenly very glad to be sitting down.
Labour is – well, it's painful. A long, drawn-out affair marked by sweat and misery and discomfort, and Hawke cannot remember ever screaming quite so much, even the time she got her leg caught in one of Barlin's bear traps.
“You're doing fine,” Elissa repeats at intervals, with a patience Hawke does not understand. But to be fair, she understands very little at the moment save the pain.
“I am not. I am dying.”
“What you are is prone to exaggerations. You are doing fine.”
Another contraction hits, and Hawke yells obscenities into the skies. A flock of birds shriek as they take off from the nearest copse of trees, and when she collapses back against the rock her ears are ringing with her own voice.
“You're usually very chatty in dire situations,” Elissa observes, almost a little glibly, but there's a sheen of sweat curling the hair at her temples and Hawke can tell her calm is a front, worn like armour. Very fitting imagery, she finds – the sort Varric would like, no doubt. “Nothing on your mind now?”
“Oooh there's quite a lot of things on my mind,” Hawke grinds out between breaths. Sweat is dripping into her eyes, and despite the slight chill in the air she's too warm, and her loose shift feels too tight. Her robe has been discarded along with most of her clothing, including her smalls, and with her legs spread beneath the open sky, the whole thing ranks rather high on her list of humiliating experiences.
“What about names?” Elissa tries, and Hawke wants to strangle her for her cheerfully diplomatic approach, like she's some obnoxious noble in need of sweet-talking. “Last we spoke you said you hadn't thought that far ahead, but I refuse to believe that. So come on – out with it. Your child is going to need one soon, after all.”
“See now, you say 'soon', but I'm not really inclined to believe you,” Hawke snaps.
“It will be over,” Elissa assures her, in a tone of voice that makes Hawke want to believe her. It's the sort of tone that could convince you of strange things, that an Archdemon can be slain, perhaps, or the Calling cured. “And you'll have a sweet, impressionable child to pass on your horrible wit.” She smiles, but Hawke cannot manage anything in response that doesn’t feel like a grimace. “And they'll need a name. You've thought of one or two, I'm sure.”
She has – of course she has. She's thought of names and little round faces, a boy's and a girl's; a sharp nose and big blue eyes (or green – they might be green and oh, but she hopes they are green, that they are his). She's thought of freckled cheeks and a name to go with those freckles.
“I was thinking – maybe Bethany, for a girl,” she says then. Ferelden boasts mostly grey skies, but in the summer months the sun would turn her sister's pale cheeks lively and spotted. Hawke does not have freckles herself (they were her mother's, and Hawke is in so many ways her father's daughter), but wonders if her child might.
“That's a lovely name. Anyone in your family?”
“It was m-my baby sister's – Maker's balls.”
“Breathe. And for a boy?”
The pain is making her dizzy, but the image of her father swims before her eyes, his kind eyes and patient smile, and the wry jokes that would have her mother burying her face in her hands. She wants to say it; she knows the warm, smooth syllables of his name as well as she does her own, but they stick to the roof of her mouth, refusing to be spoken.
And there are so many people to name her child after, she thinks – so many people lost, and whose legacies would surely live on but Hawke doesn't know if she can live with it. She bears the weight of her family's loss with her everywhere, and every day she thinks of her sister's freckles and her mother's soft hands, her father's deep laughter and Marian my heart. And it's a ridiculous thought, but part of her worries that if she gives her child any of those legacies – Bethany, or Leandra, or Malcolm – will she forget those small things? Will she replace them with her child's freckles, their soft hands and their laughter?
“I've got one,” she says at length through gritted teeth, and finds a small well of desperate mirth somewhere through the pain and the fear. A familiar defence even now, and the Warden is not the only one with armour. “What – what do you think of 'Hessarian'?”
Elissa only hums. “Positively blasphemous, and coming from you, entirely unsurprising. You can do better than that, surely.”
“Alistair, then,” Hawke tries. “That's your husband's name. You can name children after royalty, people do it all the time. I hear it's good luck, or some such nonsense.”
“I am aware,” Elissa says dryly. “But you will not. His head is big enough as it is, thank you very much.”
Hawke's response is lost in the scream that pushes past it, tears her words to shreds and oh, it's worse than the bear trap, it's an all-encompassing thing and no amount of preparation or soothing words could have equipped her for this.
“Ah, here we go,” Elissa says then. "Push. Again, now." And the words seem far away but her hands are firm and sure in their grip, even as Hawke's own fingers turn rigid and shaking where they're curled in the moss, clawing in search of reprieve -- just a moment to breathe normally between the bouts of agony that are worsening with each time, and that feel like they're about to tear her apart.
But then, with her breath lodged in her throat along with her scream, the latter pressed out through clenched teeth – it's over.
It's a relief unlike anything, and Hawke is lost – a delirious, shaking mess soaked in her own sweat, but the thought registers that the wail that cuts through the quiet now isn't hers.
Eyes blinking dazedly through the slowly settling dark, she finds the Warden's face, pale with more than her natural complexion, but she also finds the laughing smile focused on the tiny, cloak-wrapped and shrieking bundle in her arms. There's a waterskin in her hand, a sorry alternative but the best she's got, and the blood comes away, revealing a pink foot to Hawke's searching gaze, and a row of unbearably small toes. The little screams pierce the air with a strength that is surprising, dragging her from her pain-induced haze to the hard stone at her back, the evening chill and the moss still beneath her.
“You can scratch the girl name from your list,” Elissa says then, and Hawke's breath catches, but she can't find the words, too exhausted to locate her voice, hoarse from her own screaming. But there is no need for her words, and when the little, softly squirming shape is placed into her arms, the only thing she finds she can do is laugh.
The babe is small – so small that Hawke cannot tear her eyes away. She remembers holding Bethany on the day the twins were born and she'd been small too but so had Hawke, her own hands trembling and so desperately careful around the bundle placed in her lap by their father.
“Aren't you a darling,” she whispers, voice a rasp but reverent, and touching a trembling finger to the tiny, furrowed brow, her breath escapes her, a shuddering exhale that carries some of her wonder with it.
Elissa sits back with a sigh, wiping a hand across her face. Hawke notes she looks worse than she did after the dragon, but makes no mention of it, still too stunned to find her usual quick retorts with ease.
“Well that was certainly exciting. Let us never do it again,” the Warden says, and when she breathes next it's with a laugh that betrays her earlier calm, and Hawke spies for the first time the fear she'd managed to hold back until now. It shows on her face – the slight tremble of her lower lip, and in her eyes, wide and bright in the gathering darkness.
“Thank you,” Hawke speaks up after a lull, grip tightening on the babe. He's settled somewhat, the cries quieted to soft mewls and in the stillness and with her pain subsided she feels the full weight of what has happened. “I don't know how I would have fared if you had not been here.”
Elissa laughs again – a short, almost derisive sound, now. “If I had not been here, you would probably be in an actual bed, and a vast deal more comfortable.” But she's smiling, and Hawke finds honest relief in the curve of her mouth.
“Without a doubt,” she agrees. “But then I could never tell the story of how my son was born, on the heels of defeating a dragon and in the middle of the Anderfels. Feather beds don't make for very good fireside tales.”
Elissa is still smiling as she lays back, to stare up at the sky. “And how will you portray me in this story of yours?”
Her son makes a noise, a perfect little noise of discontent, and Hawke's heart leaps. “Why, as my trusty, dragonslaying midwife, of course.”
“The one who dragged you into undue danger, you mean?”
