It was a small, wooden shack that Fuller Tillman led them to. Little better than a windbreak, with a sloped roof that looked rotted but somehow managed to keep out the wet. Despite that, it was a welcome shelter. Tillman was still talking when Hawke dropped off to sleep. She intended to stay alert, nervous about this odd old man that had come to their rescue, but exhaustion claimed her and she sank, helpless, into the darkness.
Riese opened her eyes to Kirkwall, though the city seemed more lifeless than ever it had in the decade she spent there. It bent and warped at the edges as if melted. The mage knew it was not wise to tread the Fade when she was so weak, but something had pulled her sleeping mind here, and she wanted to know what. Besides, it was pleasant to be back in Kirkwall, even if only in dream. So she carefully began to explore the alleyways and houses. It looked much as she had remembered it. Row after row of featureless houses, and the sets of stairs bridging the wealthy districts to the lowest of the low.
As Hawke walked, she realized each new turn brought her to the same place no matter what the street looked like. A stairway down and at the bottom, a door into Darktown. She considered waking herself, leaving this place and whatever it wanted to show her behind. There was little good she could imagine waiting for her beneath the city streets. It could be some demon, Riese thought, or worse, but curiosity won over sense and down she went.
Darktown was as foul here as she remembered it being in the real Kirkwall. Though devoid of people, the echoes of their desperation wrought horrible changes in this place of dreams. She sensed rather than saw weak demons, drawn by the hunger and need of people. If they felt her presence, they wisely stayed away. Riese moved fast, trying to see every direction at once until she reached Anders' clinic. The door was open and the inside shone brightly, an odd contrast to the dim, oppressive darkness around her. She wondered if habit had guided her steps here, or something more.
Hawke stepped in, looking right and left with worry. Anders was dead, but it was possible some echo of him lurked here, reaching out to her. Or some part of Justice. The room was empty. Nothing stirred beneath the beds, or in the backroom where Anders slept when he bothered to rest. Confused, Riese sat down on the edge of a crate and stared at the dirty floor. Maybe her own longing brought her to this place. Riese kicked idly at the dirt, leaving curving scuff marks on the floor. "Blast," she muttered, unwilling to admit to herself that she had hoped to find some trace of her friend. He was dead and that was that.
In the darkness just beyond the door, something moved. Hawke looked up in time to catch a glimpse of blue and then it was gone. Riese wasn't sure if she had imagined it or not. "Who's there?" A suffocating silence met her query. The mage frowned. "A-anders?" Nothing. "Justice?" Still no response.
Hawke got to her feet and walked to the clinic door, listening hard for some sign. "Damn it. I feel like an idiot." She considered spending more time in the Fade, wandering Kirkwall, but it wasn't safe. And dreams in the Fade did not rest the mind as normal sleep would. At that thought, she stepped back into herself, leaving Kirkwall and its mysteries behind.
When she woke, dull grey light was filtering through the cracks of the shed walls, and the small fire the farmer had made was nearly out. Fenris slept beside her, legs drawn up against his belly. The farmer sat across from them, head resting on his chest, eyes closed. Riese regarded him thoughtfully. He seemed nice enough, but she wasn't sure he was trustworthy. He had come to their rescue the night before, killing the wolves with the incredible skill. He was at least as good with his bow as Sebastian, maybe better. Hawke winced at the thought of the angry prince, and she wondered briefly what he was doing now. If he would truly raise a force to come after her, seeking revenge for Elthina's death.
It didn't matter at the moment. There were enough agents seeking her death, so what was one more to the pile, even if he had been a friend? The matter at hand was far simpler. Should she and Fenris slip away before the farmer woke or should they follow him for the time being? Riese sat up, rubbing a hand over her eyes, still tired. The old farmer didn't stir. She supposed it would be safe enough to stay with him for a day or two. She could get information on the area from him, find out what areas were blighted and which safe, and whether or not the templars had a strong presence around here. Good things to know, if the questions were carefully asked. And if the old man did prove dangerous, she was fairly certain she could take him down.
