N.B. Eluvia, Servani, and Judex are all constellations listed in Sister Oran Petrarchius's A Study of Thedosian Astronomy. Presently Judex is said to represent the Sword of Mercy; in older accounts, however, Judex stands not for mercy but for justice, and the sword's downturned point indicates a verdict of guilt and a sentence of execution.
Hawke was one of the unfortunate children of romantics who was left with both a deep appreciation for and a deep resentment of love. She did her best to stifle the former sentiment and encourage the latter, and as such had long felt the only reason she would consider marriage would be for causes of practicality. "Say, for instance," she said to Varric, "tax purposes."
"Tax purposes," Varric said. "Hawke, do you understand how taxes work?"
"Of course I do," said Hawke, although of course she didn't. "Why do you ask? Thinking of tying the knot yourself?" Uttering this sentence produced a vaguely anxious pang that was probably distaste for Varric's proclivities; oh, he talked a good game, but when it came right down to it, he was one of those disgustingly soft-bellied people who felt things—big things, the kinds of things that would eat you alive if you let them. Hawke preferred to stick to a simpler gauntlet of emotions: hunger, cleverness, pride at her own cleverness, basic familial loyalty, and whatever it was one felt while preparing to fight a really big dragon. 'Arousal,' that was the word.
"No, no reason," Varric said. "Say, is that your brother trying to pick a fight with the elf?"
It was. Hawke briefly considered going over there to put a stop to it, even more briefly considered shouting something encouraging, and then decided the best thing to do would be to order another pint. Varric proved amenable to this plan. At some point money changed hands—Hawke put twelve bits on Carver, something she would never admit to him, even though she knew he didn't stand a chance against Fenris. Some time later, when the fight had spilled out into the street, Varric gave her a knowing look and pocketed her money. The topic of marriage didn't come up again that night, or, indeed, ever again.
And long before that, her father found her at the edge of a field on the outskirts of Lothering. Already she was beginning to range farther and farther from home, although she was only fifteen; she disappeared for days and sometimes weeks, south and east, almost to the border of the Kocari Wilds. Marian's mother was not fond of the idea of her daughter roaming alone through the wilderness, but Marian's father had taught her well, and anyway, she had the mabari to keep her company. Today, though, she had woken under her family's roof, and shortly after that had set her family's house on fire.
She was sitting on the crest of a low hill looking over the fields of barley. Her father came up from behind and sat down beside her without saying anything; he moved quietly for such a large and otherwise opinionated man. Marian had spent a lot of time trying to emulate his gait and, well… everything else about him, really.
The wind was blowing from the west.
"Nice weather we're having," Hawke finally said. "Surprisingly warm in some parts, of course."
"That would be a product of the house catching on fire, I expect," said Marian.
"I like to think it's good preparation," said her father. "You can never be sure when something dangerous and fire-breathing—say, a dragon—is going to attack." His voice was so deep that sometimes it felt like it was echoing in her bones. "Did I ever tell you about the dragon I met in Orlais?"
Marian snorted irreverently. "For a supposed mage of the Circle, you've been to an unbelievable number of places," she said. "Was this before or after you escaped that gang of assassins in Antiva?"
"After," he said. "Probably. I'm getting old. Memory's the first thing to go, they say. What was your name again?"
Marian, who should have been old enough herself to resist her father's silly jokes, felt a grin pulled out of her. "Bethany," she said. "I'm the good one."
"Oh?" said Hawke. "I thought the good one was Marian."
"Anyway," said Hawke. "Fantastic weather. Not a cloud in the sky." He exhaled a hum through his nose and added, "There's a saying they have in Tevinter, you know. 'Blood will out.'"
Marian uncurled a little; her knees were drawn to her chest, but she lifted her head and looked away from her father. "They seem a violent sort in Tevinter. Or is that meant to be a cooking technique? What an interesting cuisine."
"It's absolutely awful, although believe it or not, I wasn't trying to give you advice on cooking. I think we can both agree that's a lost cause." It was true; Marian could cook a hare or a fowl on a spit, but roasting meats was the absolute limit of her ability. "No, it means that what we will always be tied to our families, to our parents. And you, my unfortunate daughter, are stuck with me and all of my bad qualities."
This was unexpected. Marian turned her head. "I would've noticed if you'd set the house on fire," she said.
"Well, I don't know about that, I'm quite good at—no, never mind all that nonsense. We always say that Bethany inherited your mother's transparency, but your brother did too, in his own way. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. No need to make a face, love. It's not a bad thing. But you and I, we run a little deeper." He knocked his elbow against her. "When we're angry, when we're sad, when we're happy… We don't show it, do we? It all sinks down to the bottom so we can bubble along at the top and make clever remarks."
"Do I have to hear a lecture before I apologize to Mother, or can we move things along a little more quickly?" Marian said.
"Daughter, are you slighting my oratory skills?"
"Father," said Marian, "I would never."
Hawke smirked at her, but then the smirk faded and something deadly and serious took its place. "You're brimming over with power, my love," he said. "And with anger, too. And what that requires most of all is that you be aware and guard against what might happen. You don't need any other admonishments; I trust you won't lose control like that again, no matter how frustrated you become with the rest of the family."
"No," said Marian. "I won't lose control like that again."
"Good girl," said Hawke. "And if you are yearning for a warmer climate, I hear Rivain is lovely this time of year. Alas, my wandering days are over, but you are young and sound of memory—"
Marian thought back to that morning, to Bethany's martyrdom and Carver's petulance and her mother's chiding and to all five of them crammed in the one-room hovel that served as their home. "Do you ever regret it?" she said suddenly. "All of it. Any of it. Mother. The twins. Do you regret—" Me.
Her father looked faintly surprised. "Did I ever give you that impression? Your mother and I have sacrificed much to be together, but no, there's nothing I regret of that. You least of all."
She wasn't sure she believed him. The evidence was against it: years on the run, lessons beginning in infancy on how to show deference to templars, a life driven by poverty, her mother's envy when some high-born lady passed in the street, her father's sighs when the wind blew from the west or some stranger played a marching tune. And for what?
"Rivain," said Marian. "I don't suppose there are any dragons?"
The point was that she'd decided early that romance was nonsense that brought only misery or, in the best cases, a lot of inconvenience. Hawke liked drinking and playing cards and her dog. She was a woman of simple needs. Anyway, life had a funny way of dragging her over and over into situations that were complex enough on their own without adding some kind of—of lover to the mix. Her bed partners were disposable and interchangeable. It was, if not good, certainly a system.
All prologue, of course. Varric was a big proponent of starting tales in the middle of the action—you opened one of his books and it was all, The ship exploded! The family fled the ogre! Acting on instinct, she kissed him back! There was something to be said for a catchy hook, of course, but Hawke felt that sometimes a little backstory was necessary. She wasn't a storyteller of his caliber, but as a liar she was easily his equal. It made them absolutely deadly when partnering at diamondback.
The real story started like this:
Hawke walked out of the Fade.
It was disorienting at first. She spent some time vomiting, although she hadn't had anything to eat that wasn't dream-stuff for days. After that, she staggered in the direction of what looked like an inn and somehow communicated clearly enough with the proprietor to obtain a room. She slept for a dozen hours, woke, downed enough stew to drown a nug, drank enough wine to keep her from dreaming, and went back to sleep. It was awful. Sleeping was the last thing she wanted to do, but when she woke up for the second time, she felt less like she had a mystical hangover and more like herself.
She stole a bit of coin from a wealthy arsehole who was too distracted shouting at one of his servants to notice Hawke pickpocketing him, traded the coin for supplies, and within the week was camped on the flanks of the mountain below Skyhold, waiting for the Inquisitor and her entourage to come marching back from whatever it was they were doing at the far south of the Frostbacks.
"Hello the Inquisition!" she said, when they came trooping up. The Inquisitor was wearing her red hat and riding that terrifying beast of hers, the one that looked like an undead horse with a sword thrust upwards through its jaw. "Hungry?" said Hawke. "I can't do much other than roast meat—"
And then someone was pushing their way through the crowd; she caught the glint of gold first, because that was the color she always associated with him, and then Varric was standing in front of her, and he was saying her name like it was being torn out of him.
"Varric—" said Hawke.
He didn't respond. Varric, lost for words—Hawke never thought she'd see the day, but here he was, standing before her, his whiskey eyes wide with astonishment. There were half a dozen serious responses that had to occurred to her. It would be easy to stare wide-eyed back at him, to tell him right there in front of Maker and Inquisitor how long the last months had been, how all sense of time had slipped away from her in that place beyond the Veil, where she had seen and done things so terrible that sometimes it was only the memory of the nights she'd spent sitting with him beside the fire, sipping a good thick stout and sharing everything she could afford to share, that had brought her back to this world at all.
"Nice weather we're having," said Hawke. She looked up at the sky. Nothing remarkable there. Was that a new feather in the Inquisitor's hat?
Varric swallowed and covered his eyes with one hand. When he looked up again, the glassy disbelief was gone. "Yeah," he said. "Little chilly for this early, though. Hawke, I think your rabbit's burning."
