"You cannot go to a ball like that…" She heard Leandra chastise across the room.
Hawke sighed as she laid her helmet to rest on the table. "I do know that, Mother dear, I have just come in from a job. Please give me time to at least have a bath."
Leandra tutted and turned back to the fire, "Why don't you ever take jobs that don't involve you coming home drenched in blood?"
"I'm not drenched, Mother, I'm just spattered… and not all of my jobs involve blood. There was that time that kitten got caught up the tree and Anders was insistent we get it down… even though we had to go all the way to Sundermount…"
"No blood, but you came back with no eye brows either; that's just as bad."
"Yes well," She pulled her fingers free of her gauntlets," Merrill seemed to think that it was a fantastic idea to fell the tree with a fire spell."
"You looked terrible."
"You should have seen the kitten…"
"Well, tonight will involve no fire spells and no blood."
"Shouldn't be too difficult, after all, Anders is holed up in his clinic, Merrill has been obsessing over that stupid mirror… although Aveline will be there so…" Hawke smirked.
Leandra stared at her for a moment. "I do wish you would make some more… normal friends, dear. Anyway, put on that dress I had made for you, the King of Fereldan will be there afterall."
Hawke hesitated. "By new dress… you mean that 'red thing' that's been hanging in my room?"
"Will I hear the end of it if I don't wear it?"
"Then I shall wear… the 'red thing'."
Leandra grunted. "I will find you a suitable husband if it kills me."
Hawke smiled stiffly. "I don't need you to, Mother, I'm fine."
"Not the elf again…"
"Fenris and I are friends…"
"Andraste guide me, I'd prefer the impoverished mage to him."
Hawke pursed her lips. "You win. I'll go and change."
Leandra smiled sweetly, "Please, dear, don't let me stop you… and do try and do something with your hair, you've been wearing that helmet all day and it shows."
"Really Aveline, please stop laughing, it is most uncouth."
The guardswoman gasped for air as she stifled the sniggers. "My apologies, Mistress Hawke, I just did not expect to witness such a thing."
"I'm wearing a dress, not a silly hat." Hawke snapped irately as she began to rearrange the fabric.
"You look lovely, darling. Don't you agree, Donnic?" Her mother soothed.
The dark haired man hid his amusement much better than his betrothed, but not quite well enough that Hawke hadn't noticed. "The belle of the ball, Mistress Hawke," He smirked, "the young nobles will be lining up to dance with her."
"To what with me? Mother, you said nothing about dancing."
"Nonsense, Hawke," Aveline grinned, "I hear you do an excellent fox-trot…"
Hawke glared, "I don't wish to fall out with you Aveline, but you may wish to sleep with your eyes open tonight."
"Who's planning on sleeping?" She shot a quick, sultry look toward Donnic who smiled shyly.
"That is actually disgusting."
Leandra smiled, "Nonsense, dear, they mean they'll be on patrol."
It was Hawke's turn to smirk as her friend matched her hair with her skin colour. "And then some…"
Donnic cleared his throat. "Anyway, we are here to collect you ladies and escort you both to the Keep. The Viscount and the King of Ferelden await your pleasure."
Hawke snorted mockingly. "You are escorting me?"
Aveline's stance stiffened. "He's a member of the guard, Hawke. You will show him absolute respect, am I clear?"
"Him, fine; you have lost that luxury for the evening. I am officially annoyed at you for the duration of the night."
A faint smile returned to the red-head's lips. "Fine. Come along then, Lady Hawke." Donnic spluttered into a laugh.
Hawke said nothing for a moment. "Make that a week, Guard Captain." And she stormed past her friend with her mother at her heels.
The night time air was refreshing and cooled her cheeks. Hawke gave a disheartened sigh, fancy functions weren't her thing… although this was a fact her mother refused to acknowledge, apparently. She'd much rather be in the Hanged Man, destroying Varric at back-gammon with a pint of whatever swill they were trying to pass as ale that evening in her hand.
However, the arrival of the new Fereldan King had knocked the whole city on its arse. Young noble women giggled about his good looks, the refugees whispered of a new hope to return home, merchants grumbled that their cheap labourers might abandon them to rebuild their country…
The Blight had ended, true enough. That was cause to rejoice. But she didn't see why it should involve her dressing like an Orlesian peacock and her mother trying to marry her off to some spineless snob.
Her thoughts faded as Aveline cleared her throat. "You do look alright, you know. You just look like one of them, and not you. You look very… refined."
"What makes you think I care?"
"How about the fact that you've stormed off and left your mother about ready to pass out back there?"
"Really?" Hawke turned to check the path behind her, her mother was nowhere to be seen.
