I Cannot Fault Your Choices
When walking failed to clear her head, Mahariel returned to The Hanged Man. Lacking the desire to sit in her room and review treaties, however, she found a seat at the bar. She didn't recognize any of the faces around her, and she didn't want to seek out Anders with word of her failure. So she sat alone and ordered a bottle of wine. She didn't mean to share.
"I'd heard the Hero of Ferelden was a woman, but I didn't think she'd be an elf."
"Flames," Mahariel cursed, and turned to see who owned the gritty voice that beckoned her.
A tall, thin man with silvery hair and fierce hazel eyes sat down next to her. He too was of elven kind, but his skin bore strange markings; she didn't make him for Dalish.
"Fenris," he offered. "Friend of Hawke."
She nodded her head, "A pleasure," and she reached for her wine.
"Am I... interrupting?"
Mahariel sighed. No, he wasn't, and it was probably better if she didn't drink alone. "I'm sorry. I've had a bit of a rough day. Mahariel," she said in return.
"I've had my share of those," he said lightly, and toasted her with his own glass of wine. "I saw you with the mage the other night."
She nodded. "And old friend."
"Hm," Fenris answered, noncommittally. If a mage like Anders could be "an old friend," Fenris wasn't quite sure he wanted to get to know the Hero of Ferelden any better. Still, his curiosity was piqued. A woman, and elf, and from the few legends he had heard, a find swordswoman. Perhaps he could forgive her association with the mage as he had with Hawke. He offered, "If you're looking for him, he's gone off with the dwarf and Aveline; they're following Hawke into danger, as usual."
The Warden Commander smiled. "That sounds like him." She turned away from her glass to look at Fenris, and he got his first real impression of her. She was hopelessly pretty, and the lines around her eyes and mouth only served to impress upon that fact. Her vallaslin was light and wispy, suited to her full-moon face and dark-blue eyes. Dark, wavy hair was falling out of a loose knot at the nap of her neck; she didn't care that she was attractive. And Maker, was she tiny. Fenris was tall for an elf, but he doubted she would even come up to his shoulder.
Thinking back, Mahariel ventured a question: "Why didn't you think I'd be an elf?"
"It's a long story."
"Seems I've got time," she proposed.
Well, he had started it, hadn't he? He flagged down the barkeep for another glass of wine, but Mahariel shook her head to the bartender and pointed at herself, signaling the elf's next round was on her. Fenris tipped his head to offer her thanks, and began, "I could have guessed by your accent that you're Dalish, without ever having seen you."
"That bad?" she laughed. "I thought most of it had faded away."
He smiled sadly. "It's not strong. I'm in a unique position in having known more than my share of elves."
"Being one yourself?"
"I'm not Dalish, as is probably obvious. But I knew many of your kind."
"So then where are you from, my urban brethren? I've seen much of Thedas but your accent, I can't place." She played his game.
Fenris chuckled, his shoulders shaking gently. "And the truth comes out. I never would have known you were a fellow elf because I never would have been permitted to know, and then would have been a bit too distant. I lived most of my life in Tevinter, forsaken place that it is."
The smile fled from Mahariel's face. "Then you were -"
"A slave, pride and property of the magister who owned me," he said bluntly. It was nothing new to him, and now that Danarius was dead, the elf nearly counted his unfortunate life as a joke, in the company of others, at least.
"I am sorry, Fenris," the Warden Commander said softly, "I have seen what they do firsthand." The faces of the poor, starved elves tricked by the Tevinter slave traders in Denerim flashed back to her. She'd saved many of them, but was too late for so many more. And many of the sick elves who were promised a cure by their would-be captors surely met their deaths as well. For all the good she'd done in Ferelden, she let so much evil survive.
"Yes," she took a long slow drink, "and I put them down like dogs."
Fenris' eyes lit up. "Then you've seen what the magisters are capable of?"
Quickly Mahariel put up her hand. She'd been down this road before, and she didn't need to allow it any further. "Make no mistake, Fenris. I counted on the help of many mages to stop the Blight. I count them now as some of my closest friends." But she conceded, "I was also there when the Ferelden Circle was overcome by blood magic. I risked my life and the life of... the lives of others who trusted me to free the uncorrupt mages within. And when I found the blood mages who had endangered the lives of so many innocent, who had tarnished the name of magic Thedas over, I put them to my blade without mercy." She looked at him with hard eyes. "My stance on mages is clear. But my stance on evil is just as firm. And I will have no argument." She drained her cup and set it down hard. She'd had plenty of time to think about it, plenty of opportunities when her opinion could have been swayed. But she always came down on the same side of the line: blood mages were evil as any non-mage who strikes down an innocent man is evil. And mages free of corruption were are innocent as any other good man. A person's propensity to cause harm was not dictated by an accident of birth.
