Fenris woke up in a soft bed, wrapped in smooth, white linen sheets. Hawke slept beside him, mouth open, blankets twisted around her legs. The elf sat up, rubbing his head. It ached fiercely, and for the life of him, he could not remember where they were or how they got here. He had been drinking tea and listening to Merrill whine . . . and then . . . nothing? Fenris stood, unsteady as if he had spent a long night drinking heavily. Even his mouth had that flavor, like vinegar and spoiled meat. Riese made a small, unhappy noise and tugged the blankets tighter around her as he padded across the room to the wooden door opposite the bed. He opened it carefully, wondering if they had been drugged by the keeper and that strange old elf Dirthen. It sure as hell felt like it. The tension in his neck and shoulders sent spikes of pain through his skull as the door swung open slowly. A dark hall lay on the other side, with another door at the far end. A few potted plants lined the walls, odd fungi and ferns, things that loved the dark. Fenris frowned; so that was it then. The bitch had drugged their tea and then . . . imprisoned them? He was tempted to try the other door, but didn't want to leave Hawke alone in here. He turned back and closed the door behind him. Riese blinked at the sound of it shutting. "Andraste's ass, that hurts," she moaned, sitting up. "Did we go drinking? My mouth tastes like-" "I know," Fenris interrupted, grinning at her discomfort. "You tasted my mouth?" Riese shot back, raising an eyebrow. The elf laughed and then immediately regretted it. "Ah - gods no - but my mouth . . . I think that keeper drugged us."
Hawke thought about it a moment and then nodded, "I guess she did. But why? I'm still dressed, and so are you. Did you check our stuff?" The elf looked around, spotting the bags they had carried, and went to rifle through them, checking gold and potions first, then the rest. It was all there. "Nothing missing," he told her. She nodded almost as if she expected it. "My jaw is sore," Riese told him, massaging her cheeks with one hand. "Mine isn't," the elf frowned. "Maybe I fell?" Fenris shrugged, coming over to check her for bruises. "It doesn't look like it." He kissed the mage along her jawline just because, which coaxed a smile from her. "Did you try to get out," Riese asked him, leaning down to check her boots. "No, I wanted to wake you first." She stood, wobbling a bit. "I would kill for a glass of water right now." The mage looked around in annoyance and then heaved a sigh. "Ok . . . well, I guess let's go then. Or try to anyway." The elf grabbed their bags, and opened the door for her. She spent a moment or two looking over the plants and frowning. "Not much difference between poisons and medicines . . ." she muttered darkly.
The door at the end of the hall was unlocked, and Riese walked through it like an angry queen, head held high, hands balled into little, angry fists. Fenris hoped it wouldn't get ugly. He just wanted to be away from this strange place and these people. No more adventures, no more rescues, no more favors for ungrateful asses. The elf followed her out, blinking for a moment at the bright light streaming through the windows. Merrill and the Keeper sat at the table, breakfasts half eaten in front of them. The Dalish looked a thousand times better than she had on their way in and she was smiling brightly. Riese stopped between them and the kitchen entrance. Fenris could see the way out just past her shoulder, the door that would take them into the alienage and beyond it the street. He sighed, and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for Riese to have her say. "Oh! Good morning, Hawke! We were just talking about you!" Merrill turned to beam at them as if life couldn't be better. The mage raised an eyebrow, putting one clenched fist to her hip. "What did you do to us?" The question was pointed at the keeper. The red head smiled, shrugged. "I am so sorry. I should have asked permission, but it seemed best to make sure you all slept until I could work out Merrill's little problem." Fenris didn't like her answer but there was nothing to be done for it now. Hawke's face was a stormcloud; obviously she wasn't happy either. He really didn't want to end up in a fight, not when they were so close to finally having a life of their own.
