The Flight of the Hawke
It was hard, that first year in Kirkwall. Bethany was gone, and there was no noble estate waiting for them, after all. Uncle Gamlen more or less sold them into indentured servitude to Athenril the smuggler. They lived in a Lowtown hovel, and Mother mourned for her lost heritage, not lifting a hand to clean, or do much of anything else.
By the end of the year, they had found their feet in their new city. Athenril declared their indenture satisfied, and they were free to make their own way as they could. Carver was bitter when Aveline cut the legs out from under him when he applied to the City Guard. Hawke could hardly blame him, considering what losers the Guards generally took on. And when she thought about all they had done for Aveline—who would have died with her Templar husband in Lothering, had the Hawkes not come on the scene—who would never have won promotion to guard captain without the Hawkes' efforts—it made Hawke bitter, too. She felt used; she felt like a chump. Aveline had climbed the ladder and then pulled it up after her. It somewhat soured their relationship.
Now and then they got lucky; like the time they used Mother's key to get into the cellars of the old Amell mansion. That day alone they walked away with a dozen bottles of wine, a portrait of Mother, the Amell coat of arms, and ten sovereigns in gold.
There was always coin to be had from the Chantry board, or taking contracts from freelancers. Best of all, they had a lead on something that would set them up for life. A dwarf named Bartrand was going on an expedition to loot the Deep Roads, temporarily cleared in the wake of the Blight.
Bartrand turned them down, but his brother Varric took a shine to them. All they had to do was raise fifty sovereigns to buy their way into the expedition. They took jobs, they made friends, they scraped the floors of warehouses and foundries for the odd silver. They risked their lives again and again in the hope of making a better life for themselves and Mother.
Hawke was discreet about her magic. It was a lesson learned over hard, long years. Oh, she used it in a fight, right enough; but you never knew when someone would turn on you. Worse yet, you never knew when someone would turn you in. Bounties for apostates were a temptation for the poor—sometimes a temptation for the not-so-poor. Carver had plenty to say about how Hawke's magic had limited their lives and their prospects. You could save a bloke's life—like that Fenris—and he'd still preach a sermon about mages.
"Mages bad... blah, blah, blah... mages evil... magisters... demons... mages bad...blah, blah, blah."
Hawke learned to tune him out. His sword was useful. They were making serious coin now. She tried to keep away from Templars, but there was that time they found themselves mixed up in the disappearance of some Templar recruits, and even saved Knight-Captain Cullen's life. Once that crazy fight was over, Hawke hid her staff behind her back, grinning guiltily, hoping the handsome fellow wouldn't try to arrest her and force her to kill him. He didn't. Did he actually not see her honking big staff, inherited from her very tall father? Maybe. Maybe not. Why were Templars so good-looking anyway? What a sad and terrible waste.
They made more friends: a good-time-girl sailor named Isabela, and a Dalish elf called Merrill. On that adventure, Hawke discovered that she had carried the ancient witch Flemeth across the Waking Sea with her. Flemeth told her that destiny awaited her—"dear girl"— and that they stood upon the edge of a precipice.
"And when that moment comes, do not forget to leap."
Hawke knew all about taking advantage of opportunities. What else could Flemeth mean? It was really too bad that the old witch hadn't taught her the shape-shifting trick.
Anders was a real find: a Grey Warden and a dab hand with a healing spell. He had the Deep Roads maps and he knew how to fight darkspawn. He even agreed to come with her on the expedition.
Her battlemagic won her half-interest in a mine, the Bone Pit. It had all the earmarks of a sound investment, though it required quite a bit of supervision to keep it vermin-free. She even met the leader of the ship-wrecked Qunari, the Arishok. Once she saw for herself, thanks to dear, lying Sister Petrice, what the Qunari did to their own mages, Hawke quickly lost all respect for them.
The day came when they finally had the cash. It realistically took more than fifty sovereigns, because they had to leave Mother with some money and they had to get first-rate equipment for themselves. Varric was going, of course, and Anders. Hawke and Anders were getting closer, and Hawke wondered if this might actually blossom into ... romance. She had never had time or opportunity for such a thing before. Her one attempt, back in Lothering, had not gone well. First things first, though. The Deep Roads.
So much for careful planning. Mother had a fit when she learned that Carver intended to go, and kept on screaming and begging until they couldn't stand it anymore.
"I'm leaving you Hero for protection, Mother!"
Leandra shot back, "A dog is no substitute for my only son!"
"I'll stay, Sister," her brother said bitterly. "I'll stay behind while you get the glory and the gold."
Fenris agreed to go in his place, since he had nothing better to do, and because he thought he was doing Kirkwall a favor to help keep two dangerous mages off the streets for the duration of the expedition.
Thanks heaps, Fenris. Fuck you, Lyrium Boy.
It was a long, ugly slog. The Deep Roads were—big surprise!—not so clear of darkspawn as predicted. Then Bartrand betrayed them for an idol of rare red lyrium. They fought on through darkspawn and dragons and demons. At the end, they found the glittering prize, and Hawke's share would buy back the old family mansion and let Mother live the life of a noble again.
They seemed glad to see her again at home. Well, Mother was glad to see her, and Hero was overjoyed. Carver was quiet, even when they moved to their new grand home. The house was put in Mother's name, of course. Carver insisted on that, and Hawke thought it was fair enough.
Hawke liked having a room to herself. It was a totally new experience. She had shared a loft in Lothering with Bethany. She had slept in a three-level bunk with Mother and Carver in Gamlen's hovel. Her new room was large and luxurious and beautiful, with her own bed, her own bookcase, her own writing table, and a comfortable chair in front of her very own fireplace. She treated herself to a hot bath and a long sleep behind crimson velvet curtains.
The Templars were waiting downstairs the next morning. Knight-Captain Cullen was polite but firm. Due to her service to Kirkwall—to him personally, in fact— they would not kill her on sight, but take her to the Gallows they must. If she put up a fight, who knew who might get hurt? Her mabari would defend her with his life, but she did not want Hero to die. He was quietly told to stay with Mother, and he obeyed, bewildered.