Hawke hums. “No, I think I managed that well enough on my own. Of course, I might gloss over the affair with the dragon. Not my finest moment, I'll admit.”
Elissa snorts. "The fact that you'll readily admit it makes me wonder if you are indeed still awake. It must be the labour talking."
Hawke only grins, and doesn't contradict her -- she is so, so tired, and she feels it with every breath, the slow lethargy tugging at her eyelids, wrapping around her like a strange warmth, even as the night chill starts creeping through her thin shift, to freeze the sweat on her brow.
They don't move for some time, even as late evening settles fully into night, and the sparse forest turns dark and still around them. It's a considerable walk back to the village and one they need to make soon, but for now they simply sit, quiet in each other's company as they have been on many such nights beneath similar skies. But it's not just the two of them now, but another set of breaths; another heartbeat, no longer below her own but tucked against it. Hawke marvels at it all -- at the sight of the pink face wrapped in the folds of her travelling cloak, no longer just a flutter under the palm of her hand but a real, tangible little person.
But most of all she marvels that her world is at once so much bigger than it was, even if she can fit it into the crook of her arm.
“Hessarian?” Cassandra deadpans.
Hawke shrugs. “There are worse names – I could have gone with Maferath.” The Seeker looks less than amused at the suggestion, and Hawke draws some enjoyment from the sight.
Having switched hands, her son is once again tucked against Hawke's own chest, fast asleep and breathing softly. The firelight dances across his rosy cheeks, and the memory of the day in the mountains, a star-strewn sky above and moss underfoot, seems like a strange dream. But she remembers it clearly enough – her own exhaustion, the pain, the steady hands and the level voice, and – she misses her, then. Startlingly, terribly so. With the remnants of her story still fresh on her tongue, she finds within her a longing for the early mornings with the sun barely risen, a cup of tea pushed into her hands, and the quiet company of one who does not need her words, but who does not deny her them when they are offered. A friendship moulded by long months in the wilderness and rooted in a rare understanding, the sort that could unite a Queen and a rogue apostate, world-weary and old before their years.
And suddenly – between one tiny heartbeat and the next, between one of her son's small, dear breaths and the soft wrinkle of a pert nose, entirely freckle free – Hawke finds an answer, long sought but clear now. An inescapable truth found in the gentle movements and noises that proclaim his good health; his safety despite her numerous, reckless choices.
“Speaking of names,” Dorian says, the question reaching Hawke through her quiet musings. “Surely 'badger' isn't what you're going with?”
She finds a smile. "No. It's not."
"Did you think of one, Hawke?" Varric asks, intrigue in the rise of his brows.
“I did,” she says, and she feels no sense of wrongness with the conviction that sits in her soft declaration.
A tremble of expectation follows her words – Cassandra leans forward in her seat, visibly enraptured, and even the mage looks to be hanging on to Hawke's every word. The strange one by the far wall is silent, but a small, knowing smile curves beneath the hat, and when his eyes meet hers he nods.
“Eli,” Hawke says then, letting the name settle, sweet like a honey-drop on her tongue. And it's not her father's, or her sister's or her mother's, but it fits, a warm truth working its way into the grooves left on her heart by her long life, her many losses. But -- she considers her son now, her biggest achievement; the dark hair at his temples and his quiet breaths. The calm heart beathing below a tiny chest a reminder of another's.
You've got the look of an Eli, she thinks, and finds with the thought the urge to laugh. And how much grief will you give me, I wonder? Will you run off to slay dragons? To find cures for the incurable?
What manner of person will you be?
The cold is biting against his cheeks, burning in his chest when he breathes, and he tugs the hood closer, searching for some respite from the relentless onslaught. The trek up the mountains has not been kind, but there has been enough desperation in his heart to keep his feet moving, a third companion on this last leg of their journey up the Frostbacks.
But then, rising up from its cradle of snow and jagged stone cutting into the sky (blue, blue as her eyes and how many times has he thought that these past few hours?) –
“Skyhold,” Isabela declares, stopping to admire the sight, voice slightly muffled by her own hood. “Well the name fits, I'll give them that.” A low whistle pulls free of her lips, a keening note carried with the frozen wind. "Would you look at the size of the place? This Inquisition doesn't do things half-assed.”
Fenris considers the sight, and the possibility that lies ahead – or that might lie ahead. He has no guarantee that there will be anything awaiting them but more questions. The Warden's letter had been several weeks old when Isabela had finally tracked him down, and older still now. But they have no other clues to go by than her vague assumption that Hawke would no doubt rejoin the Inquisition when–
He cannot finish the thought – dares not, for many things might have happened in the time that has passed between the day the Hero of Ferelden decided to put quill to paper, and the day the letter found itself in Fenris' hands. Several weeks, and if her estimation proved correct, long enough for the child to be born. Hawke's child.
A hip nudges against his, and Isabela's smile is flash of teeth within the cover of her hood. “Dark thoughts?”
Her levity is not an unwelcome thing. “No more than usual.”
“Well if you're in the mood to make jokes, they can't be that dark.” But a hand on his shoulder follows, a tight grip that speaks of different things than her light words, and he knows it as comfort, but Fenris would be the last to accuse her of sentiment.
“Cheer up, pet,” she says. “It's not the end of the world. Well,” she laughs. “Not anymore.”
He considers the fortress, looming with unspoken promise in the distance. “Do you really think she'll be there?”
The pirate shrugs. “It's where Varric is, and if I know Hawke, and I do, it's where she'd go. I'd stake good coin on it." She gives his shoulder a pat. "Either way, it's our best option, unless you want to start with the Anderfels.”
Fenris doesn't contradict her, mostly because he doesn't want her to be wrong. The sky might be healed, but it's been nearly a year since she'd left him, and for weeks he's carried the knowledge of the secret she'd taken with her, sitting like a knife's edge beneath his ribcage, a reminder with every breath taken that he still has no idea where she is, if she's well, if–
If their child is well, and it's not the cold that leaves him breathless, now.
“Now," Isabela says, sparing no more time for contemplation as she sets off towards the curving slope winding its way towards the rising parapets of the Inquisition's base, her seafearer's legs picking an easy path along the uneven trail.
"Let's see if we can't find your hawk and fledgeling.”
Eli pronounced as 'Ee-lai' and yes, I am a sentimental goob of epic proportions.
They are no longer strangers, the morning they find themselves at a crossroads once again.
It's not raining, but the sky is overcast and grey, and white mist curls lazy fingers around Briar's hooves. Beside them a lone signpost looms, a solitary guide where the path forks, the writing old and barely legible.
Hawke tucks her son into the cover of the sling tied beneath her sheepskin coat, stroking a thumb softly over a small, round cheek. He makes a noise at the movement, brows drawing together, but settles quickly into the warmth.
At her side is the Warden, not seated in the saddle now but holding Briar's reins. It's a strange sort of quiet that rests between them, this pale dawn hush, laden with something Hawke cannot name, and she waits for the Warden to speak.
Grey eyes lift to hers, holding secrets she still won't tell, but there's something more than simply sorrow in them now.
“Lost?” Elissa asks, a smile at the corner of her mouth.
But there is some of the Queen there, too -- a regal air that even boots stained to the knee with dragon shit couldn’t diminish. Hawke wonders if the woman herself is aware, but tucks the thought away.
“And yourself?” she asks instead, plucking the words from her memory, easily found, for all the weeks that have passed since she last spoke them. “Still adrift?”
Elissa looks at the signpost, and the road stretching across the landscape into the distance, obscured by a thick cover of mist. A different crossroads than the one where they first met, all those months ago, but a fitting end to a journey, perhaps, for two women who can't seem to stay still. Hawke decides that she will mention it to Varric, when she tells the story.
