He stopped only momentarily, picking a sliver of wood from between his toes, and continued his determined march through Hightown. He needed to walk, so he strode through the streets as if he had some place to go. He pressed his legs forward despite their protesting aches. His master was dead and he was no longer a slave. He should have an overwhelming sense of relief. Instead he clenched his jaw and quickened his pace.
His tour of the district had taken him past the windows of the wealthy families of Hightown. He stood in the shadows, watching one family warm by their hearth. A middle-aged couple sat together on a large claw-legged chair. Two boys were engaged in a game of dice on the floor, the firelight playing across their smiling faces. Fenris was stricken by the warmth of the scene. He took in the red velvet upholstery, the low crackling fire, and the woman's posture as she lazed across her husband's lap with a leather-bound tome. How pathetic he must look. A lonely elf, cold and hiding in the shadows, pacing circles around the city.
He slumped against the manor's wall and let his thoughts drift. They drifted where they always did. He'd replayed her look of devastation and disbelief time and time again. He had reveled in her touch, and enjoyed the closeness of another body for the first time. Well, the first time he could remember.
"Hawke," he said out loud to the darkness.
The closeness with her had brought memories of his life as a slave flooding back. They washed over him until he felt he would drown. The moment with Hawke, the one woman he had come to respect, had been tainted by his past. So he had fled. He had left Hawke, still in bed and vulnerable after a night of potent love-making. He ran because he was a coward. The three years since that night had been filled with awkward glances and a deep longing.
His yearning for her only intensified as he watched Hawke try to fill the void he had left with other pursuits. There was one pursuit that absolutely crushed him. Anders. She had run to the mage for comfort not two weeks after their night together. He furrowed his brow and clenched his teeth, digging a hole in the cool dirt with his toes. Yet, how could he blame her? Anders had been there for her when he could not.
"You're liable to tunnel back to Tevinter at that rate," Isabella emerged from the shadows behind him. She shook her head and quirked an eyebrow at the hole he had scratched in the dirt.
"You have been trailing me?" he rumbled. "Leave me be."
"Would that I could, handsome. Would that I could."
Isabela was a perfectly ravishing sight as usual. She fastened her bodice to be so low-cut, it drove most men mad. Although Fenris was not completely immune to her charm, he remained loyal to Hawke. He was too distracted most days to pay much heed to Isabela's flirtation. This night was no different.
"Blast it Isabela!" He leaned abruptly toward her, grabbing her upper arm. "She sent you to follow me, didn't she?"
"Squeeze a little lower if you would, my sweet," she purred, twisting her lips into a half smile.
Fenris released her arm and glared at her, slumping back again to lean against the cool brick wall. Hawke had a habit of keeping an eye out for him, even if she couldn't bear to trail him herself.
"She loves you, you know," Isabela said, assuming a veneer of sensitivity. She picked a loose thread from one of her fingerless leather gloves. "When I get her nice and sloshed, she still goes on about you."
Fenris twisted the red scarf around his wrist. How did he deserve Hawke's favor after all of this? He remembered how Hawke had disengaged herself from his advances that night and pulled the red sash from her drawer. Her eyes shone as she had tenderly tied the fabric around his gauntleted wrist. The night of passion to follow this gesture had been the subject of his dreams ever since. She had given him the sash, a symbol of her love, and never asked for it back. He continued to wear the token in an attempt to show Hawke that he did care, even if he could never broach the subject with her.
"She deserves better," he whispered, tightening the scarlet material around his gauntlet one last time. He chewed his bottom lip to keep from divulging more on the subject to the insistent rogue.
"A truer statement was never uttered. Why she has chosen to invest all of this effort into such a mopy Tevinter elf, I will never know," Isabela turned and slipped into the shadows near the mansion's side wall. "I'll report that you are alive and as tiresome as ever," she added just before disappearing completely.
The chains are broken, but are you truly free?
