Rumors woke with spring in southern Thedas. Whispers carried on a breeze, tales of massacre, rebellion, and unrest. Even in the smallest villages where news was last to arrive, the people felt a change in the wind. Orson sat in a tavern in east Orlais, reading reports and drinking wine. His wide girth was barely contained by the creaking wooden bench he'd commandeered, but the mage barely noticed his discomfort. Orson's agents reported success all around, both in and out of the circles. Some mages, inspired by Anders' first strike or perhaps by their own counted miseries, were already in revolt. Some met death on templar blades; some disappeared into the country side. Others were holed up in their towers, spitting defiance at the chantry and any who sought to rule them. It made Orson smile, his chins gathering beneath the baring of teeth.
The best news of all was a rumor that the Grand Enchanter would be convening a council to vote on mage freedom. If it was true, the mages would set themselves opposite the southern chantry. Those already opposed to magic would be even more outraged, helped along in their violence by additional agents in the field. His assistance was hardly needed, Orson thought with a laugh. The idiots were looking for a reason to fight. And as the circles peeled away from the faithful, they fled to the one place everyone knew mages were held in esteem. It had put a fair bit of strain on his network, but the effort was worth it.
Orson felt that he had single-handedly (plus or minus the efforts of a few worthless flunkies), placed a whole battalion of fresh slaves and soldiers into his master's hands. Ahriman had to be pleased. He had to see Orson's worth now. The mage quivered at the thought of the rewards that would be his. Surely he would be elevated to the Magisterium. Perhaps, one day even . . . an archon? No, no, Orson chided himself. Better to be the power behind the archon. He imagined an old Ahriman, ancient and bent, weak but able to give the impression of elderly wisdom. He would rule from a bejeweled dais, every word on his lips placed there by his trusted ally, Orson. It was such a pleasant dream that the mage nearly didn't notice when Anders shuffled in and sat down heavily across from him.
A sweet, acrid smell accompanied the mage everywhere he went now. A necessary composite of herbs and powdered limestone that filled Anders' innards. It helped preserve the body, a necessary precaution as the weather warmed. Anders himself seemed unaware of the change, though he scratched sometimes at the bandages around the wound in his belly. Between Orson's reassurance and the sway of the demon that inhabited him, Anders didn't question much. He believed he had taken a wound fighting templars, and his good friend had patched him up.
Now Anders sat, staring glumly at Orson. The Tevinter put on his most concerned expression and reached over to pat the mage's hand. "What is it that has you looking so sad?" Anders shrugged. "I can't put my finger on it, friend. I feel like I'm not sleeping but . . ." he stopped, licking his lip nervously before continuing. "But it feels like so much of my nights, even days! They just get swallowed in darkness. I can't remember people, not names or faces. Places you say we've been!" Anders' voice jumped in volume, high then low, thick with worry.
"Anders, listen to me. It's been a rough road for us. Chased out of towns, pursued by the chantry, even attacked by our own kind. I expect you to forget some, especially after your trauma. You were so near to death." Orson paused, savoring the needy look the mage gave him. "I barely had the talent to pull you back from the brink. And my abilities are so far beneath yours . . . perhaps I let some damage remain. I am so sorry, my dear friend." The Tevinter was proud to note he even managed a teary dampness in his left eye as he spoke.
The mage reacted as if from a script. Fitting, since little more than that was left to him. "Oh Orson, I did not mean to put it off on you. I know you've done your best. My only friend in all this." Anders paused, eyes going blank as his thoughts struck upon a memory he was no longer allowed to recall. The mage was always testing his bounds, stretching against the constraints of the aegis placed upon his spirit. Perhaps the bonds needed strengthening? Another ceremony would drain his lyrium reserves and it wasn't easy to find suppliers on the road. Orson dismissed the thought. Anders wouldn't be needed much longer. If he was to plan anything for the mage, it would be a martyr's death. Something dramatic that would play well at home and to the indecisive southerners who still needed to be convinced that Tevinter was their only ally.
