BioWare owns everything that has to do with Dragon Age, in all its incarnations, and are the best for letting hacks like me borrow their world and characters for my own amusement.
A world of thanks, in advance, to Sandtigress.
Everyone always assume that her first memory is of running.
But it's the opposite of running, it's her father's strong arms and the two small bundles in them. He takes a careful seat next to her on the bed so that she can see their round faces, splotched pink and wrinkled. They are not cute, like the baby kittens Gray Mellie keeps, but she knows what they are, somewhere deep inside of her and as acutely as a three-year old can know anything.
"They're mine." The one that will be Carver scowls at this.
"Yes, Mina. They are yours," he smiles down at her, pride radiating from his weary green eyes and she knows she's said the right thing. "Remember that always, and no matter what."
Carver tests her.
"You're too stiff," sweat stings her eyes and her feet ache from sliding around in boots that are meant for someone much larger than herself. "And you have no follow-through."
"I'm not some blademaster from Orlais, Wil," his sword makes a clean arc through the air, but she can read his posture like he's shouting out his next move and manages to easily deflect the blow. "I have a sword. I hit things with it and they die. Eventually."
He has a point. She throws her own weapon away and begins pulling at her gauntlets. They've been practicing for hours behind the Lothering Chantry, their daily exercises not abandoned despite their purpose in town.
"It's not like you'll be challenging the darkspawn to a duel," hands bare, she automatically flexes them, testing for stiffness or pain and is surprised by how easily they give. Either because of nerves or excitement, Carver has been a less challenging sparring partner than usual. "I'd half-expected you to show off in case the recruiter was out."
"I thought about it," he weighs his sword in his hands, striking a fearsome pose that Wil assumes is meant to impress someone who has no idea how to use a blade. "But Mother made it clear that I can only go if you do, so it's no use to me, ruining your chances."
"Oh, shove off," Wil can hardly contain her annoyance, but there's a fair amount of affection in her voice. "You know I could hand you your ass three times before you even realize it's gone."
This earns a sneer, less than Wil is expecting. Carver hated to be reminded that his strength and size meant nothing when up against his sister. Her three year head start and attention to technique meant that she was able to easily dismantle his few advantages, and his temper meant that he had little patience for learning the skills that would bridge the gap.
"You know, Carver, it would be less embarrassing for you if you could just admit that I'm damned good and live with it."
"Ostagar will be our proving ground, sister," he frowns down at her as he secures his blade in its sheath. "We can meet up at the end of every battle and see which one of us has collected the most darkspawn heads."
"Ok, morbid," Wil's nose wrinkles at the notion of collecting darkspawn anything. "Maybe their pinkies? Or we can keep a mental tally, like normal people."
"Too easy to cheat," his voice is grim, but the corners of his mouth twitch slightly. "Heads are the way to go."
She laughs him off, heading towards the fence separating Chantry property from the well-worn path winding from the merchant's stalls towards the outlying homesteads. Further up the road, perched on a sudden and unlikely hill, sits a windmill that creaks out the seconds and minutes of life in Lothering and forever appears on the verge of collapse. Gathered at the base are a handful of would-be soldiers, split evenly between young farmhands and their fathers. None of them are as well-equipped as she and her brother, but she nonetheless feels disadvantaged by the interest that sparks in their eyes when she approaches.
The fact that they aren't looking at her face or her sword tells her everything she needs to know about this lot.
"That man in the bone armor, he's the one I talked to last week," Carver takes her elbow and, for the briefest of seconds, he's being almost brotherly. Then his hand falls away and he lets out a derisive snort. The man has turned his attention onto them. "Don't screw this up, Wil."
She barely has time to bite back a vitriolic response when they're waved forward by the recruiter, his expression neutral as he runs his eyes over them. He spends more time evaluating Carver, which is fine by Wil. Carver did look every inch the warrior, tall and solidly built, and he often dressed to impress this fact on anyone who might glance his way.
Wil, on the other hand, was...tall. She was strong enough but her ill-fitting armor only accentuated all the ways she didn't fit anyone's idea of what a soldier should look like.
Skinny legs, she can almost hear the recruiter's first snap judgement. Skinny neck, weedy arms. How can this woman even lift a sword?
From the way Carver is also staring at her like he didn't know what she was capable of, she can't help but wonder what sorts of things he's told this recruiter for the king's army.
"Name?" The question is so suddenly brusque that Wil fails to respond.
