Alistair frowned and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “I recognize that story. It’s the sad, pathetic tale of how the woman I loved broke my heart and destroyed my life.” Fenris mimicked the prince’s gesture and harrumphed, prompting Alistair to arch a brow and glare at the elf. “Did I say something to offend you?”
“You are expecting everyone here to feel sorry for you because your pride was wounded,” the elven warrior scoffed. “You have no idea what it means to suffer.”
“I never asked anyone to feel sorry for me,” the prince retorted.
“No,” Fenris shot back. “I suppose you feel sorry enough for yourself that you need no outside help.”
“What’s your problem?” shouted Alistair. “Did I do something to you that I wasn’t aware of? Do I even know you?”
The elf’s lids narrowed into slits. “No, but I know you. Or your kind anyway. You are nothing but a spoiled rich human who hates his life because he did not get his way.”
“You don’t know anything about me, elf,” the prince said, his face inches from Fenris’s. “You don’t have a clue who I am or what my life was like before all that shit went down. Who are you to judge me anyway?”
The lyrium lines in the elf’s skin lit up silver-blue. Things were getting out of hand. Emily stepped between the two men and held her arms out at her sides to stop them from tearing each other apart.
“Okay you two! Enough! We’re not going to stand here comparing whose life has been the hardest and who has the most scars.”
“There is no comparison,” Fenris hissed.
“Stop it!” the mage ordered, her tone colored with annoyance and her rising anger. Her friend’s hostility toward Alistair made her wonder if Isabela’s assumptions about the elf’s jealousy hadn’t been spot on. “Everyone here has known pain, suffering, and loss to some degree or another. I put up with this shit for way too many years just to have to listen to it start all over again. This ends now.”
Emily waited for someone to make a snide comment or start another argument so she could prove how serious she was. No one said a word. Even Isabela remained quiet upon seeing her friend’s ire. When the mage was sure the situation was under control, she straightened her corset and took a deep breath.
“Now, if we’re finished behaving like children, I think we need to get down to the business at hand.”
“And what business is that?” asked the prince.
Although his words were calm, he continued to stare daggers at Fenris. Emily placed her hand on Alistair’s chin to turn his hazel eyes to hers. The moment her fingers made contact with his skin, an electric surge pulsed through her body and her stomach fluttered with a strange, but not altogether unpleasant, sensation. The prince gasped and jerked away from her, as if the touch of her hand burned his skin. He averted his eyes to the wooden planks below his feet and scowled.
Oh well. At least he’s not glaring at Fenris anymore.
Her pride was wounded. Maker’s mercy. Was she really that bad? She inhaled another slow, deep breath to gain her composure before beginning her explanation.
“We need to figure out what we’re all doing here.”
Alistair leaned his shoulder against the mast to his right, clasped his hands together, and crossed his right leg over his left. He avoided Emily’s eyes, choosing instead to speak to Isabela. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m here because I owed a very nasty Carta dwarf a great deal of coin I couldn’t pay. Luckily, some old woman settled my debt. Unfortunately, she gave the little shit extra coin to ensure I made it onto this ship. I saw the flat end of a rather large, tattooed fist, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up here, bound, naked, and gagged, surrounded by crates.”
“An old woman?” Anion asked. Emily had almost forgotten he was there. “Do you know who she was?”
The prince shook his head. “No. I didn’t see her, and Silas didn’t seem to recognize her.”
“That’s odd,” Isabela mumbled, her brow set in a perplexed furrow. “My friend Merrill and I were drugged and taken to a Dalish camp outside Gwaren. While we were there, this wicked looking woman in tight red and black leather showed up. I mean, her outfit was just amazing, and all I kept thinking how I’d love to get one just like it.”
“Can you please focus Isabela?” a perturbed Emily interrupted.
The pirate grinned. “Oh. Right. Anyway, as I was saying, this woman shows up and convinces Merrill that she needs to get all the Dalish clans together and then they both talk me into sailing to Greenvale to pick up a couple of important, but nameless, passengers. So, here I am.”
“Is there anything else?” the mage prodded.
