When they arrived back at the village, the shore party was informed that the Siren’s Call would be ready to set sail by early evening at the very latest. Upon hearing the news, Emily decided to don her hooded cloak and grab Isabela for a much needed shopping trip. If she was going to be traipsing all over Ferelden, it certainly wasn’t going to be in the pirate’s hand me downs.
Upon her return to the inn, Emily took a much needed hot bath then spent two hours primping. She felt like a fool applying and reapplying her makeup to get it just right. How did the noblewomen in Kirkwall endure such an inane ritual every day? She wanted to look her best when she talked to Alistair, but after fiddling with her hair for over an hour, she was ready to give up and just throw it back into her usual ponytail.
One more time, and that’s it.
In a last ditch effort to keep her hair down the way the prince preferred, Emily compromised by fashioning her long, unruly bangs into an Orlesian braid and tucked it behind her left ear. When she was satisfied with the job, she stood back and scowled into the mirror. The black leather halter and matching pants weren’t bad, hugging her curves in all the right places, but the glaring flaws of her aging face left a lot to be desired. Bethany was always the pretty one, while Emily inherited too many of their father’s features. She heaved a sigh.
Might as well get this over with. Who knows? Maybe he likes wrinkles and untamable hair.
When Emily knocked on the prince’s door, she received no answer, leaving her to wonder if he drank himself into a stupor again. She turned the handle and the door gave way, so she pushed it open to peek inside. To her surprise, she found the prince hunched over a desk wedged between the bed and the wall, pouring over papers that were spread out across the wooden surface.
She cleared her throat. “Alistair?”
He continued his study of the parchments without so much as a glance in her direction. “I’m a little busy, Hawke. Is there something I can do for you?”
Emily inhaled a deep breath and released it then approached the desk to stand next to him. “What are you working on? Maybe I can help.”
“I’m trying to find the best route from Jader to Lothering,” he replied.
Emily bent over and rested her forearms on the desk, affording him an ample view of her cleavage. If he bothered to look up. “Any luck?”
“Nothing I’m comfortable enough with, no,” he said with a concentrated glare on the map.
With an irritated huff, she shifted the papers from the left side of the desk to the right then plopped down next to the map Alistair was studying. It was a trick she used on Anders many times over the years to distract him from his work. One way or another she was going to get his attention. She didn’t expend that much time and effort on preening just to be ignored.
Instead of meeting her gaze, he glanced at her legs then rested his brow on his left hand. He certainly was stubborn. She had to give him that, but, then again, so was Anders when they met.
Time for more drastic measures, then.
She leaned to the left until the side of her body was lying across the map. “Well, just show me what you have so far then.”
The prince’s hand dropped back down on the wood and he peered up at her. As soon as his hazel eyes locked with hers, a quiet gasp escaped his throat, which she answered with a coquettish smirk.
“I…Um,” he stammered before tearing his eyes away to return his attention back to the parchment laid out on the desk. He paused and waggled his head then pointed to Jader’s location on his map. “Alright, so Jader’s up here.” He moved his index finger down to another point. “And Lothering is down here.” As he continued, he traced his finger along the paths to show each route. “Now the fastest route would be to travel south to the Imperial Highway, then head east toward the northern shore of Lake Calenhad, then use the highway to follow the lake around until it reaches Lothering.”
Emily sat upright with a thoughtful frown. “Alright, so what’s wrong with that plan?”
“I’m just not sure it’s a good idea to travel along the highway. Too easy for us to be recognized that way.”
“You have a point,” she concurred. “What else do you have?”
He ran his finger along another road. “We could travel south and follow the lake around to Redcliffe, but we still have the same problem with the highway.”
“Probably better if we stay away from Redcliffe, anyway,” Emily added.
“Now that you mention it, I’m inclined to agree. The only other option I see is to follow the foot of the Frostback Mountains south, head east into the Wilds, then north through Ostagar. But that would add at least a week and a half to our journey, not to mention the fact that we’d be trekking through the Wilds and hordes of barbarians.”