"Hawke, ser," Carver's annoyed. "Carver Hawke."
"Also Hawke. Ser," she takes a deep breath that does little to calm her nerves. Why am I even nervous? Haven't I been doing the very thing they want me to be doing since I was old enough to lift a plank of wood and beat it against a tree? She exhales in a rush. "First name, Wilhelmina."
"Wilhelmina Hawke," he says it like she might be playing a trick on him.
"Wilhelmina. Or Wil," Carver is radiating annoyance. "Or...Hawke. Although that would be confusing with the both of us around."
"I have that name written down," the recruiter smirks and his demeanor relaxes significantly. "One of the templars suggested a Wil Hawke when we were at the Chantry earlier today."
"One of the templars?" Wil can barely keep the horror from her voice. There was little she liked less than templars who knew her name and that she might be someone worth suggesting.
"Yeah. A Ser Bryant? Said you could handle yourself."
"I...we both can. More than handle...," she trails off, trying to remember if she's spoken with a Bryant in one of her many attempts to avoid the Chantry while simultaneously trying to seem like she wasn't avoiding the Chantry and..."Oh."
"So you know him?"
She did. He was one of the nice ones, rated by Bethany as a solid "I wouldn't mind if he captured me. But not like that, Mina, so don't even start." He was the regular market guard and had always struck Wil as a practical man rather than a fanatical one, and that made all the difference when it came to those who might hunt or hurt her sister.
"Wil," Carver's growl urges her out of her musings and she realizes with a start that they're being directed to a caravan set up on the far side of the chantry. It was there they would receive their orders and supplies as needed. "We have three days before we leave. Thanks for not ruining it for me, by the way. You came across great."
"Maker, you're an ass," Wil follows her brother forward as a sudden wave of concern washes over her to replace whatever acrimony his sarcasm evokes. All joking about macabre trophies aside, they were going to battle against godforsaken creatures that only existed to most as legend. "Wait, three days? I need more than three days. I promised Bethany I'd help her with harvesting and Mother doesn't even know how to hold a dagger yet, let alone use one."
"What are you worrying about," her concerns are dismissed in a single lift of his broad shoulders. "Three days should be more than enough time for you. You do know how to handle yourself, after all."
They are yours. Remember that always, and no matter what.
She punches his arm and laughs.
"Fuck you, Carver."
"So how's a nice human like you end up working for a ring of elven smugglers?" The question comes from Sorrell, an elf who is peering up at her with eyes of startling violet. He's decent company, and the question he asked is a fair one, but she worries about working with him because he's too striking, the sort of person you remembered when the guard showed up with their questions.
"Because the alternative was too creepy," Wil shudders when she thinks about oily Meeran and the way he'd leered at Bethany. Poor Bethany, who was so beyond exhaustion and dehydration at that point she'd have probably handed herself over to the templars had Wil and Aveline not been there to stop her from stumbling straight into the Gallows. "I'd rather not owe anything to a pervy old man if I can help it."
"I guess I can see that," Sorrell chews at the inside of his cheek and studies her for a few minutes. "I used to think all humans looked the same. You and your sister don't, though."
With a sigh, Will sinks against the cargo they were guarding. It had been a long day. A long week. A long year.
Actually, not a year. Eleven months, one week and three days since we were allowed into Kirkwall. Almost two years, including Ostagar.
"I look like our father," her eyes narrow against moonlight that reflects off the water at the end of the docks. Everything here is so sunbleached white that cloudless nights are sometimes almost as bright as a typical day in Ferelden. "Bethany looks like Mother."
What she does not say is "Carver looks like all of us." She wonders when she stopped automatically adding that every time someone expressed surprise that she and Bethany were related, let alone full siblings. It had been a life-long habit, something the Hawkes had grown accustomed to pointing out whenever they were settling into a new village and the neighbors started showing up with their small welcoming gifts and open curiosity.
"I bet most say Bethany is the pretty one," Sorrell sneaks a glance back at her. He's about her age and handsome. A pale silver scar winds itself across one cheekbone and disappears into an unkempt mop of mouse-colored hair. She'd almost asked him about it one evening, but decided it might be an unpleasant memory. Maker knew that most scars were.
"Some people have said that," Wil is bored enough, and Sorrell cute enough, that she's willing to entertain him even if he seems to be coming at her all wrong. "Although most don't state an open preference."
