Part 3: Secrets and Favors

“What in the name of the Maker are we doing in this cursed place Varric?” Aveline’s voice echoed up from the

great hall of our new home.  True to his word, Varric had brought the rest of the old band to the mansion one week after Fenris and I had settled in.

“Why does everyone assume because this house was haunted it’s cursed?” I heard Varric ask innocently.  I chuckled softly to myself at that, and looked over to Fenris.

We were standing in what I had taken to calling our study waiting for the others to join us and discover why they were brought here.  We had agreed to keep our reappearance in the city a secret from our companions as long as possible, which is why we didn’t go down to the cellar to greet our guests as they first arrived.  Instead we stood on the far side of the room, in between the fireplace and the writing desk, with food and drink that Orana had prepared laid out on the table in front of us.

Fenris and I had settled into an easy routine these last two weeks.  We spent the days talking with Orana, reading to each other, and playing with Áedán in some of the larger rooms.  None of us had ventured outside the mansion since we first arrived; a situation I felt was fast drawing to a close.  You couldn’t keep a Mabari locked up inside for months on end, and I knew soon enough arrangements would have to be made to get Áedán in and out on a regular basis without being seen.

Not to mention I could already feel the walls starting to close in on me.

“A haunting generally has that effect,” another, familiar voice said dryly, drawing me back to the present.

Myheart skipped a beat.  It was my sister Bethany.  I hadn’t seen her since I left Kirkwall almost two years before.  I wasn’t sure how she would react to seeing me again.

“Oh, I don’t know,” chirped a higher, more lilting voice.  “I think it adds a wee bit of charm to the place.”  Of all the ones I had left behind, Merrill and Bethany were the ones I was worried most about seeing again.

With Bethany, I was just plain scared.  We had gotten along well enough as children and sisters when we were younger, and I like to think she felt a bit of pride at being the sister to the Champion of Kirkwall, the Champion of Mages as the mage community was calling me, but I left without saying goodbye, and without helping to rebuild the city I had almost destroyed.  After losing her twin, our brother Carter to an ogre as we were first fleeing Lothering, being forced to enter the circle against her will, and then losing mother to a crazed necromancer blood mage, I’m sure my decision did not sit well with her.

I reasoned with myself that it was what was best at the time.  Keeping her in the dark I thought would keep her safe against anyone who would try to use her against me, to find me.  It would keep her safe even if she were questioned, but now I wasn’t so sure.

And Merrill….Merrill was special.  A Dalish elf, and a blood mage to boot, Merrill was the one companion that Fenris had the greatest issue with, so for the most part I was more concerned about what seeing her again would do to him, especially with my growing heavy with his child.  Merrill always was special from the day I met her.  Her attitude towards demons and spirits was far too cavalier and naive for comfort, and in the end it had cost her the life of her Keeper and her entire clan.  But even after all that, she still persisted on her course and I think that’s what scared me the most about her.

Aveline I knew would take all this in stride.  The oldest of my companions, I had met her and her Templar husband Ser Wellesy Vallen as my family and I were fleeing the Darkspawn horde attacking Lothering.  Sadly her Ser Wellesy had been tainted by their blood and didn’t survive the trip to Kirkwall.  Aveline killed him to keep him from turning into one of the creatures all of Thedas feared and despised above all others.

When the four of us, myself, Bethany, Aveline and mother arrived at Kirkwall, Aveline had nowhere else to go so she had stuck by me and my family through the years, getting a position in the Kirkwall guard, moving up to become Guard Captain, and eventually putting the memory of Wellesy aside and marrying a fellow guardsman named Donnic.  A good man Donnic, but poor Aveline.  She was so enamored with the man, yet so inept at relationships and dating I had to play a very large, very uncomfortable role as matchmaker to get them together.  Thank the Maker it worked.

During our travels together Aveline had shown herself to be among the most level headed and stable of all those I had gathered around me, something I was very grateful for in times of darkest chaos.

Echoing voices and footsteps on the stairs just outside the door brought me back to myself.  I really needed to stop losing myself in the past, it was becoming a bad habit.  I wiped my damp palms on my trousers and looked again to Fenris.  Maker I was nervous!  But Fenris just looked back at me, my center of calm in what I was sure was going to be a rising storm, and smiled.

Aveline was the first to enter the room, followed by Bethany, Merrill and Varric.  Aveline was also the first to see us, her guardsman training kicking in as she scanned the room for threats and escape routes.  Aveline said nothing as our eyes met in silent understanding, and bless her, she just grew quiet and stepped aside allowing the others to file in.