The mage hesitated a moment then folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve actually been thinking about that since we spoke to Flemeth, and I have an idea that I’m not entirely sure you’re going to like.”
“Uh-oh” grimaced the prince. He leaned back, rested his elbows across the arms of his chair, and clasped his hands together. After exhaling a heavy breath, he tilted his head and regarded her with a curious stare. “What is it?”
“I was thinking that, since we need all the help we can get and since the Wilders hold no love for the Imperium, maybe we can talk them into fighting on our side.”
Alistair’s brows pleated together. “Why would they even do something like that? What could we possibly say to convince them to come to our aid? Not to mention the fact that the Chasind are dangerous savages.”
“See, I’ve never understood that,” Emily confessed. “I grew up around the Wilds and met lots of Chasind. Sure, they’re a bit rustic, but never violent. My father always said the only reason the Chantry says they’re evil is because they don’t follow Andraste.”
Alistair paused to study his hands before speaking again. “I suppose that’s possible, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. Those people don’t exactly like outsiders.”
“We could at least try,” she pressed. “Since going through the Wilds seems like our safest option to get to Lothering anyway, we may as well do a little recruiting while we’re there.”
The prince offered a noncommittal shrug. “I’ll think about it.”
Running her fingers through his hair, Emily leaned in and whispered, “That’s all I ask, your Highness.”
Alistair’s body shuddered against the warm breath pervading his ear and drew a ragged sigh. His reaction evoked a satisfied grin from Emily as she scraped her teeth across his lobe. In a bid to garner a more libidinous response, she slid her lips slowly across his scruffy cheek, allowing them to linger just an inch or so from the corner of his mouth then backed away far enough to capture his gaze. Her virtuous side forgotten, she became lost in the lust dancing within those intense hazel eyes.
A moment later, Alistair leapt from his chair and kicked it back to press his lips to hers. When he spread her legs apart and pulled her tight into his body, she felt his hard cock jerk against the junction of her thighs. With both hands gripping her ass, he deepened his kiss and ground his arousal against her in an undulating motion.
“Emily,” he groaned into her ear before trailing soft, wet kisses to the nape of her neck.
The musky scent of his cologne, the bite of his stubble against her skin, the sensation of his manhood pulsating against her most intimate places was almost more than she could bear. She wanted him more than she ever wanted anyone, more than she ever thought possible.
Gooseflesh prickled her skin when his fingers trailed the length of her spine to the buckle of the halter strap beneath her flowing mane. He made quick work of the clasp then slid the leather down to expose her bare breasts. With wild abandon, she wrapped her legs around his hips and grabbed a fistful of strawberry blonde hair to guide his mouth to her erect nipple. A moan of pleasure escaped her throat when she felt his warm tongue flick across her pebbled nub as his right hand traced the line of her waistband to untie her trousers’ leather strings.
When her waistband was loosened to his satisfaction, Alistair withdrew long enough to pull his off his shirt then grasped the back of her head to draw her in for another long and passionate kiss. As their lips and tongues danced together in a fiery rhythm, Emily tightened the grip of her legs and dug her nails into his bare skin.
With a sweep of his hand, Alistair knocked the parchment and maps to the floor then guided Emily back onto the desk. When her head made contact with the wooden surface, he began to feather light kisses down her neck as he tugged at her trousers. He stopped his descent long enough to grin up at her before closing his mouth over the hill of her left breast to tease her nipple.
What are you doing? You have to stop this!
Emily closed her eyes and leaned her head back to silence the rantings of her apprehensive heart and give into her carnal nature. It was true they were barely more than strangers, and, deep down, she knew if she allowed things to continue there was no chance for a meaningful relationship between them to progress, but wasn’t that a moot point anyway? He already made it clear he wasn’t interested in romance. Wasn’t one afternoon of passion and amazing sex better than nothing?
