A/N: Spoilers for Merrill's Act 3 quest. I was shocked when I saw the result of the friendship path when Hawke comes out of the cave with Merrill. When I thought of that conclusion combined with my Dalish Warden import, I felt the overwhelming urge to write this. Amusing imagining my Warden with an Irish accent. It suits her better than Welsh though. ;)
Wrath of the Elvhen
The bed was comfortable and warm. The dying embers of the fire were glowing in the hearth, casting an ambient glow onto the canopy of the bed.
Hawke reached out with her arm, and felt only empty space beside her. She sighed. It must have been only a couple of weeks since she and Merrill were last at the Dalish camp, and it wasn't an event she was likely to forget soon. Despite not knowing them well – they had tolerated her infrequent presence only at Marethari's behest – she still felt a personal grief and remorse for what had happened. It was beyond imagining how much worse it was for Merrill.
Every night since then, Hawke had woken from a nightmare only to find that Merrill had wandered from the bed again. For the first few days, she had found her in the living room, quiet and contemplative, nursing a drink as she stared into the fireplace. As Merrill had become more withdrawn since then, Hawke had not been able to console her as well as she'd have liked to. She could only offer a shoulder to cry on.
Hawke considered wandering down to find Merrill, but decided against it. She remembered her own reaction when her mother and brother had died. Each time she had become frustrated and isolated. She pushed the others away. No amount of words could return a lost loved one, and sometimes it felt better to be alone with one's thoughts.
She only hoped that Merrill wasn't blaming herself. Hawke believed she was just as responsible for the deaths as what the elf was. For six years, she and Merrill had been friends, then lovers, and she had accepted Merrill's practice of blood magic and her interest in the Eluvian. Fenris and Anders had proved time and again that a lecture only strengthened Merrill's resolve, not deterred her, and Hawke had long since decided that instead of trying to stop Merrill practicing blood magic, she would instead protect her and others from the possible consequences.
Perhaps if Hawke had approached the situation differently, she wouldn't have been forced to slaughter an entire Dalish clan. But she didn't know how she could have done things differently. All she had tried to do was explain what had happened to Marethari in the cave, and try to protect Merrill from the ire of her former clan-mates. The next thing she knew, she was sheltering behind her shield as a barrage of arrows rained down on her and her companions, and they were embroiled in a fight against the clan in order to flee from Sundermount. She didn't know if any still lived. She didn't dare return and find out, and Kirkwall received no news of the Dalish.
Oh, Merrill. How she must feel, to lose those she counted as family. And to have that feeling of responsibility.
Hawke pushed herself up from the bed. She wasn't likely to sleep now, and was overcome with a desire to comfort Merrill. There had to be something she could do, if only to reassure her lover that she was not alone.
Pulling the stopper from a jug, she poured out a little water and splashed it onto her face, before slipping on a robe and heading downstairs. A quick scan of the living area showed that Merrill wasn't about. Nor was she in the library or kitchen.
Hawke wandered between rooms, growing more curious and apprehensive with each empty room she encountered. By the time she had thoroughly searched the house, the only rooms left to be investigated were her mother's old room and Bodahn and Sandal's quarters. There was no reason for Merrill to be in either.
She wandered down to the dwarves' quarters, and pressed an ear to the door of the bedrooms. The only sounds from within were the heavy breathing and snores of slumber. Unless Merrill had taken to watching them sleep, she wasn't in there.
Pushing aside her trepidation, Hawke went to check her mother's room. Since the death, she couldn't bring herself to visit it often. Everything remained as it had when it was last used, only now it was all covered in a layer of dust. It was unsettling and heart-achingly familiar. Perhaps Merrill's grief had led her to that room.
Turning the handle, Hawke allowed herself a quick sweep of the dark room. If she forgot for a little while, she could tell herself that the room was just ready for her mother to return from a day of shopping. She would comment on how much cheaper things seemed as a noble and complain that her feet were sore, and then wander up to bed early. Hawke would bring her a cup of tea and sometimes they would chat about what they had done, or how Bethany was managing in the Circle.
Focussing, Hawke remembered that she was looking for Merrill – who wasn't here. So where was she? Why would she leave the estate in the dead of night?
Apprehension bubbled up inside her. Too frequently, someone she loved had been taken from her. If something had happened to Merrill... no, that couldn't be. Hawke hurried back up to their bedroom and pulled on her heavy plate armour, grabbing her sword and board on her way out and hefting them into position on her back. Perhaps it was a little too presumptive, but if Merrill was in trouble then she should better be prepared. Even if the Dalish elf had only decided to wander back to her Alienage shack, any number of brigands could waylay her. And if she was pushed into a corner, outnumbered, and still in a state of emotional turmoil, her blood magic could become as much a hindrance as a help. What if a demon were to try and use it against her? Hawke didn't think Merrill would fall into the trap, but if left with no other option, who could say.