Fenris was quiet. With everything in him he wanted to argue with her, but she had seen evil first hand and she had handled it mercilessly. Was she swayed by Anders, who had so gently lead her away from the bar the previous night? Or were her opinions a result of her experiences?
"How did you meet Anders?"
As factually as possible, she submitted, "I freed him from the Circle." Fenris twitched, and she laughed, rephrasing, "I conscripted him. A templar called Rylock was going to arrest him, and probably have him executed or made Tranquil for..." she laughed, "well, for being Anders. I needed Wardens and the charges pressed against him were trumped-up at best, so I told him he could either prove his innocence as a Grey Warden or go right back into the hands of the templars. Needless to say, he chose the Wardens, and I never had reason to suspect him of anything, except occasionally being a bastard." She sent a very pointed glance to Fenris, "And the last time I checked, that wasn't a crime."
It pained him to admit it, but the woman was right. Anders' only crime was a crime of principle, freeing mages from the Circle. Hawke had rescued the mage from the one chance Anders may have had to commit a serious offense, but the girl he'd nearly murdered in the name of Justice still drew breath.
"You're an intriguing woman, Mahariel. I don't agree with you, but I cannot fault your choices."
She sighed, staring into her cup. "Oh, believe me. I can."
"Now that's a long story," she deflected, and Fenris could tell she didn't want to be pushed, or even encouraged, so he let it go.
"I'll tell you what, Hawke, I never thought I would get into half of the trouble you get me into," came an alto voice from the door, and Aveline, Varric, and Hawke filtered into the tavern, with Anders close behind.
"Well, speak of the apostate," Fenris insulted the mage.
"What's this now?" Anders asked, mostly to Mahariel.
"We were just talking about you," she said with a smile, and despite her ineffective day, she was happy to see him again.
"Nothing bad I hope?" he cocked his eyebrow playfully.
"Never," Mahariel promised.
"She said you can be a bit of a bastard," Fenris divulged.
"I said you were a bit of a bastard when I first conscripted you."
Anders knitted his brow but admitted, "Well... that's not entirely untrue, I suppose."
"Come on, Blondie, first round's on me," Varric called as he made for the steps.
"All my rounds better be on you after tonight," Anders called back, then turned to Mahariel, "Meet me upstairs?" he reached out and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, which Fenris did not miss.
"Of course," she assured him, and he began to cross the floor.
Leaning in towards the Warden-Commander, Fenris asked, "So his... deal with Justice never bothered you?"
Mahariel cocked her head in surprise. "What about Justice?"
Anders froze, lips parting slowly. He didn't even turn around to beg, "Fenris, stop."
"What about Justice?" Mahariel asked Anders now, and he pivoted slowly on his heel, eyes wide in shock. Hawke had stopped at the top of the steps and Aveline just ahead of him, watching the scene play out.
"Nothing," Anders said weakly.
Fenris blinked, tilting his chin. "You don't know."
"She doesn't need to know," Anders half-insisted, half-pleaded.
But Mahariel stood and walked up to the mage, the whole bar now focusing their attention on the pair. "You don't tell me what I do and don't need to know." Her words were firm in their quietude.
He took her hands carefully, lowing his voice, "Lyna, please, not now; I'll explain everything later, I promise." His eyes were soft, the marks of age clear on his face.
"Is he here?" she pressed, ignoring his wishes.
"Oh, he's here alright," Fenris piped up from the bar, drunk on wine and superiority. Mahariel's eyes went from the elf to the mage.
"Anders?" she pushed again.
"Ignore him," he instructed. "Let's talk upstairs, Lyn'. Not here," and he started to pull her towards the steps, but Fenris hadn't finished with him.
"You never told her that you're an abomination?"
Anders let go of Mahariel's hands and took quick, powerful steps toward Fenris, "Maker help me, Fenris," and he raised his fist, but the elf drew his blade and raised it to Anders' throat.
"Do you think you can win this fight, mage?"
The smell of ozone rippled through the air and Anders' fists began to glow. "I think I'd like to bloody try."
"Stop it." Two words came from Mahariel's lips. She didn't shout, didn't even raise her voice, but her tone was deadly serious. "Both of you. Stop it." This was a woman who had stared down darkspawn, demons, despots. Two men behaving like children had no power over her. "Fenris, put your blade away before I see fit to use it on you. Anders, upstairs. Now."
As their shock wore off, they complied with Mahariel's forceful request. Anders recalled his mana and Fenris sheathed his sword.
Just above the steps, Aveline bent forward and whispered to Hawke, "I think I like her very much." Hawke laughed, and the tension in the bar was broken. People went back to their drinks, turning away from the two elves and a mage who had either disrupted or livened up their evening, depending on who you talked to.
Anders slumped to Mahariel like a hound beaten by his master. "Lyna -"
"We will talk upstairs."