Bethany and Merrill both saw me at the same time and froze in the doorway, leaving Varric to squeeze between them to get into the room.  No one moved and the silence seemed to stretch on forever.  I could only imagine what we would have looked to an outsider, and had to stifle a giggle.  This whole thing seemed like a bad joke.  A dwarf, two elves and three humans walked into a tavern…

Merrill was the first to break the silence.  “Hawke!” she squealed and darted forward.  I think she would have thrown her arms around me in a hug if Fenris hadn’t tensed at her movement.  Instead Merrill had to content herself with skidding to a halt a few inches from crashing into me and bouncing on her feet in nervous excitement.

“Hawke you’re back!” she chirped, clapping her hands together in childish joy.  Merrill hadn’t changed since I last saw her.  She still found joy in the smallest of things, and she still had the exuberance of a puppy.   Her black hair was still cut just below her ears, with sporadic braids in the Dalish fashion.  She was still pale of complexion, and her Dalish tattoos, the ones that always reminded me of the branches of a tree, spread across her petite features.

I laughed at her energy.  As much as her attitude towards blood magic worried me, I was glad to see some things hadn’t changed.  “It is good to see you too Merrill,” I said as I leaned in for a hug.  Fenris’ feelings be damned.  Merrill was still my friend.

Merrill gave me a quick squeeze and immediately launched herself at Fenris.  “It’s good to see you too Fenris,” she said.  I had to laugh again as Fenris cleared his throat and awkwardly patted her back.

“Err…yes, you to,” he finally managed before she skipped out of his grasp.

I turned to Aveline next.  The stoic, strawberry blond Guard Captain stared back at me with her unflinching green gaze.  “Hawke,” she said with a smile and a nod.  “Welcome back.”

“Getting bored without me yet Aveline?” I asked, arching my brow at her.

“Happily so,” was the dry response.  Once upon a time Aveline complained about all the excitement I brought into her life during my adventures in Kirkwall when she first gained her post as Guard Captain.

Finally I turned to face her, Bethany, my sister.  She still wore her dark hair in long loose waves down her back.  With her dark hair and dark eyes, so different from my white and lavender, few ever if at all realized we were sisters.  The only link between us was our similar features and complexion.

“Sister,” I said simply, walking forward with my arms open, hoping she wouldn’t turn me away.  She stared at me for a moment, shock apparent on her face, before her eyes filled with tears and she stepped into my embrace.  We hugged each other for long moments, not needing words to say how much we had missed each other, sisters to the end.

Finally stepping back I held her at arm’s length.  “Can you ever forgive me for leaving the way I did Bethany?” I asked.  Bethany smiled at me through her tears and shook her head.

“I didn’t think I could Tani, I thought I would hate you forever for abandoning me,” she said.  “But when the Chantry came asking questions, I understood why you did what you did.”  My eyes flickered over to Varric at this.  He had told me of his time at the hands of a Seeker of the Chantry.  I just hadn’t realized he had made it known to the others.

I hugged my sister again and then turned to address the room

“It is good to see you all again, and I am sure you have many questions.  So let us not waste any more time,” I said with a smile and indicated the chairs in front of us.  “Sit, eat, and let us talk of happier times.”

Everyone was only too happy to oblige, and took seats around the table.

For hours we talked, drank, and laughed at old times and new tales.  Varric regaled us with the rumored exploits of Isabela, the Ravini pirate queen who had joined us on our travels then took to the seas again once Meredith was defeated.  Bethany filled Fenris and I in on what she was doing to help the Circle of Kirkwall rebuild itself after so many had been killed or defected in the fighting.  Merrill spoke of her life in the Ailenage, a name given to the place in every city where the elves were delegated to live, and how she had finally decided to turn her back on blood magic with Bethany’s help.  Aveline told us of her life in the guard with Donnic, how hard it was to restore order after that final battle, but how the new Viscount of Kirkwall was doing a good job of bringing things back in line.

Fenris spoke of our adventures in Fereldan, doing what we could to mend the tear we had rent in the relationships between mages and the rest of the world, much to his dismay at the time.  And I told my story of my final confrontation with Anders.  Varric had already heard the story several weeks ago, and no one seemed surprised with my tale, as it was met with grim nods all around.

“What of Sebastian?” I asked Aveline at one point.  Sebastian was a prince of Starkhaven, and the last of my missing companions.  He joined me for a brief time, but left after I had spared Anders’ life when he blew up the Kirkwall Chantry, threatening retribution with his armies on Kirwall for harboring dangerous mages.  I could hardly fault him for how he felt; he was raised in the Chantry, and the Grand Cleric Elthia who was like a mother to him died in that explosion.

Aveline shook her head.  “There’s been no word yet from him or rumors of a Starkhaven army marching on Kirkwall,” she reported.

“If I write him a letter, would you make sure it gets to him?” I asked.  “I understand how he feels, but Kirkwall has suffered enough from war.  There is no need for him to bring his armies now that Anders is dead.”  Aveline nodded.

Finally though, I felt the night drawing to a close and knew I must finally tell them what brought me back to Kirkwall after so long away.