Isabela pursed her lips for a moment. “No, not that I can think of.” She began mumbling to herself. “Merrill called her something. What was it? Bell? Bella?”
“Asha’ belannar?” Emily asked. She already knew the answer. Who else could it have been?
“That’s it!” exclaimed the raider. “Asha’ belannar.”
The mage crossed her arms, her brow creased in thought. “It seems Flemeth is behind all of this.”
“Flemeth?” Alistair asked, his face mired with complete bewilderment. “You mean the Witch of the Wilds? That Flemeth?”
Emily’s green eyes went wide. “You know her?”
The prince nodded. “She saved Erin and me from the Tower of Ishal at Ostagar and afterward she asked that we take her daughter with us when we left.”
“You mean Morrigan?”
He appeared even more confused. “Yes, but how do you know about Morrigan?”
His hazel eyes finally met hers again, and she drew a deep, ragged breath. “Fl…Flemeth mentioned her name.” Dear Maker what was wrong with her? She had to get it together. “Anyway. You were saying?”
“Yes, well, anyhow,” Alistair continued, returning his gaze to the captain. “I’m a bit shocked to hear that Isabela actually met her.”
“Why is that?” the pirate huffed. “You calling me a liar?
“No,” he muttered. “But I don’t see how it’s possible. Erin and I killed her.”
Emily had always wondered what Flemeth meant when she said the amulet was a bit of security should the inevitable occur. It seemed the security she spoke of was protection against the Wardens. She’d always heard witches had the gift of foresight, apparently the rumors were true.
“Well, you killed most of her,” Emily corrected.
He turned his gaze to meet her eyes once again. His stare was questioning and vehement. “What do you mean most of her? I don’t remember any body parts scurrying away after the battle, and I assure you that she was unquestionably dead.”
Emily opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t find the words. She was lost in the hazel eyes boring a hole into the core of her being. She wasn’t sure if what she observed within was longing, pain, or unadulterated hatred, but she’d never felt anything so intense in her entire life. He stood there, countenance unchanging, waiting for her answer. An eternity passed before she was able to tear her eyes away from his and stare at the toes of her boots. She swallowed past a knot in her throat before finally daring to speak.
“I don’t know how she did it, but somehow she put a part of her spirit inside an amulet she asked me to take to Sundermount. Our friend Merrill performed a ritual to free Flemeth from the talisman, then she turned into a dragon and flew away.”
“What?” Alistair roared, standing at his full height. “Why in Andraste’s name would you agree to do such a thing? Didn’t you realize how dangerous she was? I knew that old hag was trouble within the first five minutes of meeting her. So are you blind or just stupid?”
“She did not know the witch was inside the amulet,” Fenris bellowed, stomping toward the man. The elf’s tone was threatening as he stared up into the taller man’s eyes, daring him to speak. “She was just as surprised as the rest of us. And you would do well not to speak to Hawke in that manner. Especially in my presence.”
The prince closed his eyes and released a resonant sigh. “My sincere apologies.” he said with a small bow, first to Fenris and then to Emily. “And to you, dear lady, I am truly sorry. Sometimes my mouth works faster than my brain, a product of the pickling process I’ve subjected it to for the past seven years.” The mage gave him a nod and small smile, keeping her gaze at his chest to avoid his eyes. She just couldn’t trust herself not to behave like a dumbstruck idiot again. “So what now?” Alistair asked after a few intense moments. “Where are we going?”
Everyone turned to Isabela for the answer. Her brow arched. “Wait. Why are you all looking at me?”
“Well, you’re the only one here who actually spoke to Flemeth directly,” Emily reasoned.
“Hey, I was just told to go to Greenvale. I assumed whoever I picked up would know where I was taking them.”
“Great,” Alistair huffed. “Adrift on the sea with no clue where we’re going or why.” He chuckled bitterly. “A mission with no clear goal or direction. Figures.”
“Oh will you stop complaining?” Fenris hissed. “In case you have failed to noticed, this does not just involve you.”
“Fine,” Alistair fumed. “Since you have all the answers elf, why don’t you tell us what we’re supposed to be doing?”
