And When I'm the Champion, Will You Still Be Here?
Chapter One; Flight of the Hawke
She's dead and there's nothing he can do about it.
Ten feet of Blight stands above her, howling at the skies. The ogre roars, drools over itself and reaches down to pick her up once more.
He loses all control of himself. He races in, blades drawn and stabs the ogre as quickly as it can. It looks at him like he were nothing more than a bee, hisses and slices his face. He spins with the force of the blow, face screaming in pain just as loud as those that erupt from his throat. Blood pours from his face, down his chin and over the floor. He's fairly certain that his nose is on the floor staring back up at him.
Bethany's by his side, pressing her hands onto his face. He winces at the contact and flinches away from the sting of magic. She shifts with practiced ease, leans her knee on his chest and forces him to stay still. He's there for the longest moment, drifting out of reality and back into it. His world is upside down. He sees Shepard leap at the ogre and pull out muscle from legs that are as big as Hawke himself. Aveline catches a blow on her shield, falls back under the weight of it and just manages to hold onto her sword. Her husband is suddenly by her side, weakened swings barely fazing the ogre. It reaches for him, but Aveline's there, sword a blur and suddenly the ogre roars, hand spurting thick black blood and its fingers lying dead on the floor.
He tries to move again, to join the fight. Bethany forces him down again, throws a fireball at a darkspawn that comes too close and returns to healing him. Carver leaps over the both of them, slices a few darkspawn into pieces and is gone just as quickly. He races up towards the ogre, screams as he leaps at it and drives his blade down into the thing's face. It goes down shrieking like an unholy ox, flailing like mad and trying to pry him from its face. All of a sudden it goes lax and drops to the floor hard enough to make the ground shake.
The thought doesn't even cross his mind as he's on his feet again, ignoring the throbbing in his face to see what's left of her. She's bloody, broken, crushed and nothing like she should be. Her eyes are white, looking into nothing and her chest doesn't move anymore. She's dead. She's dead. She's dead. She's-
He startles, tries to leap into action and succeeds only in falling flat on his back. The world around him rocks slowly, the sounds of the sea crashing against the outside of wherever he happens to be. He blinks, tries to focus his eyes. He sees wood above him, beneath him and all around him. Various faces of people huddled in corners, familiar and yet strange at the same time. He shakes his head, reaches up to his face and touches the now-familiar scar across his face. It still throbs with every heartbeat.
He flinches as the smells around him suddenly come back into reality. Human sweat, waste and Maker knows what else linger around him like a dirty uncle. He chokes on the smell, tries to fight past it and sit back up. Instead he finds himself floored again, fifty pounds of hot, sweating, drooling dog whining and gracing his face with slobbery concern.
He groans and rubs Shepard behind the ears. It calms down and retreats off him, letting him breathe again. He pushes his hands through thick black hair and stays there for a while, lying on the wooden floors. His beard itches. It's enough to keep him from falling asleep again. His nose still throbs and he's deathly aware that there's a huge red scar across half his face now. The ogre had killed her and managed to leave its mark on him too. What hadn't the Blight ruined? Their home was gone. Their family was ripped apart. The only good news lately was that his mabari had recovered. After everything, him getting Blight sickness wasn't exactly reassuring. Somehow he'd pulled through, thank the Maker.
He doesn't know what he'd do without the constant canine company. He can still remember the day when he first saw him so clearly. Father had come through the door and produced this little bundle of energy and fur wrapped in linens. Bethany and Carver had stopped arguing instantly to fawn over the dog. The smells of cinnamon buns roasting over a fire as he locked eyes with the dog. It whined, jumped out of Father's grip and trotted up to him. They locked eyes once more and it reached up, pawed at his legs and it was like he knew he'd made a new friend.
Mother had fretted, hadn't she? About how they'd never manage to keep a mabari in somewhere like Lothering. But he knew she was proud. They were signs of nobility, weren't they? What would she say now to see them living in squalor in this horrible ship?
His world shakes and he groans again. He rubs his eyes, barely aware he'd started to drift off again. He sighs, pushes himself up until he's sitting and tries to force consciousness into his body.
He turns to the voice, eyes still shut. When he opens them he finds himself almost in the familiar orange haired, freckled face of Aveline Vallen. Even after weeks of barely eating, she still looks strong enough to lift a cow over her head and run for a mile. He feels like he'd barely be able to stay awake long enough to see that happen.
She touches his shoulder and waits until it looks like he's awake. He nods to her and takes the hand she offers to help him up. It's something that a random stranger they met on the road is now the only person keeping him from descending into madness. He's holding what remains of his family together and she's managing to hold him together too.
"Brilliant," he says, rolling his neck. Something cracks and he winces at the sound. Aveline's face is enough to make him laugh, despite the whining concern of his faithful hound. "So we're leaving a Blight-filled wasteland for the 'City of Chains'. Do you think we'll be lucky and it'll have been named by kinky perverts?"
Aveline's mortification is evident even in her snort. He smiles a she does her best to glare at him for the comment. "I doubt that," she says, falling into stoicism. He sighs and reminds himself he needs to try harder. Aside from reactions to his crass jokes every so often, she hasn't so much as grinned since she had to kill her husband. Not that he can blame her, but still…
"Are you certain about this place?" she asks him. Her arms are folded across her chest – her no-nonsense pose, he recognises.
He sighs and shrugs at once. "Honestly? Not at all. But… it was Mother's request that we come here. Supposedly we have family still here – nobles, if nothing's changed since Mother left. But I'm not entirely certain three strangers, yet still relatives, a mabari warhound and a woman-shaped battering ram will be the finest persuasion tactic."
She scowls and jabs him in the side. "Careful Hawke," she growls as he yelps and flinches away. "There's only so far I'll tolerate your jibes."
He smirks and tries to subtly rub his side. "You say this now, Aveline. Give it time; you'll wonder how you ever lived without me."
"Maker, I hope not."
He snorts and hisses as pain flares through his nose. Tears in his eyes, he rubs his nose and says, "Keep that up and you'll start sounding like Carver. Speaking of that plank, where's he disappeared to?" He notices for the first time that people around him are slowly disappearing. They're all rushing for the ladder to leave the hull and were it not for the warhound with fearsome teeth and a terrifying glare, they would be rushing over them too.
Aveline jerks a thumb upwards. "They've gone up top. Your brother said something about needing fresh air as soon as he could get it. Personally, I think he's making sure it's safe out there. Bethany's gone with him, probably for the same reasons. Was it always like this, growing up with your family?"
"Like what?" He grins and leans against the wall of the hull. "Constant vigilance for would-be Chantry zealots? Pretty much." He drops his hands to his sides, grasping at imaginary weapons. He frowns and quickly folds his arms instead, the missing weights on his side paradoxically heavy. He knows they sold everything to get themselves onto the ship, including all their weapons and a few things they'd never get back.
They left Fereldan with nothing and now they were arriving in Kirkwall with even less.
"I see," Aveline says; her face creased in a frown. She turns around and it's gone, forced away once more. She has a pretty good poker face, he notes. She sighs and watches people flee towards fresh air. "At least we still have our lives. How are you holding up?"
He looks at her, shrugs and focuses elsewhere instead. "I have a smile on my face. That's enough for them."
