“No way! Really?” the pirate’s bust pushed unceremoniously against Hawke hunched over her desk as Isabela tried to get a look at the letter.
“I shit you not,” Hawke chose to surrender the parchment to her friend rather than bear more of the bosomy assault. Not that it was entirely unpleasant - she had last had sex so long ago she was near considering Andraste’s tits quite appealing, and she was sure those had nothing on Bela’s - but the touch distracted her from trying to decipher the meaning of the note. The fact that it contained precisely three lines and of those - only one sentence, did not help in the least.
“Hmm,” Isabela purred, “I met him once, you know. Long before he was king of course. In fact, I was this close” she left a barely visible gap between her thumb and index finger, “to having a threesome with him.” Hawke felt her eyebrows chase one another up her forehead in surprise, one clearly winning the race.
“I can't believe I haven’t heard this story before,” she crossed her arms under her much more modest compared to her friend’s breasts. “And who would be the third participant of the threesome that never happened? Must be no one less than the Hero of Ferelden,” she smirked, sprinkling a considerable amount of sarcasm over her words.
“It was in fact,” Isabela pushed one hip to the side, the cut in her tunic immediately offering a view of her bare thighs. How the woman never got cold was beyond even Hawke’s understanding. “Or would have been,” she shrugged.
“Wait, you actually slept with the Hero of Ferelden?!”
“No,” the pirate sighed, disappointedly and unblushingly. “Sadly, the ‘twosome’ never happened either. They weren't for fun at all, those boys. So righteous. So shy. So cute.”
“Which one was cute?”
“Both,” the pirate’s face turned dreamy.
“And which one shy?” Hawke felt her lips stretch in a smile not too removed from lecherous. Isabela’s answer came in the form of the parchment dangling in front of Hawke’s eyes. The words King Alistair of Ferelden, blurred in her vision, were feeding all sorts of unexpected images in her head.
“I wonder if he’ll be more open to the idea this time. I mean he’s gained experience. The man’s a king now after all,” Isabela straightened up, pushing her shoulders back, which revealed even more cleavage. She behaved as if her prey was already in sight. Hawke wanted to groan.
“Even if King Alistair does, I can see absolutely no scenario in which Fenris will agree to it too,” Hawke tried to dampen the pirate’s mood becoming annoyed with her friend’s inexhaustible lust and greed. Damn, the Rivaini was getting laid on a regular basis, did the concept of “enough sex” even exist for that woman?
“Oh, you’d be surprised, dear. Fenris does take some encouragement and persuasion, but…”
“I don't need to know more.” Hawke cut off, uncertain if the reason for that was Bela’s love of detail, or the still remaining hints of her own jealousy. Fenris and herself had had that one night together years ago, but both were happier having agreed to remain friends. It might have been the lack of romance in her life at present that made Hawke so sensitive.
“Hawke.” His deep voice startled her. She was pretty sure it was too early in the day to be hallucinating, but there he was, Fenris, staring at the women from the doorframe, a crease between his eyebrows. “Isabela.”
“What are you doing here?” the pirate asked nearly indignantly.
“Having breakfast with Hawke. Or was supposed to. While you, as you told me earlier, have “business to deal with”,” he accused, but Isabela was unperturbed.
“Well yeah, I had to have some girl talk with Hawke.”
“Since when is that business?” he grumbled. “You could have told me. Would have stayed in bed longer.”
“Don't worry, handsome, I’ll make it up to you,” Isabela murmured, wrapping herself around the elf, who peeled her limbs off him one by one and strode towards the kitchen.
“You're free to keep girl-talking. And no, I do not wish to know what that implies. I am hungry.” Somehow, it was no surprise that both women followed suit.
“Champion armour set, eh? Not bad,” Isabela appraised Hawke who had finally emerged from her estate. “No helm to top it all off, hmm?”
“Fuck you, Bela. What do you want to say?” Hawke bristled as they started off towards the Keep.
