Hawke was a month out from being released from her contract with Athenril when the Qunari landed. She never saw the ship they supposedly crashed, but she did turn out with the rest to watch them file into the compound cleared for their use. Athenril gave her and Carver the day off, like it was some sort of holiday. It didn’t feel like a holiday.
The Qunari marched like machines. They faced forward, always. Their legs rose and fell together, but fluidly, like they could march forever. She repressed a shiver.
A Qunari with deep swooping horns and a particularly scowling face turned to the crowd. He alone was still in the flood of bodies. He surveyed them with a mix of disgust and what might have been guilt, and Hawke couldn’t look away. What possible series of events would lead a Qunari to feel that combination? How could someone look so angry and so sad at the same time?
His eyes rose from his men, for they must have been his, and met Hawke’s. She didn’t drop her eyes from just anyone anymore. Athenril had cured her of that habit. Still she wanted to lower her gaze, show some kind of deference. Surely she should be embarrassed by staring so intently. Instead she studied the leader of the Qunari. Once the first impression of ‘huge’ was done, he wasn’t so different. Sullen and glaring, sure. The unblinking eye contact was a first for Hawke. When his men were through the street, he turned to follow them and broke their connection.
“Let’s go, Hawke,” Aveline prompted her. “Leandra said she was making lunch.”
“Right,” Hawke cleared her surprisingly dry throat. “I mean, yes. Let’s go.”
Three weeks later, Athenril sent for them.
“New job,” Athenril tossed Hawke a roll of parchment like any other, detailing the meet. “Careful with this one, Hawke. Big players.”
Hawke turned to Carver with mock affront. “When am I ever not careful?”
“Today you fell out of the top bunk, so...” She shoved him to the side and unfurled the paper.
Athenril was watching for Hawke’s reaction carefully, so she must have realized what a risk this was. “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re smuggling for the Qunari?”
“Ah, ah, not ‘smuggling.’”
“You’re still trying to get ‘resource management’ to catch on? Never going to happen,” Carver snorted inelegantly. “What’s the big deal? So they’re big and grey.” He shrugged. “We got that painting for that noble that wouldn’t stop sneezing, that was a real danger. I thought I would bring the plague back to the hovel we live in.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Carver.” Hawke curled the paper back up and tucked it in a pocket. She countered Athenril’s smug look with a wagging finger. “We do this? You take the whole week off our time. We’re out. Don’t start with me, Athenril. Putting ourselves on the Qunari’s radar is career suicide anyway. They don’t care about who we are or what we’re doing, we make one wrong move in there and we’re dead.”
Athenril nodded. She wasn’t happy about it, but it was fair. She certainly didn’t want to be the Qunari’s contact. “Deal.”
“What do they even want?” Carver asked on their way back through Lowtown.
“Athenril wrote building materials. Crafting basics. Some food. Nothing we’d get in serious trouble for hauling.”
“Why can’t they buy it through regular channels, if they have good coin?”
Hawke shrugged. “My best guess is that they don’t want people to know what they’re buying or how much.” She stopped in her tracks and stared at Carver, then pulled him into an alley. There was always a close alley in Lowtown. “These aren’t travelling supplies,” she hissed to him. “They’re staying. They’ve been here nearly a month and no boat is coming to get them.”
“Maker,” Carver swallowed. “I’ll just brush up on my Qunlat, then?”
“Carver, knowing how to curse is not knowing a language.”
“You don’t know it’s a curse.”
“Ok, we knew one Qunari and he was locked up for killing someone. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the name of a flower.”
“Vashedan,” Carver pronounced with relish. Hawke rolled her eyes.
“Just don’t say it in front of the whole group of them. I’d hate for you to get killed today.”
The Arishok was just as daunting as the first time she saw him, and his piercing eyes found hers immediately. He watched her like she was a snake, creeping through his camp to the foot of what could only be his throne. All the Qunari watched them, but she couldn’t look away from their leader.
“Your Athenril said she would be sending one of the bas saarebas.” The Arishok leaned forward to see them better. “The other would be basvaarad, if any sense was given to you.” His gaze flickered to Hawke’s staff, Carver’s sword.
“You steal from yourselves for yourselves, rats fighting over the scraps left to you. I struggle to see the sense of working with basra.” He turned his great head to the side, a silhouette of sharp angles and curving horns. “But what must be. We lack materials. Gather them for us. You will be paid in the gold your kind seeks.”
“We need specifics.” Hawke finally looked down to rummage in her pockets, coming up with the parchment Athenril had given her. The other side was blank, and she could write the order there. When she looked up, the Arishok was closer. Much, much closer, heating the air. She swallowed hard but did not flinch.
“You let bas saarebas speak for you,” he addressed Carver without moving.
“I let my sister speak for herself,” he scoffed before she could signal him to go along with whatever the giant grey man said.
Hawke said and did nothing. She was focusing on breathing. “Then you bring an unleashed saarebas with you. Ashkost kata.”
Showing an unforeseen amount of tact that might have been more useful five seconds earlier, Carver bowed his head to the Arishok. “If you’d like a different crew, we will take our leave.” He tugged at Hawke’s wrist, pulling her in the direction of the exit, and she stepped backwards, keeping an eye on the Arishok. She’d read once in the Lothering chantry about large cats that sprang once their prey looked away. This felt close enough to her.
“No,” the Arishok broke the silence, his command thundering across the square. “One of the Qun has written our needs for you. Take it. There will be no others.” Hawke felt her fingers loosen from their vice grip on Athenril’s note, and she shoved it back in her pocket. Carver stepped forward to take the list from another Qunari.
“Bas,” he commanded before they made it out the gate. “When you deliver our materials. Bring back bas saarebas.” Carver nodded just to get them out of there.
Carver lost himself in nervous giggles when they made it all the way through the docks. “I thought you were going to piss yourself for a second there, sister.”
“Oh don’t act like you weren’t,” she hissed in return. “He’s like,” she stretched her arm above her head and jumped, drawing looks from the Lowtown vendors but not paying them any attention. “Woah, you know?”
He nodded vigorously. “Woah. I can’t believe we have to meet with him again on delivery. So much for getting out.”
“Do we really have to?” Hawke wondered.
“You heard him! ‘Bring back bas saarebas,’ he said. That’s you. I’m not positive that he has enough pull in this city to have us killed in our beds, but I would be willing to bet he has the inclination.”
“Well, let’s get started on the list anyway. The sooner we get the deal done, the sooner we can forget the Arishok and start earning money for ourselves. Somehow. Don’t ask me right now, my legs are still shaking.”
It took a few favors, but Hawke had the Qunari shipment all tied up with a bow before sundown the next day. It helped that they weren’t after anything exotic, mostly materials that the Lowtown vendors moved all the time.
Her best hope was to get in and out with minimal interaction. If the Maker was watching, she might even manage to deal with the Qunari supplier and not the Arishok. Hawke didn’t anticipate luck.
“And Daniel said they’re going to the deep roads, to an old dwarven city. Can you imagine? Easy to make it rich down there, just find one ancient relic. Probably littered through the whole system of tunnels. Marian. Are you even listening to me?”
“No, Carver, I’m thinking about the Qunari shipment we’re about to deliver, like you should be.”
“Short-term. I’m thinking long-term, sister, like get-out-of-Gamlen’s term. We should really try to get in on this expedition.”
“Fine! We’ll ambush whoever’s running the thing and sign on. Now will you focus? I don’t like the way those two are looking at us. Remember, get in, be nice, get money, get gone. Got it?”
“My role is get money and look pretty, understood.” He rolled his eyes.
“Aw, you’ve already failed two for two,” Hawke pouted theatrically. She schooled her face to blankness and nodded to the sentries, who opened the gate to the Qunari compound. Evidence of completed shipments was already there, a courtesy Athenril would usually charge for but allowed in this case. The Qunari had built houses into the walls of the city, recycled ship lumber butting up against fresh finished timber, flush against the white of Kirkwall stone.
“Bas saarebas and basrakaari kata.” The sideways looks from other Qunari implied Carver’s title was not a complimentary one. Hawke laid a hand on his arm to keep him from bristling like he always did, but she forgot that was more often fuel than blockade.
“Arishok,” Carver smiled thinly. “Your final shipments are on their way.”
“Good.” He waved a hand, and one of the red-painted Qunari stepped forward with their pay. They handed it to Carver, who passed it to her by habit. She knew better than to count it in the client’s presence. It wasn’t as if the Qunari were going anywhere, after all. “Our business is at an end, then. Take your coin and be gone. The insensate grasping of your hands is tiresome.”
Carver found the steel of his spine, and Hawke groaned internally. “If humans are so tiring, what are you staying for?”
“That is no concern of yours, basrakaari kata. Just know that it is not by our will, but the will of the Qun. There is no order here, only the chaos of self-interest. We have been too long already in the filth of this city,” he thundered in dismissal, and she thought about that for hours. How solid was an indoctrination, if sequestering yourselves in a bare corner of the city was not enough to keep you unquestioning? Were his people becoming Tal-Vashoth? Was he losing them, little by little, to the decadence and sloth of those outside the Qun? How far, she wondered guiltily, would it take to push even the Arishok out of his path?
She should not have wondered. Wondering made him, for lack of a better term, human. And Hawke was the curious type.
It took her two weeks to make up her mind, and another to find the right time of night to creep down to the docks without Carver trying to follow.
One sentry remained at the gate. The other went for the Arishok. His skin was remarkably bare of the harsh red markings. Otherwise he was dressed just as he had been when she first saw him, as if military dress was the only thing he ever wore. Leather and metal.
“You come alone, bas saarebas. Tell me why I should not have you collared or killed where you stand.”