Carver watched her go with quiet but manifest satisfaction. At first, Hawke thought that it was Carver who had turned her in, but she was informed that the bounty had gone to her uncle. Hawke's success in the Deep Roads was the talk of Kirkwall, in large part due to Gamlen Amell. Once Hawke had come home with enough gold to get Gamlen's indigent relations out of his house, he had boasted about it to his friends at the bar of the Blooming Rose, letting slip the hint that Hawke was a mage. He had talked to the wrong people, for quite a few Templars patronized the best brothel in Kirkwall, and the gossip was passed on to them. They cornered Gamlen; and he saw no reason, now that the game was up anyway, not to denounce his niece for a bounty that would pay off his gambling debts.
Mother dabbed at the tears in her eyes with her new silk handkerchief. It had been wise to put the house in Mother's name; otherwise it would have been confiscated, as all property of a mage was always confiscated. They were happy to see the last of her, Hawke thought. Now they could live as nobles among nobles, with no dirty secrets to hide.
The Harrowing was a joke. Hawke passed it faster than any mage the Kirkwall Circle had ever seen. The Templars were impressed with her. Even Knight-Commander Meredith was pleased at the reports of her as an exceptionally well-trained mage. First Enchanter Orsino seemed to like her, granted her the rank of Enchanter immediately, and talked about rapid promotion to Senior Enchanter in her future. He picked her brain for exotic magics her father might have taught her. Hawke sensed that he was looking for something in particular, but she had no idea what. The food was regular, and not at all bad. The robes issued to her were gaudy and ugly; the cheap wool a constant itching torment. The boots were shoddy, with soles as thin as parchment. Her wound healed, where they had cut her to take blood for her phylactery. The scar remained.
So this was prison life. The sight of the Tranquil always shook her. For all their own laws, she knew the Templars were not above making a harrowed mage Tranquil. The empty faces filled her with horror, like footsteps walking over her grave. She was extremely careful to follow a piece of advice her father once gave her.
"Never let a Templar know that you can craft anything. They'll make you Tranquil and set you to work before you feel the brand on your forehead. Tranquil mages are the cash cows of the Chantry."
At least she was allowed to walk in the courtyard. Over time, she learned which Templars were all right, and which to avoid. It was well known that she had Templar friends: Cullen, Emeric, Thrask, even young Keran, whose muscular white arse she had saved from a blood mage coven. It gave her a certain degree of protection. The Templars who enjoyed grinding down mages avoided her in their turn, only making the odd, off-hand threat. Of all of them, she hated Ser Alrik the most: he of the soft, oily voice and the deceptively child-like blue eyes. She hated him, and found it impossible even to respect him. Templars, she discovered, were first rate bullies, but piss-poor at finding mages. They relied on informers—like her lovely uncle Gamlen— to report when family, friends, or neighbors showed magic.
Hawke brooded over her wrongs, carefully avoided committing herself to any of the mage fraternities, trained the apprentices assigned to her, and now and then was allowed a visitor. Varric feared no Templar, and shared the Kirkwall gossip: which parties her mother had gone to, which noble girls Carver was flirting with.
As time passed, she learned that Carver had wrangled the title of Lord Amell out of the Viscount, and was making good coin from the Bone Pit. He occasionally took some of the old crew to help him clear out the dangerous creatures that infested it. He was hobnobbing with Seamus Dumar and Prince Sebastian of Starkhaven now, going out for the odd adventure when his social calendar permitted.
Anders was still in Darktown, still running his clinic for the poor. Fenris was lurking in Danarius' decaying mansion; Isabela was on the trail of some fabulous relic. Merrill was living in the Alienage, getting along in her daffy way. No—no Templars had arrested her, not even when she went picking flowers in the Viscount's garden. Aveline was still Captain of the Kirkwall City Guard.
She certainly landed on her feet, Hawke thought bitterly. Yeah, thanks for the boost, Hawke old buddy. Enjoy the Gallows.
Things were not going particularly well in the rest of the city, she learned. There was unrest, spurred by Qunari proselytizing. An elf had loosed poison gas in one of the poor neighborhoods, killing dozens. Crime was up; the gangs ruled the night. Ser Emeric had been on the trail of what he believed to be a serial killer of women. Before her imprisonment, Hawke had helped him, even finding human bones and the ring of a woman who had disappeared. Since then the investigation was stymied. Emeric had been forced to apologize to a wealthy noble whom he suspected was involved. Hawke sympathized with him, when he vented his frustrations to her, but there was clearly nothing she could do any longer, since she was even more helpless than he.
Other things happened over time: other people lived the adventures that should have been hers. Varric told her that Bartrand had crawled back into Kirkwall. Varric found him in the old family house, and with Anders, Fenris, and Isabela, had dealt him out some rough justice. Varric had no interest in the house himself, and was going to fix it up and put it on the market.
Fenris suffered a close call: he had been pursued by a magister acquaintance of his old master. Varric agreed to help him, along with Isabela, and for some reason Merrill, who did not like Fenris, but felt sorry for him in an odd way. They had hunted down the magister, a woman by the name of Hadriana, and Fenris had killed her, but not before he discovered that his long-lost sister was still alive. Fenris was considering returning to Tevinter to look for her. Hawke agreed with Varric that it was a ridiculously stupid thing to do; but nobody could tell Fenris anything.
The sister of a Grey Warden came to town, and Varric took his crew and went down to the Deep Roads again to find the lost brother. Another success; more loot for the pile. Hawke occasionally considered tracking down the Grey Wardens and volunteering to join up. It had to be better than this. Maybe she should learn more about them. The big problem, as she saw it, was not getting out of the Gallows. It was having no place to go, really. The Templars had her phylactery. Hiding out with Varric at the Hanged Man was not an option.
Three years passed, and her life was boredom, spiced occasionally by naked fear. There were the daily obligatory services at the chapel, where the mages were informed that they were the cause of all sin and misfortune on Thedas. There was no privacy: Templars watched the mages when they slept, when they ate, when they bathed, when they squatted to urinate or defecate. One grew accustomed to the indignity. It was impossible to have close friendships, much less more intimate relationships. Part of it was certainly due to the the Chantry's desire to prevent mages from reproducing; in addition, it made clear the Templars' conviction that mages were not people with normal needs. They were things. Female mages caught having sex—especially pretty, young female mages—were made Tranquil in order to "neuter" them. Hawke already knew better than to take a lover, after that one disastrous time in her youth in Lothering. Passion did lead to interesting magical phenomena. Such phenomena both terrified and titillated Templars, just as mages themselves did.