Orson smiled gently at Anders and pulled back his hand. "You must be strong, my friend. For us all. We have come so far these past months . . . I think soon we will be ready to fight. Ready to win." The mage's brow wrinkled with worry. "Can one fight decide it though, Orson?" The Tevinter nodded, trying to hide his impatience. For a possessed dead man, Anders certainly held a lot of anxieties. "I have heard the circles are voting on independence soon. When the templars attack them - as we know they will - we will be there."
"But, Orson . . . I feel like there is something you're not telling me." Anders paused, gaze more focused than it should be. "When I try to think about it too much, my head hurts and then - then," he took a deep breath as if exerting great effort. "Then I black out. Did you do something to me, Orson? When you healed me?" The Tevinter's expression of dismay was not feigned. Anders, in his condition, should not be able to so much as think an ill thought of his friend.
"Rapacia, control your host," Orson said, voice quiet but hard. Anders jerked and then sat up straighter, eyes gone a sickly shade of violet. "My apologies, great master," the demon replied. Its voice was warm, caressing. It stirred feelings in Orson that he thought were long dead, the lusts of youth. The Tevinter ignored them as best he could, pressing his hands firmly into his lap. This creature was dangerous and such distractions could kill him, or worse. "I tire of explaining things to the mage, Rapacia. You are allowing him to much free reign."
The hangdog expression of remorse fit Anders' features too well. "It was not my intention to disturb you, great master. If I bind myself to him too tightly, he will lose what is left of his thoughts. He would no longer be of use to you should that happen." The demon cast its gaze down demurely, the movement feminine even on Anders' wide shouldered frame. "You did tell me not to over use him . . . that you needed his speeches pure of my influence lest some mage or lurking templar sense my interference. Has that changed?"
Orson noted the challenge it put in the last three words and bristled. "No, it has not changed." He kept his voice calm, expression neutral. "Why don't you put our host to bed until I need him next? Then you need not interfere and I will be free of his interruptions." The Tevinter meant it as an order, but the demon only smiled, perhaps taking his polite wording as more suggestion than command.
"I would offer another solution, great master. One to please us both, I think." The demon's eyes met his, lit with an inner glow that stoked a fire in Orson's long neglected loins. An ache spread through his balls and into his groin, cock throbbing with need. "Stop it," he squealed, slamming his hand on the table between them. The demon didn't wince or draw back, but the sensations subsided. The Tevinter's heart beat fast in his chest, equal parts lust and terror. This was getting out of hand.
"I am sorry, master. It is my nature." The look was vaguely apologetic. "Just tell me what you want, Rapacia," Orson's voice shook just a little as he spoke, breath still too rapid for normal speech. "I would enjoy what this world of flesh can offer, great master. You promised me a feast of pleasures, but deny me at every turn. Let me instead use this vessel as I please. It will not hurt your manipulations. It may even . . . enhance them." Its voice purred its way into Orson's head, stroking through his thoughts with languid sensuality. For just a moment it made him consider. It had been many long years since his last sexual foray, a slave whose name he hadn't bothered to remember, though he recalled her tears as he took her. He had never been with a man, never thought about it. But it wouldn't really be a man . . . it would be Rapacia in all her glory.
Sensations and images flooded his mind, the things the demon would do with him and to him, an overwhelming tide of pleasures Orson had never considered. That last was what brought the Tevinter back to himself, to the present and the very real danger of coming under the sway of this Fade-cursed creature. Anders' lips were a hairsbreadth from his own; the mage leaned across the table, fingertips stroking the back of Orson's hand. "Get. Away. From. Me." The Tevinter barely managed the words, fighting his own urges and the demon's powerful lure. Rapacia smiled and stood, giving the Tevinter a flourishing bow.
Orson refused to look at it directly. "Get out of my sight. You can take what you want from others, but never from me. If you try that again, I will destroy you." Rapacia smiled, "I take that as a yes to my request. Thank you great master. I will leave your sight." The Tevinter said no more. Though the demon's assumption disturbed him, he didn't have the strength of will to argue further right then. Orson did wondered what trouble it could cause with free reign to sate itself. Surely it could be contained until arrangements for Anders' death were finalized. With that thought in mind, the Tevinter forced himself on to other tasks, reading and re-reading important letters and drafting his replies. Despite his intense focus, Orson could not shake the feeling of the demon's gaze, nor the desire it had provoked in him.
