When the two women emerged from the inn, they were greeted by Ghilya and her escorts. Emily expected them to leave when she entered the tavern. Apparently trust was beyond the scope of that particular Dalish clan.
“I would have thought that you would have been on your way back to your camp by now,” the former Champion observed.
Ghilya shook her head. “No, falon. It is my duty to see that you board the ship, and I cannot leave until you do.”
Emily shoulders lifted and fell with a huff, but she retained her silence and kept it as she and Isabela strolled side by side down the pier with the elves at their heels. At the foot of the gangplank, Emily turned to say goodbye to the Dalish, when she spotted a bit of silver glowing in the moonlight, rushing toward her.
Isabela folded her arms over her chest and shifted her weight to her right leg. “I was wondering when your shadow was going to show up.”
The mage shot the snarky woman an icy glare before returning her attention to her best friend. When he finally reached the end of the dock, he fell to his knees in front of Emily, panting from exertion. She dropped to her haunches and heaved a sigh.
“What in the bloody void are you doing here, amica?”
He reply was given is short, rasping, gasps. “You. Did. Not. Think. I would allow you. To leave without me. Did you?”
“But you’re not well,” she admonished. “You need time to recover.”
The warrior winced with pain as he managed several shallow breaths then placed his hand on her shoulder and stared into her bright green eyes. “I can recover just as easily on a ship as I can on dry land, amica.”
“But you need to be near a healer Fenris.”
“Anion will accompany you,” Ghilya announced to everyone’s surprise.
The young man was incredulous. “What? But Keeper, how am I to train if I leave?”
The older elf approached her First and gripped his biceps. “You are part of this tale, Da’len.”
“What do you mean Keeper?” Anion asked with confusion. “I do not understand.”
“Years ago, when you and your mother came to our clan, we told her we would shelter you both for a night, but she would have to move on the following day. That evening, I received a visit from Asha’ belannar. She advised me to accept you and your mother as part of our clan and to raise you up as my First so I could teach you to use your gift. She also told me that one day you would return to the humans to live among them again, and I would know when that time had come.”
The healer grimaced. “So I am to be banished from the clan now?”
Ghilya ran the braid at his shoulder through her hand. “Da’len, since your mother’s passing, you have become like my own child, but you are meant for greater things. If the Creators will it, we shall see one another again. You will always be welcome among our clan as falon, but you must find your own path now and a home away from our people.”
“I...I do not know what to say,” the bewildered young man mumbled. He stared at the ground next to his left foot for a long moment before meeting the older elf’s gaze again. “Ma nuvenin, Keeper. I will not argue the point. I cannot say I fully understand, but I will do as you tell me.”
The older mage touched his cheek. “Dareth shiral, Da’len.”
“Dareth shiral, Keeper,” Anion repeated as he watched the woman who raised him for the past eight years turn her back and walk away, carrying the life he had known with her.
Emily’s hand on his back drew his attention. “Are you going to be alright?”
He extended a slow nod, his blue eyes glimmering in the light of a nearby torch. “I will be fine, falon. I mean, Hawke. I suppose I should become accustomed to speaking like a human again.”
Emily moved her hand up and wrapped her arm around his broad shoulders. “You don’t have to give up who you are just because you won’t be living among the Dalish any longer, Anion. No matter what happens, your life among the clan will always be part of you because it shaped the man you’ve become. All this means is that a new chapter of your life has begun, but it’s all part of the same story.”
“Thank you, Hawke,” he smiled through his tears. “You have given me much to think on.”
Isabela waved her hand to garner Emily’s attention. “As touching as this little scene is, I’d like to get out of here so we can clear the waters near Kirkwall before dawn. The guards and templars both know this ship is mine, and that’s trouble we don’t need.”
“Got it,” Emily acknowledged. She turned to the two elven men at her sides. “Then are we ready to shove off gentlemen?” Both nodded and Emily noticed Fenris shoot a hostile glare at their newest companion. “Play nice, Fenris.” she whispered into his ear. “Remember, he’s the reason you’re still alive.”
“Mages,” the silver-haired warrior growled beneath his breath.