This elicits a small chuckle. "Why risk ruining your chances with both? I have to say, though, I'd disagree. I like your eyes."
She's surprised to hear such a compliment coming from an elf. Although his were particularly beautiful, every elf she'd ever met had liquid eyes that seemed to fill with light as much as reflect it.
"You don't believe me," he's on his feet in one quick motion, his heels not quite touching the dock. "They're so...bright. Not sad at all."
It's a genuinely sweet thing to say and, disarmed, Wil is unable to do much more than offer an appreciative half smile. From what she could see, Kirkwall's preferred currency is sadness. And maybe some fear. But mostly sadness. And hopelessness.
She hates it here, and is glad that this past year of compromising herself to survive might not leave a lasting mark.
"I think we're in for it," Sorrell's tone remains casual, but Wil catches his meaning immediately and does not react. To anyone observing, they were just an elf and a girl from the slums engaging in ill-advised flirtations when they were supposed to be guarding cargo. Sorrell appeared unassuming enough; sometimes even Wil forgot about the serrated blades he kept sheathed along his wrists, encased in worn but colorful elven cuffs that obscured his forearms and most of his palms.
As for herself, she's dressed for a day in the market. A pair of plain leather boots, black trousers and a loose linen tunic would offer little protection against blades or arrows, but the marked lack of armor or weapons, her own sword hidden just out of reach, would attract far less attention- from either side of the law.
"So much for a quiet night," she inclines her head towards a distant alcove and then studies the group that approaches them.
There's six of them, which is a concern, but the largest of their number is probably no taller than Wil and none of them seem to be that well-equipped, although one is carrying a fine looking short-bow, his fingers playing at the string as the tallest stops them about ten feet short of Sorrell.
"Nice night, knife-ear," his gaze is trained on Sorrell. "But it would be better if you were far, far away from them crates."
Bold. Silently, Wil assesses the men again. Three carry daggers, the main and another carry single longswords. And then the bowman.
Wil has learned to be wary of bowmen, but this one is something of a comfort. She's surprised they didn't leave him behind, just out of view. That such simple strategy escapes them speaks very highly of their over-confidence. Or poorly of their intelligence.
"Only better for one of us." Shaking his head, Sorrell indicates the cargo and Wil. "I've been charged with keeping it safe. All of it."
This amuses the lot, and their attentions shift to Wil, who responds by lowering her chin and drawing her knees together, hoping to come across as nervous and not at all like someone who could possibly give them any trouble.
"Do you think the girl is part of the deal, Lis?" The archer is closest to her and she hates to note that he's ceased toying with his bow to express this curiosity.
"No!" Sorrell's voice breaks as he defends her honor. For a moment, Wil forgets that this is an act and has to fight back the urge to smile. "I'll be skinned alive if I let anyone near her!"
Laughter ensues, the throaty cruel laughing of human men who are completely convinced that there is nothing in between them and what they want. It makes Wil seethe inside, especially when a dagger comes out and their merriment turns to aggression as Sorrell is challenged for even thinking they might care whether or not he gets to keep his skin.
"And I'll take off your ears if you don't," the way it's whispered is like seduction; Wil visibly winces as the threatening blade wavers dangerously close to Sorrell, thin fabric the only thing between glinting metal and the elf's heart.
"Let him go," her voice wavers. "Let him go and you can...have me."
"Hawke!" And she sees a flash of violet in the moonlight as the man with the dagger grabs Sorrell's arm and drag-shoves him back, sending him staggering past the others. This was not how things were supposed to go, but Wil knows he's smart enough to realize she's just gotten him a prime place for the fight once it starts.
Which will be soon.
"Are you part of the shipment? Or something extra?" The leader, Lis, steers the pack towards her, every step taken contributes to the quickening of her heart.
Calm down, Wil. The dagger has been sheathed so only the archer has his weapon drawn, but he is so distracted by the prospect of her, and having her, he might as well be empty-handed. Thank the Maker for screwed up priorities, I guess.
"I'm not part of the shipment," she finds her feet, but keeps her shoulders forward and her chin down. "But I am important to the ones who protect it. Retribution important."
"Retribution?" Lis scoffs at her and her lack of place. "I find it hard to believe that anyone in Kirkwall would miss another Blighted refugee."
"Or maybe I'm just that good!" Wil's eyes widen as it pops out. Hadn't Mother told her a thousand times that her mouth would be the end of her? She really did not need to be challenging a bunch of armed thugs to research what she was "that good" at.