The gentle tongue snaking between her inner lips from her entrance to her clit answered that question with a resounding yes. After nearly a year of being denied the pleasure of a man’s touch, she nearly came the moment his mouth settled over her rigid nub and he began to softly suckle and tease it. It was too late to stop. Past heartache and reluctance be damned. She needed this, needed him.
He slipped a finger inside her, but quickly removed it when the door rattled against a pounding fist and Isabela’s muffled voice echoed from the other side. “Alright, you two. I know you’re in there. You’ve got two minutes to make yourselves decent because I’m coming in.”
Maker’s Balls, Isabela! Why now?
Alistair stared into her eyes and ran his tongue across her clit several more times before pulling away a few inches with a wanton grin. “Do you think she means it?”
“Yes,” the mage sighed. “I know she does.”
He nipped at her right thigh. “We could just lock the door.”
“No,” Emily countered, propping her weight on her elbows. “She’ll just kick the door in.”
His hazel eyes were brimming with desire when he rose to his feet and ran the head of his cock across the folds of her slick crevice. “We’ll finish this later, then?”
“Definitely,” she gasped.
He delivered a quick peck to the mage’s bare belly just beneath her navel then offered his hand to help her up. The moment she found her feet, he entangled his fingers in her hair and drew her in to capture her mouth in a long, slow kiss. His chest and shoulders rose and fell with short, uneven breaths when he finally broke the kiss to press his forehead to hers. With deft and gentle fingers, he replaced the straps of her halter and refastened the buckle while gently nuzzling her nose with his.
“Thank you,” Emily whispered once the clasp was secured.
The prince extended an impish grin in reply before retrieving his shirt from the floor while Emily pulled up her trousers and smalls. Just as the mage began rethreading the ties at her waistband, the door burst open to allow Isabela’s entry. The pirate cocked a brow then folded her arms over her chest. She studied Alistair for a long moment, with his untucked shirt and mussed strawberry blonde hair then moved her attention to Emily and her uncinched trouser laces. A knowing smirk curled the pirate’s lips.
"Mm-hmm. That’s what I thought. Polishing the prince’s rudder, Hawke? Or was he swabbing your deck?”
Emily’s face burned bright crimson, but instead of taking her friend’s bait, the mage chose to ignore the other woman’s colorful analogy. “What’s going on Isabela?”
“Sorry to interrupt, because Maker knows you’re way overdue for a good shagging, but I just got word that the personal guards of this hold’s magister are on their way to Wesburn.”
Alistair’s brow creased with curiosity as he finished tucking in his shirt. “For what purpose?”
“I don’t have a bloody clue,” the pirate replied with a shrug. “But I’ll be hornswaggled if I plan on sticking around to find out.”
Emily continued her attempt to get her clothes situated, praying Isabela had the decency to keep any further elicit comments to herself. “So the repairs to the ship are finished then I take it?”
“All the parts she needs are already aboard, and my men are still working on her, but she’s not ready just yet.”
“So what do we do about that?” Alistair prodded.
“We shove off anyway. My crew’ll just have to finish when we make port in Jader. It’s only a little over a day’s journey from here. We’ll just have to make do with what we have.”
The prince regarded Emily with a sideways glance. “So, how long before we leave?”
“We’re shoving off in twenty minutes,” Isabela replied then pivoted on her heel to leave. “You can do what you want with that time, but if you’re not on board by then, you’ll have to find your own way to Jader.”
When the pirate was clear of the room and Emily and Alistair were alone again, an awkward silence fell between them. Twenty minutes was barely enough time to get started for an everyday tryst. It would certainly never do for the first and possibly only time with Alistair. Unsure of what to say or do, the mage began to retrieve the maps that were knocked to the floor.
Alistair rushed to help her then cleared his throat. “Thanks. For helping me clean up this mess, I mean.”
“No problem,” Emily replied with a forced smile as she placed the bundle in her arms back on the desk.
