It’s dusk when the Tevinter bound caravan stops to set up camp. The slave leaps from the cart and runs up to open the door for Dante, bowing respectfully as the mage emerges. Dante breathes deep the fresh air and takes a moment to listen to the wind dance through the thin growth of trees flanking the heavily travelled road. Secretly he enjoys the trips that take away from city; it gives him a moment to enjoy the quiet serenity of nature. The smell of green growing things always brought back pleasant memories of childhood trips with his father. However, such pleasures are not becoming of a magister of his stature.
“Set up my tent,” he watches the slender elf hurry off eager to complete his task. “Woman,” he barks.
“I have a name,” she climbs down from the padded driver’s seat.
“And it is of little consequence,” he waves off her protest and tosses five silver coins on the ground at her feet. “Your payment for services rendered. If you wish the rest of your payment, make dinner.” He doesn’t wait for her response; instead he walks away from her to speak to the men holding Fenris. She gathers the coins, quickly securing them away in her pouch before disappearing into the trees to gather firewood.
“We’re making camp,” he informs. “Bring out the prize and figure out your watch schedule,” he returns to his carriage and pulls a book from the heavy trunk.
The guards callously toss Fenris out of the cart. The battered and bloodied elf lands heavily on his back knocking the wind from him. The men take advantage of the situation and haul the stunned warrior over to the wide tree. With his hands still bound behind his back he’s held up and the guards wrap lyrium threaded rope about his chest and the tree. They then repeat the process with his legs and once Fenris is secured they begin talking among themselves and laying out their bedrolls.
The sun hangs low creating brilliant shades of red and gold in the sky. The city is preparing to close up for the evening. Merchants are securing their stalls and weary workers make the long walk home. Gathering the supplies needed proved to be a quick and easy task, it was the horses that proved to be more difficult. Those who had the animals were not willing to part with them and those that were asking for anything less than an obscene amount of money.
Isabela paces as she listens to Varric haggle with the stable master. Her amber eyes dance between Varric and the ground, she knows if they had the coin Varric wouldn’t quibble, but as it was, Bianca’s contact couldn’t afford to buy all of the offered pieces. As such the group was on a budget and the bartering was costing them valuable travel time. Finally Isabela and Varric walk away from the stables, the pirate leading two horses while Varric leads three ponies.
The instant they walk into the Massive Oak, Bethany is upon them. “Can we leave now,” impatience is heavy in the mage’s words.
“Sunshine, it’s dusk. Let’s rest tonight and leave at first light.”
“Sweetness,” Isabela’s words are gentle and sincere. “We should rest tonight. You and Varric are both recovering from your injuries and could use the rest. Tomorrow we can travel through the night.”
“How will we catch them? They’ll have almost a full day’s start.”
“They don’t think they’re being followed,” Isabela explains. “They will travel at a leisurely pace, stop to camp for the night and maybe even for lunch. Don’t worry,” she places a hand on Bethany’s shoulder. “We’ll get him back.”
It’s a moonless night and the wind carries the scent of Triss’ cooking and beneath it the faint, distant promise of rain. Triss and the slave dish and serve the meal, but when Triss moves towards Fenris, Dante stops here.
“He doesn’t eat,” Dante doesn’t look up from his bowl. “Not until he learns his place.”
“But he needs to keep his strength up.”
“He is a slave and needs to learns his place,” the mage glances at the white haired elf. “Until he can respect his superiors he doesn’t eat,” Dante’s dark eyes next move to Triss. “And you can still be punished for defying an employers’ direct order.”
Triss clenches her jaw and narrows her eyes. Dante barely notices her anger as he finishes off the last of his food.
“As his wife, it’s my duty to tend to his needs.”
Dante looks surprised, but soon a look of amusement crosses the man’s face. “Very well,” he hands his dishes over to the slave. “If you insist,” he waves his hand, indicating for Triss to proceed. She doesn’t like the way Dante is watching her, as if she were about to provide him with a bit of amusement. She pushes the magister from her mind and walks up to the bound Fenris.
“You must be hungry,” her voice is quiet and loving despite Fenris’ cold and hate filled stare. She offers a forkful of food, but Feris pulls away. “Please eat.”
“You have nothing I want,” she flinches from him as if the ice in his voice could draw blood.
“This is the only way for us to be together again. Once you forget about that…Shem, we’ll be happy, just like we use to be.”
“Happy,” he growls his eyes narrow as his loathing intensifies. “I’ll be a slave,” his voice rises with his anger. “Happiness and slavery do not dwell in the same house.”
“You left me no choice, Leto.”
“Leto is dead,” he snarls. “And you are nothing to me.”
She makes another, albeit halfhearted, attempt to feed him before she finally slinks away. Dante chuckles and returns to reading his book.