Fenris held tightly to Hawke's hand, squeezing it gently as they made their way to the general store. Their neighbors were already gathered. Most gave the two a cursory nod, but here and there a few faces smiled warmly. It was the conspiratorial winks that caught Riese by surprise. She wondered how many people were in on Tillman's plan and then realized most would need to know at least something about it. It was the only way to be sure they wouldn't ill time some comment on the change in hair color and cut, or their out of place winter wear. It was still chilly outside, but nowhere near enough to justify the hats, scarves, and gloves that covered all the bits their coats did not.
Widow Jerah waived them over to a spot near the back. She was a sweet woman, though you would never know it to look at her. She wasn't much older than Hawke, but her brown hair was shot with iron grey, face lined in a permanent frown, her eyes narrow and squinted from long hours out of doors. Despite her sour mien, she was one of the ladies that most often sent out baskets of food for the two and had even taken it on herself to help the mage learn to cook. Today Jerah wore her usual faded black dress and cap, but they were freshly clean and pressed for the event. The widow gave them a brief smile, leaning over to whisper, "I put the lamp out back here, so you'll have a bit of shadow."
"Thank you," Hawke smiled back. Fenris gave a little half bow. "You look very nice today, my lady." Jerah hid a broader grin behind her hand at the compliment, eyes sparkling with mischief. "Such a polite young man. And so calm for all the excitement today!" Riese nodded, feeling a flutter of nervousness in her belly. "Yes. Fenrik is no stranger to excitement." "I bet not," the old woman replied, smile growing wider. Hawke blushed, "Well. Well, thank you for all your help. We didn't expect -" The older woman patted Riese on the arm, "It's no problem, dear. I can't have you run off before we've mastered the kitchen, yes?" Riese nodded, but the comment hit a sensitive spot. For being an accomplished mage and warrior in her own right, it was hard to have some flea-bitten farm woman teach her a skill that came easily to most. Fenris rescued her before she could smart off to the woman. "Yes, thank you Jerah. We appreciate the help so much. Rachel is becoming an excellent cook." The widow nodded and gave Hawke another pat. "Of course, of course. If you'll excuse me, dears?" The mage gave the older woman a little bow and managed to smile as Jerah pushed her way to the front of the assembly.
"You didn't sound very convincing," Hawke complained after the widow was out of earshot. "Didn't I?" Fenris asked with a little smirk. "No." Riese retorted, tugging a stray bit of black hair out of her face. The elf smiled and gave her a quick kiss. "I'm just teasing you, love. Your cooking has gotten better, and anyway, it wasn't food that got my attention in the first place." Hawke raised an eyebrow at the elf's smug tone. "Is that so?" Fenris grinned, "That's so." He didn't add anything else and after a moment, Riese smiled back. "You'll have to fill me in later." "I intend to, piece by piece," the elf assured her, then her tucked her loose hair behind her ear and straightened her cap so that it would stay in place. His touch eased the mage's anxiety, though she could not quiet the anxious roiling in her stomach.
"I wish this was over with already. We could go home . . . stop feeling so . . ." she searched for a word that would hold all of the uncertainty and misery of this moment, but nothing fit. "It will be alright," Fenris replied, holding her gaze. "I know you are afraid. So am I. Just breathe and relax." "But what if we're recognized? What if someone tries to hurt us or capture us?" Hawke spoke quickly, all the words in one rapid breath. It was too easy to imagine this room turned into a bloodbath. "They won't. I'm not sure even Varric would recognize us like this," Fenris told her, squeezing her hand gently. Riese felt reassured, though she knew rationally that the elf didn't know any more than she did what would happen. She gave him a grateful smile and turned to survey the room, eyes searching the crowd for some sign of the peddler.