Fenris coughed, getting Riese to look at him. She did and then let out a little sigh as if to say, "Ok, ok, I won't let her have it." Merrill seemed oblivious as usual and burbled on. "Oh the Keeper is just wonderful, Hawke. I feel so much better today! And we talked about - about my clan." At that, the Dalish bit her lip. "She says, oh Hawke . . ." Merrill stood up and practically threw herself at Riese, eyes tearing up. "The Keeper says it wasn't our fault! She says - she says that Marethari should have been more careful! And- and that I - that I - that there is nothing wrong with pursuing the old knowledge." Apparently all Merrill needed was this keeper's reassurance to have an excuse to forgive herself. Hawke pushed her out to arms length, expression serious. "Even when it means dealing with demons, Merrill?" The Dalish nodded, but could not meet her friend's eyes. Fenris looked from them to the Keeper with a frown. This did not bode well. Everything Marethari said indicated that the Dalish forbade any dealings with demons and would hunt down and kill the mages that bargained with them. Whatever the woman in front of them was, she couldn't be a real Keeper of the Dalish. Sarael laughed, a deep, rich, amused sound. "Please, let's not argue. At least eat first; lectures can wait." Riese fixed her with an angry glare, "We are leaving. Where is my brother?" Merill touched her arm lightly. "We can't go yet, Hawke. This place - these people - they are fascinating! You don't really want to leave do you?" Riese didn't look at her. "Stay if you like, Merrill. I can't make you come with us." The Dalish dropped her arm, sagging. "But Hawke-" She was interrupted as Riese took a step forward, pointing a finger at Sarael. "I don't know what you are up to, but I don't like it. I don't trust you." The keeper shrugged, "You don't have to. I understand you are angry, though why is lost tome. Perhaps some . . . human trait? I have only offered help and hospitality." She turned back to her breakfast, losing interest in them. "You are, of course, welcome to leave when you wish. I can have Dirthen escort you to the gate to avoid any ugliness." She made a motion toward the door.
"And my brother? Where is he?" the mage asked tersely. Fenris sighed, wishing she would be calm. He didn't trust this woman either, but antagonizing her seemed like a bad idea. She had handled them like kittens the day before, but Hawke rarely considered consequences until after the flames died down. Sarael refused to take offense; she shrugged again and pointed toward a door in the back. "He went to the garden to relax until you woke." The mage walked past her without another word, leaving Merrill and Sarael standing there. Fenris felt a need to watch the Keeper, but didn't want Riese running around alone, so he followed. As the door closed behind them, he heard Merrill offer an apology. "Oh, Hawke's always a bit on edge . . ." He supposed it didn't matter. If the Keeper was offended, he would stand with Hawke and if she wasn't, then she wasn't. Merrill's chatter wasn't important, though he had to wonder where she would stand in a fight between Riese and Sarael. Fenris thought it sad that even after going through so much with the odd little Dalish, he still could not trust her. He wondered if the fault was in her or in him. Thankfully, the door did lead out to a terraced garden, carved into the wall. Beneath the rows of plants climbing and dangling in wild abandon across the alienage wall was a comfortable patio nearly hidden beneath more potted plants. Hawke's brother sat in a chair that was far too small for him, wedged between a bush covered in white fluffy blossoms and a blooming iris, the flowers stained a dark purple. He was staring off into space with a glazed expression.
"Carver?" The templar turned his head, smiled at Riese and then winced. "I feel like I've been in a bar fight," he grumbled. "That happens when someone poisons you," Hawke replied. Carver raised an eyebrow, "Merrill says it was just -" "Merrill says a lot of bullshit," Hawke cut him off. Carver mumbled something in reply as he reached for a tin cup on the ground. "We are leaving," she told him firmly. "And Merrill? She sounded like she wanted to stay a bit," the templar replied. Riese made an annoyed sound, "She will come if we leave. I think." The mage motioned for him to stand, impatience coming off her in waves. "So get off your ass and come on!" Carver stood reluctantly. "Why are you so pissed off? I mean . . . that Keeper said she did it for Merrill. What's a headache matter if she healed Daisy?" Fenris crossed his arms, "You're telling me you don't care that a mage you don't know put something in your drink, knocked you out cold, and then did things to your friend?" The templar made a face, "Well . . . you put it that way . . . I mean . . . Merrill made it sound so . . ." "Innocent?" Riese rolled her eyes. "She also acts like blood magic is just another part of the daily routine, so what do you expect?" "You aren't exactly innocent, either, sister, so don't try to act all high and mighty. Merrill doesn't always make the right choices, but at least she has a good heart," Carver grumbled. This was not helping, Fenris thought, coming between them. "Whatever," he hissed, "None of us has clean hands. Can we yell at each other about it after we leave?"