"Oh, tits," said Hawke feelingly.
Varric rolled his eyes and stomped over to pull the spit out of the fire; he was unshaven in a way that looked less like rakish deliberation and more like neglect, and his cheeks were sunken. Hearsay had led her to believe that the Inquisition had salted and burned Corypheus's forces some weeks ago, but Varric still looked like he was in the middle of a war, and one that was drawing him thin.
His hands were steady, though, when he pulled the knife from his belt and started scraping the blackened bits from her rabbit, grousing all the while. When he was finished, he returned the rabbit to Hawke and the knife to its sheath.
"Shit," he said. "Shit."
"What?" said Hawke around a mouthful of rabbit.
"Nothing," he said. "But Champion, I'll say one thing—you better tell me every last detail. This is going to make for a hell of a story."
She didn't. By the time she made it back to Skyhold and started in on an embellished and highly selective telling of her long, sorry tale, she was cracking yawns with every sentence. Varric herded her to his quarters and put her to sleep in his bed; her last thoughts before she drifted off to sleep were how nice Varric's hand felt in her hair, and of how little she wanted to dream.
It was like a physical dependency, though—well, that was ridiculous, of course sleep was a physical dependency, but now Hawke, whose sleep habits had always been erratic at best, found herself nodding off in the middle of meals, found herself taking naps at noon every day, found it difficult beyond reason to drag her eyes open in the mornings. She slept ten or twelve hours a night, and it ate at her; when she felt that drowsy, seductive languidness creep over her, she would fight against it with an almost manic degree of activity, but that only exhausted her all the more.
The others chalked it up to Hawke's typical laziness, of course. Hawke had worked to cultivate her image, one that combined dashing, careless insouciance with lip, brass, and a sheer unpredictability that usually worked in her favor, but now that image was working against her. Varric laughed about it, too, but he also stuck closer to her than he ever had, except perhaps in those fraught months after Mother had died. Hawke still didn't remember much about that time. There had been beer. Probably a lot of beer. Probably even things that had been stronger than beer. Never let it be said that she hadn't inherited anything from dear Uncle Gamlen.
Anyway. It was for this reason that she didn't discover her legal status until several days after her return to Skyhold. She was sitting at the breakfast table, rubbing at her eyes and trying not to yawn, when Varric decided to bring the matter to her attention.
"Look, Hawke," he said. "There's something we should talk about." He shot a heavy glance at Lady Pentaghast, who was chewing her way through a bowl of porridge with the sort of grim determination more often seen on battlefields.
"Lovely," said Hawke. "Can it wait until after breakfast?" Hopefully breakfast wouldn't be porridge. Hawke had never felt good things came of a porridge that had to be chewed.
"It's legal shit. Finances." Varric handle the bulk of Hawke's investments and had for years; Hawke was good with roast meats, but terribly with money, probably because she hadn't had more than a couple of silvers to her name until she'd met him. He spread a sheaf of papers out in front of her, and Hawke rearranged her features into what she knew made for an attractive moue of a pout.
"Nice try, Champion," said Varric. "And don't even think about setting the paperwork on fire—I have copies of everything."
"Ugh," said Hawke. "All right, let's have it."
"The gist," said Varric, "is that you were legally declared dead. Now, I have your brother listed as your heir, but all the crap with the Wardens meant we couldn't produce him, either."
"So I'm poor again?" said Hawke. "Ah, well. It was nice being a rich bastard—sorry, Father—while it lasted, but there's something poetic about it. Not pleasant, but definitely poetic. You know, I think I'd make a decent mercenary—"
"No, Hawke, you aren't poor. You did have a couple of mysterious 'cousins' turn up claiming they had rights to your estate, but I wasn't about to let your brother be robbed, even if he deserves it—"
"Ha!" said Hawke. "How'd you pull that off?"
Varric looked uncomfortable. For a supposed libertine, he could be surprisingly delicate about things. It was always "Hawke, stop vomiting on my boots" or "Hawke, put on some pants" with him. Granted, she could be a touch forward with her closer acquaintances—"Hawke, you're a mess," was often how it was put.
Oh, right. Varric.
"I," he said. "Uh. That is—" He cleared his throat. "I made it look like we're married."
"Sorry, must have heard you wrong," said Hawke, smiling pleasantly with all her teeth.
"I fabricated paperwork to make it look like we were—are, I guess—married," said Varric. "Come on, Champion, don't give me that look. It was either that or withdraw all your liquid assets and make a break for Rivain. At least this way, we got around all the inheritance taxes."
Hawke had never been to Rivain, but she'd heard it was a nice place. Lots of dragons. Good weather. "And now we're fake married. Great. Excellent. Quick thinking there, Varric. What does Bianca think about all of this?"
"Shit, Hawke, are you really going to drag her into this?"
"Well," said Hawke, "what am I supposed to say?" She was off—she'd been off for weeks, or maybe years, but this was all getting far too raw for Hawke to handle. "Usually you ask first. We didn't even have a stag night. What's the point of getting married if I don't get to watch an athletic wench writhe around on the bar?"
"This is not a conversation I ever imagined having," said Varric. He dropped his face to his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "Trust me, as soon as I draw up the paperwork, we'll be fake separated, too."
"Did you have a stag night without me?"
"No, Hawke," said Varric.
"Did Isabela have—"
"No, Hawke," Varric said. "Nobody had a stag night. I made a couple of bribes, forged your signature, and threw your cousins out on their asses. No party, no wenches."
"What a waste," said Hawke.
From the other side of the table, Lady Pentaghast made a noise of disgust.
When Hawke slept, she dreamed; and that was the crux of the problem. She dreamed about things that had happened in the far past and things that had happened in the near past, things that might have happened and things that never did; she dreamed memories and fantasies, conversations with people long dead, spells and wonders and terrors. The dreams began to follow her out of the Fade—or maybe they always had—and even when she was certain she was awake, it was hard to fight that niggling glimmer of doubt that told her she was still sleeping even now.
She dreamed she was a little girl again, the slip of a thing with a perpetually dirty face who used to follow her father around and plague him with questions. Her mother was busy with the babies and had finally started shooing Marian out of the house and into her father's care; even at that early age, Marian knew there was something about her that made her mother's face go tight. Father had a similar restrained sadness, but he was better at hiding it, and Marian never felt it was directed at her.
They were living that year in a coastal village close to Gwaren, and the villagers soon grew used to the sight of Malcolm Hawke going to or fro his work with a six-year-old trotting at his heels. He was working for the wheelwright that year—or as a carpenter; it was hard to remember much beyond the smell of wood shavings. In her dreams he felled trees instead, great monoliths of wood that surrendered readily to the bite of her father's axe…
And then one day they were going home, and the templars stopped her father. Marian had felt fear before, but until that day, she had never understood it—never realized how it took root in you, how it changed you, how you and the fear would grow together until you no longer knew who you were without it.
The Inquisition was full of itself: restless, unsettled, celebratory, and still altogether too organized for Hawke to feel comfortable clasped to Skyhold's snowy bosom. She took to spending long days in the library—not the tower library, but the one in the basement with all the spiders. Hawke had never minded spiders, at least when they were small enough to capture in one hand. At least this way she escaped the endless speculation on Corypheus, which really amounted to nothing more than one more massive reminder of her staggering failures.
The Inquisition's library was severely lacking materials relating to her current line of pursuit. Some discreet inquiries suggested that the loremaster most likely to have the answers she sought had recently gone on a walkabout; he wasn't expected back any time soon.
Hawke, who had been taught to read out of An Apostate's Guide to Herbal Remedies, turned to other interests. She'd rarely had access to as many books as this, and certainly not so many spellbooks; when the library refused to yield information about the Fade, she read instead about dragons and dragonfire, the summoning of benevolent spirits, and how blood magic had shaped Tevinter into a power of the world. The latter did nothing to convince her that she'd made the wrong choice in giving up that ugly school of witchcraft, but it did offer an interesting perspective nonetheless.
She was starting to get itchy feet, but something (or someone) was making her reluctant to leave. In the end, it was the Inquisitor who offered Hawke the excuse she needed.
"We can't let our victory lull us into complacency," said the Inquisitor over dinner one evening. "Madame de Fer said that the White Spire or the University of Orlais might have more materials concerning Corypheus."
"We should send someone," said Lady Pentaghast. "Let the enchantress go."
"Nah, she's too busy with the Game," said Varric. It still floored Hawke, to see him casually participate in conversations that now set policy for nations.
"Well," said Lady Trevelyan, who was not a mage and took great pains to make sure everyone around her knew it, "it can't be me. I can't make heads or tails of spellbooks."
"You need someone who's not going to offend the Orlesians' delicate sensibilities. The Seeker's not a bad choice for an escort, but actually getting access to the libraries—" Varric chuckled. "That's another story."
"You have someone in mind?" said the Inquisitor.
Varric sat back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his chin. "Maybe," he said finally. "Let me write some letters. I have some business in Orlais myself, might tag along."
"A small party is all I can afford to spare," said the Inquisitor.
