Chapter 19

Hawke swam in a fog of darkness and confusion, he was aware of himself but he was completely unaware of his surroundings. He steadily felt his mind begin to rise to consciousness and he felt the physical world begin to form itself around him as his senses return.

As the physical world returned he also noticed the familiar sensation of the world of the fade falling away. He spent almost as much time in the fade as he did in the normal world these days. The duties of a Magister were demanding and magic was at the heart of nearly all of them. At times he found it necessary to seek the power and answers from the fade and it's….residents.

He never dealt with demons, he was a magister but he was not stupid. It was the one thing that he and Merrill never agreed on and he and learned that it was better not to talk about it. But thankfully a number of benevolent spirits were able to provide valuable insight into a number of magic's that had aided him in his rise and holding of power.

Because of these efforts he had become even more intimately familiar with the Fade then even most mages were. And so it was easy for him to recognise the sighs and sensations of the realm as he felt it fade into the distance.

As he arose he felt his magic making attempts to heal the injuries that were just now becoming noticeable to his pain sensors. He was a prodigy of offense magic's both obvious and subtle like the primal and eutrophic schools, but he was sorely lacking in skill with the spirit school. His father was the same; Bethany had shown promise in that direction. But his father had taught them both what he had been able too. He often said that offense without defence and vice versa was unacceptable weakness.

Now what mediocre skill he did have was subconsciously being summoned to heal his wounds and the poison he now felt in his body. But even as he felt it he noticed that the poison was largely diminished and was under attack from medicine and magic that was not his own. The poison was in remission and slowly it was being purged from his body as the magic took effect.

As he rose to the brink consciousness he could sense the presence of others around his body and the bed that he now realised he was lying on. His mind flicked to his last memories as he remembered the bridge, the Arishok, the sudden pain of the arrow, MERRILL!

His eyes snapped open as the fear of what had possibly happened after he lost consciousness propelled him to the surface of lucidity and burst through the surface. If his body was not still weak he would have bolted upright in his bed, but as it was, his head merely rose up from the pillows.

His sudden motion startled the people gathered around his bed and rushed over, he immediately recognised Merrill, Tam, his bodyguards, his personal healer Asclepius and a number of his students and helpers. Merrill threw herself at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, squeezing him so tight that for a second he thought he might have been reduced to gasping for breath. Thankfully Asclepius pulled her away from him as he got his breathing under control.

"My lady I have to ask you to control yourself for the moment, he is still delicate."

Merrill nodded sheepishly for a second and then turned back to Hawke and gently settled herself down on the side of the bed and placed her hand on the side of his face gently. "Ma Vhenan, I was so worried about you, I thought I had lost you". As she spoke tears began to form in her eyes, whether from sadness, relief, or a mixture of both, Hawke could not tell. Regardless, he raised his arm with great effort and brought his hand to envelop hers.

"I thought you would know I would not be leaving so easily. After all if I did who would stop you from swinging on the chandelier at home?" He grinned as he used the joke that had become common since he first caught her at it in Kirkwall.

Merrill, blushed and made to playfully slap his arm, then stopped. She was too relived he was alright to even mock hit him. And instead she lay down beside him and let him place his arm around her as she snuggled against him and closed her eyes.

Others in the room coughed and cleared their thought at the (what many would call inappropriate) display while in public. But Merrill likely didn't even notice. For all the years as an unofficial noble in Kirkwall and an official noble in Tevinter, she was still the dalish girl at heart. And she was too busy enjoying the feeling of Hawke's breathing and warm next to her.

Hawke made no move to disturb her. After the horror of her being taken by the Qunari and him being on death's door on seconds later he was more than happy to have her there. After ensuring she was comfortable, he turned to face his other visitors. While he had been focusing on Merrill another person had come into the room. It was Captain General Caladrius, it was likely someone had fetched him as soon as Hawke had woken up.

It was Hawke's policy that he and Caladrius never are in the same place during the campaign unless it was absolutely necessary. They were both the top ranking commanders in Seheron, and if one of them fell, then the army would still have a stable chain of command. But if they both fell then the army would be leaderless and the campaign could be ruined by that.

Of course, his assassination attempt and time at death's door was reason enough to contact the other supreme commander of the Army of the North.

Caladrius made his way to the foot of the bed and stood next to Tam who was also looking intensely relived to see him awake and recovering. Caladrius saluted him and stood to attention. Despite his rank being one of the highest a Soporati could possibly achieve in the Imperium he was still unquestionably subservient to the orders of a Tevinter Magister.

Hawke gave a weak salute and motioned for him to stand at ease. "Caladrius, good to see you again. Tell me, how long have I been asleep, and has anything important happened in the campaign?"

Caladrius stood at ease and then began to speak.

"No my lord, there have been a few skirmishes and a number of small village's on the border have slipped under Qunari control, while others have been claimed by our own forces. Our pacification forces our continuing their work and has been forced to make some examples, but your instructions have held. As for how long you have been here, it has been three days. However there is a matter that is in need of attention."

Hawke was instantly on edge. "What has happened, General?"

Caladrius shifted uneasily on his feet and eventually began "After you were brought back to Alam, we tried to keep word of your condition and the circumstances from the ears of the soldiers and the civilians. We did not want their morale to be hindered or them to have thoughts about disloyalty." He stopped but it was obvious he was not finished.