“I came to talk. I left my weapons behind.”
“Only if you act in a manner that would give you nothing. I might not know much of the Qun, but I don’t think you will.”
“Ask, then.” His craggy face glowered down at her, his proud horns carving the air. “What is it you want from the Arishok? More coin? A purpose you cannot find?”
“I want…” she looked at the stone of the courtyard, thankfully empty of onlookers. Only the sentries at the gate watched them, far away enough to give the semblance of privacy.
“Eyes up,” he snapped. She looked up, a solid line between the command and action.
“You want me to bed you,” he intoned, the words even, though they made Hawke want to flee more than anything. He caught her neck with one hand, stretched her head upward uncomfortably. “Then ask me for it.”
He wanted her to beg? She could beg. “Please,” she swallowed, felt her jaw dig against the flesh between his thumb and forefinger. Felt her voice tremble against his palm. He released her.
“Vashedan,” the Arishok cursed, and Carver was definitely right about that. Hawke didn’t particularly want to know what it meant. “You must have cursed us with your eyes, bas saarebas, and become the storm itself. Kata aban.”
“I understand,” she stepped backward. “I’ll leave.”
“No.” he closed the distance she gave him and more. “Follow.” He led her to his quarters, a barely enclosed shelter like all the others. Under the Qun, she supposed, the leader was equal apart from his role.
She undressed hesitantly. At least it didn’t look like he would have any trouble getting it up. It couldn’t have been comfortable confining an erection in the Arishok’s outfit. She was gratified by the least evidence that she had as much of an effect on him as he did on her. She moved close, slid a hand between the leather and the fabric of his pants, got just a hint of what lay beneath, and rose on her tiptoes for a kiss.
“No,” he turned his head away, and she tucked inward, withdrawing her hand. No kissing. Fine. It wasn’t a Qunari thing, then. No problem. “Hands and knees.”
It was more perfunctory than she would have liked, but what did she expect? She came to a man- Qunari- that she didn’t know, had never spoken to before, for sex. This was the Qunari that led an army. He was strong. He didn’t curl around her or fall for pretty stories, and that was the very reason why she was drawn to him. She wanted someone who understood. Hands and knees.
He was… he was big. Not monstrous, just bigger than anything she’d taken before, but she had expected as much. In fact, she prepared herself before she came. She was more grateful for her foresight than she might have imagined.
He pushed into her without any warning save one broad hand splayed on her back. He paused only briefly when she cried out. When she had adjusted and rocked back onto him, he resumed pushing slowly, inch by inch, until she thought it couldn’t possibly reach deeper.
“Too much,” she sobbed into the covers. “It’s too much.”
“Take it, bas, you can. You asked to take it. Pleaded.” His hot palm slid down the line of her spine, making her shiver, until it joined the other to grasp at her hips. Despite his earlier rejection he pressed hot, open-mouthed kisses to the nape of her neck, licking across her shoulder blades. Even his tongue felt enormous and oppressive, encouraging her lower, curling her back into a stronger arch, slipping him deeper. The angle was good. She relaxed a bit. His reaction was more dramatic, nails clenching at her ribs, hissing. He started up a slow and inexorable thrusting that made her throw her head down between her elbows, groaning low and long.
“You are a demon, bas saarebas. Twisting and tempting, corrupting the truth to your own ends,” he leaned into her, his immensity pressing down, growling loud in her ear. He never faltered in his pace. “It is only by my own weakness that I am here. Only by my mistakes have I fallen into your trap.”
She ignored the sick emptiness in her gut and focused on the heat, just a little lower and building. She clawed at his arms, braced on either side of her, and made no mark. She clawed harder. Finally, tracings of red appeared and she allowed herself to arch against him, hurting him back, making their mark on each other. She couldn’t speak for the effort it took to draw in each gasp of air.
“Did you think of me like this, bas? In you, around you, over you. Keeping you. Do you crave Arvaarad?” He somehow managed to go even faster, harder, punching little moans out of her mouth.
“Yes,” she stuttered. “Yes. Please.”
She came on him so hard she saw sparks in the corner of her eyes, and she had to turn her head to make sure she hadn’t cast. That would be a disaster to say the least.
He pulled out at the last minute before he came, choking on air, deep growling that shivered through her, encouraging aftershocks. As soon as he was done, he rolled to the side. He produced a towel to clean himself up, then passed it to her. His seed was spread over her back, and she had to stretch to reach it. When she was done, she held the towel awkwardly over herself. She didn’t want to stay. She got what she wanted, and felt a little sick about it, and wasn’t sure how to get herself out of the situation she created.
Arishok was perched at the end of the bed. “Leave,” he said to his hands. She moved immediately. He scowled down at his dick like it had betrayed him, and she kept her snide laughter to herself. It was only funny because he was so serious about it. He hated himself for what he’d let himself have.
That, at least, she could understand, even if she couldn’t understand her own reaction to it. He’d been weak- he said as much. He allowed himself a moment of pleasure with a mage. He put the leader of his people in danger, never mind that in her opinion his body should belong to himself. Well, tough luck. If he hadn’t wanted to fuck the magic out of her so bad, he’d have kept it in his pants, and that was no fault of hers.
The sun wasn’t even flirting with the edge of the horizon. The two Qunari sentries said nothing at her departure. She walked back to Gamlen’s hovel and didn’t allow herself to feel anything but fury.
It wasn’t an excuse to see him again, she reminded herself as she set fire to yet another Tal-Vashoth. That dwarf sent them to do this, and it wasn’t as if she would even step inside the Qunari compound. It was only smart to make a little cash on the dwarf’s business venture.
“How many for you, Hawke?” Varric’s call snapped her out of it, and she took down two sword-bearing bandits coming up on her right.
“Eleven!” she yelled back.
“Really? I’m only on eight.”
“At your rate we’ll have to camp here, dwarf.” Fenris did his glowy fade-step thing right past her, sweeping through two Tal-Vashoth. “Thirteen.”
“How many are there?” Hawke wondered. “They can’t be infinite!” Varric decreed the area clear not ten minutes later, though it felt like hours. Hawke leaned her staff against a tree and sat right down in the dirt.
“Don’t let ‘em get you down, sweetheart,” Isabela cooed from the other side of a corpse. “They might fall like a tree, but look!” Her hand whipped out, and Hawke caught whatever she threw on reflex. “Shiny!”
The amulet did shine fetchingly in the sun, and Hawke pulsed a bit of magic through it. “Stamina,” she called back to Isabela and threw it. Her own aim was off, and Isabela had to lurch to the side.
“Finders keepers then,” she hummed in pleasure. “I wish ‘stamina’ always meant ‘stamina,’ you know what I mean? I could just loop a couple of these around my lover’s neck and…”
Hawke felt her face burn. She would not think about the Arishok.
Varric sniffed. “We get it, Rivaini. Have mercy. You’re going to give the elf a heart attack.” Fenris only looked amused.
Hawke sighed and stood up, wiping the dust from her robes. She retrieved her staff and struck a pose. “Our quest is done, noble companions. We return to the dwarf.”
“Yeah, kill seventy people, done. What’s this for, again?”
“Javaris seeks to learn the recipe for the Qunari black powder.” Fenris wiped his sword on one of the Tal-Vashoth’s clothes, then secured it. Isabela did the same with her daggers.
“The stuff that explodes? Nice.”
“He will not get it,” Fenris shook his head. “They would never share it with the likes of him.”
“I don’t care so long as we get paid, but I wouldn’t either. He’s all kinds of slimy.” Hawke rolled her shoulders and slid her staff through the straps on her back. “Ready to go?”
Hawke took a deep breath and prayed before she set foot in the compound. Why Javaris couldn’t meet them outside, she had no idea.
When the Arishok was summoned and walked before his throne, he paused at the sight of her before sitting. “Bas saarebas. We meet again. But now, you arrive on the heels of the dathrasi dwarf.”
She looked to her companions, and Fenris stepped up beside her. Hawke was relieved to see him meet and hold the Arishok’s eyes, so it wasn’t only her peculiarity. “Arishokost. Maraas shokra. Anaan essam Qun.”
The Arishok favored this with a deep nod, vaguely amused, like he was regarding a mabari that had learned to speak.
“I have arranged for the deaths of all your enemy Tal-Vashoth. And now, the black powder…?”
The Arishok deigned to pierce Javaris with a stare. “No.”
“What? That’s not what we agreed upon, we agreed,” Javaris protested. “Have your chatty friend say something else,” he hissed to Hawke. Fenris needed no further instruction.
“Qunari honor their debts. We do not understand, honorable Arishok.”
“The dwarf imagined this deal. We made no offer of the gaatlok, but he imagined one when it would serve his own selfish purpose. There is no deal he could make that would make him worthy of it.”
“Then we have interfered without your leave. Would you have us kill the dwarf?” Javaris’s surprise would be laughable, if Hawke wasn’t sure Fenris would follow through with the offer.
“He is not worthy of death at your hands, nor that of your bas saarebas.” Fenris blinked at Hawke like that was a surprise she would share with him, but she widened her eyes and shrugged. His guess was as good as hers. “You keep better company, bas saarebas.” Hawke looked to Fenris, avoiding the Arishok’s dark regard.
“Let the dwarf live. And let him leave, now.” Javaris threw his hands up in disgust as he was turned to the gate by two red-painted Qunari.
“We were promised part of his future profits,” Hawke said to the empty space Javaris stood.
“Eyes up,” he commanded, the sense memory so strong she obeyed, fixing her eyes to his with a physical jolt. His mouth thinned at her defiant expression. “Stop,” he commanded, and Javaris turned once more. “You made promises that you intended me to keep. Honor your own promises with your own coin.” Javaris was visibly fuming, but he handed over a good chunk of the coin they would need for the expedition. She pocketed it with a satisfied smile, ignoring Javaris. He got what he deserved for dragging her into this mess.
