Cordia Hawke met the Hero of Ferelden once.
While Lothering didn't feel like home, her mother assured her that it was the closest they would have for the time being. Anyone with any emotional intuition whatsoever could feel the woman's heightened anxiety at bringing her daughter into a small town fringed with templars, but she accepted their humble abode on the very edge of it with as much cheer as she could muster for her children.
Old enough to protest and earn more than a simple eye roll, Cordia had done that very thing from the moment her eyes set upon the gleaming steel of the guard's armor, the Sword of Mercy emblazoned on his chest shining in the afternoon's vermillion sun as if it were actually on fire.
"Mother, maybe it'd be best if we kept mo –"
"No," Leandra replied, her gaze even as a subdued smile curled at her mouth. The templar's helmet bowed his greeting. Once they'd passed him, she reached a sparsely wrinkled hand to grasp Bethany's, much to the teenager's frustration. "We have nowhere else to go. Ostagar is little more than ruins, and Gwaren lies beyond the Brecilian Forest. We stay here."
Cordia's brows knitted above her twice-broken nose, and she shook her head, arms folding over her chest. They were wandering from the pot and into the flames, it seemed. At the time, she had no idea how quickly this cliché would become truth.
Things began to change no longer than two months later. Beth was settling; Carver had even begun making friends with the local boys. Their mother spent her days working as a cook in the kitchens behind the Chantry to feed the sisters and their guardians. Cordia spent her time divided between tutoring her siblings and serving drinks in Dane's Refuge.
Days were long. Nights were much shorter and wildly uncomfortable in their cramped home not fit for more than two. While she hadn't been bred into the finest of living conditions – though her blood spoke of privilege she'd never known – this was even more dire than what she was used to. Still, she woke every morning, carried out her hours doing whatever was needed, only to return home and sleep only to do it again.
She was working in the kitchen of Dane's Refuge when she heard the fight. Mollie, the proprietor's wife, shot a narrow-eyed look in her direction the moment she set her knife down. There were potatoes to peel; the men and women in the main room would handle the fight. Concentrating was nigh impossible with the sound of metal clashing against metal outside the heavy wooden door. Every now and then, there were gasps, of both awe and pain, and once or twice she heard the stomach-clenching sound of a heavy, wet thump onto the floor.
Her distraction kept her oblivious to the bright red flowing over the half-skinned potato until a sharp pain laced up the top of her hand, shooting directly into her wrist. The tip of her index finger began to pulse even harder than her already racing heart.
By then, the sounds were all but gone save for a loud, barely muffled scream of her own. Before she could cause much of a mess, Mollie had already wrapped a towel around the digit and urged her to put pressure on it.
"Oi, not all here today, are we?" the woman asked her, brows peaked high on her lined forehead. "Go on, then."
"I can't leave," Cordia protested, "I've got hours left 'til I go home."
Mollie chuckled, shaking her head as she picked up another potato and began to carve the skin off. "I didn't mean ya get to go home, love." She nodded in the direction of the door without looking up from her work. "I'm tellin' ya to go look an' see what that fuss was about like you wanna."
Gritting her teeth, she pressed her hand tighter around her finger, knuckles gleaming white and an equally pale expression crossing her features. "Right. I'll... go do that."
On her first step out of the kitchen, her boot impacted something hard and unyielding. Her eyes fell to the ground in front of her only to see a body lying there, still armed to the teeth and wearing a useless set of leather armor. One of the barmaids was on her knees beside the fallen man, scrubbing at the dark stain on the floor with one hand as she held the muscle of her forearm over her nose and mouth.
As much as she hated to admit it, the splattered, darkened patterns of blood over splintering wood wasn't foreign enough to her to cause much of a reaction. Whether it was over wood, stone, grass, fabric, all of these sights were familiar and quickly becoming even more so.
Stepping over the man's legs, Cordia moved towards the back of the tavern, her hand cradled up against her chest to keep from bumping the fresh wound against anything. Or anyone.
"Barlin!" she half-shouted, hips shifting as she made her way between the tables that took up most of the floorspace. "What happened here?"
The level of surprise in her voice was no doubt what caught the attention of the group standing in front of him. From this vantage point, she could see only three. There was an incredibly tall man in armor that shone a little too brightly in the candle light. The only way anyone could get that kind of shine was if he cleaned it every moment he had any free time or if he was a bloody king.
Deciding the former was more logical than the latter, her eyes flicked to the woman standing beside him. Her Chantry robes were nearly covered with spots of blood, both large and small, and she glanced at Cordia over her shoulder, full mouth pursed at the interruption.
And finally she looked to the third. The woman stood with a straight back, arms folded beneath her breasts, eyes aimed straight ahead as if to pointedly ignore whoever had given Barlin cause to look up from his work of counting the silver pieces laid out on the counter. Her skin was uncommonly pale, and the slight flush of it stood out like day to night against the coal black of her hair and the dark hues of her haphazardly sewn robes.
"Nothing to concern yourself with, Cor –"
Before he'd finished, the man with the shiny armor was nudged aside to make way for another companion to be revealed. He was short and stout as anything and clad in leather from shoulder to toe. She hadn't actually seen a dwarf in... months? Years? There was an old trader she remembered finding on the road to Redcliffe, but other than him, she hadn't been given much of a chance to run into them. "Sorry if I disturbed you," the dwarf began, tilting his head forward in a short greeting. "We had to take care of some... rabble-rousers."
"Ah, yeah, those," came her muttered reply. The tips of her fingers wove deep into the too large towel, and the movement grabbed the dwarf's attention. When she realized he was moving forward, bright green eyes latched onto the red-speckled cloth, she gave a little rip of a nervous laugh. "Oh. This? This is nothing."
