If It Weren't For...
Maker, how long had it been since she’d had a stiff drink? She’d started with wine, unsure of how well she’d be able to hold her liquor.
Not very well, as it turned out.
“And so, he says to me,” Mahariel, red-faced and giggling blurted to Hawke, to Aveline, to Varric, to anyone who would listen, “he says, ‘All I want is a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools.’ That was the first time I really thought to myself, ‘That Anders isn’t such a bad guy.’” Of course, they were all just about as sauced as she was, though they’d been at it a good while longer and with much harder liquor.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Varric spat. “When did Blondie have a sense of humor?”
Anders opened his mouth to defend himself, but Mahariel beat him to it.
“What are you talking about, dwarf? Anders was the life of the party at Vigil’s Keep. Him n’ old Sir Pounce-a-Lot. What a sweet cat,” Mahariel mused. “Whatever happened to the poor thing?”
“Well, I couldn’t rightly take him to Kirkwall,” Anders mumbled under his breath.
Hawke interjected, “You told me the Wardens made you get rid of the cat!”
Mahariel gasped and stood up, putting her hands down on the table. “You’re a liar!” She pointed accusingly at Anders. “I would just like everyone here to know that I gave this man that cat!” Intoxicated as she was, the Warden Commander treated it like the most serious charge that had ever been levied against her. “I would never make you get rid of Sir Pounce-a-Lot. He was a mascot! An honorary Warden! You bastard,” she sat back down. “You’re a liar.”
Aveline almost inhaled her drink and Anders seemed to try hard to disappear, his face the same color as the guard-captain’s hair.
“You know, Mahariel, you’re not at all how I pictured you,” Varric noted. “I thought you’d be a stuck-up bitch - no offense - like the Knight-Commander.”
“Mahariel is nothing like -”
“Blondie, I get that now.”
Mahariel shook her head. “I was always a little bit irresponsible. If I hadn’t been, I probably would have never been pulled into this mess in the first place. Tamlen and I were always getting into trouble. And even then, if it weren’t for Marethari and Merrill, I’d probably be just as dead as Tamlen,” drunk as she was, Mahariel was numb to the loss of her friend. She’d thought about it too long and too hard and too many times and she didn’t have a clear enough head to go over it again. Right now, Tamlen’s loss was just a fact.
But the whole table stared.
“What?” she asked.
“If it weren’t for... who?” Anders asked slowly. Mahariel had told her so much and yet somehow this had completely escaped him.
“Marethari, my Keeper,” Mahariel said factually. “She kept me alive until Duncan recruited me into the Wardens. And -”
“That’s who she reminds me of,” Varric slapped the table, “Merrill. I was trying to think of it all last night.”
“How do you know Merrill?” the Warden Commander quizzed.
“How do you know Merrill?” Aveline asked back.
“She’s my clan-sister. Though, strictly speaking, she’s not from my clan. She joined us during the Arlathvenn. We needed a First.” Mahariel looked down into her empty glass, and finding no more refreshment there, she posed the question again. “How do you all know Merrill?”
Anders hung his head. “She lives in the Alienage. Marethari... gave her to us.” How much did Mahariel know about Merrill’s blood magic? All of it? None of it? Did she approve? How could she approve?
Mahariel sat up straight in an effort to back away from the group. “Why would the Keeper do such a thing?”
Hawke opened his mouth to answer, but Anders was sober enough to hold up a hand to stop him. “Maybe you should go see her.”
“It’s just down the road,” Anders insisted. “I’ll go with you.”
Aveline raised her eyebrow at Anders, painfully aware of how he felt about the blood mage. Anders made an innocent gesture and rose from the table, offering his hand to the Warden Commander. She grasped it firmly and stood up slowly to keep her wobbling to a minimum. He lead her gently down the steps, keeping his mouth firmly closed. The same questions ran through his mind over and over: did she already know? What did it mean if she didn’t? What would it mean to him if she did? A swell washed over him, a briny mix of fear and hate and long-forgotten never-indulged emotion he felt for the Dalish woman at his side.
At the bar was Fenris, who fixed his glare on Anders the moment he was aware of the mage’s presence, but even the former slave could see the seriousness of the look in Anders’ eyes, the careful way he lead the woman at his side.
The elf narrowed his gaze. The woman was of his own race, but her markings made her for Dalish, and the way Anders seemed to protect her with his body spoke either of import or... surely not.
As the mage walked past, he mouthed only one word: “Don’t.”
Fenris put up his hands and turned to face the bar, but not before giving the small elven woman a quick once-over. She seemed average enough, but something about the way she walked... She was intoxicated, to be sure, but she carried herself with confidence, with strength. Who was she?
He turned quickly to watch them before they disappeared through the front door.
“Evening, Elf,” said a smooth voice at his side.
“Dwarf,” Fenris inclined his head in greeting. He ordered a drink before pressing Varric, “Who was the woman with the mage?”
“That,” said Varric, crossing his arms, “was the Hero of Ferelden.”