The sun is beginning to set and the air is still filled with the tantalizing scent of sweet pastries fresh from the oven and spit-roasted meat. A breeze toys with the multi-colored banners and carries the joyous sounds of children laughing and upbeat music. The square is packed with vendors, hawking their wares and offering special Founders’ Day merchandise. There are so many people around it takes a phenomenal amount of willpower to resist the urge to lighten a purses. Ultimately Isabela decides her willpower can be better spent elsewhere and lifts a few coins and a couple of items here and there.
Orez purchases a small, erotic figure of a naked dwarven man carved out of ivory and strung on a soft leather lanyard. Isana buys a lovely onyx necklace for her mother, and then promptly swipes a matching bracelet when the shopkeeper isn’t looking. Isabela, on the other hand, acquired two new laces for her corset, a deck of playing cards with pictures of naked men as royal suite, a new head-kerchief, small fruit filled, pie-like pastries for the group, a slightly dented tankard, 15 silvers and 25 coppers.
“We should start heading back,” Orez places his hands on his hips and turns his honey colored eyes skyward.
“But we just got here,” Isana protests.
“Judging by the position of the sun, I’d say we’ve been here for two hours,” he counters.
“More like two and half,” Isabela corrects, liking the last of the fruit filling off her fingers.
“You said one hour, and we’ve more than doubled that. There are still people out looking for you and Bianca. Now let’s go.”
“We can’t hide forever,” the teen protests.
“You also shouldn’t parade about without a plan,” the male dwarf grabs the girl’s arm and starts leading her back to the Undercity.
“Just one more stall,” she pleads, reluctantly following her elder.
“What if it’s on the way?’ Isabela asks, seeing a hat shop along their route.
“Woman, you’re supposed to help me keep her out of trouble.”
The pirate laughs, “You’ve got the wrong woman for that.”
He grumbles under his breath and continues to drag the teenager back home. He is steadfast in his determination of getting Isana back to her mother and that they cannot visit anymore shops, despite Isabela’s quasi logical arguments.
As the trio continues to weave their way through the vendor choked square they are unaware that they are being followed by a party of twelve heavily armed men. Their eyes fixated on the young blonde dwarf.
Fenris looks down at the sleeping mage and gently strokes her cheek with his fingers. Her skin is warm and soft. The doubt and dread he felt earlier has melted. With her he feels a calm peace he’s never known before. She accepts him completely and makes him feel as if he can truly be happy and that no matter how difficult the road is before them she will stand by him. He smiles and takes a moment to appreciate her naked form tangled in the bed linens. The long lean leg poking out of the sheets leading his eyes to the naked curve of a hip then the dip of her small waist and up further to the swell of a breast partially covered by one of her arms. She makes him hunger like no other partner ever has. He leans down and gently kisses her temple. She makes a sleepy sound and barely cracks open one eye.
“I’m going downstairs.”
She mutters something that might have been an OK, but he isn’t sure. Quietly he pulls on his gauntlets and slips from the room as she falls back asleep. He pauses at the railing and surveys the scene below.
Prostitutes are plying their trade, charming the customers who are milling around with tankards in hand. The bar looks also busy with Rafi competently keeping up with the several orders. Bianca and Varric’s door is still closed and he cannot see Isabela or Isana anywhere, but decides not to worry about that observation when he sees a familiar red haired elf approach the bar. She briefly speaks with an elven bartender before looking up his direction. She signals for him to join her and he nods in agreement.
“How do you know me,” he wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. “I do not remember you as being part of Danarius’ house.”
“You really don’t remember, do you?”
“I remember nothing before the ritual.”
“Perhaps we should go somewhere a little more private. I know a little tavern not far from here.”
“How do I know this is not a trap? I know there is still a reward out for me.”
“Danarius is dead,” there is a familiar tone of relief and a regret that it was not by her hands.
“I hear talk that there was an heir.”
“Why would I, an escaped slave like you, turn you over to the Imperium? What would I have to gain?”
“My own sister was willing to betray me. What reason do I have to trust you?”
She sighs, and considers his words for a moment before removing her gloves revealing her lyrium branded palms. “You were not the first.”
“Who are you,” his eyes widen.
“We should probably get dressed and rejoin the real world,” she reluctantly crawls out of bed, only to have Varric grab her and pull her back into his arms.
“The real world can sod off,” he nuzzles her neck, quickly finding that ticklish spot.
“Varric,” she giggles and pushes him back. “I’m hungry. I haven’t had a decent meal since I was taken. And I have worked up quite appetite.”
“Then let’s order room service,” again he kisses her neck.
“Somehow I doubt The Massive Oak has room service,” she chuckles and this time is successful in escaping the bed. She tosses him his pants. “Come on, get dressed so you can buy me dinner.”
“I love it when you’re naked and bossy.”
“I know,” she purrs, smiling a small devilish grin. “So now what,” she pulls on the leather leggings Isana brought for her.
“Now I feed you and stop anyone else from trying to kill you,” he pulls on his shirt and then his boots.