As she neared the front door, her anxious thoughts almost caused her not to notice the scrap of vellum that was lying on the floor. Perhaps Merrill had left a note after all.
'Champion' of Kirkwall,
You and I have unfinished business. Unlike you, I am not without honour, so I give you this opportunity to prepare yourself before you atone for your crimes. Once you are ready to face me, come to Smetty's Fish Guttery on the docks. It will be empty, and I will be waiting. Come alone.
Hawke blinked stupidly at the note, before her brain began to connect the dots. Someone with a grudge had sent her this note, with the intention of duelling her. This was no great surprise. The number of enemies she had racked up over the years matched the number who hailed her as a hero. The templars for one regarded her with suspicion and any number of them could be seeking revenge for her outspoken defence of mages.
If it was a templar, and Merrill had intercepted this note with the intention of going in Hawke's place, then the elf would be in a dire situation. Especially if the templar did not play by the rules and instead brought some accomplices. It would not be the first time.
Hawke crushed the note, tucking it into her left gauntlet and setting out from the house at a run, the door swinging shut behind her. Sprinting through Hightown and descending towards the harbour through Lowtown, she thanked the Maker for the clear path ahead of her. Tonight was the last night when she needed to be held up. Merrill could already be in danger. Perhaps she should send up a prayer to one of her gods too? If they were there, wouldn't they protect a Dalish?
She charged through the docks, sweat sticking her pale hair to her forehead. She had forgotten to pin the top half back to keep it out of her face. Hopefully it wouldn't hinder her in a fight.
As she reached the door to Smetty's fish guttery – one she remembered by smell from a previous trip to the harbour – Hawke drew her sword and shield, readying them. She pushed the door open quietly. Usually, blunt force was her forte. She wasn't the one who attacked from a distance or from stealth. She was the one who ploughed into their enemies, drawing hostile attention away from the others. But if she was afforded an opportunity to surprise the one who lured Merrill here, then the pair of them might stand a chance, even if outnumbered. She may also be able to stop them from taking Merrill hostage against her.
Hawke crept through the door, making her way as silently as possible – a difficult feat in full plate – through a hallway and into the main storage area. As she neared the edge of the balcony, she spotted Merrill, alone and tense in the centre of the warehouse. She seemed unharmed and alone, waiting for something.
Was it a trap? If she alerted Merrill to her presence, would the elf try to warn her and be cut down? What if she had been threatened into this?
Hawke decided the best way for her to help Merrill was to get down there and shield her from any possible attacks with her own armoured body. From behind, the elf could use her magic without interruption. They fought together in perfect harmony. All Hawke needed to do was reach her.
With shield ready to deflect any incoming hits and sword poised to strike, she made her way down the ramp to the storage area. The moment she drew close enough to signal Merrill quietly, the elf turned towards her.
"Oh, lethallan," she whispered. Merrill looked nervous and tense, her brows knitted and hands clenched as she teetered on the balls of her feet, ready to take flight at any moment. "You found the note. I thought... I thought if I came here, I could stop them before they hurt you."
Hawke swept forwards, despite the possibility of ambush, and pulled the elf into her arms. They clung to each other in an embrace made awkward by the bulky armour.
"Why would you come here alone, Merrill? What if you'd been hurt?"
"That didn't matter," she said quietly, forcing her voice to stay even, "you're the only person I have left now. I wouldn't let anyone take you. But there's no one here, I don't understand it."
Hawke released Merrill and regarded the empty warehouse, her weapons still held close. "Maybe they didn't expect me to arrive so soon, or maybe they're waiting for reinforcements. Either way, be ready."
Merrill nodded, pulling her staff from its holder on her back and gripping it tightly.
They waited in tense silence for several moments, and then Hawke heard a voice that was unfamiliar to her, but elicited a surprised gasp from the elf at her side.
"I told you to come alone, Champion. But this turn of events is not disagreeable. In fact, I should like to hear what your friend has to say for herself."
Hawke's eyes searched for the person to match the voice, and found the speaker on the balcony, moving with a lethal grace towards the ramp. Even enveloped in shadows, it was clear that she was an elf, and as she descended into the dim glow of the warehouse floor Hawke got a better view of her features. The elf had straight, sun-bleached hair that was adorned with small braids similar to Merrill's, but longer. Her large eyes were amber, but hard and predatory, leaving no doubt that she had come looking for a fight. Tanned skin told of a life spent mostly outdoors and the leather armour suggested that she was a rogue, as did the dual daggers she wore on her back. Most telling of all were the tattoos on her face, which curved like the thin branches of a sapling – the tattoos of a Dalish elf.