“Don’t worry pretty thing,” one of the guards grabs Triss’ hand and pulls her into his lap, scattering the plate of food she was carrying. “I’ll keep you company,” he presses his lips to hers despite her struggles. He yelps and jerks away, blood dripping from his lip where she bit him; he raises a hand to strike her. Dante moves quickly and grabs the man’s wrist with one hand, while his other hand pulls Triss off the guard’s lap.
“She is a servant,” he pushes the female elf behind him. “And you will show her the respect deserving of her station,” he releases the man. “If you wish company take the slave.”
“Master,” the slave is obviously concerned about this offer and is hoping that it was made in jest. Wide ocean blue eyes dance between Dante and the guard, who seems to be considering the offer.
“I prefer women,” the guard finally grumbles.
“If she wishes to rent you the use of her body, as long as it doesn’t interfere with her duties, that’s her business.”
“Piss off,” she snaps when the guard looks at her with expectation.
“Her decision is made,” Dante then turns to face Triss. Despite his timely intervention she refuses to thank him. “Get back to work,” the mage orders.
The sky is dimly lit from a sun that has not yet peeked over the horizon, and Bethany is armored and packed. Her right hand, still recovering from the spider bite, is stiff and aches and her fingers often fumble with simple tasks, like securing the saddle bags. She tried using healing magic on it last night but as her extremity is affected by a poison there’s nothing her magic can do beside heal the incision. Bethany realizes that if the slavers reach Tevinter with Fenris there will be little hope of getting him back, and she won’t risk that.
“Maker, please watch over him,” she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath as she pictures Fenris. With determination, trademark to the Hawke family, she makes a vow to get him back.
“Leaving without us,” Bethany spins to see Isabela casually leaning against the door frame, her arms crossed over her impressive chest.
“I can’t sleep,” she averts her gaze from the guilt that she had been caught. “I need to get to him before they reach Tevinter.”
“And you were planning to what? Rescue him single handedly from a blood mage and his guards? Not the best plan, Sweetness.”
“What would you have me do, Bela?”
“Wake us,” the pirate approaches her and places a hand on Bethany’s shoulder. “He’s our friend too.”
“But Varric is still recovering from the Deep Roads.”
“And you aren’t? I know you’re worried about Varric, but you don’t get to choose what he can and can’t do. Now, tie off your horse and let’s wake the others.”
It’s midmorning by the time Dante and his entourage begins travelling again. The hired guards drag the rebellious white haired elf back to the cart. When his protests inhibit their ability to load him in with the cargo they use fists to stun him into a manageable heap of bruises.
When the guards do not heed Triss’ protests she turns to Dante. “The bounty is to return him undamaged.”
Dante glances in the cart and once the guards have him secured the mage casts a healing spell on the elf. “What damage? He looks fine to me,” the mage then looks at the men in the cart. “What good is magic if it can’t heal few bruises and broken bones?”
Fenris spits out a rude comment in Arcanum. Dante’s eyes narrow and one of the guards punches the stubborn elf in the gut. The warrior doubles over, coughing.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to beat him,” she growls.
“Then he should learn his place,” he dismisses her and walks towards his waiting carriage. She grabs his arm to make further protests, he responds by slapping her face. Stunned she staggers back. “Know your place, woman,” he straightens his robes. “Now get to work,” he points to the padded driver seat of his carriage. “We’re leaving.”
By late afternoon exhaustion is forcing the group to stop and rest. They’d ridden hard and fast to make up for lost time, and now they and their mounts both need a break. Bethany hears the sound of babbling brook and suggests that as their resting spot. She leads her horse down to the gently sloping bank and watches the animal drink the cool waters. She pulls out a water skin from the saddlebag and enjoys a long drink herself.
Once the horse is done drinking she leads it over to a spot with lush green grass with the other animals and allows the beast to eat. She also takes advantage of the time to eat some of the rations she has. She sits down next to Isabel and bites into her lunch.
“You know,” she speaks around the dried meat in her mouth. “I’m getting really tired of rations.”
I know right,” Isana hands Varric a water skin “It seems like that’s all I’ve eaten for weeks,” the teen bites into a large piece of dried fruit.
“It is all we’ve eaten for weeks,” Bianca points out causing Varric to chuckle. With some encouragement Varric lies on the soft grass, resting his head on Bianca’s lap.
“I need to start planning my wedding,” Bianca beams at the sight of the golden band on her finger. She waves her digits just to watch the precious metal gleam. “How do you feel about an autumn wedding,” she strokes his golden hair.
“Anything you want, Beautiful.”
“Does this mean we’re moving,” Isana finishes her lunch.
“Yes,” Varric and Bianca answer much to the teen’s dismay.