"She's apparently decided to wear some Orlesian shoes and she thinks that her feet may physically fall off… but Donnic is with her so we can wait. I've told him he can carry her on his back if it comes to it."
Hawke couldn't help but chuckle. "So you and my mother will have something in common...?"
"When I ride him, Hawke, it isn't on his back."
"Of course, my bad… and please don't tell me things like that again…"
"Oh, and your mother is quite upset with you. Apparently she bought shoes for you as well, and you are quite clearly not wearing them since you managed to jog half the way to the Keep…"
Hawke stopped. "Those were shoes?"
Aveline smiled fondly, "What did you think they were?"
"Some sort of weapon? The pointy bit on the end could easily cave someone's skull…"
"…that's the 'heel', Hawke."
"Well no wonder my mother's feet are falling off then."
"So what are you wearing under there if not the deadly shoes?" Hawke shrugged and lifted her dress slightly. "Ferelden boots?" Aveline groaned and rubbed her temples. "Maker help me, Hawke, how can you wear an Orlesian dress with the boots you served at Ostagar in?"
"A tribute to our new king?"
Aveline sighed. "Look, when we get in there, I'll get you some dress shoes. No heel, you'll be fine."
Hawke gave a sly smile, "and how do you know where to find fancy shoes, Aveline?"
The Guard Captain frowned, "I don't wear armour all the time, you know…"
"Really? You have other clothes?"
"…Do you want the shoes or not?"
"If it's no trouble?"
Aveline gave a soft laugh, "you're always trouble; I don't know how I put up with you…"
"I could suggest that it's my flawless charm, or possibly my unrivalled good looks, but I don't want to come across as vain..." The pale swordswoman grinned.
"By the way, I was wrong. That dress does suit you. Just don't go getting all fancy on me now, alright?"
"I'll be back to rolling around in the blood and guts with you before you know it."
Aveline wore a horrified expression, "well, when you put it like that..."
"Maker's breath, Hawke, you do scrub up nicely, don't you?" Hawke twisted to see Varric coming down the stairs from the Keep. "Been waiting for you, didn't realise you'd be in a dress…" He chortled.
"For every clever word from you, Varric, I shall remove a body part when I get my sword back."
"No fair, Hawke, all my words are clever… you'd leave Bianca a widow!"
"Alright, I'll alter the threat. Don't comment on the dress and Bianca need never fear."
"All I ask, my friend." He gave a small bow.
"Shall we go in, then? I'm sure no men will sass me with my trusty dwarf escort."
Varric laughed, "Hawke, even with all your wealth you can't afford me- I'm a taken man, and I'm on business… official business." He added swiftly when he caught the guard woman's glare.
"And we're waiting for your mother…" Aveline reminded her sternly.
"Well, the Captain of the Guard is waiting for her. And I'm sure that Mother wouldn't want me wasting good flirting time."
"You know that the broody elf probably isn't here…"
Hawke sucked back her retort. "I know that, but I can't flirt with you; Bianca would get jealous."
The dwarf chuckled, "you've got me there. Though, I guess Bianca would understand me doing a favour for a dear friend… this once."
"Then escort me in, 'dear friend'." Hawke smiled and took the hand he held up. They began to walk up the stairs to the Keep.
"Oh, Aveline, do lighten up."
"I'll wait here for Leandra. But after this, Hawke, we're even. No more holding the laughing thing over my head."
"Fine!" Hawke waved. "See you inside."
"Of course you will," the shields woman nodded, "I'm not staying out here all night and missing your disastrous flirting attempts."
"I've three words for you, Aveline… Copper. Marigold. Wreath."
"… Get out of my sight."
Hawke gave another cheeky wave and retreated swiftly after Varric. The dwarf shook his head and smirked as she reached him. "You're a braver soul than I am, Hawke. Aveline so much as glares at me and I piss myself."
"You should, I imagine she's got a lot of dirt on you…"
"Not that much dirt…"
They reached the top of the stairs and Seneschal Bran bowed his head. "Whom do I have the honour of announcing to the other guests, Lady…?"
"Hawke?" Bran blinked in surprise, "As in Serah Hawke? Well, don't you look… different…?" He glanced her up and down furtively.
Varric snorted a laugh under his breath but quickly stifled it when she glared in his direction. "Yes, yes, it's all very confusing, isn't it? I put on a dress and the whole of Kirkwall forgets who I am and that I can kill them without breaking a sweat…"
"I didn't mean…" Bran stuttered, he coughed to clear his throat and regained his composure. "I meant only that you look quite the lady in that attire. It is quite becoming of you… much more so than all that metal…"
"You mean 'armour'?"
"And was that a 'compliment'?"
He gave her a shrewd look, almost as if he'd finally recognised her. "It was. But I wouldn't get used to them if I were you."