Hawke read, and taught, and studied ancient languages and obscure magics. She did serious work improving her healing skills. She had never had access to such a library, and made the most of it. And she had another pleasure. When Varric presented her with a lute at her request, she learned to play it, practicing diligently, hour after hour, until her fingertips were first raw, and then callused.
More and more mages were made Tranquil. Hawke sensed a trend. Varric told her that Anders had investigated, and found that one of her least favorite Templars— Ser Alrik— was pushing for mass Tranquilization. Hawke had long since stolen a small dagger which she wore on her person at all times. No one would make her Tranquil. She would kill as many as she could first, and then die.
One day, Ser Emeric was gone. Just gone. Rumors circulated that he was dead, killed by demons in a dirty back alley. Hawke nodded, sorry for one of the few decent men she knew. She had sometimes wondered if his fearless pursuit of justice would kill him. And now, so it had.
A few days later, she was called to the Knight-Commander's office.
Somehow, she suspected that she would hear nothing good. In Ferelden, one heard of trusted mages being given travel papers and allowed to serve in noble households. That was not the policy in Kirkwall. More likely, they meant to make her Tranquil. She adjusted her dagger discreetly. She would kill Meredith first. A Templar would not expect a physical attack from a mage.
She was mistaken, however.
"I regret to inform you," declared Meredith, her face decorous with false sympathy, "that you mother is dead. She was murdered and defiled by the foulest magic."
Hawke stared at her, wondering why she was here. Did Meredith expect her to burst into tears, to become an abomination out of unrestrained grief? Did she expect Hawke to feel guilt or shame because magic had killed her mother? Would she expect an archer to feel guilt if the means of his mother's death had been an arrow? Hawke was too stunned to understand what she felt at the moment at all.
At length, she asked, "Was it a Circle Mage?"
Meredith frowned, puzzled. "No. A vile apostate blood mage."
"And who discovered this crime?"
"Your brother, Lord Amell. With Serah Tethras and some of their followers, he surprised the perpetrator and avenged his mother's death. It was reported to us, naturally."
"Ah, one of the mages you had not succeeded in finding. Probably the one that killed Ser Emeric," Hawke mused. "I was assisting him with his inquiries, you know, before I was incarcerated. I daresay it was one of the noblemen to whom he was forced to make an apology. Your order really isn't very good at actually catching mages, is it? Unless, of course, they are conveniently betrayed by their nearest and dearest."
Meredith, clearly offended, lifted her chin. "I did you the courtesy of informing you of the death of your mother. I had heard you were not unreasonable."
"I am completely reasonable, Knight-Commander. So reasonable that I feel no guilt whatever at her death. I was locked up here in the Gallows, unable to protect her. My brother, Lord Amell, however, whom she chose over me, does not seem to have done his duty. I think my mother—Maker turn his gaze on her— would have preferred life to vengeance. Poor Mother. Is that all, Knight-Commander?"
"Yes. Go. No, wait."
And then Meredith proceeded to describe in rebarbative detail how her mother had been killed and her body desecrated by the madman who sought to create a simulacrum of his dead wife from the bodies of his victims. Her mother's head had been sawed off, and then sewn to the rest of the assembled body. The thing had walked and talked, after a fashion. Leandra Hawke had known utterly what was being done... what had been done to her.
Hawke refused to give Meredith the satisfaction of observing her pain. She kept her countenance, and then nodded.
"Yes. I found some of the remains, years ago. Even a ring belonging to one of the women: Ninette de Carrac. No one cared. Definitely the work of a rich nobleman. Plenty of money and leisure for such pursuits. Probably secretly educated at great expense by his parents. Sometimes, such arrangements work out, and then, sometimes..." Hawke paused, fixing her gaze on Meredith's reddening face, remembering perfectly well the story of the Knight-Commander's hidden mage sister who had killed their parents. Meredith should not torture people without expecting some retaliation.
"...And sometimes...they do not. I thank you for your courtesy, Knight-Commander.'
With a bow, she left, knowing that she would never be First Enchanter of the Kirkwall Circle, nor even a Senior Enchanter. Not as long as Meredith Stannard ruled within the Gallows.
Her own First Enchanter, Orsino, was waiting in the corridor, hands trembling, his fair elven face white with distress. He led her into his nearby office, and offered her a brandy.
"My dear Arabella, sit down. I'm so sorry... So very sorry about your mother... "
The last straw, for Hawke, was the Qunari uprising.
The mages were roused from their cells, from the library, from the refectory by the shouts of the Templars, swords clanging against stone and steel.
"Out! All Harrowed mages in this section! All of you— out! The Qunari have risen!" shouted that swinish bastard Ser Karras, coming down the line of cells with his keys. "Get out there and fight!"
Hawke, who had been feeling a little under the weather that day, was strumming her lute at that moment. She set the instrument down at the alarm, and slipped past the bars as soon as her cell was unlocked.
He ignored her, but she followed the flood of her fellow mages downstairs to the lowest level. There, they were issued staffs. Rumors and gossip bubbled and seethed around her, but everyone fell quiet when they were met by First Enchanter Orsino, surrounded by the Senior Enchanters.
"The Qunari are rioting. They mean to take the city. That would spell disaster for us. Arabella can tell you how they treat their mages."
At his glance her way, Hawke spoke up. "They chain them on a leash and sew their mouths shut. I saw it myself. Qunari mages have it even worse than we do."
Some of the Templars frowned, not liking the way she put it; but there was no time to maintain the fiction that mages were kept in the Circle for their own protection. They were hurried out the door, Orsino in the lead. Most of the mages were bewildered and frightened. Even many of the Senior Enchanters had never faced combat. Some had not been outside the Gallows since they were imprisoned as children.
"Arabella!" called Orsino. "I'll want you up here with me!"
"Coming, First Enchanter!"
They passed the apprentice quarters. The youngsters inside milled about, terrified. Hawke passed Ser Cullen, standing stiffly at the door.
"Aren't you coming?" she called out to him.
He replied stonily, not meeting her eyes. "I am commanded to remain and guard the apprentices and the Tranquil."
She was swept past him, and gathered from that brief exchange that he was unhappy about being left behind. Having seen him fight some years before, she was not very pleased herself. Cullen was good with that big sword of his.
They were hustled out into the Great Court. Hawke caught up with Orsino, and together they led the mages out of the Gallows Gate. It would not be hard to find the Qunari. All they had to do was follow the smoke and the screams. They were loaded onto the Gallows boats to be ferried over to the city proper. At the dockyards, they were dragged out, and shouted at until they got themselves in order—after a fashion— and advanced.