She spins around, grabs his arm and forces him to look back at her. "You can pull that shit with your family, but you're not fooling me, Hawke." She doesn't so much let go of his arm as throw it back at him. "You didn't answer my question."
"What do you want me to say?" he sighs. Eyes on the floor, he revels in the silence, painfully aware of Aveline's glare on him. Finally he breaks and looks back up at her. "It plays in my head every time I begin to sleep. The ogre was there towering above her. Carver had just gotten knocked on his ass by a darkspawn and was about to be cut into two. There was another one behind Bethany, about to cut her down. I thought I would be fast enough to save them both, but I'd barely even stuck my daggers in the 'spawn behind Bethany before I saw you'd saved Carver and Mother was…"
He winces and looks away from her again. His fingers probe his scar once more, trying to fight the constant pounding it troubles him with. The amulet around his neck seems heavier than before, almost like it forces his scar to ache with each heartbeat. He wouldn't be surprised if that damn witch had cursed it – after all, he couldn't take it off, no matter how much he tried. She was certainly making sure he lived up to his end of the bargain.
"I'm sorry Hawke," Aveline says, grabs his hand and squeezes it. "Carver was the closest to me; I didn't see Leandra until it was too late. I…" She turns away, lets go of his hand and starts to leave the boat. "Nothing I say will be good enough. But I'm here if you need me. Family sticks together Hawke. Just remember that you don't need to protect me like you protect the others."
He sighs as he crouches down and rubs Shepard's face. "Maybe another day Aveline," he says to her retreating back, "right now I need to make sure my family's safe. Then I'll worry about myself." He shakes his head and suddenly it's like a switch has been flipped. He grins at his mabari rubs behind his ears and laughs to himself. "I don't suppose there's going to be any dragons swooping down to save us now, huh?"
His answer is nothing more than a concerned growl. Hawke shrugs, pats Shepard on the ribs and pushes himself back to his feet. He leaves the ship and his nose screams once more as the fresh, cold air charges him. Tears spring to his eyes again and he nearly loses his step. He catches himself and stares up at the open sky, watches the gulls caw far above them and sees the omnipresent jagged rocks that surround everywhere he can see.
He takes it all in and barely contains a flinch at the sight of the towering stone statues built into the mountainsides themselves. Tall figures carved from bronze, weathered from age and the sea both, but with details enough that he can still see anguish on their faces. Slave cuffs tie their wrists and ankles together. Broken bodies that he hopes are only through time and not design.
He shudders at them, imagining them to be real people. Tevinter statues as they are, he wouldn't be surprised if they were once people bound in bronze.
The hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he feels a buzz in the air. He can sense the magic floating around in the place and it makes him decidedly uncomfortable. He remembers the feeling from growing up and living with Father and Bethany. This is like that… but amplified a dozen times over. It hangs in the air like a bad smell, drifting around them all.
Shepard sniffs the air and growls, haunches raised and ears flat against his skull. Hawke shushes him, scratches him between flattened ears and waits for him to calm. Any attention in this city full of Templars is going to be bad. The best case scenario involves them slaughtering dozens to escape. The worst case involves Bethany being run through and the rest of them being executed for harbouring maleficarum.
He scoffs and rolls his eyes at the exact moment Carver growls, "Asshats." He smirks at the sudden coincidence and wonders if they're more alike than he would like to think. The thought unnerves him more than he wants to let on.
He finds Carver sitting atop a moulding wooden crate that looks barely able to hold his weight. Of course, considering he also seems to be built like a rock, Hawke wonders just how long it will be before it does collapse. As long as he sees it, that's the important thing.
Carver sits there, glaring at the crowd. Bethany stands behind him, shrinking away from the attention. It seems to be her nature to hide away from anything new until she trusts them. She watches people over his shoulder and hides away anytime someone starts to look in their direction.
"They're not letting anyone in," Carver growls. He points towards the crowd and makes a gesture. "All this lot just got thrown out for some reason or another. No one's allowed further in the city than here in the Gallows, by the sounds of it."
"They've got people living in the streets all around here," Bethany explains. She pulls at loose thread in her sleeves as she watches the people. "From what I've heard, some people have been here weeks, trying to get into the city. What chance do we stand? Are you sure this is wise Brother? This doesn't seem the best course of action."
Hawke glances at the screaming crowd and grimaces. "Mother wanted to come here," he says, rubbing his head. "We should see this through, if only for her. But when we get the first hint of danger, we get out of here as quickly as possible."
"Shouldn't we be leaving now then?" Carver slaps his knees, throws himself to his feet and glares at them all. "We shouldn't be in this pisspot of a city. Does it really matter that we let an uncle we've never met know that Mother is dead. That's what letters are for."
Aveline steps between the two brothers and frowns up at Carver. "This was the wisest course of action. Antiva and Rivain are too far away on what coin we had. Orlais isn't going to accept Fereldans across their borders anytime soon. With a Blight on our hands, Fereldan isn't safe. You saw Ostagar."
He throws his hands into the air and glares at her. "And for that matter, who is this woman and why are we bothering to keep her with us? It would have been far easier if she'd died to the darkspawn and Mother was here instead." He shoves her out of the way and stalks off into the crowds, disappearing amidst the sea of faces.
"Ignore him," Hawke says as Aveline looks at the floor. "He's an ass."
"He doesn't mean it," Bethany adds in quickly, rests a hand on Aveline's shoulder and tries to smile at her. "He's just upset."
Aveline's gaze is still on the floor. Her hands are shaking, Hawke sees. He curses as she shakes her head and turns her hands over. "He's right though, isn't he? It would have been easier if I'd died and been with Wesley. Then your family could be together."
Hawke grabs her hands and pulls them up so she looks at him. "Or, we'd have been dead were it not for you." He smiles as Shepard barks an agreement. He lets go of her hands and shrugs. "Carver's a bit of a tit at the best of times. He's hurting, so don't listen to what he says. In fact, don't listen to what he says in general. It makes dealing with him far easier."
"Brother!" Bethany hisses and punches his arm. "Try to have a little compassion. Don't you remember? He was like this when Father died too!"
"I suppose," he says, trying to remember it. Mostly he remembers pant-wetting terror at being told he was the head of the house. And Carver being pissed he wasn't trusted to hold the family together. And Mother crying. And Bethany worrying that she wouldn't be able to control her powers without Father's help.
He remembers it was when they stopped calling him Garrett. After that, they only ever called him by his name when they were being nice or in trouble. He'd become the head of the house that day. That's the main thing he remembers.
He pushes past the memories and instead tries to find where Carver vanished to. Instead he finds only a crowd of faces begging to be let in. He sighs and rubs his nose. "Shepard, keep an eye… nose… paw even out for Carver. When you get track of his scent, let us know."
Shepard barks a reply, stumpy tail wagging furiously. Hawke shakes his head and leans against the crate Carver vacated, hoping it doesn't break under his weight instead. He hears the shouts and demands of people trying to get into the city before deciding he's had enough. "Let's see if we can find a way to get into the city. If we find one, then we can grab Carver and drag his sorry ass with us."
"We should seek out whoever's in charge," Aveline suggests. She stands on her tiptoes, scans the crowd and points towards a man in the middle of everyone, bright, shining armour illuminating him like beacon. "The guards seem to be reporting to that man. We should talk to him first."
