Dragon Age, 9:31 – Act I: year one – past
"No! Andraste's tits, human. Do you know how many people want to go on this expedition?"
"But we heard you were going into the deep roads. Surely you'll need as much help as you can get."
"No!" the burly dwarf repeated, turning around to glare Carver and I in the face. "You're too late, already done. This is the sort of adventure that can make a man for life. I'm not about to take any chances hiring random humans." Did all dwarf's braided breads flap around like that when they yelled?
I tried not to be offended by the tone he used, like I was inferior to him somehow – either with age or race... I was betting on race. I sucked that up and placed a hand on Carver's wrist as to stall any tension; if I have learned anything in the past three months of service, it is that Carver is about as snide as myself with it comes to jumping right into something. "We have both fought and killed darkspawn before," I told the dwarf, calmly. Me, quite a bit more than him. But I held back that bit. Suspicious behavior and such. "How many of your hired men could say the same?"
"The men I've hired are experienced. I'm sure there isn't much of a difference in killing darkspawn."
Oh, ho, my dwarven fiend, there is quite a big difference. "Let me tell you as a favor–"
He made a noise to silence me, annoyed. "Get in line human," he said, tossing a thumb behind his shoulder. "Half of Kirkwall wants to be my best friend right now. I'll have no favors from you."
Bartrand's arrogance showed. He talked with wild gestures and a gruff voice, and when he swayed a little in his walk, I almost could imagine him and Oghren being pretty good drinking buddies. He turned away from us, muttering under his breath, "Looking for a quick way out of the slums, you and all the other Fereldan people in that dump." And then he was gone, and Carver twisted to face me.
His expression showed he was going to blame me for this problem as well. Hadn't it been me who suggested we investigate this rumored expedition in the first place? I'd waited around all afternoon to get the information about this particular dwarf's location, so I'm a bit irritated with the fact that Carver, like he always does, jumps on me like I'm all the wrong in the world and I have to fix it, right then.
"Now what are you going to do?" he said, and I had an urge to correct him; what we are going to do. "We've got nothing to stop the next person who tries to sell us out. This expedition was our chance!"
As I, he's worried about the guards finding out we have no valid place in the city; with our service to Meeran drawing to an end, so does the strength of our hold. Technically speaking, we're still in the city (as Meeran has pointed out very often) and that was the original deal. We hadn't anticipated the viscount growing more strict in the past months, and Carver had stretched himself thin with concern for his mother and his sister at the thought of them being kicked out like the guards have begun to do.
"Caela!" Carver snaps, irritated by my silence. "This is serious. Are you listening?"
To appease Carver, I say, "Don't get your knickers into a twist. We've made a name for ourselves over the last few months, we'll find something to get us out of the rut. If not that dwarf, something else."
"Starting a business? Getting into a less illegal trade than slitting throats? I'll find something."
"You have to," he agrees, nodding, before turning back out of the bustling square. We stood in one of many wide paved places up in High Town, and I turned with him. He goes on: "We need coin, or status, something we can hide behind. As long as we are Fereldan we are no one. And no one is expendable."
I hum an acknowledgment, not entirely listening. My eyes traced over a gathered group of dwarfs. They were laughing uproariously over some bawdy story. One sipped from a suspicious looking bottle of amber. It wasn't even noon! Then I realized Carver stopped walking a few feet back.
I skid to a halt just at the edge of the square that led into the next. Carver scowled at me, and I flashed a hasty smile. "You were saying something?"
He snorted humorlessly and clomped over to my side. "Maybe Gamlen has someone who can talk to Bartrand."
I made a face. "Your – our – uncle's not exactly the most reliable tool in the shed." I glanced around to make sure no one heard my slip up. I was still getting used to going by a different name. Three months somehow hadn't been enough – and it wasn't like they made me feel like a part of the Hawke family.
"But he's all we got," Carver sighed.
"Maker save us," I laughed.
"Well!" he hissed above me, pushing me forward to walk again; I did so roughly, not liking his force. "We might as well ask him. Otherwise I might be stuck with your ideas.. and I like breathing, thanks."
"Oh, you've made a joke!" I exclaimed, sarcasm heavy. I didn't like it when he brought up the dragon incident; I thought of Wesley and Melina, dead. His usual scowl fell back into place. Something I could always rely on: Carver's scowl. It fit him perfectly. I bet if Alistair were with me he'd ca–
No Alistair thinking!
I turned sharply away from Carver, suddenly angry. More with myself than him. I needed to keep to my strict rules; the ones that involved not thinking of Alistair and imagining a future here in Kirkwall.
(I planned on leaving Kirkwall rather soon; as soon as I assured the other's silence; as soon as I secured their place here, and I had a new place to go; as soon as I figured out why we shared the name Amell.)
We walked out into the next square and, agitated, I tucked my arms tightly around my chest. I was so insistent on not thinking of Alistair, not paying attention to the people flourishing about us. My thoughts were on pointedly trivial things.. like what I'd have for dinner tonight. Or what I'd drink.
I wasn't watching where I was going... when a man with fiery red hair bumped into my side. Jarred, I stumbled to the left, and I fumbled to think of how Leliana would word her apology – no! Don't think of her either! Bethany – but before the apology formulated in my head, my hand rested on my belt.
(I'd met Zevran, I knew all the signs.)
(Even if I was not supposed to be thinking of him, either.)
"Hey!" I shouted, whipping around just fast enough to see the culprit sprinting away.
Carver looked around like he'd forgotten where he was.
What a incompetent fool! I gritted my teeth, reaching for my staff. That would be all the money I possessed. That would be the money that would bought the Hawke household's dinner for the night.
I was about to throwing the man off his feet and into a wall with a stonefist, when I an arrow sung through the air, heading for the thief. It caught him in the shoulder, showing good aim on the shooter, and the arrow had enough kick in it that the kid was knocked against the building on his right.
Re-slinging my staff and shoving Carver along with me, I approached the only person within the square holding a cross-bow – or any sort of bow – and, of course, it was our second dwarven encounter of the day.
I hardly caught his words; "I knew a guy once who could take every coin out of your pocket just by smiling at you." They were silky smooth, calm, as if shooting people in the middle of High Town was a hobby of his. "But you? You don't have the style to work High Town let alone the merchants, kid."
The dwarf reached the disabled thief, looking the kid over consideringly. He coughed up the money pouch. "You might want to find yourself a... new line of work." Then the dwarf lifted a short arm, connected to a squat fist and delivered a strong blow to the side of the guy's face. In the same instant he ripped out the arrow, the redhead mewling, before dropping to his knees. "Off you go, now."
When the redhead made no move, the dwarf nudged him in the shins, raised the cross-bow –
At the sight of the weaponry, the redhead was up and running.
I thought I would like this dwarf.
He was as short as any, but he wore something of style; a nice jacket, fitted pants, a large buckled belt and some interestingly colored shirt underneath, left hanging open up top to show off an impressive amount of blonde chest hair. And a plus, that my poverty trained mind noticed? Expensive jewelry.
Carver looked distrusting, but he never has good judgment. I'd learned that good companions could come from anywhere, ranging from the assassin that tried to kill you and failed, even to the giant rock golem that once stood lifeless in the middle of a town square. I smiled broadly at that new dwarf.
He tossed me my coin poach and I caught it easily.
"How do you do?" he inquired, tucking away the bloodied arrow. Closer, now, I could see his hair was a dirty blonde, pulled back into a tie and a shadow of a beard covered his jaw. He had a low sloping nose, broken in three places, and the engaging smile sold him to me; he had to look of a guy who you wanted to befriend in a bar fight. "Names Varric Tethra." He inclined his head toward the way we came. "I apologize for Bartrand. He wouldn't know an opportunity if it hit him square in the jaw."
He'd been watching us? Good sign. "And you would?"
"I would. What my brother doesn't realize is that we need someone like you." Carver snorted under his breath again; not doubt thinking anything to do with anyone wanting me laughable. I resisted the urge to elbow him (something I learned from Bethany) and listened to Varric. "He would never admit it either, he's too proud. I, however, am quite practical." I believed that. There was no arrogance in him.
I nodded. "There must be a way to get your brother to hire us on..."
"We don't need another hireling," he defused me. "We need a partner. The truth is that Bartrand has been tearing his beard out trying to fund this on his own, but he can't do it. Invest in the expedition fifty sovereigns and he can't refuse." A grin for a giant stole his face. "Not with me there to vogue for you."
I glanced over at Carver. "I'm.. prepared to accept.."
Carver shrugged. "I have no other choice but to agree, don't I?"