“Fasta vass!” cursed the warrior. “Nequame fillium del unum mereticum”
“Care to repeat that in a language we can all understand?” the prince sneered. “Or are you too afraid to translate?”
Once again, Emily had to step between the two men. She really didn’t think that Alistair would appreciate being called a worthless son of a whore. The mage didn’t know much Tevene, but she recognized that phrase very well, as it seemed to be one of Fenris’s favorites. “Need I remind you two that we’re on a ship out in the middle of the ocean? It isn’t exactly like you can avoid seeing each other. Not only that, but we need to work together to figure this out.”
“You are correct, Hawke,” Fenris relinquished. “I…apologize.” Emily knew her friend’s concession was directed at her and not in any way to Alistair, but she chose not to push the issue.
“Umm, Hawke,” Isabela interrupted. She began to fidget and chew her lower lip. “I maybe, kind of neglected to mention something. I’m not sure where we’re supposed to go or what we’re supposed to be doing, but I think I know what all of this is about.”
The mage eyed her with suspicion, wondering why Isabela had failed to speak up before. “Okay, Isabela. Spit it out.”
When the pirate heaved a sigh, Emily recognized sympathy lingering behind the woman’s brown eyes. “Queen Anora signed a treaty. With Tevinter.” Isabela turned her gaze to Fenris. “And now the magisters have taken over all the provinces in Ferelden.”
Silence filled the night air, broken only by the sound of the sea’s gentle waves lapping against the ship. Emily expected Fenris to go into a rage, but he just stood there, breathing heavily and searching the surface of the deck with his eyes. Alistair looked to be in complete shock. Emily had no idea what to say. The Tevinter Imperium had taken over her homeland. How was that even possible? Why would the queen just hand the country over to them?
“Explain this,” Fenris demanded in a low voice, his eyes never moving from the floor.
“Yes, please,” added Alistair. “Where did you hear this?”
Isabela let out a long, ragged breath. “When we left Ostwick, Merrill and I traveled north to Antiva first before making our way around Rialto Bay to Rivain. To pay for the voyage, I hired the ship out a few times by moving some cargo along the bay. I didn’t know what the cargo was, and I didn’t want to know, but I was at least trying to keep the work legitimate.
“You?” Emily interrupted with an arched brow. “Legitimate?” She couldn’t imagine the raider ever giving up piracy.
“Yes, well, after what happened in Kirkwall, I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself. So, for once, I tried to work within the law. Go figure, huh? Anyway, Merrill kept saying she missed Ferelden, so I asked her if there was anywhere in particular she wanted to go. She told me Gwaren because of the elven ruins in the forest outside the city, so we plotted a course there straight from Llomerynn.
“When we docked and started heading into the city, I noticed that everyone was acting very strangely, and I was getting a really bad vibe. We hadn’t gone more than a few yards from the landing when this guard approached and told us we needed to supply up and get out. As you can imagine, my reputation precedes me. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of places where I wasn’t welcome, but Gwaren was never one of them.
“Now, as I said before, I was trying to stay out of trouble so rather than argue the point, I told my first mate to gather the men and get the supplies we needed so we could shove off within a couple of hours. In the meantime, I took Merrill to this tavern called the Staggering Dwarf. While we’re sitting at the bar waiting for Felsi to make our drinks...”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Alistair. “Felsi?”
“Yeah. She bought the place during the Blight and renamed it after the old owner decided to head to the Free Marches.”
Alistair crossed his arms and tilted his head to the left. “Let me guess, in honor of a dwarf named Oghren, right?”
“Exactly. But how did you know that?”
He shrugged. “Just a hunch.”
Once glance at Fenris made it obvious all the interruptions of idle banter were trying his patience. Emily had to get Isabela back on point before the elf lost control of his temper again.
“So what happened at the bar, Izzy?” the mage asked, earning her the hint of a grateful smile from the elven warrior.
