I sat by a stall at the market, munching on some bread and cheese I had purchased. I had been deeply resentful when Shona had chosen our brother Rowan to accompany her instead of me. Did they think I’m some fragile doll or something? Haven’t I more than proven myself? It had been me who had stopped the ogre that had crushed Carver from also killing Aveline and Mother!
But when I calmed down a bit, I realized that it was probably not that they thought me weak. They wanted someone to stay behind, look after Mother. And I have to admit that I’m better qualified for the job of looking after a deeply depressed mother than most people out there are.
In the two days since they had departed on their expedition, I had overcome my resentment. In fact, I felt downright cheerful! Today, I had convinced Mother to take a trip with Isabella to a Markham fashion shop, a total change in pace to get away from the worries that dogged her every step since Shona, Rowan, and Carver had joined the King’s call to fight the Blight.
This might be the first time in over a year since Mother did something fun, not since Lothering had—I blinked.
Was that? No, it couldn’t be! It had to be my imagination; I had just been thinking of Lothering! I quickly wrapped up what was left of my snack and put it away in my pouch, then took off as fast as I could, weaving my way through the crowd. Looking for him. It couldn’t be him. But— aha! There he was!
I reached out and grabbed the man’s hand, stopping him in his tracks. He turned around, surprised. It really was him!
“Captain Ren!” I beamed happily. “It’s so good to see you again! Do you remember me? I was in Lothering, my name is—”
“Bethany? Bethany Hawke?” The man’s scarred face split into a delighted smile. “Well, it’s quite a pleasure to see you again, alive and well!” He led me out of the foot traffic, to the side of the road where we were less in the way. “How are you? Your mother? Did your family return from Ostagar?”
“Oh yes they did,” I gave a soft laugh. I was pleased that he remembered mother and me, of the family I’d talked about. “They returned just ahead of the horde, we left with only half a day to spare before they reached the village. Rowan and Shona made it to Kirkwall with us, but my twin brother—Carver…” I trailed off, I could feel my smile slipping off my face. “He was killed by an Ogre as we were escaping.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Bethany,” the soldier said, taking my hands in his. “I truly am.”
“Thank you. It was a year ago, now.” His rough, scarred hands still felt so warm. Tears threatened to blur my vision. Was I ever going to stop feeling gut-punched when I started talking about it?
“It never gets easier,” Ren said gently, as though he read my mind. “I’m so sorry.”
I shook my head, swallowing a deep breath. “Thank you.” I cleared her throat, looked around. “Where’s your comrade? Cira?”
“She had something to take care of in Denerim,” Ren answered. “Her lover had some problem with Crows.”
“Crows?” I was confused.
“An Assassin organization,” he explained. “It’s a long story. Any place nearby we can catch up?”
“The Hanged Man is a few blocks down,” I suggested.
“A bit too loud and crowded for catching up,” he said. “Know this bakery called Sunflora near Hightown?”
I nodded. It was a fairly well-run bakery which also had a small, private diner’s. Not too expensive, but enough so that casual diners didn’t pay custom much. The bakery did a strong enough business by itself that they didn’t need the diner’s to be crowded.
“Good, its flatbread and noodles are highly recommended by a friend so I’ve been wanting to visit. Let’s talk there!”
As we walked towards the Sunflora, I pointed out various landmarks and recounted tales of the many outrageous adventures that I had lived through—while working off our debts to the Red Irons, helping Aveline run down criminals and expose a corrupt guard, or saving enough money for the Deep Roads Expedition—and watched him laugh almost eagerly at each story. And I could understand that eagerness when he tried to talk about things that he had lived through. He had stayed during the Blight, and fought. He had fought the spawn at Denerim itself, had been fighting armies of them in the Alienage when the Archdemon was destroyed. He had taken part in hunting down as many as they could as they retreated in complete disarray.
And that was not counting the many things that seemed to pain him too much to bring it out in the open like this. As we talked, I began reminiscing out loud about those few weeks we’d spent together at Lothering. He had been irregular in that he was one of the few who had journeyed to Lothering from the north, rather than fleeing from the south. Moving towards the danger.
He was terribly dashing too, those scars on his jaw and left cheek doing little to dent his good looks but enhancing his bearing as a veteran warrior. He was also travelling with a female elf, and perhaps—shockingly since the elf was very beautiful—the two were not lovers but still very close. They both wore simple woolen cloaks covering hard boiled leather armor and carried plain steel swords and ash bows.
They had little coin with them, so they took jobs from the Chanter’s Board. While ordinarily the Board had simple requests like additional help on farms, the sudden influx of refugees had the area crawling with predators—both animal and human. The pair put their skills to use clearing out bandits, highwaymen, wolves, bears, spiders, and even a few Darkspawn once. But when they weren’t out keeping the village safe, they both spent their time among the locals and refugees, not lording it over like some soldiers did.
They had listened to everyone, laughed at their stories, comforted those that spoke of what they had lost, and in return they talked about the places they had been, things they had seen; though neither seemed ready to talk about their own histories, which enhanced their mystique.
Most of the younger women and some of the men had fallen madly in love with him at first glance.
And yes, so did I, don’t judge me. And he seemed to take a liking to me too. I had invited them to our home several times, and we—Mother and I—had grown quite fond of Ren in our brief conversations. But all the while I could see the pain weighing down in his heart.
Then the day had come when they met some of whom they’d been waiting for—soldiers of Highever. Ren had seemed disquieted when their Lord hadn’t been among them but he hadn’t any more time to wait. For this group had come shortly before another—the only survivors of the Grey Wardens who had been at Ostagar; Alistair, Karita, and Tinian. They had talked to them privately in the Chantry’s cellars, away from eavesdroppers, then made ready to leave.
Before they had left, Ren had given me a small gift—a sturdy leather pack he had purchased from a merchant, one big enough to carry enough food, water, and clothing for several days.
"Do not wait for much longer," he had told me. "A large part of the Horde should be here by the end of the week, it's best you be long gone by then. If your siblings live, they may find you if you do too."
He had made sense, but Mother and I were both too stubborn to give up on the others. We waited until the bitter end. Our choice had paid off, at least insofar as we were alive, and together. All of us, save Carver. And we had also been forced into indentured service to the Mercenary Band known as the Red Irons. It had been… Such a difficult year. At times I wish I had died there, with Carver, near our home.
"I'm sorry Bethany," Ren said gently.
“Don’t be.” I said. “So many of us have lost so much. Lowtown’s full of us. Darktown’s worse. You can’t feel sorry for all of us.”
Ren nodded. “True. But there are some whom I might be able to help. It’s basically what I’ve come for—helping those I have an obligation to. Come, I’ll tell you all about it after we catch up!”
Our date… didn’t begin so well.
We walked in the Sunflora, talking lightly about Varric’s latest “Hard in Hightown” , to find that Isabela and Mother had also chosen to have lunch there.
“Ohhh hello Mother, Isabela! Fancy meeting you here! Mother, you remember Ren? Bela, this is Ren, he was a soldier from Highever who I met at Lothering—”
I trailed off when I saw that Isabela wasn’t responding as she normally did to handsome men and beautiful women—no seductive smiles or double entendre greetings. Just complete and undiluted shock.
“So… ‘Ren’, is it?” Isabela laughed nervously. “Why are you in Kirkwall?”
Ren’s bearing had changed when he realized that Isabela recognized him. “I’m here to help my people. I have a duty to the Fereldens here.”
“Right!” Isabela grinned tightly. “Errrr… Bethany? ‘Ren’ here is Torren Cousland. The guy you casually walked into a diner’s with is the flaming King of Ferelden.”
Aaaand that’s when it all got awkward.