Everyone has a choice, an insistent voice rose in my mind. It sent a violent chill across my flesh. I felt clammy for a moment; I was afraid the two might have seen it. The voice was unmistakably Alistair's, as much as I wanted to deny it, and what Carver said were once words I had said many times to him.
The worst of which, I'd been so close.. so close to... "Everyone has a choice!" Alistair said to me then, shouted at me actually. His words had carried across the roof of the Denerim tower, whipped into my flesh as hard as the wind. He sounded so angry at me. He was so breathless from having fought by my side for so long. And on that rooftop.. when I nearly.. and then.. I closed my eyes to clear my thoughts.
I was breaking the rules again.
"The only problem is we don't have enough coin.." I murmured, opening my eyes to meet Varric's gaze. They both pretended as if I hadn't just gone strange and subdued. I appreciated them for that.
"You need to think big," said Varric, like he was selling us something. (Though, I suppose he was.) "There is only a brief moment of time after a Blight when the deep roads won't be crawling with Darkspawn. The treasure you find down there could set you and your family up for life."
"Easy words to say, harder to do," Carver commented.
"Nothing ever is," I retorted, looking down at the hand that still held onto my coin poach. I didn't have nearly enough to be even half of fifty; I would have once, before I bought our way into this city. Working the expedition won't be easy by any measure, but there will be a lot less Darkspawn to face than the last time I was there. There would, however, be memories there for my to face. Just when I hoped to escape my past. This is a once in a life time chance, I thought, severely. A one time deal, Tera.
This could set Caela up for life, away from everything, for good.
"Just fifty?" I asked.
"Just fifty," Varric assured, then held out a hand for me to shake. "We work together, you and I, and before you know it you'll have all the gold and status you'll ever want or need. What do you say?"
What was more risk? I took the hand, shook it."You have a deal."
"Perfect! Kirkwall is crawling with work! You set aside some coin from every job you'll have the money in no time." That was for sure. Work was everywhere. No one ever solves their own problems.
"Maybe Aveline could find us some work. She's got that position in the city guard now," Carver suggested, and I'm pretty sure it was the first useful thing he'd said all day. I considered that, hooking my coin poach back onto my belt. I was preparing to go home when Varric added something more.
"We should talk privately when you get the chance. The Hanged Man, maybe. I'll be there when I'm not with you or walking around apologizing to those my brother pisses off. Pay me a visit soon."
"Soon," I confirmed.
A few days had passed since meeting Varric. Carver and I had relayed our news of impending partnership with Bartrand for the Deep Roads Expedition to the rest of the household, to which was little enthusiasm (expect from Gamlen, who seemed enthused at the idea that soon we would not longer be found lounging around his already too small house). Predictably, Bethany asked to go on it, too.
To which Carver and their mother both expressly forbid.
Of which resulted in a late night begging from her to me; "Please, Tera, can't you do anything?"
"You know I can't. They don't listen to me."
"They do, sometimes. More than me. Carver... he does listen to you about somethings."
"Not about you. About battle tactics maybe." I sighed, and she sunk onto the edge of my bed. Her hand found mine – I'd long grown used to her touching the past three months, so I managed not to flinch away from her – and she drew up to my side, forcing me to meet her riveted gaze. "Bethany –"
She cut me off: "You'll be a partner of the expedition. You could say I can come. I'll heal."
Warily, I replied, "You're not trained to –"
"No! I've been practicing. I'm so much better than before..." She faltered as she thought of the dragon and of her sister, whom I knew she regretted not being able to heal. "I can help you guys stay healthy."
Unable to describe the horror at the thought of how she was and when and where she was practicing, I merely said, "You'll distract Carver, and Leandra would never forgive me if I let you come. I'm sorry."
After lingering a few hopeful seconds, Bethany decided I would, in fact, not help her and, looking offended, she climbed off my bed, slammed the door and continued not to speak to me the rest of the week. Which was fine by me; I was too busy doing a handful of dirty jobs with Carver to notice.
Those few jobs got us little coin, though. Barely enough to make a dent. It was hard to save up when we had to keep buying healing and lerium potions or repairing gear, and not to mention everyday meals. It was like we lost and earned money at the same rate; but only continued to exhaust ourselves.
Thus I found myself laying in bed after late night raid of highwaymen, utterly unwilling to rise from the bed. Overhead the cracked wooden ceiling earned what little attention I could spare; Gamlen's house wasn't the dirtiest, nor ill-built place I'd ever slept, but it definitely was just barely reaching the decent point of the scale. I knew I had to get out of bed, but I didn't want to. I couldn't.
I heard Leandra in the other room. Her shoes squeaked against the old floors. Gamlen was out at a bar, or brothel, as always; spending coin that might have made a difference. Carver left hours ago – after trying and failing to pull me from the bed – off to do another pointless job. From the light in the window I knew it was a few hours after noon. Half the day had wasted away. I could have been out gathering coin for the deep roads expedition. I could have finally met up with Varric. Or seen Aveline.
(I'd seen her not but a few days ago, but I always felt guilt when we hadn't talked in a week.)
Guilty now, I screwed my eyes shut from the sight of the ceiling and cast my face to the side. My fingers tightened around the necklace at my throat; it felt deathly cold; metal and smooth to the touch.
I unclasped it, pulling it up and out from under the blankets, right next to my eyes.
As if daringly, I opened my eyes slowly to look at it in wonder.
I had to deliver it, too. Another thing on my list to do. I'd been stalling it for nearly four months. I didn't know if there was a deadline or anything, but it seemed like it was the most important thing. It was theoretically at the very top of the list, because I don't need – or particularly want – a dragon to swoop upon me, angry that I'd stalled or perhaps wished not to carry out, the deal I'd made with Flemeth.
Sighing, I forced myself to sit up and I placed the locket on the bedside table. With hair falling into my eyes, untamed, tangled from sleep and the tossing of nightmares, I got up and stumbled over the cold floor to a cracked silver-looking glass across the room. I sat on the stool in front of it and began to brush my fingers through the mismanaged locks. As I did so, I admired my reflection. (Criticized?)
I wasn't old, by any means, but I no longer felt young. I knew I was nearly nineteen when I was recruited by the Grey Wardens at the Circle of Magi and a year had passed since then. Only a year and four long months; I was twenty and I'd been through what most fifty-year-olds couldn't have claimed.
I'd loved a man; I'd loved someone beyond my reach. I'd sacrificed blood and my innocence by poisoning my own body to merely become apart of something bigger than I. I'd saved a nation, my homeland. I'd killed. I'd learned magic I never even thought existed. And most importantly, I grew up.
I could have aged mentally a hundred years, while my face only showed a small crease around my lips when I frowned. It didn't matter; beauty never mattered to me. Some men liked to say I was as beautiful as a rose. My body slender, but coiled and trapped with sharp thorns that could throw someone off, and my face peaked, supple, sweet to look at, and my hair striking with it's shocking red coloration.
You know.. some men (man) once told me.
I sniffed, rubbing the side of my cheek's pale skin; I tried not to think about said man. I pushed myself back up and pulled on my robes; my commoner robes that weren't my striking green Magi robes. If I wore those some people would question me as to where I got them from. I grabbed my slightly less powerful staff and then I paused. I turned back to the mirror, setting aside my staff, and I flipped my hair away from my shoulders, shrugging out my robe; lowered the clothing from my chest..
Until a long, pink scar showed.
I traced the jagged lines thoughtfully. I'd received the scars from the claws of the Archdemon. They weren't terribly extensive, starting from the tip of my right collar bone and hooking around my breasts, before abruptly slashing under the left, over my ribcage. They'd been healed three times, by three different healers – Wynne, Morrigan, and myself – but they'd never fully gone away. They were ugly, sure, but they did not pain me, and they were in a place only an intimate friend would see. They meant nothing, but served to remind me of a particularly ugly moment on that Denerim tower roof every day; it was the wound that had nearly killed me; it was the wound that I had nearly gave up everything for.
"I have no choice," I'd been shouting, scrambling to hold the blood inside of me. I was on my knees, my body shaking with the extremity of the effort it was to still draw breath. The pain was mind numbing, the blood searingly hot against my skin, whipped raw by the fierce wind from the sides.
I almost gave up. I almost let that darkness win. No one was left to revive me. Morrigan was too far away, distracted, pinned in by werewolves. The Archdemon is nearly dead, I'd kept thinking. In that moment of pain I was prepared to allow Alistair to take that last striking blow, to let myself die there.
But then I'd heard Alistair shouting back: "You always have a choice!"