“No,” she says at length, and her smile curves with a joy Hawke has seen only on rare occasions. For a moment it makes her look younger than her years – or perhaps her true age, for like Hawke, the worries at the corners of her eyes cut deeper paths than they should. “I know where I'm going now.”
“And where is that?” Between the birth and the Inquisition's victory, Hawke has not thought to ask. 'For as long as I am able' had been her promise, in the healer's cabin so many weeks ago with her child still in her womb. They have yet to find a cure, though the samples collected from the dragon lie tucked in Briar's saddlebags, and Hawke knows that the Warden is rarely without some manner of plan in mind.
And so, “Antiva City,” she says. “I've plans to meet up with some old acquaintances. My dragon expert, among others.”
Hawke hums. “Your mysterious friend finally coming out of hiding?”
Elissa laughs. “Not from hiding, but you could say she's been...otherwise occupied.”
“Sounds fittingly ominous, for an acquaintance of yours. Always busy with mysterious things.” But a grin is quick to follow, and says more than her teasing words – that Elissa is still due her own secrets, even know. “And warm and balmy Antiva will be a pleasant change from this place, I'm sure.”
“Without a doubt,” Elissa sighs. “And you?” she asks then, what Hawke knows is coming. “Off to find your elf at long last?”
And Hawke's answering smile holds more regret than mirth. “Not just yet. I – have someplace to stop on the way.” Looking down, she finds her son asleep, the little face partly hidden beneath her coat. Where does one even start, explaining the sudden existence of a child? Being pregnant was one thing, but now their son lies breathing in her arms and Hawke is still at a loss.
But one thing is certain – if she wants to find Fenris, Varric is the one to ask.
Hawke looks up, surprised, and finds a strangely knowing smile to greet her. “As a matter of fact. There is someone I must speak with – you remember I told you about Varric?”
“The writer? Oh yes.” She smiles. “Planning on having our story published?”
“Good grief, no.” Hawke attempts a wry smile. “And I'd rather like to think he's got other stories to tell, what with their defeat of Corypheus.” There is no bitterness in her voice when she speaks now, but there doesn't have to be for Elissa to hear it, and her understanding sits in the subtle shift of her brows.
The news of the Inquisition's victory came only a few days after her son's birth, with Hawke still sleeping off her exhaustion. A strange alignment of occurrences, perhaps, but Hawke has never been one for superstition. And though the news were undeniably good, there is the persistent feeling of ineptitude she still can't shake, even though the sky is healed and the world is celebrating.
“We should both be off, if we're to make the most of the light.”
The remark carries the finality Hawke has been waiting for, but she finds the thought of departure comes with surprising ease. And with the words still warm on her tongue it's Elissa who reaches out to draw her close, a gesture that bears the knowledge of a hundred farewells.
“You will be careful,” Hawke says, and tries not to think too much about the chin tucked into the dip of her throat. Bethany had been just a little bit taller, and for a moment the similarity is almost more than she can take. “No running off into danger unprepared. No darkspawn arrows.”
“No dragons,” the Warden promises glibly, and Hawke wants to laugh, but her throat feels too thick.
Elissa draws back. “Until next time, Marian. Take care.”
“Those are my words,” Hawke says. “You are the troublemaker, after all.”
“How true,” she hums with a smile. A slender hand comes to rest on the bundle, gentle against a soft cheek. And there is longing in the heart of her stormcloud eyes, an honest thing she doesn't bother to hide now. “I look forward to hearing what name you decide on. So long as it's not my husband's, mind.”
Hawke does manage a laugh now, but it's a wet sound, giving away more than she'd usually be comfortable with, but she finds she has no mind for it. “I'll have to think of something else, then. You know how I strive to be unpredictable.”
“Oh, I know.” A grin follows, quick and clever with fond rememberance, before Elissa lifts herself with ease into the saddle, and Hawke is struck by the image. A Warden Commander and an apostate meet at a crossroads. The Warden says 'goodbye, Marian Hawke' and the apostate tries not to break down like a blasted child.
“Say hello to your King for me,” she says, voice wavering just a little.
Elissa's smile turns sombre. “I hope to.” Then she flicks the reins, and Briar canters forward, but Hawke does not linger to watch them go. Instead she turns, her son still tucked against her heart, and puts the crossroads behind her. She's chosen her path. They both have.
Now begins the long journey home.
“And here I am.”
The room is quiet when she stops speaking, the soft pop and hiss of the fire the only sounds save the howl of the wind against the outer walls. A scene more fitting a fireside horror story, but all that lingers now is a heavy silence, punctuated by the tender breaths of her son.
Eli, Hawke thinks, the name still a small marvel; a strange taste. This will take some getting used to.
“What will you do now?” The Seeker sits back in her chair, brow furrowed with thoughts and impressions at which Hawke can only guess. Concern, perhaps. Honest intrigue, most definitely, but Hawke does not blame her for that.
Herself, though...herself Hawke blames for a great many things, and the guilt doesn't sit any easier now, at the end of her tale. Rather the opposite.
She draws a breath; works her tongue around the words before she speaks them. “I have a letter to write, to start.” A letter long overdue, and even now the task seems a daunting one.
“Want me to write it for you?”
She's not surprised that Varric would ask, and a few months ago she might have taken him up on the offer without a thought. But there are so many things Hawke should have done that she hasn't, and this more than anything else. She can’t keep choosing the coward’s path.
Eli sighs then, and her wavering courage settles to something that feels like calm. “No, I'll write it,” she says, and feels for the first time like she can. The words seem like tangible things now – we have a son. Maker, but we do, can you believe it? – the truth of his existence as real as the weight of him in her arms. She will do this. “This is something I should have done a long time ago.”
There are no remarks from those gathered to either contradict or support her claim, but Hawke does not need either sentiment, well aware of her own understatement. But dwelling on her own poor choices will get her nowhere; she’s lingered long enough on those thoughts.
The young man by the wall looks up then, as though to listen for something beyond their hearing. Perhaps more visitors, although Hawke does not think she's up for a retelling. Varric will have to do the honours, for all that she'll probably end up regretting it. She feels raw, like she's exposed more than she'd thought she would, both to herself and to her audience, but it's too late to take her words back now.
“A wolf prowls closer,” Cole says then, and Hawke's heart springs, a startled leap in her chest. “He brings the sea with him.”
The door opens before she's had the chance to let the words sink in, and she's barely had time to lift her gaze before a familiar storm of dark hair comes striding in, the wicked curve of the half-moon daggers on her hip glittering like her smile, and Hawke can only gape as Isabela comes to a stop between Cassandra and Dorian.
“Look what I’ve found,” she declares, flicking her eyes to the open doorway, and Hawke’s world turns quite thoroughly on its head.
Because for all her surprise at her friend's arrival, it's the figure that lingers by the door that steals the breath from her lungs. A thick hood is pushed back to free his hair, coloured pewter in the shadows of the doorway, but she knew him already from his gait, as she would have known him anywhere.
“Holy shit,” Varric says, and Hawke can only offer her stunned agreement.
The room echoes their astonishment, and a lull follows without a single word uttered, leaving Hawke feeling like the floor has just come apart beneath her feet.
“Fenris,” she says at last, the name made hoarse with her disbelief, and the heart lodged firmly in the bottom of her throat.