Glancing behind, Hawke was furious to see what the Templars were doing. Meredith and her companions were at the back, pushing the last of the mages along in front of them with the flats of their blades. The mages were the shock troops, the expendables, the meat-shields.
"Bastards," Hawke snarled. "Cowards."
Orsino managed a dry laugh. "Humans don't think they're cowards when they hunt with dogs. It's the same with Templars and mages."
Hawke laughed, too, her opinion of the First Enchanter rising. It was better to meet this sort of danger with a laugh than with a trembling chin. That, unfortunately, was the state of quite a few of their companions.
They were hurried up from the docks, past Lowtown, moving in the direction of Hightown, passing terrified people running the other way. Some paused, horrified, at the sight of three score mages, not knowing which direction was the more dangerous. The Qunari had already spread through the city, and various bands appeared, bent on winning control of the streets.
Seeing the first of these coming their way, Hawke shouted. "You'll recognize the mages by the massive collars and the chains! Hit them first and hit them hard! They'll have no mercy on you!"
One woman looked behind, and cried, "Where are the Templars?"
For indeed the Templars had gone elsewhere, or were waiting in ambush. As the mages were no more than dogs to them, it had not occurred to them to share their strategy, if they had any such thing—other than hoping that the mages would solve their problems for them.
Another mage moaned, "They've left us to die!"
Hawke cursed, quietly and fluently, but it was useless to expect courage and resourcefulness from people who had been assiduously trained to be helpless and dependent. A core of mages were keeping their heads. They would have to rely on one another, while the rest hung back, slack-jawed and confused.
They'd live or they'd die. Hawke had things to attend to.
What a relief to cast without fear and limits, to pace herself according to her own mana, not by the limitations imposed by a fearful Templar. Lightning roared and snapped from her fingers, frying Qunaris from the inside out: fire caught in the foe's very flesh, burning blue, impossible even for the stoic warriors to fight through. Orsino froze a half-dozen attackers, Hawke followed up with a fist of energy that shattered them to shards. She laughed, the joy of battle returning to her, filling her being with power.
And truth be told, the dull trickle between her legs at this time of the month had a part to play. Templars, in their prudery and occasional perversion, did not like to recognize that half of all mages were women; and like other—purer, more normal women—experienced monthly courses. Even female Templars tried to ignore this untidy reality, or eliminated it in themselves with potions or excessive exercise. A little-known secret, whispered in the apprentice quarters and verified in difficult, ancient tomes, was that a daring female mage could actually boost her power considerably at this time of the month. Blood Magic? Perhaps. If so, it was also Natural Magic. Her menstrual flow was providing her with endless mana.
And so she froze the Qunari Saarebas into statues and smashed them. She lashed the warriors to bloody strips. Beside her, Orsino raged like a magister of old. Behind them, a band of determined mages did what they could: healing and supporting their friends; slowing and weakening their foes.
In the forecourt of the Viscount's Keep they encountered heavy resistance. The Qunari had already seized the Keep and presumably the Viscount himself. Dozens of Qunari rushed the shrinking band of mages. Hawke knocked them back; knocked them down; knocked them out, and her friends finished them off.
"Don't just leave them unconscious!" she shouted at one hesitant man. "Kill them! If you don't, they'll knife you in the back!"
There were fewer mages... a lot fewer. Hawke hardly dared to turn her head to look behind her, but some of the mages had run and fallen, Qunari arrows between their shoulder blades. Others, hanging on the periphery, had been hacked and stabbed. Hawke laid down a repulsion hex, forcing the Qunaris back. Another Saarebas had appeared, blasting a brutal wave of arcane force at her. Hawke blocked it, but the spillage brought down more of her allies.
Scores had become dozens; now they were only a double handful. Hawke fought on. She was not going to die today; not going to die defending the cowardly Templars, hiding in her wake.
A Qunari officer leaped at her, his axe swinging down. A crossbow bolt magically appeared between his eyes, and he collapsed like a felled ox.
"Hawke!" Varric greeted her cheerfully. "A fine day for a fight!"
"Hawke!" Anders said, his eyes misty with sentiment. "I had not thought to see you alive ever again."
"Yes, well..." Hawke shrugged. "I'm stubborn that way."
More of the old crowd gathered round: Fenris and Merrill, and Aveline, unaccompanied by any of her guardsmen. Hawke introduced them to Orsino, and he to them.
"Where's Isabela?" Hawke asked, looking for the pirate.
"Run away," Fenris said, his voice bitter. "She has betrayed us. She stole a book from the Qunari. That is what caused them to follow here. That is the source of all this bloodshed."
"That's... depressing," Hawke managed, glad that for once a disaster was not being blamed on mages. "And what about Carver? Too noble to fight beside the riff-raff?"
"Sister," said Carver, approaching. "I seem to be in your shadow once more."
"You'll get over it," Hawke predicted. "Just as soon as the Templars toss me in my cell again."
He presented his companion, a young archer with intensely blue eyes and chestnut hair that waved back from his face. This, then, was Sebastian, Prince of Starkhaven. A pretty fellow, Hawke noticed absently.
"We're going to the Keep," she said, "I imagine the Arishok is there by now. Once he's down, the rest of the Qunari can be mopped up."
"You don't intend to return to the Gallows, do you?' whispered Anders, as they moved into the double loggia leading to the Keep entrance.
"Obviously, I'd rather not," she hissed back. "But let's survive this battle first, shall we?"
With the Hightown plaza cleared, the Templars now dared to come up to join them.
"Any plans?" asked Meredith. Hawke felt like punching her in the throat.
So... I'm the scum of Thedas until you need me. Then, suddenly, I'm in charge. Thanks ever so. When it comes down to anything but bullying mages, you're not good for much, are you?
"We need a diversion to get rid of the guards at the entrance," Hawke decided. "And then I'll see what's inside."
Orsino handled that part. Alone, he fearlessly challenged the gate guard, luring them out, killing a half-dozen of them with a fireball. The rest whooped and pursued, while Hawke and her friends slipped past them. The Templars did not follow, no doubt waiting to see how Hawke fared.
Only a half-dozen of the Circle mages remained, eyes bright and determined. Not all of them would live through this, but with nine mages in all, they had a mighty force to tackle whatever lay before them. They needed it.