"We still need a mage," Lady Pentaghast pointed out. "Someone trustworthy, and someone who possesses the background and training necessary to decipher whatever old texts he or she comes across. Pavus, perhaps—"
"I'll go," said Hawke.
The entire table turned to look at her.
Hawke swallowed her mouthful of dinner roll and said again, "I'll go."
Varric, the Inquisitor, and Lady Pentaghast all looked varying degrees of outraged and disbelieving. "You?" said the Inquisitor. "Not that you haven't done much for us, Champion, you've made your sacrifices, but you are—"
"An apostate," Lady Pentaghast interrupted. "This is a job for a mage of the Circle, not some witch of the wilds."
Hawke met her gaze evenly and stuffed another dinner roll in her mouth. She took her time in chewing and swallowing, and when she was finished, she said, "I was trained from birth by the man who chained Corypheus. Sorry, does that not suffice?"
Varric snorted. "She has a point, Seeker."
"Yes, well—" Lady Pentaghast, inexplicably, flushed. Her ears turned so dark a red that she looked as though she were slowly catching fire. "Yes. Perhaps—this is highly irregular—"
"Hawke it is," said the Inquisitor. "Of course, I don't understand anything about magic, since I am absolutely not a mage, but Hawke's expertise certainly seems adequate."
"Expertise," said Hawke. "Right. Exactly."
Varric shot her a suspicious look despite his public show of support seconds earlier. Hawke wasn't surprised; he always backed her in front of other people, but that didn't mean he didn't occasionally turn into a skeptical, overly concerned bastard in private. Better to avoid him until that divorce went through, Hawke decided.
"Great," said Varric. "Just what I always wanted. More time spent tromping through the woods. You know, someday someone's going to invent a faster and more comfortable way to travel, and I'm never going to have to sleep on the ground again."
They set off three days later. Hawke carried her steel-tipped staff, a shortbow and quiver of arrows, and a small pack. Lady Pentaghast was similarly laden. Varric had packed so much that they'd had to send him back under threat of being made to ride a horse. As it was, they were all carrying additional packs of food; Hawke or the Seeker were probably capable of hunting enough game for themselves, even at this mean altitude, but providing for three while still moving at a decent pace through the mountains was too much to ask of either of them.
They camped the first night in a cave beneath a rocky overhang. Hawke took the first watch and then, when neither Varric nor Lady Pentaghast came out to relieve her, the second; it was an excuse and an easy one for refusing sleep. She sat outside the mouth of the cave, alone, the banked fire at her back and snow powdering the ground at her feet. While she watched the night, she took a small vial of oil and a whetstone and went to work sharpening her staff.
It was the first thing many people noticed about her, the thing that stuck in their memory; Varric said it was because they found it terrifying enough to have a mage throwing fire at them even when the mage wasn't armed with sharp objects. Hawke knew it was true that few mages used their staves as contact weapons, but her father had trained all his children in martial pursuits. This staff in particular was one of the very few things she had left of him or of his family. The wood haft had been replaced more recently, but the blade and the orb that served as a counterweight had, supposedly, belonged to Parthalan, a Tevinter magister who had recognized his sins, turned traitor, and ended up in the service of King Calenhad of Ferelden in the days of Aldenon the Wise.
Hawke had long doubted the veracity of this tale, but it was a nice staff all the same. Solid in the hand, steady in the mind. Very flashy, but she'd never object to that. Flash could take a forward-thinking mage far, and her personality had never had a problem integrating sloth with a healthy lust for glory.
It was cold out here, if not dangerously so. Their party was heading west at Varric's request instead of north to Jader, where they would have been able to find passage on a boat to take them directly to Val Royeaux. Hawke wasn't disappointed at the delay. She was far more at home here than she would be in some stuffy city. No, if she was to suffer through the bondage of urban life, it would at least be in Kirkwall, which had in naming her inspired some measure of… Hawke shuddered at the word… responsibility. Someone had to look out for Kirkwall, shitstain though it was. Currently, Hawke felt she was looking after Kirkwall in the best way possible by removing herself from the city entirely.
The Veil was thin in Kirkwall, and the city sat like a scar in her mind. She could almost feel it, even from this great distance. How morbid, Hawke thought. Probably a sign she needed to get very drunk. Yes, that seemed to be the ticket. Surely even a city like Val Royeaux had a nicely disputable district with a run-down tavern or two. Ah, a woman could dream.
Finally, when she had run out of things to sharpen and her eyes kept falling shut without the permission of the rest of her, Hawke admitted that an hour or two of sleep might not be completely awful. Visus was now high in the sky, and Eluvia had nearly dipped below the horizon. It was drawing close to dawn.
When she went into the cave, Varric and the Seeker were sleeping back-to-back for warmth. Hawke was tired enough that she didn't try to hide her irritation from herself. She jabbed Varric a couple of times in the back with the toe of her boot, and when he grunted and sat up, she retired to the other side of her cave and there to her bedroll. She settled in with her back to the wall and fell asleep immediately; and when she slept, she dreamed.
She was back in the village by the coast; her father was very tall over her, very tall and unusually stern. He held Marian's hand in his own larger one, and he used it to draw her behind him. She went, for once, without protest. If her father was tall, the templars were taller still.
It was her father's fear that frightened her more than anything. Even at that tender age, she knew he was different from the other people they met; for a man who claimed to have been a sedate mage of Kirkwall's circle, he knew all kinds of surprising things—how to hunt and fish, how to make a living as a soldier or a mercenary, how to read the signs left by other apostates, how to disarm a warrior carrying a sword and how to trap game and how to patch torn clothing and how to walk on his hands. (This last skill impressed a young Marian more than any other.)
"You there," said one of the templars—they were thirty of them, all wreathed in green, and then Marian blinked and thirty became three—"Are you Malcolm Hawke?"
"That's right," said Hawke. "Something the matter, ser?" He was deferential; Marian had never heard him deferential before. "Marian," he added, "why don't you run home to your mother."
Marian tightened her grip on his hand and at the same time became aware she was grasping something just as tightly in her other fist. She looked down, and saw that it was a raven's feather. Whatever Father said, she wasn't going to leave him; that was the rule, that they always had to stay together. "Father—" she said.
"Marian," said Hawke, his deep voice tight. "Mind me."
One of the templars smirked. They were wearing swords, all three of them; their swords were longer than Marian was tall. "Did you think anything you ever did mattered?" said the first templar.
"You couldn't even save your city," said the second.
"You're a failure," said the third, "and your family died knowing it."
"Marian, go," her father said, and let go of her hand to grasp the knife stuck through the back of his belt. "Go!"
And Marian, who loved her father, who believed with all of her six-year-old heart that she would never leave him to face a templar alone, ran.
They made good time through Gherlen's Pass; Hawke kept her green and savage dreams to herself and instead busied herself with bothering the Seeker, who seemed to waver between angry exasperation and flustered respect when dealing with Hawke. Hawke liked that. It was nice to know she could still keep someone on their toes. Varric had never bought entirely into Hawke's line of bullshit and was even less likely to do so now; it was a good thing he was usually too busy spinning his own line of crap to examine hers too closely.
For instance, presently Varric was primarily concerned with an Antivan critic who had panned one of his books in a review. Hawke knew this because he'd spent the entirety of the trip so far complaining about it.
"This bastard wouldn't know a good narrative if it bit him on the ass," Varric groused. Well, Hawke reflected, at least it was a change from his usual complaining about camping. "He thinks the story is 'implausible', can you believe that? One star! He gave it one star!"
The best part about all of this was that Lady Pentaghast was almost as outraged as Varric himself. "Preposterous," the Seeker agreed. "You clearly laid out in the tale's prologue that it was a different work from your novels. If the man refuses to believe the story is true, the fault lies in his own comprehension."
"See, that's what I'm saying," said Varric. "But this nug-humper gets picked up by the Orlesian papers, and that means Ferelden publishes him so they don't look uncultured, and now everyone thinks it's just another hack adventure story."
They were almost out of the foothills of the Frostbacks, and the ground was beginning to level out into rocky forests. Hawke had travelled through the Dales before, during her time on the run and then again later, during the hunt for Corypheus. It was creepy, the entire region—all full of ruins and graves, and the Veil worn thinner with every step a traveller took away from the coast. Merrill would have been beside herself with excitement.
Andraste's shiny bottom, was Varric still going on about that book?
"—Wrote him a letter," he was saying, "asking him to print a retraction, but I still haven't gotten a reply. He vacations in Val Royeaux sometimes, so I'm hoping I can find him and explain things in person." He gave Bianca a pat. "Aggressive explanations, if necessary."
Just ahead, the path forked; it went south in one direction and northwest in the other, where eventually it joined the Imperial Highway. Actually—Hawke craned her neck—actually, it sort of looked like someone was waiting at the fork. The figure was absolutely massive and looked to be wearing blue and silver armor, although it was hard to tell at this distance. Hawke looked over at Varric and caught him watching her out of the corner of his eye. He grinned, more to himself than Hawke, and turned back to the Seeker.