“And now, bas saarebas…” whatever he saw in her eyes, it wasn’t what he wanted. He turned his head sharply to the side. “Leave,” he growled. “There is no more coin for you here.”
“I didn’t know you knew Qunlat,” Hawke mumbled. She was halfway to completely sloshed, so it wasn’t so hard to broach the question.
“I know a little, from my time in Seheron. Bits and pieces.”
“How do you say, ‘Fuck you.’ What?” she laughed, the wine tipping her slightly to one side of her chair. “Aren’t swears the first thing to learn in any language? That’s how you know they’re going to kill you.”
Fenris stole the bottle back and took a swig. “I am not sure they use that,” he said thoughtfully. “I know ‘katara bas’ is a common battle cry, but for your needs, ‘vinek kathas’ means someone’s about to attack.”
“Ven- vineck- ugh. Tell me about Seheron.”
She learned it is not a beautiful land, that Tevinter and the Qunari battle endlessly. It had its moments, for Fenris, remembered with wistful eyes not because of anything as trite as scenery, but the first breath of freedom.
Of her true goal, she learned this: the Qun is not bendable as religion. It makes no allowances for sins, or even breathing room to call them that. It is a way of life to the Qunari as vital as breathing. To want something outside the Qun was to pretend there was anything outside the Qun worth having.
She told herself it wasn’t a good reason to treat people like trash. She knew it wasn’t. But to live that life and see something you wanted, have it, and hate yourself for it? That would be exquisitely painful. More so for the leader of a people far from home.
Fenris understood more than she wished. He was smarter than his love for huge stabby things might imply, and he was quick to draw conclusions from bits of seemingly unrelated data. Namely, her interest in the Qun and the way the Arishok looked at her.
“If he asked you, would you lie with him again?” Fenris came right out with it, and her cheeks flushed bright.
“Probably.” There was no point in denying it. Fenris raised an eyebrow.
“Though you hated him afterwards?”
She shrugged, looked up at the ceiling. Something gross was stuck up there, but something gross was always stuck somewhere in Fenris’s mansion. “I wouldn’t call it hate. A lot of anger, but not hate. There’s just something… captivating about him. I’d be more assertive, if by any strange arrangement of things it happened again, sure. But he didn’t hurt me. Physically. He just couldn’t handle what he’d decided to do. You helped me understand that.”
Fenris hummed in thought. His voice was slow and deliberate as ever, though Hawke swore he’d drunk more than her. “Qualaba is an animal, a type of cow the Qunari butcher for meat. It is notoriously stupid, and so used as an insult.” He paused to ensure her attention, or maybe the wine was getting to him, too. “You, my friend, are qualaba.”
“Hey!” She laughed so hard trying to say ‘qualaba’ over and over that she fell out of her chair.
Lessons in the Qunari language followed on a schedule the next week, quickly interspersed by Fenris’s reading lessons. Life seemed brutal and unfair, sure, but it was good.
Varric stomped into Gamlen’s house with no warning to find Hawke in her cups, alone, whining to herself. “Hawke, this is pathetic.” She turned puppy eyes on him. “No, really. Come drink with the rest of us. Nobody likes how the Qunari mage died. None of us blame you for him choosing to literally set himself aflame. Get your ass out of this hole and drink in another hole with more people in it.”
“Saarebas,” she mumbled to him. “Means dangerous. Did you know that? I knew that. He told me.”
“Fenris?” She nodded, because it was true. Varric didn’t need to know she already knew it before Fenris told her.
“What if he was right, Varric? What if we are dangerous, and the only way we manage not to kill everyone around us is just luck, and if Bethany…” she paused to wipe her tears on her already snotty sleeve. “If Bethany wasn’t good enough to live, then I’m just,”
“Alright, Hawke, up.” Varric didn’t take wallowing for an answer. He propped her up all the way to the Hanged Man and onto the bench of a table with all her friends. Isabela plunked a drink down in front of her and Merrill patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.
“You know I’ve never seen you cry before,” Merrill said brightly. “I was starting to think you just didn’t. I suppose that’s a silly thing to think. Everybody cries.”
“Hush, kitten,” Isabela drew Merrill’s attention, leaving Hawke open to the rest of them struggling to make her feel better. None of them did much better than Merrill, but they all tried, and that was nice.
“And we should inform the Arishok of his patrol,” Fenris muttered to Varric across the table, and Hawke focused in so hard she swore her eyes zoomed like her namesake. Or was that eagles? Hmm.
“What about the Arishok? Oh, right. We killed a bunch of his men,” Hawke blinked up at the ceiling of the Hanged Man. “He’s probably missing them by now. We can go in the morning. Fenris, you in?” He nodded. “Isabela? Merrill?”
Merrill said yes, but Isabela shook her head. “What about you, Varric?”
“You know I’m always in, Hawke. New task set you right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hawke sniffed. “People die every day. We kill a lot of them. This group was more trouble than most and I still want to kick Sister Patrice’s smarmy face in, but they’re just more dead people.”
“Hear hear,” Anders said sarcastically, raising his ale. “To more dead people.”
“To more dead people!” If others in the pub raised their glasses, they weren’t eavesdropping. They just liked to drink.
The Arishok did not deign to see them in the morning. Hawke received that news with a smile, unbalanced by the weight taken off her shoulders. If the Qunari that took their message, one Beres-taar, was disconcerted by her expression, he didn’t show it.
“The Saarebas known as Ketojan is dead by his own hand. He called it the demand of the Qun.” Her smile quickly melted away at the reminder of the Qunari mage. Beres-taar nodded firmly once. “The Arvaarad tasked with investigating the loss of Ketojan’s group are also dead.” He finally met her eyes at that, scowling. “I killed them when they attacked me.”
He hummed and looked her over once, gauging her skill. “The Arishok knows of this, but not of your involvement.”
“Oh,” Hawke blinked.
“Tell me, how did you triumph over Arvaarad?” He leaned forward, his shield held between them like it could keep her away even as he leaned in.
“Beres-taar!” Arishok howled over their heads, and the Qunari she was speaking to spun comically fast.
“Arishok,” he looked up to him directly.
“Leave my sight,” Arishok growled, and Beres-taar did so. Hawke imagined the footsoldier’s slight smile.
“Bas saarebas. Is what he said true? You killed Arvaarad?”
Fenris nudged her forward subtly. “Yes.”
“He killed himself, for your Qun.”
“Good. He was Qunari, still. I honor him by acknowledging the choice was not difficult.” Arishok looked her over much as Beres-taar had. “It is impressive you triumphed over Arvaarad. Do not let such a confrontation happen again.” His shadowed eyes left her to sweep over his people.
Behind her, Fenris coughed. Merrill thumped him on the back hard, which set off another.
“Panehedan, human.” He settled himself in his great throne, and Hawke kept him in her sight the whole way out.
(“’Do not let such a confrontation happen again,’” Fenris mocked. “Venehedis, Hawke, what did you do to him to have him forbid his own men from interfering with you?”
“What?” Hawke looked up from her book, which seemed to have grown one of Ander’s manifestos since she opened it last.
“I said,” he sighed. “Nevermind. How is this word pronounced?”)
A lot happened for Hawke. After the shitfest of the deep roads, Carver joining the Wardens, and telling her mother she lost him, she was a noble. That meant housewarming, parties, diplomacy. Hawke was not a diplomat. She saw things her way, the best way. That didn’t make her friends among the anti-mage, pro-slavery, anti-darktown elite.
That and Seneschal Bran, who always seemed to have a crisis only she could counter. Hawke hadn’t enjoyed being sent to bring back the Viscount’s son, nevermind the clusterfuck that was a bunch of dead people and his Qunari love, bleeding out. She’d screamed down the Viscount’s throat while his son looked on in shock. Bran had given her a bit of a break after that ‘mishap’ though, so she counted it as good luck twice. Now he was back, sending coded ravens to her family home like that didn’t draw twice as much attention.
“What do you want, Bran?”
He proceeded to tell her that he had nearly singlehandedly destroyed them all by ensuring that a Qunari delegation- Delegation! As in progress!- got kidnapped through having their swords tied down. Idiot.
Hawke did her due diligence, but night came on fast. She was going to get herself knifed if she went around that tired, and the Qunari were too valuable as hostages to die before the city knew about them.
Varric let her get about an hour of sleep before he shook her awake.
“Varric? What in Andraste’s name are you doing in my room?”
“Varnell’s going to hold an anti-Qunari rally, rile up all the ne’er-do-wells in Lowtown. And we all know how many of those there are,” he said grimly.
Hawke was already pulling her robes on, picking up her staff. “How do you know this?”
“Now, don’t get mad, but Sister Petrice told me.”
Hawke gaped at him. “That sniveling, slimy, rat! That’s an insult to rats! She’s the bastard offspring of a rat and a snake, and neither parents would claim her!”
Varric raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. “You done?”
“Yes,” she mumbled.
“For this, I think she’s telling the truth. Qunari delegation gone, anti-Qunari rally? We both know where this is going.”
“Blast. Orana? Orana!” The elf came around the corner, frowning and rubbing at her eyes.
“You don’t need to shout. Unless it’s an emergency?” She looked from Hawke to Varric blearily.
“Orana, I need you to send a runner to the Qunari compound, in the docks. The Arishok needs to know that the delegation he sent to the Viscount is missing and I’m going to get the man who most likely has them. Blast, blast, I should have told him the minute the seneschal told me, no matter how slimy he was about it. I will not be responsible for the Qunari uprising. Varric, anything I need to add?”
