A note on chronology and age: the four sections of chapter 1 are in chronological order and take place when Rabbit is 3, 8, 10, and 13 respectively. Leske is about the same age or a few months older. These sections take place when they are both somewhere in the 14-16-year-old range.

"I think I'm in love."

Rabbit looked thoughtfully at the servant caste girl with the long, butter-colored braids, who had snuck out of the tapster's to eat her dinner in the relative quiet of the street outside the tavern. "With the girl or the stew?"

Leske had to stop and think about that. "I have to pick one?"

Rabbit snorted. "Two coppers says you haven't got the guts to go and ask her for a taste."

Leske looked from the coins in Rabbit's hand to the girl with the stew and back thoughtfully. Then, with a reckless grin, he hopped down from the crumbling wall on which the two friends had been sitting and sauntered boldly over to talk with the pretty blonde. The girl looked up in alarm at the sight of the disreputable-looking brand, but Rabbit, still watching from the wall, could see that Leske was putting on every ounce of charm at his disposal. Still, the servant girl's frown continued to darken until at last she got up, flung the stew bowl at his head, and flounced back into the tavern. Rabbit nearly fell off the wall, overcome with laughter.

Leske himself was chuckling as he walked back to his friend, bowl in hand. "One out of two ain't too bad," he observed philosophically.

"Not bad at all," Rabbit agreed, handing over the coins and snatching the stew bowl at the same time; and as Leske grabbed a fistful of nug meat from the bowl and settled himself beside her once again, she reflected that even the royal Aeducans couldn't possibly have it as good as this.

* * *

Rica had finally cried herself to sleep, but Rabbit lay awake, listening to her mother snore like a boozy bronto in the other room. At last, unable to lie still any longer, she crept from her bed and past her mother to the door—not that the sneaking was really necessary; when Kalah got in this state she wouldn't rouse it the Stone itself opened up beneath her, and Rabbit had wondered once or twice if her mother wouldn't be happier to wake up in Stone's embrace than in her own dirty hovel. Rabbit slipped silently out the door—and swore loudly and creatively as she tripped and nearly fell headlong over something curled up in front of the threshold. The something sat up with a groan and blinked at her groggily.

"Leske?" She almost didn't recognize him, his face half-blackened with bruises. "You look like you lost a fight with a rockslide."

Still half asleep, Leske grunted, coughed, spat blood and muttered one word, "Kane."

"Oh," Rabbit sighed and sat down heavily beside him. "I thought he was supposed to be topside for another month still."

Leske's cousin was Beraht's most trusted lieutenant on the surface and, fortunately, he spent most of his time there. Kane had fists like rock hammers and a mean streak that was legendary throughout Orzammar.

Leske shrugged, then winced. "Got his trading done quick this time. Some mage up there wanted to buy up all the lyrium he could get his hands on and he had the coin to do it," he sighed. "Kane celebrated by dancing on my hide."

Rabbit put an arm around her friend's shoulders. "C'mon inside," she offered. "Smells worse, but at least you won't get robbed in your sleep."

"Don't got nothing on me to rob," Leske pointed out, but he allowed her to help him up and lead him into the house, where he lay down in front of the cold hearth and promptly went back to sleep.

Rabbit dragged her own tattered blanket from her bed and draped it over Leske, then sat on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest, watching over him as he slept.