They fought their way to the throne room, losing another mage in the process. There they stumbled over the Viscount's head, separated from his body by the Arishok's axe. The Arishok himself wasted no time in parley or words of respect. Facing those he regarded as filth, he led his men in furious battle. Hawke did not spare him when he rushed her. Had he ever faced a real mage, at the height of her powers and strength, untrammeled by the conditioning forced on their own magic-users, and enhanced by her physical state?
No. Didn't think so. The Arishok danced in a halo of sparks. He danced and danced, jerkily and gracelessly. He was a tough and powerful man, and the dance lasted a long, long time.
After considerable agony, the Arishok lay dead, and with him his best men. Hawke was victorious, and around her the frightened, useless nobles crept forward. One bleated, "The city has been saved!"
A ragged cheer went up. Survivors embraced, sobbing. The band of fighters that had done the deed looked about them with quiet pride—at least those still on their feet. Carver was still out, lying sprawled on the steps, but he was moving, and would live. As far as Hawke was concerned, he could heal without magic.
That was when Meredith and her Templars came through the door.
Meredith must have been prepared for some heroic scene, in which she would find the mages dead, slay the weakened Qunaris, and claim the credit. However, the battle was already won.
"Is it... over?" she faltered.
"Yes!" Hawke declared, her foot resting picturesquely on the Arishok's head. "It's over. I, Arabella Hawke, killed the Arishok. Their leadership is broken."
To Meredith's manifest annoyance, the nobles began cheering again—even cheering Hawke herself. The Knight-Commander's mouth pursed as if she had swallowed the biggest, sourest, greenest apple in the world.
She said, "Then we have much to do. Ser Moira: collect your men and return these mages to the Gallows."
And that was it. That was their victory parade. Hawke had only moments to bid Varric and the others farewell, before she and the three other surviving mages were hustled away from the scene of jubilation. Anders and Merrill faded out of sight the moment the Templars came through the door, hiding behind a wall hanging. Hawke and the rest joined up with Orsino, also under heavy guard, and were quick-marched through Kirkwall, not allowed to stop even to heal the wounded they saw everywhere. No. They were bundled through the Gallows Gate like dirty laundry. Only five survived out of sixty-three. No one said 'thank you,' either.
The next time Varric called, she had made up her mind.
"Get me out."
He was relieved that she already had a plan. She needed clothes, a bit of money, and a pair of good horses. If she could get north fast enough, a phylactery in Kirkwall would be little threat.
"Going north?" Varric asked. "To Tevinter? Hmmm. I know somebody in Tevinter."
Hawke laughed. "You know somebody everywhere."
"Lucky for you. I'll write you a letter of introduction to my cousin Thorold's widow."
"Hawke, old buddy... a human magister! Name of Maevaris Tilani. You'll like her."
This was the best piece of news she'd had in years. Hawke had been raised to think of Tevinter as a land of vile blood magic, of slavery, of everything contrary to decent life. Naturally, she had decided to go there. It was the only place in Thedas where the word "mage" was not an insult. Her heart yearned for Ferelden, but she was sick of a life on the run, hated and hunted from village to village. She had no ties left to Ferelden, no kin to offer her shelter and help, and she would never be anything there but an apostate and an outlaw. A nasty, short, and brutal life, beyond question. Kirkwall... well, Kirkwall had been a mistake from the beginning. And after her imprisonment in the Circle, she never wanted to live in the lands of the White Divine again. She was a mage, and would continue to be a mage, and would not apologize to anyone for being a mage.
She did not approve of owning slaves herself, having been one for the past three years. Therefore, she would not own any. She was an experienced magical warrior. Perhaps this Maevaris Tilani could find a place for her. Hawke would sell her services until she had enough for a little cottage of her own... with a garden. That sounded ideal at the moment. And the Tevinters hated the Qunari. After seeing first-hand what they did to mages, Hawke hated them thoroughly, too. She would ask to join the Tevinter army, maybe, and fight them. She combed the library for every bit of information she could glean about Tevinter, making sure that no one noticed what she was reading. The library was nearly empty, due to the heavy casualties from the battle with the Qunari. To her disgust, a critical reading of the texts revealed that they were almost entirely written by Chantry scholars, and thus their objectivity and honesty were more than suspect. She read them for the geography, anyway, and created a mental map of her route.
The first step would be getting out of the Gallows. Mages sometimes went outside on errands. Hawke had not been one of the privileged. The second step would be getting out of her phylactery's range. That could be tricky. Still, the city was in disorder, and the Templars were stretched thin since Meredith's seizure of power. It was now or never. The longer head start she had before anyone knew she was gone, the better chance she had. Once her cell was unlocked in the morning, she at least had the freedom of the Gallows. If she left, she must go with next to nothing.
She must leave a false trail, of course. A woman dressed in robes resembling hers, with red hair like hers, would be seen taking passage in a ship bound for the south. Such a false trail would give her a long, long head start. She had another idea, too, to put them off her track. She would make a point of indulging in nostalgic talk about her lost home in Ferelden. Knight-Captain Cullen would be a good choice for that, as he was Ferelden-born himself, and homesick at times.
That conversation did not go exactly as she had planned. They talked about Lothering, and then about the Bannorn, and how wonderful harvest-time was.
"The wheat was so sweet and fragrant," Hawke reminisced. "I miss the country. I miss the flowers, too. You never see Andraste's Grace here in the Free Marches. Embrium is rather pretty, though." She managed a rueful chuckle. "I haven't seen a flower in three years. Some of my apprentices have never seen one at all. They've read about them in books, of course, or seen dried petals and roots for potions."
Cullen regarded her gravely. "I can see you are depressed, Arabella. It's only to be expected, after our grievous losses to the Qunari."
She stared at him, blindsided, and then a terrible rage began building in her, threatening to explode like a volcano. She flailed to get hold of herself, lest he smite her and have her locked up, just as she was on the verge of escape. The filthiest, ugliest insults trembled on her lips; words that Cullen would not understand or forgive.
"Our… losses?" she stammered. "Our losses?" She bit down hard, grinding her teeth. "Our losses, indeed! As if you care! I saw no dead Templars. A lot of dead mages, though; dead defending this worthless, ungrateful city that reviles us!" She pulled herself together, and took a deep breath. "Excuse me. I need to lie down."