She need not have searched so hard. The man didn't try to slip in unnoticed. Fuller Tillman came in first, motioning for quiet. He wore a stern expression, shoulders hunched. As the room fell quiet, the farmer opened his mouth to introduce their guest, but whatever he was about to say went unvoiced. A lean man in a colorful cloak threw open the door behind him, stepping in. The first peddler of the year, thought Hawke. He had bright red hair pulled back in a loose braid and a blue cap with a golden feather, only a little droopy from the damp air. His pale features were speckled with tiny freckles, and a wide, red moustache draped his upper lip, covering his mouth entirely so that it almost looked perched on his chin.
"Hello there!" he shouted at the gathered farmers. "I am Bertrend Escobel, peddler, teller of many tales, and friend to the common people of all Thedas. I am known from the dangerous docks of Antiva to the wild shores of the southern marshes . . ." He looked around the room with odd, pale brown eyes. After a dramatic pause, "You may have heard of me." The room was silent. It seemed no one was quite sure what to say to that. There was an uncomfortable shuffling of feet and then Tillman turned his head to look at the peddler. "Can't say as we have, least til now." A few people laughed, which turned Bertrend pink with embarrassment. That was the only sign he gave of being flustered by his reception though. "Ah, well, now you have, fine folk of Sheeplick. I am here." He spread his arms magnanimously, a wide smile lifting the ends of his moustache.
Tillman crossed his arms, thoroughly out of patience with the peddler. "Would ya get on with it, then?" Bertrend gave a slight grimace and then bowed, apologizing. "Yes, dear host, I did not mean to delay. My men will bring in my wares whilst I give you the news of the world beyond your fine fields." Fuller rolled his eyes at the peddler's grandiose manner, but motioned for him to go on. Bertrend clapped his hands and three men detached themselves from the gathered crowd, leaving to bring in the merchandise. As they left, the peddler's face went grim, a frown rippling from forehead to chin as he straightened his back and flipped the edge of his cloak over one shoulder. "I bear the gravest of news today. It is my sad duty to tell you all of violence in the Free Marches and the death of a most beloved Revered Mother, Eldreda . . ."
"Elthina," Riese whispered, rolling her eyes. The narration went on and on, though Hawke had to give the peddler his due. Bertrend could spin a tale almost as well as Varric. He had the crowd gasping and sighing in all the right places, eyes glistening with unshed tears for the dead, and fists clenched in anger at those who escaped unpunished. Most of the details were wrong, but the peddler got the gist of it. "There is more to these dastardly doings too, fair farmers," Bertrend went on. "The villains have not come to justice, no. It is my sworn duty to the Prince of Starkhaven and to Divine Justinia herself to pass on word to every town and every village I come to. The chantry seeks the heads of these murderous bastards, and the Prince has offered a bounty of 100 gold each for any who can catch them."
There was a sharp intake of breath around the room at that sum. It was more than most of these farmers would see in a lifetime. Riese wondered if the promise of two hundred gold would be enough to change their feelings about the newest residents of Sheeplick. She hoped not, but greed won more than one heart in the past. Bertrend was still speaking, though Hawke realized she missed some of what had been said. If it was important, Fenris would fill her in later. "Most wanted of all, the Champion of Kirkwall, one mage of the family Hawke. She is fair of face, with blue eyes and brown hair. She may carry a staff and pretend to be a healer, but she is a traitor, murderer and villain. They say . . ." and here Bertrend's voice dropped ominously. "They say she killed her own mother to fuel her blood magic. That she tempted Orsino, the Grand Enchanter of Kirkwall and led him astray. Her sweet, young face hides an evil seductress. The Prince himself fell under her sway for a time . . ."
The audience held a breathy silence as he went on about all of Hawke's evil deeds. Riese tried to tune him out but couldn't help hearing his twisted recitation of her life these last several years. It hurt to hear every victory she held, and every tragedy survived, turned into a list of crimes. The mage clenched her jaw, and tried to remind herself that most of his list was bullshit and the parts that weren't had happened far differently. After what felt like an eternity, Bertrend went on to her companions.