No—he wouldn't have, would he? But the matter of how he expected to gain access to the White Spire's library had never been revealed, and the treaties of the Grey Wardens almost always included a proviso on the free exchange of information…
Hmm. Hawke squinted again. The figure at the crossroads was definitely wearing a Warden's armor, and he definitely had a large sword strapped to his back, and yes, that was definitely Hawke's dog bouncing excitedly at his side, but he also had a beard, and the smooth-cheeked little brother Hawke remembered had trouble growing a moustache even into his twenties.
"Varric," Hawke said. "Tell me you didn't—"
"Me?" said Varric, who wasn't even bothering to hide his smirk. "I had nothing to do with this, Hawke. My hand to the Maker."
"You," said Hawke, "are a scoundrel and a liar."
Their party was perhaps fifty feet away when the dog gave up even the pretense of obedience and came bounding straight at them. Cassandra hissed; Varric groaned; Hawke dropped to her knees, threw open her arms, and shouted, "Who's a good boy?" The next few minutes were a happy reunion of mabari and mistress and involved a great deal of slobber, cooing, and rolling around in the dirt.
And then Carver's voice came from above her. "You haven't changed much, I see," he said, although he sounded more amused than petulant.
Hawke blinked up at him, still pinned by a hundred pounds of dog, and then blinked again. With the beard, he looked an awful lot like—well. Like Father.
"Who are you again?" she said. "I vaguely recall… but no, must not have been important."
"And you've only gotten more addle-brained," Carver said.
Hawke gave her dog a sloppy kiss on the nose and then rolled to her feet. "Hmm," she said, and put her hands on her hips to survey him. "Hmm. No, sorry, your face isn't ringing any bells. Are you sure we've met?"
"Sister," said Carver, and Hawke's face split open in what must have been a maniacally wide grin.
"That's it," she said. "You must be my brother—" And then she took a standing leap right at him, hooked an arm around his neck to drag him down to her level, and gave him a noogie.
"Stop it!" Carver said. "You're messing up my—" He appeared to realize at that moment that, first of all, Varric was watching (which wouldn't bother him) and, second, that Varric wasn't alone (which would). He straightened up so fast that Hawke's feet briefly left the ground, and she dropped back down with a smirk as he smoothed a hand over his hair.
"Varric," he said.
"Junior," said Varric. "May I present Cassandra Pentaghast, Lady Seeker and Hero of Orlais?"
"Pleased to meet you," Carver said reflexively.
Cassandra offered her hand, and he shook it. "It is an honor to meet the Champion's brother," she said.
Hawke winced and covered it by jabbing Carver with her elbow, but to her surprise, he replied with all apparent sincerity, "It's an honor to be the Champion's brother."
"Trying to butter me up for something?" said Hawke. "Alas, we're poor relations now, Carver. Varric married me whilst I was dead and absconded with our family fortune—"
"You're not making sense, so I'm going to ignore you," said Carver.
"Excellent. Challenge accepted!" said Hawke, who was feeling something very strange. Hunger? Was it hunger? No, it wasn't hunger. It was more like being full, or like winning a game of cards against both Varric and Isabela, or like finally having her dog back after years of separation. 'Happy,' that was the word. Ah, of course; she was probably just happy to have her favorite target back. Better not get used to it.
"That wasn't a challenge, Marian," said Carver, but then, what did he know?
The camp that night felt much fuller than one additional man and one additional dog could account for. They were gathered around the fire, roasting a couple of fowl that Hawke's dog had flushed out of the underbrush and chewing on pilot bread while they waited for the rest of dinner to be done. Carver was sharpening his sword; Cassandra, meanwhile, had her face buried in a thick sheaf of letters. Hawke used the opportunity of their distraction to edge closer to Varric.
"You know," she said, "were I anyone else, I would probably be using this opportunity to engage in a sincere expression of gratitude.”
He chuckled. "Now that's not the Hawke I know. Come on, make a joke about his beard so I know it's really you."
"It's an atrocity," said Hawke. "Even odds that he lost his straight razor or that he got tired of women talking about his baby face."
"I'm betting he lost the razor on purpose," Varric agreed. "And, uh. Champion?"
Hawke looked at him.
"You're welcome," said Varric.
There weren't words for how she felt to have her brother back at her side, so Hawke expressed her gratitude by stealing Varric's pilot bread. It seemed to suffice. Varric rolled his eyes and tipped a little of the whiskey from his flask into her cup, so she had something with which to soften her rations.
"So, Seeker," Varric said. "Those letters must be pretty interesting."
Lady Pentaghast jumped and then, impossibly, flushed. "Business matters," she snapped. "You wouldn't understand."
"Really?" Varric stole half of his pilot bread back without looking at Hawke. "Because that handwriting looks familiar. Didn't I hear something about Ruffles wooing you?"
"No!" snapped Cassandra.
"No? Ah, she'll be sad to hear that. She asked my advice about writing love letters, you know. I figured she'd be good at it, but some people don't have the knack. Still, she'll probably be pretty sad when she hears that her feelings are unrequited." He turned his head so the Seeker wouldn't see and winked at Hawke.
"They are not—" Lady Pentaghast took a deep breath. She was struggling visibly to control herself; it was sort of fascinating, really. Hawke was almost starting to like the woman. "Her feelings are not unrequited," Lady Pentaghast said. "Yes, if you must know. These are letters from… from…"
"Your suitor?" contributed Carver.
"Lady Montilyet," Cassandra said.
"Has she figured out you're a secret romantic yet?" said Varric. "Not that I didn't drop a couple of hints, but I didn't want to ruin the surprise."
"Varric," said Hawke. "Obviously Lady Montilyet is a woman of clear thought. Of course she's figured it out. Would she be sending love letters otherwise?"
"Good point. I've played Wicked Grace with Ruffles a time or two, and let me tell you something, Hawke—that's not a woman who wastes time on a strategy she knows won't succeed."
"Maker," said Carver, "you two are as bad as you ever were."
"Ah, kid, it's not like you have a romantic bone in your body." Varric took a swig straight from his flask and added, "It's just a bit of fun. So the Seeker's sweet on Ruffles—so what?"
Carver snorted. "Romance? That's the real joke."
Hawke stood up and went to check on the roasting fowl. One of them was almost done; she lifted the spit and laid the bird out on a tin plate to cool. It was still sizzling, and the smell made her stomach rumble. Yes, that feeling was definitely hunger.
"Your parents had a storybook romance, Junior—doesn't that inspire a little sentimentality?" Carver and Varric had gone rounds on this before, if never quite as openly.
"Sentiment? No." Carver set his sword aside. "If by 'storybook romance', you mean that my high-born mother spent her entire marriage struggling to cope with the sudden lack of privileges she had known all her life, that my father spent every day dodging templars while he worked odd jobs to keep his family from starving, if you mean moving every six months until we found somewhere safe enough to hide, if you mean all the times we went hungry because we were on the run, if you mean that both of them were slaughtered—"
"You know what I think really gets your goat?" said Varric. "That they both still believed it was worth going through all that crap just so they could be together." He was looking not at Carver, but at Hawke. She didn't give him the vindication of a response.
Carver snorted again and resettled his shoulders. "It isn't as though they had much choice. I loved my parents, but I can admit that when they were dragging three small children around while trying to run from people who were after my father for being an apostate and my mother for marrying one, they didn't have many choices."
"That's not how Leandra told it to me—" Varric started, but by then Hawke was absolutely fed up with the whole matter. She was tired of listening to this argument, tired of having all the things that she didn't possess thrown in her face, and that was part of the problem: Hawke had never been really sure if she felt she didn't deserve that fragile thing her parents had had, or if she didn't want it at all.
"Your attitude," said the Seeker—wonderful, now total strangers were inserting themselves into her family's business—"this is because your father escaped Kirkwall's Circle and absconded with your mother?"
"The Circle?" said Carver. "Is everyone still sticking to that old story? Please. Father might have used that cover when he first met Mother, but—"
"Carver," said Hawke. "That's enough."
"He deserves to be remembered!" Carver shot back. "'Freedom's price is never cheap', sister—"
Hawke finished the quote: "But that was a hundred leagues and a lifetime ago.' Don't drag it out now. It isn't how he'd want us to remember him." This was why she hated arguing about their parents—why she hated arguing with Carver at all. The fight would start about one thing and in the span of minutes it would be about something else entirely, because they had an entire shared lifetime of experiences to use against each other.
"All he wanted was for us to live without the chains he'd known himself. He wanted to protect all of us. He wanted to protect you, you and—"
"Enough," said Hawke, because even Varric was starting to look interested now, and that was a bad sign. "Look, I have this delicious roast bird. If I give it to you, will you shut up about Father?"
Carver eyed the spit in her hand. "I can have that one all to myself?"
"No promises," said Hawke, but she passed him the spit anyway. "Hold on, I have some salt around here somewhere. Salt, salt, who's got the salt…" She retreated from the fire to dig through her pack as much to give herself a moment to find her composure as to locate seasoning. That was an even worse sign than Varric's interest; she'd been off-balance since returning from the Fade, not her usual self, trapped in a cycle of trying too hard and forgetting to try at all…
She peeled open the top of her pack and started to dig inside. Her little box of salt was hiding under a map and a pair of flintstones; she shoved those aside and was reaching for the box when something soft brushed her hand. She curled her fingers around it and pulled it out; and there, in her palm, was the feather of a raven.