She snapped her jaw shut, and stalked away.
She did not turn, but put up her hand, and kept walking. It was all she could do not to strike him dead. As she walked, all the pent-up muck began venting forth; all the words she so carefully avoided using around sensitive Templars.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck you! 'Our' losses? Go bugger yourself, you sniveling, cunt-licking son of a priest! You cock-sucking bastard! Eat shit and die!" The nasty words hissed out of her, like steam from a porridge pot, threatening to choke her. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
She ran up the steps, up and up, all the way to her cell. She slammed the barred door behind her. The only thing to calm her was her lute, and she took it up, shaking. The faceless, helmeted Templar on duty locked her in, and stood watching her for a long, long time, while she played… very badly at first… until the notes wore down the sharp edges of her wrath.
As much as she would like to burn the Circle to the ground and kill every last Templar in Thedas at the moment, a better revenge would be to escape. She would not die here an old, broken, worn-out woman, she would not let them make her Tranquil, and she would not let them make an abomination of her. While she played, she pictured an embrium blossom, red as blood, soft as velvet, fragrant as perfume… After a time, she set down the lute and curled up, her back to the barred door, and slept deeply.
To her unspeakable relief, Varric was back the following day, hanging about the Gallows courtyard, waiting for her.
"Blondie knows an escape route."
Hawke was flummoxed.
"And Anders never shared this bit of news because...?"
"Justice didn't think you could be trusted. I had to lean on our friend—both of them— pretty hard. To be fair, he hasn't known about it long. It's a secret of the Mage Underground. You're looked upon as an outsider, seeing as you are an outsider."
"No time for sulking, Hawke. This escape hatch isn't used often, since they don't want the Templars to catch on. It's in the chapel, believe it or not. There's a hidden door behind the tapestry of Archon Hessarian. Press the wainscoting at the top left corner, and then at the bottom right. The door is low. Shut it after you, or the Mage Underground will curse you. Follow the passage. It leads to Darktown. Blondie and I will be waiting. How early can you leave?"
"Midmorning. They unlock the cells and take us to morning chapel. Then we're herded to breakfast. After that, we have assigned duties. I have a tutoring session, but I can put the boy off. He'd rather meet his friends anyway. With luck, no one will notice I'm gone until after supper, when we're locked in again."
"We'll have to get you out of town before then," Varric said, trying to gauge her reaction. "No time to settle scores with Uncle Gamlen or Junior."
She could accept that. "They can go hang, for all I care. I only wish..."
"I'm going to miss Hero."
"The dog?" Varric narrowed his eyes. "Let me see what I can work out. How about the day after tomorrow? I need that much time to get the horses and arrange your decoy."
The day after tomorrow. The idea of escaping filled her with unbearable, aching joy. It made her generous.
"If Anders wants to go with me, get another horse. And tell him to get rid of that ridiculous feather cape. It's a dead giveaway."
Hawke had to control her face, fearing that her approaching freedom was written on her forehead. The next day and a half were the longest of her life.
On the morning appointed, she awakened before dawn, staring at the ceiling, her mind racing. Watching for observant Templars, she put on extra stockings and smallclothes.
Her dagger was in its place, under her hideous robes. She had no staff, of course. The Templars of Kirkwall only permitted mages other than the First Enchanter the use of staffs during official, scheduled training. For that matter, she did not need a staff to use her magic. There were things she could do with runes, with rituals, with crystals and with potions to protect herself. And she could still cast, even if only with her hands. She'd been practicing. Her only coin was a handful of coppers, laboriously assembled over time. She carried a small vial of thick, shatterproof glass in a pocket. It was essential to her plan.
Her lute, however, she must leave. There was no credible reason she would carry it with her to chapel and breakfast. She stroked the neck wistfully, and stowed it in its case. An open book, History and People of Ferelden, was left in her cell. Other mages knew she had been reading it, and she had made sure that the empty spot on the library shelf would be easily visible.
She was let out of her cell, and obediently went to chapel, trying not to stare at the musty tapestry of Archon Hessarian and his Sword of Mercy gruesomely stabbing a burning Andraste. She had always hated that morbid, macabre image, but now the irony appealed to her. She was going to Tevinter, and Hessarian had once been its Imperial Archon. At breakfast, she took care to eat a hearty meal, not knowing when she would next eat. If she were very unlucky, it might be never. Cullen was trying to catch her eye; she carefully ignored him, keeping her face blank. Orsino was looking at her, too, rather anxiously. Perhaps Cullen had spoken to him.
She put off her student with the plea of needing to do some research of her own. She backtracked to the library, and from there to the chapel. Two imbecile priests were mumbling prayers. Hawke slipped past them, and then behind a pillar. The tapestry was heavy, and bulged as she slid behind it, trying to make out the woodwork in the darkness. She fumbled for the corners in order, and then waited for what felt like the entire span of time since the creation of Thedas. Finally, there was an almost inaudible click, and a smell of damp and decay wafted through the dog-sized hole at the base of the wall. Hawke scrambled through, scraping the heel of her hand and dirtying her robes. She pushed the little door shut, and sat there until her heart stopped racing. Step One accomplished.
The passage was narrow and winding, but surprisingly well lit. Apparently the Mage Underground had obtained some dwarven crystals. Hawke walked on, treading in puddles where the sewage had dripped down into the passage. Her wretched boots were sopping wet, practically melting away from her as she negotiated the tunnel. She was almost worse than barefoot. Only a little farther...
The passage widened, and the stony roof soared. Some natural light diffused into the cavern, and ferns grew green. As they were the first wild vegetation that Hawke had seen in three years, they caught her eye.
"My, my, do we we have a runaway?" The oleaginous voice stopped her in her tracks. There was only one man in Kirkwall with that voice.
Ser Alrik stepped into the light. Behind him were four hulking Templars. Shadows behind them hinted at more. Hawke gritted her teeth. Her magic was strong, but at the moment she wished for a good staff. Alrik strutted toward her, sure of himself.
"You ought to know what happens to mage girls who don't toe the line around here." He chuckled. "Once you're Tranquil, you'll do anything I ask."
"I'll never be Tranquil," Hawke said quietly, and she meant it. Either she would kill them all or they would kill her, but she would not be taken alive. Even under a Smite, she could use her dagger. They should have remembered what she did to the Arishok. Nor did she wait to react to their attack. She acted first.
