The Hanged Man was quiet for that particular time of the afternoon, but I wasn't about to complain. Varric and I were sitting at a small round table near the bar, sipping at piss poor ale and going over the monthly ledgers. I may be a bit of a kleptomaniac but I always stole from people who really didn't need the coin. Then I brought most of it to Varric to invest for me. My dividends were nearly on par with Hawke's now, though a fair amount of my money went into the upkeep of a drop in centre for Fereldens not far from Anders clinic. There was a soup kitchen and some cots, as well as a free babysitting service so that both parents could go out and try to find work.
We'd been trying to decided if my idea of an orphanage in Lowtown was a possibility yet when the dwarf sighed.
“All right, Varric,” I said. “What is it?”
“I think I've found Wall-Eyed Sam.” Eyes downcast and grumbling, it was as though he was unhappy to be giving me this news.
“But, that's good isn't it? I mean, I asked you to find him and you did.”
“Yeah, but in my searching I found out he's been making certain...overtures to the Tevinters. Not to mention that with the snows coming he's going to be making a beeline for some bolthole and we'll lose him again til spring.”
Okay, so basically I had a very small window to get the book back before we'd have to start the search up again in a few months...”Think I might be able to get in and chat with the illustrious Sam sometime today?” I asked.
Varric thought a minute. “I don't see why not. According to my sources he'll do down at the docks round about now. He should get back to his place in Darktown round about seven bells tonight. You could always catch him then.”
“Care to join me? I might need a negotiator to get what I need out of him.” I gave the dwarf my best 'Pleeeease?' look and he laughed.
“Stop fluttering those lashes at me, Starlight. You've got enough man flesh panting over you. Speaking of which_”
“No Varric,” I interrupted. “I will be telling you nothing about what goes on in my bedroom.”
“Fine. What about Hawke's bedroom? Blondie's?” he prodded, smiling. “Maybe Broody's?”
“Not talking about it, not talking about it and-”
“None of your business, dwarf.”
I whipped my head towards the voice, already smiling. I hadn't seen Fenris in some time, not since returning from the coast. I had tried visiting him on a couple of occasions but he never seemed to be around, the stolen mansion deserted and cold. I could only hope that he had found a place to stay until the snows were over, the hole in the roof not being conducive to staying warm over the winter.
I couldn't help myself. I sprang from my seat and wrapped my arms about his neck in a hug. He was stiff at first, unused to physical contact that wasn't meant to harm, but soon he relaxed and placed his hands at my waist. I turned slightly, burying my nose into the soft hair at the nape of his neck. He smelled of worn leather and skin warmed by sunshine, and that metallic tang that I associated with steel and lyrium. It was a thrilling scent that had my knees a little wobbly.
Varric chuckled and I turned to him, arms still around the elf. “Don't even think about it.”
“About what?” he cried in mock hurt. “Writing a torrid love story about you and the elf? Wouldn't hear of it.”
I sighed and dragged Fenris to sit with us. "Fenris, how would you feel about helping us out tonight?”
“Of course,” he replied without preamble.
I looked at him next to me, slightly surprised. “What? No questions, just 'Of course'?”
“Yes. I would help you in anything you needed.”
He was so matter-of-fact, so stoic that I had to smile, to tease just a little. “And what if I said that what I wanted was for you to throw me across this table and take me?”
His eyes darkened with heat and my breath caught in my throat. He smiled, a true smile, not a quick lift of the lips, and leaned in close to my ear. “With the dwarf watching?”
Varric's sputter of laughter was just what I needed to keep from saying yes. But damn was it hard! “Ugh...N-no! No. We're off to talk to a lovely gent by the name of Wall-Eyed Sam tonight and we could always use a bit of backup.”
“What of Hawke,” he asked. “Or the Abomination?”
“Garrett and Anders,” I replied with a frown, “are out at Sundermount with Isabela. They'll be gone a while and we can't wait.”
“Why in the Maker's name would they go out there this time of year?” the elf asked, shuddering. Snow had begun to fall lightly this morning, and being from the north, he had never really acclimated to the cold.
“Long story,” I said, shaking my head slightly. “I'll tell you later. In the meantime it's just you,me and Varric.”
