Emily Hawke bolted upright in her bedroll, shaken from the visions that haunted her dreams. Damp strings of dark hair clung to her cheeks and brow. It had been a little more than six months since she and her companions fled Kirkwall, yet the recollections of that decisive day still lingered fresh in her mind. A loud, raspy croup broke the silence.
“Another nightmare?” Fenris croaked from the opposite side of the flame.
The mage surveyed her comrade in the firelight. Flickers of orange and red danced throughout the silvery mane hanging low over hollow, moss green eyes. His natural bronze skin had grown ashen and mottled with dark undertones. Even the lines of lyrium etched over his body were faded to a dull shade of ecru.
“Fenris, you should be resting. How will you ever recover if you don’t?” she asked with concern.
The white-haired elf heaved a resounding sigh before succumbing to another bout of coughing. Emily promptly uncorked her waterskin and held it while Fenris drank.
“Thank you.” he managed.
“It’s getting worse.”
“I will be fine, Hawke” he assured her.
It was a lie, of course, his feeble attempt to allay Emily’s fear. She loved him for the effort, but she wasn’t blind to how quickly his condition was deteriorating. She replaced the cork then deposited the skin next to her right leg.
“You shouldn’t be up. You need your rest.”
He shrugged. “The fire went out.”
Emily chastised herself for nodding off. She swore to look after the elf, but the trek to return him to civilization was beginning to take its toll on them both. Over the preceding weeks, Fenris’s affliction had diminished a strong, capable warrior into a fragile shell of a man, and she alone carried the burden of saving him.
Her entire family was dead. Other than Fenris, everyone she ever loved or cared about was gone. Aveline was the first to leave her side. She and Donnic remained in Kirkwall to restore order to the city in the aftermath of the Chantry’s destruction and the ensuing battle.
Three weeks later, Isabela and Merrill left the company. While procuring some supplies at a small mountain village, the pirate received word that the ship she acquired from Castillon was spotted in Ostwick. Although Isabela protested, Emily convinced her friend to go. The mage realized the pirate would never be happy until she returned to her ship and the open sea. Merrill volunteered to travel with Isabela, claiming she wanted accompany the captain to hunt for elven relics in foreign places. It was a well thought out ruse, but Emily knew it had more to do with the relationship that developed between the two women after their departure from Kirkwall.
For the next month, the remaining three companions continued migrating east toward Rivain, but Varric became so homesick for the Hanged Man and Kirkwall that Emily decided to lead them back into the mountains north of the city. From there, the dwarf insisted on plotting his own course, telling his friends to take care and requesting them to visit him when the heat died down.
The following morning, Fenris and Emily began making their way back toward Rivain, but turned for the deepest part of the mountains after encountering a group of templars. She knew that, with winter setting in, the safest place for them to hide would be the peaks of the Vinmarks. The mountains were unforgiving during the cold season, and the Chantry wouldn’t hazard sending its soldiers there until the spring thaw.
For nearly five months, Emily and Fenris lived off the land, seeking shelter in unoccupied caves when they could find them. Several times, they considered settling in when they discovered a particularly inviting hollow, yet they never remained in any one place long. They knew they needed to continue moving in case anyone hunting them lost their heads and decided to brave the frigid peaks.
It was the end of Drakonis when Fenris fell ill. At first, both he and Emily assumed it was nothing more than a simple cold, but after a week, they began to realize it was something far more serious. Emily did everything she could to treat his ailment, but all her efforts were in vain. Unlike her younger sister, Bethany, she never inherited her father’s gift for Creation magic or alchemy, so she did the only thing she could. She became Fenris’s crutch, someone he could lean on when the burden of his own weight was too great to carry. Somehow, she had to get him back to the lowlands and to a healer who could save his life.
When Fenris’s legs finally gave way completely, Emily fashioned a litter from deerskin, several large branches, and some rope they procured from an abandoned hut north of Ostwick. Lack of sleep from worry and skipping meals so Fenris would have more food had sapped most of the mage’s strength. Hauling the elf up and down the mountains would have been difficult in the best of circumstances, but the task was becoming insurmountable. The only thing keeping her going was her sheer determination to ensure she would lose no one else to the Void.
Emily noticed Fenris shudder and removed the blanket from around her own shoulders to drape over his. He managed a halfhearted smile and patted her hand. His skin burned to the touch, deepening her regret.
“I’m so sorry I fell asleep and let the fire die, Fenris,” she apologized.
He hacked again then spit a sizable chunk of blood on the ground. “That was the first time I have seen you sleep in days, Hawke.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “You are only human. You cannot continue to push yourself like this or neither of us will make it.”