Riese stared at her brother, waiting for him to cave first. Surprisingly, he did, giving Fenris a curt nod. "Fine." The three of them went inside to find Merrill and Sarael talking as if nothing had happened. The Keeper watched them over the rim of her cup. "Shall I summon Dirthen then?" Sarael stood and walked past them, unruffled by their obvious displeasure. "Yes, the sooner the better," Hawke said. Sarael stood and walked past them, unruffled by their obvious displeasure. "I am not going," Merrill said quietly as the door closed. Her chair squeaked a bit as she stood, hands clasped in front of her. "I always did what you asked, Hawke. Well . . . almost always. But I don't want to go, not yet."
Riese looked at Merrill with disbelief that faded to resignation quickly. "I don't think it's safe for you here, Merrill." "It's not safe anywhere, Hawke. I'm not asking to be safe. I want a chance to start over and to do something good." Carver nodded agreement, watching the two women. Fenris was glad the templar kept his mouth shut at least. It was never wise to come between two mages, especially when you couldn't kill either of them. "The Keeper says the Dalish are -" Merrill stopped herself and took a deep breath before plunging on. "There is a purpose for me here. There could be for you too, if you wanted. B-but even if you don't, I'm staying." Riese shook her head and turned away. "As you like. I suppose it's my lot to lose friends at every step." "Hawke . . . I . . . I am sorry. We can write and - and maybe visit each other!" Merrill tried to sound excited, but it fell flat.
"It's not so bad," Merrill prompted but Riese said nothing. "Really, it isn't," the Dalish repeated, voice quavering. "We'll write you everyday," Carver told her, looking miserable. Fenris said nothing, feeling sad and annoyed with himself for it. There was nothing bad about getting rid of the damned bloodmage. The woman was a menace to herself and everyone around her. It just bothered him to see Hawke sad again. She was still in mourning for Anders and all the friends they left behind. Isabela's desertion was still fresh and now this. Fenris wished she could see the truth of it, that they were better off without people like Merrill and Anders, and even the pirate, but she had a gentle heart.
Hawke finally spoke. "I don't understand what it is you want here, Merrill. This Sarael can't be trusted. Even if she healed you, which I am not sure of, she drugged us! And her people - they seem violent . . ." The mage's voice trembled with hurt and simmering anger. Merrill stepped closer, her reply soft and low. "Hawke, you don't understand. The Keeper - she is fighting for us! For the Dalish and all elves. She told me not to tell you, that no shemlen could understand, but I know you! You, of all people understand fighting for what is right." "What is right? I am not sure I know what that means anymore." The mage shook her head, "It doesn't matter anyway. I don't trust her or her motives, whatever nonsense she feeds you." "It is a chance for the Dalish to be great again. To recover what we have lost, Hawke. What can be bad about that?" Merrill leaned closer, gaze intense. She wanted Riese to agree with her so badly. Even Carver looked strained as he watched them.
Fenris wasn't sure what he felt about it. He had never much liked the Dalish, finding them arrogant and self-righteous. They judged 'flat-ears' for an accident of location and birth and were often as full of viperish hate as the humans they went on and on about. The idea of fighting for elven freedom sounded good, but his notion of it was far different that these Dalish. Despite their sad tales of oppression, they never served as slaves in Tevinter, never watched their families bartered away. Never sat silent, listening to loved ones weeping in the dark as masters took what they wanted. These Dalish saw only ancient grudges, a lost kingdom, lost power. They wanted it back and cared little for their cousins still trapped in slavery and poverty.