"Understood, continue." Hawke said. Caladrius cleared his throat and continued.

"Despite our best efforts the soldiers learned what happened and….they reacted poorly to the news of the Qunari's treachery and your condition." Hawke nodded and he felt a small chill beginning to settle in his stomach. Caladrius carried on

"A significant number of garrison soldiers vented their rage on the populace in the cities and on the rural communities. Many unauthorised, actions and crimes took place before the commanders managed to get them under control but the damage is difficult to repair or forget. A number of riots and small scale rebellions broke out, but they were easily destroyed. But the tension of our occupation of much of the island has changed drastically, and the effects are many."

Hawke cursed with as much fury as his weakened body allowed him to display. This was a disaster; his campaign was built around a hearts and minds philosophy, and now that was in ruins. He didn't know what had happened in the incidents Caladrius mentioned, but he could easily imagine the nature of such things. And while it seemed that it was common knowledge that it had been unauthorised by him that would not matter much to the people of Seheron.

This could be disastrous to the campaign against the Qunari, and it seemed that now his actions had to be dictated by the impulsive actions of his soldiers. While he was in some way touched at his soldier's show of devotion. This was unacceptable. He had hoped that he would be able to plan out his next move against the Qunari in the war with time. He had planned to use espionage, diplomacy and force in equal measure to unravel the Qunari's grip on the eastern side of the island before sending his army in.

What few commanders realised is that the civilians of a hostile territory were more dangerous than an army. Civilians could stop supply lines, raid bases, destroy infrastructure, pass information to the enemy, and assassinate soldiers and commanders. The Ferelden rebellion against Orlais was evidence of how dangerous losing the support of the people could be. His efforts had been focused on bringing the Seheron people into the fold of the Imperium with the carrot, not the stick! Now all his efforts were undone.

It was all he could do not to set he bed on fire as his hands bawled into fists. He tried not to tense up to much for fear of disturbing Merrill, who by this point had fallen asleep. He supposed that she had been up for many nights since the arrow incident.

"My lord?" Caladrius was still looking at him for orders or questions. Hawke turned back to him as him.

"Make the preparations for the 1st through 7th Legions ready to march east, and contact the fleet order them to assemble in the port of Alam. Also send a messenger to Qarinus and order the army there to get ready to journey to Seheron."

Caladrius nodded, but then asked "What is the plan my lord?

"Are new objective is to end this war quickly before the Qunari have a chance to capitalize on this, and believe me they will. And with the population against us the risk of the Qunari learning about our other plans is greater than ever. Therefore we are marching for Seheron city; we are launching an assault on land and sea." Hawke rattled off.

Caladrius was quick to point out something that was worth mentioning. "My lord with the civilian situation so tenuous, is it a good idea to launch the majority of our forces to claim more territory. Their absence and our weakened occupation forces might be all it takes to initiate a rebellion in favour of the Qunari".

Hawke was once again impressed with the man who he had selected as his second in command. "That is a valid concern, general. The garrison forces will be enough to maintain order. Remember that unlike the rest of Thedas, unless you are in the Qunari military, you are forbidden from even owning weapons, let alone trained in their use. That is one law the Qunari have forced on Seheron, at least in the urban centres. Anyway, the other three legions will remain in the area, they can handle anything that happens in the rural area's or move to the cities if need be."

Caladrius considered on his words and nodded his agreement regarding the civilian populace. But he voiced another concern. "The Qunari have many more men on Seheron, they will not just let us march straight at Seheron city unopposed. We can use our 'shadows' (code name for the Tal-Vashoth infiltrators) to gain the upper hand quickly, but once used they will have less effect in other areas."

Hawke did realise that. He had hoped to use the Tal-Vashoth on Seheron city itself, but it might be better to use them, to sweep the Qunari opposition from most of eastern Seheron and then use his combined of might armies, fleets and infiltrators to capture the city. As it was he needed to bring this war to close fast.

"I will consider it General, that will be all…all of you." He gestured for all of them to leave. As one they stood straight and bowed before moving toward the door, Tam stopping long enough to give him a smile to show her relief that he was alright. He nodded back and then a thought struck him.

"General, what direction did the arrow that hit me comes from?"

Caladrius paused and contemplated for a second. "The escort claimed it came from downstream of the bridge, roughly from the tree line. Why do you ask sir?"

Hawke was not sure why he did ask, it seemed pretty obvious to all what had happened. The Qunari had tried to eliminate him once their Arishok was back in their hands. It was a calculated attempt to cripple the Tevinter war effort. It made logical sense for the Qunari to attempt something like this. But somehow something just did not fit right in Hawke's understanding of the event. He hated next to no use for the Qunari, and if he ever saw one again it would be thousand years to soon. But this assassination attempt didn't seem like their style.

In fact assassination in itself did not seem like the Qunari style. From what he had seen when the Qunari killed or attempted to kill someone they proclaimed loudly why they had done so, often in accordance with the Qun. And as much as he disliked them personally, he admitted that the Qunari were very honourable, although that was probably not the right word to use. Striking from the shadows didn't seem like them.

But then again the fact that the Tallis rank existed hinted that they were not above using assassination to further the aims of the Qun. Maybe he had expected too much from them when he had proposed the prisoner exchange. If so then he intended to show them that he was not the only one to utilise treachery and cunning to win this war.