Note: This started out as a prompt. An anonymous drabble prompt, to be more specific. The prompt was "Unbind Me" (a drabble about one character freeing another), and my anon specifically requested Fenris freeing Hawke after she'd been captured.
Yeah, it was meant to be a drabble. A drabble and not almost twenty-thousand words. But sometimes these things take on a life of their own!
"When will I be old enough to walk to town on my own, Mama?"
There were no easy answers to that, Amelle decided. When you are old enough for us to know you haven't got magic and won't be snatched up by templars, she thought, lips pressing into a line as she frowned. Mirae was only ten, and with every year that passed, Amelle and Fenris breathed a little easier that their eldest might take more after her father than her mother. It wasn't that Amelle didn't want to see her magic passed on, but in a world such as theirs, it had never been more dangerous to be found a mage. Granted, Ferelden was better than most, but war still raged in many parts of the country, even a decade after the Kirkwall chantry had fallen. It was not quite the Exalted March many had expected, and the longer it went on, the more people on both sides questioned their own allegiances. Templars and mages both had split ranks, had changed sides, had in some cases created their own sides, only further muddying the politics behind the war. Tensions touched every corner of Thedas.
It was why Amelle and Fenris had chosen such a quiet corner, after all. Highever was hardly Lothering, but neither was it Kirkwall. It was also the queen's homeland, which had always left Amelle feeling strangely safer there. Both king and queen were sympathetic to mages—much as they could be, at any rate—and Amelle felt certain Highever would be properly fortified, should any threat to the town make itself known. It was a tiny little section of the world, but theirs; the modest house nestled at the top of a gently sloping hill ("Easily defensible," Fenris had said with approval), with its vegetable garden that reminded her so very powerfully of Papa's garden, was the ideal place to allow themselves both to be lost to time.
And when the rains came, as they so often did, the stream swelled and made passage to the city nigh impossible. The gently gurgling barrier felt as if it isolated them from the whole world—and even if that were not entirely true, it felt true enough.
But today the sun was shining. That was a rare enough thing in Ferelden, but they were coming off a bout of storms that had felt nearly endless. Mirae had very nearly been climbing the walls by the end of it, while Kynne had systematically read through nearly every book in the house, and tiny Arlyn had pestered Fenris until he acquiesced to her oft-repeated desires that he teach her how to wield a sword. Arlyn was uncommonly persuasive at five, and her father powerless to resist.
But Mirae had sat by the window for days on end, yearning to be outside. It had been no surprise at all when she'd jumped at the chance to accompany her mother on a walk into town. This, of course, left Fenris alone with Kynne and Arlyn, and Maker there was a time when the idea of leaving Fenris in charge of children would have made her shudder. Time, however—and peace—had surprised them both so far as that was concerned. In truth, Amelle found her surprise renewed whenever she spied Arlyn crawling upon her father's back, gripping his shoulders and begging a ride in her high, thin voice, or when solemn Kynne respectfully requested Papa listen while he practiced his reading.
Or when Mirae tried wheedling something out of him, which she accomplished more times than Fenris liked to admit, much to Amelle's amusement.
But she would not be able to put off her eldest for very much longer, and Mirae knew it as well as Amelle did. With a frown, she stooped and picked up a stick, dragging it through the long grass as they walked, their boots squelching in the soft mud beneath their feet. "It's a rather long walk, you know."
"I know. But I wouldn't get lost, Mama. I promise."
"And it's far from safe."
"I'd be careful. I promise."
Mirae was a good girl, smart and capable, with sooty curls and green eyes and Fenris' complexion. She'd be a beauty when she got older, but for now her cheeks were still soft and round with childhood that Amelle secretly and selfishly hoped wouldn't fade.
She was also persistent. A trait Fenris swore came from Amelle—he often said the same about the wheedling. She couldn't entirely deny this, however frequently she tried.
