As Hawke had predicted, it took time for Fenris' injuries to fully and properly heal. Indeed, he'd never rested so well, so consistently as he had the past three days. Neither had he eaten so well; he was unaccustomed to eating three meals in a day, much less on anything resembling a regular schedule. There had even been a bath that first night, and though he was entirely sure the water had been heated magically, Fenris likewise knew he'd have been a fool to feel anything but grateful for the luxury of a steaming-hot bath.
The Hawke farmhouse was, if nothing else, quiet. He'd always thought himself accustomed to being alone with his own thoughts, but this was something else entirely. The woman—Isabela—and the dwarf left late that first night, and noise, laughter, and raucous conversation left with them; Fenris overheard enough to learn they usually stayed at an inn in Lothering (and from that he inferred they—though more specifically Isabela—had a distaste for the sorts of early mornings that were commonplace on a farm). However, the resultant quiet was not unpleasant; on the contrary, it was peaceful, so very peaceful that it left him restless. And that restlessness gave way to agitation.
The fact that the hunters had managed to ambush him so effectively still grated, and though Fenris believed Hawke when she said they were all dead, he knew too well that Danarius would send more. He was relentless, determined, and, above all, proud. Any reprieve at all depended heavily on how long it took for anyone to realize those hunters were dead. With no small amount of luck, the trail would be cold by the time anyone realized the latest team of hunters had failed to capture him. The road was a heavily traveled one, and other travelers—to say nothing of weather—likely, hopefully would have marred any tracks beyond the point of recognition.
But even that would not stop the hunters, only delay them. They had their methods, and while recent events had surely bought him time, there was no way to tell how much. One thing was certain, and that was he could not linger here longer than necessary. Once he was healed, once he could travel, he had to leave and make way to Amaranthine; from there, Kirkwall.
After Kirkwall… Fenris didn't know. But the city was large enough for him to disappear for a time, allowing him an opportunity to plan his next move. Perhaps he'd leave Agrippa with Hawke as thanks for her assistance, and travel the distance to Amaranthine on a hired horse—he hadn't the coin to book sea transport for his mare, and even if he did, the horse was as easily recognized as he was, and he'd have less need for a mount in Kirkwall. From what he'd seen, even given his limited view from the bedroom window, the Hawke farm's acreage was not insignificant. A great deal depended on what Hawke had to say in the matter, but it was an idea worth considering.
This led his thoughts back around to Amelle Hawke, and it was far from the first time his thoughts had traveled in such a direction since he'd woken here. He'd been certain, so very certain he'd been caught, that he'd have to cut a swath through his captors, and he'd simply acted, without pausing to think, to assess, to gauge the situation. He'd been disoriented. It had nearly gone badly.
Insofar as Hawke was concerned, she left him alone for the most part. She brought him meals on a tray and stayed to deliver a rush of healing magic to his recovering injuries, but she never entered without a purpose, and though she spoke with him while she worked, she tended not to linger or speak… unnecessarily, and whether this was due to a dislike for small talk or a lingering dislike of him, he did not know. She frequently brought books when she came to see him, and though Fenris flipped through them, he found he had difficulty concentrating enough on the words to make any sort of sense of them. But still, Hawke brought them, and by the second day a sizable collection had accumulated on top of the dresser.
Mostly he rested (restlessly) and submitted (somewhat less restlessly) to several applications of healing magic each day. If he felt he was healing slowly, it only served as a reminder that his injuries had been very severe, and nothing so easily remedied with a potion of poultice. Truth be told, he'd never been on the receiving end of a spirit healer's ministrations, but he had no doubt that was precisely what Amelle Hawke was. A spirit healer, and one with significant power, one who had—and Fenris had no illusions about this—saved his life. He still wasn't sure how he felt about that knowledge, but whatever his opinions were, it did not alter the material point. There was now a debt between them, and it was one he fully intended to repay.
That morning, he'd risen early, as was his custom—it was an easy habit to maintain on a farm, when Hawke and her mother rose with the sun as well—and was fully dressed by the time Hawke rapped lightly and came in, balancing his breakfast on a tray. She was dressed differently this morning—carrying the tray, she backed into the room wearing a dress made of a pale, light material that moved with her, embroidered with twining green vines. It was… a change from the plain, simply-cut dresses, or the trousers she typically favored during the day. A purse dangled from her wrist and a bonnet hung at her elbow, swaying gently on green ribbons.
"Good morning," she said, handing him the tray before pulling a chair up to his bedside. "Sleep well?"
"As well as can be expected."
She hung the bonnet and purse from the back of the chair. "You say that every morning," she replied, "and I still can't tell whether it means you slept well."