Emily had no idea where they were going or why. What did the old witch want? Why her and not someone else? She supposed it didn’t really matter in the long run. Once again, fate was twisting her in a new direction. Maybe it had all along. Was her life ever in her own hands? She sighed. One thing was for certain. It never would be if Flemeth had anything to say about it.
Fenris lay in one of the hammocks below deck, stretching his legs and flexing his feet. If his body hadn’t been weakened by his illness, his muscles wouldn’t have been quite so sore after a day’s run. As it was, his legs ached and his lungs still burned from running all day, but it was worth it.
He had no clue what he would have done if the ship had sailed before he arrived. The idea of life without Hawke wasn’t something he wanted to think about. Years of running from his former master led Fenris to believe he never needed anyone, save the occasional hireling when he knew he would be too outnumbered to defend himself. He always thought it best to be on his own. And love, love was something he never even considered. It was simply beyond his scope of imagination.
Then he met Hawke, and everything changed. He loved her, needed her. A mage of all things. After years of friendship, any romantic feelings for the dark-haired beauty should have subsided, but they hadn’t. In fact, they were stronger than ever. Spending so much time alone with her in the mountains, having her take care of him when he was sick, only reminded him of how much he cared for her.
Damn your stupid pride! Just tell her how you feel? What are you so afraid of?
He heaved a sigh. The answer was simple. He feared her rejection. How could he blame her after what he did? She was in her mid-twenties at the time and most likely had dozens of chances to be with a man before that night, yet she chose him to be her first. She trusted him, and he turned his back on her, telling her it was a mistake. How could she ever forgive him for that? Why would she ever take the chance of opening her heart to him again?
Snoring from the hammock above elicited a derisive eyeroll from the elven warrior. He’d only known Anion a day and already loathed the man. It was bad enough the young healer resembled Hawke’s former lover physically, but, just like Anders, he had an air of superiority and smugness about him that gave Fenris the urge to kick his teeth in. The last thing the warrior wanted was to have to compete with another Anders. The boy’s only redeeming quality was the fact that he was much too young for Hawke, and he appeared to be younger than his age.
He closed his eyes, bidding his mind to return to thoughts of Hawke and their situation. What was Flemeth up to? The whole thing was all too secretive for Fenris’s tastes, but he trusted Hawke’s instincts. She never did anything just because someone told her to. Just like she never did anything without a good reason. He wished he could be of more help to her, to give her sound advice or the perfect words of encouragement, but he didn’t know how. The only thing he could do was stay at her side and be there when she needed him. No matter what else happened, he would protect her with his very life.
Emily stood at the stern of the brig watching the light of the torches on Greenvale’s pier disappear into the darkness. She thought about all the things she left behind and all the people she lost along the way. First, she lost Bethany. Then she had to put the knife to her brother in the Deep Roads after he was infected with the taint. After that was her mother. The mad blood mage who killed Leandra paid for the deed with his life, but killing him did nothing to help ease Emily’s pain. Next came Sebastian. The Prince of Starkhaven was not dead, but he turned his back on her after she spared Anders’ life.
His was the most difficult loss of all. She loved him more than she ever thought it possible to love anyone. The guilt she carried over leaving his body behind without a proper pyre would stay with her the rest of her life.
“I’m so sorry my love,” she whispered into the wind. She only hoped that, wherever he was, he could forgive her.
“Talking to yourself now, Hawke?” Isabela asked. The mage turned to find the pirate leaning against the main boom, her arms draped across the wood wearing a wanton smirk. “You know, if you need company, I’m always ready, willing, and able.”
“I appreciate the generous offer Isabela,” Emily said with a slight chuckle. “But the answer is still no.”
“I’m still hoping you’ll be frustrated enough to go for it one of these days. How long have you been in dry dock now, anyway? Five? Six months? Or did you and Fenris...?”
The mage rolled her eyes. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Isabela. There’s nothing going on between me and Fenris.”
The pirate scrutinized her friend to gauge the truthfulness of her words. “Hmph. Well I don’t know why not. He’s quite good looking and those muscles. And the way he looks at you. His feelings are written all over his face. Even a blind nug could see how in love with you he is.”
