“Tell me again what happened to First Enchanter Orsino.”
“I already told you, Seeker -”
“- he panicked, turned into a monster and attacked,” said Cassandra. “I know. Tell me again.”
So Varric told her again. Cassandra gritted her teeth and listened, because Leliana had insisted.
“- and that’s the long and short of it, Seeker,” he finished. “Then we went out to the courtyard - do you want to hear this again too?”
“No,” said Cassandra. “That is enough.”
Afterwards Leliana slipped out of a hidden door that led into the observation post for the prison cell. “Useless,” Cassandra said. “Exactly the same story. I do not know why you are lingering on it.”
“Exactly the same story,” Leliana agreed. “Almost word for word.”
“He called the monster a Harvester,” Leliana said. “Which is interesting.”
“What is interesting about that?”
“An old friend -” there was only ever one person Leliana meant by old friend; Cassandra gave her a sharp look “- encountered a Harvester once. A monster - a flesh golem. It was made by desperate dwarves and maddened mages, many ages ago. My friend killed it.”
“And that thaig has been sealed,” Leliana said. “And every piece of information they could find related to that research has been destroyed. But the two dwarves who met the monster with her have gone their ways. One of them emigrated to the surface. I have been unable to track down his current location, but he certainly spent some time in Kirkwall.”
“So you believe that Enchanter Orsino encountered this dwarf?”
“Perhaps,” Leliana said.
Leliana gave her a mysterious, slanted smile. “Or perhaps Varric did.”
“I hate it when you do that. Talk plainly.”
“I am the Left Hand. Talking plainly is not my job.”
“Hawke entered the Gallows to protect the mages. Hawke killed Meredith, who had been driven mad by red lyrium. Meredith’s madness has been independently confirmed by a dozen different sources - not least Knight-Commander Cullen, who was one of her most trusted subordinates. I suspect that Hawke would have had to kill her even if he had in fact entered the Gallows in order to join the templars in their attempted purge.”
“We know all this,” said Cassandra impatiently.
“But why did Hawke kill Orsino? Why attack a mage when he’d come to protect mages? Why behead both powers in Kirkwall at once? It would almost make more sense if he’d tried to seize the throne afterwards,” Leliana added thoughtfully, “but as it is - no. I do not believe the Champion was ever truly motivated by considerations of power. And here is Master Tethras telling us a story. The same story, word for word. Almost to the word the version he wrote down in his Tale of the Champion.”
“You think Varric is lying about this,” Cassandra said.
“Storytellers lie about everything,” Leliana said. “I should know.”
“I have reason to believe he has been largely honest with us,” said Cassandra stiffly.
“Of course. He is a very good storyteller. Did you enjoy the latest chapter of Swords and Shields?”
“Don’t go through my things.”
“If you don’t want me to read your books,” Leliana said, “you shouldn’t leave them lying around in plain sight.”
“It was -”
“- locked in a secret compartment at the bottom of your underwear drawer,” Leliana said. She grinned. “Plain sight. Your underwear is very dull, by the way. You should let me buy you some pretty silky things next time we’re in Val Royeaux.”
Cassandra took a deep offended breath. “To return to the subject of Orsino -”
“There are three possibilities,” Leliana said, “for what has happened to the First Enchanter of Kirkwall. One, Hawke killed him because he attacked them. Two, Hawke killed him for some other reason. Or three, Hawke did not kill him.”
“There was never a body,” Cassandra said. “If we had a chance to interview Orsino about events in Kirkwall that could change a great many things. Do you really believe he could still be alive?”
“Actually,” said Leliana, “I very much doubt it.”
Varric stuck doggedly to the story of the First Enchanter’s panic and the flesh monster no matter how many times Cassandra made him tell it. She seized on minor inconsistencies in his accounts: he rolled his eyes. “I’m not a magic mirror, Seeker. If you want a version that hasn’t been confused by how many times you’ve made me tell it, you could always read my book.”
“Minor discrepancies are natural and prove nothing,” Leliana said. “Drop it, Cassandra. I doubt we will get anything else from this dwarf of yours.”
“He is not of mine,” Cassandra said.
“Oh, so defensive! I hear he has a girlfriend. Would you like me to find out more about her for you? She cannot be that much competition.”
“I am just teasing,” Leliana said. “Let Varric tell his story to the Divine as it is. If he lies to her, that is on his own conscience. There are other routes open to us.”
“Like what?” Cassandra demanded.
“I would not be much of a Left Hand if I shared my secrets,” Leliana said. “Trust me.”
“I would not be much of a Right Hand if I went around trusting known liars,” Cassandra said.
Leliana gave her a dimpled smile. “I got you a present, by the way. Check your underwear drawer.”
The knickers were deep red silk. Cassandra blushed, growled, rolled them into a tiny crumpled ball and shoved it into the back of the drawer.