"Oh. Well that's a relief. Mama prides herself on keeping a home where visitors feel comfortable." Her mouth twisted into something rueful as she wrinkled her nose. "As she likes to remind me at every opportunity, since I'm gone so long at a time I might as well be a visitor."
"Why is that?" He asked the question before he could think better of it, and there was a barely perceptible stutter in Hawke's movements as she situated herself in the chair, brushing the wrinkles out of her skirt.
After a moment of thought that lasted little longer than a sliver of a second, she shrugged and said, "I can do the farm a lot more good if I'm not here. We do well enough with it—it's a good parcel of land that my father bought—but I can accomplish more if I can make a little extra to pay the help we need. More than if I tried going out there and plowing the field myself, I can tell you that." She fell silent, and though she looked as if she had more to say, Hawke instead pursed her lips and turned her attention to the leg that had been broken, blue-white light flaring around her fingers.
The sensation was peculiar, and no matter how many times Hawke had funneled healing spell after healing spell into his injuries, he could not quite become accustomed to the thrum of magic, strangely hot and cold all at the same time. More than that, the lyrium in his skin prickled and reacted to the pulse of magic, and by the time Hawke was finished treating one injury and moving on to the next, Fenris was left with a tingling ache that seemed to reach down to the very marrow in his bones.
Then she laid her fingers against his knee, gently prodding at it, a faintly bitter smile at her lips. "Besides, if I were here all the time, I'd get too comfortable. I'd start to forget and… slip. And… well. I don't want that."
"How do you avoid…" he began, then stopped, certain it wasn't any of his business to begin with. "Forgive me. It is none of my affair."
"How do I avoid the templars, you mean?" At his nod, she thought a moment, then tilted her head at him. "All right, but if you go tattling to them, I'll be incredibly put out." Threads of light and energy pulsed forward from her fingers again, this time sinking into his knee. "I expend mana," she explained. "Vast amounts of it, more than I can hope to replenish in even a day. I keep my mana levels as low as I can. Between that and taking great pains not to call attention to myself, I manage to stay just outside their notice." The light faded, and she frowned, poking and prodding at the joint. "Mm, yes, that's better. Anyway, as I was saying—vast mana expenditure. Sometimes Varric and Isabela find someone who needs healing, and lots of it, and they bring me to him—or her. For instance, while we're traveling through mining towns, they'll usually find someone who's lyrium-sick. And let me tell you, nothing'll drain mana like trying to purge lyrium sickness out of somebody. That usually does the trick, and with as many mining towns as are around…"
"There are many opportunities for you to… manage this," he finished for her. Hawke nodded.
"Sometimes there just aren't people who need healing, though." She shrugged again. "Or they need the healing but are too afraid of getting help from a mage to accept it. And then I've got to get creative. So, if we're in the middle of nowhere and come into a thunderstorm, I'll add lightning to it. If we hit snow, I add ice. Just enough to keep myself undetectable." She grinned, then, looking all too pleased with herself. "Which is why I'm doing this now, before heading into town. My mana won't hit bottom—that's not a pretty sight—but if I expend enough now, then I won't invite notice later."
His meal finished, Hawke moved the tray and turned her attention to his hip; that joint seemed to resist healing more than his knee, he noticed. Only an hour after Hawke had treated him the day before, his hip had frozen up and began aching all over again. When Fenris told Hawke this, she nodded slowly.
"I'm not surprised. You're healing well—better than I'd even expected, tell you the truth. But only movement and activity will keep everything supple. How's the collarbone? Feeling any discomfort around the shoulders?" When he shook his head, she nodded and then prodded gently at the arm that had been shot. "And how are you coming along there?" she asked, fingertips finding the site of the healed bullet wound with surprising accuracy.
"I'll take that to mean you're feeling better."
At this, Hawke leaned back in the bedside chair and regarded him levelly. "There's no doubt you're coming along well," she said, rubbing absently at her hands. "I definitely think you need more rest, but I've repaired the damage, at least. The repaired muscle and joints are… new," she explained, reaching behind her and collecting the bonnet. "And as such, they're going to be weaker than you might be used to. Your knee and hip were in the worst shape, but that bullet tore up your arm something fierce. The muscle is fully repaired, but it's also going to be weak. You're going to need to rebuild your strength as well as your flexibility."
Neither strength nor flexibility were to be gained in a sickbed. It was the best news he'd heard yet.
"May I assume you're telling me I may leave this bed for more than five minutes at a time?"