The corner of the man's wide mouth quirked upwards in a smirk. "Mighty bloody nothing you've got there," he said, taking a final step forward and carefully removing one hand from the other. She could hear two of the three still standing near Barlin heave an exasperated sigh, but the sound itself was doubled when the cut on her finger was revealed.
Cordia gave a little hiss when the cloth moved away from the cut, but the sharp pain ebbed not a moment later. Moving her hand closer to take a better look at it, the dwarf's features creased in concentration. "Morrigan. Come here."
Once she stood close enough to lower her voice and remain unheard by those sitting around her, she finally spoke. "If you wish me to heal this miniscule cut—"
"Don't make me remind you who carries the coin around here..."
The woman – Morrigan, she assumed – rolled her eerily yellow eyes towards the ceiling. "I do not know why you ask me to do such things." When her hand was transferred between the two, the woman's slender hand grasped at her wrist more roughly than he had, a testament to her frustration. Her voice was nearly acidic when she continued, "A wound any larger, and I fear my meager healing skills would not cover it."
"Just heal it," the man replied with a rough chuckle, "Assuming you don't mind?"
"Ah, yes, let us ask her if she has a problem with magic after you employ my assistance." Twin brows knitted forward in concentration. "You truly are a wonder of wit."
"I don't mind," Cordia pressed, growing increasingly uncomfortable by the close quarters of the two strangers.
The dwarf snorted back another quiet laugh with a shake of his head. "This probably happened while we were causing such a ruckus." Glancing towards Cordia as Morrigan's fingers splayed mere inches above her hand, his red brows arched curiously. "That true?"
"It was more out of –" Cordia's eyes drifted shut as a cool sensation wrapped around the width of her finger. The spell took all of a moment, but she swore she could feel the tiny vessels twining and merging back together. "It was out of curiosity. Mostly. I was distracted."
When Morrigan finished, leaving Cordia's hand as if she'd never so much as looked at a knife that afternoon, the man turned his full attention to her. "Which is how you got all those scars, then, I wager?" Cocking his head to the side, he grinned up at her. The charming expression brought forth a tiny, unsure curve at the corner of her own mouth. "Or are you just pretending to be a cook in this tavern?"
Lifting her hand to palm over the back of her neck, she couldn't help but wince a little at the question. After spending so much time running with her family, there was nothing she feared more than their secret getting out. There was nothing else that worried her, twisted her insides, rendered her completely still. And here stood this man in front of her, clearly an adventurer if the ruddiness of his skin and the twin daggers on his back were any proof, asking about the tiny pale scars that crossed the skin of her hands and arms.
"Uhm, no, aha." Her fingers moved from her neck to her hair, ruffling the waves just as nervously and hoping – wishing, praying – that he would just think she was shy. "I am, in fact, nothing more than a humble cook."
"Well, if that's the case..." He rolled forward on the soles of his boots. "Once I'm done with all of this, I'm gonna come back and look for you. If the Blight allows it." A dimple formed in his tattooed cheek as he reached out a hand to hers. She took it without a thought, only realizing what she'd done when she felt his fingers brushing over her calloused palm. "You can tell me who you really are over whatever runs for the best fare in this place, huh?"
Eyes narrowing, she peered into his face for a long moment before drawing her hand back. "How did you—?"
"Good guess," he laughed, "My name's Faren Brosca. You remember that, alright?"
An entirely confused half-chuckle, half-giggle bubbled out of her. She'd never been duped so thoroughly by someone in her entire life. "I... will. I'm Cordia." A single pause later brought a full smile onto her lips. "Cordia Hawke."
Her eyes were latched onto the ceiling above when she finished speaking. The bed cradled her, blankets wrapped and warm and her head resting on a pillow as soft as anything. Only when she heard a quiet reprimand of her name beside her did Cordia's gaze shift a little.
Varric stared at the book resting against his bent knees beneath his portion of the blanket, hands splayed over the corners of the novel to keep it upright. Fingertips tapping on the pages, he glanced at her, warm brown eyes flicking over her face from behind his glasses. "I've read this line five times now, Slim. I don't really want to try again."
"Why not?" she asked him as she turned over onto her side, arm curling through his. Shifting a little closer, the Champion gave a little huff of a contented sigh at the feeling of her cheek brushing against the silk of his robe. "Six is your lucky number."
"No." His impassive response failed when it became laced with a laugh. "It's not my lucky number. Where'd you get that?"
"Mmm, s'your lucky number tonight."
Shaking his head, he leaned forward and brushed a kiss over her forehead. "You're tired. Leave me alone and get some sleep. This is the third time you've told me this story."
His lips split in a smile at the sound of an exaggerated kiss placed on his arm before she let go of him and drifted back over into her spot. "You're just jealous," she murmured, "that you weren't the first dwarf that ever hit on me."
"It doesn't sound like he tried to make a move to me."
The blankets shifted as she brought them up closer to her face, bundling them even tighter. "Well, no, but that's 'cause we just met..." Her voice drifted off for a moment, and he toyed with the idea that she might've fallen asleep before she could even finish her sentence. These thoughts were cast aside when she completed her thought with a quiet, "Though, that didn't really stop you."
"You were dangerous and fully armored," Varric murmured, amusement weaving through his words, "I was seduced."
There was another, even longer stretch of silence that followed. When he was completely sure the woman next to him had fallen asleep, he turned his attention back to his book. Halfway through the sixth attempt at conquering the sentence lying between him and the next page, a ruffle caught his attention. He was forced to bite down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing outright.
Lifting a hand, he reached over just far enough to give her hip a pat through the blanket, which was enough of 'goodnight' for her. Not long after, he could hear a quiet snore, half-muffled by her pillow.