Ghost of a Champion
Fenris no longer needed to be let in, now that he was living with Hawke. The Hawke estate appeared as it had always been: velvet red, tall and proud. Bodahn came to greet him in the entryway. He could hear the lilts of music from Orana’s lute as she played by the sitting room fire, curled up against the mess that was Bodahn’s boy, Sandal, and Eddard, Hawke’s purebred marbari. The song was a melancholy one. Fenris wondered if it was something Hawke had taught her, or a piece she’d composed herself. It wasn’t anything like the music the Tevinter magisters got their more skilled slaves to play.
Orana glanced up at his arrival but didn’t stop playing to attend to him. She had, thankfully, grown past that and even begun to address Hawke as ‘Messere’ rather than ‘Master’. She looked better too—well-fed, not frightened—and more present as a person than she had been before.
He needn’t ask where the master of the house was. He found Hawke sitting on the upper floor of his study, leaning back against the balusters, beside the memento from the Vimmark Mountains. In one hand he held a goblet and another the bottle of the wine he was pouring into it. An array of books and papers lay about his bare feet.
Living with Hawke was an arrangement he couldn’t complain about. It meant a proximity he’d come to appreciate as if it was the warmth of a blanket in the winter's cold. Proximity also meant that he could see the traces of the man when the man himself was absent: the precision with which Hawke always put his clothes away, the organisation of his work table (and rue the day anyone messed with his system), the open book by the perfectly-made bed that was bookmarked by a single rectangular slip of spare linen. He’d thought at first, and incorrectly too, that Orana did all the cleaning around the house. But growing up as the oldest son of a peasant, working the farm and tending the animals, gave Hawke a sense of humble responsibility Fenris still found surprising coming from a mage.
Of late, however, he had been finding Hawke this same way: a crumpled mess on the study room floor, long hair dishevelled and eyes slightly glazed from either wine or Antivan brandy. And surrounded by books, all open and rifled through as if he’d spent hours trying to find answers within them.
“I still kept it, you know?” slurred Hawke as Fenris began to perform what seemed like the age-old chore of taking the bottle out of Hawke’s hand. Fenris tipped the bottle to his lips. There was little left.
“What is it?” he asked, partly with irritation and partly with fatigue.
It was the age-old game of the age-old questions. And it had not been a year since the destruction of the Chantry; not a year of Hawke’s term as Viscount.
“His manisfesto. It was nearly complete.”
Not a year since that mage abomination’s death.
“And what would you do about it?” Fenris snapped as he started to gather the books, to put them away despite knowing that they were all going to come down again the very next day. “He committed a crime and he paid for it.”
Hawke didn’t answer. In latter days, he no longer argued, no longer tried to make Fenris see. Fenris paused at a book, recognising the title on the spine. There was a time when he struggled to read the letters. He struggled still, here and there especially over complex tomes, but the Book of Shartan was one he knew well, because it was the one he read over and over with Hawke.
“It widens your horizons,” Hawke used to say of the virtues of reading, with a grin that told Fenris he was thinking of other things.
Fenris stole a glance at the mage.
“Have you eaten?” he asked. He had to ask for Hawke would forget. Hawke always forgot when there was no one to check.
Hawke shook his head. “Can’t keep anything down.”
That caused Fenris to whirl around, his task of shelving the books forgotten. “And the drinking isn’t going to help,” he pointed out.
Hawke struggled to a stand, swaying a little on his feet, and head held in a hand. In time he said with a grimace, “In the morning perhaps. Or after the paperwork has been done. Dock worker petitions for better pay and work conditions… Opening a free clinic in the alienage… Will probably need to speak to First Enchanter Reddick about that. Cullen is not going to be happy…”
“You will accomplish nothing in this state,” Fenris said, shoving the rest of the books he still held in the first available shelf space he could find before going up to the mage.
Hawke always turned to work, drowning himself in legislations and petitions, dossiers and official letters, when the old memories and regrets began to plague him.
He was not a bad Viscount. If anything, Fenris didn’t think Kirkwall could ask for a better leader. The city was still without a proper chantry, so the devoted faithful held prayer meetings in re-purposed homes in prominent parts of Kirkwall. Cullen kept order over the Templars as the new Knight-Commander. The Circle was rebuilt to become more of an institution rather than a prison, and mages were allowed employment, visitors, and a number of privileges they never had under the older order. The newer, greater freedoms were something Fenris and Hawke still disagreed over, but the mages were at least kept in check within Circle walls.
But in keeping his head in concern after concern, in trying his hardest to be the leader the city so sorely needed in the face of the Circle uprisings beyond the walls of the city, Hawke was spreading himself thin. He faced accusation after accusation from political oppositions and rebel factions. Dissenters rose among his people, those who knew mages annulled in the battle of the Gallows, apostates who’d managed to slip away from the Templars. To them, all of him was a hypocrisy: a mage, who’d freed every rogue mage he came across, only to turn it all around at the end in the greater name of the people of Kirkwall. That alone was enough to have him branded a traitor and an opportunistic social climber.