“What of Sebastian?”
Varric gave a very undignified snort for which I shot him a dirty look. Turning back to Fenris I tilted my head in thought. “Do you think he'd help out without Hawke here?”
“You could ask and find out.”
I thought about it for a moment, but shook my head. “Not yet. If it turns out we might need a bit more back up I'll run up to the Chantry and talk to him.”
Fenris nodded, everything settled in his mind. Sometimes I really envied him his clarity. A decision had been made and that was that as far as he was concerned. I, on the other hand, changed my mind every two minutes and argued other people's choices simply because I could. It frustrated even me sometimes.
“All right, you two,” Varric said, chuckling as he stood and stretched out his back. “I have letters to write and ledgers to balance. I'll meet you both here at seven?”
I nodded and the dwarf packed up his books and pens and lumbered up the stairs to his suite. Fenris, on the other hand, stayed seated with me, now staring down at the table but lightly brushing his little finger against the side of my hand. He seemed lost in the depths of his thoughts and I couldn't decided if those thoughts were pleasant.
“Fenris?” I said softly, twisting my fingers to catch his. “What is it?” He didn't respond for some time, and I thought that maybe he hadn't heard me before he spoke. He still wouldn't look at me and I could see a slight flush creeping up his jaw. What he was thinking of was...embarrassing?
“Some weeks ago, Hawke gave me a gift. A...book that I could not read. He promised to teach me, but things have become so hectic recently that he seems to have forgotten. Could...would you be willing...”
I reached over and gently cupped his cheek, forcing him to look me in the eye. “Of course I'll help. When would you like to start?”
Oh my God! There ARE puppy dog eyes! “Today? Before this evening's trip?”
I thought for a moment, then grabbed up his hand and pulled him up and along with me. “Let's go! We have a stop to make first.”
Seven bells came too quickly as far as I was concerned. After a brief stop at a Hightown booksellers for a couple of children's primers and a special little gift, Fenris and I retired to Hawke's mansion and set up in the study's loft. We put together a learning space, table, chairs, books, a slate and chalk as well as parchment and pens. We spent the afternoon poring over the primers, mostly doing letter association. Pictures of common objects next to a large print of the first letter in it's name. I knew it frustrated him to learn as a child would, but as I told him- repeatedly, at nauseum it seemed- you had to crawl before you could walk, walk before you could run.
We met Varric outside the Hanged Man and headed into Darktown, prepared for a fight, but hoping for the best.
The best was not to be. We found Sam's hovel only to learn that my quarry had run out to the Wounded Coast after group of slavers had nearly taken him. A quick search of his home proved only that he must have taken the book with him and that he was a horrendous housekeeper.
“We are going to have to go to him, I sense.” I looked up from my perusal of a pile of papers on a small table and realized that Fenris was right. And that if I took Fenris, something was going to happen.
“Could you run to the Chantry and request Sebastian's aid, Fenris? Varric and I will meet you at the eastern gate.”
He nodded and disappeared into the alleys of Darktown. “Any reason we're bringing Choir Boy, there, Starlight?” Varric asked, sauntering out of a small sleeping chamber, whipping his hands down with a cloth from his belt pouch.
I looked down at my hands, clenched on the table and sighed deeply. “Because we're about to do something that I was hoping to put off for as long as possible. Until he was a little more able to deal with his emotions. And he's going to need all the friends he can get.”
Saving Orana and sending her to Kirkwall was easy. Killing Hadriana was satisfying and easy. Dealing with an emotionally wrecked, glowing elf was hard.
“You saw what they did here. There will always be some excuse, some lie mages concoct to defend there actions. What has magic touched that it hasn't spoiled?” He turned, rubbing at his face with bloodstained gauntlets, suddenly tired after his angry tirade.
But I was still angry.
I latched onto his arm and twisted him to look at me. “Am I so terrible, Fenris? Do you think I would be here, that we would ever have really met, without magic? What about you? Do you think the magic that was done to you has turned you into some irredeemable monster? Of course not! Magic isn't inherently evil, just some of the people that wield it. And I am so sick of you maligning every mage, men, women and children that only want to live their lives, maybe even help ungrateful gits like you!”