Now she realised why the elf had sent the note, and for what she sought vengeance. Hawke turned to Merrill, whose pale skin was now ghostly white. Her mouth was set in a determined line but Hawke could see her trembling slightly.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Merrill murmured. "This can't be real. It just can't be."
"Don't even think of trying a spell, Merrill," warned the other elf, her voice harsh compared to Merrill's lilting tones. "I'll shoot your shemlen before you get the chance to lay one spell on me, and I'll have finished her either way. I know you have blood magic, and that you cannot heal."
She waved a slender blowpipe at them for emphasis. It was loaded with a dart that Hawke was certain would contain poison. It was possibly one of Dalish make, which Merrill might know the antidote to, but she had spent her life learning magic and the lore of a Keeper, not the skills of a hunter. It wasn't worth the risk. And it was worth even less risk if the elf decided to shoot Merrill instead.
"Why are you here?" Merrill asked, her voice a thin wire.
"I came to the Free Marches at Keeper Marethari's behest," the other elf replied coldly. "She sent a message to me that you were in danger, and that I was the only other member of the clan for whom you might see reason. It wasn't until I got here that I learned of your involvement with that accursed mirror." She spat on the floor in disgust.
"You know the Eluvian held secrets to our past," Merrill said earnestly. "I thought it could have told us so much about Arlathan, and our ancestors. It could have helped us reclaim what is ours."
"That mirror is nothing but ruin! It poisoned me! It killed Tamlen!"
Hawke realised now the identity of the newcomer. It was the Hero of Ferelden, known as Mahariel. She was an old friend and clan member to Merrill, and had direct experience with the Eluvian. A heavy sensation settled over Hawke as she realised the elf must have discovered what had happened with Merrill's clan.
"How could you be stupid enough to think it wasn't dangerous?" Mahariel shouted.
Merrill shook her head frantically. "I cleansed it, with blood magic. Or... I thought I did. I thought even if it didn't tell me anything about the Dalish, I might find a way to get Tamlen back, to find him."
Mahariel's eyes widened in shock. For a moment, the fight seemed to go out of her, and her face registered grief and horror, but before Hawke had time to acknowledge it, the expression flooded away and the fury came roaring back.
"Tamlen is dead. He's been dead for over seven years, Merrill. We couldn't find the body because the darkspawn took him. They changed him into one of them. When he finally found me, he begged me to kill him. No amount of demon deals could change that."
Merrill swayed as though she had been punched. "But why... why did you never tell us?"
"I thought I was doing you all a favour," the blonde elf replied bitterly. "If you believed his death had been quick, it would have saved you all the truth of knowing his agony. I spent so long beating myself up for not looking harder, for longer. I knew you would do the same thing. We were friends once, or near enough."
The two elves stood silently staring at each other. Merrill still seemed to be in a state of shock and grief, another blow to her already beaten conscience. But Mahariel had moved her harsh gaze over to Hawke, and was regarding her with a hatred that had not been present for the other Dalish.
"But it is not you I am here for, Merrill. It is your shemlen master." The words were directed at her former clan member, though her eyes remained fixed on Hawke. Mahariel's next words were for her alone, however. "Are you surprised to learn that not all the elves perished in your slaughter? Other than the flat-ear at your side, I mean. I helped tend the wounded as best I could, and they told me the story, all of it. How the Keeper followed you both into a cave atop Sundermount to stop you from summoning a demon, and how she was murdered as a result. And then, when the clan confronted you, you tried to kill them all."
"That isn't how it happened," Hawke replied calmly. "I didn't set out to attack your clan. I was trying to explain what had happened to the Keeper when they attacked. We had to fight back in order to escape."
"And what did happen to the Keeper, then?"
Hawke grimaced. She knew the story was a bad one. The Keeper had taken the demon into her own body and caged it there to prevent it from getting to Merrill. Marethari had then tasked them with killing her in order to destroy the demon. There had been no alternative. Even as she explained this to Mahariel, she could see the elf was not remotely convinced by the story.
"Enough. I didn't come here to trade words with you, shemlen. It is time we settled this matter with our blades."
"No!" Merrill exclaimed. "It's my fault the Keeper died, it's my fault the clan attacked us. I should be the one you fight."
"In case you forgot, blood mage, any fight between us would not be fair." Mahariel tucked her blowpipe away and unsheathed her daggers, twirling them in her fingers as she settled them into a comfortable position in her hands. "And I am here for your master, not you. You ceased to matter when you left our clan, flat-ear."
"You left too!" Merrill threw back. "You are as much a flat-ear as I am."
Mahariel spat again. "Lies! You left by choice, out of your own pride. I was forced to leave when the Grey Wardens conscripted me and the Keeper pressed me to go. I have tirelessly worked to save my people – Dalish and flat-ear – from the Blight, and since then I have continued helping them. I may not have returned to the clan but I remained with them constantly in spirit. You turned your back."