Fenris had thought Hawke had made the right decision at the time. He even gave a nod of approval when Hawke sunk that blade into Anders’ back. He just never expected that the guilt, of having to end a friend and to kill those who shared his own magic-plague, coupled with the rigours of governance and leadership, would come to wear so heavily on the man.
Hawke started down the stairs—to his desk, Fenris knew if no one was there to stop him.
He took the mage’s arm and led him out of the study. “To bed with you. The work can wait till morning.”
Hawke moved like a man emptied of a soul. Fenris often wondered how he could be so worn by night and keep a straight back by day in the Keep.
Once in the bedroom, he stepped up to help Hawke out of his clothes, for the man couldn’t seem to work the knots of the belt. As he did, Hawke undid the leather tie holding back his hair. The robe fell open to reveal the span of dark chest beneath, broken by scars from wounds he’d sustained from the old days of fighting shades in abandoned caverns and thugs plaguing Kirkwall’s night. Hawke still did that, sometimes, when petitions and complaints kept him late in the Keep, though he could get so reckless about it as to send the guards running up to aid him, and Aveline to lecture him the following morning.
Fenris raised his eyes to see Hawke gazing over his shoulder at the fire. Hawke could do with a haircut, but there was a certain beauty to the way his long hair curled past his shoulders, and to his moon-grey eyes, so stark against his dusky skin.
As he did every night, Fenris curled his hand around the back of Hawke’s head and crushed the man’s lips down to his own. Some nights, when those eyes were especially glazed from too much drink, Hawke responded with an equal measure of passion. Other nights, Hawke took him gently, his touches slow and lazy from the familiarity of the body he was making love to. And then there were still other nights when Hawke would break the kiss to hold Fenris away at arm’s length, when the mage’s eyes upon the elf was lucid but sad and confused, almost as if he was seeing Fenris and wishing for another.
Those nights, he thought about how he had never expected that the guilt and the pressures of his position as Viscount, would cause Hawke to look upon Fenris as if everything the elf stood for was everything he wished he had the strength to oppose.
That night was one such night.
“Another time, Fenris,” Hawke said gently, giving the elf’s shoulders a light squeeze before turning away to undress for the night. “I’m tired.”
The gentleness with which Hawke delivered the rejection was more painful than if Hawke had reached in and crushed his heart.
Fenris would have turned away himself, said he wanted to check on the dog, or Orana, if only to come back and climb in beneath the covers when Hawke was asleep. But at the drop of the man’s robes to the floor, Hawke reached back to push Fenris aside as the eastern window came bursting in, raining glass all around them. Hawke was already at the room’s weapons stand, his staff in hand, and tossing Fenris the elf’s sword, which the latter caught with ease.
Eddard was barking downstairs as still more windows seemed to shatter within the house. Orana screamed and somewhere in the chaos, Bodahn’s boy could be heard shouting too.
Masked, dark-clad men came through the three windows of Hawke’s room, zipping down ropes that they’d likely attached to the roof of the estate just as Hawke turned to Fenris and shouted, “See that Orana and the dwarves are safe. Downstairs! Go!”
“I will not leave you!” Fenris insisted as he dashed forward to slice at a man who was about to take a stab at Hawke.
Hawke caught at another, placed his hand on the man’s face, and then sent him backwards into his cronies, light piercing and sizzling from his chest. As the man exploded and others around him with him, Hawke turned back to Fenris and barked, “I’ll be fine! Go!”
To seal it, he grabbed Fenris by the front of his leather jerkin and shoved him towards the door, sending a light stone fist into him to get him going. Outside, Fenris vaulted over the baluster to land amidst the men who were swarming the dwarves and Orana. Eddard had a man by an arm and was violently trying to tear it free of the man’s body. Fenris got a few attackers with a sideways sweep of his sword and looked up in time to see one making for Bodahn who stood in front of Orana, trying to protect her with naught but a letter opener.
Before Fenris could get to them, Sandal threw, and a little too gleefully too, a small runed stone at the man. It caught him smack in the chest, making him reel back, clawing at it as if it burned. Much like the men in Hawke’s room before, the man with the runed stone stuck to his chest fell amidst his fellows and, screaming, exploded, bringing others with him.
When Fenris stared at him, amazed, Sandal only smiled and said, “Boom!”
And with that, the last of the attackers in the main part of the house fell to the floor, crying out in agony as he clung to the remains of a mangled arm.
“Master Hawke!” Fenris heard Bodahn cry out. Upstairs, a battle was still raging on.
Without a look back at the bodies in the main hall, Fenris took the stairs two at a time to get back to Hawke’s room. However, as he burst in, Hawke was just finishing the last of the attackers with a chain lightning, an attack that prevented Fenris from intervening.
