She lies in his arms with the bedding tangled about their
naked bodies. The moonlight trickles into the dimly lit bedroom as a breeze
toys with the curtains. Tonight, as with most nights, they’re sharing a room at
the Blooming Rose. It’s easy for her to rent a room in the brothel where her
mother had worked and no one ever questions his frequent visits. He props himself
up on his elbow and gazes down onto her lovely face, her waist-long dark crimson
hair deliciously tousled from their lust filled tumble. Her fire blue eyes
sparkling as he regales her with a tale of one of Bartrand’s get-rich-quick
schemes. He spares no detail in relating how his elder brother’s plan blew up
in his face, literally.
“You’re making that up,” she laughs, playfully smacking his shoulder.
“I shit you not; it burned off half of his beard and both eyebrows. To this day he can’t grow hair on his chin. And the look on mom’s face when she saw him…” She howls with laughter at his impersonation of a noble dwarven lady who doesn’t know if she should be relieved or furious.
Her laughter dies down and her eyes become serious. “Do you ever tell stories about me?”
“Varric,” she, pushes him onto his back.
“What? You have some of the most amazing adventures. I’d have to downplay half of the shit you do; otherwise, no one would believe me.” He laughs as a story comes to mind “Hey, do you remember that time you…”
“I’m serious. Don’t put me in your tales.” To prove her point her hand slips beneath the covers and grips a rather sensitive part of his anatomy. He yelps and grabs her wrist in an effort to pry himself free of her grasp.
“Promise me.” She tightens her hold.
“Ok, ok I swear, just let go.”
“Varric,” her eyes hold the warning carried in her voice.
“I’m already naked and at your mercy. Bianca, please let go!”
She releases him, he is quick to grab her hand and relocate it to his chest. Her fingers are content to draw random shapes in his chest hair. “I swear on my ancestors I will never tell your story to anyone.” He releases her hand to cup her face and runs his thumb over the small casteless tattoo she bears high on her right cheekbone, just beneath her eye. She was barely a week old when men from the Shaperate branded her and her mother and she was still in diapers when they relocated to the surface. She never understood the mark on her face, but she also never allowed anyone to touch it, except for him.
“Why the secrecy, Beautiful?”
“Did you really just ask that? I’m a lieutenant in the Carta and you are a member of high ranking clan in the Merchant’s Guild, and you want to know why I don’t want you talking about me?” She sighs and sits up, an indication she has something on her mind. “The Carta is getting suspicious,” he’s quick to grab her and pull her back into his arms, pinning her beneath his weight.
“Leave the Carta.” He nuzzles her neck, savoring the salty taste of her sweat.
“That’s about as likely as you leaving the Merchant’s Guild.” She giggles when his lips find a particularly sensitive spot. “And what about my little brother, hmm? Leave him to face the Carta’s wrath? The Carta would kill him and us.” She squirms as he takes advantage of the sensitive area.
“Then let’s leave Kirkwall together.” His face still buried in the crook of her neck.
“What?” She shoves him back to look into his face.
“You and me, heck we’ll even take Gerav,” there’s no humor in his eyes. “Let’s leave and start a new life somewhere else.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“We’d be on the run forever.” She pushes him off and sits up. “Not even you can afford to pay off mine and Gerav’s contracts.”
“Let me worry about that. Oh, before I forget, I have something for you.” He picks up his belt pouch from the floor and pulls out a small stone coin which he promptly places in her hand.
“What’s this?” She turns to look at him.
“A Boon-Coin, Mother says they’re used in Orzammar to give an unconditional favor to whoever carries it. It’s very rare to give these out. My mother would freak if she knew I took one.”
“And you’re giving this to me?”
“Yes. See, it has the Clan Tethras rune on one side and on the other a mark to prove I gave it to you. I know the carving is crap, but hey I’m a merchant not a stone smith.”
“But, it’s your birthday,” she taps the large gold necklace she gave him earlier that evening. “You’re not supposed to give out gifts on your birthday.” She turns the small coin over and sees “V+B” poorly carved into the back.
“Stick with me Beautiful, and I’ll shower you in gifts.”
“You say the sweetest things.” She pushes him back onto the bed. His fingers trace the large scar on her left shoulder which runs from her collar bone, over her shoulder to just under her shoulder blade. He briefly recalls her tale about her helping an apostate escape and catching a Templar’s ax in the process. The Templar died, and she nearly lost the arm, but as luck would have it the apostate turned out to be a gifted healer.
“Varric, there’s… something I need to tell you.”