It comes as no surprise to them that they practically have to fight their way through the crowd. Hawke forces Bethany to stand between himself and Aveline and keeps Shepard on the sides. People try to pry past them to get through, catch sight of the fearsome hound before them and think twice, falling back in stunned silence. He doesn't know whether it's reverence for their state symbol or just fear of being mauled, but Hawke just stays happy that they're not causing too much trouble.
"My commander is further in," the guard tells them, points to a walkway nearby that seems to be nothing but a corridor of dungeons and shadowy corners. "Everyone here has been refused further admittance for acts of violence or causing disturbances. Keep in line, show respect and cause no trouble and you'll be allowed into the refugee quarters."
They make their promises of compliance and get further through. Hawke turns back to watch them all and snorts. "If this is a crowd of people who don't show respect, I'm honestly surprised Carver isn't here." He grins widely, expecting a reaction of some kind. Instead he sees Aveline and Bethany deep in a discussion of how many of the Lothering Templars Bethany knew by sight alone. He rolls his eyes and scoffs to himself, "Everyone's a critic. At least you're my captive audience, aren't you boy?"
He looks around for his hound and finds empty air meeting him instead. Shepard seems to have made friends with a few refugees and appears to be bartering his way into getting the remnants of their food.
"Typical," he mutters and turns his attention elsewhere. The stone around him is the same sand colour, bleached with age and still holding in the original design. It looks like a maze, complete with occasional iron gates. He feels remarkably like a rat and wants to flee for safety. Mages are the ones that live here, or so the guard said. Kirkwall's Circle is in the Gallows… he manages a grim smile at that. Why take mages too far away from the place where they'd hang them for crimes, after all?
Thick black gates bar their way and they move around another corner to progress through the natural maze. Hawke finds himself staring at the gates a moment longer, imagining traitor's heads spiked atop them. He gets the picture of Loghain's dead head staring back at him from atop the gates, smiles a little to himself and turns back away.
He trips over a crack on the floor, swears and sees no one noticed it. It's a miracle anyone can walk here, considering the floors are nearly all cracks and broken stone, he muses. Magic seems to leak through the stones themselves, getting stronger and stronger the more restricted the tunnels get. Bethany scowls and plays nervously with her collar. He sees the way her fingers are dancing over frayed ends of fabric, trying to distract herself from magic. He remembers hearing Father instructing her on that – magic leaves the mage with fidgeting hands. In areas of higher magic, twitching hands means a mage trying to ignore the Veil.
He sincerely hopes the Veil here isn't weak. He's seen the results of tears in the Veil before – Father took them all out one day to show them the horrors that would pour through when it tore. Of course, everything they saw was dead, but it was still enough to frighten them beyond all measure. Carver and he and been too afraid to go near either Bethany or Father for over a week, he remembers with a soft laugh.
Aveline seems to notice the change too. She seems unsure, tense at something but confusion palpable. It seems even those who have no familiarity with magic notice the strongest changes. He decides that this place is somewhere to stay away from, should they get into the city. Father warned him once of the limits some desperate mages may go to when they feel oppressed.
Then he showed them the remains of a blood mage. In fact, a lot of Father's lessons had come with gruesome displays of dead things. Perhaps that was why slaughtering masses of darkspawn was easy for all of them. That and the fact that the things are unholy creatures from the Forbidden City and a plague on everything living on Thedas.
Bethany sighs and forces her hands to her sides. She's realised she's playing her mage tells, Hawke realises. One of Father's lessons – make sure you know everything that marks you as a mage and learn to control them. She shudders and hugs herself, hands pale white as they grip her elbows. "This is where they keep mages here…?" She looks around, eyes wide in obvious horror. She shudders again, rubs her arms and keeps her gaze towards the floor. "It's no wonder why Father escaped. It's horrible here."
Aveline rests a hand atop Bethany's arm. "We shouldn't be here long." She nods with her chin towards a sole guard talking to a group of heavily armed men. "He looks like the description we were given by the other guard. I think that's who we're looking for."
"As long as it's not the heavily armed thugs that are surrounding him, then we should be fine," Hawke mutters. He glances back and sees his hound trotting back up towards him, licking his chops loudly, blood trickling down his chin. Hawke decides he doesn't want to know what Shepard's found to eat around here and forces himself to look back to the guard. "Maybe that's just a group of helpful citizens offering to help refugees into the city?" He looks back to Bethany and Aveline, sees their raised eyebrows and sighs to himself. "Just me? Fine, I'll forget about remaining optimistic."
"Optimism's useless when we're weaponless," Aveline reminds him. She places a hand on Hawke's arm and nods at a few of the men. "Those three are the least trained; you can see it in the way they stand. The one at the front, in front of the guard and the two around him? They're trouble."
"So if they cause a fight, kill those three first?" Hawke asks, punching a fist into an empty hand.
"Deal with archers first," she says, slapping his hands with the back of hers. "But keep focus on them. We're outnumbered and outmatched if it comes to a fight."
"We have a mabari though," Hawke says with a grin. He leans down on his knees and presses his head against Shepard's. "You want to rip some thug's throats out, do you boy? I'll let you chew on their shoes if you do it without getting hurt."
Shepard throws back his head with a bark, drops his front to the floor and starts to growl in the direction of the thugs. Hawke smiles, pats him on the head and pulls him back by the scruff of his neck. "Not yet boy," he says, scratching him behind the ears.
"We'd have better chances were Carver with us," Aveline says.
Hawke shrugs. "What can I say? Carver's an ass. If he's upset, the world has to stop just so he can get all his sulks out of the way."
"Can you just stop?" Bethany sighs, hand on her head. She glares at them both from behind her hand. "Carver's hard to understand, yes, I know that. But he also does mean well, even if he doesn't show it. Give him a chance and stop being so hard on him."
"I'll give him a chance when he realises that he's not the only person in this family," Hawke grunts. He shrugs at Bethany's constant glare, offers a small smile and says no more on it. He knows Carver has to deal with things his own way. He just wishes that Carver would man up and understand he's not the only one whose world has fallen apart. Right now Hawke would like nothing more than to storm off and cry in a dark corner until everything felt good again. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the luxury.
He shoves one of the slimmer thugs out of his way and stands in front of the guard, a smile on his face. The leader of the thugs – a man just a few years older than Hawke, scratchy brown hair and wild stubble – pulls his lips back in a sneer.
"What do you want?" he growls. "Can't you see we're talking now?"
"Yes, but it looks like you might take all day to think of a sensible reason for your entrance into the city," Hawke says with a smile. The man grunts at him, blinks wildly and drops his hand for his weapon. The guard clears his throat and the man stops suddenly, nods tensely and glares at Hawke as he steps away.
"What happened to staying cautious?" Aveline hisses into his ear.
"I was being cautious. I could have stolen his sword and stuck it through his chest had I wanted to," Hawke whispers back. He smiles at the guard who looks back at them all with palpable boredom.
"More Fereldans," the guard sighs and buries his face in his hand for a moment. "Listen, there's no space for you here in the city. Were it up to me, I'd let people through. But under the Knight-Commander's orders, we're not to let anyone into the city. We're already strained for people as it is."
"And you're sure the Knight-Commander isn't just crazy and seeing apostates everywhere?" Hawke folds his arms and leans his head back. "We're clearly not mages. We lack robes. And staves. And a general sense of 'run-or-I'll-become-a-blood-mage!'" He waves his hands above his head, smiles at the dark look Bethany gives him and chuckles as he sees a smirk break onto the guard's face.