He described Fenris, Carver, Merrill, and even Isabela. When he got to Varric, Hawke nearly choked. "Of young Tethras, we need not worry. He is in custody of the chantry already and will doubtless face the headsman soon. Let us hope we can bring his friends' heads to join him on the wall, no?" There were a few nods around the room, which the mage found terrifying. She glanced up at Fenris and saw tight-lipped tension, his body held rigid with suppressed emotion. She leaned against him, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. The elf looked down at her, anger and worry in his eyes. Varric was a friend, after all. One of the few. This news was unexpected, and dire.
Bertrend stopped, motioning for a drink. He mopped the sweat off his brow and leaned against a crate as he drank from a tin cup offered by the store keep. "I wish I had better news, but it only grows darker still," he said in a soft voice that nevertheless carried to every corner of the room. "Last, but surely not least of the champion's evil band, was another mage. It should not surprise you," the peddler chided the audience as if they had expressed surprise. "We all know that magic can taint any heart." He crossed his arms, pacing the front of the room. Hawke wished she could tune him out now, but he had her full attention. He must be talking about Anders. That was the only friend left out. Did Sebastian not know that Anders was dead? Had he unwittingly put a bounty on a man who already paid for his crimes with his blood? It could be though, Riese thought. Sebastian did not forgive nor forget easily.
The peddler went on with his narrative. "This mage was a Grey Warden. He took an oath to give his life against the blight, against the darkspawn, against those creatures that magic unleashed on mankind." Bertrend grimaced, "And then, before ever meeting the champion, he took the faith given into his hands and ran! He abandoned his oaths without a look back. It seems only fated that the mage would meet up with this Hawke in Kirkwall, for together, we now know, they plotted the destruction of the chantry. This man calls himself Anders, and on his head lays a bounty of two hundred gold."
Many of the farmers grunted in surprise or spat in disgust. The peddler made a calming motion to his audience. "I do not think he will be seen here, no. He was last seen in Orlais, trying to raise support for his madness." Hawke went blank for a moment, shocked. Anders had been seen? That was impossible. Anders was dead. The mage snapped back to attention, hoping to hear more of where and when Anders was sighted, but the peddler was finishing up his description of the man and said nothing useful.
Riese took a deep breath, thinking perhaps Bertrend was misinformed. He had been wrong on so many other counts. Could she really take his word that Anders - a man she knew to be dead - was out roaming the Waking Sea for his revolution? It would be just like Anders though, to avoid his old companions out of guilt and shame. She imagined him alive, alone, writing furiously in the backroom of some dirty tavern, sweat beading on his brow, and those brown eyes lit with an intensity that only Anders could muster. Could it be true? Hawke felt joy and anger in equal measure, and bottomless regret. The tide of conflicting emotions would overwhelm her if she let it. With some effort, the mage pushed those feelings down, locking them away for now.
Their main concern tonight was whether or not Sheeplick could still be home. Riese looked to Tillman, wondering if the peddler's version of the story had changed his mind. It was hard to tell at a distance, but certainly the old man wore a heavy scowl, glaring out at all assembled. His opinion would be the one to gauge, Hawke thought. If Tillman no longer offered his protection to the two of them, no one else in Sheeplick would. The farmer didn't look her way, though some of the other villagers were eyeballing them. Even if no one intended to turn Riese and Fenris in, so much staring was bound to draw Bertrend's notice.
Hawke couldn't help but feel like this had been a bad idea. They shouldn't have involved these people in all of this. The farmers, their friends, even Tillman, could not know how bad their situation was, and now they were hearing it in the worst way. How would Tillman and his people feel, knowing they protected murderers, mages, and worse from justice? Would they keep silent? It seemed so unlikely.
Bertrend shook his head, shoulders drooping under the imagined weight of the message he carried. "This so called Champion and her cult sought to give mages rule again. They spit in the face of Andraste . . . Were it not for my sacred duty to spread the word about these criminals, I would go on the hunt for them myself!"
"More money in merchanting, and less danger," snickered one of the men nearby. A few others heard him and smiled. Bertrend reddened again, stomping his foot. "It is nothing to laugh at! If they succeed, we will all live under the boot of mages, just as they do in Tevinter." That wiped the smiles off several faces, though some people just shrugged. It was hard to imagine the tyranny of magisters here in the Ferelden farmlands.