“Right. Anyhow, I asked Felsi why everyone was acting so weird. She said she didn’t know what I was talking about and that everything was fine, but it was easy to see she was lying. Since we were the only ones in the place, I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just tell me the truth. All of a sudden, four men in hooded cloaks walk in and sit a table in the far corner. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time because the Staggering Dwarf isn’t exactly the Gnawed Noble and shady characters are in and out of there all the time.
“After our second drink, Merrill turns to me and says she’s not feeling well. At first, I figure it’s just because she’s not used to drinking, but then I realize that everything’s starting to go a bit fuzzy. The next thing I know, I’m waking up alone in one of those Dalish landships in the middle of the forest somewhere. A few minutes later, Merrill shows up and tells me that she needs me to follow her because there’s somebody who wants to talk to me. That’s when I met the witch.”
Silence fell over the crowd, as if everyone on deck stopped breathing in anticipation of the pirate’s next words. Her brow furrowed in deep thought as she mumbled to herself and began to pace between the ship’s two masts. Her heavy footfalls echoed across the ship, accompanied only by the sound of the waves lapping against the hull. Fenris shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and Alistair heaved a long, irritated sigh.
“Isabela?” Emily prodded.
The pirate shook her head. “I’m sorry Hawke, I’m trying to remember exactly what Flemeth said, but it was a bit vague and I was still pretty groggy at the time from being drugged.”
“It’s alright, Izzy,” the mage reassured her in a calm tone. “Just tell us what you do remember.”
The other woman bobbed her head, the corners of her lips upturned in appreciation for her friend’s patient understanding. “Well, the short of it is just what I told you. She said the queen signed over power to the Imperium and the magisters had taken the place of the lords that used to rule the lands.”
“Was there anything else?” Alistair asked. Emily couldn’t tell if the expression he wore was born of anger or sadness.
“Other than her telling me that I needed to go to Greenvale, no, not that I can remember. At first, I wasn’t going to do it, but Merrill said it was important. I asked her why I should get involved since I wasn’t even from Ferelden, and she told me that Tevinter wouldn’t stop there. With Ferelden under its control, the Imperium would have a stronger army, which would make it easier to take over the rest of Thedas.”
“Of course,” Fenris snarled. “If the Imperium has control of the southern lands, it can flank the rest by moving in from both the north and south.”
Alistair shrugged. “It’s pretty sound military strategy.”
“You find that impressive?” the other man hissed.
The elven warrior glared at prince, his green eyes nearly invisible between the constricted slits of his lids. The lyrium lines in his skin pulsed with a faint glow of silver-blue. Fenris hadn’t lost complete control of his temper. Not yet, but if Alistair didn’t answer the question correctly, the elf would abandon all pretense and rip the other man apart.
Alistair returned the man’s glower, ready for a fight. “I said it was sound military strategy. I didn’t say I was happy about it. This is my country we’re talking about, after all.”
“Yes. The country you abandoned.”
It was a low blow, even for the elf. Alistair’s eyes widened for a moment before his expression and spirit deflated. After hearing the story of what happened at the Landsmeet, Emily could see why the prince made the choices he did. She wasn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t have done the same.
“That was uncalled for, Fenris,” she chided.
Alistair held up his hand. “No, he’s right.” His shoulders slumped as he turned his back to the others and ambled toward the portside railing then leaned against it. “I did abandon Ferelden. I couldn’t see past my own anger far enough to do the right thing.”
Emily wanted to say something to comfort him. To tell him that none of it was his fault, and she would do anything in her power to help him fix the mess that Anora made. She just wasn’t sure how. She approached him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t,” he whispered, shrugging her hand away.
Once again, Emily was forced to tell herself his rejection of her touch wasn’t personal. She placed her forearms across the railing, leaned into it, and clasped her hands together as she stared out into nothingness. “I’m sorry. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult all of this is for you.”
The prince shook his head, his eyes never straying from the dark waves below. “I just don’t understand it. Anora was always a greedy, power-hungry bitch. What could have possibly happened to convince her to share that power with anyone, let alone Tevinter? And how could the nobles just let it happen? Why didn’t anyone fight against it?”
