Drinks with Meredith

oOo

"Brother, I do believe you are a little bit drunk," Carver admitted, practically falling from his chair. He was more than a little bit drunk himself. My little brother shifted a bit in his seat, his Templar armor shifting as he did.

A small part of me, that little, mewling voice which quietly warned me whenever I was doing something stupid, was currently howling in rage at me. I was a mage, presently unshackled by the Templars, and here I was, sharing a drink with a Templar in the very centre of the Mages Circle.

"I do believe I am," I agreed, toasting my brother with my drink. The finest Antivan whiskey, in fact. Carver had just started his third drink. I was roughly halfway through my fourth. Given the fact our drinks, and likely our breath by this point, were flammable, it was a hell of a lot of drink in our system. "Don't worry, brother. This is my last, and yours. We can't have you showing up tomorrow with a pounding in your head and daggers in your eyes."

"Fair enough," Carver admitted. He squinted at me a bit, taking a long, slow sip of the whiskey I'd sneaked in. He leaned back, reaching up to grasp the buckle for his breastplate. "So brother... I know we've been avoiding this, but... How's Gamlen?"

I paused.

"You haven't spoken with him, then?" I said, somberly. At the negative shake of my little brother's head, I sighed. "He's not broken, but it's a damn near thing. I don't imagine he's doing any better than we were after losing Bethany... And he's had thirty years of regret to add on. I think a small part of him wanted to make things alright between the two of them, before the end."

"Not that he ever got the chance," Carver grunted, slugging back a generous portion of his drink. His eyes caught mine, and I could almost forget he was my brother and remember he was a Templar, then. "The mage who did it. I've never asked, and I never want to know. This is going to be the only time I ask, understand?"

"Fair enough," I agreed. I poured another measure of whiskey into my own glass, before capping the bottle with the cork and stuffing it back into a pouch beneath my cloak. We hadn't spoken of Mother's death. Between Carver's admission into the Templars and my own adventures with the Qunari, we'd never found time to talk about it.

We'd grieved, together, but at the time it was a wound to raw and too painful to open. Perhaps now, with the perspective of time passed, we could discuss it.

"Did the bastard suffer?" Carver finally asked, meeting my eyes. I knew he wasn't asking it as a Templar asking if a mage had suffered for their crimes. He was asking it as a son who'd had his mother murdered.

"Quentin died like a dog," I said, a vicious frown coming to my face. I generally took no joy in the ending of a life, but in this case, I was more than willing to make an exception. "He died lost, alone, and in a great deal of pain. He knew I'd taken all of his hopes from him in the final moments before I burned him alive."

Carver nodded, and downed his drink.

I matched him.

"And with that, I should be going," I informed my little brother, stuffing both glasses I'd brought in in a pouch as I stood. I extended an open hand, smiling. "Next time let's talk about something a little less depressing, yes? Like your crush on Merrill or how drunk Knight-Commander Meredith got at the feast-day party."

Carver grasped my hand and smiled.

"Maybe you can tell me what it's like to live like a noble. I doubt that I'll ever find out in my current line of work," my little brother noted.

With a smile and a nod to him, I turned and left.

oOo

I was sitting on a fountain halfway between the Mage's Circle and my home, enjoying the view and another glass of the Antivan whiskey when I heard someone approaching me with purposeful, determined strides.

The strides of someone who knew who I was. Well, I knew how this song and dance went. Myself alone at night, having a drink? Anyone who knew who I was very likely was being thoroughly opportunistic. And foolish.

The destructive spells I began to conjure were dismissed just as easily as I noted who it was.

"Knight-Commander," I saluted, raising my glass to the severe blond woman. Despite being in her fifties, she was still a handsome woman. Not a picture of beauty, but a woman who carried her age well despite being affected by it.

She took in the sight of me for a moment, puzzled, before she finally noticed the half-empty bottle at my side.

"Champion," the woman emitted with a disgusted frown. "Are you drunk?"

"This would be a very egregious waste of Antivan whiskey if I weren't," I casually admitted. I drained my glass, before digging out the one I'd shared with Carver and rinsed it in the fountain behind me. I filled both glasses, sliding one across the marble surface of the fountain toward her.

Her hand, covered in all manner of steel and chain as the rest of her was, caught it before it slid off and shattered on the ground.

"Need I remind you of the penalty a Circle mage faces for public intoxication?" The Knight-Commander demanded, glaring at the drink she now held.

"Feel free," I replied, taking a sip of my drink. "I'm not a Circle mage, so it'll be a neat bit of trivia to pass on to my friends later."

"That is only at my discretion," the woman practically snarled, and I grinned a bit.

"Of that I am well aware, Knight-Commander," I acknowledged. I raised my glass to her, waiting a moment as she stared at me. "Oh come now. You do know how to raise your glass in salute, don't you? I can't imagine that you were always the Knight-Commander of the Templars. Perhaps, if I might be so bold, there was a time when you weren't a Templar at all?"