Sweeping out a concussive hex, she knocked most of them off their feet. Instantly she flowed into a crushing curse on Ser Alrik, stopping him in a ridiculous posture, his sword half raised. Someone lunged at her from behind, and there was a curious "Ergghh!" and a thud. Another Templar was frozen. Hawke glanced around, and saw Varric and Anders, both with their game faces on. It was time to play.
Three against seven? Not fair, but they didn't need fair. Anders was a fucking abomination, possessed by the spirit of Justice, after all; and Varric spewed death with his crossbow Bianca. As for Hawke, she had been studying hard for three years. Lately she had practiced on the Qunari. If she could kill them, she could kill bucket heads.
The thing was, if you kept a Templar down and off balance, he couldn't counter you with a Smite. Nor if you paralyzed them, draining the life from them, Nor if you froze them stiff and then smashed them to bloody flinders. Ser Alrik looked surprised, then terrified, and then dead.
A few helmets fell off the sprawled dead. Hawke recognized them all. Some of them had seemed fairly decent lads. Two were quite young. One was a starchy girl recruit, intoxicated with her first taste of power, who had given Hawke a hard time. It was difficult to give a shit about any of them. They had lain in wait planning to kill her. No... they had laid in wait, planning to turn her into a fuck-toy that Alrik could use for his sport. She was fairly enraged.
Not as enraged as Anders, apparently. His eyes still glowed lyrium blue, and streaks of the arcane metal shone through his skin.
"They will die!" His voice echoed, unnatural and unnerving. "I will have every last Templar for these abuses!"
Hawke backed away, trying to soothe him.
"The Templars are gone. You can stop glowing now."
To her dismay, he advanced on her, his voice thick with menace.
"Are you one of them?"
"Er, Anders? Remember me? Mage?"
He was not to be distracted. "You are theirs! I can feel their hold on you!"
"Like fuck I am!" Hawke snarled, showing her teeth. Varric gave Anders a shove.
"Pull yourself together, Blondie! It's Hawke. Our friend, whom we are currently rescuing!"
The glow faded. Anders covered his face with his hands.
"Maker! I almost— I need to get away..."
He stumbled off, ahead of them.
Hawke glared after him. She rolled her eyes at Varric.
"Consider my invitation for him to go along with me rescinded."
Varric shrugged. "He didn't want to go anyway. He says he has a mission here in Kirkwall."
"Good. Crazy bastard."
It gave her some satisfaction to loot the bodies. Hawke felt fierce and strong, her heart as hard as flint. Alas, none of the armor was usable, but she found coin, and there was an interesting document on Alrik's mangled remains.
To her Excellency, Divine Beatrix.
I am well aware both you and Knight-Commander Meredith have rejected my proposal, but I beg you to reconsider. The mages in the Free Marches are past controlling, their numbers have doubled in three years, and they have found a way to plant their abominations in our ranks. They cannot be contained!'
The Tranquil Solution is our answer. All mages at the age of majority must be made Tranquil. They'll coexist peacefully, retain their usefulness—a perfect strategy! It's simply the best way to ensure mages obey the law of men and Maker.
I remain as always, your obedient servant,
Ser Otto Alrik.
Hawke hissed with fury, kicked Alrik in the head, and then spat on him.
Darktown was just as disgusting as she remembered, but it was a place where no one would look twice at a bloodspattered woman in mage's robes. There was a short walk from the "escape" tunnel to Anders' clinic, which was where Varric has stowed her necessary gear. The soles of her rotten boots flapped like a clown's.
"Do you suppose the Mage Underground sold me out?"
Varric grimaced. "Maybe. Or maybe they figured you could solve their Ser Alrik problem. Are you going after them?"
"No. Fuck 'em. I'm getting out of here."
"A wise choice."
Anders was there at the clinic, slumped on a bench, hands over his eyes. Hawke stalked past him without a word. Varric patted her arm.
In a rubble-filled corridor connected to Anders' clinic were dry clothes, a brown hooded cloak, and a leather bag. She gathered everything up with delight, and then had a look at the other things he had brought.
"Put this on first," he said, handing her a heavy money belt. She drew breath, but he interrupted. "You deserve it all, Hawke. I'm a rich man because of you. Besides," he added cheerfully, "I couldn't possibly be friends with anyone who didn't have the sense to hide her gold."
She changed out of her hated slave-garments and slipped on new clothing from head to toe: fine but not too fine. The money belt was tied around her waist. Over it went a thin linen undershirt—a blessed change from the harsh wool of mage robes—a handsome puffed and slashed dark blue tunic, a sleeveless leather jerkin, leather breeches and bracers, sturdy riding boots, and a heavy studded belt. A money purse jingling with silver, a small flask, and a belt knife with a tooled leather sheath were attached. After some consideration, she decided to conceal her old knife in her boot. The bag contained fresh linen, some decent toiletries and personal items, some travel rations, her letter of introduction to Magister Maevaris Tilani, and even some parchment and ink—
"Because I expect to hear from you!" Varric warned her.
She laughed. "You will." She handed Varric the little glass vial. "Give this to my decoy. It has some of my blood in it. Tell her to drop it over the side of the ship when she's in the middle of the Waking Sea. It'll drive the Templars crazy!"
It would, too. She smirked. She had done quite a lot of work enhancing the contents of that vial. Let the Templars work their nasty little spells with her phylactery all they liked. They would get a strong signal from the south. If someone traveled to Ferelden, there would be a strong signal from the north.
"I'll need the robes," Varric told her. He opened another bag. "Put 'em in here. Your decoy needs something suitable to wear. We're off to the docks."
Hawke strode comfortably in her new boots. Anders still had not spoken.
Hawke stopped, and said to him, "Be sure to thank your friends in the fucking Mage Underground. I got twenty-five in silver off those Templars. Oh, and here—" she tossed him Alrik's letter. "I could have told you that Meredith would never go for mass tranquilization. She'll never be satisfied with less than killing us all... unless you kill her first. I advise it."
They left, and Hawke's memory was a little hazy about directions, but Varric guided her unhesitatingly toward the dock exit. They stepped out into the light. It had rained, and the stink rose steaming from the filthy stones of Kirkwall. Hawke breathed deeply. Stinking or not, this was the air of freedom. Varric raised his brows at her, and she drew up her hood, concealing her red hair and her fairly recognizable face.