Emily’s shoulders slumped. She did care for Fenris, and, in her heart, she knew it was more than that, but he broke her heart the night he walked out on her. “Yeah. Like that worked out so well the last time.”
“You never know, Hawke,” Isabela said with a shrug. “He’s changed a lot since then.”
The mage’s face twisted into a bitter frown. “Not enough to apologize for it. And not enough to tell me how he really feels.”
Isabela chewed at her lower lip in thought for a long moment. “What about the new man in your life? The healer?”
“What about him?” Emily asked, already knowing where the conversation was heading.
She appreciated the pirate’s concern, but she wasn’t ready for another relationship. After losing Anders, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready. How would she ever find anyone to take the place of the love of her life?
“Well, he’s quite handsome, tall for an elf, blonde, and a healer, in fact he reminds me an awful lot of...”
Emily waggled her head. “Don’t remind me. Trust me, I’ve noticed. It would be hard not to. But it doesn’t matter what he looks like, he’s not Anders, and he could never take Anders’ place in my heart. No one could. Besides, he’s way too young for me.”
“Oh, Hawke,” Isabela scoffed, tapping the mage’s bicep with her elbow. “You talk like you’re an old lady. You’re only twenty-eight and he’s got to be at least twenty. Eight years isn’t that big of an age difference. I mean really. Wasn’t Anders almost ten years older than you?”
“Yes, but that’s different,” Emily protested before donning a wistful smile. “Anders was older and distinguished.” She grimaced. “Anion looks like he’s little more than a boy.”
The pirate shrugged again. “It’s up to you, but I wouldn’t dismiss him so easily.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand you, Hawke. There are two decent, eligible men on this ship, and you’re sleeping alone. Are you sure you’re not up for some girly fun?”
“Absolutely positive.” The mage arched her brow. “You aren’t usually this insistent unless it’s been awhile. So just how long have you been in, what did you call it, dry dock?”
The other woman’s bottom lip jutted in a pout. “Over three weeks now, if you can believe it.”
Emily furrowed her brow. “Where is Merrill anyway?”
The pirate sighed. “I left her back in Ferelden. She was getting all the Dalish clans in the country together for a gathering.”
“Alright. I’m probably going to regret this, but my curiosity is definitely piqued. Why in the Maker’s name would she do that? Is she planning some kind of elven reunion or something?”
“Okay,” Isabela began. “I should probably start at the beginning. See, Merrill and I decided to stop off in Gwaren for a few days because she’d never been there before and heard there were some interesting ruins nearby. So, while we’re at the tavern, I talked her into ordering the innkeeper’s specialty, Fire Water. It’s this really strong and spicy drink that she actually sets fire to and you drink it with the flames...”
“You’ve been around Merrill too long, my friend,” Emily interrupted with a grimace. “Can we get to the point before I start turning grey, please?”
“Sorry about that,” the other woman replied with a sheepish expression. “Anyway, we’re sitting in this tavern...” The pirate’s voice trailed off as she turned her attention to the deck beneath her feet. “Wait. Did you hear something?”
Emily shook her head. “No not a thing.”
Isabela held up her finger to quiet her friend and strained to listen. “There it is again.”
The mage stood perfectly still and quiet. After a several moments, she finally realized what caught pirate’s attention. Several hard thumps resounded from below, as if someone was kicking a wall. A few seconds later, the noise was followed by scraping and muffled yelling.
The pirate rolled her eyes with a heavy sigh. “That’s the biggest problem with letting those assholes get drunk just before we sail. Someone always has to start a fight.” She grabbed Emily’s arm. “Come on. Let’s see if we can break it up before it gets worse.”
The mage dug her heels into the deck. “Hold on a minute. We don’t know how many men are involved, and they’re drunk to boot. I have all the confidence in the world in our fighting abilities, but we may be taking on more than we can handle here.”
“Then we’ll just have to grab Fenris and your new boyfriend to help us out. We’ll be fine.”
Emily wanted to object to the way her friend referred to Anion as her new boyfriend, but she thought they should probably take care of the situation at hand before giving the pirate a piece of her mind. As they approached the hatch leading to the lower deck, it swung open at their feet. A large, burly man covered in tattoos with thick red hair and a long beard appeared from the opening dragging something behind him. With one tremendous heave, he threw his burden onto the deck where it landed with a dull thud. It was a man. Bound, gagged, and completely naked.