The prince added the papers he retrieved to the others and shrugged. “I suppose we should get moving. We don’t want to get left behind.”
“I suppose you’re right,” the mage agreed, trying to hide her disenchantment with feigned indifference. “I know Isabela, and she won’t wait for us.”
She stood there for another long moment, staring into his eyes, waiting for him to speak. A peck on the cheek. A kiss of the hand. Something. Anything. Instead, he just…stood there. It was the most uncomfortable moment of Emily’s entire life.
When she realized he intended to retain his reticence, she straightened her halter and gestured to the door with a thumb over her shoulder. “I should probably go pack my things now.”
“Yes,” he sighed, more from relief than disappointment. “Me too.”
Even if Alistair didn’t want to acknowledge what almost took place between them, Emily couldn’t just leave it at that. It simply wasn’t in her nature to allow a man to put his mouth on her most intimate places without at least giving him a kiss for his troubles. She leaned in and pressed the left side of her face to his scruffy cheek.
“See you on the ship,” she told him before brushing her lips against his skin.
He didn’t deign to return the kiss, only extended an uneven smile when she backed away. When she realized he had no intention of giving into her plea for acknowledgement, she returned his half-hearted gesture with a smile of her own then turned for the door.
“Emily?” he called to her back.
She circled to face him. “Yes, Alistair?”
His shoulders slumped. “Nothing. I’ll see you aboard the ship.”
Exasperated, Emily blew at the stray bangs that had fallen loose from their braid then made her way to her room. What in the bloody void was he going to say? She absolutely detested when people did that. She wanted to tell him to remove the ass from his mouth and just spit it out, but there wasn’t time if he made her drag it out of him. She still needed to gather her gear, and it was at least a ten minute walk to the harbor.
Maybe I can corner him on the ship. After all, there’s only so many places he can hide there.
When she finished packing, Emily returned to Alistair’s room to escort him back to the Call, but was unsurprised to find the door wide open and the place abandoned. Apparently, it was his intention to avoid her, but he obviously didn’t have a clue about the Hawke family’s legendary stubborn streak.
She headed downstairs and was surprised to find the prince waiting near the inn’s exit, but she didn’t make it halfway across the tavern floor before he turned for the door. Although she quickened her pace to fall in step behind him, neither spoke a word as they made their way to the docks. As much as the mage wanted to have it out with the prince right then and there, she chose to bide her time until she could catch him somewhere he couldn’t easily escape.
The moment Emily’s toe touched the deck, Isabela ordered her crew to weigh anchor. As soon as the ship was pointed toward the west and Cortes was at the helm, Alistair called for the captain and the rest of his traveling companions to gather near the mast to go over the route they would take when they reached Jader. No sooner had he spread a map across one of the larger crates, when a young deck hand approached Isabela and presented her with a sealed envelope.
The boy appeared to be no older than fifteen with freckles peppering his wide nose and a prominent gap between his overly large teeth. When he spoke, the cracking squeak of his voice only added to the youthful effect. “This arrived for you just before we shoved off, Captain. There was a trunk too, but the quartermaster told us to stow it in your cabin.”
“Thank you, Ainsley,” Isabela said with a nod of dismissal. “That’ll be all.”
As the boy scurried back to his duties, Isabela broke the missive’s seal. She opened the envelope to remove a tarnished, brass key and a small piece of parchment. Upon scanning the note, she crumpled it in her hand and tossed it over the back railing.
“Bad news, I take it?” Emily queried.
The captain shook her head. “No, it was just a note from Teagan asking me to give the trunk to his nephew.”
“A trunk?” Alistair asked with a bewildered expression. “For me? Why in the void would Teagan send me a trunk?”
Isabela grinned like a child on Satinalia morning. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
Emily knew from firsthand experience her friend’s fascination with chests and trunks filled with unknown contents. How many times over the years had the captain dragged her from one cave to another along the Wounded Coast in search of hidden treasure? One thing was certain, the woman was born to be a pirate.