There was no reason it should have disturbed her. She'd been across the length and breadth of Thedas toting this same pack, and there were a thousand instances where a raven's feather might have gotten caught inside, but she knew, she knew, she knew—
"Hawke? Something wrong?" called Varric.
"No," said Hawke. "Nothing at all."
When she slept, she dreamed. Her dreams were green and savage, nightmare wedded to memory, and something of them always stayed with her when she woke.
She was running for the trees, having abandoned her father behind her, and as she ran, she heard the templars speak. "Did you think anything you ever did mattered?" said the first templar.
"You couldn't even save your city," said the second.
"You're a failure," said the third, "and your family died knowing it."
And then Hawke knew that they were behind her, just as she knew her father had passed beyond her reach. She ran faster, she ran as fast as her legs would carry her, she ran and she fell and she threw her hands out to catch herself against the rock underfoot and when she—
—woke up, her hands were bleeding.
It took her a long time to pull her senses back in, to stop heaving and remember where she was. It was dark; Servani was high in the sky, which meant midnight had come and gone, but only recently. The fire was banked, but she could still make out the dark shapes of the others—Carver was sprawled on his back a few feet away, and Cassandra was curled neatly on her side on the opposite side of the fire. Varric was so swaddled in blankets it was impossible to tell where his head was.
Her hands were shaking. It had been a long time since anything had rattled her badly enough to make her hands shake.
She pushed herself to her feet, taking up her water skin in one hand as she went, and began to stagger away from the fire. The light was too much, although it was tinted a warm yellow rather than the sickly green that haunted her, and Carver and the rest were too near. There was a rock some distance away beneath what in daylight had been one of the tall, spindling trees that populated the flatter parts of the Dales, and Hawke only barely managed to make her way to it without tripping in the dark. She collapsed onto the rock and, forgetting her palms, caught the edge of it with one hand; the scrap of stone against the open abrasions made her shudder.
Maker, what a mess—and all her doing, wasn't it? There wasn't a single part of this that she hadn't brought on herself. In her more Carver-ish moments, she almost thought it was her atonement for failing so frequently on such a large scale. It was a terribly Andrastian view to take, that the Fade and the Nightmare and this long, unending struggle against Corypheus that should have ended now that he was quiet in his grave was all merely penance for the destruction of Kirkwall, the deaths of her family, and her unwitting role in Corypheus's rise, but some deep part of her believed it. There was no joke for this. There was no pun. Hawke didn't have the energy to be amusing or amused; all that remained was a slow, grinding exhaustion that threatened to pull her back beyond the Veil.
What Fenris would say: "Victory always leaves us hollow, Hawke." Or Isabela: "You've lived through worse, kitten. You'll live through this." Or Anders: "I am willing to suffer, so long as I know my suffering has a purpose."
Her mother: an even split between "My darling" and "Why didn't you do more?" Her father: "Magic should serve that which is best in us, not that which is most base."
That was like the sharp line of a dagger cutting through the haze of her thoughts. She was running from the truth, as she had run from every truth every presented to her, but there was a time when you had to stop running and look the predator that chased you in the eye. The truth was this: Hawke had been left beyond the Veil, and her time there had changed her. Now there was something wrong with her, something dangerous.
"Shit!" she said, and leapt out of her skin. Metaphorically. There was certainly leaping, but her skin remained, thankfully, intact. Fortunately, the person who was suddenly and without any warning whatsover standing behind her was only Varric.
"Easy there," he said. "Everything okay?"
It was difficult to make out his face by the moonlight and the distant, flickering campfire, but Hawke knew him well enough that she didn't have to look at him to see the expression he wore. "Oh, you know me," she said, striving for lighthearted sarcasm and not quite making the mark. "I love strolling through the dark forest by myself. What's life without the occasional spot of deliberate danger?"
He snorted. "A hell of a lot less stressful, but hey, it's not like I can remember what that's like. Scoot over, Hawke." Hawke scooted obligingly, and Varric settled onto the rock beside her. "Whiskey?" he said.
"No, thank you," said Hawke.
"More for me." She felt his thick shoulders shrug. There was a moment punctuated only by the sound of a dwarf drinking from a flask, and then he sighed and leaned forward to prop his elbows on his knees.
"So," he said. "You want to talk about it?"
"Varric," said Hawke, "be serious. Do I ever want to talk about it?"
He chuckled. "Good point. How about I do the talking, then, and you just listen? Give me a grunt if I'm on the right track."
Hawke glanced back towards the camp, but Cassandra and Carver both looked to be asleep, and they were far enough away that they probably wouldn't be able to overhear anything. "All right," she said. "We'll try it your way, but I reserve the right to panic and flee."
"Noted," said Varric.
"Right," said Hawke, and then the quiet settled over them again. It was comfortable; there was no way it could be otherwise. Hard to believe they'd known each other for a decade and more now, but sometimes it was even harder to believe that there'd ever been a time when they hadn't known each other. Varric had settled into her life as a fixture from the moment he'd entered it. There was a level of ease and intimacy there Hawke couldn't quite manage with anyone else, and she was never sure if that ease rose from their dramatically different positions or their dramatically similar personalities.
"You're having a hard time adjusting to being back," Varric said. Hawke didn't say anything. "Oh, come on, Champion, give me that one," he said. "It's pretty obvious. I'm not saying you don't have good reason—you were left for dead, locked in that creepy-ass place with a demon the size of a boat, and then you had to fight your way back out."
"I certainly hope it isn't obvious to anyone else," said Hawke, feeling a little petulant.
"Believe it or not, you aren't a complete mystery all of the time," he said. "You know what, though? You take as long as you need, and if there's anything I can give you that will help, all you have to do is ask. You know that, right?"
Hawke smiled. "I do know," she said.
"Good," said Varric. "And remember that even though I'm the gladdest to have you back, I'm not the only person happy that you managed to thwart death again. Rivaini and her elf are planning to meet us in Val Royeaux, and your even your brother's doing a piss-poor job of hiding how glad he is to have you around." He waited a moment for Hawke to take that in—even an inspirational talk from Varric relied heavily on appropriate timing and dramatic pauses—and then asked, "Can I keep going?"
Hawke waved a hand. "Suit yourself."
"There's something you're hiding from us—ah ah, Champion, I'm not trying to pry your secrets out of you. Well, at least not tonight." He huffed, amused at himself. Varric's voice really was extraordinary, rich and warm; if it were a color, it would be amber and red and gold, just like the rest of him. "You probably have some idiotic notion that you have to protect the rest of us. That's fine, Hawke, Maker knows I know better than to try to talk you out of whatever scheme you're cooking up, but remember—you're not alone in this. You've got me, and you've got the rest of Kirkwall's vagrants and apostates, and you have the whole damn Inquisition rooting for you."
Hawke made a noise and then started when she realized it had come from her throat. "All right," she said, very softly. "All right, Varric."
As always, he seemed to sense her weary discomfort, and as always, he knew better than to press. "Just food for thought, Hawke. No need to brood on it." There was a rustle as he dug in the pocket of his great coat, and then the flask flashed in the moonlight again. "Sure you don't want a sip?"
"It's fine," she said. "I have water—fuck!" She yanked her hand back; she'd forgotten about the scrapes on her palm again, at least until the cork of her water skin had dragged across one of the deeper tears.
"Hawke? Shit, let me see—"
"It's fine, Varric—"
"No, come on, hold still—" He managed to get both of his big hands around her wrists and then dragged her hands up so he could squint at them. "Shit, Hawke, are you bleeding?"
"I'm—it's fine," Hawke said. "I fell and scraped them, that's all. Did you know I once got impaled by a qunari? Right here." She nodded her chin at the approximate location of the scar. "Terrible thing, being impaled. Sort of makes you feel like you're about to be roasted on a spit. Although, ha, can you imagine—"
"Wait here," Varric said, and then he dropped down from the rock and strode back towards the camp. Honestly. He could have at least left the flask. Now that she thought about it, Hawke was more than a little thirsty, and not for water.
When he came back, he was carrying bandages and ointment; the rock Hawke was sitting on was low enough to the ground that he actually dropped to his knees before he took one of her hands and, gently but efficiently, ran a damp scrap of cloth over it.
"Here's the other thing," he said abruptly. "About the… marriage. I didn't mean to spring it on you. Give me a couple of days after we get to Val Royeaux, and I'll draw up the paperwork and have it filed."
"It's fine, Hawke. I know it makes you… I know you aren't comfortable with the whole act. There are plenty of barristers in Orlais who can get you straightened out. Even they can't deny proof-of-life when you're walking around in front of them." He cleaned her other hand and then opened the little tub of ointment. Hawke watched the top of his head as he coated her palms and then wrapped the bandages; she really did feel better when he was through.
Instead of dropping her hands, packing up his supplies, and jokingly telling her that she'd missed her opportunity with the whiskey, though, he looked right up at her. Oh no, thought Hawke.