Varric shook his head. “I’d advise sending someone that can run fast in either direction, though.”
“Alright, Orana, I need you to repeat the message back to me.”
Orana looked determined. All signs of sleep were gone from her face. “A runner to the Qunari compound. Tell the Arishok that his delegation to the Viscount has been waylaid, and you’re taking care of it personally.”
“Blessings, Orana, you’re the best blessing, remind me to give you a raise, got to run. Send that messenger!”
Hawke was tired. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so exhausted, magically or physically. Well, there was that time a literal horde of darkspawn had chased her from her home. Her feet were tired. Her eyes were tired. The end of her pinkie was so tired it shook. She had one hour of sleep under her belt and not much else, save the loads of blood weighing the edge of her robes. But the Viscount could not, or would not, deal with the Arishok directly. It fell to her.
“So my delegates are dead.” He leaned forward onto his elbows, braced on his knees. “And you have killed those responsible.” She waited for the next bit, because she knew it was coming. “You know what condition their bodies were in.”
“Yes. Beaten and bloody, their throats cut. A fanatic paraded their pain in front of a crowd to turn them against your kind and make more like himself.” She could hardly hear herself in her voice, so flat as to turn the words meaningless.
“Hawke,” the Arishok called her. Her eyes lifted from the stone. He studied her, his hands curled into fists. She didn’t remember him using her name before. “Your Viscount is a fool to spend you thus. Rest. Panahedan. We will speak later.” He inclined a nod to Fenris, his favorite. Fenris obligingly walked her out. For the first time, she turned her back to the Arishok. She didn’t have the energy to spare on vigilance.
“But she’s been asleep all day,” Merrill’s familiar voice called. “She must be hungry. Last time I tried to make soup in Hawke’s house Orana threw me out, though. I could try bread? Surely bread is easier than soup!”
“It is not,” Anders mumbled. He sounded stifled, like he was talking into his hand. Or his manifesto.
“Kindly keep your squabbles out of the house of the invalid, thank you,” Leandra’s cool contempt washed over Hawke like… well, like mother’s love.
“You’re sent by the Maker, mother. Get rid of them.” Hawke turned and buried her face in her pillows. “No,” she groaned when Anders immediately came to check on her. She raised a hand to swat him away. “I’m fine, leave me alone.”
“Oh, but we couldn’t do that,” Merrill gasped. That was the something-bad gasp, too.
“Alright, alright, I’m awake. What terrifying calamities arose in my extended absence?” Anders looked to Merrill, who surprisingly enough looked to Aveline. “Oh, that’s not good. Alright, get out, I’ll get my gear on. No, don’t even start,” she cut off the five protests. “You know I’m going to have to knock heads, whatever it is, and I’d rather be ready to go in case it’s actively infuriating to hear about. Now get lost before you see me naked.”
“Humans have such strange ideas about showing their skin,” Merrill observed, already halfway out the door by way of Leandra’s gentle push.
“Are you healed?” Leandra stood at the foot of her bed when Hawke finished her slow, slow blink. She had the disappointed hands on hips pose well settled.
“And are you sorry for upending the entire household? Terrifying Orana?”
“Yes, of course I am. But-“
“And! Did you even once think about the rest of us, sitting here as you run off to face down some- some maniac, and then the Arishok, without so much as a ‘Goodbye, Mother! Going to get myself nearly killed again!’ And then your friends basically have to carry you in here…”
“Yes, Mother,” Hawke extricated herself from bed- she was still a bit sore- and moved to take her mother by the hand and draw her into a hug. It was strange, hugging her. Leandra was always the voice of the household, the one who took care of daily things like the food and the twins and the discipline.
Where Father was wind, rocketing over Lothering with tales of warriors and woe, Mother was rock. She was so much larger in Hawke’s mind, it was bizarre to feel how her shoulders fetched up underneath Hawke’s own.
“This time,” Leandra relaxed into the hug, then pulled away to hold her at arm’s length. “I know you do dangerous things. You’ve always felt like you had to, for some reason. Wrestling with the older children, proving yourself. You never knew when to stop. I just. We’re all we have left. I worry for you while I’m here, and I worry more for when I am gone.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere. Except for me, right now, to take care of whatever has those three spooked,” she gestured broadly to the door. “But I’ll come back.”
“You better, my girl.”
Hawke left for two days to destroy a magic book that was about to take over a noble, kill a giant tree-spider and get Merrill her thing.
Her mother was dead before she got back, though she couldn’t have known that. She didn’t know until she slaughtered the maleficar in his den.
After, everyone paraded through to try and make her feel better. She didn’t want to feel better.
That bottle of wine that used to sit on the edge of her desk was witness enough. The familiar sight of wine on stone would have made her laugh, at a better time. “My mother is dead! My family is gone! I’m alone in this great house with my great title and it means exactly nug shit! Exactly what is fine about it, Varric?”
Varric sighed and sat in the chair before the fire. “I’m sorry, Hawke. I’m no good at this. You knew exactly what to say after Bartrand, and I… I don’t mean it’s fine. You’re right. It’s shit, and everything is going to be shit for a while. I just don’t want you to feel alone in shit.”
“Thanks, Varric. I don’t mean to snap at you.”
“Snap all you like, Hawke. I won’t go anywhere.”
Kirkwall was the city that never slept. The Viscount couldn’t let his son make his own decisions. Hawke, do this. Hawke, do that. Find my pantaloons. Drag my son back by his ear again so I can use him for political gain. Family.
Not only did the Arishok not enjoy the thought of handing Seamus over, he didn’t even have the boy. Of course, the bitch herself must have done something utterly stupid. Again.
Arishok looked as frustrated as Hawke felt. “I have watched you for four years, Hawke. Do not think I will not satisfy the demands of the Qun if you pretend to be blind to what must be done.”
“I understand.” Hawke grit her teeth. Sister Petrice was responsible for countless deaths already. She’d earned it as much as any maleficar that threatened the city. “Petrice will not finish this day alive.”
And she really, really didn’t. Petrice’s limbs scattered the floor, her blood soaking the runner down the chantry hall.
“I can’t believe you force-pulled a Chantry sister,” Anders poked at a hand with the tip of his boot. “That was disgusting.”
“I can’t believe that bitch threw her congregation at us like they were nothing,” Hawke sneered back. “She deserved worse. Do you disagree, Revered Mother?”
The Mother’s hands shook, so she hid them behind her robes. “I would suggest you send for Viscount Dumar.”
“Of course,” Hawke growled. “He has a son to mourn, doesn’t he? Should I call for the families of all these other faithful Petrice turned to her service?” Hawke gestured broadly to the blood-soaked floor, the scattered corpses. “You must have heard her sermons, Revered Mother, preaching hate against the Qunari. She called them like a wave to crash against us and you stood by and did nothing. Don’t quake like that. I won’t kill you. I will let you live with the knowledge that your Maker sees you now.”
The Revered Mother didn’t feel much like chatting. She retired upstairs and left Hawke in the midst of the dead congregation, cooling her heels until the Viscount arrived. To him, Hawke was nothing but coolly sympathetic. He lost a son, and all the political machinations he might uncover would do nothing to fix it.
She went to the Arishok before the situation could fall any farther. She noticed, now, the state of the camp. Some of those who landed four years ago were dead at her own hand. Others left of their own free will to become Tal-Vashoth. Ramshackle houses stood empty.
Arishok sat as he always did, secure on his throne and surrounded by his loyal. “Seamus is dead. I killed Petrice. Is that the Qun satisfied?”
Arishok shook himself briskly in what could have been unequivocal disagreement or the attention of a fly. “You delivered your judgement without pause for thought of your petty politics. What changed in you?”
“She’s messed up in the head is what changed,” Varric nudged Hawke behind him, and she went. “Leave her be. She doesn’t need any of your ass-backwards double speak today.”
Arishok drew up in his chair, but Fenris spoke before he could. “We mean no disrespect, Arishok. Our leader is in mourning. The dwarf seeks only to protect her.”
The Arishok settled back. Bless Fenris’s quick thinking. “I cannot understand. We of the Qun do not mourn as you do. We do not keep family ties as you do. We are one, under the Qun. The individual is not important. All the same,” he paused and inclined his great horns in their direction. He kept silence for a moment. “You make the trouble of this city your own. It is not your people’s way to clean up the messes of others, and they are not grateful to you. I am not indebted. But you have proven yourself to be of honor. For that, I will illuminate what is to come.
“From now on, these gates will be closed to all your kind, bas. One of the Viddathari have been taken in the name of your god. If you have any sense, if you would save all that you have left, you will leave this city.”
“You know I can’t do that,” she bit out.
“I had a feeling. Basalit-an,” he called after her turning back. “Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun.”
This time, she knew the Qunari’s version of Chant. She had her own ideas about that. “The sea is changed by every tide, Arishok. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the state of the world.”
The Arishok stood statue-still on the steps of the Viscount’s Keep, staring across the entry hall while nobles gossiped around him. He was waiting for Hawke, and when she arrived, he had much to say about honor, and duty, and filth. Like he always did. Mixing compliments with scorn. If Hawke didn’t know better, she’d think he was baiting her. Then the doors opened once more, and Isabela came through.
“Oh, Isabela.” “Rivaini!” “I can’t believe,” “You came back!” Merrill’s excitement drowned out all other groans of disappointment. “I’m so glad you’re back. And you’ve brought what they’re looking for?”
“That’s right.” Isabela looked shifty like an unfamiliar cat.
“I see your thief has returned to you, Hawke. And you still claim to have no knowledge of what she stole from us? Hand her over to the Qun’s justice.”