"We'll see," Amelle said, cringing even as she said it, for her own mother had said those very words so many times, whenever Amelle wanted to do something new and grown up. "Why don't we talk to Papa about it when we get home? We'll see what he says."
"He'll say no," Mirae muttered on a huff, kicking at a damp clump of dirt on the path. It rolled half-heartedly into a puddle. "Because he always says no."
"Yes, well," Amelle retorted lightly, "if he does, then I don't have to."
"You're ten years old, Mimi."
Mirae jutted out her chin and scowled. "Almost eleven."
Had it really been that long? Amelle swung the stick through the tall grass again. Six— no, seven years they'd been in Highever, then. Her belly had been round with Kynne when they'd come here, and Mirae had been tottering around on chubby, unsteady legs. Amelle sighed. "Let me think about it. And let me talk to your Papa about it when we get home. If you're serious about wanting more privileges, Mimi, you're going to have to demonstrate more responsibility." She sent her daughter a sidelong glance. "Going to have to act more grown-up."
Mirae's eyes lit up with what sounded very much to her young ears like eventual parental acquiescence, and she smiled. "I can do that!"
"It might mean more chores…" Amelle said, dragging the words out as she swatted the grass with her stick again. Mirae's enthusiasm dampened, but only by ounces.
"I can do it, Mama," she said again, stopping and crouching to pluck a cluster of wildflowers growing on the side of the road.
"You may have to prove it first, sweetling."
"I can, Mama," she replied, swinging her arms as her step lightened with this sudden bright beam of potential freedom before her. "I promise, I can prove it."
They walked along, Mirae picking flowers as they went. She had a fairly sizable bouquet by the time the Highever town wall came into view. The sounds and smells of market-day reached them long before they saw the brightly colored banners and awnings flapping and rustling in the gentle wind. Livestock lowed and bleated and clucked, and everything from freshly-baked bread to hand-crafted swords were on display for sale. Customers haggled with merchants and children ran across and around the square. From the corner of her eye, Amelle caught Mirae look longingly at the playing children, and then remembered that she was meant to be proving herself; she lifted her chin and turned her head, very pointedly looking away from the other children.
"You may go play if you wish to," Amelle said, doing a very poor job of hiding her grin.
"No, Mama," she replied virtuously. "I'll help."
"Hmm. In that case I suppose I'd better get on task myself, yes?" She pulled a list from the bottom of her basket. "Flasks and stoppers, oil for Papa's sword, a few yards of something pretty for your sister—honestly, she grows out of clothes before she can wear them out—and I'd like to see about the produce. Farmer Travers has been bragging about his blackberries this season, and I'm curious to see if they're as good as he's telling everyone they will be." She looked down at her daughter. "Can you think of anything I might be forgetting?"
Mirae pressed her lips together and frowned in thought. "Is Uncle Carver still coming for Summerday?"
Amelle hid her wince. After Kirkwall, she'd been all but certain if Carver returned to the templars, it would have been the end of him. His faith in the Order outmatched hers, however, and when he did return, reports of Meredith's madness had got there even before he did. He and Cullen both were brought back to Ferelden, installed in Amaranthine, after a number of templars had been disgraced and kicked out of the Order—Cullen as Knight-Commander and Carver, eventually, as his Knight-Captain.
Her brother's last letter hadn't sounded terribly promising that he'd be able to make it over from Amaranthine. But Mirae was uncommonly fond of her uncle. "I don't know, sweetling," she said gently. "I'm sure he'll try."
"Then we should see if Miss Laetitia is selling any of her red currant jam." She paused. "Just in case."
"Red currant jam for Carver," Amelle repeated thoughtfully. "Anything special for Papa? He might feel left out if you've chosen something particular for your uncle."
Mirae's expression was one of deep skepticism that said, so clearly, Don't be silly, Mama. "You know he likes blackberries best."
"I see. And since we're already getting blackberries…" At Mirae's nod, she sighed. "Nothing you're willing to pick out special for your father then," she said mournfully.