"There's only one problem," he said.
"Varric," she said desperately, "don't you dare—"
"What," he said, "you don't think it's time one of us stopped lying? Andraste's tits, Hawke, I'm bad enough, but you—you're only fooling one person. All those lies you tell yourself, that you're lazy or a wastrel, that you're a bad person, that you failed, that's jack shit. You haven't failed anyone, sweetheart. You've sacrificed yourself over and over, and you may play the fool to cover it, but—"
"Stop," Hawke snarled, and she yanked her hands away. "Stop it, Varric, don't ruin it."
He sat back on his heels and laughed completely without humor. "I never took you for a coward, Hawke. You know that I'm—"
"What?" Hawke said. "In love with me?"
Varric didn't seem surprised, but then, he wouldn't, would he? Hawke flexed her fingers, testing the tightness of the bandages with her thumbs, and watched him watch her.
"You must see what a bad idea it is," she said. "And you—Varric, you're exactly the sort of hopeless romantic to make the same string of terrible decisions that my parents did. I won't have us resenting each other."
"You can't run from this," he said.
"You—" Oh, Maker's arse, why had he brought this up at all? Hawke hated him for forcing it into the open, for discarding what was one of the best relationships of her life in favor of some nebulous could-be. "You're assuming I want anything of this," she said. "I don't. I'm not built for it."
He closed his eyes, and when he reopened them, a tension went out of him. "All right," he said. "Okay, Hawke. I'm sorry for bringing it up. I'll take care of that paperwork first thing."
"Yes," said Hawke.
"Be careful with those hands, though," he said. "I'd keep the bandages on, but—Hawke? Hawke!"
She couldn't take any more of it—she could take the weight of the world, but not the weight of his concern. She gave one high, sharp whistle. Her mabari bolted up from his place by the fire and bounded to her side, and with one hand on his head, Hawke fled into the forest. She didn't look back when she went. There was nothing left to see.
Carver finally shaved after they crossed the Enavuris River. "What?" he said, upon rejoining the party after his morning ablutions. "I wasn't planning on keeping it."
"Of course not," said Hawke, and patted his smooth, ruddy cheek. "No one thought you were planning on keeping it." He looked more himself without it, less like their father and more like the little brother she remembered, but there was still something disconcertingly aged in his face. He had seen dark things and trod paths Hawke couldn't follow. She really didn't like the feeling. It was spectacularly frustrating, acutally.
In a matter of days, they had all settled into a routine—every travelling party did, even one as mismatched as theirs. Carver had spent an inordinate amount of time flushing dully while he brooded in Cassandra's direction; his behavior wasn't surprising to Hawke, who had witnessed what had been his truly spectacular crush on Aveline, but she was pleased to note that he at least managed to keep from making a total tit of himself. Cassandra didn't appear to notice, and the problem solved itself after the first morning the Seeker decided Carver would make a convenient practice dummy for her training. Carver returned cheerful and bruised and had promptly challenged Cassandra again the next day.
Hawke, during these times, did not wait idly in the camp. She went into the woods with her mabari to hunt small game, or she read one of the spellbooks she had "requisitioned" from Skyhold's library, or she inserted herself into the training and "accidentally" set Carver's trousers on fire. All in a day's work.
When the sun was high, she almost felt like herself. She tormented the Seeker and joked with Varric, although she was careful to never be alone with him; they talked about his writing or the old crew from Kirkwall, and they sometimes played cards around the fire. That was the extent of their interaction. If Hawke sometimes vanished into the woods by herself, no one acted as though the habit were peculiar. Carver at least was long used to her lost days, even though they came less frequently than they once had.
The Seeker, meanwhile, was still endlessly fascinated with her love letters. She took the packet of them out every evening and read them until the parchment had worn thin, and then she sat and stared into the fire, looking too far away for any of the rest of them to reach. Hawke had only met Lady Montilyet a handful of times; at first it was hard to imagine the bright, mannered woman setting her cap at someone as rough-edged as Lady Pentaghast, but there was Lady Montilyet's silver tongue to consider. Silver-tongued scoundrels were often hard to resist, even when they dressed themselves up in silks and diplomatic niceties.
When the sun was high Hawke walked beside Carver, and they rediscovered the caustic friendship that had taken them so long to build. Their father had always said they argued because they were too much alike; it hadn't mattered so much when Bethany was alive to play envoy between them, but in the years after her death, they had fought often, and the words had always bitten deep. Now they talked about Aveline and the Wardens at Weisshaupt; Carver planned on leaving for the Anderfels straight from Val Royeaux. Hawke laughed at him.
"You can't be serious," she said. "The Anderfels? Carver, the Wardens tried to cut a bloody swath through the world, and no one has heard from them since."
"Stroud might need my help," Carver said. "I won't leave him to face the First Warden alone."
"Lunacy," said Hawke. "I suppose you come by it rightfully. Don't make that face, I'm not trying to talk you out of it." A beat, and then she added, "You look just like Bethany when you do that."
Carver started. "What?"
"Your lower lip juts out—there, you're doing it right now."
The corner of his mouth twitched. "She was so stubborn. Remember the baby bronto she dragged home?"
"It pissed on my shirt, of course I remember," Hawke said. "The worst part was that even though she was stubborn, she was sweet enough about it that Mother couldn't get mad at her."
"There was that one traveller, the seer." Carver scratched at his newly-smooth chin. "She said that Bethany—"
"'Reveled in stories of the far and away,'" Hawke finished. "I remember."
"She would have loved the Inquisition," said Carver. "All those people passing through… I wouldn't have minded seeing it myself. And she would have adored Lady Pentaghast. A real live dragon-slayer? Bethany wouldn't have left her alone."
"And then the Seeker would have the both of you trailing after her like puppies," Hawke teased. Carver scowled at being so easily caught out, but Hawke softened her delivery with a wink. "You're right, though. She was so devout. Reserved about it, though."
"I always used to think that Father loved her best for that," Carver said. "Not that he ever seemed particularly devout himself, but I—you know that I used to think he valued the pair of you more, because you were mages?"
"I might vaguely recall that, yes," Hawke said.
"I resented you for it," said Carver. "But I never resented her. How could I?"
"You couldn't," Hawke said. The Seeker and Varric were ahead of them, perhaps twenty paces further along the road, and they were both obviously engaged in their discussion. Hawke hadn't resented Bethany either, and she certainly didn't resent Cassandra, who now could occupy Varric's attention in a way that was similar to, if more contentious than, the way he would let himself be monopolized by Hawke.
Carver looked at her sidelong, with the same steadiness she remembered looking back at her during the long night of the fight against Meredith. He really had grown into a man who did his family proud.
"Marian," he said, "your dog is rolling in bear shit."
"Carver, your face is bear shit," Hawke retorted, and then they got into a shoving match that only ended when Hawke froze Carver's boots to the ground.
That was how daytime went. When the sun was high, she was almost herself—that rollicking, roguish Marian Hawke who breathed fire like a dragon and drank wine like it was water. Nights were different. At night, the shadows were long and the Veil was thin, and she felt not like herself but like something else entirely, like a creature caught in a cage of human ribs that was fighting to break free. That feeling of otherness was strongest in the dark. When she slept, she dreamed; and how could Varric understand her now, when he had never dreamed at all?
Her dreams were green and savage, filled with nightmare wedded to memory, and something of them stayed with her long after her eyes were opened.
There were three templars before her, and her father was prone on the ground at their feet. Hawke knew without looking that he was dead; this dream was always the same, her father was always dead, she was always utterly powerless to prevent it.
This time the templars spoke in concert: "You think that pain will make you stronger?" they said. "What fool filled your mind with such drivel?" And Hawke laughed, because they had to be talking to someone else; she had never believed that her suffering had purpose. Her laughter was wild, cutting, almost hysterical, and when it tore free it took parts of her with it.
"Champion?" said one. "You are champion of nothing," said another. "Champion of failures," said the third.
Her mind made them templars because even though she knew that templars were just as mixed a lot as mages, because even though her father himself had told her that people were people no matter where their fealty lay, there was no erasing those childhood lessons that made templars the monsters in the dark. They were templars to her eyes, but behind the puppets something crueler and far more ferocious pulled the strings.
They spoke again together, their voice so deep it echoed in her bones: "Did you think," they said, "that you had escaped me?"
She woke, rolled to the side, and vomited. When her stomach was empty, she collapsed onto her back. Her shirt was soaked through with sweat. Dawn was still far; Servani swung high in the sky, and Judex was rising.
But did Hawke suffer because of her nightmare? Ha! Hardly. The great dragons themselves quaked at the song of the Champion's blade. At very least, her reputation meant that many people bought her many free drinks, and that was nothing to be scoffed at. She had survived Lothering and the sack of Kirkwall; she had survived demons, abominations, and the stew served at the Hanged Man. Additionally, she had fantastic hair. The nightmare merely added depth and character, and as a storyteller had once told her, depth and character were vital ingredients to any narrative.