Dying was a choice. Living was a infinitely better, but exceptionally harder, choice.
I had a choice, though, and he came streaking to my side and with his help I pushed myself up from the ground and... I'd lived long enough to look at the scar as it turned into one nearly pale enough to blend in with the rest of my skin. If I hadn't given up then, I decided I couldn't give up now on my life.
Shaking away the thoughts, I picked up Flemeth's necklace and tucked it into my pack. I threw the pack over my shoulders with my staff. In the main room of the house, Leandra turned to me, expectantly.
"You have a message on the table."
I stopped in surprise, stared at her for a long while, then moved towards the table with new purpose. I picked up the parchment, wondering who would write me... when I recognized the hand writing.
Hawke, you were a pain in the ass to deal with, but a bloody talented one. If you ever get sick of being just another unemployed refugee in this shithole maybe we could grab a drink. If there's any odd jobs my boys can't handle, I'll send them your way. You're welcome, Meeran
Good to know that he's still thinking of me, I thought, crumpling the paper in my fist. I tossed the thing aside, but not two steps away from it had I sighed and picked it up and placed the message into my pack as well. I figured I might need the money he could offer...
As I walked out the door, I braided my hair to the side and took the steps two at a time. My boots were the only new thing I wore from my past life; they were slim cut and fit tight, the soles of them completely unworn. I mustered a small smile to an elderly man standing to the side of the slums and then slipped out into the busier atmosphere of the merchant covered streets. I kept my eyes peeled.
Carver or Varric were bound to be around. They were practically the only people I knew around there. I knew some shop owners. I knew a useful seller up in High Town. I knew a handy poison maker in Dark Town. Anyone else that I met through Meeran were tensely avoided, because the job description never mentioned lasting friendships.
As I neared the steps to High Town I spotted Carver leering over a woman. He was talking in a special soft voice he must have reserved for picking up girls. I only took a second to find amusement in this. Carver was not my favorite person, but I guess sometimes, sometimes I could see him as a extremely irritating little brother. The scene was laughable to me, but what was even more fun.. breaking it up.
I nearly skipped over to them, grinning. I fell onto Carver's arm, hooking mine through his and blinked up at him innocent. "Oh, Carver there you are! I was looking for you, I was wondering if you coul-"
"Not now, Caela," he said quickly, dismissively. He shook me off, looking back to the young girl before him. She had to be seventeen at the most, with pretty straight teeth and short blonde hair.
I might have gone brash then and ordered him around – which would have not gone over well – but at that moment, having just pulled myself painstakingly out of bed, I thought of only lightheartedness.
(I had Oghren and Leliana in mind when I did this. Despite the rules of not thinking of them.)
"But Carver! The abortion is today."
That caught both their attentions. Carver reeled back and looked at me in total disgust, as if he thought I meant I was getting one. The girl however was, predictably, dismayed. "You wou'd kill your own chi'd?" she said, with a heavy accent I could not place. It made her say her D's long and strange.
I pretended to be appalled. "Oh never, not mine. Carver's wife!"
Carver coughed (hacked more like), "Excuse me?"
I rolled my eyes and began tugging him away by the arm. "I'm terribly sorry, he has to go. I'm sure you two can catch up later." I waved, as Carver and I took the steps to High Town. "Nice meeting you!"
The girl humphed and strutted away.
Carver groaned, shoving me away the moment she was out of sight.
"She's gonna tell all her friends and schoolmates!" he complained.
"So? You need something better on your mind than girls–"
"Do I? Why can't I? I'm twenty-five. I still live with my mother. It is bound time I found a wife or at least found my own way in life..." His serious tone drew me up short, killing any remaining lightheartedness. We continued up the stairs, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye.
I suddenly felt queasy.
"What do you mean?"
He let out a long carried out sigh. He refused to make eye-contact. There was something in his expression I didn't like. "Don't worry," he finally managed to say. "I'm with you, sister... for now."
The for now part was what I was worried about. Then again, I guess losing him was what I'd been trying to do for all these months. Carver was determined to drop the subject. I was more than willing.
"Hawke! Why it has been a long time, hasn't it?"
We'd reached High Town and a merchant stand near the top of the steps hosted by a dwarf with a long brown beard immediately drew our attention. I tried not to grimace at the man's untimely greeting.
He would be one of many that Meeran had introduced me to.
"Worthy," I said. "Not nearly long enough."
He boasted a laugh. Carver did cringe. We walked over hesitantly and Worthy peered up at us with dark beady eyes. "You still working with the Red Iron, or was that just a few months with them?"
"I'm on my own now," I told him. "Our debt has been paid in full."
He nodded, grinning. "Good for you, going out there on your own."
"Well if you need anything, don't be afraid to ask. Got every type of runes you could need. Here," he handed me a slip of parchment. "A on the house recipe! If you want more, you know where to come."
I slipped it into my pack, unenthusiastic. "Thanks, I'll be sure to remember."
We half-jogged away, slipping from the square into another one, and then circling around towards the square where we'd first argued with Bartrand; he liked to hang around there, with other surface dwarfs.
As we entered I looked up at the sky; the sun was was slowly sinking into evening. I hoped we would have enough time to meet with the elves today. I had been so resolute with that plan when I left.
"I don't see him anywhere," Carver said.
To affirm that, I let my eyes drift back down and circle the square.
My heart stopped.
Carver, slightly alarmed, asked, "What is it?"
"Oh, Maker! We have to leave. We have to leave now..." I snatched Carver's forearm and attempted to drag him back the way we came, but he was too heavy and stubborn, determined to understand why I was so unsettled. More specifically, what had caused for so much fear in me. He rarely saw me scared.
"Wait? What are you talking about. I don't see anything but dwarf –"
"Shh!" I insisted, and people turned to send me queer looks. My eyes strayed to a specific pair of dwarfs that were, thankfully, distractedly talking among themselves. "Carver, please, just trust me."
I put all my weight into tugging him back. I didn't particularly want to burn or shock him into my will but that tactic of trying to bend a man of his size to my will looked distinctively odd; me throwing my weight against his like a child. I tried and tried, but he wouldn't budge. I decided he wasn't worth it.
Let the idiot stay.
Just before I ran off, the worst possible thing happened.
I froze, then swung back around to face them; running now would only further expose me. Carver had tensed at my true name being spoken, understanding finally why I'd been so intent on escape. Of which was impossible as I watched two distinctively familiar faces drawing closer. Faces I distinctively remember leaving behind in Denerim with all the rest. But it had been four months.. and they traveled..
Come on Tera, don't get weak now. This was my first major slip up. I couldn't let it slide into chaos or everything I'd done to that point would be for nothing. Or I'd end up looking like a treasonous fool.
I met the two dwarfs cautiously halfway as the people around the square, who hadn't heard the name he said, looked away from us with no interest. (My spectacle with Carver had hinted at a fight, which was of interest, but now that it looked like friends meeting up, the interest rate slipped off the radar.)
"I'm sorry, what did you just call my sister?" Carver said, clearing his throat. Voice deep, strong.
I relaxed slightly, knowing I had someone on my side.
Bodahan barely spared Carver a glance. He and Sandal had eyes only for me, disbelieving, like they couldn't quite believe what they were seeing. I couldn't look away either, fidgeting with my hands. "Tera? Is that really you?" Bodahan murmured, leaning closer, peering at my face from every angle.
I couldn't answer, due to the cotton balls lodged into my throat, and Carver shook his head sternly, making wild gestures with his hands. "Tera? This is my sister, Caela Hawke. You must have her mistaken for someone else –"
"Carver," I croaked, dropping my gaze to the stones, then up to him. "It's too late. They know."
His strained expression of earnest disbelief fell into a mask of blame. Yep, he always blamed me.
"Oh, well... I tried. Can't say I didn't."
I almost smiled, out of the sheer almost niceness of that statement. But my amusement must have shown plainly in my eyes and Bodahan gasped. Our gazes snapped to him. He was looking between Carver and I. My cheeks instantly flushed. "Oh, Bodahan, don't get the wrong idea." I shook my head and lifted a hand toward him, and he looked at my hand as if in wonderment or, perhaps, fear.
"But," he started to say, failing. He looked to his son, Sandal, and then swallowed nervously.
"But what?" I pressed.
"But I was at your funeral! I saw the... your corpse! How..."
"Hold on a second," I said, bewildered, dropping my hand and my eyebrows furrowing. I kept my voice low for the people in the square. "One thing at a time. What do you mean my funeral?"
"Why just two months ago in the Denerim palace!"