The mage exhaled a long breath. “I don’t know, Alistair. I just don’t know.”
As she stood there, struggling to find the right words, Emily was reminded of a question she meant to ask Isabela. She stole a glance in the prince’s direction. He was in absolute misery. Hopefully, the answer to her query wouldn’t make it worse, if that were even possible.
She turned to face the others. “Isabela, why did Flemeth tell Merrill to bring all the Dalish together?”
Before Isabela could answer, Fenris spoke. “Because the magisters will be hunting down all the elves in the country to make them slaves. Because Merrill was sent to warn them. Holding a gathering will prove to them that it is an actual threat to their people and not just a rumor”
With an expression of both puzzlement and pity, the pirate stared at the warrior for a moment before giving her reply. “Well, that’s part of it, and before you ask, I don’t know the other reason. Merrill wouldn’t tell me.”
“So what can we do to stop this?” Fenris asked, his green eyes haunted with recollections of his past.
Alistair finally turned to the others. “We need to go to Orlais and speak to the Divine. If she knew about this, she would have already sent troops to Ferelden to drive the Tevinters out.”
Emily could scarcely believe what she was hearing. When she finally deigned to look into the prince’s eyes, the reflection of defeat and guilt she witnessed nearly broke her heart. She swallowed past the large knot in her throat.
“But Alistair. Won’t that mean Orlesian occupation?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “My father fought to end the tyranny of Orlais and won Ferelden’s independence. Now, I’m talking about handing the country back to the Orlesians, but I don’t see any other options. The five of us certainly aren’t going to be able to lay siege to the land and take it back from the Imperium. Even if we had this Dalish friend of yours along with every other elf in Ferelden fighting at our sides, we still wouldn’t stand a chance against a bunch of mages and magisters, let alone the Fereldan and Imperial armies. The country is lost either way, now it’s just a question of the lesser of two evils.”
Emily nodded. She understood his reasoning and it made sense, but he wouldn’t be able to weather that storm on his own. She would stand by him and help him see his plan through to the end, even if no one else agreed with her. His shoulder lifted and fell with a shrug as he extended a tight-lipped, forlorn smile.
“Well, that’s my opinion anyway. I only hold one-fifth of the vote.” He took one last long look out over the water before returning his attention back to the other four. “Whatever you decide to do, I’m with you. But for now, I’m going to turn in for the night.”
The mage’s brows knitted together as she attempted to hold back the tears gathering in her eyes. “Okay, Alistair. Is there anything you need?”
“No,” he said in a flat tone. As he turned toward that hatch and passed by Emily, she heard him mutter under his breath, “Nothing but a stiff drink or two. Or ten”
When Alistair disappeared below deck, Fenris grabbed Emily by the shoulders and whirled her around to face him, fear and panic replacing his typical, sullen demeanor. “Please Hawke. Please tell me you are not actually thinking of going through with this.”
“I don’t know of any other options, Fenris.”
His worried grimace deepened. “Then let Alistair go speak to the Divine by himself.”
“I can’t do that, amica. Alistair isn’t strong enough to do this alone, not with everything this means.”
“Do you realize what will happen to you if you set foot inside Val Royeaux? And even if they do not capture you right away. Even if by some miracle you are able to get in to see the Divine without being recognized. Even if you get the chance to speak to her, the moment you are finished, they will arrest you.”
“I know,” she whispered.
His eyes glimmered with unshed tears. “They will execute you Hawke.”
She knew the truth of his words, but, somehow, she wasn’t afraid. What did she really have to live for anymore, after all? Anders was gone. The only thing she had to look forward to in life was hiding from the Chantry until they finally caught up to her. Sooner or later, they would execute her. At least in helping Alistair, it would be on her terms and she would die knowing it was for a good cause. She donned an understanding smile.
I realize that, amica. But if it will save my people, my homeland, it’ll be worth it.”
He placed a hand on either side of her face and pulled her forehead to his. As he frantically searched her emerald eyes, he caressed her cheeks with his thumbs. “Then let me be the one to accompany him. Please Emily, I cannot just let you die.”