That was the thing about all those tall tales; there was a reason in them for everything that happened. Foresight functioned like hindsight. In real life you had to live through something to pick out the pattern of what had happened, and even then, only if you were lucky or wise could you see the weft. In stories, though… ah, in stories, people were more, and heroes were fated rather than accidental.
And in real life, there was a great deal of living through day-to-day mundanities. Hawke and her companions, for instance, were still tromping along through the Dales, although they drew closer to the Imperial Highway and then to the sea every day. Hawke almost fancied she could smell the salt air, although that was ridiculous; they were too far inland for even the faintest scent of the ocean to reach. The memory of the odor brought her back to Kirkwall all the same.
They were coming down the crest of a low hill when they spotted the bandits. Cassandra held up her hand to bring the party to a halt; Carver obeyed instantly, Varric shifted and rolled his eyes, and Hawke bounced on her toes. "Bandits!" she said.
"Quiet, Champion," said Cassandra. "We don't know if they are bandits—"
"I dunno, Seeker, they look like bandits to me," said Varric. "It looks like they're robbing that guy, actually."
A pause, and then Cassandra said, "Very well. They are bandits. We must intervene. Dwarf, you and the Champion cut around the stream; I will work my way through the thicket and surprise them from the other side."
"Actually," Hawke said brightly, "I think I'll go with you."
The Seeker narrowed her eyes, but her residual hero-worship must have won out, because she said, "As you wish. Warden, go with the dwarf."
"Yes, Lady Pentaghast," said Carver, drawing his sword. He started back the way they had come; the hill in that direction curved around, and if he stayed near the base he could make it almost all the way to the robbers undetected. Varric grumbled something under his breath and then followed, cradling Bianca with a tender firmness that Hawke thought would probably be terribly comforting on a difficult night.
"Well!" said Hawke to the Seeker. "Shall we?"
Cassandra scowled as dropped her pack beside Hawke's at the foot of a tree. There was enough brush around that their baggage wouldn't be seen from the road—always a chance there were more bandits lurking around, after all. "This is a distraction we do not need," the Seeker said, and she began to plow her way through the shallow grove of trees that ran to the southwest of the path. "And now we must move quietly, Champion, if we wish to take them unawares."
"I shall do my utmost best to tiptoe," said Hawke, and almost clobbered a tree with her staff when she tried to twirl it dramatically. There was a tightness in her chest that she couldn't explain; it had been years since imminent bloodshed had made her anxious.
The forest here wasn't particularly overgrown; there was enough room for them to move easily, and the lines of sight were decent, which was probably why the additional bandits caught them off guard. Either that, or Hawke was so exhausted that even a charging bronto could have caught her unawares.
"Cassandra!" she snapped, and the Seeker whirled and slammed her shield in the man who was trying to get an arm around Hawke's neck. Hawke ducked low, swept his feet out from under him, and delivered a blow to his head that left him groaning. Cassandra was busy battering a second man into submission, leaving Hawke to deal with the third, a woman brandishing a wicked pair of curved knives. She had an immense open gash down one cheek; it was still bleeding sluggishly, and Hawke caught a glimpse of teeth.
This was easy, this was breathing; her father had first put a staff in her hand at the age of four, and before she was allowed to throw fire, he required her to learn to fight with a polearm only. In the years since then, Hawke had married martial skill and magic into a style that very few could replicate and even fewer could counter.
For common robbers, though, the throwing fire trick would do nicely. Hawke opened herself to the world with one breath and gathered a spark at her fingertips with the next, shaping heat around that locus with the speed of a blink. There was something odd, though, something about that spark—
It roared through her all at once, and then she realized her hands were on fire. Not in the way she had intended, not even burning; they were wreathed in sickly green flames that gave off light but not heat, that consumed not flesh but the matter of Hawke's soul. There was a high wail; that was Hawke screaming. Her back arched in utter rictus, and the pressure in her chest ripped. She had reached for the Fade, and something was coming through—
And then a light tore through her, severing her from the Fade, cutting off all the senses that made her what she was. Her feet went out from under her, and the world slid away.
When she crawled back to consciousness, the Seeker was standing over her. Hawke's mouth was dry, like it had been stuffed with sacking; she worked some moisture back into it and then croaked, "This is some hangover."
"Hawke," the Seeker said. "Thank the Maker! I thought we had lost you—"
Hawke sat up, not even trying to hide that her nerves were rubbed raw. "That was an experience," she said, and stuck her hands between her knees to hide how badly they were shaking. "What happened?"
"I don't know," said the Seeker. "Never have I encountered anything like it. One moment you were well, and the next you were aflame with what looked like veilfire. I dispelled your mana. You fainted."
"Possession?" said Hawke, pleased that her voice didn't waver.
"If it was, it was like none I have ever known. No, I do not think so." But by her own admission, this was outside of even the Seeker's vast realm of experience. Wonderful. Hawke had hoped to find answers in Val Royeaux, in the library of the White Spire, but she was halfway to believing she wouldn't make it to Val Royeaux alive.
One of the bandits moaned, and then a pair of voices drowned out the moaning. Varric and Carver. Shit.
"Don't tell them," Hawke said.
"I mean it, Cassandra. Give me a day or two to think this over."
"If it happens again—" said Cassandra.
"It won't," said Hawke, "but if it does, do what you have to do."
Cassandra gave her the time she had asked for. Carver joked about Hawke being knocked off her feet by a couple of common robbers, and Varric chuckled and asked if Hawke needed him to break out the bandages. Hawke played it up, whining about her aching posterior and pestering Carver to carry her. She kept up the act until nightfall despite the Seeker's searching eyes and then retired to her bedroll early. She was too tired to fight her exhaustion. There were clouds in the distance; tomorrow night they would probably have to pitch the tents, and Hawke hated being trapped between wet canvas and mud.
And when she slept, she dreamed.
She sat at a table piled high with gold, and before her on the table were three cards. It might have been one of any of the thousands of nights she'd spent playing Wicked Grace or diamondback, except that Hawke and the table were in a vast waste.
There was an elf man sitting across from her; she became conscious of him only slowly, with that peculiar dragging awareness that was a quality of dreams. When her eyes finally focused on him, she saw he was sipping from a cup; he winced at the taste and then settled cup and saucer both on the table.
"Eluvia," he said, and Hawke looked at the card by her left hand. It depicted a woman sitting on a chair; her head was wreathed in clouds so thick that her face was no longer visible, but Hawke recognized the bottom of Bethany's ringlets hanging over the sturdy curve of her shoulders.
But then the man reached out and turned the card over, and Hawke that it didn't show Bethany at all. Rather, the picture was of a pale, sharp-featured woman with blue eyes and a crop of dark hair; only the woman's head and shoulders were visible. Her face was tilted back so she looked at the sky, and there was something shining from her eye—a mote of light, Hawke thought.
"Servani," said the elf, and Hawke looked at the card in the center. There was a man on the card, and behind him he dragged a heavy chain. She didn't recognize his face at first, but then his features grew clearer, and she saw the man was her father. He was younger than she remembered him, and his expression was grim with determination.
But then the elf reached out and turned the card over, and Hawke saw that it didn't show her father at all. The picture was different now; it had changed to the young woman with the mote of light in her eye from the first card, except now the image of her continued down past her shoulders all the way to her feet. She was wrapped in chains, and Hawke realized that the woman's head wasn't tipped back to beseech the heavens. Instead, it was thrown back in agony as she writhed against her bonds.
"Judex," said the elvish man, and Hawke looked at the card by her right hand. On it was the heraldry of the Templar Order—the Sword of Mercy, bathed in holy light and wreathed in flame, that had been used to grant Andraste a swift, painless death.
But then the man reached out and turned the card over, and Hawke saw that it held no mercy at all. The chained woman was revealed in full; she was bound as before, and her face was turned to the sky as she struggled against her bonds. Above her was suspended a sword. What Hawke had taken for a mote of light was instead the point of the blade as it pressed against the woman's eye.
"Who is she?" Hawke said. "What am I?"
The man smiled gently; the sight of his teeth sent a cold tendril crawling up Hawke's spine. "Something new," he said. "Or something very old."
"Am I like… like Feynriel?" asked Hawke.
"A dreamer?" The elf sounded amused, but not mockingly so. "No. Not that. Not so far from it as to be entirely unlike, but not the same thing, either. It is the fine distinctions that I value, the softly-drawn edges that offer us each the illusion of individuality. Details are what make life interesting. You, though, are not a dreamer. Your eyes are open too wide for that."
"What am I?" she said again.
"A doorway," he said, "and one through which danger comes calling."
When she slept, she dreamed; her dreams were green and savage. They terrified her enough that she began, distantly, to ponder the Rite of Tranquility—
It started raining the next morning. They swaddled themselves in oilskins and trudged over slick rock and thick mud. Varric complained the most, of course; he had Bianca tucked up high on his back beneath his oilskin, and it gave him a hilariously rotund appearance.
"Well," Carver said, "this is fun." He and Hawke were trailing behind the other two again; leaders of men the Hawkes were not. They weren't really fantastic followers either, come to think of it.
"Oh, just lovely," Hawke agreed. "My favorite part is feeling like I'll never be dry again." At her side, her mabari gave a whine of agreement. Smart dog. (Brilliant dog.)