His fingertips gently trail down her bare arms. The softness of her curves and intoxicating feel of firm muscle sliding under satin skin enticed his continue exploration of her body. His hands tenderly run the length of her back. “Tell me later, I’m a bit distracted.”
“So am I,” he grabs her long red hair and passionately presses his lips hers. A knock at the door tries to pull Varric’s attention away from the beautiful woman in his arms, without success. The knock comes again, this time a little louder.
“Varric, someone is at the door,” she whispers, as he rolls her beneath him.
“They’ll go away. You’re far more interesting.” He goes after her neck his lips searching for that elusive ticklish spot.
“Master Tethras. I have an urgent summons for you from the Guild.” The demanding knocking continues. Varric grumbles several obscenities and pulls himself from the warmth of his lover’s embrace. Few things are more tenacious than a Merchant Guild messenger with an ‘urgent summons’. More pounds on the door echo in the room. “Master Tethras?”
“Give me a sodding moment,” he barks at the door while hastily slipping into his pants. “Don’t go anywhere, Beautiful I’ll be right back.” He runs his hands through his disheveled blonde locks.
The messenger knocks again, and Varric jerks open his door, but not far enough for anyone to see into the bedroom. “What,” he snarls through tightly clenched teeth. Much to Varric’s dismay the older man at his door neither flinches nor shies away.
“The guild is having an emergency meeting. They need you.”
“You got me out of bed for that?” Sighing heavily and rubs his brow. “Why me? Surely you want Bartrand; he’s the head of the clan.”
“Both of you have been summoned.”
“Fine, fine,” he doesn’t even try to hide his frustration. “When and where?”
“Now Messere, at the guild hall.”
“Now? Blessed ancestors what could be so important that they have to meet at this hour?”
“It’s not my place to know, messere; I was instructed to deliver a message and a return with confirmation of your attendance.”
The wording was not lost on Varric. “By the Void…Fine. Let me get dressed and I’ll head over.” He closes the door before the messenger can say anything else. He turns to deliver the news only to find the bed empty. As he looks about the room he finds more than the bed vacant. Bianca is gone, along with her belongings.
“And she’s gone again,” he sighs and grabs his shirt from the floor, at least now he doesn’t have to explain why he has to leave.
When Varric arrives he’s surprised to see only the nine highest ranking guild members present. All of them stop talking and turn to look at him as he enters the room. Bartrand storms towards his brother and roughly grabs his arm.
“What have you done,” he demands through tightly clenched teeth, he brusquely pulls Varric to his seat.
“Me? I haven’t done anything to anyone,” he protests innocently. Bartrand’s unrelenting glare making it clear he does not believe the storyteller. Varric shrugs “Lately,” as he takes his seat.
Gorbor Khazzar, the head of the guild, is an older man with a glorious mane of silvery white hair and an intricately braided beard which reaches to his knees. While there are many jokes that Gorbor was around during the third blight, his amber brown eyes shine vibrantly proving he is still in control of his mental facilities. He sits higher than the rest of the merchant council and always exudes an air of intimidation. To his right, sitting slightly lower is his Second, Izo Saelac, a much younger man with ambitious greedy eyes, a dishonest grin and greasy black hair. His gaze is cold and hard as he glares at Varric.
“Varric Tethras,” the voice from this old man is deep and booming as it rings out clearly.
Oh shit. What have I done? Adrenaline is coursing through his veins. His heart is pounding in his throat as he rises to his feet.
“What is said in this room remains in this room. Is that understood?”
“Yes.” He successfully keeps his hands from fidgeting.
“I understand you’re rather resourceful in gathering information.”
“Well, I do what I can.” His heart is slowing at the realization that he’s not in trouble, but a sense of dread is slowly filling him.
“There is a leak in the Merchant’s Guild. Someone is feeding vital information to the Carta and it is critical we stop this. I’ve seen a name in a few of my reports and want you to learn everything you can and report back to us.”
“Sounds simple enough, who are you looking for?”
“Bianca Volkean,” it is Izo who speaks his voice softer but still carries the weight of his position.
“Bianca…” He’s unable to keep the shock from his voice and Gorbor is quick to capitalize on Varric’s slip.
“You’ve heard of her, then. Tell us what you know.”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“She’s a lower level lieutenant who’s rising through the ranks in the Carta.” His voice betrays none of his tangled feeling. “She specializes in thievery and low risk assassinations, been in the Carta for most of her life if I remember correctly.”
“And not much more,” he lies.
“That’s about all the information we have as well. She’s somehow infiltrated the Merchant’s Guild and we need to know who her contact is before we eliminate her.”