On seeing Fenris, the mage asked, “Is everyone all right?”
There was no need for an answer, for Eddard pounced in barking and the others could be heard on the stairs.
“Are you all right?” Fenris demanded, rushing up to the mage. A blade had managed to find Hawke’s stomach and shoulder. Before Fenris could get a good look at the injuries, Hawke was already casting a healing spell to close up the wounds.
Smirking, Hawke replied, “That’s a dozen for me. We’re still keeping score right?”
Fenris was about to put in a word of reprimand, for sending him away if anything else, but Bodahn had run to Hawke’s side, panting, “Oh! Thank the ancestors you’re all right, messere!” and it was all he could do to step aside, into the shadows and the sidelines while Bodahn and Orana went on to fuss over the master of the house.
“You are sure that this isn’t the Coterie like last time?” Aveline asked in her best, investigative guard-captain voice.
Hawke sat in a chair before the fire of his study where Aveline had insisted he remained as her men scoured the mansion and questioned the servants. Fenris stood in a corner, leaning against a bookshelf, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I am sure, Aveline,” Hawke replied. “No dwarves. Unfamiliar armour…”
“Crows, most likely,” Fenris put in.
“Now, that isn’t any better, is it?” Aveline said, frowning over at him. “From an opposition for the Viscount’s seat? Or—”
Fenris wanted to stop her, but Hawke was already setting it straight, “Or a person of influence who had someone in the Circle.”
He sighed, that characteristic sigh filled with mirth and irony, and added, “Which is the more likely reason seeing how they practically begged me to be Viscount after that massacre at the Gallows was over.”
“Hawke,” Aveline began. From the way she stood, her own arms crossed, Fenris and Hawke both knew that she was going to go into a lecture. “The best choices are rarely the most popular.”
“Perhaps I should have baked everyone a cake as an apology,” Hawke went on. “Send the cakes in boxes with a glided card attached, telling the families how sorry I am to blast them into oblivion for the mistake of one man. Say, what would be better? Vanilla or butterscotch?”
Aveline shot him a warning glare. “Hawke. I was trying to help.”
Hawke hung his head for the briefest moment before looking back up at Aveline, smiling. “I know… Can’t say that my term as Viscount will always be a popular one, now would it?”
The guard-captain smiled at that. “If it was, I would say you’re doing something wrong.”
Hawke sat staring into the fire long after Aveline left, the issue as to who had sent a squad of assassins after him unsolved. Fenris found the inaction unsettling. Hawke was not one to put such things aside so easily, and especially not if it endangered those under his care. The last time anyone had dared to attack Hawke at his estate, the man had gone all out to put a stop to it. And the last time Hawke had sat staring into a fire, it was after the remaining half of his heart had broken in two following his mother’s death.
Fenris left and came back in with a bottle of wine, Orana in his wake with a tray of food for Hawke.
As she set it on the low table, Hawke looked to her and said, “You don’t have to, Orana. I can get my own meals.”
“I asked her to,” Fenris spoke up. “Because you would not get your own meals.”
Hawke waited for her to leave before replying, “Because I treat her like a slave? Is that what you’re saying?”
“That…was not what I meant. What I meant was—”
“No,” Hawke cut in quietly, continuing to stare into the fire. “That was not what you meant.”
They sat in silence for a long moment. It was nearing dawn and Fenris had advised him to not go into his office for the day until the matter has at least been partially resolved. The Seneschal would be more than happy, he knew, to be in charge for a day.
Fenris looked to the mage and noted the dark shadows beneath the man’s eyes and the beginnings of a wrinkle between his brows. He felt the way he did, four, perhaps five, years ago, when he went to the mage seeking to be of comfort and failing miserably at it.
“Fenris,” Hawke spoke up, eyes still fixed on the crackling fire, “when we spoke that night…”
“After you killed Danarius…I meant to say—” He stopped and leaned back into the chair. Fear began to crawl its way into Fenris’ being while he waited for Hawke to gather his thoughts. “I’d meant to ask if you would rather be away from Kirkwall.”
Turning to Fenris, he asked, “If…circumstances had been different and if you had the chance…would you go?”
“And where would I go?” Fenris sharply asked in turn, though he knew he’d wanted to go West.
“A place with no bad memories,” Hawke replied, “where you can start anew.”
Fenris looked down at the markings and, indicating them, said wryly, “To start anew, I will have to be free of these and of the magic that led to them.”
He’d expected Hawke to say something profound, thoughtful, or at the very least, argue. Instead, Hawke smiled and said cheerfully, “Well, at least you didn’t ask to be turned into a human, or a woman.”
Fenris chuckled at that. He ought to have expected that too, that indomitable sense of humour, and be assured by it. And then he found that he was not.