"I was trying to help the clan too. I really was," Merrill said, her voice sad and quiet. "This isn't Hawke's fault."
"This isn't anybody's fault," Hawke said quietly. "The demon played you all against each other. That's what it's doing, even now. What happened was a horrible, horrible misunderstanding."
"It was murder!" Mahariel cried, launching herself at Hawke, who brought her shield down at the last moment to block the strikes.
"Merrill, get to safety! I'll stop her," Hawke instructed.
The Dalish mage backed away, watching the fight with wide eyes. Mahariel rained down a continuous barrage of strikes, light but deadly enough. She twisted her daggers, moving like fluid as she tried to find a weakness in her opponent's armour. But Hawke was a stone wall against the breaking tide. Whenever the elf struck, she had her shield ready, and when she was too slow, her armour protected her from the lethality of the strikes. She would be bruised, but not wounded.
Merrill threw a hex onto her former clan-mate. She ignored it, however, her murderous eyes kept fixed on her human opponent.
Mahariel feinted with a high strike before jabbing low, but Hawke managed to stamp down on one of the daggers, trapping it beneath her boot and smashing her shield into the elf's unguarded head. Mahariel staggered backwards, bloodied and with renewed anger.
As Hawke decided to move from the defensive to the offensive, Mahariel threw one of her daggers. Hawke swung her sword to deflect it in mid-air, and the elf used this distraction to cartwheel forwards, her foot striking Hawke in the jaw. The elf jabbed her remaining curved dagger at her enemy's exposed neck, but Hawke knocked the incoming threat away with her shield. She kicked the elf squarely in the stomach, buffeting her backwards into a stack of crates.
Regaining her composure, Mahariel lifted her fingers to her mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Hawke spun about warily, before a heavy weight slammed into her back, knocking her to the ground. She felt hot breath on the back of her neck and furious snarling, but the weight disappeared suddenly as the beast was hit with a stone projectile from Merrill.
Hawke scrambled to her feet to face the summoned wolf, but Merrill had trapped it in a snare of roots, and was casting a sleeping spell on the savage beast. In the scuffle, Mahariel had disappeared.
The question of her whereabouts was answered a moment later when pain exploded into Hawke's lower back. She felt the knife twist before she was kicked forwards onto her hands and knees. Her breath came in sharp gasps as a hand grabbed hold of her hair and yanked her head backwards. Mahariel's murderous eyes, as predatory as the beast she'd summoned, glared back.
Hawke froze in a moment of terrible finality. She wondered if this is how Carver and her parents had felt before their deaths – as though everything they had ever loved was about to be ripped away as they were cast into the unknown abyss.
But the final blow did not come.
Mahariel's entire body convulsed as she was hit with a blast of lightning. Hawke dragged herself away from the elf as she collapsed on the ground, still twitching from the spell.
Hawke looked up at Merrill, who was stood with hands outstretched, looking both determined and surprised, lightning still arcing off her fingertips. She allowed herself a moment longer to stare at Mahariel, before rushing to help her lover. The elf pulled Hawke's arm around her shoulders and helped heft her into a standing position, armour and all.
Mahariel pushed herself shakily to her feet, clutching her remaining dagger in her hand with dogged perseverance, but before Hawke could say anything, Merrill planted her feet in front of her former clan-mate, and her words came with authority now.
"There has been enough death already, lethallan. If you are as devoted to our clan as you say, then you will go and help them recover. Killing either of us will not return what has been lost. Nothing can. I've learned that now, and it's time you did too."
The other Dalish stared at her, wide-eyed, before scowling. Mahariel could see she had been beaten, and seemed to see that there was some sense in Merrill's words. Her anger ebbed, even if the resentment was clearly still there. Hopefully she would turn her attention towards helping the surviving clan members.
She collected and sheathed both her blades, before signalling to the wolf. With that, she silently staggered back up the ramp and from the warehouse.
Merrill let out a breath she didn't realise she had been holding.
"That was incredible," Hawke told her, breath hitching as it caught on the wound. "I'm sorry it turned out like this."
"I thought it might do," the elf replied sadly. "But she was right about one thing. They aren't my clan anymore. Nothing I do will change that. But I have others now – Isabela, and Varric, and the others... and you."
Merrill smiled, reaching up onto her tip toes to plant a small kiss on Hawke's mouth. "You are my clan. I don't need any other."
Hawke clutched her tightly, reassuringly. Merrill looked slightly renewed. It was a start. She placed an arm around Hawke to guide her from the empty warehouse. "Come on, we should get you to Anders before Falon'Din starts thinking he's needed. And we don't want that."