"Is there any other news," a stony faced Fuller Tillman asked. The peddler looked at him for a moment and then nodded. "Trade disruptions all over the Free Marches and the Prince of Starkhaven is raising an army. Some say it is all related to this champion and the things she has unleashed. But - I am a mere peddler and bringer of news. I do not know." He went on about this election and that intrigue, but Hawke wasn't listening anymore. She wanted to get out of here before something happened. There was an undercurrent of tension to the gathering, a heaviness that Riese did not like. Perhaps it was just her imagination, but if she had learned anything, it was to trust her instincts. She nudged Fenris and nodded toward the door. The elf understood her perfectly.
The peddler spread his arms wide and gave a courtly bow far out of place in Sheeplick. "No matter what troubles approach, we mere carters of goods and tillers of soil must go about our daily business. Please, browse my wares and if you have questions, I am happy to answer anything for you." He had no sooner finished speaking than a general buzz of conversation filled the room. It was the perfect opportunity to leave unnoticed.
Fenris and Hawke tried to make their way to the exit, but their path was blocked by chatty farmers and children darting between the legs of the slower adults. It made for a treacherous path when you were trying very hard not to draw attention to yourself. It didn't help that every third person seemed to watch the pair from the corner of their eyes as they pushed past. Some frowned, others gave a supportive smile, but it all made Riese more certain they could not stay here. The mage tried not to tense up as people stopped in front of her to look at the bolts of cloth, metal buttons, and other paraphernalia the peddler had brought. She had to stop with them each time and then try to side step, making for slow and awkward progress.
The two were about halfway to the door, where the press was thickest, when Hawke felt something warm, small, and bouncy collide with her legs. A little boy plowed into her, sending the mage stumbling forward. Unfortunately, she fell just as one of the peddler's helpers was pushing by. He was a short man with broad shoulders and a shining, bald head. The man managed to grab her as she flailed, trying to keep her balance. "Miss, are you alright?" he asked.
Hawke nodded curtly. "I'm fine." The man gave Riese a friendly smile, "You look a bit overwhelmed."
"Yes," Riese nodded. "I'm not used to crowds." She hoped that would be the end of it, giving them a graceful and unremarkable escape from the peddler's helper but the man took hold of her arm instead. "Let me be of service, lady." He didn't wait for a reply, just led her through the crowd. Hawke wanted to pull away, but it would cause a scene. Besides, he was leading them toward the door much faster. The wide man had a preternatural grace and seemed to anticipate gaps in the crowd that let them pass without pushing.
Fenris followed closely, his solid presence reassuring. He gave Hawke a feeling of certainty that no matter what happened, he would be there for her. Hawke was glad of it, especially when her senses screamed that violence was only a hairsbreadth away. Would the peddler try to kill them himself? Somehow, that possibility hadn't occurred to Riese. They had worried Bertrend would report them, perhaps send the fury of the chantry down on their heads, but maybe he had more in mind. Two hundred gold more. Questions raced through her mind and sweat beaded on her brow as they crossed the last few feet and stepped from the crowded, warm store to the quiet stable behind it. The mage was ready to bolt if the peddler's assistant tried anything. She wasn't willing to fight back so near to people she did not want to hurt.
The night was dark and the sky too cloudy for stars. Fenris could just make out the shape of the stable and beside it, a large, covered cart. The man's teeth flashed in another smile at Riese. "Better, lady?" The mage nodded, trying to step away from the peddler's helper, but he didn't let go. "Are you planning to walk us home," she asked, too loudly. "Not at all, lady. Master Bertrend would be upset to lose my help. I only wanted to deliver a message before you go." He leaned in close and whispered something for Hawke alone. It couldn't have been more than a sentence or two. The elf strained to make out what was said, but caught only the mage's breathy gasp as the man let go of her arm. "Who are you," she demanded.
The peddler's assistant smiled again. "I am no one. You have bigger concerns, Riese Hawke." Fenris felt the gathering of magic in the air around them, a thickening of tensions that already felt heavy enough to choke him on each breath. "Not here," he whispered harshly. The mage let her spell go, hands curling to fists at her sides. "If I don't know who you are, why should I believe you?" Hawke's question hung for a moment, unanswered. The man shrugged. "Heed my warning or no, lady. You can leave at the behest of my employer and meet with him, or you can refuse, and he will receive an offering of your head." The man gave a slight bow and walked back inside.