They followed Isabela to her cabin where they found a black trunk with brass trim sitting next to the bed. There was nothing spectacular or special about it. It was just an old trunk with tarnished brass and flaking paint. Chewing her lower lip and bouncing on her toes with giddy anticipation, Isabela presented the key to the prince. When he relinquished casual shrug and gestured to the chest with the tilt of his head, the pirate squealed with delight and rushed over to slide the old key in the lock.
Isabela’s grin widened when the tumblers gave way with a loud click and the lid snapped open. The creak of rusty hinges echoed throughout the room as the pirate pushed the top back to reveal several rolled up pieces of parchment and another envelope addressed to Alistair sitting atop thick, burgundy velvet. With her initial curiosity sated, the captain moved aside to allow the prince the opportunity to inspect the contents himself. After unrolling a few of the maps Teagan promised, Alistair broke the seal on the envelope and removed another note. As his eyes darted back and forth across the page, his brow puckered with consternation.
“What is it?” Emily questioned.
The prince’s scowl intensified as he read the missive aloud:
My dearest nephew,
Enclosed, please find a few of your things I’ve been holding onto for the past seven years. It was always my hope that someday you might want them back, and I believe the time has come for them to be returned to you. Use them well.
The small piece of parchment floated to Alistair’s feet as he dropped to a knee and pushed the finely woven cloth aside. Beneath the top layer of velvet was a bright silver longsword with glowing turquoise lines etched in an ornate pattern over the blade’s surface.
“Wow,” Emily marveled. “That’s the most beautiful blade I’ve ever seen.”
Alistair picked up the sword and held the blade aloft, allowing it to reflect the sunlight shining through the cabin’s window. “It’s called Starfang. It was made by the blacksmith, Mikhael Dryden, at Soldier’s Peak from a piece of star metal Erin found in a crater in the forest.”
The prince turned the blade back and forth in his hands, his hazel eyes haunted by a long forgotten memory. He needed a distraction from his remembrances of the woman who broke his heart. Emily only wished there was a way she could remove the other woman from Alistair’s mind completely.
“I think there’s more,” the mage offered in an effort to return his attention to the present.
Alistair placed the sword next to his right foot and pulled back a second layer of cloth to reveal a blue and grey rectangular shield emblazoned with a large griffon in its center. The prince’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as his fingers slid across the creature’s image. After an extensive moment of silence, his throat constricted with a forcible gulp when he picked up the piece of armor and placed it atop the sword.
Emily’s brow furrowed with concern. “Are you alright, Alistair?”
He answered with a reticent nod before pulling back the last layer of velvet to uncover an ostentatious gold and black suit of heavy plate armor with red accents. It was the gaudiest thing Emily ever laid eyes on next to the Orlesian hats worn by some of Kirkwall’s noblewomen. Carver once told her of the armor Cailan wore at Ostagar and how overly pompous and impractical it was for battling darkspawn.
Alistair’s head fell forward with a loud and labored sigh. “I can’t wear this. Not anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Emily questioned.
When he peered up at her, the rays of the sun glimmered in the dampened lines staining his cheeks then inhaled a deep, ragged breath. “This armor belonged to my brother. He was wearing it when he was killed at Ostagar. After the battle, those monsters ripped it from his body and split the pieces among themselves.
“When Erin and I retrieved it later, I planned to take it back to Eamon. I thought maybe he could use it to honor Cailan’s memory. You know, display it in the palace or something. When I gave it to him, I never expected he’d want to display it on me. He said the best way to honor both my brother and my father would be to wear it when I took the crown.