She sighed. “You’re right, but I can’t help it. I’m worried about you.”
Another cough added to the pool of crimson growing on the cavern floor. He was deteriorating by the day, and it was tearing Emily apart.
I wish Anders were here.
Anders was the most gifted healer Emily had ever known, surpassing even her father. If he were still with them, Fenris would have overcome his illness weeks ago. She closed her eyes, recalling Anders’ face, his warm amber eyes twinkling, his lips curved into a smile of adoration. For nearly four years, her entire world revolved around the healer. Even after he moved back into his clinic, even when he dismissed her, she refused to give up hope that he would return someday. Unfortunately, in the end, it made little difference.
After the Chantry’s explosion, she spared his life and asked him to fight by her side to help the mages of Kirkwall. When the battle was over and Meredith dead, Emily was elated that she managed to save all her friends. Her joy quickly faded aboard the small boat they stole to get them to the coast. Emily panicked when she noticed Anders clutching a bleeding wound in his side, but he assured her it wasn’t as bad as it looked and he would repair the damage once they were away from the city.
When they reached the coast, he stopped long enough to cast a healing spell to close the wound. He was the best healer in Thedas. She had no reason to believe anything else was amiss. She thought they were all safe. When they reached the bottom of Sundermount and Anders collapsed, however, she found out how wrong she had been. She recalled the conversation as if it were yesterday.
“Anders!” she called out upon spinning around and seeing him in the dirt. She ran to him and grabbed his hand. He tried to sit up, but quickly fell back to the ground.
Although in obvious pain, he managed one of the uneven smirks she adored. “I’m sorry love, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to go with you.”
Tears streamed down her face, the first ones shed since she was a small girl. “I thought you said it wasn’t that bad.”
He lifted his hand and brushed a dark brown tendril away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “The cut itself isn’t, but the blade that pierced me was coated with a very rare poison. Without an antidote potion, its effects are fatal. I knew there wasn’t time to find the cure, and I knew we had to get out of the city as quickly as possible. There was nothing you could have done for me, and I didn’t want to worry you needlessly, love. Besides, it’s no more than I deserve after the things I’ve done and the void I’ve put you through.”
“Don’t say that, Anders. You don’t deserve to die.”
He placed his large palm on her cheek and caressed it with his thumb. “Thank you for always being there for me, Em. For loving me, for never giving up on me, but most of all, thank you for allowing me to know true happiness, if only for a short time. I will always love you.”
When his hand dropped to his chest, Emily threw herself on him. She grabbed his face and shook it to wake him up. “Anders, no! Please don’t leave me. I love you.”
Fenris gathered Emily into his arms and tried to pull her away, but she fought to return to the mage’s side. The elf wrapped her up in his arms and squeezed her tighter to his chest. “Hawke.” His voice was low and soothing. “Hawke.” The second time he said her name, she looked at him, her eyes filled with wild desperation. He shook his head. “I am sorry, amica. He is gone.”
Upon hearing her friend’s words, Emily fell to her knees and wept like a child. Every wretched tear she had held back over her life, she let go of at that moment. All of the heartache, pain, and loneliness bottled up inside was released. Fenris remained right there with her, holding onto her as she worked through her sorrow, displaying a rare tenderness and understanding of which she never thought him capable.
As she sat staring into the meager fire, Emily pulled a silver talisman from under her shirt. She gazed at it for a long moment, awakening the memory of the day she gave the Tevinter Chantry amulet to Anders. When he told her he would have to wear it under his clothes, she smirked and said if that was the case, she could hardly wait to see it on him. His face turned a lovely shade of carmine as he stammered a quiet, “I don’t know what to say to that.” Emily responded with a kiss. Their first.
The sound of Fenris’s choking prodded Emily to return to reality. She offered her waterskin to him again, but he declined.
“You really should try to get some more sleep, Fenris” she urged. “We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
She expected him to argue, but he answered with a solemn, weary nod before reclining onto his bedroll. “How long do you think it will be before we are out of these mountains?” he asked in a hoarse voice.
“I don’t know. Hopefully, no more than a day. Two at most.”
Emily watched her friend pull the blankets closer around his neck and spied the red cloth band around his wrist. He had worn it since the night the one and only time they made love, and she was never really sure why. What did that ridiculous stained piece of cloth she once used to bind her hair mean to him? Her curious nature bade her to ask, but their relationship had developed into a friendship she valued above all others. If she asked that question, the answer might ruin everything. Nothing in the world was worth that risk.