Riese stared at Merrill, silent and disapproving. The Dalish blinked, wiping at her eyes as if to rub away tears. "Please, Hawke. It's what I've always wanted. When I found that mirror, I dreamed of what secrets we could recover. Power for my people to share in again. When - when I made that deal with the demon, it was for this. For the Dalish, even when my own clan could not accept the sacrifice . . . and now . . . finally . . . this Keeper understands."
"Marethari understood too," Riese replied softly. Merrill recoiled as if slapped. "She paid your price, begged you to find another path, but you come back again and again to the same thing." Hawke seemed to sag under the weight of her words. "She died to give you another chance, and you want to throw it away. Fine. I have done what I could." The Dalish drew back, struggling to regain control of her emotions. "You're my friend, Hawke. Why won't you understand?" Riese turned away from her. Carver sighed heavily and patted his sister's shoulder. He did not look happy.
The Keeper returned with Dirthen in tow and took in Merrill's tortured expression, and the general unhappiness of the Hawke siblings. She lost her smile. "Well, that's done then." Sarael put a hand on Merrill's shoulder, turning her away from her friends. "It will be well, little one." Dirthen spread his arms wide and shrugged. "If you have said your goodbyes, then come along. The sooner you are out of the alienage, the better, yes?" Fenris nodded, opening the door for the older elf. There was nothing else to do for it. Riese followed Dirthen out, and Carver came along looking reluctant, his gaze cast back at Merrill. He wore a lost expression as the door closed, blocking his view. Surely he could see Merrill had no need for him here, amongst these mad elves who seemed to hate humans. If she felt at all for him as he did her, she would not have stayed.
They made an odd parade on their way through the alienage. Mid morning was a busy time of day for this place, and many elves bustled about on various errands. They stared at Fenris and his friends the way a housewife would look at a dead rat in her pantry, with a mix of loathing and a hint of fear. Dirthen waved and nodded, called hello to people he knew. A few asked him about the shemlen and their flat ear, but he shushed them instead of offering a straight answer. Fenris wondered what exactly Sarael told him about their leaving. Hopefully it was neutral. It be just their luck to end up in a backalley fight with this man and his friends over some perceived offense. Anxiety crept up his spine, and he sped up to walk closer to Riese. She was lost in thought, gaze unfocused. At least one of them was immune to the glares. Carver was more than happy to make up for her, frowning at any elf that looked at them too long. It left a trail of grumbling behind them.
Dirthen didn't seem to care, though Fenris was certain he noticed. Perhaps it was enough that he was leading them out. Or to an ambush. Or whatever the old elf had planned. He didn't speak to his charges as they walked, though Carver broke the silence as the gates came into view. "Can she have ah- that is, can we visit her?" "Of course. With a proper escort though. We can't have you walking about on your own here," Dirthen replied cordially. "If she wants to see you, it will be arranged." The old elf stopped and looked at them. "I know she told you a little of what we are about. I am not sure if it was enough for too much." Carver shrugged uncomfortably. "You are fighting for the Dalish. That's what she told us." Dirthen nodded, "And when we have our lands back, there will be a place for shem. Just not on top, not anymore." "I don't think the Dalish would make better masters to humans than humans made for elves," Riese answered as her brother looked thoughtful. The old elf gave her a half smile, condescending. "I understand why you might feel that way."
Then Dirthen looked to Fenris, ignoring the two humans. "We could always use another warrior, you know. You could stay with us." "Without my wife?" The elf almost smiled as he said it, despite the situation. His wife. He reached for Hawke's hand and squeezed it gently. At that, Dirthen's smile faded. "She could come, but not as your mate. Elves and humans . . . we should not cannot allow them to mix with us." He looked at the tattoed elf as he said it, the passion behind his words unmistakeable. Fenris understood him perfectly well. Any child he and Riese had would be human, as it was for any elf and human; it was a slow path to annihilation for his race. Maybe he should care, but it seemed unimportant. They probably couldn't have children, and if they did, he would love them no matter the shape of their ears.