His brow furrowed as he struggled with finishing the story. “I didn’t even wait for the end of the Landsmeet. I just couldn’t bear to listen to Anora’s acceptance speech or deal with that smug look on Loghain’s face. So, I walked out, peeled the armor off right outside the chamber and left it sitting in middle of the floor.” He regarded Emily with pleading hazel eyes. “Don’t you see? After all that, after everything I’ve done over the past eight years, if I wear this armor now, it brings honor to no one. Only shame. “That’s not true Alistair,” Emily whispered, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
He jerked away from her and swiped the heel of his right palm across his wet cheeks. “Of course it is! And this shield. It’s the same thing. It belonged to Duncan, the Grey Warden who recruited me. He died trying to protect my brother at Ostagar. I don’t deserve to bear that shield. I don’t deserve any of this. I’m a Theirin in name only. I’m no king. Just the bastard son of one.”
Emily wasn’t sure what she should do. Although he couldn’t see it, she knew Alistair was worth a lot more than he gave himself credit for. There was a spark inside him. A spark he tried to bury beneath alcohol and sarcasm. An intensity she recognized when he was pouring over those maps. He was definitely a king. He just needed the right motivation to bring that side of him to the surface.
“Alistair,” she began, but he cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“Save it,” he growled. “I need a drink.”
When he stood and made his way for the exit, Emily grabbed his arm to stop him. He rounded on her with a glare and pushed her hand away. The animosity in his hazel eyes nearly took her breath.
“Leave me alone,” he snarled. “If these people want to start a fucking war, you lead it. I’m fucking done. And don’t come to my room anymore. Just stay away from me, Hawke. I don’t need your damn pity. I don’t need anyone.”
The space between the mage’s brows disappeared in a prominent scowl as Alistair stomped from the room and slammed the door behind him. As she stood there in stunned silence, Emily couldn’t decide if she was more angry or hurt. Would he have treated her that way if Isabela hadn’t interrupted them earlier? And why in the void were men constantly pushing her away? Better yet, why in the void did she keep letting them?
“What an asshole,” Isabela grumbled. “You don’t need him Hawke. He’s just a broken-down drunk wallowing in self-pity. He deserves to swim in the bottom of a bottle for the rest of his life.”
As much as Emily’s ire wanted to agree with the pirate’s sentiment, her friend was wrong. Alistair was going through an ordeal none of them would ever truly understand. He was in pain and scared shitless enough to lash out at anyone and everyone.
“No, Isabela,” the mage sighed. “He deserves to be happy just like anyone else.”
The captain arched a perturbed brow. “What is it with you and hopeless cases?”
“I don’t know,” Emily shrugged. “I guess I just have a weak spot for broken.” She presented a condescending smirk to the other woman. “I kept you around, didn’t I?”
“Touché, my friend,” the pirate conceded with an uneven grin of her own as the mage headed for the door.
Once outside the cabin, Emily wandered over to the bow where she crawled out onto the sprit just behind the staysail to lie face down on the safety netting. She rested her forehead atop her folded hands and closed her eyes to listen to the waves crashing against the prow and feel the ocean splash against her skin.
She heaved a protracted sigh. Perhaps she should thank Isabela for the interruption. After all, how would she have felt if they had sex and he treated her that badly afterward? And why in the void had she defended him?
Damn! You’ve got it bad, Emily. What in the Maker’s name is wrong with you?
The tears of frustration she’d been holding back finally broke through like a tidal wave against a crumbling dam. She felt like a fool for abandoning logic to allow another psychologically damaged man so close to her already fractured heart. Hadn’t she gotten enough of that over the years? How much more would she endure before she finally realized men like Alistair, Anders, and Fenris only left emotional devastation in their wakes?
Perhaps if Anders had survived the battle in Kirkwall, they could have been happy together. Maybe then they would have finally achieved the life they always hoped for. Unfortunately, it seemed all her dreams for a family, for a semi normal life, died at the foot of Sundermount with the healer.
He loved her, more than anyone had in her entire life, save perhaps her father, but it took years for him to finally admit it to her. Was she willing to wait that long for another emotionally damaged man to do the same? Would Alistair ever love her? Was he even capable?
“Dammit Anders,” she whispered through furious tears. “Things would be so much easier if you were here. Why did you have to leave me? Why did you have to die?”