"I guess I'll just have to see for myself," Lis twists his head to address his men, and Wil catches the glint of teeth bared in the very leer she'd hated so much on Meeran. "Take it all. The cargo goes to Etienne. She's for us. Then we'll decide if the trouble is worth it."
A hand goes out; the archer is reaching for Wil, claiming this prize as his own and it is immensely gratifying when he's stopped dead less than a foot away from her, his face literally frozen between anticipation and shock as a column of frigid air consumes him.
That's my Bethany. Taking out the archer like I taught you.
It takes a few seconds for the rest of the men to react to what has just become of their companion and, in that pause, Wil hears the moist sound of flesh being pierced followed by an anguished cry as the man furthest from her collapses to his knees, revealing his assassin to be a stonefaced Sorrell.
Then it all starts to happen fast and much of it automatically. Between the icicle and the elf, the men are no longer paying much attention to Wil and she takes full advantage of their distraction to retrieve her sword from its hiding place behind the crates.
Or she tries. The pommel is caught beneath a protruding board and Wil has to contort herself before she can jerk it completely loose, giving Lis time to focus on what she's up to.
"Maker help me, she's got a sword!" He lunges into her, thankfully unarmed. Wil manages to get turned around just as they collide so that she falls back against the cargo rather than faceplanting into a crate or dock or bay.
The full weight of the man above her presses down, crushing the air out of her lungs as he fumbles for his own weapon. His breath is putrid on her face and she can see every dirty pore in his filthy nose. The sword she needs to defend herself is cold in her hand; her arm outstretched and her position beneath him is too awkward for her to get enough leverage to actually fight him.
"I will kill you so hard," he's hissing in her ear when the world goes orange around them. It's accompanied by the smell of summer grass and sunshine, although Wil knows she's the only one who notices. Lis certainly doesn't, as a frantic shriek alerts her to the fact that he's partially aflame and he pulls himself away from her to better address his rapidly burning left boot. Wil's on the move the moment she's free, her sword secure in her grasp as she springs away from the cargo and into the center of the remaining thugs. Besides Lis, there's only two others and one of them is crying as he stabs blindly with a longsword bearing the crest of the Kirkwall City Guard.
Aveline might be interested in that tidbit.
Without hesitation, Wil strikes out at the panicked man, her weight thrown behind an arcing blow and she's suddenly someplace three years past, a clearing behind the Hawke's small cottage where she and Carver spar while Bethany hurls fireballs at them. Despite giving their mother fits at the time, and potentially drawing unwanted attention to the apostate in their midst, the activity had turned out to be the best training for life in Kirkwall that Wil and her sister could have ever received.
The impact of her swing pulls her into the present and she looks down to see that her blade has buried itself almost halfway into the man with the guard's sword, a clean cut just below his ribcage. Blood spills vivid across her sword's tarnished surface and she and her victim both stare in momentary wonder before she regains herself and kicks him smartly in the lower abdomen. This staggers him back and he falls away from her, relinquishing her weapon as he does and then she's swinging again, this time at a dagger-wielding opponent who is able to dance neatly around his newly deceased comrade and lash at her with more skill than she's expecting.
Her blow is not as graceful as the first; it's something that Carver would pull in a desperate bid to gain the upper hand on his opponent and it goes wide, completely missing its mark.
Fuck. The momentum of the strike twists her painfully to the left and leaves her momentarily exposed while she regains her footing. It only takes the one mistake and she grits her teeth as a stiletto bites at her shoulder, the slender shank of steel sliding easily into flesh and muscle and tearing a bit on the withdraw.
It stings. No, it screams and Wil hates how blood feels dripping down her back like thick sweat. Suddenly the night around her is oppressive and unendurable. With a mustering of strength, she yanks her sword back towards the man with her blood on his weapon and, when his jaw is caught, she urges the blade up, looking away before she can see exactly how much damage she's done.
She'd gotten used to flaying darkspawn after only a few days. People, though, would hopefully take a lifetime.
He is thrown away from her, useless and limp on the dock, and it's a few seconds before Wil realizes that they're all on the dock, black and crimson except for the bowman who is very much dead, but neither charred nor stabbed.
"You're on fire, Hawke," Sorrell is nothing if not matter of fact as he comes to her aid, patting at her thigh with his own blistered hands.