“Oh I wish, sweet thing. Nothing! Except that your arse looks better in those pirate pants you have. You know, rounder.” Hawke was torn between feeling flattered Isabela knew which armor made her bum look more flattering, and annoyed at her constant interfering. The Rivaini had invited herself and Fenris to accompany the Champion to the meeting with Fereldan royalty, and there was no getting rid of them humanly possible.
“How is this a discussion about behinds?” Fenris frowned. “I was under the impression we were trying to figure out what the King might want with Hawke.”
“You're right, Fenris,” Hawke confirmed, touched by his concern, but not enough to be serious about the matter. “That’s exactly what I asked myself first. Well, that, and thinking I’m finally about to be busted for all the shit I nicked back in Ferelden,” she grinned, hiding her slight apprehension well enough, she thought.
“That would be grand,” Isabela laughed, “being apprehended by the King himself. You never know, maybe even manhandled,” she wiggled her eyebrows and winked at groaning Hawke. Fenris simply dismissed Isabela’s comment with a flat look.
The rest of the short walk was spent in regular bickering and building ridiculous theories to explain the royal interest. By the time she slammed her hand on the handle to pull the massive door open, Hawke became a trifle nervous, not because of the King, but her own companions: Fenris turning hostile out of his protectiveness towards Hawke while Bela tried to pull the Fereldan ruler into bed, did not bode well. Fetching Aveline before looking for the King was Hawke’s only hope if the meeting was to boast any semblance of propriety.
Her plan went surprisingly smoothly as they slipped through the City Guard barracks and into the Guard Captain’s office. Aveline needed a few minutes: to dismiss two guards having heard their report, then to finish scribbling some notes pertaining to the report, and then to freak out briefly when she found out she was about to find herself in the company of the King of Ferelden. The only thing Hawke did not anticipate was finding Varric with Aveline, but she figured he was a good choice of companion to meet dignitaries: the dwarf knew his manners - if only it was not always predictable if he would use them or not - and was one of the most eloquent of her friends.
She felt ready. For about two minutes total, for when the five of them ascended the steps leading to the Main Hall, their ears were assaulted by the kind of speech which was bound to be accompanied by spitting as words were coughed up in rage.
“Meredith,” Hawke groaned and rubbed at her forehead, feeling the unmistakeable signs of an approaching headache. “I wonder who’s her unfortunate victim today.” The party slowed their steps without agreeing to, but it would have been too ridiculous even for Hawke to try to hide, so they emerged into the hall just in time for Meredith’s parting words.
“...I do not deal in “maybes”. I deal in cold, hard facts - as should you. Perhaps when Ferelden next chooses a king, it will be one that takes his duty to the Maker seriously.” The tall woman who had just spat the last words into a man’s face was a formidable sight, looking ferocious as ever as she turned away from two somewhat stunned men, and marched outside past Hawke, her icy blue eyes shooting a considerable number of daggers Hawke’s way. Hawke was doing a good job controlling herself, a fake smile plastered to her face, all until she did a tiny curtsy. Fuck.
“You really don't want to just live a normal life, do you, Hawke?” Varric whispered loud enough for everyone to hear. Fenris shook his head, and Aveline sighed and let her head drop.
“Fuck Meredith,” Isabela supported, “and not in a nice way.” Unsure whether to feel encouraged or alarmed by the pirate’s comment, Hawke strode towards the two men.
Neither of them wore a crown, or any other regalia which would distinguish him as royalty. The one with fiery hair was wearing garb which could be well described as courtly, although not truly fit for a king. She could only see the back of the other man - currently scratching his neck - clad in heavy armour. She placed her bet on him being the one she sought. The jab her ribs received from Isabela the moment he turned to face them was a confirmation she was not sure she needed.
“How do you do, Your Majesty,” Hawke greeted, smiling broadly, having successfully suppressed a coughing fit.
“I’ve been better. Manlier too, come to think of it,” he answered with a lopsided smirk, which immediately proved Bela had not been lying - he was indeed cute.