The mage kept watch over Fenris and listened to his labored breathing as he endeavored to fall asleep. Eventually, it evened, and she knew his body had finally given way to his need for rest. She sat there for a long while, staring into the fire, watching the flames devour the wood within them.
When her back was too sore to sit upright any longer, Emily lay down, swearing it was only for a few moments to give her tired muscles a much needed break. She could continue to tend to her friend, she just needed a few moments. Her exhausted brain and eyes betrayed her, however, and at some point, she drifted off again, returning to her own personal hell within the Fade. It wasn’t until she felt someone shaking her arm that she finally opened her eyes to the sight of arrows pointing at her.
Four men, with faces concealed by hoods, surrounded them. As infirm as he was, Fenris glared at the strangers with a murderous expression. Emily knew if he had not been too weak to hold a sword, the platinum-haired warrior would have already cut down the intruders.
One of the men ventured a step closer. “What are you doing here, shemlen?”
By their clothing and weapons, Emily surmised the men were a hunting party from one of the nearby Dalish clans. She held her hands open at chest level to show she meant the hunters no harm. The last thing she and Fenris needed was to engage in a battle she knew they wouldn’t win in their present state.
“Ir abelas, falon. My friend and I mean your people no harm. We’re just passing through. We took shelter in this cave for the night and planned to leave before midday.
The archer drew his bow back further. “You may speak the language, shem, but you are not known to us. Your kind rarely upholds peace with ours.”
“Please,” Emily implored. “My friend is very ill, and I need to get him to the lowlands to find help.”
Fenris glowered at the mage. He was obviously angry she had confessed his malady, but she had no choice. It was her hope that the hunters would grant mercy and let the two of them be on their way.
“What is your name, stranger?” the archer questioned, his lids narrowed with suspicion.
Emily considered giving the elves a fake name. Back in Lothering, she knew a woman named Audrey Barden who was killed when the darkspawn invaded the village. It wouldn’t be the first time she invoked Audrey’s name.
A raspy cough from her right, however, directed Emily to reconsider that plan. Fenris needed help, and Dalish clans typically had at least one healer among them. Given the severity of her friend’s illness, perhaps capture was the best option after all. He was an elf, after all, if he could keep his mouth shut about his ill feelings toward the Dalish, perhaps they would be willing to help.
“I’m called Hawke.” She jerked her head toward her companion. “And this is Fenris.”
The elf lowered his bow and threw back the hood of his cloak with the rest of the hunters following suit. Emily didn’t recognize any of them, but the vallaslin they bore was unmistakable.
“We have been searching for you for the past two days,” the leader told her, his face unreadable.
The mage’s brow’s knitted together with confusion. “Searching for us?”
After she posed the question, it dawned on her they may have been there to claim the two sizeable bounties that were placed on her head, one by the Prince of Starkhaven and the other by the Seekers. If that was the case, she would have no choice but to fight her way out. She squinted her eyes as she peered up at the man before her.
The elf’s tone remained even as he spoke. “We were sent by our Keeper. Her instructions were to find you then bring you back to our camp.”
Emily didn’t have a clue why the Keeper of any Dalish tribe would want to see her. She wondered if it was some sort of trap and quickly began to examine her options. Fenris choked again, and the reminder of the danger he was in made her decision for her. He needed help. Nothing else mattered.
“Fine,” she agreed. “We will accompany you back to your camp.”
She stood and walked to the litter she had fashioned for Fenris. When she pulled it away from the wall and placed it on the cave floor next to the ailing warrior, the leader of the Dalish party held up his hand for her to stop.
“If your companion cannot bear his own weight, he must stay. Dragging that will only slow us down.”
Emily shook her head, her mouth set in a determined frown. “No. I am not leaving him here to die.”
“Then he must use his own legs,” the hunter demanded with an air of finality.
Fenris rose to his knees. “It is fine, Hawke.”
He began to wheeze, which promptly developed into another coughing fit. Once his hacking subsided and he spit a mouthful of blood onto the ground, he staggered to his feet. He swayed a bit but managed to maintain his balance.
“I can make it on my own,” he assured her.
Emily wasn’t convinced. She knew it was taking every ounce of strength Fenris could muster to remain on his feet. She turned to the elven leader and silently dared him to comment on her friend’s condition. Instead, the man returned his hood to its place atop his head, pivoted on the balls of his feet, and strode from the cave.
The second Fenris began to lift his foot from the ground to move forward, his legs buckled and he faltered. Emily hurried to his side in time to catch him before he hit the dirt. The warrior managed a feeble smile.
“I suppose I might need a little help.”