The utterance is what does it – because how many times has she spoken it these past few hours? – and it snaps Dorian out of the spell that seems to have descended upon those gathered before the hearth. “This night just keeps getting better and better.” A glance in Varric's direction is quick to follow. “Did you plan this?”
The dwarf shakes his head, his own incredulity evident. “Appreciate your faith in my timing, Sparkler, but this isn't my doing.”
The exchange has effectively poked a hole in the awkward silence, and, Hawke notes, succeeded in catching Isabela's attention.
“Hello,” the pirate purrs, mouth curving with a cat's wicked intent. “And here I was thinking the Inquisition was just a gaggle of spot-faced minnows. If they'd slapped your face on the banners, I'd have joined a long time ago.”
Dorian laughs, visibly delighted. “As I’ve been telling them since I got here, but do you think anyone listens to my recruitment suggestions around here?”
“A true shame.” Isabela doesn't move, but Hawke knows that stance – and that look.
“Rivaini,” Varric greets, rising from his chair, arms spread with a smile. “You're a long way from the high seas.”
Isabela spares Dorian a lingering look, before turning her attention to the dwarf. “Varric!” Her smile is infectious and dearly familiar, and Hawke becomes acutely aware of how long it's been since they last saw each other. “I'd say you were a sight for sore eyes, but they're not so sore anymore.” She throws a meaningful glance in Dorian's direction. “His face is prettier than mine.”
The mage only grins, but Varric shakes his head. “Nothing for you there, Rivaini,” he mutters under his breath. “Trust me.”
Isabela waves him off. “A girl can look.” She casts a glance about the room; surveys the situation, the tense atmosphere. Frowns. “Though I'd rather look for a good time. Don't suppose there's any taverns this far up in the mountains? I'd kill for a glass.”
The dwarf grins. “You're in luck -- there's whiskey. The good stuff, too, not just pisswater. And a lot of spot-faced, Maker-fearing recruits in the need of a good debauching.”
“A hymn to my ears.”
Varric looks at Hawke, then at Fenris, a quiet shadow in the doorway, and Hawke doesn't know whether to rise to her feet or stay where she is. Eli lies sleeping still, blessedly unaware of the events unfolding around him; the air trembling with unspoken things.
Thankfully, Varric doesn’t dawdle. “You know, how about we all head down?” He looks pointedly at Cassandra. “You look like you could use a glass, Seeker.” Then adds under his breath, “’Course, you look like that all the time.”
Cassandra glares, and rather looks like she wants to do anything else, but she rises to her feet without a word, sparing Hawke a last, long look as she moves to walk past the new arrivals. Dorian, much to Hawke's surprise, offers no vocal objections, but the gleam in his eyes tells her Varric will have his hands full once the whiskey starts running.
Chancing a glance towards the far wall, she isn't surprised to see that Cole has disappeared without their notice, and Varric offers her a sympathetic smile as he walks past her, clapping her once on the shoulder. “Good luck.”
Isabela is the last, watching as the room clears, copper eyes alight with something Hawke can't read. The thick gold links of the choker in the cradle of her throat glow in the firelight, the trinket so starkly at odds with the thick, fur-lined coat she's donned for the journey up the Frostbacks, and Hawke has to marvel that only Isabela could wrap herself in winter clothes and make it look like a fashion statement.
It takes her two long strides before she's kneeling before the chair, kohl-rimmed eyes sparing Eli a quick glance before they find Hawke's. “Sorry for the drop-in,” she says, quietly enough for only Hawke to hear. “You can yell at me later, when you've cleared the air in here.” She winks. “And for once I'm not being obscene when I say that.”
Hawke snorts, but finds a smile. “For once.”
Isabela smiles too, with the understanding of someone with pockets full of secrets. “You've got some explaining to do.” She pats her knee. “And you'll tell me all about it later.” She looks at Eli again, still slumbering. “Would you look at that,” she muses, as though to herself, before rising smoothly to her feet, landing a quick kiss to Hawke’s cheek as she goes, and Hawke catches the smoky tang of winter frost and sea-salt, before Isabela draws back.
On her way out she passes Fenris in the doorway, placing a hand on his shoulder before she saunters past without another word, but Hawke doesn't miss the silent exchange, and knows there is a story there, too.
Then she's gone, and it's just the two of them, and Eli, alone in the quiet room.
Hawke rises to her feet then – gingerly, so as not to jolt the babe – and looks up to find him watching, eyes flickering between the child in her arms and her face, as though unsure of where to rest his gaze.
“So,” she says, and her voice sounds like someone else's – a trembling, uncertain lilt, and she has to curb the urge to bury her nervousness with an ill-timed joke. “You're here.”
She doesn't know what she'd expected – affirmation to her rather obvious observation, or for him to stride across the room and take her in his arms. She thinks some part of her might actually be wishing for the latter, and good grief, but have they been apart for so long she's become a romantic?
Except there is nothing romantic about this, and when she looks into herself all she finds are empty, humourless words. 'Hello, long time no see, I know I kept your child from you but I was hoping we could see past that little detail' isn't going to cut it, and standing before him now, their son in her arms and him not dead but alive and breathing and here, in Skyhold, Hawke cannot even muster a smile.
“I was going to write a letter,” she says then, when he hasn’t spoken, and the silence has dragged on long enough to make her jittery. As though it makes a difference, telling him this now; as though it even begins to explain the amount of unwritten, half-written, crumbled and ruined letters that she's kept tucked in her pockets, cradled between trembling fingers or tossed into the flames of a campfire only too willing to swallow the things she'd been too much of a coward to say. “To you,” she adds, needlessly, because he still hasn't said a word, and her heart feels like it's about to push its way up her throat. Or it might just be vomit. “About everything.”
Fenris remains quiet, and for a moment – one terrifying moment where she feels a stranger before him – Hawke can't read him. And she knows the furrow of his brow; knows him angry and furious, eyes and lyrium-lines alight with it, but she doesn't know what to make of his expression now.
“I received a letter,” he says at length, and the sound of his voice strikes her; shakes something loose within her that's been coiled tight for so many months. His tone is neither condemning nor forgiving but calm, and – Hawke frowns, aware for the first time since his arrival that out of everything she'd expected him to show, some measure of surprise had been pretty high on the list. But he doesn't look surprised, and when she thinks back, neither had Isabela.
And – a letter? She knows Varric has kept in touch, but even if one of his letters had prompted him to make a visit, it doesn't explain his reaction – the lack of surprise, as though he'd expected to find Eli in her arms when he walked into the room.
But that's impossible. Unless–
“You knew,” she says, as she attempts to put the pieces together. “How?” Her breath feels too light, like it won't fill her lungs completely.
The smile he offers is a pale thing, brief and humourless, and she thinks it might have hurt less if he'd not smiled at all. Then, “The Hero of Ferelden,” he says, and Hawke's world comes grinding to a halt with the simple utterance – and the very last thing she'd expected to hear.
She thinks she might be gaping. “That...shrewd wench!” It stumbles out, along with a breathless, disbelieving laugh because she'd been fooled – she'd been fooled by the worst liar in Ferelden, and oh what she wouldn't have given to see the look on Elissa's face. She tries to imagine it, and – and then she's laughing in earnest, so much it's almost painful, because for all her serious integrity and honest approach to everything from haggling over prices at market to scraping shit from her boots, the bloody Warden had gone behind her back. And Hawke doesn't know whether to be proud or utterly furious, but all she can seem to manage is to laugh – dry, painful heaves that makes her chest hurt and her head feel faint.