"My corpse?"I attempted to clarify. It didn't seem like such a horrendous thing for the people who would chase after me to think I was dead. It was terrible convenient, actually, but the matter was suspicious and.. how? I narrowed my eyes at Bodahan, and I felt sorry that I was suddenly interrogating him in his clearly baffled state, with Sandal standing there blinking up at me. Not enough to stop, but I felt bad nonetheless. A wonderment bloomed into my mind, that had more to do than just the news he shared; I wanted to know... no, I savagely needed to know what was going on back in my homeland.
"Your corpse, yes.. we thought," he replies, sounding just as confused as me. "We found it in the Wilds. Merchants within the Denerim Market testified of having passed a woman on the North Road while on their travels through the night and when... when Leliana found that note in your room, we assumed that woman was you." He paused to swallow nervously, his mind and mine trying to frantically make sense of this. "Three days later, after a great fire was finally put to rest in those same Wilds, we found a corpse. Two corpses. We didn't know what started the fire.. and well the corpse.. one was a woman –"
"I get that," I said, thinking of Melina, a knot in my chest. "That was not me. She had brown hair–"
"Not from what we saw. The fire continued to ravish the entire region. The person's whole body was consumed. Our healers were able to deceiver that it was a woman in her late teens, defined by hips and pelvis bones. Other travelers witnessed you going into the Wilds, heading to the Waking Sea. We don't know who exactly the man is, but his Templar armor survived the flames. We figured he'd chased you."
They got one part right, I thought. The woman was killed by that same Templar.
"The facts, they all fit," Bodahan finished, lamely. "But now... seeing you... now they don't."
I couldn't soothe his confusion at that moment; I was lost on my own train of thought.
They think I'm dead. Alistair thinks I'm dead.
I didn't know how I would have ever reacted or,even now, how I would respond if someone brought me a charred corpse and told me that it was Alistair's. I felt my wonder increase sevenfold. I reached forward, clasping a hand on Bodahan's low-shoulder and nearly ducked to his height.
Carver was forgotten; my rules thrown out the window.
"What happened after that? Tell me everything."
He struggled to reply. "If you don't mind.. or just for a few moments, pity a old dwarf, I- I'm baffled to know what is going on. Tera, how come is it that you are here? Who were the corpses? What of the fire? Did you cause it? There are rumors, forgive me, but there are things being gossiped in Fereldan that you were in some deep upset, some fit of magic that caused this trouble to burn half a forest.."
Carver suddenly cleared his throat, looking around the square. "Maybe we should talk elsewhere?"
I stood back up and spotted a gaggle of Templars across the way. I felt my instincts sink in, passed my want, and I gathered some of my shattered maturity. I spared Carver a nodded thanks and agreement.
"Do you mind?" I asked of Bodahan. "I know a place in Low Town that we can find a quiet room to converse in. I promise I'll answer.. everything to the best of my knowledge, but you have to promise me one thing in return.."
Bodahan recollected himself as well, giving that you-want-to-buy-from-me merchant smile of his. He pat Sandal on the back. "My son and I have always served you, Warden, why would we divert now?"
I tried not to wince on the name. "I need you to promise that you will tell no one, write no letters, of me. There is no Tera in Kirkwall. You must still say that I am dead. It is Caela Hawke. I'm not a Warden, but," I lowered my voice to a whisper, "an apostate. You hear me? I'll explain later..."
After a few seconds, he nodded. "Of course War– Caela. It is nice to see you in good health." He raised his voice, picking up some of his wares. "How about we head to Low Town for a drink to catch up?"
The Templars passed us, shooting an annoyed look at Bodahan; just any old loud dwarf to them.
I smiled at the dwarfs and helped Sandal pick up a few runes. "Yes, lets," I agreed.
We sat in a dark secluded room in the back of The Hanging Man. I'd spent at least half the coin Carver and I had earned from our latest dirty job and that was a fact that Carver would not soon forget. My hands were clenched around a cup of warmed ale, another few coins down the drain, and Carver sat at my side, caught between scowling at our financial aches and awkwardly fidgeting on a stool that was too small to hold body. I leaned away from him and forward, keen on Bodahan sitting across from us.
The familiar professional dwarf looked down into his own ale; in this softer lighting he seemed twice the man I knew in Fereldan and I was tempted to believe that was I country waiting for me beyond these creaking wooden walls. I wrapped that fantasy around me, a cooling balm to my depression earlier that morning and a blatant abuse of those rules I'd set up to avoid just this. No one has said a thing yet, which suited me fine, but I began to wonder who'd go first. I let my eyes stray to Sandal. He was messing around with enchantments in the background. He's been told to let the grown ups talk.
"How about we take turns?" Bodahan finally said, looking up at me.
I gave a small smile. "You first." I knew my common manners. The guest always goes first.
I watched the dwarf take a long sip of ale, contemplating what to ask, and then he focused back on me.
"What are you doing in Kirkwall?"
I tightened my lips together. He would choose one of the worst things to ask. I didn't have an answer to that question. I couldn't say anything about needing to watch Carver's family, because he was right at my side, and I didn't particularly want to lose any standing we had together thus far. I couldn't sanely bring up the dragon, that was a... magically transformation of a woman that I'd killed a long time ago..
I stalled a moment by drinking some ale and averted my eyes to the dented table between us. "Next."
"We can do that?"
He sighed and shot off his next question immediately. "Who was the corpse?"
"My sister," Carver cut in, amber eyes boring into Bodahan's. "Her name was Melina Hawke and she died a death undeserved, murdered. If you think to blame her of any corrupt sorcery then-"
I placed a quick hand over Carver's resting on the table. I squeezed it and he fell silence, still glaring at the dwarf. "It was a young warrior," I said. "Who didn't know nearly enough to be any real trouble."
Bodahan couldn't quite lift his eyes from my hand on Carver's. I immediately retracted it and leaned away from my 'brother'. I waited for an accusation to come, but all Bodahan said was, "Your turn."
I had so many questions to ask! How are the others? What did Denerim do after my 'death'? Who showed up at the funeral? What did Alistair do? Who replaced me as Commander Warden?
But I settled on a different one unlike all those. "How are you, Bodahan?"
I said this earnestly, with true meaning. I wanted to know. He was my friend, of some standing. He was there through all my trials and heartbreak. Even at the end he stuck through my vicious behavior, no matter how much I ignored him. He made and sold me many a heal potion that had meant my life. I felt our friendship still. I did, at least. It was a wavering warmth in my chest that I desperately wished to ignite. After losing so many friends, after spending so many months away in this place with strangers...
I wanted this old friend. And logically I knew there had to be a reason he left Fereldan. After working for me for so long, he had a good reputation. He had already had good wares and decent prices, and the king had given him his own shop in Denerim. He'd been up for life and good trade before I'd left.
"I am not so well as I was by the end of the Blight," he replied, staring down at his ale. "The royal wedding brought much trade to the city and we flourished, but... it was still a struggle to make good trade and money with so many roads in ruin and with so little people rich enough to buy things. It all went downhill once the Orlesians started pouring in. Don't get me wrong, I respect what their Empress has done for us" – I noticed how he'd said 'their' and not 'ours' – "but Orlais merchants have completely swept good Fereldan businessmen out of their businesses. Not to mention the new taxes."
"Well, at first it seemed reasonable. Taxes would help pay for the restoration of roads."
"It got unreasonable?"
Bodahan's face darkened. "It got ridiculous."
"Well... you know Orlais.. they've got their fair share of elves and humans. In fact, they seem to consider elves their equals... a lot more than the Fereldans ever did. However, since Fereldan was formed on top of one of the dwarf's largest, wealthiest cities, I'd like to think Fereldans fostered some sort of mutual companionship with us. Considering we make many of their supplies and kept their economy circling, they'd grown used to seeing us as generally merchant or upper-class men."
"And the Orlais... they rarely see dwarfs these days," I considered.
"Yes, and I'm afraid the Empress finds us terribly out of her favor. Thus, the dwarf tax."
"A tax on an entire race? Specifically?" I asked, affronted. "That's like taxing.. only mages. Or.."
"I know," Bodahan agreed sourly. "There's a lot of uproar about it, but... mostly there's nothing that can be done. The majority of the population is human. They agree with their Empress. I and many other merchant surface dwarfs have sent word to our king, but he insists it is not of his concern."
"And you came here to escape the tax?" I deducted.
He nodded. "I have. Widening my trades isn't the worst thing though. I got a letter from my old friend Bartrand and he offered me this expedition job. He knew of my service to the Warden – you – and that I've traveled through the Deep Roads before. He's lending me a hand by letting me supply him now."