He called her Emily. Fenris had never called her by her given name before, not once in the nearly eight years she knew him. Part of her wished she could concede the point, tell him what he wanted to hear, but she couldn’t. She pressed her brow harder against his and closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry Fenris, but I have to do this.”
He nodded then graced her cheek with a gentle kiss. Without another word, he backed away and walked past her toward the hatch leading to the lower deck. It took every ounce of strength she had left not to fall apart. Sorrow weighed heavily on her heart. Sorrow for Fenris and the friends she would leave behind. Sorrow for Alistair. Even sorrow for herself. She was going to die. There was no other option. At least she would be with Anders again. Perhaps, in the beyond, they would finally achieve the happiness and peace both of them so desperately desired. She sniffed and choked back the bile rising from her stomach before turning to Isabela.
“Turn the ship around. Set a course for Val Royeaux.”
Fenris found his way back to his bunk, lay down and draped his right forearm across over his eyes to block out the dim light from the uncovered lyrium lamp on a nearby wall. His guts churned as he choked back an eruption of bile. How could he have allowed himself to lose his composure like that? His heart raced with the memory of having Hawke so near him, of feeling the skin of her soft cheek against his lips. He wondered if she knew that it was more than a friendly gesture.
He almost said them, the words etched into his heart. In fact, he’d never been closer to revealing his hidden feelings for her, not even on the night they made love. The idea of losing her was more than his soul could bear. Why was she so void-bent on sacrificing herself? Alistair was a grown man, after all, and perfectly capable of speaking to the Divine by himself.
The thought of the prince brought other emotions to the surface-anger, hostility, disgust…jealousy. At first, Fenris’s animosity toward Alistair was simply born of disgust over who and what the man was, but when he saw Hawke look at him that way. Maker help him, he was green to the gills over that broken-down piece of shit. Why didn’t she ever look at him like that anymore? Didn’t she still love him at all? Did she ever?
Somehow, he had to learn to swallow his pride. Somehow, he had to work past his fears and finally tell her how he felt. He had to tell her how much he loved her before it was too late, before he lost her to either the void or Alistair.
Alistair picked up three bottles of wine from the galley on his way to the cargo hold. When he woke up bound to a chair and surrounded by rats, he made a promise to Andraste, the Maker, and himself that he would never drink again. He really meant it at the time, but that was before he discovered his father’s short legacy was about to be erased by him. He never knew his father. Fuck, he never even met the man, but he was still King Maric’s only surviving son and it was a lot to live up to.
Unfortunately, Alistair was nothing but a disgrace. A sad ending to an epic tale of greatness. He renounced his throne for what? Just to have Loghain die anyway? He never wanted to die killing the archdemon. He never wanted Erin to die either. So why in the void didn’t he just let her make Loghain a Grey Warden without argument? Would she have put him on the throne if he had agreed? Is that why Erin decided to give the crown to Anora? Was it really Alistair’s inability to show mercy to that murdering, treacherous snake that lost him the crown?
Besides, his broken finger still hurt like the void. At least that bastard who scrubbed him down was kind enough to help him wrap the thing up after the assault. He examined the digit more closely and heaved a long sigh. Maybe he could find a healer in the next port to fix it. Until then, he’d just drink the pain away.
As he swallowed the last few drops from the first bottle of wine, the door to the hold opened. He remained still and quiet, hoping the intruder would just move on, but was disappointed when the planks creaked beneath approaching feet.
“I thought I might find you in here,” Hawke said with a sympathetic smile.
Alistair uncorked the second bottle and took a long swig. “Just thought I’d celebrate the upcoming Orlesian occupation of my homeland. You know, the one my father fought so hard to win back from Orlais.”
He expected her to argue with him, to say something to try to comfort him. Instead, she grimaced and asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”
Without looking up, he drew another drink. “I don’t mind, but there’s only one unoccupied bottle left.”
“That’s okay,” she said, plopping down next to him on the floor. “I brought my own. Times like this, I prefer something stronger anyway.” She handed him a bottle of amber liquid. “I brought one for you too. If you’re interested, that is.”