Skepticism wavered into uncertainty. "Well…"
"We'll look around. See if anything jumps out at you."
Together they wandered the square, weaving around stalls and stopping occasionally to peer at sweets, cloth, amulets or rings. She spied a staff that would've suited her admirably, once upon a time, and her fingers lingered over it, wondering who in the Maker's name would be idiotic enough to buy a magical stave at an open market. She'd always preferred to procure her weapons from less… obvious sources. Still, it was quite handsome, with twined metal twisting around itself like a vine, wrapped delicately around a stone every bit as blue as the Waking Sea.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Mirae peering curiously at a bow and quiver of arrows. Interesting.
They'd only worked through half the items on their list, and had stopped to admire a merchant's collection of runes and amulets when an uncomfortable prickling crawled across her skin, settling at the base of her scalp. Someone was watching her. Them.
She asked the seller a question about the quality of the stone in one rough-hewn amulet, and when he invited her to take a closer look, she did, stepping back and holding the pendant up to the sun, pretending to scrutinize its quality. About five stalls down, she caught a glimpse of a woman with ginger hair, clad in mismatched armor, a sword and shield upon her back; she was watching Amelle for all she'd been pretending to examine a pair of gauntlets.
Still. She could have been mistaken. Certainly wouldn't have been the first time.
She didn't buy the amulet, but when her fingers brushed across a band of silverite, she felt the distinct tingle of magic chase across her skin.
"This one's pretty," she said absently, trying to hear how her mana answered when she touched the ring. Fire, perhaps? Yes. That felt right.
Healing, something else whispered in her. Defense.
"Oh, aye, that one's a regular treasure. Came across it meself during my travels across the Free Marches—"
"I'll take it."
Ignoring Mirae's wide-eyed look, Amelle handed over the coin for the ring and slipped it on the middle finger of her right hand where it settled comfortably against her skin with a barely perceptive hum.
Amelle just smiled at the merchant. "I don't suppose you'd have anything that might fit this young lass' finger?"
"Why," he said, clearly smelling another sale, "I believe I've got just the thing…" From a trunk he pulled out a smaller selection of rings crafted to fit younger, more slender fingers.
"Mm, that's perfect," she replied, gently running her fingers over each and every one, until the cold metal of one simple band buzzed against the pads of her fingertips. Healing. Speed. Protection.
Mirae's eyes were huge as Amelle slipped the ring on her daughter's finger. "Let's call it an early nameday present," she said, winking. "After all, you are nearly eleven."
Unfortunately, Amelle hadn't exactly brought enough coin to go on spending in this manner. She picked out another ring and amulets for herself and Mirae.
And if it turned out that they hadn't really been followed through the market and eyed by suspicious-looking characters, then she would blame her bout of paranoia on Fenris, because this was clearly his influence. Another careful glance, though, revealed the same woman, now at a different stall, still watching her. Oh, she was being subtle about it, but there was still something about the way the woman turned her attention to something else the very moment Amelle turned her head.
"Come on, sweetling," she said to Mirae in an undertone. "There are a few more things I'd like to look at." Keeping her steps slow and measured, almost leisurely, Amelle visited nearly every stall and cart of goods, whether she was interested or not. She caught sight of two more individuals in the same type of mismatched armor. It reminded her, incongruously, of her Kirkwall days, when they'd loot the bodies of the men they'd bested, collecting armor and runes and weapons.
Amelle wondered, suddenly, if those pieces of armor had been looted off of dead men.
She led Mirae by the first weapons dealer again, the one that had the staff for sale, wondering if she ought to have bought it—idiotic or not—when she first noticed something was amiss. No, she thought, better not to let whoever's watching know you've noticed them. There'd been a time when she wouldn't have cared, when she would have bought a staff in the bloody Gallows marketplace and not cared a whit if anyone noticed. There had been a time when she would have faced them all down herself.
Now all she cared about was getting Mirae home safe.