She nodded, slipping on the bonnet and tying the ribbon as she spoke. "If you want, you can take a walking tour of the farm. But the moment anything starts to ache, rest it." Hawke then stood, brushing the wrinkles from her dress, and started for the door. "I might recommend visiting the barn first. I suspect your mare misses you," she said, then hesitated a moment, her hand on the doorknob. "By the way, what's her name?"
"Agrippa," he replied, slowly swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"Oh," she murmured. "On second thought, that might be why she's been so cranky. I've been calling her 'Freckles.'"
Preparatory to standing, Fenris paused and looked at her. "Freckles," he echoed.
"It's not like you were available for consultation," she replied with a shrug. "You've been resting."
"Freckles," he said again, more incredulously than the last.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with that name," came Hawke's cross retort.
He arched an eyebrow at her. "And what is your own animal's name?"
Hawke looked at him a long moment. "Falcon," she sniffed.
"Falcon… for a Hawke?" he said, allowing himself a dry chuckle. "I suppose that was meant to be clever?"
And then Hawke did the strangest thing. She blushed. He felt his eyebrow creep higher. The silence stretched out, filling the room until it was near to overwhelming before she blurted, somewhat defensively, "I was younger when he was born—my father had me name him the night he was foaled—and that might not be his… his full name. Satisfied?"
As it happened, Fenris found he was not satisfied. "Your horse…" he said slowly, "has a full name?"
"I was young."
"And what…" Fenris was almost afraid to ask. "What is its full name?"
Narrowing her eyes, Hawke shook her head and tossed back, "Oh, like I'm telling you now." She opened the door and started through it, and then paused. "Anyway. Like I said, I'm headed into Lothering for a bit. Is there anything you need?"
"I… no. But I would ask how far the distance is to town?"
"Just a little over two miles," she replied. "Why?"
"Perhaps I might accompany you. As you said, I need the exercise."
"You'll also note I said you still need rest," she told him, closing the door again and leaning against it. Hawke crossed her arms, shooting him a look of consternation. "You're fit for a stroll around the farm, yes, but not a five mile jaunt." She met his glare for several long moments, then shook her head, then pushed away from the door with a sigh and sat down on the corner of the bed. "I understand you're feeling… prickly. Restless. And I don't doubt you've got your own plans, and you're looking forward to heading off to wherever it was you were headed. But I'm also not sure you understand just how badly you were hurt." Her smile was wry and crooked. "I reckon you'll realize it soon enough after getting out and about, though. We'll talk after supper and see how you're feeling then." Tilting her head, her smile turned less wry and more tinged with genuine amusement. "Feel like joining us at the table?"
"As you've already observed, I am feeling restless. I would welcome any change in scenery at this point."
"It'll just be the four of us," she said, almost apologetically. "Merrill—she helps out on the farm, mostly with the animals." Then Hawke stopped, pressing her lips together pensively. "She's a bit of an odd bird, but she's got a good heart." Another pause, before she added in a somewhat pointed undertone, "I'd rather not see you try to crush it."
"This is your home, I would not—"
"Merrill is a mage." She said the words bluntly, and with the edge of a challenge to them. "I'm telling you that right now, up front, no surprises. I accept what you told me the other day as truth—you were disoriented and startled, and I can't blame you for that. All the same, I don't want to see it happen again. And I especially don't want to see it happen around—or to—the people most important to me. Or over Mama's pie, which she is making particular for the occasion of you coming down to join us for dinner."
"While I have little cause to like mages—"
"So complimentary, Fenris. Maker, you'll make me blush." Fenris glared at this, but Hawke only shrugged. "I wanted to give you some warning in advance. What you do with it is your business."
"Very well," he said finally. "I… appreciate the notice."
This appeared to satisfy her and, with a nod, she stood again. "You're sure there's nothing you need from town?"
"No," he replied, "not at this time." He would need to replace some articles of clothing at some point; the shirt and trousers he'd been wearing were both torn and bloody and, he strongly suspected, would find their way to a burn pile before long. That didn't leave him with much. It was hardly a priority; he would deal with the matter later, if he dealt with it at all. Perhaps it could keep until he reached Kirkwall.
"All right. I'll be back in a couple of hours." She smiled then, revealing a dimple in her left cheek. "Try to stay out of trouble." With that, Hawke swept out of the room with a rush of skirts and closed the door behind her. Her footsteps thudded down the stairs and out of the house; through his open window, he heard her call for Merrill, and by the time Fenris reached the window, bracing his hands against the sill, he caught sight of Hawke deep in conference with a short, slight elf with dark hair. Hawke tilted her head and pointed at something in the barn and Merrill shook her head. At this news, whatever it was, Hawke's shoulders slumped and she nodded, then reached out to give Merrill's shoulder a squeeze before turning her steps toward the road.