"So things are looking up at least?" I said, a frail smile on my lips.
(I knew I'd hated Celene for more reason than jealousy!)
"Well," he said, smiling back, "now that I see you, I think things have brightened quite a lot. It is good to see an old friend who still breathes." He paused to think something over and finally seemed to decide on saying it: "I just don't understand. Why don't you come back? Fereldan would be overjoyed."
"I left for a reason."
"What would that reason be?"
Carver tutted. "It's her turn."
I gave him a look of gratitude. "Bodahan, were you there when they reported the suspicions of my corpse? Can you tell me what happened?"
His face shifted. "I was there. Everyone was. It was the fourth day after we knew you left. We were all gathered at court. The nobles were complaining about someone to hunt you down, because of the job you had of settling disputes and watching over land... they wanted you charged with desertion. Others started speaking out about troubling laws on apostates being let out from under watchful eyes. King Alistair listened to all their complaints... he was actually about to make some sort of ruling when–"
"Wait," I said, unable to stop myself. "What... how did he look, when he heard that I left.."
"Strained," Bodahan admitted, understanding in his face. "He looked guilty as well. Him and Arl Eamon argued for a long while that day after you left. There was rumor that he was going to go after you with a few guards. But all of that was quickly defused by the Empress. Not sure how, though."
I breathed out heavily. I didn't know if it was better to know, or if it was worse for my turmoil of a mind. He blamed himself for my leaving... did he? Was it his fault? I suppose it was. On some measure.
I gave a curt nod to let Bodahan know that I wanted him to continue.
"Well as I was saying, one of the scavengers we sent out to inspect the Wilds after the fire finally died out, came bustling in the room. At his back were other men carrying something wrapped in a blanket strung between them. I didn't know what it was at first. Most people were just too baffled that they'd barge in, really. But I was in the back so I was one of the first to catch the smell of charred flesh..."
I could imagine the scene of this.
"The man started stuttering. He was muttering like a fool and was so flustered you could tell something shook the guy up." Bodahan paused to take a drink of ale. "Now I'll tell you, when Teagan silenced him and demanded a reasonable answer, I think that man could have used a bit more delicacy, but I guess he was all about jumping to the point. 'The Hero's dead!' the man spouts and just about everyone in that room laughed at him."
"Laughed?" Carver sneered. I hadn't realized he was listening as intently as I'd been.
"Yep. Even the King chuckled. The Empress cracked a smile. Eamon didn't. He narrowed his eyes and he walked so swiftly over to the blanket he was just a blur of a man, and when he whipped it away and the corpse was rested onto the ground.. well let's face it, you were an ugly corpse. Some noble woman grew faint and Leliana was reasonably appalled. You see... everyone who came for the wedding stayed a little while longer because you left, but the point is, the whole thing was thrown on us."
He finished his story at that, but he didn't answer the question I wanted to know most.
What did Alistair do.. say? My stomach twisted around itself at the name. "Bodahan–"
"It's my turn, Caela."
"Right," I choked, nodding, pushing the ale away from me. I felt like I might be sick, just a little, by these nerves and the alcohol wasn't helping my stomach any. "Right," I repeated. "You go. Ask me."
"Are you in some sort of trouble?"
"I'm in constant trouble, Bodahan. You'll have to be more specific."
"I am referring to the fire, to the reason you left." His eyes flickered to Carver, then drifted back to me. "To this new identity you have assumed. I do not think I know your friend here from Fereldan, hm?"
"You do not," I agreed, glancing over at Carver. "He is Fereldan though.. and he fought in my army in Denerim. I met him on my travels here. Him and his family have been kind enough to offer me a home and a identity to hide behind, nothing more. There is no background of deceit, believe me."
I smile at his smile. "The fire..." Maker, how did I explain that? Should I mention the dragon? "It was not planned. It took me by surprise as it has everyone else. I didn't start it, nor did that Templar or Melina. As for leaving.. I am young still, I was alone and tied down with so much. You understand?"
"I guess I do. I remember being young once."
"I suppose," I muttered, watching disapprovingly as Carver took up my abandoned ale and downed it all in one swing. Refocusing I asked: "Can you tell me what happened after they showed my corpse?"
He sighed, expecting this. "Do you really want to know?"
I tightened my fists. "Yes."
"Alistair retired from the room almost immediately. The Empress took charge, demanding more people search the area and to have the corpse taken to the healers for examination. The court was dismissed and the King was not seen for three days. All we got was the Empress and that fat adviser of hers. Eamon was around a little, before he was dismissed to his castle. After a while they began to gather the facts: the testimonies, your note, the healer's results, the Templar's corpse... everything was thrown together to make one big story of you running off, being chased down by a Templar and then you, desperate not to be caught, starting the fire. The funeral was two weeks later. The news was given time to travel across Fereldan. Many people gathered in Denerim for the event. There were so many they had to stand outside in the streets and the First Enchanter had to shout for people to hear her."
As much as the story uneased me, I looked to Carver in concern. He was grieving for his sister obviously, thinking about how the healers handled her and how the people would have looked at the corpse. I tried to ease his pain. "Your sister had a grand funeral. She would have liked that, I think."
He glared back at me, the blame for once, not there. It was Wesley, the dead Templar, he blamed for Melina's death. "You didn't know her," he said to me. "You wouldn't be able to ever know what she wanted." With that he left, slamming the door behind him. I winced as he stomped off to the bar.
In the thunderous silence left behind I said, "What else would you like to know Bodahan?"
He mulled that over and then smiled. "I would like to know, if you need another manservant?"
I couldn't hold back my surprised smile. Yes, it was nice to have an old friend back. "I would love one, but I'm afraid I can not pay you just yet. We would have to wait until after the expedition, I think"
"I think I can spare that time."
"Great," I said, standing. "I'll have to see you around in that time. Remember: tell no one." I leaned forward and placed a warm hand onto the one he had curled around his drink. "It is truly good to see you again, and I hope that you can get yourself back up on top once more. Tax or no. I must go, before Carver starts some stupid fight. Last thing I need is to pay people off. Maker watch over you."
"Maker watch over you, Tera. I hope you know what you are doing." The concern in him seemed genuine. "And you have my word, no one will know your secret. My boy and I our loyal dwarfs."
I dropped two coins onto the table. "Those are for the drinks. Don't pay me back. Think of it as my gratitude." With that I left them, a million questions still unanswered in my mind. But I could hear Carver's boasting voice downstairs in the main room. I worried briefly what he could possibly be doing, but another voice took me off guard before I descended the stairs: "Hawke! I knew you'd come!"
Varric appeared across the way, leaning against the doorjamb of another one the pub's rooms. It was just off the side of the steps that led down to the bar, and I glanced uncertainly between the two.
"Have you come to talk finally?"
I swallowed. I thought maybe I'd had enough private talking for one day, but I couldn't find it in myself to say no. How would I explain? 'No, just taking with some other dwarfs in the other room, not you.'
I nodded and he motioned me into the room.
I was surprised; it was bigger than the last dank bar-room I was in. The fire warmed it, casting a soft light flicker across the rather dust- and mold-free furniture Varric kept. Admittedly, he made the place look good, inviting.. I leaned into the large dining table that sat dominating the middle of the room, turning around to face Varric, whom was seated. "So what's this thing you couldn't talk about outside?"
Varric went right down to business. "Here's the thing: we need to find a way into the Deep Roads. Bartrand can lead us to the right place when we're down there, but we need a good entrance."
Distractedly, I picked at a loose seam on my robe's sleeve; my conversation with Bodahan was at the forefront of my mind, really. This one with Varric dulled somewhat in comparison. The expedition was important, of course, but not that, important, right? "Doesn't that seem like a must for the expedition?"
He chortled. Glad someone saw my logic. "Well, fortunately," he said, his tone a purr, sliding over me, preparing me for a jest, "I've received some new information. There's a Grey Warden in the city –"
Varric jumped up out of his chair at my sudden exclamation.
I flinched away from both his sharp movement and the crucial information he'd just shared.
What was he saying!
Had he meant me? Was this some sort of ambush? Had Bodahan and Sandal merely lured me to the pub? I whipped my head around, checking to see if there were men hiding in the shadows. If there were Templars waiting with cuffs. I drew even farther back from Varric, making him grow concerned.
Concerned? Why would he be concerned? He'd just betrayed me – unless. No.. no, he couldn't know. He didn't know about me. It... He must have really meant another Grey Warden was here... in Kirkwall.
Where I was hiding..