"Champion, do you intentionally provoke those who can destroy you with a word, or is it something inherent in your nature which provokes you to do so?" The blond woman finally asked. She hadn't raised her glass, but... Nor had she set it down. I counted that as a victory.

"Would I be who I am if I did anything but that?" I asked, quirking an eyebrow at her. Maker above, was that the hint of a smile I saw there? I put on my most charming, dissembling grin, brushing my reddish hair back from my eyes. "I'm just a puny mage who challenged the bloody Arishok to a one-on-one duel in close quarters. Bastard Qunari had bigger forearms than my thighs, I might add."

"I've heard conflicting reports about the specifics of it. I've heard it was over the fate of one of your companions. The pirate Isabela, if I'm not mistaken," Knight-Commander Meredith admitted. Her voice was a little bit lighter, and there was a hint of curiousity there. "What could have possibly prompted you to do that? As I understand it, you had the situation dealt with by then. The Qunari had their precious tome back and all they wanted to satisfy their honour was her. If you'd let them take her away, you wouldn't have had to fight at all."

"Because it was her," I replied, sipping my whiskey. I cocked an eyebrow at the Knight-Commander's drink, and she met my eye coolly, neither placing it down nor raising it to her lips. Infuriating woman. "Knight-Commander, you are no fool. You know the circumstances of my mother's death, and you are very likely aware of some of what happened down in the Deep Roads to propel me to my current wealth. Isabela was there for both events: I'd sooner slit my own throat than abandon her to Qunari justice."

"For a mage, you are remarkably... noble," the blond admitted, and I got the distinct impression she wasn't referring to my status when she said it.

"How will I use my magic? My magic will serve that which is best in me, not that which is most base," I quoted loftily, sighing a bit as I did. That statement, and the gravity of it as I spoke, caught the woman's eye and so I took another sip of my whiskey before continuing. "I was never a Circle mage, but I know the catechism. My father taught Bethany and I a great deal of magic. She was damn near as powerful as I am, in fact. But before he taught us a single spell, he taught the both of us that wielding magic was a responsibility to those around us, and not a Maker-granted right to abuse it."

The Knight-Commander paused then, frowning a bit.

"You sound as if you're above it all," she finally noted, leaning slightly against the fountain. Her drink was nowhere near her mouth yet, but she still hadn't put it down. "Mages will turn to blood magic in the end, when they feel they need to. Even you."

I sipped my drink, rubbing my clean-shaven jaw.

"Doubtful, even if I'll admit that I do know the theory behind it," I argued bluntly. At her startled glare, I frowned a bit, lost in thought. "Father felt that Bethany and I should know exactly what it was, so that we didn't use it in accidental desperation."

"You're so sure that you wouldn't use it, but I know better," the woman replied. Her brow furrowed as she glared at me. "I have seen mages I've trusted use it. Mages I would never have dreamed would turn to such base, vile arts fall to the thirst for that dark power. You can't tell me you would never fall where they didn't."

I thought I heard a bit of self-recrimination, there. Perhaps she was thinking back to a time when she knew a mage like me, one who was so selfsure about his own righteousness that they would never dream of turning to that dark art.

"My sister didn't," I countered, my voice rising a bit despite my attempts to restrain it. The Knight-Commander almost flinched at the steel she saw in my eyes. "Bethany Hawke died in an Ogre's hands, crushed, and she didn't even think to turn to blood magic to fuel a last spell against the thing that killed her. Despite being hopelessly surrounded by Darkspawn and with not only her own life, and the lives of those around her at stake, she didn't use it.

"Every moment of my life, every blessed moment I've had since then, I will thank her for that," I admitted, smiling fondly. Dear, dear Bethany. Perhaps she was too innocent for this world. Maker knows how I would have worried for her here in Kirkwall. I sipped a bit more of my Antivan gold, gazing up at the moon instead of my suddenly-unwelcome companion. "Her memory gives me strength, Knight-Commander Meredith. If I die, I'll die as myself, and damn the Fade if it thinks it can turn me into an abomination. I'd sooner slit my wrists to watch myself bleed out than to do so for blood magic."

There was a long pause, myself gazing up at the sky and my companion staring at me before she finally broke the silence.

"And if you do?" The Knight-Commander finally asked, sounding worn. "What happens if you do become an abomination? How will you deal with it?"

"That's why I've gathered so many companions," I declared. I swept my arms out, taking in the city of Kirkwall. "Should I become an abomination, they would strike me down with the same efficiency with which we've struck down so many. Fenris already doesn't like me. I can't imagine he'd hesitate for a second were I to become an abomination. Nor would Varric or Sebastian. Even Merrill and Anders, as much as you have your Templars search for them, would kill me in an instant were I to become a monster."