Emily gasped. “Oh! Dear Maker!”
“And it’s not even my birthday,” Isabela grinned.
The tattooed sailor rose to his feet and pointed his thumb at the nude stranger. The moment the large pirate opened his mouth to reveal the remainder of his blackened teeth, Emily gagged from the putrid stench of his breath. She choked back the bile rising in her throat and donned the most innocuous face she could muster.
“Found him in the cargo hold shoved between some crates, Captain,” the sailor growled. “You want me to toss him overboard? He’s startin’ to stink up the place.”
“Not any worse than your breath,” the mage mumbled.
The large pirate glared at her. “What was that?”
“Never mind Lucas,” Isabela interrupted. “And don’t throw him overboard. Not just yet. Let’s find out who he is first.”
As the two women inched toward the stranger, he tucked his knees to his chest in an effort to cover his privates. Emily’s cheeks brightened when she stole a peek at the endowments he attempted to hide. A moment later, her heart nearly stopped when Fenris jumped out of the open hatch, sword drawn, with Anion following close behind.
“Are you okay, Hawke?” the older elf asked.
Praying he failed to notice her flushed cheeks, Emily cleared her throat. “Yes, Fenris. We’re fine. We were just about to find out who our guest is.”
“Do you think that wise, amica?” Fenris questioned, his narrowed eyes focused on the naked man. “He may be dangerous.”
“Well, we’re not planning on untying him, at least not yet, and it isn’t like he’s hiding a weapon or anything. Besides, if he does try to hurt us, you’ll be right here to stop him, right?”
The elf extended a curt nod then moved around to the left of the stranger, his blade aimed at the nape of the man’s neck, while Isabela took a knee on the other side and yanked the dirty rag from the derelict’s mouth. He brandished a sheepish smile.
“Hello there,” he said before a look of comprehension crossed his face. “I know you don’t I? It’s Isabela, isn’t it?”
The pirate arched a brow. “You’re awfully glib for someone whose lying tied up and naked on the deck of my ship. Who are you?”
“Oh, where are my manners?” he asked with a boyish grin. “Alistair Theirin. At your service, dear lady.”
Isabela stood over him with a puzzled expression. “Alistair Theirin? You mean the drunk that was always loitering about the Hanged Man telling everyone who would listen that he was a prince?”
“I am a prince,” he muttered dejectedly. “Or leastwise I was.”
Alistair didn’t want to discuss the past or his lineage, especially not lying unclothed at the feet of strangers. His finger ached like the void, and the rest of his body wasn’t fairing much better. He hoped the interrogation would end soon. At very least, he hoped his captors would allow him the opportunity to dress. As he lay there, bruised, completely naked, and surrounded by people he didn’t know, he came to the realization that he had finally hit rock bottom.
“How do you just stop being a prince?” an unseen woman’s voice asked from above.
“It’s fairly easy when you abdicate your throne,” he replied in a weary voice, not bothering even a glance in her direction.
“And why in the Maker’s name would you do something like that?”
He heaved a forlorn sigh. “Look. I’d be happy to tell you my entire long, sad story over a hot meal and a couple of pints of ale. For now though, I’d appreciate it if someone would untie me and give me something to wear because frankly, and this might come as a surprise to you all, I’m feeling just a little exposed here.”
“And what if I decide you’re not worth the trouble and just have you thrown overboard?” the pirate questioned.
Alistair lay his pounding head against the worn wood beneath him. He simply didn’t care if he lived or died. He ceased to exist the moment Erin Amell betrayed him and all he stood for. She destroyed him when she ripped his heart from his chest and stomped it beneath her expensive leather boot. He was already dead, had been for years. His body just needed to catch up to his mind.
“If you’re going to toss me off the ship anyway, I’d rather you just get it over with. The sooner the better actually.”
“I say we grant his wish Hawke,” a deep male voice spoke out.
“No,” protested the unfamiliar woman. “There has to be a reason why he’s here, the same as the rest of us.”