"Who?" I jumped to demand, before I could stop myself. I moved back those steps I'd taken away and forced Varric to meet my gaze. Was it a foreigner? Was it someone from the Fereldan Keep? I leaned over the table that time, smacking my hands down onto it. "How do you know about this?"
Despite the coolness of my voice, my heart was ramming around in my chest. It was relentless. Not even the fright of seeing Bodahan had scared me so entirely. Was it Alistair? (Oh, but that would be too sweet. That would be too bitterly perfect.) There was an underlying anger in me, too, as I thought about who it might be. An anger that that one fact could have me fleeing the city that very night.
"Supposedly..." Varric began, cautiously, clearly uncertain about my odd behavior, "this Warden came over to the Free Marches not too long ago with a bunch of Fereldan refugees." I felt myself die a little on the inside: He's Fereldan. "A Low Town woman named Lirene has been helping a lot of Fereldan refugees around the city. I figured we talk to her and we might find out where he is. Yeah?"
I seized upon one word he'd said: "He?"
Varric, uncomfortable now: "Yes, he. There aren't many women in the Grey Wardens, you know."
My anger, the one that I had never understood, that hadn't gripped me too terribly since my leave from Fereldan and the days we'd spent waiting outside the city, lashed out. I felt like leaning over and slapping Varric. My hand tingled to just close that foot of distance and deliver it sharply. But I couldn't. I clenched my jaw and, although shaking, I pulled my fist away from the table and took two steps back.
He didn't mean to insult me. He didn't know I was a female Warden. A female mage Warden.
I regretted of not following after Carver now. To think, I'd accused him of starting fight. I swallowed tightly, and I tried – I tried so hard – to reel in my temper. But it didn't matter, my voice was still viciously hissed when I spoke: "I see. Do you know this Warden's name? Don't you know they're dangerous? Do you really want trouble from them?" I tried to pawn this anger off as me being upset by the fact that Varric was challenging something he shouldn't. "They are a group that–"
"I'll be the first to admit that I don't want to fight a Grey Warden, not unless we have to. But we have to look at our options, Caela." He was using a stronger voice, willing me to hear and to calm. He was using my fake name, and that had somehow won me over. I took in a long breath and forced my weak knees to bend. I fell into one of the chairs at the table and propped my elbows up on my knees, burying my face into my hands. This position just felt right. I turned said options over and over in my mind.
It was silent for a long span of time as I contemplated the risk of me knowing this Grey Warden and what that could mean. So long I heard footsteps pace around the table. I felt a hand rest on my shoulder. I tensed. I was reminded of Tera Amell; when in the beginning of my quest to end the Blight I had been so surprised to see so much touching among my companions. Almost like Morrigan had been. The comradely pats on the back that Alistair had for everyone, the kisses Leliana put on each cheek, Oghren hanging off of people's arms, the lingering touches of Zevran's fingers. In the tower I knew only tag as a form of touching. They discouraged any public displays. It was because of the Templars, I realized.
(Or was it just that they didn't want us breeding?)
The anger was fading as I distracted myself. My initial shock melted away to leave only a hollow shell of anxiety that was waiting to collapse. Whoever that Grey Warden was I knew I'd never seen them. I only knew a few foreign Wardens, and the only Fereldan Wardens I knew of were Alistair, the female one that helped re-build the Keep. I knew there were others I was suppose to meet at some time, but I ran off before that happened.. what were the chances it was them? That they would ever recognize me?
I looked back up at Varric, prepared to lie through my teeth. "I'm sorry... you took me off guard." I deflated a bit. "I had a big surprise today already and Carver has had me so stressed.. forgive me for my reaction. I just never expected to hear that and with my past trouble... the Blight in my homeland.."
"I understand," Varric mumbled, lifting away his hand and watching me as I stood back up. "I'll just keep after my contacts in case you are in need of any more work I can drum up for you. Yeah?"
"Thanks," I said fleetingly, moving toward the door. "I'll figure out more on this Grey Warden and see if he can get us a good entrance." Right then, I needed to get Carver and run home before anyone else could take me by surprise and cause the final heart attack that killed me. "I'll see you around, Varric."
"Do you want to make a deal?"
I lifted my head from the rune recipe spread out before me to blink at Bethany. "Make... a deal?"
She plopped down onto the chair across from mine. "A secret deal."
Apprehensive now, I glanced around. (I knew everyone was out, but did so anyway.) "Tell me more."
Thrilled that I was listening, Bethany grinned. "I've been thinking about what you said about the expedition –"
"Bethany," I sighed, exasperated. "You know I still can't –"
"No! Just listen! I can offer you something in return for getting me in on it."
"There's nothing that you can offer me that will make me betray Leandra and Carver's fragile trust."
"Oh?" she said, in a horrifyingly perfect imitation of Leliana. "Are you sure about that?"
"Don't you feel bad? Going against your family's wishes? Not even a little guilty?" I diverted.
Bethany's grin faltered. "I do," she admitted. "But no matter how much I love them, am I supposed to listen to them for my entire life? Does it mean I don't love them if I make my own decisions? Of course not. I understand they want me to stay behind to keep safe, but what use am I sitting around here?"
"To keep your mother company. I know Carver finds comfort in the fact he comes home to you two."
"I'd rather see them proud of me," she said. "I'd rather be more like Melina."
The mention of Melina struck a cord in me. I tensed, thinking immediately of three days ago, when I'd been discussing just that woman – or rather, her corpse – with Bodahan and Sandal. Carver and I had both silently agreed not to share such information with the others, so Bethany didn't notice my unease.
"She was always so fierce," she went on, sighing. "Whenever Carver would pick on me she'd always stand up for me, or when he wanted to train with sword and shield and I was stuck inside doing magic Melina would stick around... she made me think it was all so wonderful. Her and my father were always insisting how pretty magic could be. Did you know she made her first sword herself?"
"She did. Her friend was a smith and taught her how to do it. Carver was so jealous."
"I must have been fun to grow up with siblings," I said.
She looked at me in peculiar way. "Isn't the Circle like a community family?"
I laughed at the absurdity of the thought. "Where did you hear that?"
"Well, it's not quite true. They like to separate real family in the towers. If a baby is born in one tower it'll be taken away to the Chantry and if it is a mage they try to send it off to a different Circle. If it's not a mage... well they usually become Templars. A mother will eventually see her son again, but he'll be one of many keeping her locked in a tower at that point, trained to be wary of 'our kind'." I thought of Lissa then; I'd been ten when she'd had her baby and they'd taken it away. "As for the tower itself... the Templars like to make sure it's strictly mentor and apprentice relationships. Friends are rare."
For me, at least, I added silently.
"It sounds awful."
"It's not all bad," I forced myself to say. "I did learn to use and control my magic."
"Like I've been training to do now," she said, smile returned. "I'm getting better."
"That's good. Do you know any defensive spells?"
"Well.. not many. Maybe one or two. I'm better at the healing, really."
I returned to studying the recipe. "I won't even consider bringing you unless you learn more defenses."
"So there's a chance?" she exclaimed. She hopped up onto her feet. "Will you teach me?"
"You know defensive spells, don't you?"
"Complex ones," I said, frowning. "You need a basic teacher."
"You had to have known the basic at one –"
"I won't teach you, Bethany," I said with a tone of finality, rising to my feet. "That's that."
As I turned to go, Bethany called at my back, "Why?" When I continued to walk toward my bedroom, unmoved to reply, she scrambled to say, "I still have a deal to offer you. It concerns your family."
I stopped dead in my tracks. "What did you say?"
"Your family... you never knew them, did you? I can tell you about them."
"I.." I don't have a family, I wanted to say. But I knew I had to have had one at one point, before the Circle locked me away. All my memories of them were gone though. How could Bethany know them, when I did not? True, I'd never made an effort to find my family... and then something in my mind snagged on the detail I'd been so pointedly ignoring for so long: You're an Amell, Tera. Amell...
I turned back to her, guarded. "What do you know?"
Bethany beamed. "I can't tell you unless you promise... you'll teach me."
"I can promise to teach you," I said, reluctantly. "I can't promise that I'll let you go on the expedition."
"It has to be one or the other?"
I hesitated. How much could she really know? How much did I really want to know? Why should I care about a family I never knew? One which might not have ever loved me? Was it worth risking Bethany?
"Your information... it's valid?" I asked her.
"It's so valid I'm not even supposed to be telling you about it. But for a deal..."
"I never thought you'd be the one to blackmail me."
"It's not really blackmail," she insisted. "I'm taking a risk by telling you. I promised... others to keep it specifically away from you. It's only fair that if I take a risk, you'd take one for me. Don't you think?"