I then paused as a sudden, sinking realization came to me.

"Darkspawn tits, I'm a Circle mage!" I cursed in annoyance, causing the Knight-Commander to choke back a laugh of surprise. Maker above, I think the woman was actually smiling a bit now.

"Champion, I do believe I'd remember it were you collared," the armour-clad woman mused, sounding a little mocking at the statement. Maker's breath, the ghost of a smile from before had returned. "My Templars are under orders not to apprehend you, for now. I would remember, had I rescinded those orders."

"Not you. My friends," I explained with a fierce scowl. At her questioning gaze, I continued, "Fenris has made it plain to me every time we speak of the matter that if I succumb to the Fade's promises and become an abomination, he'll ram that giant sword of his through my chest. The rest of them wouldn't be far behind, in fact."

It was then that the Knight-Commander... chuckled. Sort of. In a high-pitched tone. On a younger woman without the gravity of her position, I would have called it a giggle.

"That doesn't make you a Circle mage, Champion," she noted.

"Fine," I granted, raising my glass to her. I caught her eye and flashed her my most disarming, confident grin. "That does make me safe, though, doesn't it? Won't you toast with me to a mage rendered safe for the good of Kirkwall, even if it's not by your hand?"

The woman paused, before sighing in defeat.

"I'll drink to that," the Knight-Commander admitted, sipping the Antivan whiskey in her glass as I mirrored her.

We spent perhaps five minutes in companionable silence, just sipping our drinks and watching the rare nighttime traveler as they wandered by. More than a few recognized us, and those that did shook their heads and averted their eyes as if to ward off some unholy image.

Strange.

I finished my drink first, quickly rinsing my glass and placing it in my pouch, alongside the bottle of whiskey. I'd save the rest for when I'd returned to the safety of my home, if I didn't just call it quits for the night.

It was when Knight-Commander Meredith finished her drink that I noted something odd. Like me, she dipped her drink in the fountain to cleanse it but when she removed it, she flicked her wrist and balanced the glass on the edge of the fountain, in such a way to allow any remaining moisture to drain... It was something I'd seen a dozen barmaids do previously, and the armour-clad woman in front of me did it with such ease that it was almost ingrained.

In that moment, I think I learned more about her than I would have over the course of a dozen conversations.

She seemed not to notice my attention.

"Thanks for the drink, Hawke," Meredith said with a nod, walking away.

I reclaimed the glass from its resting place.

"Anytime, Meredith!" I called, earning a slight glare in turn.

I turned and made my way back home.

oOo

The next day, when Isabela didn't turn to face me as I sidled up to her at The Hanged Man, I reached out and flicked one of the dangling earrings she wore, earning a growl and a glare for my efforts.

I ignored those with practiced ease, and the pirate frowned at my good mood.

"Your bandana. I believe it's mine to wear for a day," I informed the sun-bronzed woman smugly. She turned to face me, one eyebrow arching.

"What? I said the only day that'd happen was if-" Her eyes widened, and I grinned some more. "Hawke, you didn't!"

"Your bandana. I believe it's mine to wear for a day," I repeated.

oOo

Author's Notes:

One of the really, really interesting things I found about Dragon Age II was that the biggest, most plot-relevant choice in the game for a Mage is hidden behind a game mechanic: Specializations. Since you get two specializations, a Mage Hawke with no interest in the healing arts can actually choose to never use a Specialization point to take the Blood Mage specialization if they have no interest in healing.

Theoretically they should, since otherwise the only potential healer in the party is Anders, what with Bethany dead and Merrill having no healing, but I found myself playing through with a fairly high DPS party and fights were typically over before magical healing was necessary. So I had a Specialization point I didn't want to spend on Spirit Healer, which left me only with Blood Mage, and that point went unspent for the duration of that playthrough: I didn't want my good, noble, and kind Hawke to be a blood mage.

It's all the more jarring to realize when you consider the fact that both of the other party mages, Anders and Merrill, have already succumbed to the eventual fate of mages the Templars think are the end for all of them, for reasons those mages think valid: Anders has welcomed a demon into his heart, Justice, and Merrill happily uses blood magic. It's all presented very carefully neutrally or even slightly in favour of the mages, as well.

And of course, by the end of the game, both mages find that the consequences are harsher than either thought.

It's little moments like this, where a game mechanic of all things has me sitting back and lost in thought at the story, that I truly believe video games to be a true form of art. This happened to me on my first playthrough of the game, and I'll be honest: It thoroughly convinced me that the game was great, even with the rushed development and repeated, repeated dungeons.

That aside, I just wanted to write about a snarky Hawke winning a bet at Isabela's expense by having a drink with the Knight-Commander of the Templars. Because I played a Snarky Hawke.