“You’ve waited four years,” Hawke met his sight with defiance, craning her neck back. “Spare me a moment to discuss and you might find a more favorable outcome.”
“Fine, bas saarebas, talk to your thief,” he grunted. “But be quick. My patience will not last. And the Qun will call my brethren here.”
That wasn’t terrifying. Hawke drew Isabela aside. It wasn’t enough to be out of earshot, but it was the best she could do. “You lied to me, Isabela,” Hawke shook her head. “Why didn’t you tell me it was a Qunari relic? Why couldn’t you have returned it to them? Then they would have left!”
“You always treated with them. You’re even learning their words. I wasn’t going to make you make that choice. They would never leave without me,” Isabela was pale, her mouth fixed flat. “And Castillon would have killed me, besides.” Hawke looked over her shoulder and scolded herself for it. The Arishok was staring.
She turned back to the problem at hand. “Do you really doubt that we could deal with the likes of Castillon?” Isabela shook her head, but kept her vice grip on the relic. “Do you ever think I would hand you over to be killed?” She shook her head again. If Hawke didn’t know Isabela so well, she would think the captain on the verge of tears.
The Arishok tired of waiting. “Enough.” He addressed the nobles, fringing impatiently around the balconies. “I will take the relic and the thief. The Hawke must die.”
Isabela hugged the book to her and gripped Hawke’s arm painfully. “What? Why?” The Arishok gave her no answer.
“You will have your relic back. I will not allow you to take Isabela,” Hawk drew herself up and readied her staff.
“Good. Fight me, bas saarebas. Just us.” His grey eyes were intent on her, his scowl nearly lightened. Hawke waved away her friends and stepped up.
“I do not wish to fight. I will if you force it.”
“I will.” He brandished his blade and charged.
It was cat and mouse.
“Stop running, bas saarebas!” he roared.
“Obviously I will not,” she answered, ducking behind a column as his axe fell. “You’ll kill me.”
“Nothing can stop that now,” he grunted, leaning his weight into another charge. She managed to sear him and dodge out of the way, but it was too close. She couldn’t turn quick enough, and he got her left with a backwards sweep before his momentum carried him past. She blasted out with force magic to trip him and put some distance between them again.
She ducked behind another column as he steadied himself. She’d gotten him on his leg with that last fire spell, she knew it. He would have to take a moment to breathe.
“There must be another way,” she gasped for air, peering around the pillar. One of her hands went to her ribs without her conscious movement, coming away bloody. Her other hand trembled. If she couldn’t get through to him, she was in deep shit.
“This is what comes to those not under the Qun,” the Arishok grunted, levering himself up by his sword. “There is no second path. There is only the battle. Kill or be killed, basalit-an. Enough of your chatter.”
The battle after that was more of a slogging mess. She didn’t want to kill him, and didn’t want to die. Her robes were sodden all down her left side. He was limping. Still his blows rained down just as fast. Her spells flew. The nobles cheered and ducked. She was nearly empty. She slipped in her own blood and her vision filmed over. He took the opening and nearly got her, but at the last second she shot him with ice. Too much. Her magic was fading, and as it failed it got unpredictable. When her vision cleared of black spots, he was laid out next to her. The pommel of his axe was still touching his hand, but the flash frost and sudden drop had shattered the blade. He turned his head to look. She scrabbled to her knees and leaned closer.
“Why did you come here alone?” The question was half anger, half plea.
“We have stayed too long already,” he echoed, panting plumes of moisture into the air. “I feel the stench of basra marching down the streets. I would triumph or die. My people will return to Par Vollen victorious or not at all. Let there be an end for me.” He closed his eyes. He waited to die by her hand or bleed out.
Hawke stared down at his motionless body and weighed her shitty options. She couldn’t sit there and let him die. She didn’t want him to die. Anders raised his eyebrows at her when she pulled him in, but when she ordered him to heal, he did so. Like he always did, because he healed better than he did anything else, and he trusted her.
The nobles weren’t so willing to trust. She kept them off Anders’s work by virtue of her bloodstained robes and heavy looks. When his work was done, she let them take Arishok down to the Gallows dungeons. That battle wasn’t one she could win. Anders downed a couple lyrium draughts and turned to her with a determined look, and she let the nobles pull the two of them into the Viscount’s chamber. Varric nodded to her in passing; he would make sure Isabela was alright.
It was good that she could have confidence her people to act as she would. She didn’t even have the presence of mind to listen to whatever the Viscount was yelling now, but it couldn’t have been complimentary. The Arishok had probably been coming to kill him, she thought. He could be a little more grateful.
A heavy thump interrupted the Viscount’s vicious dressing-down. Bran opened the door with a shaking hand and met the leader’s eyes, but before the visitor could be announced, he swept his own way in. His eyes met Hawke’s and locked.
“I have come for our Arishok, Basalit-an.” The Qunari soldier was as hard to read as any of them were.
“Why?” Hawke interjected before the nobles could get a word in. Suddenly, everything seemed a little clearer. Another crisis always did that for her. Anders gave a pinch as he focused even harder on her wound, but she ignored him.
“He will be killed,” the Qunari nodded. “As you should have killed him.” Hawke took to her feet, hand already out for her staff. Loyal Anders sighed as he handed it to her.
“I didn’t spare him just to hand him over to you.”
“Your cruelty will not pass here,” the Qunari mantled, but did not draw his blade. “He will see death. You may keep him from the honor of falling to you in battle, as it should have been, but you will not twist his mind any further.” The Qunari spoke common well. Exceedingly well.
She relaxed her stance deliberately. “Who are you?”
“Sataari. We do not intend to torture or disgrace him. We only want a peaceful resolution between our people.”
“What you intend bears no importance. You will break him. He is broken. Kill him, or allow me to kill him, and we will leave this house to answer the demands of the Qun.”
“When he is dead, who will lead you?” One of the Viscount’s councilors had a shrewd look about him. “Could we deal with them instead?”
“The Arishok is Arishok.” Sataari offered no more explanation than that.
“And who is Under-Arishok?” The same councilor drawled. He poked fun at the ox-man in the midst of his peers, when he would be terrified otherwise. Hawke hated politicians.
“Sataari.” His head swung back to her. “What are the demands of the Qun?” The question relaxed him for some reason.
“Arishok has failed. He must die. The antaam failed in our task. We are forbidden return to Par Vollen. We have failed the Qun. We must face reeducation, or die. We cannot be reeducated without returning. There is no other option. We must die.”
“I understand,” Hawke said, head whirling. She didn’t understand. Anders poked her in the back with… a book? Ah. “I return your relic freely. I learned of its existence only today.”
Sataari looked at the relic with hungry eyes. “And the thief?”
“To where?” He accepted the relic from her hands, cradling it gently.
“I do not know.” Hawke swayed back into Ander’s hands. She couldn’t push through much longer. She needed a bath. And some sugar. And to sleep for a few days. The Qunari studied her for a few moments more.
“I accept the truth from your mouth, Basalit-an. It is possible that the Arishok did not fail in his task today, but served the Qun in a way I do not understand. It is not for me to question. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun.” He inclined his head slightly. “Do not return the Arishok to us. We will kill him.”
“Wait. Basalit-an, the Arishok called me that in the duel as well. What does it mean?”
“A bas with honor. Worthy of honor. It is a rare trait among you. Do not lose it.” Without another word, he turned on his heel and pushed through the seneschal to the door.
“Don’t get me wrong, Hawke, I feel for the guy, but why exactly aren’t we ripping him apart and calling it done? For a moment at the end there I thought the two of you had killed each other.”
“He’s so lost, Varric. Those people he was raised by, they taught him theirs was the only way and then they forced him to stay here, where he was alien. He hates Kirkwall. He hates everything we stand for. Being here is like being surrounded by enemies for him, and he couldn’t leave. I pity him. But I also respect him. He made choices he didn’t like for his people. If that’s not enough reason for you, I’ve killed a lot of people lately. I wanted to save one.”
“I don’t think he’d thank you for that.”
“No. He won’t.”
It hurt to see him humbled. His knees dug into the stone of his cell, and his clothes were still bloody. She didn’t know why she had expected him to be clean. Like this, his horns would meet under her jaw. She cast the thought away. “Arishok.”
He lifted his face slowly and blinked. Hawke realized he must have been sleeping in that stress position. His legs would be asleep. At least, any human’s legs would be.
“Bas saarebas and dwarf. Why have you come?” Across his chest, an ice burn scarred his tough skin. She had done that. At the center a gnarled mass of tissue showed where the spike had entered his body between the ribs. A little higher and it would have been his heart.
She folded her arms across her chest in unconscious empathy. “Your people will not take you back.”
“Good. They should not. I failed to meet the demands of the Qun. Given the book and the thief both, I could not deliver them.”
“What will they do without you?”
“They may be killed on sight if they try to return to Par Vollen,” the Arishok didn’t look away from Hawke. “Or they may be killed by you. They abide by the will of the Qun. If you fight, they will take enough of the city down with them to carve a reminder to your people with their bodies. We will crash upon your shores like a great wave, no matter how you writhe against us. You are worms. The Qun is not best served by their deaths.” His eyes, grey-sheened and delirious, left her to roam the walls. “There was one path for me. Get them the thief. Send them to Par Vollen. They would return with the true might of the Antaam. There was no alternative.” He gritted his teeth at them, a mockery of a smile. “I would see your body broken on the rocks, bas seraabas. You would never bow to the will of the Qun.”
“I don’t get it,” Varric drawled. “Do you want to see her dead or not?” A growl was his only answer. “Hawke! I think he likes you!” At her expression, the razor smile melted off his face. “Oh, no, no, no. Absolutely not. Hawke. Tell me you’re messing with me. Marian. Andraste’s fucking mercy, give me strength.” Hawke followed him out. There was nothing left to be said to the Arishok.