A noise from below her chin drags her eyes to her son, awake now and looking at her with his indeterminable, glasswork eyes. And she's crying now, she knows, the laughs having turned to sobs, and the little face draws together with the promise of a heart-wrenching wail; a small, keening sound building in his throat like a warning.
A hand comes to cover hers where it cradles the small head, tanned knuckles etched with lines she could sketch in her sleep, but it's a hesitant gesture, and when she meets his eyes it's to a question.
But Hawke doesn't hesitate, and when she gives him the babe – fussing in earnest now, with tears gathering in his long, dark lashes – Fenris' hands are sure with their added burden as she helps place it, small and wiggling in the steady cradle of his arm.
No words are exchanged between them, and he's still calm, and far more composed than she when the babe had first been put into her arms, Hawke thinks, that cold night beneath the stars in the Anderfels. But she hears the slight catch in his breath, a near imperceptible sound lost between Eli's mewls of discontent.
She lets go – lets her hands fall to her sides, but she doesn't step back, watching as Eli's squirming recedes, the noises becoming softer, gentler things as he settles into the new warmth. Quick to find trust in a safe embrace, although perhaps that is the way of some babes. Bethany had been the same, all toothless smiles and laughter in just about anyone’s arms. Carver had not been so trusting, and Hawke remembers, suddenly, the wrinkled nose and the wary looks when he’d lie in her lap, her father’s hands helping her support his head. ‘You will have to win this one over, heart. Not all babes have your sister’s disposition. You don’t remember this, but there was a time you would not let me hold you. Stubborn, like your--’
“I feared for you.”
Startled out of the memory, Hawke looks up to find Fenris watching her. And it's an expression she recognizes, but the realization brings her no joy. It's one she would often feel at her back, those long years in Kirkwall where he'd worn her favour on his wrist but kept his distance. And it hurts, the knowledge that she's the one who put that distance between them this time. Months without a word, and he'd known of her condition – known that she'd been Maker knows where with a strange Warden, possibly risking not just her own life, but the life of her child as well.
Their child, she corrects herself, and the truth wedges between her ribs like a knife.
“I know,” Hawke says, and feels wretched tears pressing against her eyes. “I won't ask you for forgiveness,” she continues. “I would only ask that you believe me when I say I didn't know what to do, and – I made a coward's choice, keeping it from you.”
They're standing very close now – so close she can feel the warmth of his skin where his hands cradle their son, but she doesn't dare move to touch him, for fear that he might pull away. She's endured his rejection once, under different circumstances perhaps, but Hawke doesn't think she'd survive it another time.
He's looking at her still, and she could have wept for the naked emotion on his face now, no longer concealed beneath things she can't read. And she sees her own thoughts in his eyes, her own fears, and when he leans towards her, she doesn't move away.
It's not a kiss, but a shudder runs through her when his brow comes to rest against hers, and she feels the long months in her bones. And his longing sits a sharp reminder in the near brush of his lips against her cheekbone. Still not a kiss, and not quite forgiveness. But it's not resentment, either.
“I – thought you'd be angry,” she says. She doesn't know why she says it – she doesn't wish to start an argument, but the fear still sits like a lump behind her ribs; the fear that makes her wonder if he'll finally decide he's had enough of her selfishness, her poor choices.
His sigh is a tired sound, and she feels it against her cheeks. “I was angry, Hawke. You leave without a word, and months later I receive a letter, not from you, but from a Warden concerned for your health.”
Something swells behind her breast. “Something of a hypocrite, that one,” she mumbles.
“She was not alone,” Fenris says. “I feared for you, Hawke,” he repeats, fiercely despite the calm intonation.
Hawke opens her mouth to respond, but is quick to close it. She doesn't want to offer excuses, though she finds them easily enough, already formed on her tongue. Barring the incident with the dragon and their first encounter with the darkspawn, their trek across the Anderfels had been mostly uneventful. Hardly more dangerous than the Lowtown market at midday.
But it might very well have ended in disaster, she knows, and her excuses seem like fickle things, with their journey fresh in her mind.
Eli makes a noise then, and the distraction draws their eyes. Oblivious to the nature of their conversation, the babe offers the full, boundless depth of his gaze, and Hawke proceeds to forget every thought in her head.
“You have a son,” she says instead, when she comes to realize she hasn't actually said the words yet. “Fenris, we have a son. Can you believe it?”
He doesn't answer, and she doesn't know if it’s because he can't find the words to respond, or if he has them, but knows they will hurt her.
“I–” she tries. “I understand if you want nothing to do with me right now. Honestly, I don't know if I'd want anything to do with me at all, but–”
“Hawke,” he says, and her breath leaves her in a rush. He's looking at her again, the weight of his unflinching gaze rooting her to the spot. He hasn’t looked at her like that in years.
Her chest hurts, and she feels numb -- cold to the marrow, like the wind has somehow managed to seep through the walls from outside, to curl unforgiving fingers around her heart.
“In the letter,” Fenris says then. “She said you were helping her look for a cure.”
Hawke nods; swallows thickly. “For the Calling.” She tries a smile, but manages only a trembling impression of one. “And they say I'm the one with ambitions.”
“She also said you'd spent weeks at her bedside when she took ill from a wound,” Fenris continues. “You are not a woman who abandons others, Hawke. I would not hold that against you,” he says. “I only wish you had not kept this from me.”
It’s not a rejection. It’s not forgiveness, but it’s not a rejection, and the pressure on her chest lessens a fraction. She doesn’t dare name it relief, but she feels like she can breathe again, and the urge to reach out to touch him becomes near unbearable.
Her voice is little more than a murmur when she speaks. “That makes two of us. If anything, I hope you'll believe that. I just...I didn't know what to do. There was no – we didn't plan this, Fenris, but there I was, and the weeks just flew by and then there he was, this tiny, living thing in my arms...” Her lungs feel starved when she draws her breath. “A lifetime of poorly made choices has not equipped me for motherhood, I'm afraid.”
For a moment he just looks at her, and then at Eli, not squirming at all now but quiet, peering up at them with a babe’s curious interest. “I would say you've done a good job so far,” he says then, and the words hold a smile that steals her breath.
Hawke wipes at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. “Well, he's an exemplary child. Must be from your side -- no Hawke has ever been so agreeable. Well, perhaps Bethany, but she was always a bit odd.”
His smile is a brief flash, and it's an earnest, almost startled thing. As though attributing his traits to the child somehow solidifies the truth already staring him in the face, and Hawke sees the passage of his thoughts in the shift of his brows; the softening of his eyes. He looks down at Eli again, and she wonders if he sees what she does – the jutting lower lip and the sharp nose. The green in his cornflower eyes.
“What–” He clears his throat. “Have you named him?”
Hawke nods. “Eli,” she says, and the name rolls off her tongue with a strange ease, as though she's been saying it her whole life. “I hope you don't mind.”
Fenris shakes his head. “It – seems a good fit,” he says, seeming to study his son, and she recognizes the wonderment on his face; it’s hard to draw her eyes away. She’s known the same awe, like the cresting of a wave within her, swelling wider than she’d thought possible in a heart as wearied as hers.
“Why that name?” he asks then, curiously, and Hawke smiles, then laughs, helplessly and without reserve. And she imagines a clever smirk, utterly self-satisfied, curving beneath a pair of stormcloud eyes.
“It's a long story.”
Fingers curl around her wrist, warm against her pulse, and for the first time since his arrival, Hawke notices the red kerchief, the colour darker than she remembers, but its story is the same, and one she knows by heart.
He has not removed it.