Emily pulled his left arm around her shoulders and grabbed onto his hand with hers. She then wrapped her right arm around his waist and hoisted him back to a standing position. Because of their differing heights, she was forced to bend at the knees to keep a proper grip on him.
Trying to maneuver with her body contorted in such a manner proved difficult and clumsy, but after a few minor adjustments she was finally able to fall in step behind the other elves. The leader noticed Emily struggling to help Fenris, but said nothing. He simply exhaled in exasperation before moving on.
By dusk, the mage’s legs and arms were burning from the strain of carrying most of Fenris’s weight, and she was sure her muscles would fail her completely at any moment. She considered asking one of the men they followed how much farther they had to walk, but she suspected they would most likely insist she abandon Fenris again.
Just when she thought she couldn’t manage another step, the aravels of a Dalish camp came into view. A few strides later, Emily’s exhausted muscles gave way and she collapsed to the ground, dragging Fenris down with her. The hunter walking just ahead of them backtracked and helped her to her feet before taking her friend’s weight upon his own shoulders.
Once inside the camp, they were approached by a young man with a long, dark blonde braid draped over his left shoulder. Emily’s breath hitched at the sight of him. Although he was dressed the part, he didn’t appear to be Dalish in any other aspect. He bore no facial tattoos and his ears only held a slight point. He was also much taller than anyone else in the camp, taller even than she was. The most bizarre thing about him, the thing that sent a cold chill up her spine, was the fact that the young man was nearly the mirror image of Anders.
When he finally reached them, he addressed Emily with a modest bow and a warm smile. “Andaran atish’an falon. You must be Hawke. We have been expecting you.”
“M…ma serannas,” she stammered once she recuperated from her initial shock.
The elf’s smile widened into a bright grin. “You speak Dalish then?”
“A bit. My friend Merrill taught me.”
The young man’s friendly expression died away. “Yes, that name is known to my clan.”
If he intended to elaborate on the subject, his words were forgotten when he noticed Fenris. He placed a hand on the warrior’s chest, causing the former slave to recoil with an expression of disgust. The young man closed his eyes, completely ignoring Fenris’s reaction, and concentrated on the spell he was using. After a long moment, he returned his attention to Emily.
“Your friend, he is very ill. He needs healing medicine.”
“Is there someone here who can help him?”
“Of course,” he nodded, giving her genuine hope for the first time in weeks. “I am First to Keeper Ghilya and am quite skilled in healing magic.”
In her relief, Emily was forced to blink away the tears welling up in her eyes. “So you can heal Fenris?”
“I will do my best, falon,” he vowed.
The elf who led them to the camp approached, took his place alongside his clan’s First, and crossed his arms. He sneered at the young man.
The healer cleared his throat. “Yes, I will attend to your companion. In the meantime, you should present yourself to the Keeper.”
Emily scowled. “Do you have any idea what all this is about?”
“I am sorry, Hawke. That is between you and the Keeper.”
“Are you certain, amica?” Fenris interrupted in a feeble voice. “It could be a trap.”
She clasped a reassuring hand over her friend’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me. I just need for you to recover.”
“I will take care of your friend personally,” the young man interjected. “And, when you finish speaking with Ghilya, you will find him at my aravel.”
Emily watched as the blonde mage helped Fenris to the opposite side of the camp before turning to the leader of the hunting party.
“Follow me,” he commanded as he passed and strode toward a landship near the clearing’s edge.
Standing at its side was a middle-aged elf with graying auburn hair and large, dark green eyes. The clothes were very similar to those worn by Merrill’s Keeper, Marethari, with only a slight difference in coloring. The woman scrutinized the human standing before her for several minutes before finally speaking.
“Andaran atish’an, Hawke. I am Ghilya, Keeper of this clan.”
Emily inclined her head. “Ma serranas, Keeper. I find myself very curious to find out why you were looking for me.”
The older woman’s eyes narrowed ominously. “Asha’belannar has a message for you.”
“Come on, boys. Isn’t there any way we can work this out?”
The strawberry blonde man in filthy noble’s clothing could barely see the three thugs surrounding him. Given his inebriated state, the only thing he knew with any real certainty was that the men surrounding him were huge and extremely ill-tempered.
“Silas is tired of waiting for you to give him the coin you owe him pisshead,” the largest of the three snarled. “He says you either give us the sovereigns or we take them out of your worthless, drunk ass.”
The man on the drunkard’s left cracked his knuckles. “I say, we start with his legs, break them right below the kneecaps.”
Their impending victim staggered, barely holding onto what little balance he possessed. “Well that seems a little silly. How am I supposed to pay him back if I can’t walk?”