Fenris took Riese' hand, forcing her fingers to uncurl, thumb stroking from wrist to palm. She shook as she turned to face him. "What did he say?" the elf asked. Hawke frowned, "Let's talk on the walk home. Not here where anyone could walk out on us." He nodded, letting the mage set the pace. She said nothing as they left the stable and walked to the edge of town, her face closed to him, mouth set in a worried frown. Riese didn't say anything until they were in sight of the sheep pens, their own cottage sitting atop a small hill, waiting patiently for them to return. When it came into view, he felt the mage relax, heard her take in a deep, shuddering breath.
"The man said Sebastian offers a truce, at the cost of one mage's head. And that to refuse will bring death to us and any that stand in our defense." The mage said it flatly, seeming to shrink as the words left her. "Anders is dead," the elf replied, unable to keep the uncertainty from his voice. "Maybe this is some kind of trick?" Hawke nodded, "Maybe. But if we don't go, people could be hurt." She held a token out to him, a coin. "He slipped this to me when he caught me." Fenris took it, examining the coin in the dim light. It was Antivan. "He sent assassins to us?" the elf asked, feeling a spike of anger that Sebastian, a friend, would set murdering dogs on them. "It's not a surprise. Think about how we met him," Hawke replied, a wry smile twisting her lips.
"If they wanted to kill us, why not just be done with it," Fenris mused. "Because we aren't exactly easy to kill?" Riese' grin widening. "He would know that better than most." The elf laughed, "Yes, he would." The two shared a knowing look. Sebastian had a fiery temper and kept a grudge like no other. He was a passionate man of faith, a friend through some very hard times. When Anders destroyed the chantry, Sebastian had demanded his blood. Full of righteous vengeance, the prince refused to take anything less than a life for the life of Elthina, the revered mother of Kirkwall.
Fenris could not understand why Hawke refused to let Sebastian have his due. Anders deserved to die for all the deaths in that blast and for all those that would fall in his supposed revolution. No matter how you wanted to justify it, no matter what call to freedom or other bullshit Anders tried to claim, his actions were wrong. And, the man was an abomination. Is, Fenris thought, if Bertrend was to be believed. And now the prince wanted his due.
"I wonder why Sebastian is coming after us though." Riese sighed. "I expected the chantry to come hunting, not the Prince of Starkhaven." The elf thought about it a moment, and then shrugged. "I don't know. He might have wanted to kills us the day Elthina died, but better than a year later? His temper should have cooled by now. Besides, he always liked you, Riese." He left unsaid how much it must have hurt Sebastian when Hawke sided against him in favor of Anders.
The mage blushed, "Well, I hope you're right." She stared off in the distance, shoulders slumping. "I guess we should pack tonight." Fenris stopped mid step, the words striking him like a physical blow. "We have to leave then." Riese nodded. The elf stared at their cottage, blinking hard and fast to keep the tears he could not admit to from falling. It wasn't fair. He was finally home, after a life of servitude and decades on the run . . . home. The fence he repaired, the chicken coop he built, the garden that sat waiting for seed. The landscape blurred as Fenris wiped angrily at his eyes. He reached for Riese and she was there, warm and soft and comforting.
"We can come back," she said softly, cheek pressed to his chest. The elf couldn't reply; the words clenched in his throat. Helpless anger and a sense of grief shook Fenris. It wasn't just this farm; they could be anywhere. It was losing the first home he had known. A place that was his, a place he put his own sweat and blood into. It was losing a promise. The elf buried his face in Hawke's hair, trying to get control of his emotions. It wasn't like him to break down this way. He was the strong one, the one with dry wit in the face of death, not some sobbing child. It took a few breaths to dry his eyes and release the clenching in his windpipe. Fenris stood there a moment longer, arms wrapped tightly around Riese. "Promise me we will come back," he said quietly, fiercely.