“We have time,” Fenris tells her. And it’s not yet forgiveness, but there’s a promise there, heavy with a trust she doesn’t deserve. And Hawke feels the truth of his words in the soft breaths of their son.
And the quiet, unblemished heavens over Skyhold.
I apolgize for leaving you hanging for two months, but life got hectic and I've just recently found the time and energy to write again. But, I do hope you enjoy the concluding chapter to this story, which has been an absolute thrill to write. Thank you so much for your support, your kudos and comments; it's been a pleasure writing for you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She wakes with the feeling of having slept a small age, the sun streaming through the tall windows in a brilliant glare that puts the hour somewhere around noon, by Hawke's bleary estimation. There is an unbearably soft pillow beneath her head and the sheets are tangled around her legs – she’s stretched as tall as she is, and it's with a groan that she moves to sit up, the mattress yielding pleasantly beneath her weight.
She hadn't gotten a good look at the room the night before, too exhausted to mind anything but the steps beneath her feet, and they could have put them both in the stables so long as there'd been hay to lie down on, Hawke doubts she would have minded. But with her eyes adjusting to the light, it's certainly not the stables, but a room fine enough to rival her old Hightown chambers, no doubt reserved for the many visiting nobles, and she wonders idly who they bumped from the list. Skyhold seems to be teeming even more now than it had upon her first visit, with previously dubious nobles now more than eager to meet and support the fabled Herald. But the Inquisitor hadn't seemed to have any trouble offering a room to Kirkwall's Champion and her companion. In fact, she'd appeared entirely unsurprised at finding three new arrivals in her Keep, and only politely intrigued at the sleeping child in Fenris’ arms.
Of course, with Varric keeping company in the tavern, odds are the residents of Skyhold have become well acquainted with the less-than-savoury details of Hawke's misadventure, and the arrival of the notorious elf.
The thought alerts her to the empty side of the large four-poster, but it doesn't take more than a glance across the room to find him. Standing by the makeshift crib, procured by some manner she can't even begin to guess, Fenris lifts his eyes to meet hers. “I was beginning to wonder how long you’d be asleep.”
Rubbing the last vestiges of exhaustion from her eyes, Hawke’s own words tumble out with a yawn. “I haven't had the luxury of sleeping past dawn for some time. That being said, you could have woken me.”
“You looked like you could use the rest.”
She's not about to argue, remembering well how tired she'd been when they'd trudged up the endless staircase, Fenris still carrying Eli, as Hawke had been well on her way to sleep before they'd cleared the landing. Her second retelling had lacked some of its earlier embellishments and, thank the Maker, interruptions, but it had been surprisingly more challenging recounting the events to Fenris than a roomful of people.
But he’d listened, and seeing that he hadn’t turned on his heel and left by first light, Hawke feels a rush of relief at the implications.
Following the line of his gaze, she tries to massage a knot out of her shoulder, mostly just to keep her hands from fidgeting. “Is he awake?”
Eyes still on the crib, Fenris shakes his head. “He sleeps like his mother.”
Hawke snorts. “And consider that a blessing. When Bethany was that age, she'd wake at the most ungodly hours. And of course, that would rouse Carver, and soon we'd all be awake.”
“Even you?” he asks, and doesn't even bother to hide his amusement now.
“Carver had healthy lungs, and knew how to use them. Not even I could have slept through that,” she says, moving away from the bed and shivering slightly as her feet find the cool stone floor. There's a fire crackling in the hearth, but in a stone keep so far up in the mountains, it would take more than a fire to fully warm a room of this size. But a carpet covers most of the floor between the bed and where Fenris stands, and a sigh pulls from her throat as her toes sink into the soft rug.
Approaching the oddly shaped crib, Hawke finds some of her nervousness chased away by the sight. On his back with his arms raised above his head, Eli looks at peace, the way only babes truly manage. She's almost loathe to wake him.
“It's nearing mealtime. I'm surprised he hasn't made his need known.”
“You did feed him before you put him to bed.”
She rubs at her eyes. Maker, but she's so tired she can't even remember when she's last fed her own child. “Oh – I did, didn't I?”
Fenris’ low hum is one of affirmation, and Hawke lifts her gaze from the crib, finding a familiar pathway up the lines of his throat. He hasn’t changed much in the time she’s been away, but his hair looks like it has grown some, falling softly against his neck.
He’s not looking at their son now, but at her, and Hawke is struck by the thought that it’s been a good long while since she last had a bath. Perhaps it wouldn't be too much to ask their hosts for one; a deep copper tub and fragrant soaps – it would help with the smell, anyhow. And the grime she can feel beneath her fingernails, the remnants of a long road. Running a hand through her hair, it feels thick and brittle to the touch.
She feels, suddenly, self-conscious.
“I look dreadful,” she says, grasping at a familiar weapon, but her usual self-deprecating humour is ruined somewhat by the soft tremble in her voice. And oh, but it’s vexing that she should be this way around him now, after so many years.
“I have seen you in far worse states,” Fenris reminds her, the remark not scathing but affectionate, prompting an earnest smile, and the departure of some of her earlier thoughts.
“Were you always this charming?” she asks. “I can’t recall.” Despite the underlying wit, it’s carefully spoken; a test to see where they stand now, after everything, and if he’ll keep her at a distance or not. If he does, Hawke knows she won’t stop him, though the thought sits like a rock in her gut. There is yet some distance left to walk for them, to get back to some semblance of what they were, but she has not yet dismissed the possibility.
She’s made her offer – the choice to accept remains his.
Her answer is the tilt of his head, and when he moves towards her something shakes loose in her chest, a soft sigh of warmth from her lips when he leans down. There’s no space between them now, and no babe cradled in his arms. And oh, this time it’s a kiss, and undeniably so, warm and dry against her lips. It’s gentler than their kisses are wont to be, but perhaps they are gentler now than they were. Long months calm the heart, but there’s an insistence behind the press of his mouth that she remembers as he reaches to cradle her jaw, long fingers buried in her coarse hair, unmindful of her travel-worn state.
Her hands are not idle things, but they shake where they press against his chest, fingers curling in the collar of his jerkin, and it’s been too long for tender kisses but part of her feels she would break from anything else – would push things too far, too fast. This is a dance they know, but the steps feel new and her feet heavy, awkward things, hesitating where she’d used to leap.
But his hands are sure in their caress, and Hawke finds herself mending, sloppy stiches made over a campfire’s pop and crackle pulled out and redone with care and precision. There are no letters in her pockets, unwritten or half-written, and there are no words spoken of all that she regrets, but then he’s always been better with actions. A red favour around his wrist, and Hawke, I am yours spoken without words with every lingering look, and every kiss to steal her breath.
The door swings open then, and Hawke draws away with a start, only to find Isabela’s grin lit by the noonday sun.
“Well. Looks like the air’s been cleared, at least.”
Fenris does not step back as Hawke expects. Clearing her throat, she opts for skilful redirection. “Had a good night?”
“Very,” comes the laugh as Isabela saunters inside. “For all the scowling Chantry sisters loitering in the gardens, there’s good drink in the tavern. I feel the need to repeat the suggestion that the Inquisition might benefit from advertising some of their finer virtues.”
“Without a doubt,” Hawke agrees with a breathy laugh, as the pirate makes her way towards the crib to peer inside.
“Varric told me what you’ve named him,” she says then, eyes crinkling at the corners as she looks up to find Hawke’s. “Quite the homage, that.”
“And well-deserved, have no doubt. But then I’ll wager that comes as no surprise to you, being the middle-man in this little scheme of her Majesty’s fancy.”