"Saying that will only make me think you are mages," the guard says, pointing a finger at them.
"Point," Hawke concedes. He tries to wash away the fear he feels from knowing that no one's allowed into the city with a large gulp of bravado. "But we have ties in the city. We have family who live here. If you send someone to find him, you could find that a few refugees suddenly were out of your hair."
"His name is Gamlen Amell," Bethany says quickly. Hawke sees the way she flutters her eyes just slightly and smiles to himself. Mother's teaching, no doubt. She always used to tell her that a few smiles here and there could help distract people long enough for her to escape. His stomach twists into hard knots at the memory, even as he hears Bethany continue, "He's a noble, here in the city."
The guard scratches his chin with one hand, the other held up to silence the protesting thugs. "The only Gamlen I know is a weasel who couldn't rub two coppers together. However, I can send someone into the city to find him and see whether or not he can let you into the city."
Good news and bad news. Hawke doesn't know whether to smile or to cry. He gets to do neither as the thug leader shoves him out of the way, draws a knife and points it into the guard's face. "You're letting them into the city and not us? We've been waiting here for days!" He waves a hand into the air. "Men, we're forcing our way through! Kill them all!"
Hawke snatches the man's sword from his scabbard and spears him on it. He manages to glance back, mouth open wide and trickling blood before he slumps over, dead. Hawke kicks him off the sword, spins round and meets a strike with it held above his head. He twists out of the blow, swings the sword around and slices through the man's stomach. Entrails and organs spill out onto the floor beneath him. He grunts, snatches a dagger from the man's belt, slices it between his ribs and moves onto the next victim.
He sees Shepard leap upon one that was too close to Bethany. She ducks around a blow and grabs the man's wrists. His face drops open in pain as he drops his daggers to the floor. He goes to scream something but she's already pressed a hand to his chest and pushed fire through his heart. He goes down smouldering as she grabs his daggers and tosses one to Hawke.
He catches it with grace, spins and slams his elbow into someone's face. He hears Aveline grunt behind him and hears the clang of steel. She's there, shield from someone held above her head and her feet rock-steady on the ground. She doesn't even glance behind her as she reaches back, takes the sword from Hawke's hands and stabs a thug in the stomach.
Hawke smiles at her, swears and throws a dagger with all his might. It lands in a thug's throat, his blade inches away from Bethany. She glances at him, eyes wide and leaps away from his falling corpse. She curses the air blue as he bleeds over her, spins around and slams her hand into the face of another man. He goes flying backwards and lands on an iron gate, bars spearing through the back of his head and out the front of his face. She turns, slips on the bloody floor and falls on her back. There's someone in front of her, halberd raised for a killing blow. She scrunches her eyes shut and there's a metallic clang above her. She finds herself looking up at Hawke, holding back an entire spear with nothing but a dagger and sheer willpower.
She rolls forwards, grabs the thug's ankle and pours magic into him. He screams, flails and suddenly fire bursts out from his mouth. Hawke grabs her, pulls her up to her feet and glances around for witnesses. He sees none, smiles and throws his dagger at an archer. The thug dodges it but Hawke's already in his face, hands around his neck and with one quick flick, he snaps the man's neck and drops him to the floor.
Aveline catches another blow on her shield. She spins with it, slams the shield into someone's face and hears his teeth bounce along the floor. A scream and she buries her sword in his neck. Blood sprays all over her as she pulls it free and charges at someone else. She cuts him down, finds the last in a duel with the guard and cuts him down from behind. The guard falls back a step in surprise, collects himself and sheathes his blade.
"Are you okay, serah?" she asks him.
He nods, eyes on Hawke as he collects weapons from the fallen. Aware of eyes on him, he offers a toothy smile and continues collecting what he needs. He slides two daggers and their sheathes onto his belt, hands Bethany a spear and the harness for it and gives Aveline the sheathe for her sword. He smiles up at the guard and shrugs. "It's not like they're going to use it anymore, is it?"
"Quite," the guard agrees with a weary sigh. He shakes his head and glances as the mess. "I suppose it is only fair you take their weapons. You did fight them whilst unarmed, after all." He steps towards the fallen leader and pokes his corpse with his boot. "Thank you all for your timely assistance," he says, looking back up at them. He brushes himself down and succeeds only in smearing blood over more of his uniform. "Maker knows I needed it. This really does illuminate how much we are in need of new recruits for the guard. I can't let any of you into Kirkwall, but if it were up to me, I'd let you go in right now. However, I can say now that if you get into the city, apply for a position in the city guard. I'll see to it that your applications are approved."
Aveline's the first to bow her head. "Thank you serah," she says. The guard nods again, curses late-arriving guards and orders them to bring the elves for clean-up duty.
"Thank you for the offer, serah," Hawke says as he steps up to the guard. "But before we leave, may I ask if you've seen someone about my height, wearing Fereldan armour? Black hair, slight bit of stubble, looks like a rock and has the intelligence of one too."
The guard snorts a laugh. "I remember someone like him. Relative of yours?" He points towards the east. "He went towards the quarter over there. They're handing out food to refugees there, but as can be expected… there's a number of unsavoury sorts that are making themselves home there. If he belongs to you, I advise getting him out of there as quickly as you can."
Hawke bows his head. "My thanks, serah," he says, shaking the man's hand. He smirks, sees his opportunity and makes him move. No one notices his sleight of hand and he quickly sneaks his plunder underneath his shirt.
Bethany smiles as she pats Shepard on the flank, signs of freshly healed wounds evident in patches of missing fur. She leans over Hawke's shoulder and tries to see what he has in his hands. "Do you think he's gone to find food then?" she asks and startles him back into reality. He glances up at her, smirks as he shrugs and goes back to reading a parchment half-hidden in his clothes. "What have you got there?"
He grins a toothy grin. "Our ticket into the city."
Aveline's behind him and peering over his shoulder in an instant. "What is that Hawke?" she hisses, grabs his ear and pulls on it. "Where did you get that?"
"Ow! Maker's breath, woman! Stop! I'll show you!" He hisses as she lets go of his ear, hands her the parchment and tries to rub the pain in his ear away.
"You pickpocketed a guard after just helping to save his life?" Aveline mutters as she rubs her head. "Flames, Hawke. Do you even think before you do something?"
He shrugs, lopsided grin across his face. "Sometimes."
Bethany scoffs at him and peers through the letter. "It's got an official seal on it," she says tensely. She holds it out as Shepard paws at her leg, lets him inspect it and continues to read it as he barks his approval. "It says they're to be on the lookout for the Viscount's son – he's supposedly here, helping to hand out food to the refugees. There's a little thing about how the Viscount wants this under-wraps because someone might try and use his son against him or something."
"Meal-ticket," Hawke sings, clapping his hands together. "We find this Saemus Dumar, keep him safe from all the nasty's that hide in the dark and then the Viscount owes us a favour and lets us into the city."
Aveline slaps his shoulder with the back of her hand. "I hope you've thought this through. It's a good plan, I can't argue that. But surely there could be wiser ways of going about this?"
He shrugs and rubs his shoulder. "Either we do this or we wait for a man we've never met to get us into the city."