Lothering wasn't a large town. It wasn't even large-ish. But it and its people did well enough. The soil was fertile, if occasionally rocky, and most of its farmers traveled up to Redcliffe to sell their wares. It was a damn sight better than most of the mining towns they'd stopped in, with its modest, tree-lined town square and the chantry, standing tall and bright above all the other buildings. The day was pleasant and cool and Amelle lingered by shopfront windows as she made her way past the general store (she needed to place an order for more flasks and jars), the dressmaker (something floaty and impractical in butter-yellow muslin caught her eye), and the feed store (Falcon really did need a new bit for his bridle), finally stopping at the apothecary and pushing her way inside.
The dim shop smelled sharply of roots and medicinal herbs, most stored in heavy glass jars, lined up upon floor-to-ceiling shelves, some of which had begun to sag under the considerable weight. Some plants hung drying from the rafters, and a fair few hung low enough that they brushed the top of Amelle's head as she walked into the tiny shop. Old Mathers—who was at least half a head shorter than Amelle and ran no risk of hitting the hanging herbs—stood behind the battered counter, painstakingly measuring out dried spindleweed onto a set of scales, holding his breath as he added flake after brittle flake of the plant until the scales balanced. Then he swept the lot of it into a paper packet and exhaled in a rush. Given the color of his face, Amelle found herself wondering just how long he'd been holding his breath that way. When he looked up and saw her, his wrinkled face split into a wide grin and he sealed the packet up, tied it with twine, and set it aside.
"Well m'girl, as I live and breathe," he said, blinking owlish eyes made even more owlish by the spectacles he wore. "Haven't seen you around these parts for a while, have we?"
"Only got back into town a few days ago," she explained. "And I had to help my mother get a few things squared away first."
He nodded his approval at her priorities. "Good, good. And how're you set for supplies?"
"Oh, I'm well and truly cleaned out," she said with a pleased grin. "But I'll have a proper list written up for you once I know when we'll be leaving again. I expect I'll stay at least through the planting season."
He made a note in a ledger balancing precariously on the edge of the counter. "Just remember," he said, "I need to order the frostrock special. Takes a while to get it down from the mountains."
"Fair enough. I think if you duplicate my last frostrock order, then, that should be all right." She considered it, then nodded slowly. "Yes, let's place the order for the frostrock now, I'll get back to you on the rest in a few weeks."
Mathers peered at her over his glasses. "That's all then?"
"Not… exactly," she said, fingers twisting in the strings of her purse. "I need something else. Something… particular."
He waved a hand at the endless shelves. "You haven't asked me yet for something I couldn't locate for you, my girl."
But when she told the apothecary what it was she needed, he grew serious, the owlish eyes narrowing in concern. "Well, I've got what you need to make it, that's true enough. But I'm not sure I like the idea of you playing around with that, though. Not going to try and sell it, are you?"
"Maker, no," Amelle answered immediately. "This is… for something else entirely. And I don't need much."
"No, you don't, potent as it is," Mathers grumbled as he climbed the heavy wooden ladder to one of the highest shelves. He pulled a heavy jar into his arms, and carefully navigated his way back down again, repeating the trip several times as he collected ingredients. He measured out each item with twice as much care as he had the spindleweed, and then tucked it all away in a flat, paper-wrapped parcel.
"Thank you," she said, handing over payment as she took the packet.
"Not sure if you ought to be thanking me for that, missy."
She pressed her lips into a line, but didn't reply. Instead, she tapped her fingers against the parcel. "And how might one… administer it?"
Mathers scowled at her over his spectacles, then leaned in closer, resting his forearms against the scarred countertop. "If that's for you," he said, his voice low, "let me tell you right now you don't want to take it undiluted. Make it a tincture—a few drops of that in a little vial of laudanum'll more than suffice, if you've got in mind what I think you've got in mind."
"Oh, what makes you think I've got anything in mind?" she asked, blinking guilelessly at him.
The old man just scowled at her. "Don't you try and fool me there, missy. I knew your father, and you're nothin' if not the fruit from that tree. Remember, make a tincture, and use it sparingly."
"Yes, sir," she said, dropping a little curtsey.
"Don't need none of your sass, neither," he grumbled, putting away the jars, the ladder creaking as he climbed and descended, twice as spry as a man half his age. "You just promise me you'll be careful, Mely. You're my best customer, y'know."
"And you're the best apothecary for miles."
He gave a little hmph. "And don't you forget it."
The day was bright enough that Amelle had to blink a few times after coming out of the little shop, then turned her steps toward the feed store, and if she happened to wander into the dressmaker's, she could hardly be blamed, could she? It was right there—
"And what are you up to, kitten?" a painfully familiar voice drawled.
