Chapter Seventy-Three: A Future for the Qunari
She awoke in the relative comfort of her own bed. What was left of it. The shock of seeing the posts and canopy hacked to pieces dissolved when Isabela reminded her of one of her less dignified moments. But there had been clean sheets in the chest, and when Marian pried her eyes open from the deepest slumber she'd experienced in months (aided by more poppy juice—Asari really needed to be less free with that) an even pleasanter sight greeted her. A fire roared upon the hearth, flames fending off the Kirkwall spring chill with a welcome heat.
Kithshok sat before it, cross-legged and absorbed in meditation. His eyes were closed, and his lips moved with silent words as he recited passages from the Tome of Koslun to himself. His shoulders were set but relaxed. His scar was prominent in the play of light and shadow, but his breathing was easy, serene. He was more at peace than Marian could ever remember him. She took that thought with her as sleep reclaimed her again.
It was hours before she awoke again. The downstairs hummed with activity as Qunari tried to understand the fundamentals of basra existence. Why was the bathing area fitted only for one? Why were the wine casks so large and larders so small? Why decorate the walls with Tevinter relics if they were not spoils of conquest? A louder murmur arose when someone pounded on the front door. A scuffle. Silence.
After a moment, women's voices could be heard on the stairs. Marian struggled out of bed, an aching cramp overwhelming her abdomen, and flailed for her robe tossed over the back of a chair. The knocking on her door was gentler, accompanied by Isabela's sing-song tone. Once Marian could consider herself decent, she opened the door for her friends.
"Good morning, Aveline," she said with the brightest smile she could manage. For all that was still on her plate these days, all she could concentrate on was what might be lying around that could dull pain. The smile had the underlying tightness of a grimace, a wince.
"Afternoon," Aveline replied with a small smile of her own. Relaxed and genuine, she had the appearance if once more being comfortable in her own skin. She was back on familiar terrain in her worn armor of the city guard. "You've been sleeping like the very dead. Not that I'm terribly surprised, but there is a lot to do." Her expression grew serious and she stepped closer. "Hawke, Sebastian arrived in the night from Starkhaven. He's practically taken over Viscount's Keep, pitting the nobles against each other hoping to get Alistair to support his claim."
"His claim for what, exactly?"
"That there was an arrangement between you and him. That Kirkwall and Starkhaven would merge into one united power." She shook her head. "He's never stopped obsessing over what Anders did, and you were the only one that could keep him with a level head. You and Elthina. And he lost both."
Marian inhaled a deep breath, drawing in as much as she could and holding it there. She needed to feel that burn, the strain of muscles and skin pulling against the bones of her ribcage. When she let the air out again, it was with a turn on her heel, a few measured steps across the room to her wardrobe, a rummage for something appropriate.
"Find Asari and Kithshok," she said to the others without turning around. "We do this, now."
The Hightown market was in full swing when the guards arrived. Two rows of six armored men marched up to the door of the old Amell estate. Many shoppers and shopkeepers alike stopped what they were doing to look. The place was abandoned again, they knew. The Champion had gone, taken by pirates and likely dead or lost at sea. No one had wanted to take over the place, not after rumors of a mage's ghost being seen about the place. But the guards arrived all the same, keeping to their two straight rows even as one stepped forward to knock on the door. He stepped back into line, and they waited. The whole square waited. Only the birds bothered to make noise, having no care for such goings on.
After several minutes, the door to the estate opened, and Guard Captain Aveline stepped through, walking straight along the column with three others behind her. Two were tall and horned, one male and the other female, terrible Qunari invaders with their metallic skin and grim faces. Just before them was a human woman in a long crimson gown embroidered with the golden blazon of her house. Her red hair hung loose down her back, and her shoulders were left bare by the Orlesian fashion wealth had afforded her. A coordinating sash hung at her hips, the long tails blowing in the wind, but the insignia wasn't nearly as interesting as the one who wore it. Marian Hawke. Not dead or lost but very much alive and returned. Her features were just as severe as those of her companions. Were they companions? It was impossible for the people to tell, but it can be said that they felt dread at their very presence regardless of their reason for being there.
The column marched directly for Viscount's Keep. The guard kept the Qunari well enclosed as they reached the steps, the female the only one daring to look about her as if she found something about the architecture fascinating or unsettling. Even as the crowd clustered together and followed, the guard moved ever forward and held people back. Only a few were curious enough to turn around and look back at the house. Even fewer wondered what was truly going on. Had their hero returned? Or was it their conqueror?
Arguing could be heard as soon as they were inside. Aveline and her guards shoved open the huge wood and metal doors to be welcomed by an angry din of enraged nobility. Marian found herself lost in thoughts three years laid to rest. The Qunari purge of Kirkwall, the corralling of the nobles in this very castle, the same level of discord and distress permeating the ancient stone. It didn't even pause when they arrived at the heart of it all, the entourage just another throng of bodies in a maddening swarm. Nobles from all over the Marches were present, yelling at each other and jabbing fingers accusingly. Sebastian was shouting out something from the carpeted steps. His white enameled armor gleamed like that of a divine warrior. His body language bespoke a gall and courage he'd not had before the annihilation of the Chantry. Were this a different time, had fate not led her where it had, Marian would have been beyond proud.