Bethany nods and hands him back the parchment. "I say we help this Saemus," she says as he tucks it away back under his shirt. "I don't like what the guard said when we mentioned Gamlen's name. A weasel who can't rub two coppers together? It doesn't sound like he'll get us into the city in anyway."
Aveline nods and folds her arms over her chest. "It's your decision. Either way, I'm with you, Hawke."
"Great," he drawls. "I'm the leader of this merry band of misfits, huh? This can only end in doom and despair."
"Bloody ass of a brother, bringing random strays along with us that think they're so high and mighty…"
Carver stalks his way through the lower quarters of the gallows, his glares enough to deter most from begging him for coin. Those that try are met with cold shoulders frigid enough to rival a mage's spells. They quickly disperse away from him, leaving him to continue ranting to himself.
He sees the dirtied poor all around him and boils in hatred even more. It was so different to what had been their normal life back in Lothering. They may not have been the richest family there ever was, but they'd always had enough to get by on.
Then everything had changed.
It stands above her, drools and with an arm as big as a house, reaches down to grab her. He screams from on the floor, flinches as a darkspawn appears in his face and something wet splashes all over him. He opens his eyes to steaming black blood over the floor, headless darkspawn and Aveline stood above it.
But the ogre is already done with her. She lies on the floor, crushed, dying, struggling to breathe –
"Stop thinking about that," he hisses and slaps himself in the face. He can't think about that. He remembers hating himself for not being able to reach her. He still does. He hates the fact he doesn't hate either his brother or sister for not being there first. He saw his brother race to save Bethany and saw the despair in his face when he realised he wasn't fast enough to be able to save Carver himself, let alone their mother.
He hates the fact he couldn't save her, hates the fact his brother had to choose who to save and hates that he saw him so heartbroken when he thought that he wasn't going to be able to save his little brother.
Carver hates everything and that only makes him hate himself all the more. He feels like a burden now that he's seen the moment of clarity in his brother's face. He knows they've always felt like that towards Bethany – that she was not only their sister but everything they had to protect. He likes being the protector, not the protected.
He grunts in pain as he squeezes his fingers into a fist hard enough to draw blood.
He forces himself to focus on reality. He sees more dirty faces; some huddled in makeshift tents, others sitting on a piece of ragged cloth and some on the dusty floors themselves. They're all filthy and he's spent the past few weeks trapped inside a hovel of a ship. The people here are broken and weeping. The veterans of war sit around him, too weak to look after themselves and too strong to die.
He turns away from them and stalks down a random corridor of stone. He's angry at the city for leaving them like that and angry at himself for not being able to help them. He feels the walls close in around him and curses them and the Tevinters who built the city.
He stops in a crowded open space and sees the people clambering for attention. He turns his gaze away from them and tries to figure out just where the hell he's ended up.
"Where in the name of Andraste's flaming undergarments am I?" he hisses, throws his hands into the air and shoves his way into the crowd. He sees a stand built of wood in front of him, atop which lay a number of crates and small parcels. There's one person up there, a man – a boy, not much older than Carver himself – who wears rich blue silks that scream wealth. His hair is black and wild and yet he's smiling as he's handing out parcels of food into the crowd.
At least someone here gives a shit.
He's just about to leave when something makes his stomach twist in knots. The crowd slowly descends into silence and start moving away from the stand. He finds himself stood in the middle of an open space, just as confused as the boy standing up there, food parcel still waiting for someone to receive it. He glances to the side and Carver follows his line of sight, sees a group of men approaching and feels his stomach knot just a bit tighter.
For the group are all heavily armed and have faces hidden behind shrouds.
"This can't be good," he mutters to himself and quickly tries to look like he's not paying any attention to them whatsoever.
"Saemus Dumar?" he hears one of them say. He glances over his shoulder to see the group standing next to the boy. There's one man stood close, heavily armed and with what looks like a blade hidden inside his sleeve. Carver grits his teeth and starts to wonder just what's going on here.
"We have a message from your father," the one in front says. "He instructed us to bring more food to help you aide the refugees." He steps back and extends a hand, gesturing to a nearby alley. "We were sent to guard it and you. If you would kindly step this way, serah, we can help you distribute it fairly."
Surely no one's stupid enough to believe-
"Father's come around?"
The boy brightens and practically leaps at the man. Carver wonders just how the hell the boy doesn't realise it's a trap. He wants to scream warnings to him, but knows that will only draw attention to himself.
"Please, lead me towards his donation!" the boy declares and happily follows after the group.
Carver watches them lead, head and heart in two different places. "Surely someone so naïve is just going to end up dead another day," he whispers to himself. Still, he creeps after them, drawn in by a morbid sense of curiosity.
"I don't understand!" the boy is saying, spinning around wildly and eyes wide like a trapped deer. "Where are the food donations you said Father donated?"
The leader steps forwards, clamps a hand around his neck and holds him up against the wall. "I didn't think anyone could be so stupid. You've got a contract out on your head, boy," he says as the boy kicks against empty air and scratches weakly against the arm holding him up. "The Winters are going to take back your pretty little head and reap the reward."
Carver swears as the boy whimpers and the man draws a knife. He sneaks in behind the group, grabs the rear guard on either side of his head and snaps his neck. The man goes down with a yelp and a crash of armour and suddenly Carver finds all eyes on him.
He curses. Brother would have a witty comment to hand already. Sister would probably just fireball them from here. Instead he puffs out his chest and declares, "Leave the boy and you get to live."
Obviously, the mercenaries think him less than threatening, for they burst out laughing.
The leader scoffs and throws the boy to the side. Even as Carver wills him to run with his eyes, the boy continues to lay there in the alley, cowering like a frightened child.
"What are you, the boy's Dog-lord lover?" the leader growls and points his knife at Carver. "Whoever you are, you die here."
Carver swears as the boy continues to stay on the floor. He charges the first man he sees and surprise alone lets him punch him in the jaw hard enough to make something crack. The man drops and Carver catches him, snatches a dagger from his belt and stabs it through the man's eye.
There's a sickening squelch and horrible screams. He ignores it, rips the dagger free and uses it to meet a sword that aims for his head. His arms rattle with the impact and he feels his teeth shake. Brother would know how to handle the dagger. He would know it's not a sword and shouldn't be used like one. Carver hates himself for allowing himself to start comparing and forces his brain to shut down.
He hears the twang of a bow and drops to the floor. An arrow skins his arm and draws blood. It stings, but it's not fatal. He stabs the nearest man in the chest, pulls himself up with the blade, sticks his hand in the man's chest and rips his lungs out from inside. He buries his hand in there again, readies his strength and throws the corpse at the nearest person. The man screams as his dead comrade falls on him while Carver slings his dagger at the archer.
Predictably, it misses. He curses and knows his brother would have made the shot.
Wind splits near him and shuts his brain down again. He reacts on instinct; grabs the man around his wrists and slams his knee into the man's gut. He hears something crunch underneath his blow, steals the man's sword and smashes his face in with the pommel. Steel in his hands, he twirls the blade, slices its previous owner's chest in two and charges through the blood at the archer.
The archer's quicker than him. He ducks the first strike and lets Carver fall with the momentum. Carver hisses, turns himself slightly and lets gravity allow him to drop on the man's shoulder. He bounces back off him, rears back and smashes his skull on the man's nose. Blood sprays everywhere and the man screams until Carver buries his sword deep in his throat.