“This is the Champion of Kirkwall,” the King’s companion proclaimed bowing ever so slightly to Hawke, who felt exceedingly awkward at being introduced by someone not a single letter of whose name was familiar to her. The King made a step towards her and extended his hand for - Hawke noted, pleased - a firm and confident shake.
“Right! I’m Alistair...uh, king of Ferelden.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Alistair, Your Majesty,” Hawke was not sure what drove her to say his name, but at least she covered it with his title right away, she figured. Should not make for a huge problem, should it? His gaze stopped on her for a moment, a twinkle of a smile in his brown eyes, maybe a hint of interest? Hawke did not have a chance to find out for at that moment they heard a slam of heavy metal armour on the marble floor, and turned to its source: Aveline, on one knee, head bowed low.
“Ooh, that must’ve hurt,” Varric winced.
“There we go. The mannish one’s lost her marbles,” Isabela mocked, “all over this marble floor.”
“Your Majesty. May I say what an honour it is to meet you?” the red-headed warrior uttered without fully lifting her head.
“Well, you could, but you’d be the first today,” the King quipped.
“But definitely not last,” Hawke flashed a charming smile, to the accompaniment of another smirk from the King, and a couple of groans from her own companions.
“Coming on a little strong there, Hawke,” Varric whispered. “Where did you leave your roguish subtlety?” She did not care. She was meeting a king, who was smiling at her, and who had invited her there himself. However long her five minutes of triumph were going to be, she was intent on enjoying them to the full.
“I fought at Ostagar,” Aveline stood up, her face contorted by memories. “What happened there was… a great tragedy.” Hawke knew that, and she felt for the people who died in the massacre, and those who lost families and homes. But talking about that was hardly the reason why the King was there: it was not the time.
“Trust the big girl to sour the mood,” Isabela complained as she stepped forward, assuming a seductive stance as easily as she breathed. “So, you’re a king now. Moving up in the world,” she raised a brow and pursed her lips, to Fenris’ apparent annoyance expressed by a low growl emanating from the elf. The pirate never wasted her time. Or opportunity. But this was not her show to steal, Hawke thought.
“Isabela, right?” recognition flickered across King Alistair’s face, but he had no chance to pursue it any further as Hawke swiftly pushed the rest of her companions towards the front line under the pretence of introducing everyone.
“And this is Fenris, Your Majesty,” she indicated the elf whose lyrium tattoos gave off a bluish glow signalling his unease, but who nodded solemnly nonetheless, with a curt “Your Majesty”; “and Varric Tethras.”
“Delighted to make your acquaintance, Your Majesty,” the dwarf came up closer to shake the King’s hand. He was likely well aware of the potential awkwardness of the situation, and Hawke felt grateful for his next remark. “To what do we owe the honour of meeting you, Your Majesty?”
“Ah!” he seemed to remember and turned to face Hawke. “I was hoping we could talk. Would’ve been better timing before being emasculated by Meredith, but I’m not picky.”
“That’s just her idea of Kirkwall hospitality,” Hawke offered with a grin, promptly returned by the King.
“Really? Kirkwall brutality must rip the skin off your face then.”
“Oh I could tell you some stories,” Hawke promised, “after we’ve discussed whatever it is you intended to speak about first, of course.” In all honesty, she was impressed with herself. Impressed she remembered to say that instead of suggesting a quick tumble in her quarters because, well, you look like the right kind of guy, Your Majesty. Hawke cleared her throat, nearly blushing at her own thoughts.
“Of course, yes! Teagan, where do you think we could talk? This is Bann Teagan, by the way,” he added, “he’s my uncle, sort of.” Before the Bann had a chance to make any suggestions, or anyone could start figuring out why he was only “sort of” his uncle, Aveline stepped in with a gauntleted hand on her heart.
“I am the Captain of the Guard, Your Majesty. My office is at your disposal.”
