Carver grumbled under his breath as Garrett placed a crumbling wheel of cheese into the basket.
“We can barely feed ourselves, and you want to have a picnic with some stranger,” he scrunched his nose, “it’s not like the food is that great anyway, and it’ll be worse covered in sand. A fine plan.”
“Anders isn’t a stranger, Carver.” Garrett didn’t comment about the food.
“Well, he should be! You saw how he glowed like that, heard the voice. If he doesn’t turn on us he’ll attract the Templars for sure. You’ve had some bad ideas before, Brother, but this one might top them all.”
“If he IS dangerous, then it’s good I’ll have you with me.” Garrett placed some bread next to the cheese and covered them in a small cloth, tucking in the edges with care.
Carver huffed, “So that’s your plan is it? Drag me around while you make eyes at some unstable moron? Like I’ve got nothing better to do than babysit you and your mistakes. And fat lot of good it’ll do, we’ve been down that road before!”
Garrett closed his eyes at the last comment, refusing the bait. He closed the basket and smiled. “Merrill will be there.”
“She will? Oh. Well. I… guess it’s not too bad a day to go to the beach.”
The sun shimmered off of the waves as they lapped against the shore of the Wounded Coast. The sand felt warm between Carver’s toes and he felt a slight breeze in his hair. The water was calm, and he could see boats sailing on the distant horizon. He silently wished he could be on one of them.
Nearby, Garrett and Anders were laughing as they spread a blanket out on the sand. Merrill was crouched a few yards off, staring in fascination at a shell or something. She was so beautiful and so smart, the sight of her always gave him butterflies. He was determined to talk to her this time without sounding like an idiot. He wished his brother wasn’t here. It would be easier without the distraction.
Anders stepped in his line of sight again. Ugh. Carver wished he wasn’t here either. He walked away from the two men and focused his attention back to Merrill.
“What do you have there?” Carver walked over and leaned in to see what Merrill was examining.
“Oh, it’s a crab! Well, it was, anyway. It’s a bit muddled now, you see.”
Carver stared at the dead crab, its body half crushed and rotting. Small flies crawled across the damp shell. He felt bile rise to his throat, suddenly wishing he hadn’t leaned in so far. No. Don’t throw up in front of the girl. Or on the girl. Oh, Maker…
“It’s… interesting…” Carver managed, slowly leaning back and taking a small step away.
“I wonder why the birds haven’t picked it clean yet. Do you think they were full? Maybe he tasted bad for some reason. Can that happen with crabs? Or birds?”
“…maybe?” Carver tried not to think about it.
Merrill noticed the pause and turned to look up at him, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I miss something dirty again?”
“What? No! I was just, I--” Carver sputtered. How does this always happen??
“Carver, Merrill, let’s eat!” Garrett called out. Thank the Maker.
The meal was simple: the bread and cheese that Garrett had packed along with a bottle of ale that Merrill had brought with her.
“I told Varric where we were going and he insisted that we take this,” Merrill explained, “He said they brewed it especially for beach picnics between four friends. I didn’t realize ale brewing had to be so precise!”
It just tasted like the usual watered-down swill from the Hanged Man to Carver, but he was glad to have it.
“I don’t have much to offer, but a patient brought these by yesterday and I thought I’d share.” Anders pulled out a small bag of apples, likely stolen from the farm where his refugee patient worked. They were a bruised but welcome addition.
“Ah, I see the stone soup picnic is a success after all,” Garrett said as he reached out and took one of the apples, brushing across Anders’ fingers as he did so, lingering just a half second longer than needed. Carver snorted at the obvious ploy.
The food was definitely not better with sand. It’s not like they hadn’t tried to keep the basket up and out of harm’s way, so why was everything so crunchy? He could barely feel a buzz from the ale, but at least it got rid of the gritty feeling in his throat.
Merrill piped up and Carver felt a flutter in his chest, “I was thinking about going to see what might be in those tide pools after we’re done here. I saw all sorts of little creatures on the way in. Would you like to go with me, Carver? We might even find out what’s wrong with the crab!”
“Sure… yes! We’ll go do that. Little creatures. That should be… great!” Carver stammered, determined to power through anything in order to talk to her.