"Sorrell!" Wil stops him, the singed fabric mostly extinguished and he's in much worse condition than she is. "Maker's breath, that doesn't look good!"
And it didn't. The elf tries to play it off as Wil examines his hands, cringing as she does so at the angry flesh that is already swollen and mottled white and ash gray.
"This will help!" Bethany appears from beyond the edge of the fight, her place in the alcove abandoned to help her sister and their friend. In her hand is a bundle of elfroot leaves wrapped tightly around a soft bar of medicinal herbs that will ease some of Sorrell's immediate pain. "I hope I didn't hit you on accident!" Her expression is apologetic as she gently applies the herbal paste with the leaves, but Wil can see a frown creasing her forehead.
"No, no," Sorrell is emphatic on this point. "It was them, the man I was attacking was...flaming and it caught me quick, quicker than I thought it would. That's a good lesson to learn- I can't stab faster than fire burns."
"But it was my fire that did it," she's inconsolable on this point and Wil just shakes her head at Sorrell, communicating that Bethany is going to feel the sting of blame no matter what actually happened. "I don't know why we do things like this, Mina. They wouldn't have attacked so soon if you'd not looked like such an easy target."
"No, they would have left and brought even more men back with them," Wil pauses to assess her own injuries. Her tailbone aches, probably from falling against the crates and, her shoulder is growing stiff as the first of the drawn blood dries. "Better to fight six who assume we're not up to the challenge than ten or twelve who think we are. Fairer odds are…fairer."
Resignation clear in her voice, Bethany agrees. "I suppose you're right. It doesn't make it any easier, though. I liked this job better when it was all intimidating people and sticking forged notices down our knickers."
Wil can't help but laugh, even though she knows her sister means every word. Working with smugglers was never going to be easy for Bethany but, due to their success, Athenril was getting bigger jobs that she would only entrust to them. Going by the smoldering corpses around them, Wil decides tonight is a failure.
At least Bethany is unscathed.
"Maybe you should join me, Wil," Sorrell's burns are covered and he's regarding her with those eyes again, and her cheeks tingle with heat as she remembers their conversation from before the attack. It seems a strange place for her mind to go now, with her shoulder and the mess of bodies, but life is strange and he isn't unattractive in the slightest...
"Sorrell says there's a healer in the undercity, and he won't charge anything," Bethany is avoiding looking at her sister now. She's a touch unnerved by injuries, especially when they involve Wil, and if Sorrell is suggesting a healer, then there must be a lot of blood happening.
"It's not that bad, I promise. He only got me once," forcing a laugh, Wil kneels down next to one of the motionless thugs, carefully pulling at his garments in search of anything that might earn them some extra coin at the market. "Besides, someone has to stay with the cargo until it's time for the pick-up."
And it won't be you, Beth.
"I'll do it!" Sorrell's face pales under his enthusiasm and Wil crinkles her nose in silent refusal. She won't leave him alone, and she can't leave Bethany here without her. He knows this. "Ok, fine. It was worth a try. Promise me you'll have it looked at before I see you again, all right? I know how you are."
"That depends. Will I be seeing you soon?" She shifts to peer up at him through messy hair that is now plastered to her face with sweat and hopes that the eyes he thinks are pretty, and not sad, are all he sees.
"I...," a smile blooms across his face. "I hope so."
Another appreciative grin is all he receives in return. He must find it a satisfactory response because he shuffles backwards a few steps before he realizes he's about two inches from going into the bay, and then he turns away after one last, anticipative, look.
"Do you really like him, Mina?" Bethany joins her on the dock, her mouth pursed in disgust even as her fingers pluck expertly at the cloth sash their thug wore over his chestguard. Her efforts pay off in the form of a small iron dagger and two pewter rings tucked into the garment's folds. Wil decides to not answer her sister's question. She doesn't know if she really likes the violet-eyed elf or if she's just euphoric after battle and flattered by his attention. Besides, Bethany always worries about these things.
Fashioned into a makeshift sling, the front of Wil's tunic is already full of small trinkets. "Oooo, is that buckle real silver?" She cuts it off it's belt, ignoring how the sudden jerk as her knife breaks through the leather strap sends bolts of agony down her back. After wiping the blood on her sleeve, the shirt ruined anyway, she examines the slightly curved disc. It's engraved with eagles in flight circling a wyvern. The image means nothing to her, so it gets added to her collection for market. "We should be able to make a decent trade, even if it's not."