“We get in there and the freaking Arishok lays out the reasons he did it, like…” Varric threw up his hands. “I don’t know, he’s just… Hawke, I what do I do with the fact the guy tried to kill you to keep from seeing his people kill you? It’s not in my repertoire. I’ve got to process this shit. You seduced the leader of the Qunari!”
“Not on purpose!” She protested.
“I think that makes it worse. Does… does Leandra know about the star-crossed lover thing?”
“Mercy, no” she choked. “I mean, the lover thing only ever…” she blushed and trailed off. “We were still in Gamlen’s house, it was ages ago. If I knew he was anything other than just pent up, you think I would’ve kept it from everyone?”
Varric dropped his voice low and painfully sympathetic. “Hawke, honey, that didn’t look like ‘pent up’ to me.”
“You would know,” she sniped offhand just for something to say.
“Ha, ha.” His laugh was decidedly sarcastic, but at least it wasn’t pitying anymore.
“Hawke. Varric.” Fenris interrupted the landslide of a conversation by seating himself at the table unceremoniously.
In the silence his arrival brought, he volunteered, “You really ruined him.” The silence following that gem, he continued, “I went to make sure he wasn’t being treated unfairly. The nobles don’t know what to do with him, but they can’t let the Qunari win. You need to do something.”
“I don’t exactly have options, Fenris. I’ve already done what I can to keep him from being killed by me or his own. The rest is up to the Maker, I guess.”
The Arishok was found- or not found- the next morning. He didn’t even stay one night in the Gallows. Fenris didn’t seem worried about the escape when they all met at Varric’s rooms in the Hanged Man.
“I was under the impression you were not going to kill him. He did not manage to commit a crime. The two of you dueled, then you proclaimed him free. So I freed him.”
“Fenris,” Hawke sighed, kneading at her forehead.
Varric thumped a mug of the piss ale in front of her and kept one for himself, nudging it away from Isabela’s greedy fingers. “You didn’t think we might want to know that before we were included in the city-wide Qunari hunt all day?”
Fenris laughed at him. “No. The exercise is good for you. Keeps suspicions off us, too. He went to the Qunari sector.” Hawke’s hand stilled on her temple and she moved to rise, but Fenris motioned her back down. “I followed. He is fine. He stood before them and declared himself Tal-Vashoth. I expect he wished for them to kill him.”
Hawke swallowed hard and kept listening.
“They did not. A few declared themselves Tal-Vashoth on the spot. None took up arms. Some turned their backs.”
“He was their leader,” Aveline hummed to herself. “Not a bond cast away lightly.”
“I took the liberty of inviting him to the manor,” Fenris eyed Hawke slyly. “If you wish to seek him out.”
“You’re mean,” she called to his retreating back. “Fenris! Don’t walk away I’m trying to whine at you! It’s not fair! You were my friend first!” The front door closed with a click, and Hawke groaned into her ale. None of the other patrons of the Hanged Man came to investigate the disturbance. Hawke’s crew was always shouting something or other.
“Well? Are you going to go to your big, tall, vaguely murderous handsome prince?” Isabela sipped from Hawke’s mug and tried not to show how it all bothered her.
“Easy, Isabela,” Varric cautioned.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. He did just try to kill me. I feel like that’s an ‘I need some space’ if there ever was one.”
“But he tried to kill you because he’s in love!” Merril squeaked. “Or because he’s in love he couldn’t let anyone else kill you, which is vaguely romantic even if it is very confusing.”
“Nobody said anything about love,” Varric waved his hand. “Lust, sure, respect, yeah, but love?”
Isabela finished the ale fast. “I’d also like to point out that he wanted to ship me to Par Vollen where I would definitely be killed in some gruesome and terrifying manner.”
“Rivaini, we would never let it go down like that. I’m still on the fence about the whole Arishawke thing. Get it? Arishok-Hawke. Arishawke.”
“It just sounds like you’re saying Arishok,” Merril frowned.
“I’ll work on it. Assuming it’s going to happen, otherwise I’ll try not to waste my time. So? Going for it?”
Hawke put her hands on the table and levered herself to her feet, hoping to get out the door with even a semblance of self-respect intact. “There is no it! There’s no romance!”
“But you did…” Isabela wiggled her eyebrows.
“Once, years ago!”
“I would say your interactions were a little charged,” Varric mused. “After the black powder thing, that’s when we first met him… unless it wasn’t?” he fished.
Isabela’s eyes brightened, so she was finally on board. “Aw, now I’m a little sorry I missed all the dirty details... Fill me in?” Her breasts nearly fell out of her shirt with how far she was leaning over the table.
“I’m going home,” Hawke said wretchedly.
Hawke made her way to the compound the next day. It had only one guard. He nodded to her and let her pass without question.
“Basalit-an,” a familiar voice ground out.
“Sataari?” He nodded. “I heard that the Arishok came back here.”
“He came to die. We did not allow it, as you asked.” He spoke as if she should feel guilt, but all she felt was relief.
“Thank you. What will your people do now?” She looked over the diminished camp. Doubtless the ones who decreed themselves Tal-Vashoth had already left the city, or perhaps found work.
“The Qunari that remain Qunari will take the Tome of Koslun back to our people. We will report the Arishok Tal-Vashoth and therefore dead, as he is dead to the Qun.” Sataari paused to look at her levelly. He didn’t quite tower like the Arishok, but he still had a good foot over her. “Take care of what is left. He was once part of our Qun. His part in the weave will not be easily undertaken. If he is not to die with honor, I would not have him live a slave to bas.”
“He will be nobody’s slave. For now, he is with Fenris. The elf with the white hair, the one- how did the Arishok put it? In my beresaad?”
Sataari nodded, so it must have at least been understandable. “The one who speaks of the Qun.”
“Right. He’s under Fenris’s protection. I’m working on a legal fallback for his escape now.” That in itself was a nightmare, one she wasn’t excited to get back to.
“Judgement of Qunari falls to Qunari,” Sataari droned. “By rights, your leader has no claim on him. And we have delivered our verdict of Tal-Vashoth after his loss of sight.”
“That might actually help. You have my thanks, Sataari.”
“And you have mine, for the part you played in getting us home, basalit-an. I hope you will understand when I say that I hope to never see you again.”
Hawke’s eyes crinkled in genuine mirth. “Likewise. Safe travels.”
“Panahedan, Champion Hawke.”
“I’ve secured him a limited pardon,” Hawke presented Fenris with the papers a few days later, dark circles under her eyes. “If you or any member of our group is with him, he can be seen in the city. You won’t get arrested for harboring him. Maker’s breath, Fenris, next time you have issue with my decisions, please tell me. I was looking forward to sleeping the past few days.”
“And out of the city?” Fenris asked. He didn’t look at the papers. Their reading lessons hadn’t gotten far enough for legal jargon.
“Again, with any of us, with the understanding that we won’t let any Tal-Vashoth run off with him and make him their leader. Maybe don’t tell Isabela. Or Anders. I’m going to go back to my house and sleep, now.”
He called after her. “Thank you, Hawke.” She waved him off. If anyone had leave for trust issues… well, all of them did. That was what made them such a good team. Couldn’t help but wish, just a little, that they could trust her. She didn’t even waste the time to change out of her robes when she reached her bed, and went out like a light.
Fenris and Arishok made a habit of walking down to Darktown and taking out anyone that messed with them on the way. Hawke knew this because she had to work around that schedule if she was to avoid him successfully. So she knew, when she and Varric came out of the Hanged Man, they shouldn’t have been anywhere close.
“Does that sound like Broody to you?” Varric tilted his head toward the sound. Without waiting for her answer, he readied Bianca and ran off. She followed. Things had already gone to shit by the time they got there, but they finished the stragglers easily enough. Fenris was breathing hard, leaning against a wall, and on the other side of the impromptu alley battlefield Arishok was facedown.
Hawke sprang over a couple corpses and turned him over. Blood pumped sluggishly from his belly, a deep slice across his chest. It bisected the scar she gave him. Hawke moved to put pressure on it.
“Do not touch,” he hissed at her, and she recoiled quickly. “The red will burn you.”
“Oh. Deadly?” He shook his head, even that small motion opening his wound further. She bit her lip and pressed both hands to the wound, her fingertips already prickling as whatever poison he wore irritated her skin. He let out a huff of air as she swung a leg over and pressed her whole body down on his guts.
“Varric, where are we with those bandages?” She called over her shoulder, but Varric was already there. “Thanks.” She made the exchange quickly and pressed her weight down again. They sat in silence as Varric and Fenris rounded the bodies for clues. Hawke looked everywhere but at him. She couldn’t help but think, in the silence, of her position. If she wasn’t so terrified of the blood still moving sluggishly against her fingers, she would have been embarrassed.
“No sign. I’d guess Coterie, though. These were no ordinary thugs.” Varric eyed the two of them and smirked. Hawke narrowed her eyes at him. “Looks like that’s just about as good as it’s going to get without real healing. Think you could get him down to Anders?”
Arishok made a dismissive noise, raising his head and opening his eyes.
“Don’t even think about it,” she glared at him. “He’s healed you before. Fenris and I will be watching the whole time. Not letting Anders fix you up wouldn’t prove anything.”
Anders let the blue glow die off, and Arishok visibly relaxed. “See that? Nearly good as new. No collar or anything, and yet here you are, not dead.”
“Anders, come on,” Hawke sighed. Arishok grunted might have passed for thanks in the Qun, then stalked out.
“Thank you again,” Hawke spoke more tactfully. “I know you don’t like this.”