She squatted down beside him and began to loosen his bindings. Her touch was gentle and her soft, cool hands felt good upon his rope-burned skin. Each time he flinched when her fingers made contact with a particularly sore spot, she apologized. Her voice was sweet and soothing, like calming music in the wake of a storm, and he couldn’t help but wonder if her appearance was as lovely.
Starting at her knee-length black leather boots, his eyes worked their way up her body toward her face. The staff at her back, grazing the deck, betrayed her as a mage. He observed skin-tight black leather breeches, followed by a tight leather corset-vest with silver grommets covering a linen blouse that hung loosely off her shoulders. His hazel eyes lingered on her full bosom before she turned away to concentrate on the wrist restraints at his back. His gaze trailed up to her long, sable brown hair which was pulled into a high ponytail, the unbound portion of her soft tresses flowing down her neck to her shoulders.
When the final knot was loosened and Alistair’s arms were completely free, the woman pivoted on the balls of her feet to meet his gaze. The color drained from his face and he scrambled away from her and into the railing. It was her. It was Erin.
“What in the bloody void is going on here? Is this some kind of sick joke?”
Isabela arched her brow. “What in Andraste’s holy knickers are you talking about?”
A silver-haired elf dressed in black leather armor and brandishing a very large claymore sneered at him. “He is obviously disturbed Hawke. We should put the restraints back on him.”
The all too familiar looking brunette shook her head. “No. He’s confused. There’s no need to restrain him just yet.”
She certainly didn’t sound like the woman who destroyed his world, and the elf called her Hawke. Why did that name sound so familiar? He searched the recesses of his mind. Seven years of inebriation certainly made things a bit fuzzy when he attempted to think.
Hawke. Hawke…Where do I know that name? That’s right. Hawke was the name of the woman who drove the Qunari from Kirkwall. She was also the one who started that huge battle between the mages and the templars. But why does she look so much like-?
“My name is Emily.” Her voice remained gentle and quiet so she wouldn’t upset him any further. “But most people just call me Hawke.”
Her sympathetic smile put him a little more at ease. Now that he really looked at her, he could see the subtle differences between her and Erin. Hawke’s lips were fuller and her jaw a bit more square. Her eyes were also slightly larger, although the same shade of bright emerald.
“I…I’m sorry,” the prince stammered. “You just remind me of someone I use to know.” The thought of Erin left a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Although Hawke wasn’t the Warden Commander’s exact doppelganger, she still looked similar enough to make him feel the agony he spent seven years trying to drown.
“Now that you mention it,” Isabela observed. “Hawke does look quite a bit like the Hero of Ferelden.”
“That’s because we’re cousins. I’m pretty sure I already told you that, Izzy.”
Great. This just gets better and better.
His lips curled into a sneer. “You mean that you’re actually related to Erin?”
“I’m fairly certain cousins are considered relatives,” Hawke teased with a smirk, leaving Alistair to wonder if she was making fun of him or simply trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t really matter to him either way. He just wanted to get off the subject completely.
“So, if you’ve decided not to make me walk the plank, do you think I could get some clothes now?”
Isabela wrinkled her nose and fanned her hand in front of her face. “Not until you wash away the stink. You’re making my eyes water, and I’m not even downwind of you.”
“Fine,” the prince groused. “Where do I go for that?”
The pirate addressed the rather large man who dragged Alistair to the upper deck. “Lucas, take our friend below and make sure he gets a proper scrubbing.”
What did she mean by proper scrubbing? The malicious grin on the tattooed man’s face made the prince nervous. What was Lucas’s interpretation of those orders? One thing was certain, for the first time since he was a young boy, Alistair was not looking forward to having a bath.
Once their stowaway was safely below deck, Emily returned her attention to Isabela. “So what do you make of this new development?”
“I’m not sure what to think,” the pirate replied with a shrug.
Fenris sneered at the hatchway where Alistair exited the deck. “I think we should have tossed him overboard.”
“But why, amica?” Emily asked. She couldn’t imagine why the elf was so adamant about getting rid of Alistair.
“Because it is trouble we do not need. He is just an out of shape drunkard with a large chip on his shoulder.”
Isabela snorted. “Well, if Hawke was turned off by men with chips on their shoulders, you certainly wouldn’t be here.”
