Tale of the Stranger (or How I Met Selena Hawke)

Chapter 24

“Do you want me to go over there and beat him up?”

I looked up, surprised from my revery to find Hawke sitting next to me on the study's sofa. I had been so deep in thought I hadn't heard him approach. He looked so sad, and more than a little angry on my behalf.

When the boys returned from Sundermount, they had known right away that something was seriously wrong. I tried to hide it. They didn't need to be dealing with my emotional angst on top of everything else that went so crazy in their daily lives, but eventually it was Anders that pried it out of me. Then he promptly went out into the garden, to the small training yard we had built out there, and set fire to each of the training dummies.

Strangely, it was Hawke the Berserker that was able to keep his cool, using wit and humour to try a coax a smile from my lips. Oh, don't get me wrong, he raged and screamed when he thought I couldn't hear, even went bandit hunting and called them all Fenris before he killed them, but while there with me his first thought was to cheer me.

Two weeks later and I had yet to hear any word on Fenris. He had locked himself away in his dilapitated mansion, refusing to speak or see anyone. With the snows finally arrived and Satinalia approaching, I was wondering if I should just go there and drag him out, maybe to the Hanged Man with it's warmth and distractions. Not to mention that we had yet to have another reading lesson and I knew how important those were to him.

I leaned into Garrett's shoulder and smiled. It was a wan, tired thing, but I tried. “No thanks, Big Guy. He feels bad enough, he doesn't need to have you rip him a new one.”

“'Rip him a new one'? What does that mean?” Hawke asked, perplexed.

“Sorry. Earth saying. Rip him a new asshole. His is big enough.” He laughed, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me tight.

“That's pretty good. I'll have to remember that one.”

We sat like that for a time, comfortable and comforting, before I patted him on the knee and stood, stretching. “All right, that's enough of that. I can not keep wallowing around like some love sick teenager.”

“Okay. What did you plan on doing?” Garrett asked, grinning.

“I have a book to return to the Qunari and, assuming I survive the experience, then I thought I might start up a snowball fight in Lowtown.”

The look of surprised shock on Garrett's face was enough to send me into a fit of giggles. “Snow ball- Wait! What do you mean 'survive the experience'?”

“Well, the Qunari have always kind of struck me as the kill first, ask questions never kind of people and I'm about to bring them the one thing they've been searching for since they arrived here. They might just assume I'm the thief and strike me down right then and there, or maybe try and indoctrinate me into the Qun- which would not be an easy thing, let me tell you. And I'm about to do this without Fenris at my back, our one resource on everything Qunari.”

“Then why do it at all?” Hawke asked, reaching out and taking my hand in his. “Get one of your urchin messengers to do it or something.”

“I would be signing their death warrant. If I do it myself, I might be able to talk my way out of it. It's a long shot, admittedly...”

“The I'm coming with you,” he said determinedly, standing and moving out to the foyer's armour and weapons racks. That was it, no further discussion, just a definitive statement. “The Arishok had dealt with me before. If they try and take you, they'll have to go through me first.”

I smiled and ran up the stairs to quickly slip on my leathers. There was no point in arguing with him when he wore that face. It was his 'I'm going to get my way so just leave it' face. I shucked into a thick woollen coat, leaving it open for easy access to my blades. Unfortunately, with the compound's tight quarters and the Arishok's advantageously raised dais, my bow would be next to useless.

When I returned downstairs, Anders was there as well and he moved in to hug me. “Bodahn came down to fetch me. Said that you were heading off to get yourself killed then start a snowball fight. Didn't want to miss a good snowball fight.”

“Tell you what, the Qunari don't kill me on principal for touching their precious book, and you get to hit me with the first snowball,” I smiled into his feathers, breathing deep of dust and peppermint and Anders.

Garrett moved in behind me, wrapping his long arms around us both, resting his cheek in my hair. It was comforting, being held by these men that I loved. They were parts of my heart that I didn't want to lose.

But I would give them up to get back that piece of my soul.

The only concession the Qunari seemed to give to the snow was the addition of thick leather vests over their chests. It was as though the elements were afraid to touch them.

We were let in easily enough upon seeing Hawke and I really hoped that maybe his presence would keep them from turning on me. I was scared shitless, clutching their cloth bundled tome close to my chest, fingers white knuckled around it. If Anders hadn't had his hand at my back, urging me forward, I probably would have lost my nerve and run for it. But no. I started this whole 'save the city' thing, and by God I would finish it!

“Woman. Step forward.” a deep voice boomed. I'd never really heard a voice boom before. Well, maybe James Earl Jones, but never in real life.

Man, was he ever tall! I had had a friend in high school that was just over seven feet, but I knew that the Arishok would have dwarfed even him. He was all massive muscles and red paint and gold accents. A showpiece of power. Intimidating and beautiful.

“Greetings, Arishok,” I said, bowing before him, holding the book out in stretched arms. “I bring you that for which you seek.”

The giant motioned to one of his men, who plucked it from my fingers and brought it to the dais. Reverently, the Qunari leader peeled back the simple cloth covering, and while he reacted only with a flash of surprise, his men gasped and swore. At least I assume they swore, it was all in Qunlat.

The Arishok recovered the book and handed it back to his man, turning his attention back to me. “How did you come by this?”

Okay, crappy acting skills, here we go. “I took it from a thief.”

“And what has become of this thief?”

“Taken care of.” pleasethinkIzzy'sdeadpleasethinkIzzy'sdeadpleasethinkIzzy'sdead.

He sat, staring down at us, unblinking for some moments before nodding. “We will return to Par Vollen with the Tome of Koslun once the harbour ices have receded. Panahedan Hawke. Woman of Hawke.”

Knowing we were being dismissed, we hurried out of the compound, up the stairs towards Lowtown, not stopping until we had reached the landing at the top. By then we were laughing and breathing heavily, unused adrenaline making each of us giddy.

“By God, we did it!” I said, bent over, hands on my knees. “We really did it!”

“No, love. You did it,” Anders answered, resting a hand on my back, still laughing. “I don't even know what, for sure you did, but the Qunari are leaving.”

“Long story,” I said standing straight and smiling. “but right now we have a snowball fight to start. Come on! There's a big open square in front of Gamlen's that would be perfect!”

I began to race ahead of the boys, but Anders calling my name made me turn. Directly into a face full of snow.

“You did say I got first throw,” he said in mock innocence.

And for one short, wintery afternoon, I forgot all about Fenris and family and heart wrenching pain.

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