Garrett finished his bread then stood up, “Well, while you two go do that, perhaps Anders would like to join me for a swim?” He pulled his shirt up over his head without waiting for an answer, revealing his scarred and well-muscled chest. Oh Maker, Carver thought as he rolled his eyes, Brother really likes this one. This can’t be good. He never likes the good ones.
“Sounds fun, I’ll… be there in a bit,” said Anders, his eyes darting across Garrett’s frame then down to the ground, blushing visibly in the sun.
Carver’s nose wrinkled. And the good ones never like him back.
Carver stood and followed Merrill to the tide pools, leaving his brother to flirt. He wanted to be as far away as possible. He also wanted to just hit Garrett with a piece of driftwood and drag him home. He remembered all those times in Lothering when Brother had found a new friend, usually the biggest prick he could find wandering the dirt roads between villages. They were all arseholes. He’d punched one of them in the face the first time they’d met, knocked his front teeth right out for calling Bethany a monster. He was still steamed that his brother hadn’t seemed to care.
But worse than that had been the nice ones. The ones that smiled and brought duck to family dinners and everything was fine and bright until Garrett started coming home with strange bruises and a distant look in his eye. Carver’s fists clenched and he took a deep breath, willing the tension in his shoulders to ease.
“Oh look,” said Merrill, holding a piece of seaweed but looking inland, “there’s people coming towards the beach. Do you think they’re here for a picnic too? Should I have brought more ale? Oh, but there’s more than four of them, maybe that would be rude?”
Carver looked and saw a dozen jagged shapes moving towards them. Armed and armored, moving quickly, and under a raider banner. “Shit! Get over here and put your damn trousers on, Brother!” Carver’s focus shifted to the blanket, where they’d left their swords and metal armor to protect them from the brine. “Shit. Shit!” He stumbled towards them, slipping on sand and wet rocks. “Bleeding… mage flowers! Shit..!”
As he reached his sword, Carver felt the ground rumble. Merrill, who had kept her staff with her, was shifting the rocks and earth around them, ready to send any of the large stones flying into the raiders. He noticed she was careful to avoid using the stones with too many creatures on them.
Garrett and Anders had sensed the commotion and come running to the shore. Garrett, still wet and in nothing but his breeches, strode confidently up past Carver, grabbing his staff as he passed. This isn’t the time to show off, you prick! Carver swore his brother could swagger into trouble anywhere he went. At least Anders had the sense to stay in the back.
“And how are you fine people today? Anything I can help with?” Garrett gave a charming smile to the approaching Raiders.
A grizzled woman stepped forward, “Your money or your life. Simple as that, friends”
Garrett laughed and gestured to his near-naked self “I’m afraid you’ve caught me with nothing to spare at the moment. Though I suppose that’s not surprising for a Fereldan these days.”
The raider eyed him. “Very cute. Blight’s hit us all hard, see. You’ve got armor on the ground behind you, and you’ve got a sword,” she gestured to Carver, “We’ll be taking those.” The raiders drew their weapons.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, friend.” Garrett said, smile fading as he readied his staff.
“Seadogs, now!” the woman yelled. The closest raiders barely took two steps before an explosion of light and fire from Garrett knocked them off their feet. Merrill let the stones fly then, crushing into three more enemies and knocking them out. The projectiles done with, Carver charged in. He swung his sword, connecting with one raider’s shoulder before a wave of bitter cold flashed through him. The raider in front of him was frozen solid along with his sword, the ice creeping outwards and burning at Carver’s fingers and bare feet. He struggled to break his sword free.
“Freeze them before I swing, Magey!” he shouted at Anders. Garrett let another fireball fly and the edge of the explosion just reached Carver, singeing his hair but thankfully freeing his sword. He then set himself to work keeping the raiders off of his brother, who of course was standing in the middle of battle almost naked.
Fucking bloody mages, he cursed as the fight wore on.
Later, Carver wondered how a trip to the beach had wound up with him being burned, bruised, AND frostbitten. He’d taken a few blows during the fight, half from his own team, but all of which Anders had been able to heal. It would have been a lot worse if he hadn’t been there, in hindsight. He relaxed a little. And I didn’t even puke in front of Merrill. Yes, it could be worse.
Yes, great standards, he chastised himself. He remembered the way Anders and his brother had locked eyes on the beach; then the flash of blue from Anders when the fight started and Brother had been in the middle of it.
Shit, it could get worse.
…at least I didn’t puke in front of Merrill.