"Sorry, not interested," Fenris answered dryly. If Hawke was worried, she gave no sign of it but she did return his gentle squeeze. Dirthen frowned, "It is on your head then. I hope you remember this day when you are old and wrinkled. The day you gave up a chance for freedom." He motioned to the gates and then turned on his heel, leaving them in a huff. Riese sighed and laid her head on his arm a moment, eyes closing. "I wonder sometimes if I am not the worse choice for you." Fenris kissed the top of her hair, enjoying the way it tickled his nose and pricked lightly at his cheeks. "You are never the worse choice for me. Now let's go before something starts." She smiled at him but said nothing more as they left.
Carver trailed behind them, looking over his shoulder as they left the alienage behind. "Do you think she'll be alright there?" His sister gave him an annoyed look. "It doesn't matter. She wanted to stay. What would you have us do? Drag her out?" The templar glared, cheeks turning red. "We could have at least stayed a bit, heard them out." Hawke put her fists on her hips and turned to face him. "Then go back, Carver. If you are so worried, turn around and walk right back into the lion's den. I won't come after you this time." He gaped, eyes wide, too angry to do more than sputter. "I don't - you should - how can you just-just!" He raised his hand as if to slap her and then stepped back with a shuddering breath. "I think, sister, that you have changed. The Riese I knew would never leave a friend like this."
The words hit Hawke hard, though she refused to bend in front of her brother. She cocked her head, "If that is what you think." And then left him standing in the street as she rapidly walked away. Fenris gave Carver a dirty look and then ran after her, sure she would find some more private place to cry. The templar couldn't understand, couldn't see, how much it hurt Hawke to leave Merrill. He was too eaten up with his own feelings to reach past them for a moment of understanding. It was funny, reflected Fenris, that he could see these things so easily in others but not in himself. He did his share of self-righteous moping, and if he could admit it now, that only meant some of it was in retrospect. Certainly there would be more. He gave a grimace of pained amusement as he caught up to the mage and took her arm in his.
Riese did not cry. She refused to. After years of being hated by her brother, reviled by a good half of Kirkwall, and in general on the bad side of a lot of people, you would think she would be used to things like this. People assuming she didn't care, that she was a heartless mage, egotistical . . . still. Even Fenris acted that way sometimes, as if he still suspected that somewhere in her lurked a magister. Hawke sighed, relaxing some small amount when the elf took her arm. She guided them into a flower stall along the road, pretending to be taken by the colorful bouquets. Fenris said nothing, just stayed with her as she looked from one to another and exchanged some empty pleasantries with the shopkeeper.
Finally she calmed enough to speak. "Was I wrong?" It was the first question that came to her mind. The elf shifted uncomfortably, and then shrugged. "To leave Merrill there? No - she is a grown woman. It was her choice." "But about Carver . . ." she asked, picking at some feathery yellow flower thrusting into the pathway. "I don't know, Riese. My family - I have no experience to judge," Fenris answered. The mage nodded. She wanted Fenris to tell her everything was fine, that she did the right thing, but he had never been the sort to offer bland reassurance. Even when her mother died, the elf had little to say in comfort. Hawke sighed and walked away from the plant seller, letting Fenris scowl at the shopkeeper as they left. Poor man had no idea who he was shouting at.
That was probably a good thing, Riese reflected. If the chantry learned their whereabouts, it wouldn't be long before templars and tamed circle mages showed up. It was hard to keep in mind that she was now a notorious felon. Fenris guided them up the street and past another set of gates into what was clearly a nicer part of town. Fountains graced each square, and sculpted bushes and colorful flowerbeds decorated fenced lawns to each side of the lane. The street finally opened into a marketplace, with upscale shops selling fine wines and spices, a tea shop with a wide, covered patio where guests sat, being served confections and aromatic drinks on silver platters, and two tailors with silks and velvets hanging in their windows. Most interesting of all, an old but well maintained inn stood on one corner, red lamps hung by the door. The large sign, bearing a painted white puff, proclaimed the name Creme.