"Aren't we sad? Like crows or raccoons. Do you remember how Carver would trap them?" Bethany has moved on to the archer, who makes for a less gory task. "And how mad was Father?"
Wil remembers it well, the twine and twig cages Carver hid along a creek near their home. He lured the greedy fat raccoons in with shiny brass buttons he'd found on an old dress of mother's, one of the few she'd kept from her life as a noble in Kirkwall. Mother was less angry than Father'd been, perhaps because he felt guilty for stealing the life that dress represented. Whatever the reason, Carver had been forced to abandon his new hobby and tasked with replacing the stolen buttons with his own money. And his own hands.
"To think, we never would have known our brother was such a gifted seamstress had he not been caught," knees aching from being pressed to the dock, Wil abandons her search and makes her way back to the cargo, arranging her loot in a neat pile before returning to the corpse.
"Carver could have taken a job as a dressmaker's apprentice in Kirkwall!" There is laughter in Bethany's words, undercut as it is by the faintest ache of loss. "At the very least, he could be here to help with these bodies."
Wil has to agree that he'd come in handy. Corpses were cumbersome at the best of times, but after a fight and a few injuries, moving a perfectly average man was like juggling Qunari.
Or so Wil assumes. She doubts she'll ever get an opportunity to touch a Qunari, let alone juggle any, but they were around and huge so it seems an apt description of how very much rolling the six bodies over the edge of the dock is going to suck.
"Knowing Carver, he'd only handle the ones he killed himself," Wil catches one of her own victims by the shoulders and Bethany takes the feet. They move carefully in unison, as this one is nearly bisected and neither one was terribly keen on having to deal with anything that might fall out. "Or maybe he'd have been able to get a real job, with Aveline in the guard. Ok, on one...two...three!"
With practiced precision, the Hawke sisters swing the dead man out and into the water, the splash from his impact coating their boots in saltwater. They watch as he bobs on the surface, his midsection obscured by lapping waves; he might be taking a nap in the bay, peaceful beneath the moonlight.
I killed that man, the thought comes with a physical pain in her throat. I killed that man so that we could get into this Makerforsaken city and make a home for ourselves.
"One down, five to go," Bethany wipes her hands together, almost absentmindedly, and Wil realizes they are coated in blood.
"Why don't you go up closer to the front of the dock and watch for more thugs? The last thing I need is a surprise ambush."
"Are you sure? I could always set the rest on fire," her cheek twitches and Wil recognizes that catch, the one she'd learned to hide.
"Perish the thought, sister. The last thing we need is to attract cold hobos and the starving masses with an impromptu man roast," Wil begins to gather the next body and Bethany leaves in silence, because she knows.
The market buzzes around them, claustrophobic even though the sun has barely risen and certainly not high enough to break the walls of Lowtown. To Wil, the crush of bodies is a nightmare and she's convinced she will never see a bed again.
Bethany offers worried glances, but Wil insists that they unload everything before they return home. Leandra barely approves of her daughters' current "profession" as it is, if she knew they were supplementing their meager incomes by selling off the flotsam and jetsam that remained of those they bested, she might never let Bethany out of Gamlen's house again.
"That buckle got us four silver!" Bethany presses the coins into Wil's hand and she clutches them tightly even though it does everything to exacerbate the burning that has extended itself from her shoulder, to her waist, and along her arm to the fingertips.
"Maybe it'll cover the amputation! Heh," it's a feeble laugh that Wil hopes distracts from the rawness in her voice. "Although...you can't really amputate a shoulder. There's...vital things there, right? Things that are vital."
"Maker's breath, Mina," Bethany catches her sister's arm and begins to lead her towards the alley that cuts from the market to the tenement they've been begrudgingly calling home for the past eleven months. "Mother is going to kill me for letting you stay out like this."
"No," she pulls away from her sister's grasp and then flings the freed arm back around Bethany's shoulders, leaning against her for support. "Mother is going to kill me for letting you let me stay out like this."
"That, too," cheeks reddening, Bethany looks vaguely uneasy. "I can al-"
"Hawke!" The voice catches both women off guard, although Wil doubts that it sends Bethany's stomach into a flurry the way it does hers.
"Sorrell!" Wil goes to face him and the whole of Kirkwall spins wildly around her.