They brought Varric to the Conclave to tell his story to the Divine. Things did not go as planned.
Cassandra forgot to ask Leliana what had become of her investigation into the fate of First Enchanter Orsino.
Hawke was not quite what Cassandra had expected. Months on the run, she supposed, were enough to wear anyone down.
“Serah Hawke,” she said to him, the one time they had a chance to speak.
He took one look at her and gave her a tired grin. “Oh. You got Varricked,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Arishok thing really happened,” said Hawke. “Also the high dragon, before you ask. And yes, she brought the statues to life, and no, I have no idea how. If he told you the one about the bandit king and the chantry sister, I had nothing to do with it and the feathers weren’t my idea.”
Cassandra frowned. “You are shorter than I expected,” she said. The staff he carried, in fact, was slightly too big, weighted wrong. Meant for a bigger man. Malcolm Hawke?
“I get that a lot,” said Hawke.
“What about Enchanter Orsino?” she said. “What really happened to him?”
“He panicked and turned himself into a monster, so we killed him,” said Hawke. “Ask Varric if you want the full story.”
Somewhere in Leliana’s private records, encoded three times over, there is a note that looks like this:
H motivated primarily by family concerns.
(locate sibling for leverage?)
letters exchanged. H aware? when?
‘the rite belonged to Q’
who knew about amgarrak?
“Hey, Seeker,” said Varric. “Want to hear a story I’ve never told?”
Hawke was dead. Lost. Dead. Varric had rejected Cassandra’s awkward attempts at conversation, condolences. As he should. What right had she to comment on his grief?
“Gladly,” she said.
Varric leaned back and put his feet up on the table. The Herald’s Rest was near-deserted. The hour was very late.
“Well, there we were, in the Gallows,” he said, “all of us ready to shit ourselves from terror one way or the other - except Aveline, she doesn’t do terror - and Hawke was,” he made a hand gesture - “looked like he was about to be sick, honestly. Not a great look for our fearless leader. So I nudge Enchanter Orsino in the side and say, have you got an office or something? And he says sure. So there’s me and Hawke and Orsino, in the office, and Hawke sits down in Orsino’s chair, and it’s all a bit awkward, a bit quiet…”
Cassandra made an encouraging noise.
“So Hawke looks down at the desk and he sees - do you know, I still don’t know what it was. If I was writing it in a book I’d make something up. He sees - a damning letter! My dear Quentin, I have located just the right person for your crazy blood magic wife reconstruction project, and by the way let me tell you the horrifying spell you need -” Varric’s voice had gone pompous, nasal, imitating the supposed letter-writer.
“Quentin. The blood mage who…” Cassandra looked for a safe word “...killed Hawke’s mother?”
“The same,” Varric said. “At least, I kind of assume it had to be him. Because Hawke looks up and he says, you bastard. You bastard. He starts yelling about his mother. Orsino’s gone white as a sheet. Hawke jumps out of the chair and goes for him, slams him up against the wall, he’s still yelling, and from where I am I can see Orsino wiggling his fingers -”
“He was a fully trained knight-enchanter,” said Cassandra.
Varric nodded. “So I take out Bianca and I fire a warning shot. Thunk, into the wood, right over their heads. I say, maybe we ought to calm down, cause I’m thinking that maybe Hawke and I alone aren’t going to be enough to take this guy out.”
“And then he turned into a monster,” Cassandra said.
Varric looked at her and said, “No, then Orsino started begging for his life, cringing and apologising, saying he didn’t know, and Hawke stabbed him in the eye with his belt knife.”
Cassandra had no idea what to say. “It killed him?”
“No,” Varric said. “He was still alive. His eye was a mess, obviously. But no, I’m pretty sure that being set on fire was the part that killed him.”
“There was no body,” Cassandra said.
“No,” said Varric, “Hawke made sure of that.”
He had his head tipped back, looking at the ceiling.
“That… does not sound much like the Hawke from your stories,” Cassandra said at last. Hawke had done many things and was capable of many things. But what Varric had described was torture and murder.
“There’s a reason I don’t tell this one. Anyway, then we went back outside and fought Meredith,” Varric said, “and Hawke was still riding the rage, I guess. Never seen him look like that. Before or since.”
“Why tell me now?” Cassandra said.
“Didn’t want it to be just me and the Nightingale who knew,” said Varric.
“Why lie?” Cassandra said. “Why invent the Harvester?”
“Who says it was a lie?” Varric said. “No, no, it was. But a story is a lie that’s true, Seeker.”
“I am sorry,” Cassandra said.
Varric took his feet down off the table and looked at nothing for a while.
“Do you know,” he said in the end, “there wasn’t a single mage in Kirkwall who didn’t end up at least a little bit crazy. The whole time. Not a single damn one.”