The damage from the Qunaris was worst here. She passed near the doorway that led to the former Qunari compound, remembering the time she had first met the Arishok. He had not thought much of her. He had not thought much of her when she confronted him at the Viscount's Keep, either. The deserted compound was boarded up. Hawke wondered why. It would provide a great deal of housing for the poor. Oh, well, perhaps that was the reason. Maker forbid that Meredith Stannard, dictator of Kirkwall, would do shit for anyone in the city. Only one thing mattered to that lunatic: making mages understand that they were nothing and nobody.
She must have really hated her sister. Resented her, at least, the way Carver always resented Bethany and me.
A huge statue of a Templar, grinding a Qunari head under his armored boot, almost made her laugh. As if. An actual Templar was on guard nearby.
If he tries to stop me, I shall gut him and throw him in the sea.
But he did not, for a priest was gossiping with him, the two commiserating about the miserable weather. Hawke and Varric passed them, attracting no attention at all.
They entered a warehouse, and there met a woman with red hair—or wearing a red wig—who exchanged a few words with Varric and changed into the robes. Varric escorted her to a nearby ship, paid her off, gave her the phylactery, and waited while the ship cast off and moved toward the outer harbor. Hawke emerged from the warehouse, and watched the sail shrink into the distance. She could not help smirking, thinking of how this would torture the Templars.
"And now," said Varric, "let's get you out of here."
Under the leaden sky, they strolled through Lowtown, past the crumbling houses, seeing people she had known in her early days in Kirkwall. Apathetic city guardsmen ignored her. No one recognized the cloaked, hooded figure.
She walked past the door of her Uncle Gamlen's house, remembering the time of hardship and struggle. They had still been a family—of a sort—in those days. No more. Bethany was dead, Mother was dead, Gamlen had betrayed her, and Carver was a dick.
They walked out the north gate, and headed to Sundermount, where Varric had left the horses, well concealed, not far from the Dalish camp. By this time, it was late in the afternoon. Guarding the horses was a burly, four-legged friend, who burst out, barking, to greet Hawke.
Hawke wept, rubbing the furry ears, as the mabari stood up at his full height to lick her face.
"Oh, Hero, I've missed you so much! Now I know I'm going to be all right."
Varric grinned at the spectacle. "I told Hero about the plan the other day. He's been hiding out here, and when I brought the horses up here, he took charge of them."
"Well done. Well done, both of you," Hawke praised them, running her hand over the saddled horse's chestnut coat. These were better horses than they had ever owned in Lothering. She nearly choked up again when she saw her father's old staff strapped behind the saddle.
"Saw it for sale at Jean-Luc's," shrugged Varric. "I thought of you."
The spare horse was carrying a blanket roll, a tent, some cooking gear, and more food and water.
"Varric... this is..."
"Think nothing of it. I like putting a thumb in the Knight-Commander's eye!" He handed her a book, bound in red Antivan leather.
"And just so you have reading material, I am presenting this to you, hot off the press. Your own inscribed copy."
"The Flight of the Hawke."
"It's based on what you and Junior told me about your escape from the darkspawn and your journey to these shores. Plenty of adventures and derring-do. This is just the first volume of the saga."
"Does it have a happy ending?"
"That depends on you."
Written because I don't believe for a minute that Knight-Commander Meredith would let a known apostate prance about Kirkwall having adventures. Even less do I believe that she would name such a one Champion. This is only one of many scenarios I pictured. In this story, Hawke is a female mage, and thus the family dynamic is very different than in Victory at Ostagar and The Keening Blade. Raised with two mage siblings, Carver is far more alienated and bitter—and perhaps more the favorite of his mother. I do not have Carver join the Templars because he knows that the Templars are all lyrium addicts. How could he not know? He was raised by an apostate, and there are ex-Templars like Samson hanging about Kirkwall, begging for a lyrium fix. As Carver shows no signs of any remarkable devotion, I find it difficult to believe that he would voluntarily become drug-dependent, even to spite his sister.
Yes, I know that in canon Ser Alrik's missive is addressed to Justinia V. I just don't think it was the first such missive he wrote.
I feel that Aveline treats Carver—and by extension the Hawke family— quite badly about the whole City Guard thing. Carver is a greater warrior than any City Guard we meet, and is the equal of Aveline in skill. He successfully Joins the Wardens or enlists in the Templars. Therefore, he is far and away superior to the City Guards we meet in canon. Aveline simply doesn't like him, and thus screws him over, at a time when the Hawke family is in desperate need of an honest income. It was badly done of her, in my opinion.
I have big problems with the whole issue of naughty Blood Magic. Here is one of them. While it's one of the polite conventions of fiction to pretend that menstruation does not exist, it really is merely a convention. Women of childbearing years issue blood once a month. It's hard to believe that this would not have an impact on magic. If one took it to the logical conclusion, it might incite Templars to target female mages for Tranquility and execution. There would be nothing more easy than to accuse them of Blood Magic, especially since they're all observed so closely. The Templars would have to know when a female mage is having her period, if only because of laundry demands. Sorry if mentioning this makes people feel faint, but it's the truth, unless female Thedosians lay eggs.
One never sees a female Qunari mage (possibly because we only see combat mages, and Qunari gender bigotry would tend to exclude females from such a function). As mages in Thedas appear to be taught (though we don't really know about the Tevinters) absolutely nothing but combat magic and healing, it could be that the Qunari execute all females when their magic manifests. They certainly would not permit them to breed. (Or would they? Qunari Saarebas are useful in combat. What a disgusting thought, but I'm no admirer of the Qunari). It is also interesting that while the Qunari rule lands that contain elves and humans as well as the Kossith, we never see elves and humans as part of the official army. Perhaps they are considered inadequate for such a role, even though our Warden and our Hawke, in any manifestation, regularly beat them down. The Qunari female elf Tallis, of course, is a well-trained, well-indoctrinated spy. Interesting that the Qunari prejudice against woman warriors does not apply to her. Perhaps she was so useful that they made an exception for her, which would explain why she's so very loyal. Nice to be one of the elite, and not one of the little people.
Maevaris Tilani is a rather charming canon character from the Dragon Age graphic story "Those Who Speak," published by Dark Horse Comics. She really is Varric's cousin by marriage.
This story is a one-shot. I'm working on some DA drabbles that I'll start posting one of these days. (After Victory at Ostagar is complete and I have some time to work on my original fiction.)