"And I thought we were going to be best friends from now on."
The usual expression of mild disgust returned to his features. "I'll announce you now, shall I? And this is…?"
"Seneschal Bran, I am wounded that you do not recognise me. I am Varric of the Dwarven Merchant's guild; I represent the City of Kirkwall back in Orzammar…"
"We don't have a Dwarven Merchant's guild representative for Kirkwall." The red-head snapped as he folded his arms.
Varric smiled sweetly, "My dear Seneschal, I am sure that the Viscount and the King of Ferelden would be very interested to hear how you denied entry to a Ferelden merchant, here only to ease transactions between our two great…"
Bran waved his hand as if to silence Varric. "Fine, fine. Do what you want." He glanced up to Hawke and sighed, "It's not like you won't anyway." He opened the door for her and stepped inside. "Lady Hawke and Varric of the Merchant's guild."
Hawke grunted as she walked passed him into the large room, "He could have dropped the 'lady' part."
"I think it suits you. Now, if you'll excuse me I think I'll go mingle…"
Hawke snatched his hand back as he took it from hers. "You can't leave me alone with these people, Varric!"
"Sure I can, find the bar, have a few drinks, bat your eye lashes at a few unsuspecting victims… you never know, you might get lucky."
"Or some poor soul will get very unlucky…"
"Have faith, my dear Hawke." Varric scuttled away into the crowd and Hawke was left alone. She muttered a few obscenities before analysing her surroundings. It didn't take her long to locate the source of ale and wine. She made her way gingerly to the table in the corner, being very careful to avoid all eye contact and push on.
It's not that she was dead-set against the idea of courting, but sadly (at least for her mother) weak nobles sewn to their own purses were not her type. Those who wore so many colours that they resembled a fruit salad… even less so.
Hawke sighed a smile at the bartender. He looked barely beyond a boy, and his wide eyed amazement at the finery around him betrayed his humble status, though he had clearly seen these sights before. He fussed for a minute cleaning the bar; "Sorry, most guests just pounce on the waiters for a drink, not usual for them to approach the table directly… Mead or wine?"
"Ale?" She asked hopefully.
He scanned her up and down, a little shocked at the request. "My… apologies, I thought you were…"
"A lady? No, perish the thought! Though I may be interested if you have any Agrisio Pavanii?"
The young man's eyes lit up, as if his passions had been appealed to. "An excellent choice… um… my lady! So few people appreciate such nectar. A rare Tevinter tipple, indeed. I shall see to it immediately. I believe we store such a fine wine in the Keep's cellar."
Hawke smiled. "I'd bring up a few bottles if I were you."
"As you will, lady." The small man scuffled away excitedly.
Hawke watched him go with a small smile. She didn't know what she'd said to please him, but she was glad to be of service. It didn't take long for the raven haired youth to reappear, fumbling with four bottles of his finest vintage.
The swordswoman frowned a little, "Won't you be in a bit of trouble if the Viscount realises you've given four bottles of his finest to his guests?"
"Not at all, miss." The young man smiled, "in fact, he can't stand the stuff. Any visitors from the Imperium always bring him a bottle with their compliments, I swear, my lord grumbles every time. He'll be delighted to know I've managed to finally clear our stock… and that we've finally had people cultured enough to appreciate it."
"Four doesn't seem like a massive stock…"
"Just you wait, miss." His grin widened, "This is but the beginning! I'll bring up a few more in a bit. We'll soon find you a noble lord to carry you home."
The blonde didn't know whether to be insulted or amused. "What makes you think that I'm not already spoken for?"
His original flustered demeanour returned faintly. "Forgive me, my lady. But I've never known a … 'lady' to ask for ale."
Hawke couldn't suppress the laugh and his smile returned. "Don't worry about it. But I'm in no rush to find a noble lord, especially one who will have to carry me home."
"Of course." He poured the deep red into a fine crystal glass and passed it to her. "Should I keep an eye out anyway, miss? I'd hate to see you left passed out on the Viscount's floor."
"You better had." She sighed and turned to face the crowd once more. "What can you tell me about my fellow guests? Anyone to avoid?"
The young man leaned over the table, in a laid back manner she was fairly sure the Viscount wouldn't approve of. "Most are the norm. I'm usually the waiter, just been promoted for the night by the Seneschal when the barman got sick. But that means I know more than he would about these. Him there…" She noticed his accent had slipped into a more common dialect, as if he had relaxed in her presence. He nodded towards a fair haired individual in such horrific looking clothing that he had to be Orlesian. "He's the Compte de… something. He's a notorious womaniser. Likes to get ladies drunk and have his way."