As it was, she was increasingly annoyed with every step they fought for across the floor. She could see Alistair sitting in the Viscount's throne, his cheek cradled in one hand and a crestfallen slump to his posture. He wasn't even looking out at the crowd anymore. Interest lay more in the scratches in his golden armor. Progress eventually became impossible. The rabble was far too self-absorbed to even take note that there were kossith among them let alone a contingent of the city guard.
Aveline raised her left hand into the air and let it drop. Seconds later, the air crackled with a small firework as Varric, long hidden in one of the alcoves, shot one of his special gaatlok bolts up into the rafters. Women screamed. The ruckus of voices escalated as the startled nobility ducked and cowered as if being attacked by maleficar. A magnesium-bright flash followed as Isabela released a flare of her own, ensuring that the crowd was face-down upon the floor. Only the guards and their charges remained standing, Marian defiantly staring down the man to whom she had once promised her hand.
"What is the meaning of—Hawke!" Sebastian staggered forward in disbelief, one hand keeping him upright along a balcony wall while the other raked the dark auburn of his hair. "You...you're alive!"
"I am. No thanks to you."
The Prince of Starkhaven stopped in his tracks, confusion overwhelming him. "I searched for you for months! I summoned every able body to find any trace, any clue! I swear to you, I-"
Isabela's fist stopped him before any more drivel could escape.
"You sent the Crows after her, you idiot!" she exclaimed, kneeing him while he was doubled over. "Castillon got your little ransom note. And all of Llomerryn. And every bloody Templar this side of Val Royeaux. Is that how you express love and concern for your betrothed? Is it?"
Marian had to grab her friend and pull her back before Sebastian wound up missing teeth. "We are here to stop a war...not cause one," she rasped into her ear. They backed away enough for the Prince to regain his footing and some semblance of dignity. She addressed him as he rubbed at his tender jaw. "I'm here in answer to a summons from the King of Ferelden."
"Me?" Alistair piped up as if only just coming awake. "You actually... Well. Alright then." He awkwardly cleared his throat and stood, coming down the stairs to meet the lot of them as equals. It was something Marian had always respected about him from the news she'd ever received out of Ferelden since the Blight. The sandy-haired youth had matured into a fine man and capable leader. But it was times like this that she also understood the rumors. Tales that he was also bumbling and a bit naïve, kept on task by the joint efforts of his uncle and the Warden Commander. For the moment, he was Alistair, King of Ferelden, and Marian gave him the salute of respect that he deserved as basalit-an.
"Aveline was able to reach me, sire," Marian explained. "And I have brought you allies. The Chantry has already lost its grip on Rivain, and others are sure to follow after the incident that happened within this city. Without the stability of the Chantry, Orlais falls, and Ferelden will be the first to suffer."
"You brought Qunari."
Marian blinked, unsure if she should be impressed with the observation or perturbed at the possibility that he might be disturbed by their presence. "They rescued me from the sea and kept me safe from those wanting the bounty on my head. When they heard that a Grey Warden called for aid, they felt obligated to respond."
"I see." The king's amber eyes examined both Asari and Kithshok from head to toe before settling back on Marian. "And what inspires this sense of duty? The tide does not rise simply because it wants to." His attention flashed to Kithshok when he noticed the tall kossith jerk in surprise. "I am not totally ignorant of your ways, friend. Which, to be honest, is what makes this so curious."
Kithshok stepped forward to speak. "Will you accept our blades if they are offered?"
Sebastian burst forth before the king had a chance to respond. "The aid of Qunari? Your majesty would be well advised to remembered the tragedy that these butchers are responsible for. Hawke, you above all should know!"
Alistair held up a firm hand, his eyes never leaving those of Kithshok. There was nothing of the young man in him, now. The lines of his face were hard, his gaze like steel. His feet were poised the breadth of his shoulders. He looked every inch a king worthy of respect. Banisera, worthy of following unto death.
"I fought beside one of your brothers when the entire fate of the world depended on it," he said in a tone that carried to every corner of the hall without sounding like he was even raising his voice. "I know the value of your promises. I know how much your honor is worth. But I cannot ask you to break your agreement through the Llomerryn Accords."
"The Llomerryn Accords," Kithshok replied deeply and with no less volume, "are no longer relevant." A gasp rippled through the air, and whispers furiously were exchanged back and forth. He held his arms open wide as a gesture to the whole crowd about them. "These basra saw to that years ago."
"You dare to imply that we instigated hostilities!" Sebastian made to move forward but would not move from beside Alistair. "The Chantry will not stand for this."
Kithshok motioned to Marian and Asari, nodding to Aveline that they were finished. The king had posed his need in his own way, and they had responded in theirs. The details could be worked out later. He turned, ensuring that the Prince of Starkhaven got a plain view of the shield upon his back. It was more than the man could bear. He burst toward them, reaching out to grab Marian up by the arm.
"I would mind yourself," Kithshok snarled, catching Sebastian like a child after forbidden sweets, "and build your walls high. For your Chantry has abandoned you...and the tide is rising."
And they left behind them a sea of disbelief. Eyes unseeing, minds uncomprehending, as fat dathrasi only just realizing that their feasting had come to an end, and there would be nothing more.