He wipes blood from his face and looks for the last one. He holds the sword in front of him like a shield and inches around the mess of organs on the floor. It takes him less than a moment to find the last surviving member of the mercenaries.
Unfortunately, he's holding the boy up by the hair and holding a dagger to his neck.
"Now see here, Dog-lord! You put that sword down and I don't paint the walls with this pretty boy's blood!"
Carver hisses curses at everyone he can think of. The boy's trembling, looks close to pissing himself and Carver hates the fact he can't do anything about it. He wishes he has his siblings with him. Garrett could stick a knife in the man's throat with a flick of his wrist. Bethany could fry his brains from the inside out with a moment's thought. Carver…
Carver's just muscle. A battering ram with a broadsword and too far away to even so much as poke the man with the tip of it.
Brother would have a comment handy here, too. Most likely something about not wanting to get his blades covered in brains. Even Aveline would be able to diffuse this by just glowering and scaring the man into surrender. Carver has nothing but an angry tongue and a severe sense of self-loathing.
He growls through his teeth and lowers his looted sword to the ground. The man eyes him nervously, arms shaking furiously and his gaze constantly drawn everywhere, almost like he's expecting more danger to come.
Inspiration suddenly strikes. Carver manages to smirk and looks up at the rooftops. "You didn't think I came alone, did you?"
The man glances upwards with a yelp, shoving the boy away and darting for cover. Carver covers the distance between them in two leaps and spears the man through the chest. He gurgles, gives him a surprised, almost resentful look before he goes lax and slumps on the blade. Carver swears as it pulls him down and he tries to wrestle his sword free from the man's spine.
It takes him a moment to reclaim his sword and wipe himself free of blood. Not the most graceful rescue ever. He snatches a harness for his sword from the dismembered corpses and holsters them on his back. Once he's certain no one's going to leap out of the moulding crates, he steps towards the boy. "They're dead," he says and offers a hand. "Whatever bounty that's on your head isn't my business. Try not to follow strangers into alleyways anymore."
The boy's bright red as he accepts the hand up. "T-thank you serah," he says and boys his head. Instantly he turns green and tries to look away from the carnage. A little chunk of meat is caught on the bottom of his cloak and Carver has to fight a smirk at the boy's subsequent freak out. He manages to pull himself together long enough afterwards to bow his head again. "I am Saemus Dumar. It seems my father has enemies that are not above using his family as leverage against him."
Carver shrugs. "Some people are scum, but family always looks out for each other. " Saemus gives him a confused look and he rolls his eyes. So maybe every family didn't grow up with the constant looming threat of 'hide your father and sister from mage-haters', but still, his point stands. He sighs as the boy continues to look at him. "I'm Carver, by the way. Carver Hawke."
"Hawke?" Saemus presses a hand to his chin and tilts his face to the sky. "I don't recognise that name." He looks back at Carver, catches a glimpse of gore at his feet and daintily distances himself from it all. "You're not from Kirkwall, are you?"
"We got here today," Carver says. He glances at the bodies and pulls a face. Not one day fully in Kirkwall and already he's slaughtered mercenaries. He knows he needs to get away from the bodies as quickly as possible before someone sees him with them and reports him to the guards. Standing here talking to this boy isn't going to help him escape, after all.
He shakes his head and gestures out of the alley. "I think you should go back to where you're safe. Can you make it on your own?"
Saemus glances at the bodies on the floor once more and grows even paler. "I think I can, but-" he shrieks as three shadows appear at the bottom of the alley and hides behind a crate as Carver draws his sword once more.
"Really Carver?" Hawke says with a shake of his head, arms out wide. He kicks away the mess of entrails with a grimace and sighs dramatically. "I know you were in a bad mood when you left us, but really? Slaughtering shadow-faced henchmen? Is that the wisest course of action?"
Carver stares at them for a long moment, genuinely surprised. A little part of him considers smacking his brother in the face with the pommel of his sword and pretending he thought he was another mercenary. As quickly as he thinks it though, he throws it away, disgusted with himself. He holsters his sword and finds himself nearly knocked off his feet as Bethany throws herself at him.
"Are you already?" she asks, checking him for cuts. She finds the one from the arrow and a few he didn't realise were there before she glances around and spreads her hands over them. Carver hisses, grabs her hands and squeezes them until she yelps and stops. He nods towards the crates and she draws away quickly, eyes wide. She nearly trips over Shepard as he noisily starts to eat the remains on the floor.
"Stop that," Hawke says quickly and reels back as Shepard whines and tries to lick his face. "No! Stop! I don't want intestine-breath on my face!"
Carver can't help the glare that falls onto his face as Aveline strides towards him. She doesn't even stop to move the corpses, instead just walks straight over and through them. That alone is enough to terrify him just a little bit more about the woman. She stops in his face, matches his glare and then turns away with a sigh. "I swear, between you and your brother we're never going to get ourselves into the city."
From behind the crates, Saemus pokes his head out. Aveline and Hawke both swear, drawing their weapons instantly. Carver barely hides his laugh in a cough as Saemus squeaks and dives back under cover. Aveline and Hawke remain motionless, faces betraying their confusion.
"They were mercenaries," Carver says, sweeping a hand over the floor. "They were after him. Saemus Du-something."
Hawke's eyes practically light up as he slides his daggers back into his belt. "Saemus Dumar?"
Saemus squeaks and looks up from behind the crates once more, demeanour of a frightened rabbit. "That's me," he says quickly and squeakily. He looks up at Carver, eyes wide and fingers gripping the edges of his crate-barricade. "Do you know these people?"
Carver fights the urge to sigh and leave him there. "Yes. My brother, my sister, my brother's mabari and our… cousin." He glares at Aveline as he sees her mouth drop open slightly. She nods and pulls a poker face just as Saemus glances over at them all. As soon as he looks away, she throws Carver a million and one questions all in one confused raise of an eyebrow.
"Well, as nice as this is, shall we move away from the slowly rotting corpses?" Hawke suggests with a clap of his hands.
Carver shrugs and files out of the alleyway last. Saemus hides in himself, sticking nearby and leaping at every shadow. Carver rolls his eyes and glances back at the stand where all the food once was. Instead it's now empty, looks like a pack of rabid darkspawn have moved through and claimed everything for themselves and then thrown everything they didn't want away. He sighs and stares up at the open sky, wondering why he doesn't even get any sort of reward for his acts of heroism.
He grunts as he feels something placed in his hands. He finds his brother smiling at him, parchment in his hands and an apple wrapped within.
"You'll want to read that. And that's about all we could salvage from the food sacks over there. We've already ate our share; we couldn't save you any peaches. I know how you love peaches."
Carver goes bright red and considers throwing the apple in his brother's face. He scowls as he slinks away to join their sister, moves his attention to the parchment in his hands and devours the entire apple, core and all in record time.
He nearly chokes when he reads what the letter says. He passes it off as a bad cough and slides the parchment into his battered uniform. Seamus is the Viscount's son. He's done a job the city guard were meant to. Carver can't help but smirk to himself as he thinks about it all.
"So Saemus," Hawke says conversationally. "The Viscount's son? What's that like? Do you get to call people peons and declare they're not worthy of your presence?"
"N-no," Saemus stutters, his eyebrows rising into his hairline. "Mostly I have to stay hidden away and under guard all the time, in case something like this happens."