I felt disturbed that she had secrets behind my back, with others in on it to boot. "Who else knows?"
"Can't tell you until we've made our deal. You're a woman of your word, aren't you?"
"I am." For the hundredth time I glanced at the house's door, expecting her mother or Carver or Gamlen to come bustling through, angry at the topic of our discussion. "Which is it you want then? Training?"
"No, I've changed my mind. If it has to be one or the other, I choose the expedition."
"I guess I knew that already," I said. I placed the rune recipe back on the table and walked up to her, and she offered me her hand, so slim and soft; unscarred. "We will both have consequences for this."
"I'm prepared to face my mother and Carver's anger. This isn't an unforgivable thing, surely."
Are you certain of that? I took her hand and held to it tightly. "Don't blame me..." I murmured.
"For what? Finally letting me on an adventure?" She was grinning, still, so girlish; so suggestively.
"For whatever happens," I corrected her.
Just before she was about to drop my hand I tightened mine around hers painfully. "Now tell me."
I threw the Hanging Man's front door open so fast it hit the back wall and bounced back immediately, almost completely throwing me off my feet. I deflected the swinging wood with a passing hand and winced at the twinge of pain that sprang up the length of my wrist. But then I was passed it, and I was strutting up to the bar. I had eyes not for the retaliating door, but only the man seated before me.
"Carver," I said, voice hard, drawing up to his side. "We need to talk."
He jerked back in surprise; we'd agreed there were no jobs today and he'd not been expecting to see me. "Why!" he said, and I knew instantly he'd wasted enough coin this afternoon to get completely and blissfully drunk. It would be the only thing to explain his smile. "If it isn't my favorite sister."
"Sister, huh?" With Bethany's words stinging freshly in my mind, those words never seemed so untrue.
Turning from Carver, I placed a few of my own hard-won coins onto the bar, then took Carver by the arm. "Come on. We need to find Leandra. Then, we're talking whether you're sober or not."
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, ornery.
"I severely doubt you want to have the discussion I have in mind here in the open."
"Maybe I don't want to talk."
I clenched my jaw. Around us the rowdiness of the bar pressed on all sides; smelling of stale ale and the more offending forms of alcohol. I let go of his arm. "Fine. Don't. But you'll be disincluded." I turned.
He spoke up: "Disincluded from what?"
I felt a smile tug at my mouth, my back still to him. "An important... family discussion."
I shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "What do you care? You don't want to talk."
Leaving him with that, I strutted toward the door. He'd either take the bait or not. What did I care? I'd only come to collect him because in my search for Leandra the Hanging Man had been on the path.
Carver stumbled after me. There was a drink still in his hand. Stubbornness dominated his expression.
Reluctantly, I turned quickly to him. I took the drink from his hand and tossed it at a nearby table. It shattered, but no one was going to care; I'd seen far too many broken glasses and split drinks in my life to truly believe the barman would give me trouble for it. As much as Carver protested I grabbed one of his arms and tossed it around my shoulders as I heaved us out the door and into the cooling evening.
I couldn't leave him to stumble drunkenly home in the dark. Not knowing what I knew then.
"I hate that, you know," Carver said. His breath reeked of alcohol.
"Hate what?" I indulged him. I started down the next alley, heading towards the slums. Maybe by the time we got there Leandra and Gamlen would be home. Bethany had said she'd wait for them.
"You... in charge. You're just like Melina." Melina, again. "She was always outdoing me." I'd come to know that Leandra and Bethany often spoke of the favorite eldest daughter, but at that moment I could not recall one other time Carver had ever spoke reminiscently about his older sister... his twin sister.
I reverted back to his first statement. "Me too, Carver. I hate that too." Leading had never been my instinct; I hadn't wanted to lead Alistair, but he had insisted. From that point on it had been as if people were purposefully pushing me forward, kept egging me on to take their place and be in charge. It was pestering, if not a little gratifying, but also... it was almost like someone had forced my entire destiny.
Even so, I helped him up Gamlen's front steps and shouldered us passed the door.
Inside, a fire was roaring. To both my relief and nervousness Gamlen stood beside it, poking at the flames; and even farther to his side stood Leandra, animatedly arguing with a guilty-eyed Bethany.
I pushed a drunken Carver into one of the dinner table chairs and he went down easily enough, happy to observe. No one turned to us at our entrance. "I can't believe you went behind our backs like that!"
"She had a right to know, mother," Bethany defended herself.
"It's true, Leandra," Gamlen cut in. "What harm is it that Bethany told her?"
"Yeah, hey," I said, stepping up. "I'm right here."
Leandra spared me a guilty look, then rounded on her daughter. "It was selfish of you."
"Yes, selfish. You did this to manipulate her. I raised you better than that."
"I made a fair deal –"
"You took advantage of her by baiting the information in front of her. Perhaps she had a right to know, but she had a right to be told without double standards. She deserved more than that, at least."
Annoyed now, by being talked about as if I wasn't right there, I spoke up. "At least she told me."
"You would have found out eventually," Leandra assured me. "Revka's birth of mage children is a well-known scandal in Kirkwall. I figured you'd puzzle out the similarities of your last names soon enough."
"I would never have suspected," I admitted. Whether because I was really oblivious or if I was willingly so, it wouldn't have mattered. "We're second cousins, then? You knew the whole time?"
"Not the whole time. I had suspicions... but I couldn't have been sure."
"Why didn't you tell me right away?"
"Because I... I didn't want to make you feel bad."
"Why would I feel bad?"
Leandra looked away, unwilling to answer me.
When I turned expectantly to Bethany, she, too, wouldn't meet my gaze.
"Why would being a Amell of Kirkwall, a daughter of Revka, make me feel bad?"
"Because you ruined the family," Carver finally broke the silence, voice full of that familiar blame.
"Carver!" Leandra admonished.
"What? It's true. We could have been the Viscount Amells if it wasn't for her being a mage."
"It's far more than that," Leandra said. "Revka had more than one mage child. It was the prejudice of others, also, who deemed us unworthy to step into the title. We can't blame one person for that. If we were going to play blame game, then Gamlen should certainty fess up to selling out the Amell estate."
Gamlen, tearing his gaze from the fire, opened his mouth to justify himself, but I cut in. "Wait." They turned to me, focused, and I felt myself reeling for a wordless moment. Why had I asked for them to wait? I should have let him and her go at it, effectively washing away any bad feelings of blame Carver's words might have inflicted in me. Did I feel any amount of that blame? Should I?
"You said more than one mage child," I continued, slowly. "Does that mean I have siblings?"
"Yes... possibly. I wasn't very old when you were born. Revka was already shunned by the time of her first mage child... I know that one was a boy. You had to be her second or third. By that time I'd not been allowed anywhere near that side of the family. My father struggled to quiet the slander throughout those years and wouldn't risk further association. Until, of course, he gave up on trying to quiet it."
"Why'd he give up?"
"The family fortune dwindled. I, his eldest daughter, ran off with an apostate. What else could he do?"
"How did I end up Fereldan?" I asked, true anguish suddenly touching my voice. All that time... all those times I'd claimed Fereldan my homeland... all those times I'd thought it was... and it wasn't at all?
"You told me that yourself," Bethany replied, softly. "They like to separate family. Revka's first son was put into Kirkwall's Circle, and so the Chantry placed you and the others in Circles across Thedas."
I could have a sister in Orlais, I thought. My brother could still be living in Kirkwall. These thoughts seized me momentarily, and I sat unsteadily on the chair across from Carver. The same chair I'd been sitting in when Leandra had leaned over the table and confessed that I was, in fact, a Amell of Kirkwall.
One of three Amell mage children that had quite literally ruined the Amell name.
If we'd not been born when we had been then Leandra and Gamlen's father, Aristide, would have become Kirkwall's Viscount. It was his niece, my mother, Revka's, birth of mage children that tipped the Amell family's political favor off the table. The family had the taint of magic it from that point on.
A taint that was in me.
As I contemplated the implications of that, Gamlen had found the time to defend himself. He insisted that he had every right to give away the estate and asserted that it was the only way to pay off his debts. Leandra was not quite so gentle on such a subject, and it was her abrupt exclamation that brought my attention back to the room "The children have been in servitude!" she said. "Servitude, Gamlen! They should be nobility. How can you justify that? How can you prove it was yours? Where is Father's will?"
"If wishes were poppies, we'd all be dreaming," Gamlen replied, utterly ignoring her last question.
"Leandra," I said, drawing her attention back to me. "Is my mother still alive? My father?"
A pitying look flitted across her face. "No, Tera. I'm sorry."