She's saved from falling by two pairs of hands that steady her, then looked over by two sets of eyes, so very different from each other but both radiating vast amounts of concern.
"I knew you should have come with me!" Sorrell is pulling a small jar from a pouch on his belt and, even though his hands are bandaged, he isn't acting as if they'd been seriously burned not hours before. "You're lucky, though. I told the healer I had a friend who was too proud to abandon a job even after taking a knife to the back, and he gave me this."
He uncorks the jar and Wil is hit by the warm scent of medicinal herbs, honeysuckle, and the distinctive whiff of an afternoon recently scrubbed clean by a sudden summer storm.
"Odd," she obediently shrugs out of the thin cloak she'd worn to cover her bloodied tunic so that Bethany can get the mixture on. "I want to live in there."
"She's delirious," Bethany reasserts her earlier assessment, trying hard to not flinch at the sight of Wil's injury and failing in a miserable way. "Sorrell...I can't. Can you do this?"
"I cleaned it, at least," Wil frowns at her sister, but not at her sister. Sorrell wasn't exactly right in saying she was too proud to see a physician, but she was hesitant. She'd yet to meet a physician in Kirkwall that didn't dismiss her out of hand as nothing more than the worst kind of Lowtown thug- a Fereldan Lowtown thug. It was enough that she couldn't dispute their claims against her, she didn't have to suffer under their shoddy treatment because she of it.
Fortunately, Sorrell is able to handle a bit of gore and he works quickly, his hands so dexterous when they really should not be and Wil realizes why when poultice seeps into the wound and then seems to suck the pain that has settled in most everywhere right out of her body.
"Potent, isn't it?" Sorrell's finished, and he moves her shirt back to where it should be, his fingertips deliberately dragging along her throat as he does. Between him and the poultice, she's feeling less like falling over and more like... "I keep a room at the Loon. It's not too far from here."
He speaks in a rush, too fast and too low for Bethany to catch and his hand is lingering close to her and his eyes are impossibly beautiful, as is his hopeful smile when Wil nods, not quite willing to confirm aloud what they'd just agreed to.
"Let me take Bethany home first, maybe wash off...oh. Some of the blood and grit. The rest will just have to be bandaged."
"I can help with that," he nods towards Bethany. "I can walk you home. You live in that square, don't you? Near the bridge to the alienage."
"What?" This stops Wil and a frown creases her brow. How did he know where they lived? She certainly hadn't told him. "No. I...we just try to keep a low profile there. It's just easier that way. You would stand out."
"Would I?" He's startled by the shift in Wil's tone, and probably by the way she's positioned herself between him and Bethany, a subconscious response to threat. "I don't see how another poor elf that close to the alienage would catch anyone's eye...but if you would prefer."
For a second, Wil almost relents. Sorrell has never given her any indication that he cares one way or another about Bethany's magic, and he's been a solid partner on several difficult jobs. And handsome. He is that. And eyes. But there's still so much she doesn't know about him. Like how he got that scar, and why does he live in a tavern? She doesn't even know if he really likes her, or if he's just lonely, too. And if he does like her, he might be looking for more than she is prepared to give anyone and what if he retaliated by ratting them out to templars?
"I do prefer," she manages a bright smile, to soften the decision. "But I'll be there. Promise."
He nods, seemingly pacified by the compromise of expression and they take their separate paths home.
Home, where Leandra is exasperated by the state of their clothes, blood stains being so hard to get out, and she clucks over Wil's shoulder before remarking on the poultice.
"It smells nice," Leandra pushes Wil's hair out of her eyes, her mouth turning down at the corners in maternal disapproval of the messy way it's worn. "You should be more careful, Wilhelmina. One of these days, Bethany is going to try to save you and..."
"Did I bet money on that, Beth?" Wil makes eye contact with her sister, who has settled in an overstuffed chair in the corner. Bethany offers a quick shake of her head and it's obvious that she's trying not to laugh. "I should have. You're very predictable, Mother."
"You know I worry about my girls," tears mist Leandra's eyes and Wil feels the familiar ache of guilt and wishes she could just keep her mouth shut every now and again. "And with the dog and Gamlen in Starkhaven until next week, and I saw that templar…"
"What?" Wil and Bethany react in unison, Bethany flinging herself out of her chair and moving to the doorway that led to the back room. There is a small gap between their wall and the adjacent dwelling and they had decided when they first moved in that it would serve as her hiding place in the event that the Chantry ever came calling.