“You know I really wasn’t planning on that when I sent you that letter,” the teen packs her waterskin back into her saddlebag.
“You father and I haven’t seen each other in fifteen years. What did you think would happen?”
“I don’t know…that he would help me get you back and then go away,” her words don’t even seem to convince herself.
Varric laughs so hard that he begins coughing.
“Really, Isana,” Bianca laughs.
“I get credit for being optimistic.”
“There’s a fine line between being optimistic and being delusional, Precious.”
“Varric,” Bianca’s tone is serious. “I doubt the Guild’s politics have changed much in the past fifteen years.”
“You know us dwarves, we are the very definition of progressive change,” he yelps when she pulls out one of his chest hairs. “Not the chest hair,” he protests.
“You know what I mean.”
“With Aunt Rylinn and I on your side no one will dare take action against you or Isana.”
“What? Why would anyone be after me,” the teen is mortified.
“Precious, you are my daughter and heir to the Tethras Clan Empire, and that alone will inspire jealousy in some of your family. Don’t worry I’ll point you in the direction of who to trust and who to just be nice to.”
“If they’re a threat, can’t I just kill them?”
“No, Precious, you can’t. This is the deadly dance of politics.”
“Great so we have you and your aunt on our side. What about the rest of your family?”
“You both are beautiful and charming, I’m sure you’ll win them over.”
“And if we don’t,” Isana asks.
“I’ll write them out of my will. Not the chest hair!” Varric grabs Bianca’s hand before she can pluck another hair. “You’re worrying too much about it. Merchant Guild politics is far worse than family politics. Everything will be fine. So tell me Beautiful, what kind of wedding do you want.”
Isana rolls her eyes and sighs heavily. Parents can be so difficult sometimes.
Isabela looks up at the grey sky. The air smells of rain, but the clouds over head are too high and too thin bring rain. “We’ll rest for an hour then be off again,” the pirate announces.
Dante and his group travel through the day, without stopping for lunch. The mage ate an assortment of fruit, cheeses and breads which had been packed before they left Nevarra; the rest of the troop had to eat dried provisions. The guards entertained themselves by trying to get Fenris to beg for food, but when the elf was uncooperative they found beating him into unconsciousness to be just as enjoyable.
“How much farther,” the dark haired guard asked.
“Two weeks, master.”
“How much is the bounty,” the blonde guard takes the opportunity to double check the ropes on the scarred warrior.
“Forgive me, master, but I do not know.”
“Is lyrium as valuable in Tevinter as it is everywhere in Thedas,” the third guard is older with salt and pepper hair and stormy grey eyes.
“Again, master, I beg your forgiveness. I don’t know the value of lyrium.”
“What you thinkin’,” the blonde leans forward and speaks softly.
“Nothing yet,” the older man rubs his chin and looks down at Fenris. He is forming a plan, but if he and his men are well compensated then there will be no need to take matters into his own hands.
From her angle on the driver’s bench of Dante’s carriage Triss can catch occasional glimpses of the men in the covered wagon ahead of her. She listens as the men goad the white haired elf into anger. She can hear the guards ‘punish’ Fenris for his choice words, aggressive actions, or even for breathing wrong.
There’s two more weeks of travel and she’s starting to have second thoughts about this plan. Her stomach is in knots, she knows this isn’t right, but she doesn’t feel that there are any other choices.
She and Leto were so happy before the ritual. Stealing moments together when they could, finding security and tenderness in each other’s arms. Those private little victories when they were defying their master to be together.
Then Danarius came up with the idea of lyrium branding and she was the first test subject. She remembers the pain of having the design carved into her palms. Her hands itch at the memory of searing agony of lyrium poured into the fresh wounds. She was useless as a slave for the weeks it took her hands to heal and her body to recover from lyrium poisoning.
She remembers Leto being there to change the bandages and help her eat. Those nights when the fever would ravish her body he was there with cool rags and loving whispers. He would chase away the nightmares with a gentle smile and encouraging words. It was during the fever he said he would marry her. He promised to come for her one night, when she had recovered, and then they would sneak off to the orchard and exchange vows under the blossoming trees in the silvery light of the moon. He had promised, she heard him, but he never came.
Life was a blur, things happened so quickly and he was almost never around. She heard that Leto had won his mother’s and sister’s freedom, and the next time she saw him he was screaming and covered in blood. The lyrium in her palms had unlocked latent and weak magical abilities, and Danarius taught her how to use that power to keep Leto’s mind intact during the ritual.
When she heard that Leto had escaped, her heart soared as she waited for him to come back for her. But he never came, instead she had to escape on her own and by the time she reached his last known whereabouts he was gone and the trail was lost.
But he was here, and she wasn’t going to let him go. Her guilt about making a deal with the magister vanishes when she realizes that he’s so close to being hers.