When the Tethras brothers returned home Bartrand barks orders at his younger sibling, as he had done their entire trip. And Varric ignores him, as he had done the entire trip. The younger blonde haired dwarf locks himself in his room and disregards the demanding bellows of his brother, the drunken orders of his mother and even the more gentle questions of his Aunt Rylinn. He finds it impossible to organize his thoughts. His boots make almost no noise as he walks across the thick rug covering the polished wooden floor. Papers are scattered over his desk, some are story ideas, while others are business correspondences and a few personal letters. His brown eyes glance at the open bedroom window where a small yellow bird lands, chirps a couple of times, then flies away.
It’s well past noon and Varric has been pacing non-stop since he returned from the meeting. His mind is racing; refusing to believe that Bianca is the Carta member they are looking for. She wouldn’t have betrayed him, would she? They’d been lovers for almost a year now; surely a spy wouldn’t stay with a mark that long, right? He had confided in her, but she had also confided in him. Both exchanged secrets about their guilds that could get them killed if the right people were to find out. Would she really betray him like this? No of course not, some of the things that were revealed were things he didn’t even know until last night. It can’t be Bianca, can it?
“Varric,” a male voice pulls Varric from his whirlwind thoughts. He spins to see a dark haired man creeping in through the open window.
“Gerav,” he quickly closes the distance and grabs the younger man by the arms. Abrasions and bruises cover Gerav’s face and body; his clothes are ripped and bloodstained. It’s obvious he was in tough fight. “What happened to you? Where’s Bianca? Is she OK?”
“I was hoping you’d know. Merchant Guild thugs grabbed her shortly after she got home last night.”
“What? That can’t be. I was in a Guild meeting until almost dawn. How could they have known where she lives? Are you sure it was Merchant Guild?”
Gerav cocks his head just looks at Varric. “Ok, stupid question I know. Take me there. I want to see this for myself.”
The small house is in shambles, there was a definite struggle here. Furniture is overturned and broken, shattered pottery litters the ground. Several arrows and a couple of knives protrude from the walls. One knife in particular Varric recognizes as Bianca’s. He suddenly pales at the large amount of drying blood on the floor.
“Bianca and I managed to take a couple of the down before I was knocked out. When I woke up she and the dead bodies were gone.” Gerav closes his eyes in an attempt to block out his sister’s cry, “I can still hear her scream my name.”
The blonde dwarf carefully sifts through some rubble near one of the larger bloodstains. From under a pile of broken pottery he produces a small scrap of crimson soaked paper.
“It looks like abduction orders, from what I can read…” he squints at the blood soaked parchment desperate to make out who the orders came from. “But I can’t make out the signature or the clan rune. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“What doesn’t?” Gerav asks, as he pulls a knife from a nearby wall.
“The Guild doesn’t know anything about Bianca. They want me to snoop about and report back with my findings. But this,” he holds out the paper. “See this rune here,” he points to a small red rune in a gold border at the bottom of the page. “That’s the Merchant Guild rune. See the gold around it? That means it’s someone important. This was sent from someone in guild with specifics about where she lives. What is going on?”
“Someone in your guild has been providing the Carta with information. Your guild knows there’s a leak so now this person needs a scapegoat.” Gerav’s anger is bubbling just beneath the surface.
“Do you know who the leak is?”
“No. I didn’t even know the rumors were true until your Merchants took my sister.”
Varric hears the accusation in Gerav’s voice and chooses to ignore it. “Why Bianca? Why target her?”
“They took her because of you.” Gerav’s anger refuses to be silent any longer. “Because you’re a Merchant and she’s Carta. You two should never have gotten together.” He grabs Varric and slams him against the wall. “If you had just walked away from her that night like I told you to, none of this would have happened. My sister would still be here.”
“Back off Gerav,” Varric warns.
“Someone knows you’re lovers. Who did you tell?”
“If I told anyone they’d have taken me too! Now, back off.”
“Liar! Who knows?!”
Varric slams his forehead into Gerav’s; both men groan and grab their heads. Gerav stumbles back and Varric leans again the wall.
“Son of a bitch!” The younger dwarf clutches his head and curses again. Varric is also swearing as he too grasps his head.
“By the Stone. How does she do that?”
“Damned if I know,” Gerav confesses his temper calmer.
“I’ll bet they try to pin this on you too. I’ve seen this before; it happens a lot in the Carta. Shit, Varric, she’s all the family I have left.”
“Stay calm. You check around Darktown and the docks. I’ll ask check out Lowtown and Hightown. I’ll also get my contacts out too.”
“Where should we meet?”
“The Hanged Man, the Merchant Guild has no power there. We’ll meet at dusk.”