"Where and when, Mother," it takes Wil three strides to cross the room and bar the door. "And what does he look like?"
Leandra describes the man and Wil positions herself next to the door, which is where she'll remain, more or less, until Gamlen returns with Bello. Bethany tries to remind her about her promise to Sorrell, but Wil dismisses the idea with a scowl, even though she likes the way his face flickers in her mind at the sound of his name. He has a scar, and she'd not mind learning where it came from. Even if it was painful.
"He'll understand," Wil leans back and winces as her shoulder presses against the door frame. The poultice is no barrier spell; she'll still have to be careful until it's healed. "And if he doesn't, then he's an ass."
Bethany opens her mouth to apologize.
They are yours. Remember that always, and no matter what.
"I'd be the worst sister in the world if I wandered off for..." Wil rolls her eyes upward to cover for any awkwardness. "Besides, you're the only proof I have that I'm not completely terrible. I think even Mother would quit me if something happened to you."
"That's not true!" Leandra sounds genuinely hurt by this, so Wil refrains from suggesting another wager.
Instead she slips into readiness, waiting for the slightest scrape of activity in the hallway beyond the door, or for the scent of Chantry incense and sweat soaked undergarments to waft through the cracks in the door.
It's one things for the Templars to catch them out in the streets, or in the market. But this is their home, and mages aren't supposed to have homes and people they love that love them in return. It's like an affront to most templars, and enough of one to bring the law crashing down on the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who might have the audacity to want to see their family whole and no one imprisoned for an accident of birth.
Wil keeps her sword in front of her, balanced on its pommel, the blade pressed flat between her steady hands. Convinced of their safety, Leandra goes about her chores and Bethany prepares herself for bed. Normal routines for normal people, and one curious man in a metal suit could destroy it all.
Her second memory isn't of running, but of holding perfectly still.
She doesn't need to be still any longer. The man who'd asked her for directions to Gosport, his voice kind even echoing as it did from within his helmet, is on the ground by her feet, dead as the gutted hogs that hang from the market stalls on Saturdays, but her scalp still burns where his steel fingers had been buried in her hair and pulling, and her throat aches where he'd pressed the blade against it, not caring that it bit her flesh.
Blood streams hot all the way to her stomach but Father is trying to tell her that it's just a small scratch as he runs one rough fingertip along the place it hurts the most, her vision turning blue but no comfort seeps into her bones. Alarming, when normally blue meant comfort.
"Wilhelmina, stay with me," Father's hands go to her cheek. He holds her face and, although she knows they are his green eyes in front of her, there is something unfamiliar there that worries her enough to break her trance.
"Are you afraid, Mal?" She calls him by his grown-up name, because it seems right at this moment. The body besides her suddenly has more presence. "Are you sorry?"
"Yes," his hands abandon her cheeks and he cups the back of her head with one palm, gently, because he knows it must hurt. The other, trembling, draws across the spot on her throat again. "But not because I killed him."
"Because you did what he wanted you to do," she swallows back something acidic and sharp, remembering everything she'd been told about the men wrapped in metal and fine skirts of purple and gold. It comes with a flash of sunlight caught on a silver pendant- a thin-bladed sword consumed by white fire. That is the image she sees below her, only large and boldly worn in black on the man's chest. "You did what he wanted, but he wouldn't stop hurting me."
Father's nod is grave, his mouth tightening at the corners, and his eyes grow hard with resolution.
"He left me no choice," his voice is steady because he is speaking words not just to her, but into her. This is the lesson she must learn, even more than they are yours. "This is why we worry, and this is why we keep to ourselves. This is why we run, because there are men who would try to force their will upon another and hurt whoever they can to do so."
Even a little girl in a play-stained dress and worn leather boots.
"You were brave, Mina. I always knew you would be," Father stands and scoops her up, settling her against his chest and this time the blue light brings comfort and everything is almost right again.
Almost right because part of her is as lost as the dead templar they leave behind them- that part that strayed from the edge of the yard to speak to the man on the wooded path. She's young but she knows what she did was wrong. She also knows it's why dinner is eaten in tense silence and sleep is not found in a familiar bed but hours later than normal, bouncing between Bethany and Carver in the back of a borrowed wagon and on a road to someplace else. Father tells her it's all right because they're all together, but Wil sees it in his eyes.
And all she can do is learn from her mistake and swear to never let it happen again.