“Then why do you keep making me do it?” Hawke smiled at him blankly, which earned her an eye roll and a hand gesture that meant, rather rudely, get the hell out.
“He is useful in a fight,” Fenris noticed loudly as they made to follow Arishok.
Hawke stretched out her hand, the burn aching. She hadn’t had the heart to ask Anders to heal something she got deliberately. “I know that. Of course I know that, I fought him.” Fenris shrugged.
“I might just invite him along with us one of these days.”
Hawke groaned. “Have mercy, Fenris. I’m only one mortal woman. I don’t have the attention span to slay dragons and keep an eye out for a murderous Qunari at my back. No,” she said to his affronted look, “I know, you would never bring him if you thought he’d try to kill me. He’s just… distracting.”
“Hawke,” he said seriously. “Get over it.”
“So what does he think about following his angst-ridden one night stand into unknown danger?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged into her drink. “We never talked about it.”
“You never talked about it?” Varric blustered incredulously.
“We never talked about when I nearly killed him, either!”
“Man, you do have a messed-up romantic backstory.”
“Worse than yours?”
“Never tell anyone I said this. I will deny it. But really, Hawke? Yeah. Kind of.”
That aside, he fit in with the group well enough. Stuff got beat. People got saved. Hawke was doing just fine with it, thanks. It wasn’t awkward to have him hanging around. Nope.
“You are staring,” Fenris laughed from behind the curve of the cave. Hawke’s ears perked up.
“Yes.” Arishok replied. “I noticed, when we fought. She uses her staff like a blade. It is strange.”
“Oh, sure. You’re staring at her staff,” Isabela’s voice wobbled, and Hawke flushed. She really shouldn’t be listening. She moved deeper into the cave and immediately regretted it.
Isabela, Varric, and Arishok were alerted by Hawke’s yell. It was the sort of half-yell half-scream and dusting of yelp you get when you find a spider in your bathwater, and the cause was similar. The spiders were just enormous, and there were fifty of them.
When it was all done and the good-natured teasing began, Hawke only defended herself with, “Eight legs. Eight. That’s too many legs.”
They had to go to the coast by boat for a change. The herb they were looking for was largely aquatic, and Merrill had volunteered to dive for it. Knowing their luck, they would have to clear out nests of hostile spiders, Tal-Vashoth, and raiders, so they took an even team. Fenris had been recruited by Aveline for some guard duty and that left… Arishok. And it looked like he had some really great friends at the docks.
“Basvaarad,” the young Qunari inclined her head slightly to the Arishok, malice in her eyes.
“Tal-Vashoth,” he sneered in return. She bared her teeth and edged around him, returning to her work hauling crates. She did not turn her back fully to Arishok.
Arishok explained at Hawke’s questioning glance. “It was an insult,” he snorted. “As if those of the basvaarad were lesser than the brand of Tal-Vashoth. She would be showing honor, if she meant it truly. Basvaarad protect the bas from that which they do not understand. She was not following the words of the Qun, only her own selfish prejudices. I would be honored to be basvaarad.” He turned his eyes to her, and looked conflicted. One finger rose to lift her chin. She allowed the touch, fascinated. “Under the Qun, to be Arvaarad is to hold the leash of the Saarebas. Though it is my own weakness, I would not see you leashed, nor your mouth sewn.” He lingered over her lips, imagining them sewn, or perhaps remembering something less bloody. He tsked to himself and turned away. Her skin felt cooler without his hand. “We were proceeding to the coast, were we not?”
(“Would he see my mouth sewn?” Merrill asked Varric. “I’m sure he won’t, Daisy. Look over there, was that a turtle?”)
He was in a mood the rest of the day. He killed just as quickly, and never responded to calls during combat unless they were calls for aid. Hawke still noticed the way he set the broadness of his shoulders, the way he let his own wounds drip into the sand. There would be no talking to him until he sorted himself.
“What’s up with Bubbles?” Varric asked her after their task was done, some rare ingredient given to someone or other. She didn’t have to remember things after she did them. That was someone else’s job.
“Bubbles?” Hawke cast through their group for a moment, but couldn’t place the nickname.
“Yeah. Seems a bit off.”
“You mean Arishok?” Her eyebrows flirted with her hairline. “That Bubbles?”
Isabella slid in next to them. “Is it for his ass?” Hawke turned to her with her mouth parted, ready to throw down or something, she didn’t even know what.
“It’s for his bubbly demeanor.”
“That seems a little hacky, Varric,” Fenris slid in on Hawke’s other side. “I thought I was the ironically named one.”
“No, yours is straight, Broody. Even if it were ironic, there’s room enough for everyone,” Varric sniffed. “Also it’s a little for his ass, if I’m being honest. He works out, or maybe he was just made like that. Nothing wrong in admiring some fine work.”
Hawke groaned into her hands. “Varric, that’s so inappropriate. He’s going to kill you. I’m not sure I can stop him.”
“Who is it you need to stop?” Hawke didn’t know how she didn’t hear him coming. She also didn’t know how none of her friends warned her of his approach. For good measure, she had no idea how he fit in the Hanged Man. To salve at least that part of her curiosity, she looked up. He had tilted his head a little to the side to accommodate a beam, but it didn’t look too uncomfortable. She always imagined him a little taller than real life.
“Nobody,” she said belatedly. “Just, ah, one of Varric’s things.”
“Books,” Varric corrected. “By things she means books. I write.”
Arishok shrugged, horns threatening the ceiling. “Why don’t you sit with us,” Hawke offered.
“Move,” he looked at Fenris. When Fenris did little but smile, he turned to Isabela. She scurried to the other side of the table nearly too fast to see. Arishok settled himself at Hawke’s side.
He seemed to have gotten over his span of irritation. At least, he engaged with the party enough to ward off her concern. He watched Hawke the whole night. He refused to take part in Varric’s game of wicked grace, then ruined it by pointing out when Varric was cheating. Hawke laughed into her sleeve and laughed louder when Varric kicked her under the table.
“Venak hol,” Arishok muttered, and Fenris barked a laugh from her other side.
“He called you vexing,” Fenris addressed Varric. “If he only knew.” Varric beamed like it was a badge of honor.
Arishok still watched her. The walk home, normally quiet and companionable with Fenris depending on their level of intoxication, was made tense with the addition of a massive grey man at their side. It didn’t help that Fenris kept laughing at her with his eyes. No amount of glaring would make him stop, and Arishok was bound to notice sooner or later. Hawke trained her eyes on the ground and counted the steps to the estate. Three hundred, three-fifty, two hundred, one-fifty. Nearly there. Finally Fenris and Arishok peeled off, and she nodded a swift goodnight. She ran the last leg of the trip home. Not for any reason, just to burn off a little extra energy. Shut up.
The energy refused to dissipate, no matter how she ran, how many spells she practiced, how she wrote or paced or turned somersaults. She fixed breakfast for herself before the sun came up, to Orana’s dismay. She didn’t manage to sneak in and fix herself lunch. Ashamed of herself, the fizzing under her skin abated enough for her to get some work done.
At least, she managed to sit down and stare at a letter from some noble outside Starkhaven for a good ten minutes before a familiar thumping gait came up the stairs.
“Arishok?” She straightened from her desk. At the sight of his face, she rose to her feet. “Has something happened? Is Fenris alright?”
“Your beresaad is fine. I am not. I am living outside the Qun. I am singular.” His hands clenched into fists, and his scowl deepened. “I have decided. If I cannot be one of my people, if I must live and breathe the same air as bas, I would at least have you.”
“I have no interest in being anyone’s consolation prize, and certainly not your conquest. Not again.” she lifted her chin and cursed the foot and a half difference in their heights. This was getting out of hand rather quickly. She wished she wasn’t in her house robe. In fact, she rather wished she had the guard of full armor and her staff.
“You deliberately misunderstand,” his eyes burned into her. “If I could have released you from the sand of my mind I would return to my people and take up any punishment they gave me. If I was convinced any education could rip you from the loam of me I would have done it.
“You make the decisions I would make, clean the streets of the worst of the filth and ask for nothing. You rule over the men in the towering house and they praise you for it. You are tamassran and ashkaari, one who finds the path for others and seeks the path for themselves. You bring order. You do not sit by. I am ready to face that now, as I was not before.”
“I thought I was bas saarebas.” She folded her arms tight against her chest. She would not hope.
“You are. You are all these things, and Hawke.” He stepped closer, so she had to bend back to see him or step away.
“What do you want from me?”
“You know what I want from you.”
He mirrored her position, folding his own arms. It was infinitely more intimidating when he did it, she noticed.
“I would fight by your side.”
“You already do.” She finally took that step back.
“Every day. Your enemies would be my enemies, and mine yours.”
“Oh,” she stuttered. That sounded a little more serious. She took one more step back. Her knees hit the bed, and before she could collapse onto it, he caught her around the waist. She knew his reaction time. He was expecting her to fall.
“Now you see. Bas saarebas, your eyes were closed.” He leaned in, and Hawke was surprised to learn that indeed, at some point in the aborted drop, she had closed her eyes. One of his horns brushed her cheek, the texture alien. His whisper rang oddly as well, so deep and vast it felt endless. “I would make us a world in itself. Aban asaaranda, aqun. Sea and the storm upon it, not the surety of the tides but the balance of the moment before they calm. I would live in the illusion with you.” His lips grazed her ear.
She did not open her eyes, merely sobbed into the darkness, her hands framing his face and pulling him to her. He did not let her kiss him idly. He was in motion from the moment she accepted him, pulling her close, dropping them both to the bed.