The individual in question caught her staring, and a slick smile spread across his pasty face. She dropped her eyes and shuddered. "An upstanding gentleman, I'm sure."
"And him!" He nodded towards a frighteningly tall, lean man in a dark green robe with deeply tanned skin. He had long dark hair, several piercings and an icy stare. "He's Andwin, apparently from Rivain. He's always here, trying to renegotiate trade to any Kirkwaller who'll listen. If you get close to him, he's got markings all over his face. I think he's trying to be pleasant in his own way, but he just makes you feel so small…"
Hawke sipped at her wine and recalled what Isabella had told her about tattoos and piercings signing rank and importance. "A fine fellow for chat, indeed."
"And that," the dark haired man risked a wrist flick in the next victim's direction, but as her eyes swung to look, her gaze locked with that of a young, tall man's across the room, who was staring at her intently. His dark brown eyes seemed quizzical and his lips were curved with a slight smile. Hawke felt her cheeks flush and her eyes dropped to the drink in her hand. But still she couldn't help but risk another peak at the sandy haired man to see if he was still looking. His eyes were still on her, though she noticed that he kept glancing down to a figure on his left. Although she tried to peer, the figure was blocked from view. Someone sitting, perhaps?
Heat rushed to her cheeks, and she turned to see if there was anyone else around that could possibly have his attention. There didn't seem to be anyone about.
Hawke risked raising her eyes to him once more, and this time his lips moved.
Hawke tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Two hundred? What was two hundred? The glances to the seated character on his left became swifter and his expression became more incredulous. Hawke couldn't help but down her drink and move towards him.
She was careful to avoid his line of sight and made her way cautiously in that direction. She cursed when she felt a light tug on her wrist. Hawke turned to come face to face with the Compte de something. That sickly grin spread across his features once more and he sucked in a breath to speak.
Hawke tugged herself free in one swift movement. "Sorry. Not interested, bye!" She quickened her pace to increase the distance between them, but before she could check, a familiar voice rang in her ears…
"I shit you not! After she felled all those darkspawn… at least two hundred, she swung her sword and not only cut down eight rock wraiths… but sliced an ogre in half…!" The tale was met with gasps.
"A wonder woman indeed… I'll bet she's no shortage of suitors."
"You'd think that but no, I think she's got her heart set on something particular…oh! Hawke! We were just talking about you…"
Hawke turned slowly to come face to face with the seated figure of Varric, aptly holding court of a sizeable group of nobles… and the sandy haired young man, who now stared at her intently once more. As were the rest of the enthralled guests. Her cheeks flushed.
Hawke chuckled nervously and tucked that same stubborn lock of hair behind her ear once more. She gave a fleeting head nod to those looking at her and fled into the crowd.
This time she did not care to step so delicately, Hawke walked swiftly, brusquely brushing anyone to one side. Someone caught her wrist once more. Hawke's other hand clenched to a fist. She spun, ready to smack the Compte de something straight in his disgusting smile, but her fist quickly loosened when she saw her mother's angry features. With the same movement as before, she broke free, "Not now, Mother."
Hawke marched onwards, past the poor raven haired youth who passed her a bottle without question; both fists clenched now, she all but ran towards Aveline's quarters. She slammed the door behind her as she reached the bottom of the stairs and retreated to Aveline's office. She dragged the desk chair over and slumped into it.
Hawke uncorked the bottle of red without hesitation and took a large gulp. She knew that Varric's tales were taller than two qunari put together, of course, but she never expected to be there listening to them with all eyes fixed on her. She supposed she felt embarrassed more than anything. Hawke didn't know who the sandy haired man was, and she didn't really care, but for some reason thinking about how he had looked at her made her cheeks redden again.
She took another swig and sighed. The door creaked open behind her; she turned, fully expecting to see her furious mother or an apologetic Varric. Hawke saw neither; she saw the Compte de something leaning coyly against the door frame. "Mon Cherie, we are alone at last."
"No, I was alone… and now you're here. So I'm not anymore." Hawke grunted in annoyance.
"Ahhh, but you tease me. You must know I could not resist such an opportunity?"
Apparently her most terrifying glare was doing nothing to put him off. She supposed his voluminous clothes might be distorting his vision. "Serah, I don't know your name; so I'm not sure how I'm meant to know what you can resist… or what 'opportunity' I've given you."
"Why, you cannot deny the tension between us? How you've been playing 'hard to get' all evening?"
"Oh is that what that was? And there was me thinking that you were playing 'easy to resist'…"
The tall bulky man approached her and leaned downwards towards her, his hands rested on the chair arms by her waist. "It seems that you do not have much respect for your betters, hmmmmm? Perhaps I could teach you some manners?"
"Given your conduct so far, I find that unlikely."