Isabela only shrugs. “I get a letter with instructions, I – well, I usually toss them overboard, but I owe her Royal Warden-ness something of a debt. That, and she’s a friend. One does things for friends, especially if it involves the delivery of secret letters. You know I love a good scandal.”
Hawke hums. “I suppose I should have known she was cooking up more than dragon dung. Though I can’t say I’d expected she’d go through you.”
Isabela looks up from the crib, cocking a brow. “I'm surprised that you're surprised she pulled this. She may be a sodding bad liar, but she's always been cunning. Could talk a man out of his pants and his last copper, and have him thank her for it. They didn't accept her on the throne just like that, you know – her or her Chantry-boy King.”
Hawke snorts. “A fair point. I suppose the joke is on me then, for falling for her charms.”
The pirate sighs. “Oh, I've been there, pet. As have doubtless many others. Of course, there's still one sap in Thedas who's in deeper than anyone.”
Mouth snapping shut at the remark, Hawke falls silent, lips pursing with the memory of a half-finished letter and a healer's cabin in the middle of nowhere. The King of Ferelden is undoubtedly still in the dark about his wife’s whereabouts, and the thought sits like an itch. There is still time to write a letter, to assuage whatever fears he must have, but for all that Elissa went behind her back, Hawke finds herself strangely reluctant to return the favour.
It’s not your story to tell, she thinks, and makes a mental note to ask Varric to postpone the publishing of his new book until Ferelden is no longer one monarch short of a ruling couple.
As though somehow aware of her thoughts, a knock on the door announces a new arrival, and one that doesn’t wait for Hawke to answer before entering. It’s a little exasperating, and delightfully familiar.
“I’m sorry, is there a sign on the door that says ‘enter at your own leisure’?”
Varric grins, the gesture tugging at the scar across his nose. “What, you’ve suddenly become private now?” He tosses a glance towards Isabela, leaning on the crib. “In which case, why is she here?” Eyes twinkling, he offers the pirate a knowing look. “A little early for you to be making social calls, Rivaini.”
Isabela shrugs. “I never went to bed, so early is a little relative in this case.”
Varric shakes his head. In the bright sunlight Hawke notes he looks much less worn than he had upon her last visit to Skyhold, before Adamant. She’s tempted to mention it, but swallows the words, unwilling to dig up old ghosts from the dark.
“Here to ask me to confirm your notes?” she asks instead. “The dragon was about the size of a house, if you’re curious.”
Fenris gives her a long-suffering look that Hawke cheerfully ignores, but Varric only laughs. “You know elaborate descriptions aren’t my style, Hawke. I think ‘big’ will do just fine. But that’s not why I’m here,” he says. “I thought I’d stop by and ask if you’ve thought about where you’re off to next.”
He doesn’t say it outright, but six months without letters sits in the space between them, and Hawke feels a surge of guilt.
She’s not about to call him out on it, though, and so she opts for levity. “Don’t worry, I’m not ready to scurry off into obscurity just yet – Maker, I’ve barely slept off the journey up here. It’s a bit of a walk, you know. I’m not exactly jumping at the thought of walking back down, let alone any further.”
Varric spares Fenris a dry look. “It’s almost midday and she’s talking about lack of sleep?”
“Some things do not change,” Fenris agrees, and Hawke pinches his arm.
“Hilarious, both of you.” But oh she’s missed this, there’s no denying that. “There’s not been ample opportunity for sleep with a babe at the breast.”
Varric glances into the crib. “He’s sleeping now,” comes the wry observation, and Hawke tries very hard not to smile.
“And I have a feeling there’s another Hawke-sleeps-like-the-dead joke afoot,” she says, reaching into the crib to stroke a gentle thumb against a small, creaseless brow. “And my progeny or not, I’ll kindly remind you that it was practically morning when I put him to bed.” Nose wrinkling at her ministrations, Eli hums, and Hawke finds a silly smile at the small movements.
“So, sticking around this time, then?” Varric asks, voice strangely quiet in the soft lull.
Eyes still on her son, Hawke draws her hand back. Fenris still hasn’t moved, and the deliberate proximity gives her courage. “For a little while,” she says, chancing a glance at his face, only to find him nod in return. She smiles. “I could use the break. And the feather bed.”
Varric looks to Isabela. “What about you, Rivaini? Back to the high seas?”
The pirate cocks her head, eyes glittering copper-gold in the sunlight. “That depends.”
Hawke doesn’t know if she wants to ask. “On?”
Isabela grins. “On the Inquisition’s hospitality, amongst other things. And,” she says, reaching down to trace a fingertip along a tiny, curled fist. “I’ve no pressing matters to attend to anywhere else at present.”
“Not heading to Antiva, then?” Hawke is the one who asks. It’s been on her mind, since the discovery of Elissa’s letter exchange.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Isabela counters with a shrug. “I’ll wager I’ve little to offer her search but trouble, though she’s good at finding that on her own.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Hawke sighs, and Isabela only laughs, and then there is a story, and Hawke the listener now, as Isabela recounts a particularly memorable bar-brawl in a Denerim tavern, and the not-yet-Queen of Ferelden breaking her wrist taking a tumble over an upturned table. Hawke tries to imagine the sombre-faced Warden screaming blasphemous things and launching herself into the midst of the scuffle, and wonders if Isabela isn’t making the whole thing up.
But then she remembers rare and wicked smiles, and remarks decidedly un-queenly, and draws bittersweet amusement from the thought of the woman she was before the end of the Blight – the brash sort, fresh out of her Joining and with a country to save. The kind that wouldn’t think twice about going after a dragon on her own, no doubt, but Hawke doesn’t know if she should be happy Elissa has managed to maintain that particular aspect of her old self.
It’s almost time for dinner in the mess when their visitors disperse, leaving Hawke still in her dressing robe and Fenris a quiet presence at her elbow as the door to their chambers slide shut. The Keep is thrumming with noise, voices from the courtyard drifting up from below, but Hawke’s mind is occupied with thoughts heavier than the hole in her stomach.
“You worry for her.”
She doesn’t ask who he’s referring to, mostly because it’s rather obvious, but it’s with a sigh her words work themselves loose from her chest – laden things she’s carried with her from the crossroads, but tucked away in favour of more pressing matters. But she’s thinking about them now, sitting on her tongue. Her small griefs.
“It’s hard not to – we spent a lot of time together. It’s…strange, not having her around anymore.” She draws a breath, but it feels insufficient. “I suppose I’ll get used to it, as one does. I’d have liked to know how she’s doing, though.”
Fenris frowns. “You doubt she will succeed?”
“No,” she’s quick to rectify. “She’s – resilient.” And remarkably stubborn. “I just hope her efforts bear fruit.” Eyes on her sleeping son, there’s a weight in her stomach that’s more than simple guilt. (“You know, I don’t think I can get pregnant.”)
“She has a long road ahead of her before she’s done. I suppose I feel a little guilty I’m not walking it with her, after everything.”
Hands on her shoulders then. “You have your own path to walk, Hawke.”
Turning her head to look at him, she can’t hold back the smile. “I know. I’m just terribly bad at keeping to it.”
Fenris snorts, but – smiles. “Indeed.”
Leaning against the crib, Hawke’s fingers search for his where they rest, still against his side. “I don’t think I’ll be straying now,” she says, the promise tumbling from her tongue without grace. “Or at least I’ll try not to.”
A nose against her hair, and her hand trembles where she grips his. “I am glad to hear it,” he says against the curve of her ear, and Hawke finds a new foothold in the promise of his continued presence, his tentative forgiveness. There’ll be no more running now. No more coward’s choices.