She was thinking about the dream again: Eluvia, Servani, Judex. What a fat load of nonsense. Utter shit, in Hawke's opinion. All that prophetic business was—well, it certainly wasn't real. (Her hand had fallen to the base of her throat, like if she pressed hard enough, she could prevent the clawed thing that had seized her yesterday from bursting free.)
They trudged along for another mile. Carver kept stealing glances at her; his lower lip was beginning to jut out again in petulant thoughtfulness. Hawke finally tired of his substandard attempt to be circumspect and said, "What?"
"Nothing," Carver said.
"Do I have pudding on my face?" Hawke demanded.
"What—pudding?" said Carver. "Where would you even get any pudding out here?"
"Listen, it was just a question," said Hawke. "There's no need to be so defensive."
"Oh, for the love of—I was about to say that you've changed," Carver said. "Obviously that isn't true, though. You're the same obnoxious prat you've always been—"
"You think I've changed," Hawke said.
"That's what I just said, sister—wait. You're serious." Carver stopped dead in the middle of the road. "You really care about this."
Hawke snorted. "I didn't say that—"
"You have, though," he said. "I didn't mean it in a bad way. I don't know how I meant it."
She kept walking, forcing him to catch up with her. "Of course I've changed," Hawke said, and the bitterness was caustic on her tongue. She felt like she was going to start spewing flames, but she was afraid she'd end up caught by that green witch-fire again. "I was locked in the Fade with a nightmare; that changes a person, Carver."
"Does it, sister?" he said. "You've been through plenty of strange battles before—"
"We both have," said Hawke. "Lucky us."
"How did you get out of there, anyway?"
Hawke thought. She thought about how time had turned meaningless beyond the Veil, and how the Fear Demon had preyed on her; she thought of how it called its siblings, Pride and Desire, and how tempted and terrified she had been. In the end, it wasn't some noble cause that had saved her, or some great inner reserve of willpower or love; she had gone on only because she didn't know how to do anything else.
"That doesn't matter," she said. "I don't regret it, you know." And she hadn't; it had been to protect him, the only one left of her blood kin, and the person dearest to her if not closest to her heart.
"I don't imagine anyone has said it to you," said Carver, "but thank you."
"You're welcome," said Hawke, and then, because she could never leave well enough alone, "Are you going to start crying now?"
"What?" said Carver. "No!"
"Nobody will be able to tell in the rain. It's all right, brother, sometimes even a Grey Warden needs a good cry—"
"Shut up," he grumbled, but he slung an arm around her shoulders, and a few strides later Hawke put her arm around his back. They went on like that in lockstep, dripping rainwater on each other and bickering, the last two Hawkes in the world. Malcolm would have been proud.
Her dreams were lush and verdant, peopled with faces she loved; when she walked among them, they quaffed their glasses in a toast. "Here's to your birthright," they said, and, "Here's to the city."
"Here's to the wind and the sea!" called a woman with a pealing voice. "Here's to the warm hearth!" called a man. "Here's to the cold and lonely mountain," said a girl both sweet and sorrowful. "Here's to ashes in your mouth, lies on young tongues, and beer that sits in your belly like sulfur in the stomach of a dragon," they said, and then: "Here's to the Champion!"
"Here's to the Champion," one said again. "Here's to her failures—"
"Here's to her family—" said another.
"Here's to her city," said a third, "and to the folly that let her think herself free—"
She woke up in the dark, without even the distant light of the stars to save her. It took several long seconds before she realized the sky was gone because she was sleeping in a tent; the patter of the rain was loud against the canvas.
Really, Hawke thought. Really, if she were honest with herself—
Carver was dearest to her, but there was only one person she carried in her heart like a secret, and it suddenly seemed unconscionable to her that he thought himself unloved. If she was going to take the course that now seemed clear to her, she owed him one last story.
She was stripped down to a linen shirt and her smallclothes, but crawled out of her tent without bothering to pull on more than her boots. Varric's tent was pitched under a tree some distance away; Hawke wiped the dripping rainwater from her brow and ducked inside without bothering to wait for an invitation.
He was asleep and snoring faintly. Hawke went and crouched by his side. What was the best way to go about this? It wasn't as though she were particularly practiced in, ah. Things of this nature. (Not sex—she didn't mean sex. Hawke was fantastic at sex.)
Unfortunately, while she was contemplating her plan of attack, Varric took the initiative to wake himself up. "Shit!" he said, and then he scrambled backwards. "Hawke? What the hell is going on?"
"Hello, Varric," said Hawke. "Nice weather we're having."
A pause, and then the sound of a match striking. "Really?" Varric said, and he lit a candle. "You snuck into my tent in the middle of the night to talk about the rain?"
Hawke settled cross-legged on the tarp. "Do you know how my father died?" she said. "We were living in Lothering, and there was a child, a girl, who had gone missing. The whole town turned out to look for her. Father and I were with one of the templars from the Chantry when we came across her. There was a pack of wolves about to tear her to pieces. Father used magic to save her, and the templar—you know how templars are. He turned his sword on Father without hesitation. I killed him, of course. Burned the corpse and dragged it downriver, took the girl back to her family… What I'm trying to say is that you deserve more credit than I gave you for telling me how you felt. Bianca—your past—can't have made that easy."
Varric was gaping at her. His hair was unbound, and wasn't that interesting? Hawke was certainly interested. "Champion—" he said.
"Look," said Hawke. "I only have one chance to say this, so let me get it out. What you said—I told you it was a bad idea, the two of us. I meant it," she said.
His face went amused and resigned, like he had expected nothing else, like his only reaction was to laugh that he'd let himself want her; and Hawke wasn't going to have that at all. "I told you it was a bad idea," she said. "I didn't say that I don't feel the same."
In her entire life, she had never felt an anticipation more exquisite than what she felt in that moment as she waited for him to understand. It was like waking up; it was like coming home.
"Yeah?" he said.
"Yes," said Hawke. "So. There you go. All requited. I can't make any promises—"
"I'm not going to ask anything of you that you aren't willing to give, Champion," he said.
She took a deep breath. "Right. Good to know."
"Hey," he said. "Marian. Look at me. Can I touch you?"
Hawke nodded. To her surprise, rather than kissing her, he reached out and cupped her face in his hands.
"You don't have to protect me, you know," he said. "I'm thirty-five—"
"Forty-two," Hawke said.
"Agelessly handsome," he conceded. "I can make my own mistakes, and loving you doesn't feel like a mistake at all."
"We'll agree to disagree," Hawke said. "It, ah. It did occur to me that what we have, you and I—it isn't some fairy tale. I always said that if I got married, it would have to be for practical reasons. You know, taxes." Varric's hands had slipped down to her neck, and his thumbs were drawing small circles against her skin. "What I really wanted, though, was a partner. And you… have filled that role admirably."
He grinned and said, "Thanks, Champion."
"We aren't my parents," she added.
"I hope not," he said. "It isn't like you're going to steal me away from my family so we can be fugitives in a country that smells like wet dog."
"I'm not sure whether I should be amused or horrified that you're my mother in this scenario."
"Hawke, one of us is a dashing, well-connected noble—"
"Scoundrel," she corrected.
"Gentleman," he conceded, "and the other uses a stick to set things on fire. You're right, though, you know—we've known each other too long for this to be some wild impulse."
"I mean what I said." Hawke covered his hands with her own, and then, reluctantly, she took his hands from her shoulders and guided them back to his lap. "I'm not sure this changes anything, Varric. I'm not sure I'm built for it. I only wanted you to know—"
"All right, sweetheart," he said. "Don't worry about it. If right now is what you can give me, I'll take it and be happy. Come on, Hawke," he said. "Don't go soft on me."
She laughed at him, and when she was breathless, she reached over and snuffed out the candle. It was easier when she couldn't see him to forget that she stood on the edge of a precipice.
Without hesitation, Hawke closed her eyes and leaped.
When she woke, the rain had receded to a fine mist, and dawn was just over the horizon. The rest of the camp was still asleep; she heard snoring from Carver's tent and only quiet from the Seeker's. She dressed quickly, leaving her pack but taking up her staff. Before she left, she cut a sprig of felandaris and left it beside Varric's hand.
Last of all she called her mabari to her. They were remarkably smart animals, mabari, and his posture spoke of the absolute dejection that only a dog could feel. "Don't worry," said Hawke. "I'm not quite finished yet, and in the meantime, someone has to look after Carver. He's not fooling anyone with that competent-slayer-of-darkspawn act, is he, boy?" She allowed herself the last indulgence of hugging the big, smelly beast, and then she walked him to Carver's tent and gave him the signal to stay. He did as he was told. If she let him, he would stand guard there until the end of the world.
They were camped uphill of the place where the road forked. It ran west and south; there was no path north, to the sea, but that didn't matter. Hawke had her own destination and could make her own road. There was already enough dust on her boots that another league would make little difference, even if that league led her places no one else could follow.
The Veil was thin here, and Hawke was a doorway; so she opened a rift, and then, alone, she walked into the Fade.