“Oh, I… thank you,” the King looked about, as if for assistance, and nodded appreciatively at Hawke whispering “Aveline”. “Thank you, Aveline, but I’m afraid even the walls of your office are full of extra ears. And those are not the ones I want to speak into.” Bann Teagan let out a sigh and rubbed his forehead. He looked like he had been having a tough time with King Alistair’s oratory skills. Hawke, on the other hand, quite liked what she heard, so she made sure to support it with another charming smile.
“I wouldn’t know this city better if I’d been born in it. I can find a few places we won’t be disturbed.”
“Hmm, that sounds pretty good. Only... I was thinking to visit the Fereldan refugees while I’m here. I want to provide all the help I can, you see, to tell them they’re welcome to return.” His face assumed a sorrowful expression. Whatever kind of ruler he was, it was obvious he cared for his people. Then, as if remembering, he added, searching Hawke’s eyes, “As are you. If you… after so many years, do you still consider Ferelden home?” It was too tough a question to answer. Hawke asked that of herself at times, and the response did not come easily.
“It’s… it is hard to say, Your Majesty. It’s quite complicated.”
“Of course, I understand.” He clearly realised he had made her feel uncomfortable.
“But we can talk about it later, maybe? After a few tankards of ale? Or...goblets of… whatever you prefer. I have some quite good Antivan brandy!” She felt incredibly stupid being excited at remembering that. And even imagining the King of Ferelden would want to visit her home.
“That sounds nice. After we visit the refugees, that is.”
“It is out of the question, Alistair,” Bann Teagan started. “It is too dangerous to go to those parts of town.”
“His Majesty will be safe with us,” Fenris’ deep voice surprised Hawke as much as the very words he said. She noticed he was holding Isabela’s hand, and the pirate was so shocked by that she did not even try to take part in the conversation.
“Of course, we’ll be honored to accompany you,” Varric confirmed with a bow. “And Hawke’s estate is quite a safe place in fact, in case His Majesty decides to enjoy the Champion's hospitality, so no need to worry.” Hawke almost could not believe her ears. It sounded like she was going to owe Varric a huge favour.
“I’ll post extra guards,” Aveline interjected.
“Yes, which would be equivalent to posting town criers along a huge arrow painted all across Hightown: attention everyone! A very important dignitary in Hawke’s place! Relax, Aveline. We have it covered,” Hawke promised, hands on the hilts of her twin daggers for emphasis and added weight to her statement.
“Well it’s settled then,” the King grinned.
Hawke was increasingly grateful to Varric for his help in ditching both Aveline and Bann Teagan by convincing the two they could be of great interest and assistance to each other. Hawke did not want her friend Aveline to switch into her role of the Guard Captain completely, constantly fretting about the King’s safety and thus attracting all the unnecessary attention.
King Alistair was pleasant company - she soon discovered he was easy to talk to, there was no need to stand on ceremony with him, and she liked his humor - even if it was a little goofy. They chatted away about this and that on their way from Hightown, Hawke pointing out quite unconventional places of interest: here she had once been accosted by a potential mugger, who ended up running away from her without his own pouch of coin and holding his breeches in his hands, his belt cut by one of her daggers; there they sold wonderfully delicious but outrageously expensive - and even more outrageously tiny - pastries.
“Ooh, I might want to try some of those,” the King paused, clearly interested.
“If you enjoy sweets, Your Majesty, I’ll show you one of the dirtiest spots in Lowtown,” Hawke grinned to the accompaniment of Varric’s polite coughing.
“She means they make amazing pastries there. With clean hands even,” he reassured.
“I don’t really mind dirt, you know,” Alistair smiled, “I’ve seen my fair share of it. The Hero of Ferelden, before he was titled that, used to take us to all sorts of murky places. It was in one such place, for example, where … uh...” he broke off, scratching his neck, looking at Isabela, who finished the sentence for him, unconcerned.