In the meantime, Hawke decided to heal Fenris. Best to get it done while the farmer slept. He would probable assume the elf's injuries were less severe than they seemed in the dark and leave it at that. She wasn't sure how much the old man saw of their fight, but it didn't seem wise to give him any more knowledge of her powers than he may already have. Riese spoke the words softly, magic spinning lazily out with her exhalation, directed by a delicate gesture. Fenris' lips curved in a slight smile as the spell touched him.
"Wondered when you'd get 'round ta that. Don't s'pose it works on 'thritis?" The old man spoke and Hawke jerked with surprise. "Damn." "Take that as a no then." The farmer looked at her, near expressionless. "Are you going to turn us in?" Riese tensed as she asked the question, wondering if she should try to take him down and be done with it. "Hadn't planned on it. Far as I can tell, yer just a girl and her man, lookin' ta get away from it all. There a reason I should think 'therwise?"
Riese swallowed, calming herself before she answered. "You know I'm a mage. That isn't enough?" The farmer shook his head, giving her a half smile. "Girl, I done had two mages work fer me. Bit too flighty to make good shepherds but they was good people. So. Any reason I need ta be worried about you?" When he asked her the question, his eyes narrowed, gaze direct and open. Hawke looked down at her hands, thinking about all the lives lost because of her. "I . . . I'm hunted."
The old man said nothing, just waited for her to go on. After a moment, Riese did. She gave the farmer a shortened version of their fight and flight from Kirkwall, naming no names and leaving out as much as she could. No lies, but not the whole truth either. As she talked, the old man stoked the fire and put on a pot of water. He said nothing, just glanced to her occasionally until she went silent. "Hmmm. So yer friend went of his rockers and you got stuck with the bag. Sounds like a lot a good folk died up there." "Yes. Many did," Hawke replied. The farmer tilted his head, "Can't say I approve neither. But I think ya did what ya could to set it rights. An' I never held stock with the chantry and this circle nonsense."
"So you won't turn us over to the templars?" Riese asked, not certain she would believe him no matter how he answered. "Don't plan on it. I know there's parts what got left outta that story, but it ain't nonna my business. Ya seem a nice girl, and yer man too." Hawke took a deep breath. "Thank you. If it's all the same to you, we will just be on our way today. There's no reason for you to do more." The farmer nodded, then pursed his lips in a frown. "Seems ta me them templars 'll be lookin' fer an elf and a woman on the road alone." "Yes, I think so," Riese nodded. "Don't think they'd be lookin' fer a coupla shepherds in Sheeplick though." He held his hands out as if in offering.
Hawke took a moment to digest what he had said. It was true enough, though the templars might come poking around the villages too. Still, it was a tempting offer. Some place to hide, stock up on travel supplies . . . She gave a short nod. "You have a point. I don't know if we would stay long, but if you're offering to hide us for awhile, I will take you up on it." The old man grunted, "Offerin' ya jobs. Not hiding exactly. So that's a yes?" "So long as Fenr-Fenrik agrees, then yes."
The farmer smiled, "I'll grab us some chow. You rest up til I get back. There's tea in ma bag there." With that, he stood up and sauntered out without making a sound. Fenris slept on, oblivious. Riese supposed he was pretty exhausted. Running and fighting, sleepless nights and little food. It really wore you down. She stretched her own tired limbs and settled against him, her head resting against his shoulder. Without waking, he shifted to slide an arm around the mage and pull her close. Hawke smiled, inhaling the scent of him as she snuggled into his chest. He was familiar and safe and warm, and no matter what else may happen, this place, beside him, was the only place she wanted to be.
The coming weeks were a blur for Fenris. His initial suspicion of the farmer had turned to grudging gratitude and a modicum of respect. Fuller Tillman knew that Riese was a mage. Knew it full well, but didn't seem to care. He looked the other way when she used her magic, and hadn't said a word about the elf's quick recovery. At Lickspittle or whatever the rude collection of huts was called, he had told everyone Hawke was a niece from the Free Cities come to visit, and introduced Fenris as her man. He kept up the pretense of the names Rachel and Fenrik and didn't pry, though the elf was certain old man knew more than he let on.