"Is that a bordello?" Fenris asked with a smirk. "In this part of town?" Hawke shook her head, uncertain. "It could be an inn," she added. The elf smiled at her and winked. "One way to find out, no?" Despite her general malaise, Riese returned his grin. "Too true. Lead on, my love." They went in quickly, stopping just inside to let their eyes adjust. The common room was smoky and full of laughing people. There were definitely more women than men in attendance, and most were dressed in clothes not fit for Ferelden weather, shoulders bare, pale white midriffs flashing in the lamplight, skirts pinned up to show colorful petticoats.
A very large man stood to one side, glancing and them and then to an older woman who stood near the bar. She gave a barely perceptible nod and then approached them, face breaking into a wide smile. "Welcome to Creme! We are the finest inn and tavern in West Hill." "Inn?" Hawke took in the scene again with a raised eyebrow. "Inn. My girls are here to serve drinks and entertain, of course, but we are an inn," the woman replied a bit tersely. "No offense meant, miss. We are new here and need a room for at least the night," Fenris said, taking over. He could be so polite when he wanted to be.
"You can call me Opal," she told the elf, her tone welcoming again. "I haven't got may rooms left. A small one in the attic, but it does have a private bath, and one garden side with two beds. It's very expensive though." The woman looked them over, obviously expecting they would want the cheaper room. Hawke nodded, thinking Opal was exactly right. "We will take the attic room, then," the mage told her. "Perfect," the woman nodded, gesturing to the big man. "Birk, take their things upstairs." "Shouldn't we pay first," Fenris asked, watching the big man walk over to them. "No, no," Opal reassured him, "We trust our guests. And if you do try to leave without paying . . ." she looked to Birk and smiled. "Of course," the elf answered.
Riese doubted the big man intimidated Fenris in any way. He certainly didn't seem much of a threat to her, but that was the advantage of magic. Size mattered little. She handed Birk her bag as did Fenris. He took them easily and then stumped to the stairs. "Is this way. Birk show." He nodded to himself and then started up. Hawke wondered if he was slow witted, but she supposed it didn't matter. Opal didn't employ him for his intelligence, but for those tree-trunk arms and legs. Birk didn't carry a sword, but she had little doubt he could use the studded iron rod slung on his belt. It clinked with each step as they made their way up the three flights of stairs. Laughter and the odd moan floated to them through the walls on each floor, reminding Riese of the Blooming Rose in Kirkwall. Did that place still stand? Hightown should look much as she had left it, though there was rioting in the streets the day Anders - the day the chantry was destroyed.
Birk stopped abruptly and fumbled a brass key from his belt. He turned, ducking, at the top of the stairway and opened a door on the left, disappearing into the room. Hawke and Fenris followed him in without needing to duck beneath the low beams. The room was small, and a bit cramped with the large bouncer there, but it seemed nice enough. A bed sat near the window, white sheets and a red coverlet. Across from it was a low, painted screen with images of birds and flowers decorating each panel between the wood frame. The promised bath was behind it, an actual porcelain tub. The bouncer set their bags beside the bed and bowed, then held out his hand for a tip, humming softly as Fenris dug a few coppers from his belt. "Our thanks," he told the big man, letting out a relieved sigh as the bouncer left.
"I wonder what this will cost us," the elf said wryly as he checked under the bed and behind the screen. "I don't care," Hawke replied, falling onto the bed. It was soft, and she sank into the feather down mattress. "At least we won't get fleas," Fenris smiled, watching her. "Not from the bed anyway," the mage grinned back, then sobered. "Do you think Carver found someplace for the night?" "I'm sure he did, Riese. Stop worrying - he's a grown man and he made his way for a long time without you." She nodded agreement and sat up. The elf was right. Her brother had made it almost ten years on his own, so what was one night. Besides, she had bigger things to worry about at the moment.
"Sleep now, bath in the morning?" she asked, changing the subject. Fenris sat beside her, leaning in close as he took a dramatic sniff. "Are you sure?" he teased. Hawke pouted, "Do I smell? Really?" The elf nuzzled her neck, kissing lightly. The touch sent shivers down her spine. "You do." "Then . . . then why . . . so close . . ." It was hard to think, much less speak when he did that. "You smell delicious." Riese could feel his smile as he pulled her against him, both sinking down into the bed and darkness.