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Woman King, Sword in Hand

Chapter Text

"These will be your personal chambers, Your Excellency." Seneschal Bran pulled open the door to the Viscount's private suite and gestured inside with a single, precise movement of his hand. "I hope you find them suitable."

"You hope," Hawke repeated without looking in, "or you require?"

"For the purpose of facilitating our professional relationship, consider the terms interchangeable." The seneschal dipped his head once. "Enjoy your leisure time while you can. Tomorrow, I am afraid, you will have to prove yourself competent at more than merely swinging a broadsword." He took his leave abruptly and disappeared down the corridor, leaving Hawke to face the unexpectedly daunting task of crossing the threshold on her own. Her chest felt cold and tight.

It looked no more or less remarkable than any other suite in the Keep, but years without an occupant had dulled the color from the carpet and walls. The air smelled old, and felt both empty and brimming over in a way that defied description, like the man who had once lived and worked and slept and chastised his earnest, disobedient son in this very room might wander past at any moment in search of a pen, or a needed missive, or a lost pair of gloves. Someone had drawn the curtains to let the light in, but the sepulchral atmosphere wouldn't be chased away by a bit of fresh air and sunshine.

She let her body do the work for her brain and took a mechanical step inside, then crossed the room to the old oak desk situated near the window, ran her fingers across its surface disturbing a fine layer of dust that came up on her fingertips. She looked at a collection of old letters bound by twine, a few books with marks tucked into their pages that would never be finished, and the small, faded likeness of both a woman and a boy with dark hair and impossibly blue eyes. Little bits and pieces of an interrupted thought, Marlowe Dumar, forgotten by everyone else even while the problem of his office persisted. Hawke collected the portrait and let it rest in her palm, watching it as its painted eyes watched her.

When Aveline came to stand in the doorway, she didn't look up. She let out a slow breath, but every muscle still felt taut as a bowstring ready to snap. "Can I do this?"

"It's not really a matter of 'can,' but 'must,'" Aveline pointed out and took a few steps towards her through the still air and dust. "And as to that question, well." She smiled her not-quite-smile which never seemed to quirk her lips, but glinted sharp and steady in her eyes. "You know the answer already."

Hawke surprised herself with her involuntary smile. "Somehow," she remarked wryly, "I knew you were going to say that."