"So where were your guard today then?" Aveline growls.
He shrugs. "I left without them. My father didn't agree with me coming down here to help, so I slipped past them and made my way here."
Hawke throws his head back and laughs. Carver scowls and knows just how fake that laugh is. "You're determined to be a thorn in someone's side. Good for you." Hawke slings his arm around Saemus' shoulders and starts walking him back towards the Gallows. "So it seems to me, Saemus that we've got a situation where we could help each other out, here. We need to get into the city and you need a decent guard who thinks of your needs first. We've already shown that we can defend you – well, my brother has. We slaughtered a group of thugs who thought they could fight their way into the city, but enough about that. My point is that we could be your personal guard. And we'd follow you even if your father wanted you to do something else."
Carver speeds up and elbows his brother in the side. He gestures for his ear and hisses, "Don't get too personal with him! He's the Viscount's son! That means if the city guard sees you so much as shaking his hand, they're going to cut yours off! Stop being so friendly and think!"
"I'm doing what I need to so we can get into this city," Hawke says quickly. "What would you have me do? Sit around with my thumb up my ass?"
"No, but-!" He grabs his brother by the collar as he catches Saemus looking at them and drags them out of earshot. "This is a Templar-heavy city, Brother. If you bring attention on us, they're going to notice! We can't hide Bethany when everyone's looking for us!"
Hawke sighs. "You're right." He turns back to Saemus and smiles. "So, we're not going to be able to get you back into the city safely, it seems. Will you be fine from here, serah?"
Saemus nods and tries to quickly brush more blood from his cloak. "I will. I can charter a boat into the main city within the hour to get back. The refugees here are waiting for so long because not only are the gallows isolated by water, but also because the Knight-Commander has refused to let anyone charter a boat unless they've got explicit permission. There's been too many people offering to smuggle people into the city as of late."
He shrugs to himself and looks up at the statues above them all. "I shall petition my father to let you into the city as quickly as possible and also let him know how you defended me. With luck, you'll be in the city by the day after tomorrow. Thank you for all your help everyone. Thank you, Carver."
He catches the look Bethany gives him and glowers back at her. She smiles the too-familiar falsely innocent smile.
At least they're getting into the city. That's all that matters.
"It's been three days already."
Bethany stirs from her sleep and sees Aveline pacing around nearby. Both her brothers are sat in front of her, Shepard on her flank and forming a protective circle around her. She smiles and glances up at Aveline as she tries to rub sleep from her eyes.
"We can't stay here forever," Aveline says, wringing her hands nervously.
Bethany knows exactly what she's thinking. Three days have passed since Saemus said he'd get them into the city. They'd spent their days since hunting through the refugee quarters for food, but people had long since stopped handing out donations. Maybe something had happened that stopped people wanting to hand it out.
At least they managed to wash the blood out of their clothes. It wasn't so much a bath as being drenched with buckets of water of questionable freshness, but it still got most of the grim away.
They need to move on, Bethany knows that. But they can't leave until they hear back from their uncle or Saemus one way or the other. What would happen if they leave and then a messenger arrives not an hour later, saying they're allowed into the city? There's also the problem of their severely light purses. They're not going to get anywhere with only a few bits between them.
Besides, Saemus should be back soon. She smiles as she remembers the way he acted and gets no end of fun tormenting Carver about it. He freaks out every time she mentions it and it only serves to make her laugh all the more. Especially when Garrett suggested Carver should scratch his back to help them get into the city. She sighs to herself and leans her head against cold stone, thinks about it all and wonders just when they're going to get some news.
The familiar sight of the guard approaches them, satchel in his hand. He nods at Aveline and shares a little conversation with her. They know his name is Ewald – he seems quite happy with Aveline, Bethany's noticed. It seems he desperately wants her in the guard and is trying to pull strings to get at least her into the city. But Aveline won't have any of it, refusing to leave any of them behind.
It's strange to think the woman's like family already. Especially considering she used to be married to a Templar. Bethany would have thought she'd be enduring days upon days of sermons about how her powers were against nature itself and that she should be with others like her. Instead Aveline seems to have taken her under her wing and seeks to protect her just as much as her brothers do.
It's just… strange. She can't think of a word that sums it up better.
She sees the guard approaching them and kicks her brothers awake. They start with equal half-snore, half-grunts and are both on their feet in an instant. The guard seems surprised by it. Bethany just finds it normal.
Ewald clears his throat, reaches into his satchel and hands a piece of parchment into Hawke's hands. "We found Gamlen. He…" Ewald grimaces. Bethany's stomach drops at that alone. What could make him seem so awkward? Was their uncle dead in a ditch somewhere? Not in the city? Secretly a mage and now in the Gallows?
"Your uncle said that with your mother dead… you're not his responsibility. In his words, he doesn't have the coin to throw on orphans who should have stayed in their Blighted homeland. I am sorry." He bows his head and leaves with record speed.
Bethany's too stunned to think, let alone say anything. Her brothers tear open the letter, read it in record time and react just as she expects. Carver swears and punches the wall. Garrett just sinks to the floor, sits there numbly rubbing Shepard's head.
"Some family," he mutters and drops the letter to the floor. "We're running out of options here. If Saemus doesn't come through with his offer, we're going to have to find different means to get into the city."
"Who knows if he'll get back to us," Carver growls, rubbing his knuckles. "He looked like he was going to hide away for the rest of eternity when he left." He scowls, picks up a rock and tosses it as far as he can. It bounces near a market stall and the owners shout as him as he returns a one-handed gesture. "Tch. Some city."
"Don't be so sad," Hawke says. He leans his head against the wall and manages to grin. "I don't think Saemus would leave you out here in squalor. You're his knight in shining armour, after all."
Bethany can't stop the laugh at Carver's face. She presses a hand to her mouth as she tries to hide her giggles, hands Aveline the letter when she asks for it and tries her best not to add to Carver's misery. "Be nice, Gare-bear," she says, slapping him on the shoulder.
"Bethany, please," Hawke mutters, rolls his eyes and holds a level stare at her. "I've got a reputation of slaughtering thugs here. I can't have it ruined by childhood nicknames. What would they think if they heard whispers of 'Gare-bear the Avenger' prowling the streets at night?"
"They might think you're an actual bear," she says with a laugh. He scoffs and turns away, still fussing Shepard. All of a sudden the mabari raises its haunches, growls and races towards the nearby stairs.
Hawke's on his feet a moment later and Aveline's already got her hand on her sword. "Company," she notes, moving herself between Bethany and whoever they are.
She scowls, gets to her feet and tries to move her way around everyone. She sees a group of people with shrouded faces led by the sole man without a hidden face. He looks old, with his thin grey hair and wrinkled face, but he has muscle enough to rival Aveline and Carver put together. She feels her stomach twinge with anxiety and feels the hairs on the back of her neck rise.
"Careful," she says and places a hand on Hawke's arm. "There's a mage with them."
He nods and moves in front of her again. She finds herself barricaded between familiarity and feels like a burden all over again. She's forced into only being able to watch as the group stops at the bottom of the stair. The leader steps forwards, looks them up and down and pulls his lips back in a sneer as he folds his arms. "So which one of you Dog-lords stole my bounty?"