I scarcely noticed that she used my real name. "Is it.."
"Yes?" she prompted.
"Is it possible... she left something for me?" I knew it was ludicrous the moment the words left my mouth. Of course she hadn't. She'd probably not even thought she'd ever see me again in her life. Who was to say she even wanted to? Maybe she blamed all her children as the cause of the Amell downfall just as much as the others. What would she have left if she even did? She wouldn't have any money...
I suppose I'd imagined a letter. Or a picture of her.
The look on Carver face bespoke some sour reply, but Bethany distracted him by telling him he should get to bed, and she went as far as aiding him out of the room and into his, closing the door behind them.
"She hadn't, no. As far as I know," Leandra answered my question once her children were gone.
Gamlen scoffed under his breath and I looked at him sharply. "She wouldn't have left anything."
"She hated me?" I said, and though my voice was even, I felt a twist in my chest. "All of us?"
"No, of course no–"
Gamlen cut Leandra's soft voice off. "She visited my father often, begging for repentance. Especially nearer the end of her days. As I cared after my aging parents" – There was a look thrown at Leandra then, as if he blamed her for that responsibility having to fall onto him. – "I endured her visits. Revka insisted she never intended... she never asked for the Maker to gift her abominations for children –"
"Abominations?" I echoed softly, in disbelief. "That's truly what she saw? Holding her infants?"
"Well usually mages are around four or six when they show the signs."
"So she'd... she'd cared for her children – me – for four to six years... nurtured, raised, taught to walk, speak... and even after all that time of her willingly giving her love, she just decides... we're not worth it? That we're something entirely else because we... displayed abilities she didn't understand?"
The words were rushed out. They were unwanted on my tongue, but I had to get them out. I had to speak of the injustice of it, the complete unfairness, absurdity, if only to lay blame on someone.
Gamlen gave a blunt shrug, and Leandra fingered the side of her skirts, looking anxious. Her mouth opened and closed. She tried to think up some excuse, some reason to disprove my words, and couldn't.
Should I have been touched by that? Should I have thanked her for wanting to withhold the information? Of which she claimed she did to spare me the burden of thinking my birth had caused my family – Maker, it was strange to us that in any context – pain. Was it really to spare me hearing that?
Two blood relatives of mine stood before me. Two more were in a room only a mere two strides away. I had been living with them. Was that luck or fate? Wasn't Flemeth taunting me about something along those lines? Hadn't those been the exact words on her tongue? I pursed my lips, disturbed. Not elated.
My mother thought me an abomination... "What of my father?"
"What of him?" Gamlen shot back. "He was a man. Human."
I winced at the race clarification. "I mean... what ever happened to him?"
"Died. Old age."
Leandra drew up her skirts and took a seat in the chair closest to the one I sat in. She gave me what looked like perhaps the softest smile she'd ever given me. (I recalled those days on ship in the midst of the sea, where I'd been so afraid of the wide open waters... how I'd not even earned a lick of respect, let alone kindness, from this woman. My second cousin. What had changed from then and now?)
"He was a good man, brave," she told me. "I don't think he or she could have ever imagined you'd become the Hero of Fereldan. Perhaps they didn't.. want you." Oh, gee, why don't you just slap me with your hand, if we're going for blows, huh? "Perhaps they thought you were a monster waiting to happen. But look at you. One of the most famed women in Fereldan. A Commander of the Grey Wardens –"
"No," I said, struggling. "No... I'm... that's Tera. I'm Caela Hawke now."
"Well both are excellent mages, despite what her parents thought of –"
"Perhaps one isn't," I interrupted and even I knew that my voice sounded desperate.
Leandra's eyebrows arched. "I'm sorry?"
I stared at her evenly, refusing to give into the burning embarrassment brought on by the question of my sanity written in the lines of her forehead... refusing to give into the sharp hollowing ache in my chest. The rejection of my non-existent parents stung for reasons beyond me. Why would I even need or want their approval? I'd not even known I'd been missing it until mere hours ago! But I knew it wasn't their direct hatred of my kind and my... me.. but it was that it foreshadowed and mirrored exactly what had happened to me in Fereldan. Alistair loved me for awhile, before my abilities drew a line he could not cross; the same as my mother. Arl admired me, despite that I knew he feared just as any other the threat of abomination in me. The Empress and the majority of the world recoiled in fear and disgust at the taint of magic in my blood, and the possibility of it mingling with the role of nobility; the same as Kirkwall had when they whipped away a loving offer to a man they had wanted after learning he had a relative with the same affliction. Had it come that far? That something that had to potential to heal and revive people (just as much to kill them) was considered some sort of infectious disease?
"Everyone already knows Tera Amell," I said, rubbing at a ring on my finger; it had been enchanted to give me extra breath and stamina when running. Even at that moment I could feel the remnants of lyrium humming in it. Any mage or Templar could have detected that, but not any regular human. I took it off and set it neatly in the middle of the table. "They know she's a mage. But not Caela."
"What are you saying?" Gamlen asked when I hadn't gone on.
"I mean," I said, strongly now, "that Caela is my chance." Caela doesn't have to be tainted; she could be free of the sickness that the Chantry called being a mage. I don't have to suffer for it anymore.
I don't have to let anyone else suffer for my affliction anymore.
"You'll... what? Pretend you're not a mage?" he asked.
"Tera –" Leandra started to appeal.
"Caela," I corrected coolly.
"Caela..." she re-tried. "You can't just pretend. How will you work? Defend yourself? Manage lyrium?"
"I've picked up a blade before," I said, the words coming out effortlessly, but I knew that the one time I'd picked up a sword it was to hand it over to Alistair and I'd barely been able to lift it. "I'm sure I can find someone to train me. Carver might do it. And, if not him, Varric might help me with a bow."
"And the lyrium?" she pressed. "Lyrium levels build in a mage who doesn't use their magic."
"And I'll find some other outlet. But in secret, for no purpose."
Gamlen stared at me, uncomprehending, for longs moments before he gave his head a bewildered shake. "I can't believe you're serious about this. You're just going to pretend you're human then?"
Pretend? I thought in despair. But aren't I already human?
If I'm not human, then what am I?
(Sick, a small voice inside me insisted.)
"I suppose I am," I told him.
Minutes passed as they took that in and I finally dismissed myself. They watched me the entire way as I left, a mixture of confusion, disapproval and pity. I shut the door unintentionally loudly and then paused to lean into the wood on the opposite side. Had that just happened? Am I crazy?
I mustered myself to crawl into bed, tossing aside my clothing as I went. I felt a heat burning in the back of my eyes, picturing my mother and father; I could not quite come up with a clear imagine but my mother always appeared beautiful to me and my father was broad and strong, with a rich smile. But I fought them back, the tears, images... and I fostered the kernel of anger in me. It was desperate anger, offended, almost childish in nature, but it was an anger of unfairness I suppose all mages possessed.
It was surprisingly hard to flare though. Normally the kernel would have burst in flame by now, and that was strange, considering my recent temper-spikes (or, well, from four months ago, in those days after leaving Denerim, on ship and outside the city... for I had gotten the unpredictable rage under wraps once I began regular work with the Red Iron). Was it just the sadness in me outbuilding it?
A sadness that pulsed from my thoughts: Alistair could not have me – I could not have him – because I was a mage. My parent's did not keep me, did not presumably want me, because I was a mage. The kingdom that I saved from a Blight – devoting my life to the task – did not want me, could not even consider having me, because I was a mage. What else had magic held me back from? Had refused me?
(How could you have forgotten the brutal fall of Fereldan's Circle? murmured that voice.)
Perhaps the Chantry had known what they were saying when they proclaimed magic an enemy.
Was it misfortune or fate that had made me so? Both my parents had not been mages. The entirety of the Amell family before that had not been. The man I loved had not been a mage; he had been a Templar for Maker's sake. Had he ever had doubts about me? Had there ever been moments where his training had tensed up inside of him and he had prepared himself to reach for me and hold me back?
Maybe he adored the utter lack of magic in Celene. (And it hurt so much knowing she was better than me.) It was an ache in me, echoing, outlining the distinct empty space of something that has been lost.
I didn't cry. I went to bed that night, hating Tera Amell with all my being; I had meant what I said. I didn't want to be Tera Amell. No one wanted Tera Amell. She was tainted, sick, and failed too much.
I wanted to be Caela Hawke. I wanted to somehow embrace a new life in full.
(I wanted to forget my past name, my true origin, my skills, talents..)
How hard could it be to learn a new fight style?
(Not much harder than summoning a blizzard, I fervently hoped.)