“Where you met me! And that place wasn’t bad either, wait till you see Darktown.” The pirate became incredibly more relaxed and less forward with her advances on King Alistair since Fenris had held her hand in the Keep. The couple stayed behind, exchanging a few words from time to time, while keeping an eye on the royal figure ahead of them. It was sweet, really.
The elf kept denying his relationship with Isabela was anything serious when talking to most, but not to Hawke. They shared a lot in their conversations, and after she had told him she could handle talking about his love life, he did start opening up ever so slowly. Scoffing all the time at the term “love life”, of course. Hawke was glad those two had found each other. And she was glad she had less competition at the present moment. Although competition for what exactly she would not be able to tell. She knew nothing could possibly happen between the King of Ferelden and herself - a refugee, who had somehow managed to beat the scary huge Arishok, thus ending the Qunari threat and becoming the Champion of Kirkwall. But it felt nice imagining things, and simply talking and flirting was enjoyable, even if it would lead nowhere further.
Once they left the ostentation and grandeur of Hightown behind, the King’s expression faltered as he eyed the ramshackle houses and poorly dressed folk hustling about.
“Are you alright, Your Majesty?” Hawke asked with a note of concern. He shook his head and then nodded immediately.
“Yes, it’s just… this is no better than parts of Ferelden. And Ferelden’s been near destroyed in the Blight. While here…”
“Yeah, not all rulers focus on rebuilding and farming and feeding their people, one could say,” Varric commented. “We’re here,” he indicated towards a door, “Lirene’s Fereldan imports.”
Hawke took them there so the King and the woman who had done nearly more than anyone for the Fereldan refugees in Kirkwall could meet. And so that those refugees could see their king, and maybe get more help, and definitely more hope. It turned out an even better idea than she had thought.
Once inside, and having recovered from seeing the crowd and hearing only a few things from Lirene, King Alistair went right among those people, and talked to them. He told them they were all welcome back to Ferelden; he promised they would receive all the help the state and himself personally could provide; he gave them all the coin he had in his pouch - it was not too full, but the coins were silver and gold, and it was more than many of those people had ever seen, let alone held in their hands. And likely most important for those people, their king was made real: he was just a man, who blushed when he said he was sorry he could not protect them all, and who grieved for their losses, and who laughed at someone’s bawdy joke, and who accepted a simple necklace woven from coloured strings of wool from one of the kids, and tied it around his wrist right there. He was a good king, Hawke thought. And a good man.
As she managed to extricate herself from the crowd who wanted to shower their gratitude on Hawke, too, and tell the King how much she was helping the refugees out, she stood in the corner with Varric, who was keeping a careful eye on everyone and everything, Isabela and Fenris doing the same in other corners of the shop.
“He’s really popular with people. Seems like a nice guy, too,” the dwarf offered, and Hawke nodded silently in agreement. “Do you know what exactly he wanted to talk to you about?”
“Not really, why?”
“I might have a hunch,” he said, propping Bianca more comfortably, without looking at Hawke or giving any more away. She waited for a whole few seconds, before finally settling her fists to her hips and demanding an answer.
“Well?! This isn’t one of your novels, Tethras, to leave me in suspense. Doesn’t work that way in real-life conversations, you know.”
“Ooh, look who’s lecturing me on conversing! And who’s suddenly very touchy,” he smirked. Hawke hissed in response, squinting her eyes, a barb already on the tip of her tongue. “There, there, uncle Varric will tell you everything, don’t you fret,” he patted her arm, paying zero attention to her venom-spitting looks. “Kirkwall’s without a leader,” he looked up at her, all the seriousness of that statement written over his features.
“And how is it my fault Dumar died?!” she nearly yelled. It was a good thing the shop was already noisy.
“Calm your tits, Hawke. No one’s thinking that. What I, and most probably the King of Ferelden think, is that this place needs a new ruler. Because right now the figure of highest authority here is the all-year-round-crazy Meredith.”