“I meant after that,” she fastens the leather jerkin over her cream colored shirt. “I don’t want to lose you again.”
Varric fingers the small ring in his left pocket. It’s simple band of moderately expensive gold that he’s carried with him for the past fifteen years. “I’ve been thinking about that,” he confesses, wondering when the small piece of jewelry became so heavy.
“Well, I would be interested in hearing those thoughts,” she pulls on her boots and locks those fire blue eyes on him, and he finds that she has stolen the words from him.
“Come back to Kirkwall with me,” he secures his crossbow to her holster on his back.
“Be serious,” she places her hands on her hips.
“I am serious. Come home with me.” Doubt rears its ugly head and prevents him from offering her the ring resting comfortably in his left pocket.
“I can’t and you know it.”
“Yes you can. Everyone in the Guild who knows you is either dead or in no position to harm you. And it’s the same with the Carta. You’ll be safe.”
“Then why have people watch your back if I’ll be safe. Stay here with me.”
“I…I can’t,” it causes him physical pain to say those words. “I have obligations I can’t walk away from.”
“Don’t give me that shit about family or loyalty to the Guild, because I won’t buy it,” she glares at him.
“Sod the Guild; I haven’t been to a Guild meeting since that night. But I do have duties to my family.”
“Bullshit, you’re the second son. It falls on Bartrand,” her expression changes as a thought occurs to her. “Unless something has happened to him.”
“Come on, Beautiful,” he sighs. “Let’s get some food and I’ll tell you a story.”
“Slaves are not permitted to marry,” Fenris counters.
“You really think slaves need the Chantry to recognize them as a married couple? Do you remember the thrill of defying our masters? Of finding that one someone who made you happy and wanting them as your mate? Or did you lose that too.”
“I remember my time with Danarius, but I do not remember you.”
Resigning herself to the fact that such a private conversation was going to happen in a brothel, she leads him to a nearby table. “During the ritual,” she sighs as she sits down. “I was there, I…helped. I aided you in your recovery between sessions.” She closes her eyes, in a vain attempt to ward off the terrible memories. “When your hair fell out I didn’t think you would make it. I thought I’d lost you,” tears begin swelling in her eyes. “But Danarius insisted that it was all part of the process. It was during one of your fever-dreams you slipped and called me ‘wife’. Danarius…was…not pleased. After the ritual, because I was too valuable to him for him to sell, but he gave me to serve Hadriana as a reward,” there was bitterness in her words.
“When were you branded?”
“Almost a year before you. I was the first, but you were the last…his ‘masterpiece’ if you will.”
“How many were branded.”
“Three, but the second time Danarius tried to do it all in one session; the slave was not mentally strong enough to handle the trauma. The mind shattered during the ritual,” she holds herself and shivers at the memory. “That’s when Danarius brought me in. Through me he could cast magic. I held your mind while he…branded you.”
“How did you hold my mind? A mage cannot cast two spell at the same time.”
“I am no mage,” she says defensively. “But Danarius did empower me with one ability. During the ritual I could enter your mind and shield you from the pain, prevent your mind from shattering.”
Fenris considers her words, and tries to break through the amnesia that has claimed his past. He tries to reach out to those memories that flooded him his first time in Bethany’s arms. But still his past remains elusive and all he is left with is his instinct, and it is telling him not to trust this woman. She sits there, silently pleading for his acceptance.
“Do you…do you remember Hadriana talking to Danarius about,” she pauses trying to find a more pleasant word, only to fail. “About breeding you?”
“Yes, it was the one time he sent me from the room while he was discussing business.”
“I planted that idea in Hadriana, if only to see you again,” a tinge of desperation creeps into her words, she wrings her hands and Fenris can see the faint blue glow coming from her lyrium branded palms.
“And what happened with that.”
“When Hadriana returned she beat me, she was convinced I had set her up to look like a fool in front of her mentor. She told me that the lyrium in our skins renders us sterile and that I should forget about you. It took me weeks to recover from that beating.”
“What are you not telling me?”
“Nothing. I’ve told you everything.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
“I swear,” her voice raised and almost frantic. “I’ve told you everything.”
“I’ve survived this long listening to my instinct and it’s telling me that you’re hiding something.”
“But I’m not.”
“I don’t know you,” he rises to his feet, his mind made up.
“Leto, please,” she grabs his arm, her lyrium touching his. Flashes of forgotten memories run through his mind so quickly and so intensely it’s like a physical blow knocking him off balance. He jerks his arm free and glares at the woman.
“I don’t know you,” he repeats.
“It’s because of her isn’t it,” her desperation turns to anger. “That woman? That…that shem,” she’s pointing towards Bethany’s room. “I am your wife, Leto.”
“I am no longer that man; slaves are not permitted to marry.” He moves away when she reaches for him again. “And I don’t know you.”
“Oh darling,” Rafi rushes up and lifts Bianca off her feet in a bear hug. “I was so worried about you.”
“I’m fine Rafi,” she smiles that amazing grin that lights up a room. “Just hungry.”