He flared, bright blue-white light filling the cavern and Sebastian swore to the Maker under his breath. Varric just cocked Bianca and waited. But the light faded and Fenris no longer looked rage filled. Just...sad.
But I, on the other hand, was still pissed. I threw my hands up in surrender. “You know what? Think what you want. I'll meet you in town!” And I stormed off. Apparently somebody needed to leave the party at this point in the story, and this time it was going to be me.
I ran blindly along the coast. The waves were choppy now with the change in the season. Dark forbidding grey with thick white foam. I would find a place to stop, to stare out over the ocean, but then I would hear one of the others calling my name and I would run again. I didn't want to have to deal with any of them right now. I never realized how much Fenris' hatred of magic had hurt me. I didn't understand why, really. It's not like I was a mage myself or anything. But it was true that magic of some sort had brought me here, to these wonderful people that I could love with all my heart, and the elf's rejection of magic felt like an irrational rejection of me. I knew it was stupid of me, but there it was.
I ran until I found a cavern, up in the hills, near where the Tal-Vashoth had holed up years ago. There was a fire going and signs of habitation. “Hello the camp I called before anyone might have been startled by me. “May I approach?”
A squeaky voice called from the bushes. “Who goes there? How many in yer party?” I giggled. Could it be? Was this the wonderful Wall-Eyed Sam that I had been searching for? “The name's Selena. I'm alone at the moment, though there are three others in my party, farther up the coast,” I lied.Okay, not really a lie, but definitely not the whole truth. “May I approach?” I asked again.
He wiggled out from beneath the bush and eyed me speculatively. I was armed and armoured of course, but that didn't seem to be an issue. “You got any food on ya?”
I twisted my head, looking about the nearby areas. About thirty feet or so away, a nug was sniffing hopefully at a pile of refuse. In a blink I pulled my bow from my back, drew and fired. I surprised Sam, causing him to jump and nearly pee himself. I went to fetch the nug, offering it to him. “Sorry it's not boiled first but if you can stand the gameyness, it's not too bad. He smiled grateful and took it from my hands.
“I'm Sam,”he said, setting about to prepare the meal. “Wall-Eyed Sam to me friends.”
I chuckled. “I knew that actually. I've been looking for you.”
The man panicked, dropping the nug in the dirt and backing away. I raised my hands in peace. “Nothing bad, I promise! I'm not here to harm you in any way. I just need to talk to you about something you've been trying to sell. A book.”
The man squinted in what he must have thought was a shrewd way- and he really was wall-eyed, the poor thing- and pursed his lips. “What do you know about it?”
“I know everything about it, Sam. And I want to buy it off you. Maybe for enough to get you to Antiva for the winter. Away from a bunch of Tevinters that would probably kill you as look at you.” I pulled out my coin pouch and jingled it in my palm. I had hoped to be able to settle this peacefully and came prepared. I could see his eyes following the bag, licking at his chapped lips and grinning.
“I think maybe we can come up with a deal.” he said slowly, trying to sound savvy. It just wasn't working for him. I cringed in sympathy. I opened the neck of the bag, being sure that Sam could see the glint of gold sovereigns inside. “No 'dealing' Sam. There's fifty sovereigns in this pouch, a vast fortune for someone like you. You will give me the book and I will give you the pouch. You will use a small portion to get yourself to Antiva as quickly as possible. Those are the terms and you will take them. Or you will be stuck in Kirkwall, in Darktown, over the winter with no money and big bad people after your ass. Got it?”
He tried, he really did, but the rabbity panic I saw in his eyes told me he would take the deal. Finally he nodded and scurried into the cavern, returning moments later with a cloth wrapped bundle. He handed it to me and I reverently peeled back it's cover.
It was a fairly plain, leather bound book, large and unwieldy, covered in smeared dust and not a few drops of old, dried blood. I nodded, recovered it and tossed Sam the pouch. “Pleasure doing business with you, Sam. Now remember- Antiva. Quickly.”
“Yes! Yes messere! Quick as I can book passage!” he squeaked, dropping to his knees to scoop up the coins, some of which had escaped the bag.
I turned, walking back down the path to the main trail where I was sure to find the boys at some point. I had what I came for and it was time to face the music that was Fenris.