The longer they browsed and dawdled, the more certain Amelle became they were being followed. Finally, she ducked into a bookshop and tugged Mirae behind a shelf.
"Hush, darling," she said, dropping to her knees. "There's something I need you to do. It's very important, so I need to you to listen carefully."
Mirae appeared too stunned to do anything but nod.
"I need you, my darling girl, to go out the back way and, careful as you can, run home. Run all the way home, fast as you can. Don't stop for anyone. Not the guard, not a templar—no one. Run home and—"
Her daughter's face, those rounded cheeks, her jutting jaw, went suddenly pale, her eyes filling with tears. "I can't, Mama— it's too— it's too far. I can't. What happened? What's wrong?"
"It doesn't matter what's wrong. What matters is that you run home and fetch your father. Tell him… tell him—blast it." Tell Fenris what? She took a deep breath and let it out. "Tell your father there's trouble. Tell him I've led them out the west gate." That was in the opposite direction as home, giving Mirae a clear path.
"Led who out the—"
"Mirae Hawke." At Amelle's tone, her daughter subsided, though looked no less afraid, no less worried. "There isn't time to ask questions. You must hurry. Run home. All the way. Stay out of sight if you can." A plan was forming in her mind and it would be a miracle beyond miracles if they'd be able to remain in Highever afterward, depending on how things played out. She hoped they played out well.
After an unbearably long pause, Mirae bit her bottom lip and nodded. "Yes, Mama. Run home, fast as I can. Get papa. Tell him you left out the west gate."
"That's it, my darling, brave girl," she said in a rush, leaning forward to kiss Mirae's forehead. "You can do this. I know you can do this."
Suddenly, a pair of thin arms wrapped tightly around her neck. "Something's wrong," whispered Mirae. "Isn't it?"
"I sincerely hope not."
The butterfly-brush of a kiss across her cheek was nearly Amelle's undoing. "I'll hurry, Mama," Mirae breathed before turning and rushing to the back door of the bookshop.
Amelle stood, dashing away the sudden tears blinding her, and took a deep breath, trying to clear her mind and remember who she'd been once. She was Hawke, damn it, Champion of Kirkwall. She bested the sodding Arishok in single combat. She could handle a few mercenaries. What were they? Coterie? Carta? They were amateurs, is what they were.
"Yes, that's more like it," she murmured to herself. "Now let's not dwell on the times I got my arse handed to me on a platter and I should be just fine." Pushing the bookshop door open, Amelle strolled out into the sunshine, keeping her posture relaxed, letting the basket swing gently from her elbow. Going from merchant to merchant, she counted her mismatched friends—three, no four. All right, four. None of them seemed terribly concerned that she was alone now, and even better, they were still looking at her. Slowly, Amelle made her way to the first weapons dealer she'd visited, laying eyes once more on the staff.
"Come back to look again?" The merchant was an older gentleman with a tuft of white, almost comically unruly hair. She'd seen him frequently over the years—one of the traveling merchants—but had never actually bought anything from his stall before.
Amelle kept her smile bland. "It's quite pretty," she told him. "What does it do?"
The man's grin froze somewhat. "What does it… do?"
"Yes. What does it do? It's clearly not a sword, or a bow, or… tell me," she said, blinking wide eyes at him, "are you meant to bludgeon someone with it?"
He blinked, as if wondering how one woman could be so dim. "You don't… know what this is?"
"Well, I wouldn't have asked if I knew, would I? All I can think of is that it must be an uncommonly pretty walking stick that doubles as a bludgeon." She planted both palms on the top of the rickety table and leaned forward, lowering her voice. "Because it's not as if any reputable merchant would sell a mage's staff out in the open in front of everybody, hmm? That's the sort of thing templars wouldn't take too kindly to, I imagine."
The man blanched and Amelle felt a fleeting kick of guilt. "I—listen, I don't want any trouble," he replied in a shaky whisper. "And I sure as the Void don't need trouble with the bloody templars."