After a few nights at the sprawling ranch Fuller Tillman kept, the old man took them out to a cabin and told them if they wanted to, they could call it home. In exchange, the two of them would keep a watch on about fifty of his sheep and walk the fence lines to be certain the land was secure. The old farmer made sure they understood the dangers of living out here, showing them a few blight-touched creatures hung out on fence posts as warning. "Don't think you'll be playing the flute and dancing in flowers now," he had said. "We're close 'nough to the edge of the taint to get a bit mussed every now and then. Giant spiders, them wolves, a bear ever' so often . . ." Fenris had politely paid attention, but honestly, what could they face here that they had not fought before?
The cabin was stocked with some basic supplies and a few things Fenris suspected were especially brought in for them. Riese got two dresses and an apron, and for Fenris a pair of sturdy work pants with a ridiculous belt. It was more kindness than the elf had expected, and he wasn't sure how to take it. In addition to the sheep, Tillman also gave several chickens into their care, and an old, sway backed cart horse with only two teeth. And then the farmer left them to it.
Fenris was quick to learn the trade and actually found that he liked herding sheep. They were smelly and sometimes noisy, largely stupid creatures. But they had big, soft, warm eyes and they would nuzzle at you and chew your pockets for treats in the morning. He'd never admit it, but their simple trust and attention made him very happy.
The chickens were another matter entirely. They would peck and screech at him when he got close, and seemed to find inventive ways to keep him from getting his hands on their eggs. Fenris decided after the first week that chickens were feathered monsters. It made him look forward to the occasional roast bird Hawke cooked up for them.
The horse, Tillman had told him her name was Scarlett, seemed to tolerate his presence well enough, which was good since he felt a bit skittish around it. Fenris still felt it was better to trust your own feet for walking. They didn't have a mind of their own. Scarlett always gave him a mopey look when it was time to ride the fence lines, and often refused to move when they were out. She would just stand there, cropping at grass with her two, wide, flat teeth. It was impossible to be angry with the horse though. If you shouted at her, she would just look at you with wide, brown eyes as if all the world's injustices had been heaped on her already.
While he was getting settled into the rhythm of a rural life and learning new skills, Riese seemed lost. She would smile and talk to him when prodded, but when he caught her from the corner of his eyes, she looked sad. Fenris wasn't sure how to approach it, or if he should even try. Surely she would tell him if something was wrong, he thought. His days were so filled with chores and tasks that he had little time to dwell on it either way. He just assumed her days were equally busy, and if she seemed a bit melancholy, well . . . he couldn't blame her. Fenris left it alone, hoping she would feel better in time.
Farm life, for him, was idyllic. He wasn't sure how long they could stay here, but he loved it. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was making something good. His hands, stained with so much blood, were finally put to a purpose other than fighting and destroying. Each day, it seemed like the past was a little further away. All the terrible things that happened were in another lifetime, a place so distant it hardly mattered. The knowledge that it could all end abruptly haunted the elf, but he didn't dwell on it. Wary caution sat silently in the back of his mind, dulling with each week that life went on without templars and mages and demons.
Anders stood in front of the small crowd, holding tightly to his wooden staff with both hands, the rough splintered feel of it calming him even as it pricked his skin. It was so hard to focus sometimes, so hard to remember. It was important to focus. His friend Orson said so. The Tevinter mage is my only friend, the man that found me half dead and rescued me, the mage thought. Half dead. It sounded right to him, though he couldn't recall what it had felt like or where he had been. It all went blurry when he tried to think about it, and Orson said it didn't matter. Orson, his friend. The words came unbidden to his mind any time he thought about the Tevinter mage. Orson. My friend. Orson. My friend. Anders shook his head, attention coming back to the room, the people gathered there to hear him speak.
Focus, thought Anders, eyes scanning the villagers in front of him. Most were the relatives of some poor mage, some child spirited off by templars and locked away for life. That thought stirred a sense of purpose in him, the echo of something cold and full of vengeance. He lost the sense of it no sooner than it was felt. That was why he was here, and why these people had come. The explosion in Kirkwall had been merely a beginning to a grand revolution. Orson had all his papers, his manifesto, for him to read. It was a good thing too. Anders could remember none of it, save a feeling of desperation.