She can't help but glance at Carver. She sees him tense and his chin drop to his chest. He's ashamed, upset and worried all at once. She knows he thinks himself to blame for all of this and can practically hear his mind blaming himself for whatever might happen. She squeezes his hand and tries her best to offer an encouraging smile. His scowl doesn't go, however.
Hawke's got his arm slightly raised, like he's going for his weapons. But Bethany knows he's stopping Carver from moving. It's something that her family have all these tiny gestures that seem like something else; all garnered from a lifetime of hiding apostates.
"I'm sure we don't know what you're talking about, serah," Hawke says and she can hear the smile on his face. He makes a show of shifting his weight and scratching at his beard. "Unless of course, you mean that ugly fellow we pushed off the boat. But that was for a good cause – he was in desperate need of a bath."
The leader actually smiles at that. Bethany feels the knot in her stomach unwind just a little. "A jester, huh?" he mutters and shakes his head. "Well, it takes all sorts. I'm Meeran, the leader of the Red Irons."
"That's up there with the worst named groups ever," Hawke mutters instantly. "Why not the Black Cauldrons? Maybe even the Green Lanterns?"
She hisses and kicks him in the back of the leg. He shakes it off and tries to give her a smile. Meeran scowls and points a finger at him. "Look, boy, I haven't come here to listen to some Dog-lord fool crack stupid jokes at me. I came here to find out who stole my bounty." He folds his arms again and smirks. "I've got reports that say you and your lot were seen leaving the alleyway where the Winters were chopped into little pieces. So one of you Blighters owes me."
She can practically see the gears turning in her brother's mind as he shrugs and folds his arms. "So what, exactly would we owe you, were we the ones who stole your kill?"
Meeran rubs his fingers and thumb together. "Coin. One of you owes me coin." He shrugs dramatically and picks a coin purse off his belt. "Of course, no one does anything for free these days. You want into the city, right? Of course you do. I can get you all in, providing whatever one of you stole my kill owns up and works off the debt. For three years."
She feels like she's been hit in the gut. Three years is far too long a time to work for someone like him. She wants to say something but she already knows what he's going to say.
"You'll get all of us into the city?" Hawke says.
Meeran presses a hand over his heart. "On my mother's ashes."
"Fine," Hawke says with a shrug. "I killed them."
The knot in her stomach becomes a full blown tear. She launches at him, grabs a handful of his clothes and twists them in her hands. "Brother! What are you doing?"
She sees Carver have much the same reaction as her. But he ends up going with the insanely less subtle method of shoving their brother. "What do you think you're doing? I do something myself and you're there, stealing the credit!"
Hawke removes Bethany's hands from his collar and regains his footing in one simple movement. "Carver," he says, teeth grit and fists clenched, "the nice mercenary is offering to get us into the city. Only one of us has to pay off the debt. Now shut up and let me get you into the city."
"What, and let you claim all the credit?" Carver scoffs. "You'd never let me hear the end of it if you worked off my debt." He folds his arms and glares at Meeran. "I killed them. Get my family into Kirkwall and I'll pay off the debt for you."
"Look," Meeran says, hands in the air. "I don't care who killed them. As far as I'm concerned, the vultures can feast on their corpses and shit them into the ocean. What I'm interested in is the skill of whoever killed them. I get good workers on my team, I'm happy. So sort it out amongst yourselves and I'll start greasing the wheels."
Hawke pretty much shoves Carver aside as he steps down the stairs. "I'm working it off. Get my family into the city and I'll do whatever you want for three years."
"No you won't," Carver growls. He bounces down the stairs and engages in a quick glaring match that he loses. He settles on a scowl instead. "If you're so intent on doing this, fine. But you're not doing this alone." He turns to Meeran and says, "I'm working off the debt too. Both of us work for you for a year and a half."
Bethany fights the urge to bury her face in her hands. Her brothers are always like this, fighting over everything. She remembers the last time she saw something like this – Carver's girlfriend or just friend Peaches. The girl had the hugest crush on their brother and it was something Carver found no end of grief. Then of course there was the time they both signed up to be soldiers at Ostagar. They couldn't do anything without it becoming some sort of competition.
She sighs, moves down the steps and grabs them both by the ears. They yelp and try to fight her off even as she smiles at Meeran. "Excuse my brothers. We'll each work the debt off for a year. Three year's work in one year." She lets go of her brothers' ears and glares at them both. "We're family. We stick together. Isn't that what Mother and Father always taught us?"
Meeran just shrugs. "You're a shrewd haggler. Fine. As long as I'm getting workers out of it, I'm happy. So what about your red-headed friend? Is she going to join in on this nauseating display of family togetherness?"
Aveline goes to say something, but Hawke leaps back up the stairs and grabs her wrist. "Think about this, Aveline. You've already been offered a job with the city guard. You and I both know you won't like having to kill for money. Get something for yourself in the city and work everything off in a way that suits you. You've helped me since the ogre, so let me help you."
She shakes his hand off and hisses at him, "Damn it Hawke! You're not the only person that lost someone that day! Don't try and make me feel guilty for not losing a parent and don't try to let me allow others to incur debts on my behalf!"
"I'm incurring it on Carver's behalf," he counters. "He might be an ass most of the time, but he's still my brother and I will protect him, even if I have to fight him to do so. You pay off your debts in a way you can live with. We'll pay it off in a way we can live with."
Aveline sighs and drops her head. "You're an ass, Hawke," she says, smile on her face. "A well-meaning, brilliant friend, but you're still an ass." She glances at Meeran, face as cold as steel. "I'll pay you back every coin you use in getting me into the city, even if I live on nothing but stale bread and water for a year."
He shrugs and tosses his coin pouch between his hands. "Personally, I don't care how badly you live, as long as I get my money. Eighty sovereigns a head. You each get a cot and one meal a day for the year. Get good enough and we'll reward you well. Understand?"
"Be good, get food and bed. Understood," Hawke says with a smile. Even Shepard joins in with a bark and a wag of his tail. "Insanely high price to get into the city, totally understood."
Bethany smiles as she stamps on his foot. "Ignore my brother, please."
Meeran just regards them with a flat look. "Less smart-mouth. Now sit down, shut up and wait for me to return."
"I can't believe Mother thought Gamlen would be worth seeking out," Carver mutters. "What an asshat."
"It runs in the family, apparently," Hawke says with a smile.
"This year is going to be fun. I can tell already."
Aveline groans and cuffs Hawke on the shoulder. "I didn't think I would be saying this anytime soon Hawke, but I agree with Carver. Shut up."
Bethany sighs and turns away from them all. It's so hard to imagine Mother being from here. Even harder to imagine that she would have come back and had to beg to get back into her own city.
What would she think were she here?
The ogre races towards them all and she freezes. What in the name of the Maker is that thing? It roars with strength enough to knock her off her feet. She rolls forwards, slashes at a darkspawn with her staff and throws lightning into a cluster of the things. She pants, weary and forces fire into existence and at the fiend. It shrugs off her attacks and charges straight past her, chasing after Mother.
Her stomach freezes. She draws in powers that she can barely control and tries to direct them. Something foul breathes down her neck. She screams and suddenly he's there, daggers in the darkspawn's chest. He flashes her a quick grin that turns to horror as she hears the scream.
The sounds of bones crunching fill the air and-
Enough! She fights her tears and lets reality bleed back into her brain. They've gotten into Kirkwall now. All she can do for now is ensure she makes Mother proud.