“Bas saarebas, I should have known,” he kissed his way down her neck, bared to him. “From the moment I saw you, surrounded by basra unknowing of your value,” he bit down on her collarbone and swooped up to steal her cry from her mouth. “I should have known what ruin and treasure you held in your arms. You saw me and you knew my strength, but hid your own.” He cupped his hands around her hips, the breadth intimidating all over again. She clutched at his shoulders, arms, hands, all over. She opened her eyes.
“There you are, Hawke. Always I hunger to have your eyes upon me. The color of the storm. Katari. Karaas. Hissera. Hissra.”
“One day,” she swore to him, pulling at his cuirass, “I will know all the things you call me.”
“Yes,” he promised, and pulled the soft cord of her robe.
“Wait,” she touched him lightly, and he drew away. “It’s just… there are other people in the house.”
“Ah,” his frown cleared. “They have left.”
“What? Just like that?”
“I informed them I came to court you. The dwarf took my hand and shook it up and down.” He shrugged, a massive undertaking that nearly rocked the bed. “Then they left.” ***
“Oh.” That was a problem for future Hawke. “In that case, continue.” She sprawled out across the bed and let Arishok pull the robe from her. It slid so easily from her shoulders and down the sheets to the ground. He seemed willing to watch her react to the air, her skin pebbling, her legs drawing close around the heat of his thighs.
“Do you want me to touch you?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said sarcastically. “I thought I could lay here a little longer.” Her right hand rose to smooth across her breasts, the other moving slowly to her thighs, drifting dangerously. His eyes darkened, but he remained still. Of course, he would want to make her beg. Well, they went down that road four years ago. This time would be different. “Remove your clothes,” she ordered. He did so without complaint or ceremony. He was huge, she knew he was huge. He was proportional, if she was going to say it right. His body was peppered with scars, some of which she remembered giving him. He watched her study him, her hands stilling. He smirked.
It was enough to get her up on her elbows, staring him down. “Alright. Lie down.” He obeyed her, and for once she was grateful for her absurdly huge bed. Once it had felt obscene, but he filled it nicely. She straddled him and his hands went back to her thighs instinctively.
“Hawke,” he warned her.
“Yes?” She leaned down for a kiss, deliberately drawing her body over his. His skin was rough, and scars dragged enticingly over mage softness. When she pulled away, she was gratified to find his teeth grinding and his eyes fixed on her.
“You’re testing me.”
“Am I? Huh.” She rolled her hips, eyes rolling back as she felt the length of his cock right against her, right there. She would have to be careful she didn’t end up begging for it, after all. “It doesn’t feel like a test.” She was so wet, he couldn’t have missed how much she wanted him. It came down to a battle of wills, she reminded herself. If neither of them broke, it might just go on and on and on… she moaned against his throat, grinding little circles right and left.
“Enough,” he lifted her. “Bas saarebas, dangerous one, your titles are ever more fitting.” He settled her over him and, before she could brace herself against the headboard, flicked his tongue against her. Her hands rocked out with a gasp, clutching for purchase. She wasn’t a stranger to sex, he could testify to that, but this was new. New and strange and amazing, and she whimpered into her arm, digging teeth, determined not to… well, what the hell was she determined for? She let herself burst apart, falling back into his hands, bracing her by her ass alone and tonguing her through orgasm into what could have been another.
He let her down slow, stroking one strong hand over the curve of her spine, mouthing at the flesh of her belly. His horns had carved a gouge in the headboard. She hadn’t noticed.
“Hissra,” he moaned against her, let her feel the vibrations through her entire body. “Let me take you.”
“Yes,” she kissed into his mouth, tasting herself on him. As if she would have been able to bring herself to say no. From the moment she saw him, despairing and driven as he watched his soldiers march into an unfamiliar and unfriendly city, she would have allowed him this. She did wish he hadn’t been such a qualaba about it for four years, though.
It was an adjustment. She hadn’t been with anyone for- Maker- four years. Her own hand didn’t count. He took his time with her, didn’t push, didn’t change their position to give himself more control. He let her ease herself down, and down, until he was seated fully. Fully was the operative word, there. She gave herself a minute to breathe before she moved. Each motion punched the breath from her, just as she remembered. She savored the line of pleasure creeping along her spine, but she couldn’t quite keep him at the right angle or pace.
“Are you going to lie there, or help me?” she panted. “Really. Did you walk all the way up those stairs just to lie down and stare? Is this setting the tone for the relationship? Because fighting is all well and good, but if there’s no- eep!” Her cry of alarm turned to a laugh as he thumped her to the bed, looking distinctly unimpressed.
“Hold these,” he grunted, and pushed her knees up.
“Yessir,” she smirked back at him. For a moment she thought he would play at punishment for her impertinence, but he fixed his focus on her cunt instead.
“I fill you so perfectly.” He rolled his fingers in her own slick before he pushed them into her, just two enough to have her arching up from the bed. He found all the spots that drove her crazy in record time and used them to his advantage, watching her face as she rocked and moaned into him. “Even like this, you deign to submit to me. You, who could have killed me, and forced me to face a life of change instead. My asaaranda, Hawke.” He pulled his fingers out and stroked himself once, twice. “You will never forget the shape of me so long as you live.”
He put his body into every stroke, his considerable weight hitting inside her near painfully, the slight edge to her pleasure making her moan with every surge. His fingers bit down on the flesh of her stomach and thighs, and she knew she would have marks there, little patterns of intention, reminders of just how far his hand could spread across the breadth of her hips. She didn’t last. The angle of him was arching into her too perfectly, the brutal pace bringing her to her peak in a matter of minutes. “Arishok,” she cried. “Yes, I’m,” He fixed broad teeth against the curve of her throat, bit down just slightly, enough to bring the indentation to red bruising. Overwhelming. She shook as her second- or was it third? Orgasm took her away, pinning them together, bracing her palms against his chest, breaking apart, clenching down on him, twitching and twisting, and she felt him groan as he reached his own completion. She traced the furrowed intensity of his brow, the tension of his arms as he emptied himself inside her. They breathed together, slowing.
He drew out with a sigh and turned her on her stomach, dropping kisses along her shoulders, tracing her curves with a finger. In time, he left and returned with a damp rag to clean them both up, which he dropped to the floor. Problem for future Hawke. She smacked her lips and stretched, pleasant soreness between her legs. He settled himself in bed alongside her, his heat just shy of oppressive.
So she didn’t make him beg, she thought with a dazed smile. Losing control was just as good. She rocked her hips back against him, treasuring the tired mumble it prompted. Arishok swung his hand to hold her in place and nuzzled into her hair. “Sleep,” he grumbled in her ear. “Asaaranda, just for now.” How was she supposed to act contrary to the voice of pure warmth, huddled around her? She slept.
A muffled thumping announced Arishok’s arrival. He pushed the door open too hard, as usual, but his smile made up for the mark on the wood. “They declared me dead today.” Arishok picked Hawke up, spinning her into his arms. “A new Arishok takes control of the Antaam.”
“What does this mean for you?” Hawke asked, dizzy with his happiness. She braced her hands on his arms.
“I am new. I am Tal-Vashoth. I am yours.”
“So nothing’s changed, then?” Merrill ducked the jab Varric aimed at her ribs. “Oh, I’m very happy you’re happy, just, I thought all that was already a given?”
“From today on you call me one of your beresaad, your vanguard. And my new name will be Sataareth.”
Fenris smiled slightly, enough for Hawke to know it was as good a name as any. “Sataareth,” she said aloud. It was foreign to her, but she would grow into it.
“Sataareth,” he corrected her pronunciation.
“Sataareth,” she frowned. He laughed at her, the motion rolling through him, calling her smile. “Reth.”
(“Booo,” Varric hissed quietly from the corner. “Long live Arishawke.”)
He nodded easily. “Reth.” He lifted her once again, grunted a clear ‘get out’ to her friends, and took her upstairs. They knew the drill. Last one out had to hear Hawke’s sex noises.
“The Viscount invited us to a party,” Hawke mumbled into Reth’s stomach. “Something about reconciliation and stuff. Guess he figured it’d be best to be on the Tal-Vashoths’ good side if they’re going to build a secondary city by the coast.”
It wasn’t his idea of a good time, but it wasn’t hers either. If they wanted to keep kicking butt and taking names, they had to play the part of Champions.
True to form, the party was terrible. Terrible wine. Terrible company. There were probably five Tal-Vashoth and three Qunari in the room. All the same, they dominated the space. People made room for them, or perhaps the better word for it would be avoidance.
“Tal-Vashoth that was once Arishok,” a Qunari addressed him. They wore the markings of Ashaad. “You are surrounded by filth and indignity. I see nothing of the Qun in these basra. How did you find purpose here?” Straightforward, a trait Reth valued. The two of them were watched closely, but he was not threatened.
“All my life I have known there is no sense outside the Qun.” He searched for Hawke across the room, found her with her hands on her hips, snarking something at her dwarf. “That is correct. There is no sense in this life. No direction, no purpose. You have to form it of your own hands, and it changes with the sun.”
“Then why turn your back to the Qun? You could yet go through reeducation, and become one with society again. Why be Tal-Vashoth, if you were not forced from the truth?”
“I would be at her side through this and worse. Anaan esaam Qun. I have been lost.” As if in a dream, Hawke’s gaze rose to meet his. She flushed and kicked at Varric’s foot, doubtless because he made some crude comment. “I have chosen not to be. I will fight against my nature each day I breathe and still it is better than a world where she does not devote herself to me.”
“And you would have all of us fall into this sludge with you, Tal-Vashoth?” The tide had turned for the Ashaad. He would no longer listen.
“If you get the chance,” Reth said idly, already moving away. “I doubt you will. In all of this land, there is only one Hawke.”