“Shut up wench,” he growled.
The pirate batted her long lashes, her lower lip protruding in a mocking pout. “What’s wrong Fenris? Did I hurt your manly feelings?”
The elf’s shoulders and chest rose and fell as his anger overtook him. “I told you to shut your mouth, whore.”
“I think you’re afraid Hawke will end up liking princey more than you,” Isabela taunted, unafraid of the warrior’s wrath. “I think you, my broody friend, are jealous.”
Fenris scoffed. “Jealous? What is there to possibly be Jealous of? A slovenly, besotted has-been who will run out on his companions and his duty when things become too difficult or do not go his way?”
“Wait,” Emily interrupted. There was more to the story, and she intended to discover what it was. Even in his pathetic condition, there was something about Alistair she found intriguing. He was a drunk. That was obvious by the smell of rum and whiskey emanating from his pores, but he said he was a prince. Although he wasn’t ready to part with his secrets before going below deck, Emily didn’t mind hearing at least some of them before he returned.
Only to be prepared, of course.
No one in Thedas would believe her reasoning, and, if she were being completely honest with herself, neither did she. Still, she wanted to know. “What are you talking about?”
Isabela blanched with surprise. “You mean you’ve never heard the story of the bastard Prince of Ferelden?”
“No,” the mage admitted. She felt like an ignorant git. Apparently it was common enough knowledge that even Fenris knew the tale. “I make it a habit not to pay attention to idle gossip and rumors.”
“Oh honey,” the pirate smirked. “It’s no rumor. I heard it first hand from a soldier who was actually present at the Landsmeet where our friend was exiled. It was said that during the battle of Ostagar, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir retreated as soon as his troops were called upon by the king.”
“Yes, I already knew about that,” she interrupted. “Carver and Aveline were at Ostagar, remember? They barely made it out alive after what that snake did.”
“Well, when the battle was over, there were only two Grey Wardens left in all of Ferelden, Alistair and your cousin. When Loghain discovered there were Wardens who actually survived, he put out a bounty on them, even going so far as to hire Zevran to assassinate them.
Emily was quite fond of Zevran. He was a charming elf. A little too charming if anyone were to ask Anders when they met him. Because Emily spared his life when the Crows attempted to trick her into killing him, Zevran showed up in Kirkwall in time to join the fight against Meredith.
“Anyway,” Isabela continued. “After the Wardens gathered allies and some damning evidence against Loghain, the Arl of Redcliffe called for a Landsmeet. His plan was to remove Queen Anora from the throne and raise Alistair as king. Loghain lost the Landsmeet, but refused to yield until the Erin defeated him in one on one combat.
“Alistair called for Loghain’s execution, but your cousin surprised everyone when she decided to spare the general and make him a Grey Warden. Alistair was furious. He announced, then and there, that even though he’d been reluctant to wear the crown before, he would take the throne to make sure Loghain got what he deserved. Since she was the one who defeated Loghain in battle, Arl Eamon let Erin make the final decision on the rule of the country.
“She shocked everyone when she denounced Alistair in favor of Anora. The queen, of course, immediately ordered her rival’s execution, but the Warden insisted that Alistair’s life be spared. So, Anora did the next best thing. She insisted that the prince renounce the throne for both himself and all his heirs. Alistair was so upset by the events that he agreed to abdicate. He walked away from everything, including his duty as a Grey Warden and boarded a ship that very day, never to return to Ferelden.”
Emily couldn’t help but feel sorry for the prince. Maybe it was better if no one mentioned what happened in Ferelden in Alistair’s presence. It was most likely difficult enough without anyone throwing it in his face. She intended to let the others know her opinion on the subject, but stopped short when the prince appeared at her side. He wore a loose, ivory linen shirt with the top laces left open, and, over that, a dark brown vest with matching suede trousers and boots to complete the ensemble. Although his face was scruffy, it was hardly a beard. He was absolutely gorgeous, possibly the most attractive man she’d ever seen. Her breath quickened despite her attempt to retain her composure. She only hoped he hadn’t noticed.
What’s wrong with you? Why do you always fall so hard for the broken ones?