“I know that, Varric,” she exhaled loudly in annoyance. She did hate the Knight-Commander with a passion, and had fantasised about plunging her dagger into the undeniably still pretty - for a woman of her age - bitch’s neck. And she would do it, would have done it already, was it not for her concern of Bethany: she could not be sure her sister’s life in the Circle would be made easier by the act. “Of what help can I possibly be in that matter?”
“Of the most direct one, Hawke. Having a Fereldan occupy a post of high significance and influence in Kirkwall would be extremely advantageous for the King of Ferelden. You could be a new Viscount.” Hawke laughed. Hysterically, clamping her hand over her mouth to avoid drawing everyone’s attention from the King.
“That’s just the funniest load of nug shit I heard in a while, Varric. I kill people,” she whispered, leaning in closer to him, “and take their stuff. And also make fun of them in the process more often than not. I’m not even near a candidate to become a new Viscountess.”
“See, I love it how you know all the nuances of nobility titles. Would be of help in that line of work,” he teased. Soon though, his face assumed a serious and honest expression. “I really think you could make a Viscountess. Even with your tendency to kick ass and nick whatever doesn’t lie straight, you’ve helped people here. You’ve already given them your time, your money, and your blood, and I believe they would stand behind you. Ask Broody what he thinks, if you don’t trust me on this one,” he nodded at Fenris, who had approached them just in time to hear Varric’s last few sentences. The elf’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, but only briefly.
“Hm. That’s why you think he’s here. It makes sense,” he told Varric, who gave a self-satisfied nod, before turning to Hawke. “Varric’s right, to an extent. You wouldn’t be a perfect, or even a great ruler, but currently you’re the best candidate for sure.” His more realistic approach did not in truth make Hawke feel any better.
“Did you have another idea of what the King wants?” the dwarf asked Fenris who seemed still deep in thought.
“Yes. I thought it might have to do with mages.”
“Come on, Fenris, let’s not get into this now,” Hawke grimaced.
“I am not getting into this, Hawke,” he said slowly, with surprisingly more patience than she expected from him on that matter. “I’m just saying that was surely what Meredith was berating the King for when we found them.”
“True,” Varric tapped his chin. ”That might be the other reason.”
“Let’s just not talk about all the ridiculous reasons right now, all right? We’ve showed King Alistair some of the town, he’s met the refugees - it’s time for dinner,” Hawke cut off, assuming a stance with her legs a little wider and her arms crossed over her chest.
“Still considering taking him to your place?” Fenris wondered.
“Yes. You’re all invited too. Unfortunately,” she stressed. As she looked to where Alistair had been just a minute ago, she only saw a group of people chatting excitedly, and, turning her head, finally caught a glimpse of him being entertained by Isabela. Luckily, only verbally so far.
Hawke strode towards them, painstakingly making sure she looked confident and relaxed, even if she did not exactly feel that way. She flashed Alistair a big, genuine smile.
“I’d say this went well. People really appreciate what you said and did.” The King cleared his throat, a tinge of pink colouring his cheeks above the dark-blond stubble, which made his open and friendly, but shy face look a little rougher - Hawke greatly approved of the combination.
“I didn’t do anything much for them yet. I hope to do a lot more.”
“You certainly did enough to deserve a dinner,” she quipped, unsure how he would take it. To her relief, he laughed.
“I’m sure glad to hear that. To tell you the truth, I’m starving. And what’s worse, I haven't got a coin left on me.”
“Don’t worry about that, dear,” Isabela murmured, “you’re Hawke’s guest. And she can be a very nice hostess, if she wants to,” the pirate winked at her. Hawke did not know if she was to take that as Bela surrendering her claim on Alistair’s attention, but she smiled appreciatively anyway.
“I’ll certainly do my best. What would you like to eat?”
“Well,” he ruffled his hair, and the gesture, along with his smile full of boyish charm, and the battle scars on his hands, and his broad shoulders, made something melt pleasantly inside Hawke. “I really like… food,” he laughed.