Eli sleeps on, unwearied by her heavy thoughts, and Hawke considers the rush of feelings that accompanies the sight, and the still-new discovery of the lengths she’d go to keep him so. Remnants of guilt still lingers, for her short-sighted decisions, but the protectiveness leaves her breathless now.
Hands tugging at hers pull her from the crib, towards the wash-basin, and they seem loath to leave her, lingering at her elbow, her wrists. And she grasps it hungrily, the tenderness offered despite her poor choices – her reckless heart. There are still doubts that linger, the ever-present sense that she could do more, she should have done more, but for once Hawke allows herself to shed some of the worries, to close her eyes to the path behind her for the one that lies ahead. The Warden has her own journey, and companions to see her safely through it.
And you better still be alive at the end of it, you righteous fool of a Queen.
As it is, Hawke does not hear word of Elissa Cousland for a long time.
She tries to keep an ear out – asks for news where she can, but Carver knows as little as anyone, and her baby brother has always been too poor a liar to fool her if he'd tried. She does not ask him about the Calling, or if there are others in search of a cure; if Elissa's quest does prove to be a fruitless venture, Hawke does not wish to get her brother’s hopes up for nothing.
And so it goes, the world crawling by on still-healing limbs, their days marked more than anything by the small changes in their son. He learns the powerful effect of his laughter on his parents, and Hawke spends idle moments imagining the hearts that will fall for that smile. It’s her father’s smile – the one that had charmed her mother into running off with an apostate, and for all her concerns that she’d somehow trade one for the other, Hawke is glad to find the memories of her father unchanged by the charms of her son.
During their stay at Skyhold the Inquisitor selects a new Divine, and the Inquisition grows exponentially in size and reputation, but Hawke does not stick around long enough to be reeled in by the coercive charm of the organization’s power. It would be all too easy to allow herself to be drawn in – to help change a healing world for the better, but every day with her son gives her one less reason to keep giving of herself to a world that does not give much back. And Hawke comes to discover the closest she's felt to homesickness in years; an odd longing for the sun rising above high walls, the smell of the sea and the colourful tents of the Lowtown market.
And so it’s after an exchange of correspondence with Aveline that they eventually decide to go back to Kirkwall.
Varric tells her he'll go back, too, but not right away – 'Still got some unfinished business, Hawke. You know how it is' – but he's there on the docks to bid them farewell when they depart, making her promise not to get into too much trouble without him present to write it down for posterity. He’s got a few new novels in the works, and Hawke promises to dread the day her misadventures in the Anderfels hit the printing press.
The voyage is mostly uneventful, but decidedly more pleasant than the first, so many years ago now, tucked into the bottom of a rickety vessel that had seen better days, with Aveline and what remained of her family. This time they sail with a pretty sloop that Isabela had eyed with covetous eyes from the docks, running reverent hands along the smooth railing. Only the best, courtesy of the Inquisitor herself, but a brand new boat does little to improve the voyage for Hawke, who spends the better part of the trip bent over the ship's railing, leaving Fenris to manage Eli, whose disposition is a vast deal better than his mother’s. And the days stretch long and sunburned across the Waking Sea, before the sight of the Gallows meets them, one pale and mist-shrouded morning at the cusp of Harvestmere.
And Kirkwall, still standing on wobbly legs, greets them back with open arms.
Aveline is the first to seek them out on their return, looking far more rested than she had when they had last parted ways, at the start of the mage rebellion and the upheaval that had shaken the very foundations of the city. But it’s Merrill who catches Hawke by surprise, eyes bright with amazement and – it’s more of a homecoming than Hawke had expected, arms around her midsection and sea-salt in her hair. They’re not all accounted for, but though Hawke feels the absence of those missing, there is more within arm’s reach than she’s had in months. And with their son in the crook of Fenris’ arm and the midday sun warm at their backs, she takes what she’s given with both hands, because it’s more than she’d asked for and more than she deserves, and she’ll be selfish now without shame.
And so the days pass. Weeks and months. The sun rises and sets over the city walls. Stone is replaced, streets repaved. Varric returns with a new novel – about the Inquisitor, to Hawke’s relief, and a promise that no other notes have been sent to his publisher yet. Their son grows and grows, but still there’s no word from Elissa. It’s not until Eli is two and bright and lovely that a letter finds its way into Hawke's hands, bearing the seal of the Theirin royal line, but the quality of the paper tells her who it's from before she's even unrolled it.
'To the Champion of Kirkwall, the Honourable, Immensely Foolish but Ever So Charitable Marian Hawke (she is making me say this, this isn’t my dictation let it be known)
My wife has returned to me, and I've been told you've played a significant part in making this possible. There's a story and she tells me you're the one to tell it (she mentioned a dragon. Do I really want to know?) Anyway, consider this a formal invitation. Oh, and for your family, too, that's polite isn't it? An extended invitation? Sounds very king-ly.
PS: my wife wishes to know if you would consider a knighthood. I could do that. I could do a knighthood, I think.
King Alistair Theirin
(and Queen Elissa Cousland Theirin, yes yes I remember hold your horses!)
PPS: I swear this scribe is out to get me, yes you, don't try to look innocent I can tell you're still writing!'
She finds her son next, already awake and greeting her with a toothy smile, shrieking with delight when Hawke lifts him up, to plant a sloppy kiss to his round cheek. Brutus lies curled by the bed, tongue lolling when she bends to scratch behind his ear.
“Who wants to go wake da?”
Laughter is her affirmation, before he bounds towards the door on quick feet. The hound raises a heavy head, one large ear twitching with indecision.
“Oh relax, you old grump. He’ll be back to rouse you later, I bet,” Hawke promises, to a rolling grumble as the mabari rolls over to go back to sleep.
Running footsteps on the landing announces her son’s return, and Hawke nods along to the insistence found in his eager babble, hoisting him up and over her shoulder as she makes for her bedchamber. It’s early – too early for anyone of a sane mind, surely, but couriers of royal post and parcels have no apparent sense of common decency.
Their bedchamber is quiet, and dark still with the heavy curtains drawn closed. It’s hasn’t changed much in the years that have passed since she’d first taken up residence, but there are signs of a life lived, the roots she’s burrowed in the hard stone of the city that is not Lothering but that is home, regardless. A stuffed mabari lies discarded by the foot of the bed, and other trinkets and baubles brought by a well-meaning pirate intent on making hoarders of them all.
Hawke steps across the carpet, avoiding odds and ends in her path with practiced ease as she makes for the bed where Fenris sleeps the heavy slumber of those blessedly unencumbered by couriers at one’s door at the crack of dawn.
She wakes him with a kiss, right between his brows, feeling them pull together beneath her grinning mouth. Eli laughs along, delighted at this display of silliness, a small and sturdy warmth on her hip with tiny hands caught in the fabric of her shirt. A remnant of an old memory resurfaces – of round cheeks and a soft breath tucked beneath her robes, safe against her heart, and the rain that had trailed their path from the Anderfels.
Fenris cracks one eye open, and Hawke grins, a bright and foolish smile. The rain is gone, and long years like the road behind them.
“Fancy a trip to Denerim? I hear the mud there is great this time of year.”
See, I say this is the end, but with my love of reunion fics I wouldn’t put it past myself to write a short follow-up about the trip to Denerim. We’ll see what happens! But, if your starved heart is craving an Alistair/Cousland reunion and felt it missing from this story, my self-indulgent ‘Roses For Your Garden’ is all about that, for those interested.