"I'd be happy to take it off your hands," Amelle riposted lightly. "Just so it's not here the next time they patrol the square." In truth, Amelle had less than no idea how often templars patrolled the town square, or if they did at all. The important thing was that he thought the templars patrolled. "It's up to you, of course."
"That staff—" Amelle silenced him with a look. He cleared his throat. "That… walking stick. A mage traded it to me outside of Gwaren six months ago. Haven't been able to get rid of the blighted thing since."
"So I'd… be doing you a favor," replied Amelle slowly, narrowing her eyes at him.
Amelle began looking through her belongings to find something she could possibly, potentially trade for the staff.
"I'd take that ring you've got, lassie."
Freezing, Amelle clenched her left hand and held it close, hiding the hammered gold band against her chest. "This was a gift from my husband."
"I'd still trade for it."
Yes, she scolded herself sharply, and if four mercenaries kill you because you didn't have a decent weapon to defend yourself with, they'll loot it off your corpse and then where will you be?
She took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. "All right. On one condition."
The wizened old man furrowed thick brows at her. "Name it."
"I'm coming back for this ring," she said, slowly and evenly as she pulled the ring from her finger and handed it over. "Do not sell it. But if you see a white-haired, tattooed elf before I come back for it, sell it to him."
The old man agreed, as he handed over the staff. Amelle took it, holding it out and testing the weight a moment before nodding and propping it against her shoulder.
"I will be back for that ring."
"I don't doubt that for a moment, lass."
Very deliberately, Amelle removed the basket from her elbow and set it upon the weapon merchant's stall.
"Shall I make sure your elf takes that, too?" he asked.
"If I don't come back for it myself? Yes, please."
With the staff resting on her shoulder, Amelle looked around until she saw the female mercenary. After a second or two, the woman finally met her gaze and, lifting her hand in a little wave, she winked, and broke into a run. Perhaps it was foolish to bait them so, but as she darted between buildings and leapt over puddles, she wanted to make certain they'd chase her and not, say, be keeping an eye out for Mirae.
Maker, watch over her, she thought, heart beating hard as she scrambled around a pastry merchant bellowing about his fresh-baked turnovers. A quick glance over her shoulder showed Amelle that the four mercenaries were indeed in pursuit and she pushed a little harder, running just a little faster.
It occurred to Amelle with a pang of dismay that she wasn't quite as nimble as she'd been in the old days.
Sprinting down one narrow alley and then another, she took a sharp left and ran hard for the west gate. As her booted feet hit the stones with every stride, the shock of the impact ached up her legs, but then she sprinted through the gates and met the far more forgiving grass and dirt path. And three more mercenaries, a man and two women.
Taking the staff up in her hands, Amelle felt the enchantments buzz to life as she took a breath of mana and funneled a burst of force magic down the staff, never breaking stride. The air rippled and shifted, and sent the mercenaries sprawling to the ground before they could even draw their weapons. The path turned and sloped downward some, and as Amelle ran, she dug her feet hard into the mud, determined to make it as easy as possible for him to find the fight.
She skidded to a stop about twenty yards from the gate and looked around. The seven mercenaries hadn't quite surrounded her, but they were slowly fanning out as they approached. It was odd, Amelle thought, that mercenaries would move with such… precision. She swiped the sweat from her face with one forearm and squinted up at them.
"I'm really not sure you want to do this!" she called up at them, taking slow steps backward as she hefted the staff. The stone at the top glowed softly. As if in answer to that gentle glow, the mercenaries armed themselves. Two carried greatswords, while one held a sword and shield. Three wielded daggers. Only one had a bow and arrow.
The woman in the middle stepped forward—the ginger woman she'd noticed in the market—and yelled down to her, "Are you Amelle Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall?"
"Never heard of her," replied Amelle, fingers so tight around the staff they began to ache. "Sorry to disappoint you." She looked around. "You know, this doesn't have to end badly."