Clamping her teeth together and smiling was about the only thing Amelle could do to keep herself from swearing out loud as she whirled around to face Isabela. Deftly, she slipped the little packet into her purse.
But not deftly enough, as it turned out.
"Up to?" she asked brightly, lifting her shoulders in a shrug. "I'm just picking up a few things for Mama, getting a bit of fresh air—that's a beautiful frock, 'Bela, is it new? That shade of blue is so becoming on you."
Isabela flashed a smile, tossing her hair a bit as she turned, the ocean-blue gown flaring out a little as she did. "It is. Don't you just love it?"
"Oh, I do. We haven't seen anything that nice since—"
"Since Denerim, I know," she replied, taking a peek at her reflection in the shop window and preening a little. "I've been on the lookout for a hat, but haven't found anything quite right just yet."
The next thing Amelle knew, Varric was holding a particularly familiar paper parcel up between two fingers. "And from the looks of things, Rivaini hasn't been the only one doing some shopping today."
Sputtering, Amelle made a grab for the packet, snatching it and shoving it into her purse again, this time taking care to pull the drawstring shut. "Excuse me," she hissed, "that is my private property."
"Yeah, sort of figured as much, especially given the part where I just lifted it out of your purse."
"You aren't even remotely sneaky, you know," Isabela said mournfully, falling into step with her, tucking her arm through Amelle's. Varric walked along on the other side. "What did I tell you about the magebane, kitten?" Isabela asked, lowering her voice.
"Plenty," Amelle sighed.
"And yet you insist on ignoring me. Varric, make her listen to me."
"Something make you think that I've got power like that, Rivaini?" Varric drawled.
"Well, you are damnably persuasive."
"Way I see it," he replied with a shrug, "Hawke's going to do what Hawke's going to do. You think it's a bad idea and I think it's a bad idea, and by my count that means two-thirds of us—a majority—think it's a bad idea. Maybe Hawke just needs to figure that part out for herself."
"And I do understand your concern," she told them both. "Truly, I do. And believe me when I say I've thought this over carefully and have given the matter all due consideration. I promise you both, I will proceed with caution."
Shrugging, Varric looked up at Isabela. "See? Best you can do is save up your I told you sos till you need them."
Isabela glared at Amelle, bare arms crossed over her chest. "Yes, I'm sure they'll be all the sweeter for my having waited."
"I really do love how supportive you both are," Amelle grumbled. They were now inescapably past the dressmaker's and as Amelle pushed into the general store, she let out an annoyed sigh. "Really, it warms my heart."
"And speaking of hearts and the chests they beat in, how's Broody?" Varric asked, following her into the shop.
"No more… repeat performances, I hope?" Isabela added.
"No repeat performances," she said, shaking her head.
"He ever give you any decent explanation for any of that?" Varric asked, his expression saying all too clearly, because he sure as the Void should have.
"It's something to do with his tattoos. Beyond that, he was confused and disoriented, and I haven't got any reason to believe he'll try it again."
Varric shot her a skeptical glance. "And you believe him?"
She thought about it, and nodded slowly. "You know, I… I do believe him. He's been… well, not friendly, but he's been civil since our little altercation. In any case, I don't expect he'll be hanging around too much longer—he's recovering well." Amelle frowned a little. "Quickly, too."
"I can think of worse things, considering the shape he was in when we found him," remarked Varric. "You figure he's going to be a fixture at your place for much longer?"
Amelle shrugged, placing her order for flasks and jars—it was a quick errand; much like the case with the apothecary, Amelle had a standing order at the general store as well—and then lingered over the display of sweets. "It depends on him. He's free to stay or go as he sees fit." She shrugged, looking longingly at the giant glass jar of candied ginger. "He's said he feels he needs to repay me—" here Amelle stopped short and shot Isabela a glare before she could open her mouth "—which may mean he'll stay long enough to help with the planting."
"Oh, do you think he'll man the plow?" Isabela asked.
Amelle tried very hard not to sigh, and then indulged in a small bag of candied ginger, handing over the coin for it and popping a piece into her mouth before tucking the bag away in her purse. She bit down, letting the candy's hot-sweet tang dissolve upon her tongue. "I am not dignifying that remark with a reply of any sort, Isabela" she said, nodding her goodbye at the shopkeeper and bustling out the door before Isabela could say anything else.
Which she did, in very short order.
"What, don't want him to," and here she paused deliberately—to say nothing of dramatically—her grin positively salacious, "plow your field?"
This time Amelle did sigh.