“You don’t need legs to sit on a street corner and beg for spare coppers,” the man on his left volunteered. “In fact, that just might make people feel sorry enough for you to actually give you a few coins.”
“Don’t you know who I am?” The drunk slurred, shaking his finger at the first man. He poked the much larger man in the chest and narrowed his lids. “I am Alistair Theirin, the rightful king of Ferelden.”
The brute snatched Alistair’s finger then promptly snapped it like a small twig. The prince cried out in pain as his knees hit the floor.
“I don’t give a shit if you’re the Divine herself. You’re gonna give us the money, or we’re gonna start ripping off body parts to sell to the bronto wranglers.”
Alistair regarded the men with imploring, hazel eyes. “Please, just give me a little more time. I sent a message to my uncle in Redcliffe asking him for the coin. It should be here any day now.”
“Time’s up, Your Highness," the big man scoffed.
He lifted Alistair from the ground by his broken digit, causing the prince to scream in agony. The giant loosened his grip only to punch Alistair in the gut, causing him to stoop and fall to the floor again. The last thing he saw before blacking out was the bottom of an enormous boot barreling toward his face.
He awoke sometime later in a dark, musty smelling room lit by a single candle on a nearby table. He tried to stand, only to discover he was tied to a chair. Struggling against his bonds, he shouted through the piece of cloth crammed in his mouth, but no one came. He was trapped. Every muscle in his body ached and the pounding of his head in his ears reminded him of the beating of the heavy drums at Ostagar. When he tried to pull his hands free of the ropes, he winced against the pain in his broken finger. It was no use. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, hoping his captors would return to finish the job and ease his suffering. Maybe they intended to leave him, let him die of starvation.
Damn! I need a drink.
He heaved a long sigh. What had he become? How could he have allowed his life to turn into such a drunken blur? Since the day the love of his life betrayed him and gave his throne to that bitch Anora, since the day Erin made the decision to allow Loghain to live and make him a Grey Warden, Alistair resided inside a bottle. Even after seven years, withstanding the heartbreak and the lonely nights without some way to dull the pain was still impossible.
Since Alistair’s exile, his “Uncle” Teagan always bailed him out and gave him money whenever he asked for it, but several months had passed without any word from the nobleman. Desperate for coin in the interim, the prince turned to moneylenders to keep the spirits flowing. He sent message after message to both Teagan and the arl’s brother, Eamon, asking for help, but had yet to receive an answer.
There was scratching to his left, but it was too dark to see what made the noise. Alistair scanned the floor around the table holding the candle and thought he saw something scurrying in the shadows. More scratching. He trembled and squeezed his lids tight when he sensed something touch the side of his boot. Breaking into a cold sweat, the former templar began to pray.
Rats. Dear Maker, I hate rats. Sweet Andraste’s mercy, please don’t let me die from being eaten alive by giant rodents. I swear by all that is righteous and holy, if you get me out of this I will never take another drink as long as I live. Just please, please get me out of this.
As if in answer to his prayer, the door burst open, prompting whatever was in the darkness to scamper back to their hiding places. A familiar looking dwarf entered the room and strode toward him. Aside from the dark tattoos covering his head, the man was completely bald. Unlike most dwarfs, he wore no beard. In its place were dozens of deep scars earned in back alley knife fights over his long years. His appearance and reputation ensured that Silas commanded fear from nearly everyone he met.
“Well, well, well,” the small man began with a cruel smirk as he removed the rag from his captive’s mouth. “It seems your Maker favors you today, Your Highness.” Alistair remained silent as the dwarf circled him. “I was content to let you rot down here, but I guess somebody thought you were worth the gold you owed me. Ancestors only know why.”
The prince released the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding until that moment. Teagan had finally come through for him. “So my uncle sent the money I promised you after all.”
“Nope. Some grey-haired old hag paid your debt plus a little extra for the trouble. The only thing she asked in return was that I make sure you board a ship named The Siren’s Call. It’s leaving from a small port outside the city sometime in the next day or two.”
Alistair couldn’t imagine who the woman could be. He did, however, recognize the name of the ship Silas mentioned, though he couldn’t remember from where.
“So does this mean you’re letting me go?”
“Not exactly. You see, I promised the old bat I’d get you on that ship.” A wicked grin split his disfigured face. “But I didn’t promise what condition you’d be in when you got there.”
Before he had an opportunity to react, a mammoth fist connected with the bridge of Alistair’s nose, making it the last thing the Prince of Ferelden would see of the city of Kirkwall.