“Sit, let me bring you some food” He returns her to her feet and rushes off to the kitchen. Bianca can’t help but smile at the human’s reaction. She takes a seat at the table Varric and Isana sat at during their vigil. Varric sits across from her. Rafi is quick to return with two large bowls of stew, followed by the elven bartender who’s carrying a large plate of assorted breads, pastries, and seasonal fruit, along with two tankards of ale.
“It’s good to have you back darling,” the human smiles, and kisses the crown of her head before returning to his post behind the bar.
Bianca wastes no time diving into the food. As she eats Varric tells her about Bartrand’s expedition into the Deep Roads. He’s told this tale hundreds of time, and he never tires of his audience’s reaction to his brother’s betrayal and this time is no different. She pauses mid-bite as he describes how heartless his brother was when sealing the door. She shares his feelings of treachery, rage and fear at the realization that there was no going back. Her eyes are wide as he details the journey he and his companions take deeper into the dwarven made tunnels. He narrates their encounters with darkspawn, giant spiders, the rock wraiths and things he only described as The Profane. She finishes her soup, and Varric pushes his half eaten portion to her as he describes the treasure they found and finally their escape.
He peels and slices an apple while he recounts his three year long search for his traitorous sibling, and how it ended in their childhood home. He offers her slices of apple as the gruesome details about their encounter in the home spill forth. She waves off the offer of more apple as his story reaches it climatic ending.
“And ever since then you’ve been head of the family?”
“Yes. Aunt Rylinn has tried marrying me off for years, but I’ve always managed to convince the girl that I’m not the man she wants. You know how good I am with words.”
“Has she now,” there’s a flash of jealously in her eyes. And Varric can’t help but grin. Bianca always was the jealous type.
“So now it’s your turn,” he pops a slice of apple into his mouth. “Why were you taken by this Zinaga?”
“I recently came into possession of a map leading to a thaig about week and a half from here. According to the writing on the map, this was an unregistered thaig built by someone named Torkver, long before the first blight. The story goes that the Torkver was the brightest and most talented runesmith in all of the deep roads. People came from far and wide to procure one of his enchantments. If they could not purchase the enchantment they would send thugs in to steal it. The thievery became so bad that Torkver withdrew from the Dwarven community, to continue mastering his craft in peace. Rumor has it the treasures are still there. Zinaga wants power, and she believes that something there will allow her to take control of the Thieves’ Guild. She only has the support of a third of the Guild. If she takes over she’ll never keep control, she’ll be dead before the end of the year.”
“Where’s the map now?”
Bianca suddenly looks about. “Where’s Isana,” her fear grows as she cannot find her daughter. “Where is she? Rafi!”
The human rushes over “What? What’s wrong?”
“Where’s Isana?” Varric asks.
“She went out with Orez and that Rivaini woman.”
“Isabela? When did they leave,” Varric asks.
“A few hours ago, but they should be back soon,” Rafi tries to keep his voice calm, but there is a hint of concern.
Suddenly the doors open and a badly beaten Orez stagers in carrying a wounded Isabela.
“Honey-Bear,” The human runs to his lover as the dwarf collapses to the floor. Varric and Bianca are close behind.
“Where’s my daughter,” Bianca frantically asks.
“Taken,” the warrior manages to say as he pulls a blood splattered note from his pouch and offers it to the red head before passing out.
“Orez,” Rafi shakes his lover. Drawn by the commotion, Fenris joins the crowd and sees the battered couple. He reaches past Rafi to check for a pulse on both of them.
“They’re alive. Let’s get them to a room,” Fenris picks Isabela and waits for Rafi to lead the way.
“Can that dark haired girl help him,” Rafi lays Orez on the bed and Fenris does the same with Isabela.
“I’ll get Bethany,” Varric offers only to be stopped by Fenris stating that he would go and Varric should stay behind.
“Rafi, Bethany will need supplies. Gauze, water, needle and thread and any health potions you may have.” The dark haired man nods and rushes off the gather the requested provisions.
“They have her,” Bianca breaths. “Those bastards have my little girl. They’re willing to release her if I give them the map.”
“Then give them the map,” Varic suggests.
“I don’t have it. I’ll have to trade myself instead.”
“No, we’ll go together. We will get her back, Beautiful, I promise.”
“If anyone else is there they’ll kill her.”
“They won’t see me.”
“I can’t risk that. I have to go alone.”
“No,” he grabs her by her arms. “I won’t let you,” there’s panic in his voice. “I can’t lose you again,” he releases her arms. “I can’t,” his voice softens. “I thought I lost you once and it nearly destroyed me. I won’t survive losing you again. I won’t.”
“Ok, ok we’ll go together,” she concedes seeing the pain in Varric’s brown eyes. “We’ll need supplies. There should be some healing potions in that top drawer,” she points to the dresser behind him. “I’ll get some weapons from this chest,” she picks up the vase that sits on the box and when he turns to retrieve the tonics, she smashes him over the head. He collapses face down on the floor, completely unconscious.
“I’m sorry. Truly I am, but I can’t risk Isana’s life. I love you, Varric.”