The witch had been right. "Asha'bellanar" as Merril had called her, had spoken these words to him at the top of Sundermount. His master was dead, but where was the celebration? His heart was as heavy as it had been that morning. He was a free man, a slave to no one. Yet, all he could do to celebrate his freedom was wander the streets aimlessly. Fenris finally changed direction and made for Danarius' estate. At least his dreams might bring him some respite from his conscious thoughts.
The stench of old blood filled his nostrils. From the terrible burning sensation pulsing through his chest cavity, he guessed the blood was his own. He dared to breathe, the pain filling his lungs, squeezing out any hope of more air. He tried again, this time a shallow breath.
"Oh Danarius, Thank the Maker!" A familiar voice cried. "Varania, come quickly with a basin or I swear..." The voice trailed off and he heard the woman rifling through something in the corner of the room.
A fog passed over him again, lulling him back to where he had been. Numb...
A sudden jolt of memory flooded through him. Fenris. The Champion. Battle. He had fallen, but did his most prized possession slip through his fingers again? He immediately tried to sit, but the burning pain in his chest would not allow it.
"Where is he?" he screamed through the fog.
The exertion forced him to close his eyes. He resumed the shallow breathing that seemed to keep the fire out of his chest.
"My love, he is gone and you are lucky to be alive," Minara said gently, making her way over to the bed. He opened his eyes to meet her gentle gaze. As she ran her fingers across his jawline, through his silvery beard, he felt her magic fresh on her slender fingertips. Blood on her wrists gave away the extent of his own injuries. He was in worse shape than he thought if she had used blood magic to heal him.
So his little Fenris had escaped. Again.
"Your basin, Mistress," Varania whispered. Water sloshed onto the floor as the trembling red-haired elf presented the basin to Minara. She snatched it from her apprentice, slapping her with a strength fueled by the tension she had held since her husband had fallen a few hours ago.
Varania reeled back and fell like a heap to the floor.
"How long was I unconscious? Are any of my men alive?" Danarius said, ignoring the sobbing elf splayed across the floorboards.
"A few hours now, my dear. You," she faltered, "created quite a powerful weapon. Fenris phased right through you and nearly tore out your heart according to one of the surviving guards." Minara's voice trailed off as she looked blankly at the wall. "I thought you were gone. I thought… I couldn't do enough."
Danarius looked into his wife's eyes again. "Thank you."
Minara dipped a sponge into the wash basin and dabbed cool water across his forehead and down his neck.
"I hope that your 'little wolf' Fenris is worth the trouble he has caused, both to you and all but the two guards who survived," Minara spat.
Danarius had thought their plan infallible. He would use Fenris' sister, Varania as bait to lure Fenris to the Hanged Man tavern in Lowtown. He promised Varania that she would be more than just a magister's apprentice if they succeeded. He brought all of his best guards to apprehend Fenris. The elf was his.He'd been his for so long, that Danarius half expected Fenris to walk right back to his side, calling him master the moment he saw him. He had been an investment, a weapon created by the infusion of lyrium into a well-trained warrior's body.
A powerful weapon indeed, Danarius thought to himself, still measuring each breath to minimize the pain.
"It seems that this taste of freedom has changed my little pet. Still predictable, yet now he follows another," Danarius mused.
"He left Varania alive, even after her part in luring him here."
"No doubt trying to prove something to himself. How very merciful," he sneered.
"No matter. The guards found her only a few buildings away, sobbing wildly behind a merchant's booth."
"And what news of Fenris and his Champion?" Danarius twisted the last word with poison. Despite his bitter resentment, frustration with the situation, and urgent need for revenge, his eyes felt heavy again. He glanced around the room wishing he had the strength to go somewhere else. The room was grimy, poorly lit, and he could hear raucous laughter below. Minara must have had to rent a room in the filthy tavern.
"They cannot elude us forever. You are a powerful magister and will recover quickly."
"Especially with the care of a skilled healer such as yourself," Danarius managed weakly.
"Rest, we have all the time in the world to hunt down that beast," Minara soothed.
"Yes," he smirked. "Especially now that we know who holds his leash."