Hawke and Anders walked side-by-side into the alienage, the mage's silent brooding obvious enough that the elves gave him a wide berth. "Why, exactly, am I coming with you, again?" he asked.
Hawke pinched the bridge of his nose. "Because," he reminded his friend, patience beginning to wear thin, "we haven't seen each other in a week and you wanted to accompany me today, and I promised Merrill I would visit."
Anders muttered under his breath, and was about to rebutt Hawke's explanation when a grubby young boy ran up to them.
"Messere, messere! I got a message for ya, I do. A lady in a fancy dress gave me ten silver to deliver it, she did! Here ya go!"
As soon as the note was in Hawke's hand, the boy scampered off to spend or hoard his new coin.
"Maker's breath, can't anyone do things themselves in this town?" Hawke asked on a sigh once he'd read the letter. "I have to go. Can you go on and tell Merrill that I'll try and visit this evening?" He didn't wait for Anders to answer before he was out of the alienage, leaving the mage standing under the vhenadal, vaguely hating him.
"Fine," Anders muttered under his breath. "Just abandon me to the dangerous bloodmage with an obsession with a stupid magical mirror. What you possibly go wrong?" Still, he stomped grumpily to Merrill's house and pounded on the door.
"Hawke, my house isn't so big that— oh! Anders!" Merrill gave him a sweet smile, big eyes shining in the dingy light of the alienage. "I wasn't expecting you, come in!" She didn't allow him to argue as she took his arm and led him into the room, closing them door behind him.
"Oh, I wasn't—I just have a messa…" he trailed off mid-word, looking around the small house. "What…?" Turning to Merrill, he noticed a feather sticking out of her hair at an odd angle, identical to the ones that littered the floor. "What are you doing?" He'd never heard of any kind of blood magic that involved feathers and… was that fur?
"I'm making a griffin!" Merrill exclaimed, bouncing on the balls of her feet and drawing him further in, proudly showing off the misshapen lump of fur sitting on her table. "He's not finished yet, of course. I think he looks more like a mabari than a griffin, don't you think? The paste Isabela got for me is a little too sticky; it makes it hard to work with."
Anders' brain struggled to catch up. "A… griffin? Like a real griffin?"
The elf looked at him like he was a lunatic. "Of course not, griffins are extinct." Here she sighed sadly. "Just one to sit on a shelf."
"But… why?" He looked up at the lone shelf, decorated only by a halla carving Hawke had given her a month previous.
"Because I like them, of course. Why else would I want a griffin?" Merrill turned adoring eyes onto her creation. "I'll call him Feathers."
"But what's the point, you can't have a real griffin. Why torture yourself with a mere toy?" Anders picked up a feather and idly started playing with it.
Merrill smiled at him, warm and patient. "Because it's not about whether it's real or not, Anders. It's about how it makes me feel. Griffins make me happy." She looked down them, her brow furrowing. "We all need something to make us happy."
Pressing further, Anders asked, "But why griffins? What is it about them that makes you happy?" He hadn't expected to get into a conversation with the elven bloodmage, but now that he was, he couldn't deny being fascinated.
"Well…" Merrill tapped a finger against her chin, considering the question. "I suppose it's about freedom."
That made him perk up. Freedom was his trigger word. "How so?"
"They can literally go anywhere," Merrill explained. "Can you imagine being able to fly? You could go anywhere you wanted to, never have to be tied to one place. Never confined to one place. I wouldn't be stuck here in the alienage. Mages could simply fly out of the Gallows."
Anders found himself nodding. "All right, I can appreciate that. But why not dragons?"
"Oh that's easy!" Merrill laughed. "Dragons are feared. I don't want to be feared. I'm already feared. But griffins… Griffins are respected. Nobody would think of tying up a griffin, or forcing it to uproot its home every few years. Nobody hates griffins for what they are. Not like elves."
"Or mages," Anders murmured.
Merrill nodded. "Or mages."
Silence fell, stretched between them, under Anders tentatively asked, "Could… could I make one, too?"
Merrill's entire face glowed as she gave him a brilliant smile. "Of course you can! And you can call yours… Fluffy."