“Well,” I said.  “Now is the time to tell you all what I have been studiously avoiding for the last few hours, the reason why Fenris and I have come back and brought you all here.”

The room fell quiet as I felt all eyes turn to me.  Fenris was seated beside me and I held his hand under the table.  This was not going to be easy, so I might as well go for broke.

“I’m pregnant.”

Stunned silence met my pronouncement before Merrill squealed and everyone started talking at one, offering congratulations and standing up to come and hug me.  I laughed and smiled, accepting the good wishes as they came, before motioning everyone back to their seats.

“Oh this is so much fun!  I’m going to be an auntie!” Merrill said excitedly.

“Yes, thank you,” I said, turning to Fenris.  “We’re both quite happy with the news.  But I must ask a boon of you, all of you.”  I looked at each one in turn before addressing them.

“You all know that people are still looking for me, for answers and other…things…” I began, and everyone nodded in agreement.  “A child would not be safe with us, and Fenris and I cannot stay in Kirkwall forever.  We will eventually be found out.”  I looked at Aveline as I continued.

“I want you and Varric to raise the child once we’re gone,” I said.

Aveline stared at me in shock, and I could feel Bethany’s hurt gaze upon me as well.  I would answer to her soon enough.  “What…why…” Aveline spluttered, at a loss for words.  Shaking her head and regaining her composure, she tried again.

“Why me and Varric?” she asked, and I explained my reasoning’s.  With a human rogue for a mother and an Elven warrior for a father, this child was going to have an interesting heritage to say the least, and I wanted it raised with an equally interesting education.  Aveline and Varric were my only choices.

“Varric’s already agreed dependent upon you,” I finished.  “I won’t ask for a decision tonight, and if you say no, we’ll find other arrangements.  But I wanted to ask this of you first because I trust the two of you to do this.”

I turned to Bethany.  “I’ll need your help too sister,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.  “Aveline and Varric are going to raise the baby, not me.”  I heard the bitterness in her voice, but chose to ignore it.

“I’ll need you and Merrill if the baby is mage born,” I said.  Well, that got her attention.  Bethany blinked and sat up straighter with that statement.  I don’t think the possibility had occurred to her yet.

“You want me to raise my little niece or nephew in the Circle?” she asked hesitantly.  I nodded.

“Too much harm has come from mages untrained and in hiding, not knowing how to control their powers.  You were different, you had father to look after you, and father was Circle trained.  Now I want you to raise and train this child if they have any magical talent, alongside Merrill,” I said.

“But Hawke,” Merrill said.  Now it was her turn to sound uncertain as she looked nervously at Fenris.  “You know my history with magic, why would you want me to help raise your baby?”

“You and Bethany have had different training in magic yes,” I answered looking in turn at Fenris.  We could talk circles around the subject but I knew he would never be okay with Merrill having a hand in raising his child, but I was not about to let this baby go about life unprotected and blind.  “But that’s what I want this baby to have.  It needs as much knowledge as you are all willing to give it, and no offense Merrill, but I think you would also serve as an example of what happens to those who overstep the bounds of magic.”

Merrill had nothing to say to this, but I think she understood.  She had lost and sacrificed much she was not willing to lose in her quest for knowledge in magic, and I hoped she would serve as a cautionary tale to my child if it was mage born.

I sighed and rubbed my temples.  It was getting late, I was tired, and the waves of tension rolling off the elf sitting right beside me were not helping.  I wanted to wrap this up and crawl into bed where I would sleep for a year if I was lucky.

Aveline noticed I was getting tired and motioned to the others.  “I think it’s time for us to take our leave,” she said as she stood up from the table.  “It’s getting late and we all have much to think on.”

There were muttered agreements as we all stood up and began filing through the house.  Saying our goodbyes in the cellar, I hugged them all and thanked them for coming, telling them all to come back soon and Aveline to bring Donnic next time.

“You know the secret entrance isn’t going to remain a secret if we keep traipsing through Hawke,” Varric pointed out.

“I know Varric, but I’m going to be stuck here for a few more months, and by the end of it I’m going to want to kill something if the only company I have is Fenris and Áedán,” I said, looking at my lover with a smile.  “No offense love.”

“I think I’ll be in the same boat before long,” Fenris said with a snort.  Varric sighed.

“Fine, I’ll see what I can do to get us all in and out to visit you without being too noticed,” he grumbled.  I grinned at the dwarf.  “Thanks Varric.”

With final goodbyes Varric, Aveline, Bethany and Merrill left us, the door closing with a definitive thud behind them, the snick of a key in the lock the only noise in the following silence.  I stood staring at the door with my arms wrapped around myself for a few moments, Fenris quiet beside me.

“We’re doing the right thing, right Fenris?” I asked, my voice a whisper.  Fenris didn’t answer.  He just took gentle hold of my arm and led me back up the stairs.

Part 4: A New Arrival