"Oh, it won't," the woman said. "Not for us, at any rate. I'll ask again: Are you Amelle Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall?"
"You know, I think she retired," Amelle replied, taking a deep breath and letting her mana grow bright and sharp in her veins, letting it build and build and build. "So you're a bit late."
They were still advancing, slowly. Advancing and fanning out, preparatory to, Amelle assumed, surrounding her. And that would never do. She took several more steps backward, letting her mana gather. She'd once dabbled in force magic, but that was more than a decade ago now, and though her spirit healing abilities had never been stronger, they weren't likely to do her much good now. So she let the mana build and pulse, and set her mind to shaping it to pushing forth a telekinetic burst that would send the mercs flying and give her an advantage.
"Who are you with, anyway?" she asked, letting the power funnel down her arms. "Some branch of the Carta? The Coterie, maybe? Some other new player?"
There. There. Amelle exhaled and let the mana rush forward, into the staff; she felt the weapon focusing her power, letting her shift it, pull it, twist it, mold it, and then she released the spell.
It caught three members off-guard, and they went sailing backwards. The ginger woman, though, stepped forward and pushed a rushing pulse of bright white light forward, negating the spell.
They weren't mercenaries at all.
They were templars. She was surrounded by templars. That was why they moved together with precision, and that was why they hadn't been the slightest bit interested in her daughter.
Adrenaline surged through her as Amelle turned on her heel and ran.
The further she charged down the hill, the muddier the terrain got, sucking and slurping around her boots, so she tore off into the trees, hoping she might at the very least slow them down by throwing obstacles in their way. As Amelle hurtled through the woods, she flung spells behind her as fast as she knew how, never bothering to look whether fireballs hit their mark, or whether they dissolved into nothing with the faintest pop of air. She pushed jagged chunks of ice up through the ground, sent blast after blast of frigid air and twining streams of lightning behind her. All the while, as she ran, arrows whizzed past her ears and holy smites blasted the ground just feet from where she'd just been.
It didn't make sense, she thought feverishly as she jumped over fallen logs and scrambled through underbrush. Carver was a templar. If someone—anyone—had been planning something like this, he'd have told her. He'd have warned her. She hoped.
Pushing a burst of mana forward, Amelle flash-froze a wide pond in front of her. She slid and skidded over the hard, slick surface, and then sent a fireball sailing behind her, reducing it to slush. But with that spell, she felt her dwindling reserves begin to ache in that strange, hollow way that always meant she was too close to empty. The amulet, the rings, the staff—all of it had helped, but it wasn't going to be enough. And she had no lyrium potion to speak of. Idiotic. Idiotic. Leaving the house without a weapon. Without lyrium. Without anything. She'd gotten lazy, complacent, sloppy. Highever had felt safe to her, and she had allowed herself to be lulled into security over the intervening years.
Huffing a litany of curses under her breath as she ran, every pounding step reverberating like a pulse in her ears, Amelle scrambled over a fallen oak tree, nearly fully covered with soft green moss. The moss offered no traction, and Amelle's momentum sent her sailing forward, the staff spinning out of her hands. Her boot snagged on one of the fallen tree's boughs as she fell, and though she tried to catch herself, her caught ankle twisted until something cracked, sending a sharp bolt of pain up her leg. The staff landed in the grass too far ahead of her to reach it, and there seemed no other option available to her but to land hard upon the damp, grassy earth, roll to her feet, and run on a broken ankle until she had mana enough to send a burst of healing energy down to it.
That all changed in a burst of light that slammed ferociously against her spine, turning her vision white and silencing the mana in her veins. For a moment, for a perfect, terrifying moment, she was blind, deaf, and insensible to everything but white light. She knew she was about to hit the ground, but did not feel it. She heard nothing but her own galloping heartbeat, saw nothing but white light as it engulfed her and drained her, fading only in time for her to fall to the forest floor, like a broken doll.
And when the white light faded, there was nothing but darkness.