It was better to be desperate than to give in to the exhaustion that haunted him otherwise. Sometimes, in the quiet of night when the other mage (Orson. My friend.) lay sleeping, Anders thought he was as tired as death, imagining that even his heart had stopped its steady beat, lungs giving up their last gasp to rest. He would lay there, breath held, wondering if any part of him really lived. When he did sleep, there were no dreams. Just emptiness. And as the morning sun crept in through the windows, prying at his eyes, he felt no more rested than before. So in a way these tiring speeches, the running and hiding, the back room arrangements, were all an escape from that bleak darkness.
Anders took a deep breath, nodding to Orson. His friend. The mage made a slight gesture to amplify his voice, and then Anders spoke. "Friends, it is time." Simple words, simple people, simple ideas. They said nothing, expressions blank, a few shuffled their feet, staring at the muddy ground beneath them. Every speech started this way. "It is time for all people to be equal. It is time for all to be treated fairly under the law. Let no accident of birth, no unasked for curse, separate a child from their parents, a man from his wife!" A few mutters answered him as his voice rose in volume, tone strident and determined. Anders could feel something stirring within him, a desire to sway these folk. A desire to bring them into this new world they now sat perched on the edge of.
"It is time we raised our heads and said 'No more!' to the templars, 'No more!' to the chantry. We will not give them another spirit to break!" A man in the front nodded, the wispy grey hairs of his beard bouncing in subtle echo. Anders dropped his voice to a softer, quieter tone. Friendly. "All of you have suffered a loss, or you would not be here. A child ripped from your home when you sought help, a lover taken or even killed as they worked the fields or served in a shop. All of you have known the cold stares of the templars, their brutal force. The helpless feeling as you watch them leave with their quarry, or worse, leave you only a corpse."
A child in the back began to cry, softly shushed by its mother. He saw tears on some faces, anger in others. Anders felt nothing, but knew the response. The pitch and tone, the words to use to fuel their grief and turn it to action. "Perhaps worse, some of you know the fate of your loved ones. Finding them years later, eyes empty and vapid, voices lacking emotion. Their magic gone along with their soul . . ." Anders did not know why this made his voice catch, his chest ache.
He pushed that ache into his words, using it. "Some of you may have heard about what I did in Kirkwall. Some may even see me as a monster. But. I say there can be no act too monstrous in a war for our souls. For our humanity. I struck back at the chantry whose laws have held us bound. I struck back at the apathy that sits blindly by while every kind verse of the Chant of Light is violated over the misinterpretation of one line." Anders stopped, taking a moment to look into their eyes, to force them to meet his unflinching stare.
The desire to make them feel what every mage felt, the sense of shame, guilt, and desperate longing. Desire for freedom and a normal life. "I took action when others were afraid. I stood up for my weak brothers and sisters still caught in their chains. And today, I must ask you to do the same." A few looked uneasy, one man slipped out the back. Orson's (my friend) guards would catch him before he went too far, delay him from reporting them.
"We can't afford to sit by and wait on some peaceful agreement. A refusal to act is the same as holding out a helping hand to the templars. To the men who stole your daughter. Your son. Your husband. Your wife." A few more nods of agreement, shuffling feet, stifled mutters. Was he getting through to them? "An act of defiance, of rebellion, is the only answer. The only path to freedom and equality!" The words rang out in the small space, laced with magic he could sense but not see. Anders wondered if he had cast a spell or if this was Orson's (my friend) doing. He thought it should matter but couldn't muster the curiosity.
His words ignited the small crowd of people and they began shouting. Orson (my friend) and his helpers took over, meeting with them and getting them organized. There were so many Circles in rebellion, so many mages fighting for their freedom already. With the help of the people, they were sure to succeed. Anders thought he should feel something about that, but beneath the desperation of his words, he felt nothing. The mage stood, slumped against his staff and waited for direction from Orson (my friend). He let his mind wander, floating through images of people he could not remember and places he might have seen.